It’s that time of year when everyone wants a little distraction from work. So here’s something to amuse you for a few minutes. And if you read through to the end, there’s a chance to win a copy of my long out of print first novel, The Broken Token, the start of the Richard Nottingham series.
The story has its basis in a tale about the hero of the Wild West, Buffalo Bill Cody. He did indeed bring his show to Leeds in 1892, and again in 1903. Legend has it that on his first visit he went into the Three Legs pub, which still stands on the Headrow and ended up the loser in a fight.
Did it really? No one knows. But this is how it might have been…
Buffalo Bill Cody at the Three Legs
The man with the elaborate white moustache and small beard over his chin strode down the Headrow. He was wearing an expensive dark suit, with a formal wing collar, and a tie with a glittering pin. The only thing that marked him out as different was the black Stetson hat on top of his long hair. He looked at the people as he walked along. This time tomorrow many of them would be making their way to wherever it was, Cardigan Fields, to see the show he would put on them. They’d get a taste of the Wild West and his pockets would be lined with silver. Not a bad trade-off. And a lot less dangerous than some of the things he’d done back in America.
The posters were up everywhere, on buildings, on the trams: Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West Show, with a picture of him. Not a bad likeness, he had to allow. Crossing over Lands Lane a few people gave him a curious glance, as if they should recognise him, then looked away again.
Most of the troupe was camped down at the fields. All the Indians and the cowboys. They looked after the horses. The stars had hotel rooms, the best ones for himself and Annie, of course. They were the draws, the big attractions. He was the rider and Annie Oakley was the dead shot. He’d left her in her suite with her bottle of whisky while he went out to explore. Never hurt to know a place, to see what your customers might be like.
A door opened and noise blared out. He looked up at the sign – the Three Legs public house. Strange name, he thought. But there were people inside. And liquor. He had an inkling for something to wet his thirst.
The first one went down easily. The bar was busy, men standing back to look at him, not sure what to make of him or his accent.
‘I’ll take another of those,’ Cody said, setting the glass down on the bar, putting some coins down as the man refilled it.
‘Where you from?’ someone asked, and he turned with the showman’s smile on his face.
‘The United States of America,’ he announced. ‘You might have heard of me. I’m William F. Cody – Buffalo Bill.’
Sound seemed to ripple through the bar for a second and then everyone was staring at him. Everyone except one man who stood gazing into his beer.
The questions came quickly. Someone bought him another whisky, another man paid for a fourth. Pleasant place, Cody thought. Friendly; generous, too. They were eager to listen, and he was always happy to talk. The legend went ahead of him, of course. He’d ridden for the Pony Express, been a scout and Indian fighter for the army, a bison hunter. He’d done it all, been a part of the Wild West. And now he was making money showing Europe what it was like. Last year on the Continent, this year Britain, with six months in London and a command performance for the Queen ahead. For a boy born in the Iowa Territory he’d done pretty well for himself.
An hour and they still seemed happy to have him there. More people had arrived until the bar was packed. They were hanging on his words. He leaned back, elbows on the bar, lit a cigar and surveyed the crowd.
‘Surviving out there wasn’t always easy. You’d have your bedroll and your rifle, some jerky to see you through, and you knew where to find water – you hoped. If the Indians came, you could fight or run.’ He blew out smoke. ‘And I was never one for running.’
‘Think you’re tough, then, do you?’
The voice wasn’t loud. It didn’t need to be. It was deep enough to cut through everything. The man who’d spent the evening staring at his beer looked up, then stood. He must have been six and a half feet, all of it thick, solid muscle. His mouth was hidden by a heavy moustache, but his dark eyes seemed to pierce the room.
‘Well, sir, I believe I’ve proved myself a number of times.’ It was the right tone, he thought. Not challenging or too boastful, but not backing down.
‘Anyone can be a hard man with a gun.’ The man took a few paces forwards, and people parted to give him room. There was a sense of violence about him, that it would take very little to start a fight here.
‘I never started anything unless I had no choice.’ Cody stared at him. ‘Can I ask your name, sir?’
‘Paul Hardisty.’ Another pace. Close enough to smell the man’s sour breath.
‘A pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mr. Hardisty. Won’t you join me in a drink?’
He ignored the offer.
‘You talk a lot, cowboy. I daresay you can ride and shoot things. But round here most of us use Shanks’s pony and settle things with our fists.’
That brought some laughter. Cody had no idea what Shanks’s pony might be; all he knew was that it was time to leave.
‘Different country, different customs.’ He drained the whisky from the glass. ‘Now, I should probably get back to my hotel.’
But the press of people made it impossible to go, and Hardisty came even closer. Cody reached down to his side. No gun. He wore it everywhere at home, but not here; it was against the law. But his fingers did touch something – the hilt of a knife.
He’d been presented with it at his last performance. Good Sheffield steel, he’d been told, whatever that meant. Still, he had a weapon, and that gave him an advantage here. He’d done some knife fighting before.
Cody drew the blade and brought it out for everyone to see. People drew back, except Hardisty. He just looked disdainfully at the knife. Before the American knew what was happening, he brought down a big hand, clamped it around his wrist and squeezed.
The pain made him wince. He opened his mouth and sucked in air. The fingers pushed tighter on his flesh until he had no choice. The weapon rattled to the ground and Hardisty let him go.
‘Better,’ he said with satisfaction. ‘If you’re going to fight, you’ll do it like a man. Round here we don’t like folk who are all mouth. I’ve heard you go on and on. Let’s see what you’re about.’
He squared up, fist like a prizefighter, and Cody knew he was going to have to fight his way out of the pub.
“I’m Constable Ash, sir.’ The man in the blue uniform helped Cody to his feet. ‘Are you all right?’
‘Yeah, I’ll survive.’ Blood was still flowing from his nose, he felt like he’d lost a tooth, and his body was going to ache. But he was in one piece.
Hardisty, the other man, was out cold on the floor. Whatever this constable had done, it had saved him from a beating.
‘How did you do that?’ he asked.
‘Trick of the trade, sir.’ He showed the truncheon. ‘Have him up before the magistrate in the morning.’
‘I’m very grateful,’ Cody said.
‘All part of the service.’
‘I’m Bill Cody. My show starts tomorrow. Can I offer you tickets for you and your wife?’
‘That’s very generous, sir, but I’ve already booked. Just mind how you go on the way back to your hotel, eh?’
And now the free book…
My first novel, The Broken Token, has been out of print for several years. But I have found a used copy that’s almost like new. As a little Christmas gift for someone, simply contact me through here and I’ll select a name on Christmas Eve, then send it off after the holidays. The deadline to enter is midnight UK time, December 23.