PRINT THE LEGEND
"When the legend becomes fact, print the legend." That's what a newspaper man said to me many years ago. I don't suppose much has changed since then, except that the legend has had a chance to jell, solidify and become cemented even more firmly into place.
Everyone knows the stories of the old West gunslingers: Black Bart and his pretty verses, Liberty Valance and the town he held transfixed in fear, the O.K. Corral and the thirty seconds that transfixed the fate of Tombstone, Chris Adams and his rag-tag band of mercenaries who upheld honor even before death. By now there must be must be millions--hundreds of millions--who can rattle off those tales by heart. But with every passing decade, the truth is obscured a little more by distance until it disappears over the horizon--another pesky tumbleweed rolling along until passing considerately out of view.
The paradoxical thing is that it's often those most passionate about the legends who care so little for the facts. Tell them the truth, and they brand you a liar. They only want to hear what they want to believe: grand, dramatic improbable tales about men made larger than life, hooves flying, guns blazing, death met with poised bayonet and a haughty "ha-ha."
Who wants to hear of men grown wrinkled and rheumatic yielding in their homes one day to age? That's not a story; that's the grey reality we look to legends to escape.
However, we don't always get what we want in life. That simple fact is as true as the world is old. So before it blows away forever, here's what you never learned about Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.
My time here is almost up. It's your turn now. Keep this and hold it safe. One day there'll be others like us who care to know.
of what follows is true.
They met in the dirt outside of a saloon and whorehouse in Cold Arrow, both being inelegantly encouraged out by the less agreeable end of the barkeeper's well-oiled Winchester, pulled down with intent from the bracket behind the bar. It was a situation they'd come to be in concurrently yet separately through unrelated --albeit not entirely dissimilar --events.
They say some matches are meant to be; others just come to be despite themselves. That's what keeps this old world interesting from year to year.
That, and not always being sure which of the two circumstances it is.
They picked themselves up out of the dirt. Sundance flicked the briefest of glances over Butch in his dandy garb. "You, if you're not with me, you don't want to be beside me." He checked the lie of his weapons, gaze now dead set on the door. "I'm going settle it with those cowboys one way or another."
"Both of them?" Butch eyed the place, running various approach scenarios through his head. It wasn't his idea of a good idea, even compared against the dubious standard of those he'd called good ideas before.
"Not for long." Sundance's face, his whole body, was set on doing ill. "I've taken out more men with less."
Butch considered himself an expert in people and especially in bullshitters. This might not be a bright idea, but it wasn't bullshit either.
Grit like that could do a lot of good, albeit only if focused on a worthwhile aim.
Butch made a show of brushing the worst damage off his clothes, inching incidentally closer as he did. "Now what good would that do? Why waste our time on them? Did you hear what they said about the Bozeman stage? Now that's something worthy of the attention of two men with vision and purpose.
"I mean us," Butch added, seeking but not finding comprehension in his would-be partner's face. "Do you know who I am?"
"You're the guy who's coming between me and a shooting spree." It didn't sound like the beginning of a promising friendship.
Sometimes Butch wondered why the whole world couldn't see things his way.
"Those cowboys, that's just sticks and stones." Butch forced a laugh and elbowed the Kid in a jovial fashion, breaking his concentration and, not so coincidentally, his line of fire. Before the Kid could speak or pistol-whip him--whichever it was going to be--Butch nodded toward the hitching post. "Think about it. Which would you rather have: sticks and stones, or gold and banknotes? If we're going to set up a hit on that stage, we don't have time for idiots like them."
Butch strode off and readied his horse, not looking back until he had mounted up. Confidence had always carried him further than pragmatism, not that he'd given the later much of a chance.
"How do you figure this is going to work?" the Kid asked. He had untied a red roan --sleek, compact and muscular: bred to run.
Butch grinned to himself. His instinct had never led him wrong yet. (Well, actually, it had, but that's a story for another time.)
"You'll see when we get there. You just worry about being as good as you say with those pistols. Keep up, keep your eyes open and leave the thinking to me." Butch spurred his horse on towards the northern road, his brain churning trying to formulate the next step of the plan.
Out in the open desert you can see and be seen for miles...which is a drawback if you're the ambushee, but a plus if you are the ambushers. Sundance settled his body into a rock crevasse until he almost disappeared.
Butch lay down nearby and bitched about the stones.
Eventually the stage rolled into view.
"The guard can't shoot worth beans," Sundance said.
"How can you tell? Don't tell me you know him. From up here, you can barely pick the faces out from the dust."
"Position," Sundance said. "No one in gun work leaves himself open like that. Like you, all exposed." He nodded at Butch's backside, sprawled flat, but not tucked and nestled like Sundance was. "Some big deal outlaw: you should have been shot down years ago."
"Not the first time I've heard that opinion, although I can't say I agree. I rely on my amiable nature and the reciprocal goodwill of my fellow man."
Sundance grunted. "Better to look to a friendly gun taking your back. Lead'll always be a safer bet than man."
"Cold words," Butch said.
That seemed to be the end of that.
The stage rumbled into easy range, and Butch turned his mind to the task at hand. "Take out the wheels. A horse if you have to. Leave the guard and driver unless it can't be helped."
"No witnesses." Sundance gritted the words.
"Witnesses are good. Makes it easier to convince them the next time around. And I plan on a lot of next times."
"You don't figure they're just going to hand over the cash on account of your charm and looks?" Sundance griped.
"It wouldn't be the first time. You underestimate the power of the positive." Butch took aim at a wheel. If he heard it as an insult, he didn't let it show.
Sundance whirled on him. "What the hell are you doing?"
"Getting set to rob a stage. Where've you been the past two days?" This, Butch figured, is why any gang would always need him as the brains.
"Like that? My grandmother in a gunny sack could handle a gun better than you." Sundance grabbed Butch's pistol hand and readjusted his fingers on the grip. "Big-shot outlaw, my ass."
"Now that's a woman I'd love to meet." Butch tested the feel. "Hey, that is better!"
"Save it. Just try not to hit me." Sundance flattened back down on his belly and lined up his own first shot again.
