Detective Vinny Carlotto entered Worldwide Time Travel, taking a few moments to examine the myriad of posters on the walls. They were big and colorful, heralding trips from the Antebellum South and Victorian England to gladiator spectacles at the Roman Coliseum.
* * *
One huge poster pictured Abraham Lincoln, stating that for the extraordinary price of $350,000 one could leap back in time to November 19, 1863, to witness the Great Emancipator's delivery of the Gettysburg Address. There was another poster, advertising a trip back to February 9, 1964, tickets provided, to experience the Beatle's groundbreaking performance on the Ed Sullivan show. This two day package deal went for the remarkable price of $225,000.
Carlotto couldn't help but shake his head in wonderment. Who would have ever thought it possible? It was astonishing, completely mind-boggling. But, unfortunately, time-travel was far beyond the monetary grasp of the average American. As a lot of things, it was only for the filthy rich.
From behind the counter, a nerdy-looking man was observing Carlotto from over the top of his black-framed glasses. As most people, he appeared a bit intimidated by the detective's massive shoulders and no-nonsense demeanor.
"Can I help you, sir? My name's Ogden Kramer. As you can see, we have many outstanding trips. And, may I add, our prices are extremely competitive."
"Not for my pocketbook."
"We do have time payment plans." A chuckle. "No pun intended."
"Tell me; how does this time travel work?"
"There's so much rigmarole and so many rules and regulations that I rather not get into it unless you're seriously interested. Time travel is very highly regulated by both the state and federal government."
"Just like everything."
Kramer cocked his head, raising a brow. "I have the feeling you're here for something other than time-travel."
"You're feeling is spot on." The detective pulled his ID pack, displaying his gold shield. "Vincent Carlotto, NYPD."
"Uh-huh. I pegged you as soon as you walked in."
"What gave me away—my cheap clothes or my sparkling personality?"
"Just by the way you carry yourself."
Carlotto produced a photo, pushing it across the counter with a forefinger. "Have you seen this guy by any chance?
The nerd studied the face. As he did, Carlotto saw a small flicker of recognition in his eyes.
"No, I can't say that I have. Who is he?"
"Someone you wouldn't want to have dinner with. His name is Nathan Ostrosky. He and two of his pals have robbed a number of armored cars and banks, netting well in the excess of seven million dollars. During the course of these robberies, a total of five guards, two tellers and three innocent by-standers have been killed."
Kramer swallowed hard, his large Adam's-apple bobbing.
"Three days ago, up in Westchester County, Ostrosky's two cohorts were found dead in a car, each with a bullet to the head. Obviously, Nathan is not the sharing type." Carlotto tapped the photo for emphasis. "Ostrosky, here, is numero uno on the FBI's Ten Most Wanted List."
"His picture has been on TV, right?'
Kramer sighed, playing his game. "Yes, yes, now I recall seeing this face. It was on TV. Yes, that's it—on a news flash."
"I'm following up on a little hunch. I thought that maybe, just maybe, Ostrosky would think of time-travel as a means of hiding out. You know; to get out of the picture for a while until things cool down. He probably stashed his loot in a safe place for when he returns. What better way, right?"
The nerd started to sweat, a nervous tic playing at the corner of his mouth. "Well . . . uh . . . yeah . . . I suppose."
"So tell me. When was he here?"
"He . . . he was never here."
Carlotto reached out and grabbed a handful of the man's collar, nearly dragging him over the counter. Their noses were only inches apart. "I think he was. If you've helped him out in any way, you'll be up to your eyeballs in shit. I will see to it, personally, that you become an accessory to robbery and murder."
"You . . . you can't do that."
"Don't underestimate me, pal. Believe me; you will come to regret it. And I'm sure the FBI will lend a willing hand."
Kramer started to shake, looking as though he was about to break out in tears. "I . . . I didn't know who he was. I swear to you; I didn't have a clue."
"Bull crap! You said you recognized his face from TV."
"At the time, I didn't. I . . . I . . . I really didn't."
"Did you time-travel him? And if you did, how much did he pay you to cut through all the red tape and mumbo-jumbo? You're in a peck of trouble with both the state and the federal government, my friend. Speak up! Give me everything."
"Can . . . can you grant me some kind of immunity?"
