The Best Rootin' Tootin' Shootin' Gunslinger in the Whole Damned Galaxy




The Best

Rootin' Tootin' Shootin' Gunslinger

in the Whole Damned Galaxy

Book 4

Tales of the Galactic Midway




Mike Resnick



© 1983, 2011 by Mike Resnick




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ISBN: 978-1-61417-037-2



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Tales of the Galactic Midway #4




by Mike Resnick




Chapter 1


The Dancer could ride, the Dancer could fight,

The Dancer could draw with the speed of light.

With his pale blue eyes and his killer's heart,

The Dancer at work was a true work of art.

Billybuck Dancer, Billybuck Dancer, firing those forty-fours.

Didn't rob, didn't loot,

But by God could he shoot!

The Dancer was bigger than all outdoors!

—from “The Ballad of Billybuck Dancer"


The place looks pretty full,” remarked Thaddeus Flint to the brightly-clad, undersized hunchback standing next to him. “I guess it's time for Tom Mix."

“There are just a few more people to sit down at the back of the tent," replied his companion, speaking with a pronounced stammer.

“I don't know that I'd exactly call them
,” said Flint. “But what the hell—their money spends as good as anyone else's. Give 'em a couple of minutes to get comfortable and then go to work. And Tojo?"

“Yes?” said the hunchback.

“Remember to plug the cotton candy. My idiot partner just bought five tons of sugar."

?” repeated Tojo. “Why would Mr. Ahasuerus buy so much?"

“Why does he do anything he does?” snorted Flint. “His computer told him we were getting a good price on it.” He lit a cigarette. “Five'll get you twenty he never thought to ask the goddamned machine where the hell we were going to unload it.” Flint checked the house again. “Okay. Go to work," he said, heading off to his accustomed viewing position in the lighting control booth, high above the crowded grandstand.

Tojo walked out across the sawdust floor of the tent and clambered awkwardly onto a small platform as the huge crowd of purple birdlike beings suddenly fell silent. He activated his translating mechanism, turned on the public address system, waited for the recorded drumroll to be piped in, and began speaking.

“Ladies and gentlemen!” he cried, as Flint glanced at the audience and wondered idly if it even fell into those two categories. “Now for the moment you've all been waiting for.
The Ahasuerus and Flint Traveling Carnival and Sideshow
is pleased and proud to present, for the first time ever on Beta Epsilon IV, the one, the only, the fabulous
Billybuck Dancer

“Actually,” commented Flint dryly as a tall, bald, incredibly gaunt blue being climbed up to the booth and sat down next to him, “it's the third time ever, if you count the two shows yesterday."

“Poetic license, Mr. Flint,” said the blue man easily.

“And he forgot to mention the cotton candy."

“This is neither the time nor the place for it,” replied the blue man.

“Unless you've got one hell of a sweet tooth, Mr. Ahasuerus, this is precisely the time and place for it,” said Flint.

“Do you know how rare sugar is in this sector of the galaxy?” inquired Mr. Ahasuerus gently.

“Not rare enough. We've got two hundred sacks of it piled up in the galley."

Further discussion was made impossible by the roar from the crowd, as the house lights darkened for a few seconds and then came on again to reveal a slender, blond young man standing in the center of the tent, his arms folded casually across his chest. His fringed cowboy shirt and pants glistened a brilliant silver, his Stetson was covered with the same material, and his boots and holster were a shining silver patent leather. He wore a red garter on his right sleeve, and a sheer black bandanna around his neck.

“A new outfit?” asked Mr. Ahasuerus.

Flint nodded. “Now that the strip show's closed, he's got a lot of bright material to choose from."

Billybuck Dancer touched the brim of his hat to acknowledge the ovation.

Then, as Tojo explained the principles of a projectile weapon to the audience, the Dancer walked over to a prop table, picked up three small plaster figurines, and threw them high into the air. He waited until they had reached the apex of their trajectory and were falling back to the ground before he even reached for his pistol. Then his hand became little more than a blur of motion, and three shots were fired so quickly that even Flint, who had seen the act hundreds of times, was sure that he heard only one explosion. The three figurines shattered into thousands of tiny pieces.

The Dancer spent another five minutes with his solitary display of marksmanship, then was joined by a scantily-clad assistant.

“Isn't that Jenny?” asked the blue man.

“Yeah,” replied Flint. ‘”You sound surprised."