Butch scrabbled back from their vantage point. "If you're so cocky, you stop the stage. I'll go low and come around while the guard's focused up here.
"And you just remember not to hit me." Butch emphasized the point with a harsh whisper.
"So far I don't see a half-decent reason not to." Sundance cocked the hammer of his six-shooter.
"What you need is to take a little more joy in your work. An attitude like that'll make you old before your time." Butch picked his way down the backside of the outcrop. He crouched tight and waited for the shots and whinnies.
When it was over, the guard and the driver lay trussed in the indignity of their own reins but unbloodied. Butch and Sundance rode away with the strongbox, and the passengers were left with one hell of a good story to tell.
"I can't call you 'Kid.'" Butch explained with cheerful patience as they loped along. "I've already got a Kid in the gang. Imagine how confusing that would be: Kids running around everywhere. 'Flank out, Kid. Not you, Kid, Kid! No, Kid!"
"All right, all right. Call me Sundance." He sounded pretty testy, but Butch had about learned to translate from Sundance to English, so he didn't pay it any mind.
"Sundance? What kind of name is that? It's a little--" Butch gave a flighty wave.
The Kid's right hand twitched toward his hip. "It's a name I earned in lock up."
"Okay. Just asking. No need to get cranky. Sundance it is then, Kid."
"And I suppose 'Butch' is your given name. Or would it be the more fitting Prudence?"
Butch laughed. "Cassidy was someone I knew as a kid. Taught me how to rustle...along with other things."
Sundance had eyes on him now.
"His home suited me better than the one I left, so I kept the name." Apparently that was all Butch cared to say on the matter--a noteworthy occurrence in and of itself.
It was a while before either of them spoke again.
"My father was a useless prick too." Sundance kept his gaze frozen on the horizon.
After that, they dropped it by mutual consent.
"Where'd he come from?" Harvey demanded. The introduction to the gang at Hole-in-the-Wall had not gone what you might call well.
Butch dismounted in an easy swing. His hide-away, his decisions: it had always been that way.
"I found him suckling at your mother's teat. That a good enough reference for you?"
"It's good enough for me, Butch!" Flatnose could seldom bypass any opportunity to suck up.
Butch walked his way and tossed a saddlebag into Flatnose's hands. "Sundance heard of a Wells-Fargo coach not far off our trail. You and News divide that six ways. Call it Sundance's trousseau."
"He moving in?" Harvey scowled his disapproval.
Harvey had never been the easy-going type. That made him an asset on the jobs, but in between...
"What's it to you, Harvey? He sure won't be sharing your cabin. No one else has been able to live with you and he's not dumb enough to try."
"Thanks loads." Sundance mumbled where only Butch could hear.
"One bad apple can get us all hanged," Harvey continued. "If he's gonna be riding with us, I want to hear where he stands."
"Mixed metaphors aside, he stands the same place that I do, Harvey. Which is the same place you do, I'm sure." With a sweet smile, Butch patted Harvey on the cheek, then sauntered his horse toward the barn.
Sundance was not a man to leave his back to any stranger. He considered the eight eyes loitering hard upon him, then he considered Butch. He followed him into the barn.
"You should open up more." Inside the cabin, Butch stripped down to his long johns. "Let people see the real you. I bet there's a sweetheart deep in there."
"You know so much all of the sudden," Sundance groused. He'd moved his bunk into the corner--two sides against two walls.
"It's what I do: read people. That's the secret to my success." Butch crawled under a moth-eaten blanket to lie down. "Don't laugh. I'm famous."
"I believe you about the secret. It's the success I'm still looking to see." Sundance rolled his eyes around the spartan log walls.
"That's because you're judging on the surface," Butch said. "That's always a mistake. Take a look at what I've got going here, and see the future in it--the great robberies that are yet to be."
Butch waxed on. "And like you: you've got the gang looking at your image, which, let's face it, doesn't have that much appeal."
"Hey!" Sundance wasn't used to someone who could shovel it back.
"Try letting someone in to see the real Sundance. I bet the guys'll warm up to you like butter on griddlecakes."
Well, maybe not Harvey...
"I tried that once." Sundance's voice was low.
"Oh." Butch swaddled the wool around his neck. "No need to worry about me there. I've got no plans for dying any time soon."
Since the gold strike had petered out, the town of Lark had dwindled, but the bank was still fed by the booming copper and silver mines. It made for more than a decent score.
The gang hit it on a good day and got away clean.
"I grew up around here." Butch had explained when he mapped out their escape route through the hills. "Follow me."
"So, where's this take us?" Sundance asked as they picked their way through a nerve-wracking mountain pass.
"I'm wondering that too." Butch's confession was loud enough solely for Sundance's ears.
Sundance shook his head.
Still when News rode up from
behind to ask
him how far they were from town, "Less than two days," was his reply.
The next night found the whole gang living it up not far outside of Provo.
"Drinks for the whole place!" Butch announced it to a hearty cheer. He took a chunk of their cut out of Sundance's bag and strewed it across the bar.
A girl with a sweet smile and happy eyes took him by the hand and led him to a stained sofa in a darkened corner of the room. She whispered her name as Butch set to work on her corset.
"Best whiskey in the house, they said." Sundance returned with a bottle and poured two shot-glasses full. He took a velvet chair and slid it across the floor, resting its back to the nearest wall.
"Make it for you and Cloris, then." Butch fondled her breasts as she giggled and started on the buckle of his belt. "Someone's got to keep a clear head, and it's not going to be that bunch." He tipped neck towards the gang.
Sundance looked to the gang and then to Butch. He pushed his untasted glass aside. It wasn't any kind of a sacrifice. Liquor made him mean as hell.
"Beer, then," Sundance said.
Butch managed a muffled noise that might have been a "sure."
"Don't get up. I'll get 'em."
"Take your time." Butch called out after he freed his mouth and before Cloris had her way with him again.
"Split up!" It was Butch's standard command when under close pursuit.
The gang scattered every which way but into the posse.
Sundance continued to gallop close on Butch's tail.
Butch thought hard about repeating the order, but his better judgment gave him pause. The Kid was a follower, and it was always smarter and safer to leave men do what they do best.