"Jesus H! Speak to me."
The man quaked in his shoes for a few moments before finding his tongue. "I . . . I sent him back to Tombstone, Arizona, September the twenty-sixth, eighteen-eighty-one. He slipped me $250,000 to disregard all the paperwork and legal stuff. Hell, he never would have passed the background check that's required. The money was for me to keep my mouth shut and to delete the automatic recording of the trip on the time capsule panel."
"Yes. Every time-travel is automatically recorded. Each Friday, the tape is checked by the feds to make sure that everything is on the up-and-up. The state checks it out every two weeks. The recording is hard to delete, but I know how to do it."
Carlotto whistled. "You're going to be in a world of hurt, pal." A gritty chuckle. "While in prison, try to avoid the shower room."
Kramer appeared on the verge of an emotional collapse. Wailing in anguish, he ran his shaking fingers through a mop of Einstein-like hair. "What can I do, what can I do? Can I help you in some way to get me out of this?"
In an instant, Carlotto knew what he had to do. "Okay, okay, how long is Ostrosky staying in Tombstone?"
"For an indefinite period. He has a control belt, so he can return whenever he pleases. Plus, he's not accompanied by one of our company's highly-trained chaperones."
"What do you mean by chaperone?"
"Worldwide Time Travel always sends a chaperone with its travelers, to make sure that they return in the allotted time and also to make certain that they don't tamper with history in any way."
"Okay, here's the deal. You're going to send me back to Tombstone, a full month later than Ostrosky, and when I get back, I'll cut you some slack. If you cough up the $250,000, I might even keep my mouth shut about everything."
"Why do you want to go back a full month later than Ostrosky? It doesn't make sense."
"It makes a lot of sense. I want him to be relaxed and comfortable with his surroundings. If he's off-guard, I have a better chance of nailing him." Carlotto rested a firm hand on the man's shoulder. "And I'll expect you to delete my time travel from the automatic recording."
"Yeah, yeah, sure. Well then, follow me and I'll get you a change of clothing."
"What I'm wearing will be fine."
Kramer barked a laugh. "If you insist on wearing that suit and tie, some cowpoke is likely to put a bullet square between your eyes. At the very least, the Earps might throw you in the calaboose for screwing with the dress code."
Carlotto was led to a wardrobe room where he picked out a suitable outfit for 1881 Tombstone. It consisted of a white muslin shirt with Mother-of-Pearl buttons, a gray puff tie and a fancy brocade vest, along with a black frock coat, matching trousers with a button fly and a pair of fine leather boots. He was going to play the role of a frontier gambler. He examined himself in a mirror, adjusting the brim of a black bowler to just above eye level. He had to admit that he cut a pretty dashing figure.
He was also provided with a hundred dollars in period money, both paper and coins. Last but not least, the nerd supplied him with a lightweight control belt, which Carlotto struggled to fasten around his midsection, hidden under his shirt and vest. Kramer had entered a special code into the contraption that provided a quick return to 2027 New York. All that was required was the simple pressing of a green button.
"Are you sure this little gizmo belt will work?"
"It's flawless. We have the testimonies of a couple of hundred satisfied customers. Plus, I gave it a test trial, myself." Kramer sighed, shrugging his shoulders. "Unfortunately, I can't supply you with a period six-shooter. Time-traveling with a firearm is strictly forbidden and the penalties are extremely severe; both for the traveler and the time-travel agency. It's a serious offense, punishable by a $100,000 fine and a good ten years in prison."
"It's amazing how honest and law-abiding you've suddenly become."
"Look, I'm an honest man by nature. I just had one little lapse."
"Correction. You had a very big lapse." Dispensing with his shoulder holster, Carlotto slipped his Glock, along with an extra clip of ammo, into the roomy pocket of his frock coat. "I don't need some ancient six-shooter, anyway. This seventeen-shot baby will give me all the firepower I'll need."
"Let me give you a bit of warning. Ostrosky traveled with a similar weapon."
"Boy, when you break laws, you really break them."
With that, Kramer led the detective into a room with a long control panel topped with monitors. Standing directly in the center of the room was a glass-domed capsule.
"How's this going to work?"
Kramer escorted Carlotto to the capsule, opening a sealed door and waving him in.
