Authors: Walter Satterthwait
Open Road Integrated Media Ebook
This is dedicated to Jon Richards and Claudia Jessup, with thanks and love. The bears are for them.
Anyone who reads both this book and Richard Ellmann's magistral biography of Oscar Wilde will at once perceive the debt which the former owes to the latter. I've also plundered shamelessly from
The Queen City
by Lyle W. Dorsett and Michael McCarthy, and from
Leadville: Colorado's Magic City
by Edward Blair. I've played fast and loose with facts and dates, however (the Leadville Crystal Palace, for example, wasn't erected until 1896), and I'm totally responsible for all errors, exaggerations, and outright lies.
People are strange
when you're a stranger â¦
Under normal circumstances, sexual desires become stabilized as soon as they meet adequate satisfaction.â¦ Freud describes a case in which the husband and wife had reached an exceptionally high level of perversion before they met (they had practiced every perversion in the book); it was a completely happy marriage, which ended only when the husband was arrested for the murder of a rich American woman.
, Order of Assassins
S HE STALKED IN
the darkness past the tiny scurrying forms of the Chinese, through pockets of their mindless squealing chatter, he inhaled the stench of old fish and of human excrement, the reek of rotting fruit, the stink of the unnamable herbs and spices with which these people cooked their wretched food.
But he delighted in them, those smells; almost giddily he sucked them in and played them along the back of his throat. They provided proof that tonight, once again, his senses were preternaturally acute.
Not that he needed proof; no.
He needed nothing, lacked nothing. On a night such as this he was complete, he was whole. The boundaries of his interior self had expanded, miraculously, to meet exactly the boundaries of his physical body; he could feel, all over, his spirit pulsing just beneath the taut surface of his skin. He moved within the center of a perfection.
No, he needed nothing.
, yes. There was something, there was one small thing, one small tasty thing, he wanted. And this, by right, he would soon have. This he would soon take.
The fog tonight was everywhere. It blurred the glow of the streetlamps, swirled around the corners of the tiny huddled shops, curled like smoke across the wooden sidewalk, whirled and eddied behind the clattering wooden wheels of the carriages and wagons. It comforted him, yes, of course, it assured him that the very elements, air and water, would collaborate with him in his quest: would give him the secrecy he required, would hide him.
But it was chill and it was damp. It hung about his clothes and pressed dense and clammy against his face, like the touch of a snail. It seeped through the dank leather of his gloves and it numbed his fingers.
But was this not merely another example of the heightening, the intensification, of all his senses? Yes, surely. Smell, taste, touch: each had been brought to a supreme throb of awareness by the diamond-like clarity of his purpose.
Vision, too: he saw things that others did not, could not. Looking into the faces of the people he passed, he could detect, as clear to him as the outline of their fragile skulls, the cramped futility of the souls trapped within, the pathetic emptiness of their lives.
He very nearly felt sorry for them.
None of them would ever know for themselves the heights to which he had soared: those luminous ethereal reaches of experience and insight. None of them had bathed in that pure white infinite radiance. None had ever sensed the presence, the approval, of the Lords of Light.
Yes, that tingling, that numbness at the fingertips was a small price to pay for the life of marvel and wonder he had been granted.
And in any event, he would be warming those cold hands soon enough.
He felt anticipation curl down his spine and ball itself like a cat at the base of his belly. He smiled.
The area he wanted, and had at last found, was on the fringes of Chinatown, near the docks. Here the seamen's bars crouched along narrow side streets, the dim light behind their small square windows casting a sickly yellow pall out onto the slowly swirling mist.
And here the whores walked.
Now that he had arrived at the hunting ground, his clothes seemed to fit more tightly on his body; his chest felt confined within shirt and vest, jacket and topcoat. It was as though the purpose, the power, that filled him had swelled his frame, had engorged bone and muscle and ligament.
He shivered, almost shuddered, with pleasure.
And no one, not one of them, would ever guess his secret.
How uncanny it was that he could present such a show of outward normalityâcould appear as insignificant to the others as they were in fact themselvesâwhen inwardly his soul hummed with this awesome, irresistible strength. Outside, a simple mortal, unprepossessing; insignificant even. Inside, the same boundless energy that could furl tumults of storm cloud across a bloated moon, send lightning bolts crashing through the black sweep of rain. The energy of the Lords, the dark, forgotten gods who held sway over storm and fire.
The common run of man, given sudden dominion over this enormous power, would topple to his knees, wailing and gibbering; or all at once explode.
How uncanny that he could dissemble so; that through his own skill and cunning he had mastered the force within, learned to conceal it.
And how deliciousâthat, too. Really: how delicious.
In the air was the tang of stale urine, and of brine from the Bay, smelling of tears and phlegm. The night was sliding toward dawn and the streets were nearly deserted. No carriages rattled here, few pedestrians passed; beneath the faint yellow blur of the streetlamps, the empty pavements disappeared off into darkness and fog.