To compensate, Butch veered them off, down the creek, into buttes and mesas and crags and canyons of rock. The townies couldn't track them through that. But it was a long and circuitous route. It would be several days--maybe weeks--before they saw Hole-in-the-Wall again.
Given his current thoughts on Hole-in-the-Wall, Butch considered that to be a very good thing indeed.
Distances were deceptive looking down the valley's length. The settlement had been in view for almost two hours yet they weren't upon it yet.
Sundance reined in hard.
"What's the matter, Kid? We're almost there." Butch surveyed their surroundings, but saw nothing of concern.
"I know we're almost there," the Kid snapped. "I'm showing you. Don't tell me how close we are.
"Second house from the stand of trees. Do you see anything in the window?"
"Is that one Etta's place?" Butch squinted into the sun.
"The window. Do you see anything in her window?" The Kid's voice had that razor edge again.
"Anything like what?" Butch's patience did have its limits. Especially after a six day ride.
"Cloth, a scarf. Something that might be a signal."
Butch whipped around. "You set up a signal? Just how paranoid are you?"
"Might have something to do with company I've been keeping lately." Sundance adjusted his brim and peered again.
"There's nothing but window in the window," Butch said. "Forget it. You've gotta trust somebody sometime." Butch kicked his horse into a trot and hurried down the valley toward the house.
After a moment, Sundance
The little homestead stood quiet and still when they broached it. The window in question was glazed and closed. Cheap lace curtains dangled, all innocence, within.
"Maybe she's not expecting us," Butch said. He pumped water into the trough and tied their horses there. "We were supposed to be here yesterday."
"We would have been, if you hadn't insisted on getting that stupid haircut."
"Meeting my best friend's girl--that's practically like meeting the girl who'll become my girl. You only get one chance to make a first impression. I need to make it good."
"Too late for that." Sundance snorted at the cleverness of his own remark.
Butch ignored the snipe. Sundance was always caustic when something made him feel.
"Women hate it when you're late, that's all I'm saying. Maybe she decided not to wait around."
"Nag, nag, nag. You're as bad as having a woman along."
"Hey! Boots!" Sundance barked at him.
"What?" Butch had mounted the porch steps.
"Boots. She don't like dirty boots inside her house." To demonstrate, Sundance scraped one of his against the edge of the top step.
"If I'm the nag, I don't even want to think about what that makes you." Butch kicked against a support beam and knocked of the worst of the offence.
"You're the one who wanted to make a good impression--"
"Don't be so testy. That temper's going to get you in trouble one day. Be more like me. You know you want to."
"You. The expert on women and romance?"
"Hey, you said it." Butch grinned.
Sundance rolled his eyes. "Not like I see any women of yours around." He pushed the door in and stepped across the threshold to the kitchen.
Warm embers still smoldered atop the grate. Sundance checked the damper: closed. He opened it.
"She's likely at the school. Be back tonight." Sundance loaded an armful of wood onto the grate and poked until it caught. "You could do something useful." He nodded to the depleted wood basket.
"Hey, I just took off my boots. Your idea, remember?" Hat slanted down, Butch rocked back in a chair, stocking feet up on the table. He helped himself from a sack of walnuts, gaping on the floor by the table leg.
"Never mind." Sundance shouldered the wood ax and tromped back toward the door. "You stay there and keep doing what you're doing. It's what you're best at."
"Everyone needs a specialty; that's what I always say." Butch called out to his retreating form. "That's why we're so good together; our specialties make a perfect fit." He cracked another walnut on the table and scanned around, as if he could get a read on Etta from her things.
A man's got to work for a living, and soon there was another job to pull. A teacher--a friend of Etta's--told her about a bank a few towns over.
Etta told Sundance; Sundance told Butch, and the next day they were off before first light.
This could work, Butch thought as the rode off into the orange glow of dawn.
"You're leaving already?" Etta had neither seen nor heard any discussion of it, yet they were both loading saddle packs that looked to last quite a while.
"In the morning," Butch said. "I haven't been to the Arizona territory in a while. New towns, I hear. New banks. It's time to see what all the talk's about." He worked at a cheerful pace.
So far, Butch had said neither "he" nor "we."
Sundance remained silent, but that was nothing new to her. No reason to waste good breath on an answer that could be seen just as well as it could be heard.
"If they're looking for you here, I'll hang the winter curtains in the south window." She turned her back and dug into the flour bin. Hard biscuit it would be, the kind that packed and kept fairly well. Face to the mixing bowl, she blinked away the would-be tears that certainly serve to weaken any case in her own interests that she might think to raise.
Sundance grunted acknowledgement that he'd heard. "I'll see to the horses." He tramped outside leaving Etta alone with Butch.
looks ahead, grievous abominations and
disorder, you and me walk into it together, like always.
"I didn't want to kill him," Sundance said. They'd ridden in tense silence, although the smattering of pursuers had been left miles and hours behind. "He shouldn't've drawn on me.
"If I'd wanted to kill, I could've stayed solo. He shouldn't've drawn on me."
"No, he shouldn't have," was all Butch said.
They never discussed that Bitter Creek job again.
At the hollow of Hole-in-the-Wall, the August heat had settled and stayed. Saddle-sore, hot and parched, Butch was in no mood for Harvey's crap.
"Good of you to make it back. We figgered maybe you got snowed in." Harvey kept one eye on Sundance's gun.
"Drop it, Harvey," was all Butch said. He left their horses for Flatnose to brush and water, and headed close behind Sundance into their rooms.
Despite all the grousing, the jobs went well. It's not like Butch wanted a bunch of choir boys for these heists.
"Split up!" he ordered again after the Lamar bank heist. All of their mounts were laden down with cash.
Four fanned out vaguely in the direction of Hole-in-the Wall.
Butch and Sundance, well, they went the other way.
"Etta never liked me."
"That's crazy talk. She loves you." Butch finished with the horses for the night and checked their packs: hardly anything there but the Lamar haul. They were going to need to hit town somewhere soon to resupply. If nothing else, the horses needed grain.