"It would be too lengthy of an explanation, but I'll give it to you in a nutshell. After I make all the necessary entries on the control panel, the molecules of your body will scatter like so much confetti. Once you reach Tombstone, the molecules will quickly join back together, and voila, you'll materialize."
"Materialize where, exactly?"
"That hasn't been perfected yet. All that I can guarantee is that it will be somewhere within the city limits of Tombstone."
"Answer me this. If it takes so much technical rigmarole to get to Tombstone, why is it so much easier to return simply by pushing a green button?"
"Good question. I'll explain it to you someday over a hundred cups of coffee. I can only hope it's not in prison."
After the door was closed and thoroughly sealed, Carlotto watched with a great deal of trepidation as Kramer hurried to the control panel, paying close attention to the monitors as his nimble fingers danced along, flipping switches and pressing buttons.
In those last few moments, Carlotto began a quick review of everything that he'd failed to do. He should have adhered to protocol and gotten clearance from his superiors. He should have notified the FBI. He should have called his partner, Tommy Martinez, who was out canvassing other time-travel agencies, so the detective could keep a close watch over Kramer to make certain he didn't pull any shenanigans. Kramer could probably make a few entries on the control panel that would leave him high and dry in Tombstone - never to return. Then the little geek could rest easy and keep the $250,000.
Well, it was too late now. All that he could do is cross his fingers and hope for the best. As he continued to watch Kramer, a bead of sweat formed, slowly trickling down the length of his spine.
Suddenly, there was a humming sound and Carlotto's thoughts were swept away by a strange whirling sensation.
Sometime later, maybe minutes, probably seconds, Carlotto found himself standing in the middle of a dirt street, his fuzzy brain grappling with what had happened to him. Dust. Strange smells and sounds. A freight wagon was bearing down on him, its startled driver yanking on the reins and shouting "whoa." One of the horses drew up head-to-head with Carlotto, snorting, its wet muzzle only an inch from the detective's nose.
* * *
"Are you plumb crazy?" shouted the driver. "Standing there like a gall-darned fool in the middle of the street!"
"I ain't your 'pal'."
Carlotto hustled out of the way, his heart pounding like a jackhammer. The wagon lumbered past, axles creaking, with the scowling driver launching a glob of tobacco juice that nearly caught the detective in the head.
"Dang fancy-pants gambler! Where you from, anyway?"
The man harrumphed. "I should have known. An eastern tenderfoot to top it off."
Carlotto watched the freight wagon depart, the teamster whistling and cracking his whip, wheels stirring up a cloud of yellow dust. As he walked to the boardwalk, he nearly collided with a grizzled old miner, who'd been watching the whole affair in utter astonishment.
"Where in the blue blazes did you come from, mister? I swear you jus' popped out of nowhere."
"I think you're seeing things." Carlotto tapped the pint of whiskey that was poking from the old-timer's pocket. "If I were you, I'd lay off that stuff."
Gathering his senses, Carlotto started down the boardwalk, taking in the sights and sounds. He couldn't believe that he was in the old west; Tombstone no less, in the same year as the infamous gunfight at the O.K. Corral. And that's when he drew up short, suddenly realizing that today—October 26, 1881—was the very day of the gunfight. He'd told Kramer that he wanted to arrive exactly one month later than Ostrosky and this is what he got. What a frigging coincidence! Carlotto stood there for a few moments, his legs fairly shaking with excitement. Sweet Jesus! Would he get to see it? Composing himself, he continued on his way, shivering with anticipation.
All sorts of sounds filled the air - piano music and the whinnying of horses; the steady ding-ding-ding of a blacksmith's hammer striking iron; raucous laughter and the clinking of glasses coming from a nearby saloon. The boardwalks were exceptionally crowded with silver miners and merchants and gamblers; gaudy prostitutes and finely-dressed ladies; Mexicans and Chinamen and swaggering cowboys. Despite the odor of unwashed bodies and horse dung, the air was decidedly fresher than that of 2027 New York.
Tombstone was rife with saloons and gambling houses, and it didn't bode well if Ostrosky was in one of them, drinking up a storm. The man was mean and gun-happy as it was and liquor was bound to make him that much worse. He hadn't thought of asking Kramer how much period money he'd given the man. Was it enough to tide him over for an extended stay, or would he have to resort to gambling and robbery to augment his supply?