“I thought Priscilla was working with him yesterday,” continued Mr. Ahasuerus, mildly perplexed.

“The girls have decided to start taking turns working with him every day instead of every planet. I guess they feel a little safer that way."

“But that's silly! He never misses."

“He hasn't missed
,” said Flint. “There's a difference.” He snuffed out his cigarette and immediately lit another. “And for the five years we've been playing these jerkwater little worlds of yours, I've never once been able to make him practice. One of these days he's going to misjudge the gravity, or just get out-and-out careless, and we're going to have one less pretty girl on our hands."

“Do you really think so?” asked the blue man.

Flint shrugged. “No. But the girls do."

He turned his eyes back to the Dancer, who was preparing to shoot a cigarette out of Jenny's lips. There was no careful alignment of sights, no closing of one eye while he took aim, not even a request for her to turn slightly to her left so he could get a full profile view of her. There was just another blur of motion, and suddenly Jenny had only half a cigarette in her mouth.

Jenny then produced a deck of cards and had a member of the audience select four court cards. She showed them to the Dancer, then stood about forty feet away and hurled the entire deck into the air. Three shots rang out instantly; then the Dancer dropped to one knee as he peered at the falling pasteboards, and got off a fourth shot just as one of the cards was about to land on the sawdust. Jenny spent a moment gathering up the cards and produced four headless jacks, as the audience roared its appreciation.

A few more minor tricks followed, and then the Dancer prepared for the stunt that always made the carny crew—including Flint—wince with apprehension.

A pair of robots brought out a huge wheel, perhaps eight feet in diameter, and attached Jenny to it, her arms and legs spread-eagled and held tight with small straps. A card, the ace of spades, was affixed to a spoke of the wheel no more than an inch from her left hand, while the ace of hearts was attached a similar distance from her left foot. The wheel was set erect and one of the robots began spinning it so rapidly that it soon became almost impossible to distinguish her features.

The Dancer stared calmly at her for a moment, then pulled a knife out of each of his boots. Turning his back to the spinning wheel, he displayed the knives to the crowd—and then, in a single motion, he whirled and hurled both knives within half a second of each other, one with each hand.

The crowd emitted the avian equivalent of a gasp, the wheel was allowed to spin to a halt, and the Dancer casually walked over and withdrew a knife from each card. As the birdlike creatures fluttered their wings by way of applause, a robot attached another card just to the left of Jenny's neck, while its companion brought out a small contraption that looked very much like a hassock with a tent pole sticking up from its center. This was placed about fifty feet from Jenny, and the Dancer, placing one knife back in his boot, crossed over to it, stepped onto the circular platform, and took a firm grip on the pole with his left hand.

“I hate watching this,” whispered Mr. Ahasuerus, nevertheless unable to look away.

“It's not exactly my cup of tea, either,” admitted Flint as the first robot set Jenny's wheel in motion again. “Still,” he added, as the second robot touched a button on the Dancer's platform and it, too, began spinning, “it fills up the tent.” He glanced at the Dancer, who was spinning faster and faster. “You know, if he ever loses his grip on that post, he's going to wind up in the fortieth row."

The two humans kept rotating with blinding speed as another drumroll was sent over the sound system. Then, suddenly, there was an extra blur of motion from the Dancer's platform, and the lights reflected off his knife for the merest flickering of an instant as it sped toward Jenny's wheel.

Again the robots allowed the wheel to slow down by itself, as the Dancer leaped off his platform and landed, seemingly not dizzy in the least, a good twenty feet away.

“I don't know how he does it!” said Mr. Ahasuerus, shaking his bald blue head in amazement as the Dancer once again walked across the sawdust and removed his knife from the center of the card.

“I don't know how
does it,” replied Flint. “Whatever we're paying her, it's not enough."

This time the audience rose to its feet and filled the tent with weird hooting noises. The alien cheers persisted for almost five minutes before the Dancer could continue his act, and then they allowed him to proceed only after he'd doffed his Stetson a number of times and shaken the feathered claws of half a dozen of the more prominent spectators.

“And now, ladies and gentlemen,” said Tojo, “Billybuck Dancer will put his life on the line while performing the most dangerous trick ever devised. May I call your attention to the device being moved into the ring at this time? We call it our Killing Machine, and it can hurl ten knives in less than three seconds, in random order and with deadly accuracy. You will notice that one of the robots is placing a dummy fifty feet away from the device. Now please observe what happens when the Killing Machine is activated."

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