"She loves me, but never liked me." Sundance dragged the statement out as if either the thinking or the saying of it was hard come by for him. "She doesn't like what I do, how I am.
"You, she likes." Sundance added the last only after a heavy pause.
"Well," Butch said, "then she's got one of each. Same as you. Same as me."
Sundance nestled down in his wool and leathers. The high desert turned bitter cold after the sun went down, and it felt like frost. The days when he'd thought crime led to a life of luxury and ease had long since passed.
"Never said I liked you, Butch." But Sundance's eyes twinkled as if it were some private joke.
Fortunately, it was a joke that Butch was in on. "That's some way to talk after all I've done for you."
"All you've done for me?" It was a fair attempt to muster up a squabble, but the air was too cold on Sundance's lungs to keep this up tonight.
"Hey! You're free to leave any time you want."
"What? Leave all this?" Sundance uncurled a hand long enough to gesture at the miles and miles of barely uninterrupted rock. When he tucked it back, he squished to the side of the small patch of smooth and flat they'd found.
Butch laid down his bedroll beside him. The Kid had bundled everything around himself about as tight and close as he could. The rock still held a little of the day's sun, but it was leeching away fast.
It wasn't going to be a pleasant night. He needed to get them somewhere lower if they were going to bivouac again.
"We're not that far from Denver." Butch made the non sequitur sound conversational.
"We aren't close to Jack s--"
"You ever been to Denver?" Butch continued on as if he hadn't heard a word. He lay down, arranged a top blanket across them both, and snugged himself in. He babbled stories about the food and girls and warm beds in Denver, until the Kid finally fell asleep.
At the edge of Springfield, they came upon a wanted poster: $1000 dead or alive.
"Not my best likeness," Butch said.
Maybe not, but it got the eyes right, and in Butch's case, that was tell enough.
"Just you," Sundance said. It was stating the obvious. There was only a single face on the sketch.
"Could be I'm the prettiest."
"Could be the inker was blind." Sundance gave the joke a second to sink in. "Might be I should ride in alone."
"It'll be all right." No one much seems to mind where the money you're spending came from--as long as it wasn't theirs. "Don't worry so much. I've done this a few times before." Butch kicked toward town, face all agrin.
Something was wrong with the sound of their trotting. Butch turned. Sundance had stayed reined up.
"Deserting me in my hour of need?" It was sort of a joke and sort of not.
Then he saw Sundance clearing away free passage for his side arms--both of them. His eyes were scanning furiously at the doors, windows and other danger zones.
Slowly, Sundance rode up. "Stay close to me," he said.
It's amazing the difference a day could make. Warm, fed, and with the law nowhere to be found, when they camped in the river valley, under the Colorado stars with plans made for home, it made for an almost perfect night.
"Can't be soon enough," Sundance said from under the wool. "I never liked sleeping alone."
"Well, that's just lovely!" Butch made a great show of sounding pissed. "Where the hell do you think I've been?"
"I know exactly where you've been: jawing my ear off for over two weeks!"
"Boy, sleeping alone makes you irritable. Maybe we should get you a pet."
"I'm not irritable," Sundance snapped. "This is how I am. I'm just ready--" He let out a breath. "I'm just ready to be home."
"Me too," Butch said after a while.
It was an almost perfect night.
Butch reached a hand over, on top of the blanket--almost companionablelike--not girly, like holding hands, but better. He left it there for a moment, then he moved it under.
It was said that Butch could charm the venom out of a rattlesnake, still, seducing a gunslinger in the wilderness where no one can find your body was a situation that gave him pause.
Lids lowered most of the way, the Kid placed Butch's hand atop his prick.
It took some time to work through the various leathers and layers, the physical perhaps the least. But there's a certain freedom to life out on the frontier. Those who choose its hardships choose the rest of it as well- the unfenced, the unregulated, the wild and free.
"Faster," Sundance forced the words through straining lips. "Faster," he murmured again.
Butch moved prick to prick and balls to balls. He worked them both with hands and body until they both lay spent.
"It's going to be good to be home," Butch said.
"The best part of getting trail sore and filthy is getting to bathe it off." Butch reclined against one end of the oversized tub with Sundance facing him at the other.
"Hot water?" Fannie asked. She bent over, bosom threatening to bust loose from atop her corset, and poured steaming water between the two of them.
"Easy!" Butch jerked, sloshing water over the rim.
Sundance yelped. Butch's foot, once comfortably nuzzled, had jammed up hard against his nuts.
Not one to lie back and take it, Sundance kicked a heel against Butch's groin with enough force to make his point.
"I'm always easy," Fannie reached beneath the water to give Butch's prick a series of soothing pets. "Want me to kiss it better?"
The offer got a rise from Sundance who wondered aloud how in the hell Butch always managed to come out ahead, even from a kick in the nuts.
"You boys got room for me in there?" Fannie swished her hand to swirl the water around in little eddies and swells. "I know I've got room for you boys in here." She wriggled her body to emphasize the appropriate vacancy.
"You're barking up the wrong tree," said Butch. "Sundance believes in saving himself for true love. Right?" Butch nudged the Kid's sac with his toes, but got no response other than an 'I'll get you later' scowl.
"The baddest men usually do." Fannie soaped a sponge and lathered sensual circles around Butch's shoulders and back. "Everyone wants to be able to say he's been righteous some way when he dies."
"Got no plans to die soon," Sundance said.
Fannie spared him a knowing smile, then turned her attention back to Butch.
"Agnes is asking after you. Should I keep her free for you tonight, or are you going to hang around a bit?"
"Can't," Butch said. "We've got a date with a train."
Butch leaned across the tub and made a pathetic show of pulling a gold Liberty Head out of Sundance's ear. "Not quite broke, Fannie. You know I always have some put aside for you." He dropped the gold piece down her bodice and patted its resting place.
"Why won't you marry me, Butch? You know you're the only man for me." Fannie soaped the sponge again.
"You know the answer, Fannie. My life's in the saddle."
"Mine's with men in the saddle." She gave a lascivious wink. "I told you, we're a perfect pair."
Butch laughed. "Ah, Fannie, if only you could blow a safe as well as Sundance can."