Carlotto was so deep in thought that he inadvertently bumped into someone. It was a tall, thin guy, blue-eyed and blondish-haired, with fairly handsome features and a handlebar moustache. He was dressed in black, from his low-crowned hat to his long Prince Albert frock coat and boots. There was something about the man that was oddly familiar. And then it struck Carlotto where he'd seen the face before—in more than a few history books. Sweet Jesus, above! It was none other than Wyatt Earp!
Earp glared, brushing the shoulder of his coat as if the bump had dirtied it. :You've got to watch where you're walking, mister."
"I . . . I'm sorry. My mind was elsewhere."
A long stare. "Are you new in town? I'm not suggesting I know everyone, but I've never seen you before."
"I just got here, today."
"You appear to be a gambling man."
"I've been known to try my luck from time-to-time."
"Well, if you're looking for a little action, I recommend the Oriental Saloon. "Everything's above board, fair and square." A wink. "I have a one-quarter interest in the faro concession."
"Thanks for the tip. I'll make certain to give it a try."
As the two men started off on their separate ways, Earp suddenly stopped and turned, loudly clearing his throat to grab Carlotto's attention "You wouldn't be packing a gun, would you?"
Carlotto swallowed hard, heart drumming. "No, sir. Guns make me nervous."
Earp cocked his head and stared, trying to determine if he was hearing the truth. "Good. Because there's an ordinance, banning the carrying of firearms within the city limits."
"That's a very good policy." That will be to my advantage, if I come across Ostrosky. But there's a good chance that the man's in violation, like me. "Yes, sir. That is an exceptionally wise policy."
Satisfied, Earp strode off, tipping the brim of his hat to a lady. Carlotto watched as the legend crossed Allen Street to the opposite boardwalk. My God! He'd actually exchanged words with the famous Wyatt Earp! No one will ever believe this. Unfortunately, he'd also lied to the famous Wyatt Earp. He sincerely hoped that he would never come to regret it.
Carlotto decided to make the rounds of the saloons and gambling houses to see if he could locate Ostrosky. The man could be anywhere; hanging out a few miles out of town or maybe in a whole different town. He still wasn't sure what his course of action would be if he found the killer. Would he shoot him dead on the spot and be done with it? Or could he somehow subdue the man and hold onto him, pushing the green button so they could both be transported back to New York together?
Carlotto visited the Capitol, Hafford's and Crystal Palace saloons, but came up empty. In the Campbell and Hatch Saloon and Billiard Parlor he thought he saw Ostrosky, but decided that the man was only a look alike. All of the establishments had been mobbed with drinkers and card players, not a person offering him a second look. To his satisfaction, he'd blended in perfectly.
Then he looked for Earp's suggestion, the Oriental Saloon, locating it on the corner of Fifth Street and Allen, cautiously pushing his way through the batwing doors. Surprisingly, the place was a lot fancier than he expected, with an intricately carved bar, backed by shelves of glittering liquor bottles and crystal. Small chandeliers graced the ceiling, providing plenty of ambient light. Piano music sounded, joining the gruff voices and boisterous laughter. Miners and cowboys were playing poker and faro and chuck-a-luck. Wreathes of tobacco smoke hung in the air.
Carlotto headed for the bar and found an empty space, ordering a whiskey as though he was in an old western movie, his eyes searching the room for any sign of his quarry. No luck. Instead, his eyes fell on a frail-looking, pallid-faced man with a thick moustache, dressed like a dandy in a gray suit and puff tie. A half-emptied bottle of whiskey was sitting in front of him. As he watched, the man suddenly doubled over in a fit of coughing, hacking up a phlegm ball into a handkerchief.
"Excuse me," said a bartender, laying a warning hand on Carlotto's arm. "I wouldn't stare too long and hard at Doc. He doesn't taking kindly to prying eyes."
The detective's heart did a somersault. "You mean that's Doc Holliday?"
"In the flesh."
Holy cow! First Wyatt Earp and now the infamous Doctor John H. Holliday!
"Honestly, mister; I've seen Doc call out men for a lot less than staring. So you'd better be careful."
