Excerpt from “Little Big Man” by Thomas Berger ~~Hickok~~

picture-LittleBigMan-BergerI had moved my position so it lay due west of Wild Bill, which meant the rising sun was just above his head and consequently shining at my eyes. Ordinarily, I would have reached to pull down the brim of my planter’s hat, but facing a man like Hickok you don’t make the most innocent move.
So I commenced to squint. “You claim I am a cheat, do you?” I asks.
“That is right,” says he.
“And a liar?”
“Yes you are.”
I says: “I want to lower my hatbrim against the sun. I’m a-going to use my left hand.”
“Make it real slow,” he says, and hooks his thumbs into that red sash just forward of the white gun-butts on both sides.
My left hand crawled upwards like a caterpillar on a wall, caught the brim, and depressed it an inch. Then I turned my palm forward and flung open my fingers.
At the same time I went for my gun with my right hand. For a particle of a second I didn’t know what Wild Bill was doing; if you remember, he had trained me to concentrate on myself at the instant of action. So I didn’t rightly see him draw, but I sure saw the muzzle of his Colt’s spit lead and smoke directly at me.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

I surely would have been killed had I not employed a trick.
I caught the sun in my mirror-ring and reflected its glare into Hickok’s eyes, then dived to the ground. Though momentarily blinded, he drew as efficiently as always and sent two shots a-roaring through the space occupied by my head a scant instant before. But he couldn’t see nothing but green spots for a time, I reckon, for he next lowered his sixguns and stood there blinking. He looked right pathetic, now that I think of it, for all his six foot of dressed deerskin, trimmed with fur.
I laid quite safe there in the street, under his fire, but I daren’t speak a word on account of he could then have sighted on the sound of my voice. I had my own pistol out, and could have killed the great Wild Bill at that point and gone down in history for it.
Well, the moment in silence wasn’t any longer in reality than the moment of gunfire, and then Bill says: “All right, hoss, you whipped me again. Blast away.” I don’t answer. He says: “I tell you you better fire, because in a second I’m going kill you if you don’t.”
That fellow with the wagon had pulled to the side of the street and crawled under his vehicle, still several blocks distant. But two shots wasn’t enough to wake anybody out of bed in them days, especially that early of a morning, so we as yet did not have no other audience so far as I knowed.
“You trying to play me for a fool?” says Bill, right exasperated and he sent three more hunks of lead blowing through the air that I had lately vacated, then does that so-called border switch, the flying transfer of his guns. And his vision cleared some by now, so I guess he could make out I was laying on the ground, and he come over and prodded me with his boot and says: “Oh, I got you anyway, taking me for dead and wounded. I laid there with my eyes closed.
Then he says: “I’m sorry, hoss. But it was fair, wasn’t it? I taught you, didn’t I? And now I’m going to carry you over to the doc, and if you are dead I’ll buy you a nice funeral.”
I figured out by now he would have put away his gun, so as he bent over to pick me up, I come to life and shoved my pistol into his nose.
“Are you satisfied?” I asks. “I could have killed you ten times by now.”
Living his type of life, he didn’t have much energy to spare for astonishment. He squinted and backed up with his hands in the air. Then he let them down slowly and laughed a huge guffaw.
“Hoss,” he says, “you are the trickiest little devil I have ever run across. You know there are a couple of hundred men who would give all they owned to get a clear shot at Wild Bill Hickok, and you throw it away.”
He was laughing, but I reckon somewhere deep he was actually offended, such was his idea of himself. He would rather I had killed him than to take pains to show I was basically indifferent to the fact of his existence so long as I could protect my own hide.
He tried one more thing to pry from me an admission that I was fascinated by him. He says: “I guess you can go about now saying how you out a head on Wild Bill Hickok.”
I says: “I’ll never mention it.” And I have kept my word from that day to this. I wasn’t going to give him no free advertisement of any kind. That was the trouble with them long-haired darlings like him and Custer: people talked about them too much.
His mustache drooped in disappointment, but he laughed again to keep up the hearty front, and he says: “I’m going over to Abilene to be marshal. If you ever get over that way, hoss, why I’ll be proud to buy you a drink. But damn if I’ll ever play poker with you again.”

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One response to “Excerpt from “Little Big Man” by Thomas Berger ~~Hickok~~

  1. Thomas Berger was born in Cincinnati, Ohio USA on 20 July 1924, and died on 13 July 2014, aged 89 years.
    ‘Little Big Man’ was published in 1964.
    Wild Bill Hickok features in this fictional novel. He is a famed gunfighter of the American old west and did become the marshal at Abilene in April 1871. Hickok was born in Illinois, USA on 27 May 1837 and was murdered on 2 August 1876, aged 39 years.

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