"A safe?" She stood amid a rustling of dampened skirts. "I've heard it called a lot of things, but never that."
"Secret's in my dynamite stick." Sundance's delivery was flawless.
Butch snorted. Fannie laughed, splashed them both, dropped the soap in Butch's lap and dried her hands on her skirts to leave.
The last thing she saw was Sundance reaching for the soap.
"If that's your toe--" Then she heard a flurry of splashing laughter before she closed the door behind her.
"I know where we should go next," Butch said. "We'll take whatever we make from this Flyer run and get steamer tickets."
"Can we wait until one of your brainstorms is behind us before we move on to the next?" He lay flat on his back in his own bedroll.
"Arabia. Saudi Arabia. The home of the 1001 nights. Every one just like this, but better."
"Don't they ride camels there?" Sundance sounded unconvinced.
"Sure they've got camels, but they've got horses too. Horses like you wouldn't believe. Horses and beautiful women. They know how treat a man there. Ride all day and ride all night." Butch punctuated it with a little chuckle.
"And the sheiks live in tents. Just tents. No cement, no safes, no walls. It's all ours for the taking." Butch waxed to his subject now.
"Isn't that where they cut off your hands if you steal? And your pecker if you--"
"Only if they catch you." Butch made a derisive noise. "You never look on the bright side. And Etta-- Etta would be a queen, like Scheherazade, teaching every night and captivating everyone who listened with her words."
"She might like that," Sundance agreed. He fell silent as Butch rolled on top of him and slid a hand to make quick work of his belt.
When things go bad, they go really bad. The Pacific Flyer return job was like that.
"It's too hot here." They paced Etta's floors. "We've got to leave. Not just the West, but America. The territories, the union all of it."
Actually, it was only Butch who had to go.
"There's Canada--open plains, no laws."
"No banks either. And we'd be over our heads in snow. How 'bout Bolivia?" Sundance asked.
"Bolivia. You said Bolivia before." The more agitated Sundance got, the more he paced, muddy boots and all.
"Okay, that's settled. Bolivia it is. But we'll never make it going west. We'll have to go east to leave."
"New York," Sundance said. "Etta'd like New York."
"Yeah! Once we hit a few banks, we can spend. Get her new clothes, one of those big fluffy hats." Butch made a gesture above his head and brightened. Things were looking up again.
Sundance shook his head. Trust Butch to make running for your life seem like fun. His heels clicked the floor as he strolled outside to sell their case to Etta.
"I ain't riding," Sundance said.
"You can't come to Coney Island and not ride the steeplechase." Butch kept Sundance in place with a hand to the back of his waist. "That's like going to the Denver Mint and leaving all the gold."
"They're not horses. They're stupid, they're on a rail, and they're wooden. I don't want splinters up my ass!"
"Fine. Don't ride, then. We'll meet you at the swimming pool." Butch mounted and pulled Etta up behind him, skirts billowing out every which way.
Sundance glowered but grabbed a hold and started to mount behind.
"No more than two to a horse." Weight added the advantage of momentum on the down hill track. The ride jockey patted the neighboring horse.
Sundance looked to Butch. Butch shrugged and Sundance accepted the empty silver bay.
The pistol snapped and barely out of the gate, Butch threw and arm out behind and to the side.
Sundance crouched up on the saddle, leaped and landed on the rump of Butch's ride. He caught Butch's hand for balance.
Sundance threw arms around the two of them slid up tight to keep a respectable seat.
"You're squishing me!" Etta squealed.
Sundance pressed in tighter still.
Laughing down the entire track, they won by a furlong, but had to forfeit the prize.
They rode The Dragon's Gorge as well. The walls of the indoor coaster were painted like the South Pole, the Amazon, Africa, the Grand Canyon as well as the River Styx.
"We could go to South Africa," Butch leaned forward and nattered in Sundance's ear. "Fight the Boers--or for the Boers, wherever the better money is."
There may have been more to the current brilliant idea, but then the track fell away, and the coaster plunged them down into the flames of Hell.
All three of them--even Sundance--screamed.
"Ten shots, twenty-five cents! A free round for the lady when a gentleman plays. Two bits, tens shots! The lady shoots free when the gentleman pays. You, sir." The barker called out to Sundance--or anyone else moneyed nearby. "Shoot the birdies and test your skill. Eight out of ten down wins your lady a prize."
"Can't," Sundance said. "Firearms violate my religious beliefs." If he ever got tired of respectable robberies, Sundance could have a second career in deadpan.
Butch's money was already out and headed for the jointee's pocket. He passed the air rifle to Etta and stood behind her as he nestled it to her collar bone, hands and other assorted body parts perhaps seizing the situation to take a few more liberties with her person than they properly should.
"Aim just a little ahead." Cheek against her neck, Butch spoke into her ear and pointed her to the row of sedately moving wooden ducks. "Or they'll have moved before the shot arrives."
Etta jerked the rifle free from him, took two eyed aim and, fired. The first one missed--no surprise with a trick rifle like that. The next nine went down as easy as babes to their nursery crib.
"A prize for Annie Oakley!" The jointee's announcement was taut with forced cheer.
"That one." Etta pointed at the most painted and petticoated doll on the shelf. "I want her."
Under the brim of his hat, Sundance grinned.
"Your round, sir." The barker held the air gun out to Butch.
Butch waved it off. "We've made our quarter back. Wouldn't want to rob you blind." Butch winked at him and sauntered off with Etta on his arm.
"Gotta hurt to lose to a woman," Sundance muttered when they were out of earshot.
Butch brushed that off too. "I've got other talents," he said.
"All right, hold still and smile." The photographer pulled the flash. At exactly the wrong moment Etta stiffened, and made a noise. There'd been a hand up her dress. Although both the men remained still as marble above the elbows, she had a pretty good idea of whose it was.
"That won't take." The photographer fussed as he tugged out the photographic plate. "She'll be all blurred. Do you want another one? You'll have to pay. Plates don't grow on trees."
"Absolutely!" Butch laid more money down. "There's always more where this came from. Or we can always rob a bank. "
Etta moved away, and this time Butch posed next to Sundance. They all managed to hold straight faces until the flash had burned.