"Thanks for the warning." Carlotto slipped the photo of Ostrosky from his pocket. It was a modern high-definition picture, bound to attract attention, but he had to take the chance. "Have you ever seen this man around?"
"I've never seen a picture like this before."
"It's the latest from New York."
The bartender raised his brows in surprise. "Well, I'll be danged."
"So, have you ever seen him?"
"Yup. That's Nat Osterman."
Apparently, Ostrosky was using an alias to be on the safe side, employing the first letters of his first and last name.
"He's been chumming with the Clanton and McLaury boys. They call themselves cowboys, but they're more cattle rustlers than anything."
The news hit Carlotto like a sledgehammer. This was definitely not what he needed. Things had just gotten a lot more complicated.
The bartender suddenly cleared his throat. "Uh-oh. It looks like something's up."
The detective turned to see that a young boy had appeared, whispering urgently into Doc Holliday's ear. Looking concerned, the tubercular dentist jumped to his feet and pulled a gray overcoat from the back of his chair, quickly slipping it on. Then he grabbed his silver-knobbed cane and hustled out the door.
Carlotto blew a harsh breath. "Damn, it's going to go down at the O.K. Corral."
The bartender looked perplexed. "What's going to go down?"
"You'll learn about it, soon enough."
Carlotto blew through the batwing doors, hurrying up the boardwalk. Was Ostrosky at the O.K. Corral with his new-found friends? If so, how was this all going to play out? Should he make his move now, or should he wait to see what happens? But he wanted Ostrosky and if he was at the O.K. Corral, he wanted to nab him before the Earps and Holliday showed up on the scene. There was a good chance that he might change the course of history.
The detective hurried across the street, going over what he'd learned about the gunfight. The Earps and Holliday would head down Fourth Street to Fremont in that slow and deliberate walk of theirs. That's when they'll get held up by Sheriff Johnny Behan, who will attempt to defuse the situation.
Carlotto figured that if he headed straight down Allen Street, he could get to the Corral before them. And then what? What the hell would he do? If Ostrosky was indeed with the Clantons and McLaurys, how was he supposed to handle the situation? Everything told him to play it cool and wait, but he'd never been a man to let the grass grow under his feet.
Carlotto picked up his pace to a near run, his heavy breathing suggesting that he was out of shape. Too many doughnuts and cheeseburgers. He shook off the bad vibes, bracing himself for whatever he had to do. Reaching the corner of the block, he looked across the street to see the Earps and Holliday urgently conversing in front of Hafford's Saloon. Morgan, Virgil and Wyatt looked nearly identical in their black hats and frock coats.
The detective kept up his pace, trying to calm himself. Something like this deserved a steady hand and a focused mind. When he drew abreast of the Dexter Livery and Feed Stable, he finally came to a stop, trying to catch his breath. He slipped the Glock from his pocket, holding it close to his leg. The O.K. Corral was directly across the street. But he'd read that the gunfight hadn't actually taken place at the Corral, but in a vacant lot that was sandwiched between the Harwood residence and Camillus Fly's Rooming House. He had to find the way.
With that, he took off across the street, motioning for some startled civilians to run for cover. With his Glock at the ready, he headed forward, bending low and keeping alert, his heart drumming and sweat stinging his eyes. Jesus, he must be a complete idiot to throw himself into this mess. He slowed to a creep as he neared the corner of Fly's Photo Gallery. Sucking in a calming breath, he eased his head around the corner to chance a look.
He spotted a total of six men gathered around two horses. He didn't know one from another, but, as history went, there would be Ike and Billy Clanton, Frank and Tom McLaury, and Billy Claiborne—although Claiborne would quickly run from the gunfight. The big man wearing the slouch hat and canvas duster could very well be Nathan Ostrosky. Why the killer-robber would involve himself in this was a mystery. Their eyes were away from Carlotto as they conversed in urgent tones.
The detective's heart was pounding so hard that he thought it might explode. He would have to make his move, now, because he wanted to get everything over with and make a quick return to New York. He'd break from cover and shout Ostrosky's name. If the big man in the duster snapped to attention, he was going to shoot him down in his tracks. With so many others around, trying to take the man captive was definitely out of the question. Jumping into the open, he assumed a shooting stance; legs planted firmly apart, his weapon gripped in both hands.