Only a handful of the creatures would be left, of course. But he knew that among them he would find the one he wanted. As surely as he sought his destiny, his destiny sought him.
Lurching from a doorway just a few steps away came the first of them. It saw him, cocked its big head, smiled its predatory red smile. “Lookin' for a piece of pie, handsome?”
It was a big blowsy thing in its early twenties, bloodshot blue eyes and bright clownish lipstick smeared beyond the outline of its thin lips. It evidently took some pride in its hair, for this, blond and shining, was left uncovered and pulled back neatly into a heavy bun. In a sullen, bovine way the thing was almost handsome. But it was too bulky, too boxy, too heavy with meat.
And it was too young by far. It hadn't reached yet that peak of ripeness he required.
It didn't, finally, deserve his attentions.
He shook his head abruptly and stepped around it, careful not to touch it. He heard it bray with laughter behind him.
Coward! Gutless spineless WRETCH!
The chill in the air was stronger; he drew his topcoat more tightly about himself.
She frightened you! Too big, too strong!
He shoved his gloved hands into his pockets. Soon. He would find the right one soon. It was a certainty; it was fated.
One block farther along, he saw the second whore.
It stood just within the murky light of the streetlamp, leaning against the alley-side corner of a two-story brick building. Its eyes unfocused and its mouth slack, it wore a dreary black bonnet set askew above a damp disheveled tangle of red hair. It noticed his approach and it blinked several times, with an obvious effort gathering together the tatters of consciousness. Then it pushed itself off the wall, took a step, tottered, righted itself. Clutching a small purse down at its thigh with the stiff, exaggerated care of a drunk, it stumbled toward him.
He knew, by the sudden growing heaviness below his belly, that this was the one.
The creature leered, swaying slightly; “You want some pussy, honey?” It ran a lewd tongue over its lips. “You want some, Flower's got it.”
Thin and angular, perhaps thirty-five years old, perhaps forty-five, it gave off the stink of old sweat and cheap whiskey and cheaper perfume. The features of its face were regular, but the skin was lined, crow's-feet at the eyes, deep furrows bracketing the wide red mouth. Beneath caked white powder, its cheeks and thin nose were blotched with ruptured veins. It wore a frayed red sweater over a drab green dress, the sweater open and the dress cut low to parade the sagging breasts, gray and goosefleshed, marbled with blue.
He smiled at the creature.
“Two dollars,” it told him. “Best pussy you ever had. You want French, that's three.”
He told it what he wanted.
Its body wavered slightly, buffeted by the breezes of alcohol, and it leered again.
You see: She wants it too, she wants it
It said, “You wanna knock at the back door, honey?”
Bitch! Foul filthy strumpet!
Leering still: “Sure. Sure. We'll have us a good time.” It swayed again, blinked, closed its mouth and sucked vaguely on its tongue, concentrating. Its eyes narrowed shrewdly. “Be three dollars, honey, and a dollar for the room.” Blearily it looked up and down the empty street. “You're in a hurry, we can use the alley.”
Loathsome despicable slut!
It leaned unsteadily toward him, put out a hand, touched him. “Feels like you're in a hurry, honey.” It laughedâit barkedâinto his face, and its breath was pestilential: liquor, garlic, moldering teeth. “Come on, we'll take care of that. We'll do you, honey, we'll do you right.”
Trollop! Pig! Vile stinking hole!
It slipped its arm around his and on wobbly legs it led him into the unlighted alley.
Take her take the rotting slut now!
A part of his mind was dancing, whirling, amid a bright interior radiance. Stars erupted. Comets fizzed and glared. The power, held in check for so long now, shook the walls of his flesh.
And yet such was his command, his mastery, that he could still savor the warmth and tenderness he felt for the squalid thing beside him; a vast fondness; almost, indeed, a gratitude. The creature shared his destiny; it
his destiny. The two of them had glided on their separate lives down through the arc of years to arrive together at precisely this place, at precisely this time: so that together they might partake of this unique moment of power and glory. Of transcendent grace.
Take her take her TAKE her
It stopped, its head loose atop its neck. In the gray half light, its face was a blur. “Fine here, honey, no one ever comes through the alley. Flower's private place.” It touched him again, stroked him.
The power clogged his chest, clotted in his throat; he could barely breathe.
The creature released his arm and bent down to gather up the hem of its dress.
NOW NOW NOW!
The power drummed against his ears, against his eyes. He took his hands from his pockets and removed his gloves. He noticedâas though from very far away and through undulating curtains of light, a flickering auroraâthat his hands were steady; and, remotely, he was pleased. He folded the gloves and put them carefully in his pocket.
NOW NOW NOW!