"You'll want to keep that one," Butch said to the photographer's son who was about to bathe the ruined plate. "One day you'll show it to your grandkids and tell them about the heroes you met here."
"Huh?" The boy blinked at them, all eyes.
"Here--give me that pen." Butch picked one of the handbills off the counter and scrawled three lines across the back. "Keep that with the photo. It'll be worth real money one day."
The kid looked up. He probably wasn't even as old as the knobby grey that had dragged their hansom across town that morning.
"What does it say?" The boy gave a token glance to Butch's sprawling script.
Butch grinned and pointed to the inscription. "Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson and Emma Walters."
"Gosh!" The kid gaped down and up. "I'm sorry, sir! I just thought you'd be, you know, older."
"Healthful living out in the clean western air. It keeps you young and healthy. Remember that."
The boy set the exposed plate aside.
"If you're going to take it now, be careful." The photographer stepped though the curtain with the final portrait secured in a cheap wooden frame. "Hold it by the edge. Don't wrap it or touch anything to the front until the varnish is completely dry. Maybe an hour."
"Hey, we can wait at the swimming pool!" Butch said.
"I'm thinking rifles," Sundance growled in Butch's direction.
"It's lovely." Etta held the portrait out in the sunlight. "I want to remember us just like this."
"Where's Etta?" Butch asked. He swung into the hotel room in his brand new city suit.
"Some woman thing. High tea or something." Sundance looked mighty grand in his fresh from the tailor clothes as well. He had a whiskey bottle out and glasses set for two.
Butch brushed Sundance's cheek--as if to test the shave. His fingers lingered unduly long while his eyes caressed the rest.
Sundance didn't twitch.
Butch swallowed hard. He inhaled the heady scent of rich eau de cologne, and began to swell. "How long's she gone?" His hand had made its way inside Sundance's shirt. It's funny how some things can take a man from idle to full steam in mere seconds.
"Dunno." The Kid's voice was thick as well.
This time Sundance took him first.
They made love on an over-stuffed mattress trimmed with imported hand-stitched linen--stiff and starched, still smelling of the pressing iron--perhaps more than anything because it was something new and yet untried.
If there were other reasons, well, that was the kind of thinking they'd agreed not to debate about, but to leave to Butch.
"You know what my favorite part is?" Butch asked. His fingers moved with a languid lack of purpose through the curls below the Kid's waist. "The pillow talk."
"Mine too." It was the first thing Sundance had said in twenty minutes or more.
The sarcasm wasn't lost on Butch, but he'd learned how to translate Sundance many months ago.
"You should express yourself more," Butch said. He lay naked and supine within a cloud of goose down, savoring in the moment, luxuriating in the sheer joy of being--of being here this way.
"If a thing needs words to say it, it can't be much of a thing at all."
"That's just beautiful," Butch said. "Sundance, that's real poetry you've made there."
Sundance scratched his balls and farted.
Butch chuckled and got up to wander over to the water basin.
One day from a streetcar, Sundance glimpsed a white straw hat showing something around the doorway of the Metropole. He looked across Etta's lap, caught Butch's eye, and gave an infinitesimal jerk of his head.
"Next stop's ours," Etta said. She'd seen enough to know she'd missed something, but had long since given up trying or wanting to know what.
"Let's see what's at the end of the line," Butch said. "I want to see it all before we sail."
He paid a boy with a cart to go back and fetch their things.
A second-class steamer cabin is cozy for two; for a couple plus one, it shrinks smaller and smaller every day.
"When they finish the canal, they'll make the trip to the other side of South America in less than two weeks," Etta said as they leaned over the stern one day.
"You really think they can do it?" Butch asked.
"Sure." Etta shrugged. "Why not? The world is changing all around you, Butch. You just don't like to see it."
"I like my life just the way it is, thank you. If I had my way, I wouldn't change a thing."
"Everything changes." Head down, Etta stared into the churning water below.
Etta stopped in their cabin doorway. After a moment she remembered to close the door.
"What are you doing?" Her face showed that she knew full well.
"Stealing your man," Butch answered. He rolled to the edge, letting the linen fall away. It was a considered act. Most of his persona was carefully considered, although one could never say contrived.
He'd left himself naked and vulnerable to her if that was the way she wanted things to go.
But naked, he was still commanding. Perhaps even more so.
Truth be told, he had considered that as well.
Her pause was just a half-beat into the uncomfortable. "So, same old same old, then."
That's the worst thing about women, Butch always said. Even when you hear exactly what they say, you can't tell for the life of you what the hell it means.
Sundance said to watch their eyes. That's why he nearly always won at poker while Butch...well, not so much.
Two pairs of eyes darted the room. They'd all known this moment was inevitable, but there's a big difference between knowing a thing in your head and seeing it live and real before your eyes.
Butch understood that difference. That's why he never raised his gun to men.
It was Etta who yielded first--no big surprise. "You know, if you did steal him, you'd be getting the worse of the deal."
Her mother had said Etta always had been too smart to live a happy life. Sundance had hoped Butch would show her that those conditions needn't necessarily stay at odds.
"Story of my life," Butch said. He kept his tone light.
It looked like they just might be all right.
"Assholes." Sundance either broke the mood or found it broken. He rolled his naked bottom off the bunk, turned his back, and made water into the chamber pot at his feet.
Butch winked at Etta, and somehow it was all all right again.
"It's stuffy in here. I'm going to the sun deck," Etta said. In a flurry of ruffles, she gathered her skirts to leave.
"Hold up," said Butch. Like a pro, he already had pants and one boot on. "I'll go with you." He offered her his left arm while fastening vest buttons with his right.
"You don't have to be so cheerful about it," Etta clipped.
"Me?" Butch settled her onto his elbow as they strolled the passage prim and proper like. "If you think I'm cheerful, you ought to see the Kid."
Finally, Etta laughed.
"'Esperad,'" Butch told him.
"¡Esperad!" Sundance repeated the word to the men up against the wall. "¡Esperad!"
Sundance nudged a gun barrel into one troublemaker's cheek, in case his meaning had been lost in the accent. Behind his back, Butch took an unfathomably long time doing whatever he was doing with the safe.