"Everyone freeze! Ostrosky, throw your hands in the air!"
All six heads snapped in his direction as though operated by a single muscle. No one moved, wide-eyed with wonderment, staring with their mouths hanging open. Everyone, excepting for Nathan Ostrosky. Reaching inside of his duster, the killer had his weapon out in a flash. The others, seeing that this was a confrontation between the two men, wisely decided to withdraw, hurrying onto Fremont Street.
Suddenly, one of the horses reared, obstructing Carlotto's view. With that, the wily Ostrosky dropped onto his stomach and fired off a shot under the animal, striking Carlotto in the right arm. In the process of switching his Glock to his left hand, another bullet caught the detective in the leg, sending him to the ground. Two more slugs kicked up dirt no more than an inch from his head. This whole deal was not going in his favor.
Sensing victory, Ostrosky was back on his feet, moving forward as he continued to fire away. Carlotto started to roll to provide less of a target, desperately trying to draw a bead on the advancing man. Finally, with a shaky left-handed shot, he managed to strike the killer squarely in the chest. But Ostrosky kept on coming, firing crazily, his eyes ablaze with fury.
"You idiot cop! You're not taking me back." A gritty laugh. "You're going to die in the old west."
Yet another bullet struck Carlotto, cutting a bloody furrow across his scalp. His head began to swim, vision blurring, and he feared he'd pass out. And that would be that. He was going to die, with no family and friends present, a hundred and forty-six years from home.
Then two shots rang out. Ostrosky stumbled, wavering for a moment, eyes rolling, before dropping heavily to the ground. His legs twitched for a few seconds then grew still.
Carlotto remained where he was, lingering on the brink of unconsciousness, his weak fingers pulling the shirt from his trousers in order to get at the control belt. He had to push that damn green button. His head was swimming, blood leaking from three wounds, colorful stars dancing before his eyes. Then Wyatt Earp's mustachioed visage began to come in and out of focus. A voice sounded, seemingly a mile away.
"You're dang lucky I broke into a run when I heard the shooting. Otherwise, this bastard would have had you." A pause. "Say, you're the fella who bumped into me. You're also the fella who said he wasn't packing a gun."
"So sue me."
Carlotto felt the Glock being pried from his left hand.
"What in the be-Jesus? I've never seen a gun like this. Where in tarnation did you get it?"
"You . . . you wouldn't believe me if I told you."
Virgil and Morgan and Doc Holliday gathered about, joined by the Clanton and McLaury brothers; all animosity having been cast aside. Finally, Carlotto passed out, while his trembling finger pressed the green button.
Tucson - 1914
Carlotto sat rocking on the back porch, smoking a cigar, his wife, Lydia, crocheting next to him. As usual, the temperature was over a hundred, the back and underarms of his shirt soaked with sweat. There was a scar across his scalp, the covering strip of hair having grown white. Carlotto watched fondly as his youngest grandchild - seven-year-old Vincent the third - marched across the backyard with a book in hand.
"You were off reading again, eh, Vinny? What book is it now?"
"The Time Machine by H.G. Wells. I've nearly finished it." The boy cocked his head. "Do you think someone will ever invent a time machine, Grandpa?"
Carlotto thought back to the convoluted events of 1881. He had to chuckle to himself, thinking of the sensation that his Glock and Ostrosky's weapon had caused, not to mention the non-functioning control belt. As he'd worried about, Kramer had rendered it useless, keeping him stuck in 1881, so he could go scot free with the $250,000.
Wyatt Earp had wound up nowhere near as famous as he would have if the legendary gunfight at the O.K. Corral had actually happened. He heard that Earp, along with his wife Josephine, was now living in Los Angeles, after thirty odd years of dabbling in gold mining, gambling and saloon-keeping. Billy Clanton and the McLaury brothers had lived to see another day. Hell, they were probably still alive, rejoicing in their own grandchildren. Ike Clanton had been shot and killed by detective Jonas V. Brighton on June 1, 1887, while resisting arrest for the act of cattle rustling.
"Grandpa? Did you hear what I asked about the time machine?"
"Well, since we now have the Model T and biplane, you just never know what might come along." The old man chuckled, twirling the ends of his graying moustache. "No sireee. You just never can tell."