Holding nine men with two guns was not Sundance's idea of fun.
"Dammit, Butch, are you taking the money or a siesta?" Sundance shouted backwards without removing his eyes from the men against the wall.
"Almost in," Butch called back. There was tremendous 'boom,' and then a cloud of acrid smoke filled the bank.
"Just once I'd like to see things go according to your goddammed plan." Sundance growled as he stuffed fistfuls of bills into his jacket and bags, but he was grinning wide when they made their dash for their horses and laughed as his hat blew away in the wind.
"You'll love this idea," Butch said when they could slow their pace. It hadn't taken long to throw off the policía. "We'll become lawmen."
"Don't laugh before you hear me out. It takes a good criminal mind to make a half-decent lawman, and they could use some decent lawmen out here. Look how easy that was." Butch patted the saddlebag full of banknotes. "They need us out here."
"Would we go after any one else, or just turn each other in?"
"Depends where the most money is. Doesn't matter as long as we break each other out."
Sundance laughed and slowed his horse until they trotted side by side. "You just keep thinking, Butch. I can't wait to be there the day you finally get it right."
"You like the trouble," Etta said. The dinner had been fine, and the wine had been potent. They'd all had more than their fill of both. The walk back to the hotel was planned to do them good.
From someone else, Butch would have been tempted to call that an accusation, but from Etta it just came as a pedagogic statement of fact.
"You don't want to avoid it. It gives you two the chance to--" She waved a gloved hand in the air. To do whatever you two do, it seemed to say.
Sundance glared at Butch with meaning. Battles with words were supposed to be Butch's province.
In fact, Butch had already planned to jump in and argue with her...just as soon as he heard something he could argue with.
"Sometimes I think you keep me around just hoping I'll make trouble so you'll have an excuse to--" She waved her hand again. Do whatever it is that you two do.
"Not true! We keep you around because we like you. And you like our kind of trouble." Butch snagged her at the waist.
"I never denied that." Etta's voice was weary beyond the wine. She'd been out of sorts all day.
"And Sundance doesn't need you for trouble. He makes his own." Butch's face shone flush in the moonlight.
"I make trouble? You're the one who--"
Butch cut him off. "Trouble, trouble, trouble," he repeated in sing-song tones. His embrace remained around Etta, and he swung her around.
"Stop it," Etta said. She took Sundance's arm for the remainder of the short walk back.
That night she claimed ill and begged the bed to herself, sending Sundance in his long johns down the hall.
"I'm bunking in with you," Sundance said and crawled in beneath the sheets. He brushed off Butch's advances, but when he awoke during the night, stiff and uncomfortable, Butch had somehow wrapped a large part of himself around his arm.
"I might go home ahead of you." She told them in the dark, her face--flushed and a little puffy--turned away so that they wouldn't see.
"Whatever you want." Sundance had been left many times before.
"Butch, Etta says she might go home ahead of us."
There was rustling across the way. He'd heard.
"Whatever she wants." Butch meant it, and yet in his mind what he heard was the echo of her one time words, "But I won't watch you die."
"I'll go then." Etta steeled herself for her promise that she would be sad. Still, not that it mattered to any of them, but a part of Etta had expected--or at least hoped--that Butch would somehow be the one to understand.
It was a given no one would get much sleep that night. Butch tried not to listen as the breathing became harsher, the sounds less ambiguous, but he knew the meaning of every noise Sundance made. When he closed his eyes, it was the same as being there, the Kid buried deep inside in him, even though it was Etta's ever more urgent sounds urging them all on.
Beneath the blanket, Butch touched himself. At first, he told himself it was only against the ache. But some things are stronger than our best will and intentions, and feeling the ghost of Sundance plump within him, he came silently at the pinnacle of Etta's cries.
The first night with Etta gone was empty and the same all at once. Like the stories from men who have lost limbs about phantom pains so real that they would swear their leg was still right there, same as ever, except it hurt like all get out.
Things were still too hot to risk a hotel, so for the duration they'd be making camp under the Bolivian sky. Out of respect, Butch left Etta's place lie vacant. He threw his blanket down on the far side of the fire.
"Can't sleep," said Sundance at what seemed like very long last.
"I miss her too," said Butch. He did.
But minutes later, he groaning something about old bones and why always him, he moved his roll across the way. He got Sundance off first, then came himself mere moments behind the choke of Sundance's strangled cry.
Two weeks later, Butch was winged by an unseen rifle out of the hills. His horse went down with the next round and a third zinged past Sundance's ear. For perilous seconds, Sundance left himself exposed in danger's path hoisting Butch up and packing him off, bitching full-force about Butch's dumb-ass, moronic ideas the whole time.
He spent an extra moment in harm's way to silence Butch's whinnying mare.
Butch nodded his thanks before passing out in pain.
The slug spared bone and pulsing vessels. At first it seemed they'd beaten the odds yet again. But day to day it grew worse instead of better.
They were boxed in. At night, fires from the search parties burned near enough to smell them. A healthy horse and rider might make a break for it, but with any jostling Butch grimaced, and the wound soaked through the makeshift bandages again.
On the fourth day, it had festered up to pour frank pus.
At morning light, Sundance kindled a tiny fire and flamed his knife.
"Do you know what you're doing?" Butch asked through fever-cracked lips. He'd been delirious through the night.
"Much as you ever do."
"Is that supposed to be a comfort?"
Sundance shrugged. He held the blade aside to cool and looked to Butch, but no further questions--or guidance--came.
They'd both seen and smelt gangrene enough that no more need be said.
It wasn't that Sundance knew he could, but in a crunch, doing something always beat doing nothing. He and Butch were simpatico that way.
Delay wouldn't help. Sundance held blade to hot, swollen skin. "It's going to hurt."
"Did I tell you about my next idea?" Grey and clammy, Butch clenched his teeth.
Sundance cut, and foul smelling pus gushed out along the track.
Butch gasped and paled an ominous amount, then he lapsed into a dead faint.
Face set grim, Sundance dug until the bullet came free. He milked rotting tissue until the pus ceased to come, then he wrapped it as best he could.
He leaned back against a
rock to let his heart slow
down, and waited for whatever was to happen next.
"You look like shit," Butch said. The sun had been up, down, up, and now was growing dim again. He made a weak struggle to his good elbow, but gave it up with a gasp.
Sundance crawled over and crouched beside him. He was cooler and the arm had gone down to only about half its regular size. "Whose fault do you think that is?" Sundance uncorked his canteen and put an arm around Butch to raise him to a partial sit.
"You're not going to win any beauty contests yourself."
"Colorful. That's what you get alone in Bolivia. I'm colorful." Butch strangled on the first mouthful of water, but eventually worked down several sips.
"It takes ten years to get colorful. I don't know how long we've been here, but it's no ten years."
"I've always been a fast learner." Butch managed a little tortilla as well, before settling down in the bedding again.
They spotted the tracks as they rode out of the camp. The parties had been close--as close as a hundred yards away.
Butch rode against Sundance's back. "What was your master plan?" he asked, as they rode along the tracks where three, maybe four, horses had been.
"I could have taken them," Sundance said.
"And you say my ideas are crazy." Holding his seat became too much, and Butch just sagged in, arms wrapped around Sundance's waist, head bobbing against his shoulder.
"We could go home," Butch said one day. His shoulder was still stiff and sore, but nothing like it was. "We've almost got the fare. One or two more payroll mules, and we could have it. Even go first class this time."
"That what you want?" Sundance cantered alongside.
"I'm just saying it's an option. I'm thinking out loud. One of us ought to talk to scare the iguanas off."
"Took my turn last week."
"It'd be kind of nice to be home again. See Etta." He looked to Sundance.
"There's that price on your head."
"I've dodged warrants before." Not Lefors, Butch thought, but still...
"That's my problem." Butch might never get used to the idea that someone else could learn to think like him. "Chances are, they'd be happy with me. You could go back to being Harry Longbow--"
"--settle down, get married even. To someone respectable, a school teacher."
Sundance shot him a sidelong glance.
"'Butch Cassidy's gang.' It's going to be me they want."
"Think about yourself much, do you?" Sundance tried to fill his response with something acerbic, for he did want to go home.
He had no doubt that Butch did too.
"Do you want to go back or don't you?" Butch asked.
"Where else you thinking of?"
"Ah, I thought you'd never ask. Chile! The tip of the world, Cape Horn! Tierra del Fuego, the land of fire and ice."
"What about banks?"
"No banks, gold! Indian gold. Chunks of it all though the mountains and in Indian idols, jewelry, dishes, just lying around like copper back home. There for the taking. They don't even know what they have."
"Doesn't it snow there?" Sundance sounded skeptical. "I hate snow."
"That's the beauty of Chile," Butch said. "It runs from the equator almost down to the south pole. In winter, we go south and it's summer there. When it starts to blow cold in the south, we head north and it just like here again."
"Just like here?" Sundance had that tone again.
"Weatherwise. But we're in the mountains, lush mountains--like Colorado--but full of Indian gold."
"I'd like summer in December," Sundance said.
"I'll find it for you." Butch kicked up the pace.
That right there, Sundance thought, was what made Butch Cassidy one of a kind.
Press: they never get it fucking right.
Etta sailed from Valparaíso. Her journey was calm, safe and wholly uneventful. She despised it the entire way. Landed in San Francisco, she disembarked as the newly bereaved widow of an Argentinean banker who had died trough tragic happenstance in a ferocious gun battle in Neuquén. By the time she told it the third time, she could envision every bit of it in her mind.
She named the baby Robert Harry, telling anyone who thought to ask how his sea-blue eyes reminded her of a little boy by that name she had known back home many, many years before.
Etta didn't stay long in California. She said it was used up; its moment had come and gone with the easy gold. The only people who stayed in her now were those with bad timing: those who would cling to a once-promising claim that had pinched out years ago.
She and Robert Harry were moving on.
History lost track of her after that. Women weren't of much interest to the recorders then, unless giving birth to kings--and America wanted nothing to do with them.
Some say she moved home with the baby, took back her birth name as if the past ten years hadn't ever elapsed. Or it might be that she and her gun joined on with Buffalo Bill, hiding in plain site on stage behind a new name in a venue where no one looked beyond the show.
Others say she opened a high-end brothel out where the west was still as wild as her men.
News Carver swore she and the baby steamed to France the next year and met Sundance in Paris, but me, that's about the only one I can't believe. Etta was many things, but never either daredevil or dreamer: she was realist enough to know when a good run was over and what a person needed to do then.
The open question is: was
the only one of the three who
As for Butch and Sundance, well, with no bodies to show the US of A, rumors about them abound. Some say when the army made their play, Butch took care of Sundance, then himself as soon as he was certain the job had been done right. More conventional teaching is that they both died in a hail of Bolivian bullets, nigh one atop the other, Sundance reaching for Butch's outstretched hand with his dying strength. Others say they donned the uniforms of two fallen soldiers, outwitted everyone, and just like in the movies, plain escaped again.
Why not? If they could outlive the odds for twenty years, how much harder is one more day?
Those who know Bolivia don't believe a word of any official report. Whispers away from political ears are that they were shanghaied into the personal and very private service of the president. That is until one or the other impregnated his younger daughter, and they had to beat an expedient escape. Then there's the talk of them on foreign soils: Australian frontiersmen, South African gold and diamond barons, mercenaries in the Ottoman wars, ne'er-do wells pick-pocketing and working petty crimes around Paris and Rome. Someone knows someone who knew someone who's seen them everywhere that was exotic, ripe for the plucking, still untamed, and well out of the reach of US law.
The stories all have one thing in common: the two are always together--usually griping--but always, if not shoulder to shoulder, no farther than pistol cover range away.
To Buck and Anne Meadows who became consumed by the riddle of Cassidy's and Longabaugh's fate, the only logical solution was to try to have the bodies in the San Vincente cemetery exhumed.... But when an analysis was finally performed and a DNA comparison made with Longabaugh's relatives, no match could be found....The DNA was also compared with Parker family samples with the same results: no matches.