Wild Wild West


Now a major motion picture from Warner Bros. premiering the Fourth of July and starring Will Smith, Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branagh. Jim West, hero and hot head, and Artemus Gordon, inventor and master of disguise, team up in 1869 as President Ulysses S. Grant's secret weapon to combat espionage on the western front after the Civil War. They must destroy a twisted genius named Dr. Loveless—if they don't kill each other first. Contains an 8-page photo insert.

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Now a major motion picture from Warner Bros. premiering the Fourth of July and starring Will Smith, Kevin Kline and Kenneth Branagh. Jim West, hero and hot head, and Artemus Gordon, inventor and master of disguise, team up in 1869 as President Ulysses S. Grant's secret weapon to combat espionage on the western front after the Civil War. They must destroy a twisted genius named Dr. Loveless—if they don't kill each other first. Contains an 8-page photo insert.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780446607674
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
  • Publication date: 4/2/2009
  • Edition description: WARNER BK
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 4.25 (w) x 6.75 (h) x 0.75 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Wild Wild West

By Bruce Bethke

Warner Aspect

Copyright © 1999 Bruce Bethke
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0-446-60767-3

Chapter One

The empty freight wagon thundered through a night as black as a mortgage banker's heart. The teamster was drenched with sweat, and nervous as a cat in a room full of rocking chairs. The night was hot and muggy, these mountainous Appalachian roads could be treacherous even in broad daylight, and his horses were dangerously close to the point of total exhaustion. To make matters worse, the two ex-Rebs riding with him kept their lookout far too sharp, and their hands much too close to their Navy Colts, to be actual patent medicine drummers, and they hadn't said more than six words out loud since they'd taken the fork in Sulphur Springs.

Whatever it was they really were on their way to pick up, it had to be illegal as all hell. They'd offered the teamster way too much money for an honest day's work, and the way they'd changed their plans when they hit the Huttonsville Road-and their grim insistence on pushing on, even when it was clear that the night was too dark for safe travel-was starting to make him wonder. Maybe his payoff wasn't going to be twenty Yankee dollars in gold in his pocket. Maybe it was going to be two ounces of Rebel lead in his back.

Who the blazes are these men? he wondered once again. Moonshiners?

That almost made a kind of sense. His team and his wagon were made for that kind of work, and it wouldn't be the first time. But the way the two Rebs kept caressing their Colts was not reassuring.

Here in Muhlenberg County, nobody got that anxious about running a load of 'shine.

The water in the tank tower was cool and relaxing. The woman, naked and exquisitely beautiful. The cigar?

Captain James T. West, 9th Negro Cavalry, U.S. Army, leaned back, closed his eyes, and took another draw on the hand-rolled ten-cent Virginia Premium Panatela Supremo. He let the thick and bitter smoke roll across his tongue and palate. He listened to what his nose and taste buds were telling him.

They were saying, Ditch this dogweed and pay attention to the woman.

West slowly exhaled and decided to take that advice. Now, there'd been a sponge, floating around in here somewhere. He clamped the cigar between his teeth, leaned forward, and began groping through the dark water with both hands. There, got it.

The woman let out a startled little squeak and jumped a good six inches straight up. Oops, maybe not.

Then she giggled, handed him the real sponge (which she'd been holding all along), and smiled over her shoulder at him as she presented her back for attention. West got that message, loud and clear, and began a long, slow, downward stroke with the sponge that started at the nape of her neck and ended-well, he'd just consider his hands to be off on a little recon mission.

Words began to seem necessary. Damned if he could remember the woman's name, though. Mariah, Melissa; something from the M group, definitely. West opted for a vague pleasantry instead.

"Mighty sweet of you to come along with me while I'm working," he said.

"If this is what you call work, Jim West, you sure got a real nice-" She squealed and jumped again.

Okay, and that's how far I can go with the sponge.

"-job," she completed, when his hands had beat a strategic retreat.

West leaned back again and tried another puff on the cigar. It seemed to taste better this time, or perhaps his tongue was simply burning out. "Well, darlin', as I told General Sherman, war is hell."

She frowned. "The war is over, Jim honey. It's been over for,"-she paused, straining at the mental arithmetic, eventually doing the subtraction on her fingers-"four years?"

"Not according to the men I'm after."

She shook her head. "Oh, they're just Southern-fried crackers, Jim. Give 'em time; they'll get over it. Why, by the time our kids are old enough to go to school with their kids-"

"Shh!" West cut her off with a fast and frightened wave of his hand.

"Company's coming!" He handed her the sponge and half swam, half bobbed over to the side of the tank. There was a knothole there-a freshly drilled knothole, which anyone would have noticed if they'd decided to refill the tank in the last three days-and West put his ear up to it. "Freight wagon. Empty. Four-no, six horses. They're tired. They've traveled a long way. Moving fast."

The woman sighed, and shook her head in admiration. "Damn, Jim West, you are workin'!"

West took his ear away from the knothole just long enough to flash her a charming wink and a cocky smile. "Darlin', I believe that if a thing is worth doin', it's worth doin' well." Then he turned back to the knothole, took the cigar out of his mouth, put his eye up to the hole, and strained to make out detail in the dark. "Ah, there we are." He whistled, soft and low, as the wagon clattered into view. "Well, well, General McGrath's boys. And just when I was about to give up on y'all."

The woman sighed and shook her head again, this time in frustration. And so another promising evening with Jim West is shot straight to Hell. West was all business now, ignoring her completely, just as he was ignoring the lit cigar in his own hand. He didn't notice even when she plucked the cigar out from between his fingers and gave the saliva-damp butt end her best long-tongued sensuous lick.

How typical, she thought. She bit down hard on the cigar, spit out the chunk of tobacco she'd bitten off, then took a deep drag and leaned back against the opposite wall of the tank, to start working up a good sulk.

The empty freight wagon rattled up to the loading dock of an old tobacco warehouse and braked to a sloppy, clumsy stop. The men inside the warehouse had thug written all over them-one of them even had it tattooed on the knuckles of his right hand-and he spit out a wad of well-chewed tobacco and greeted the wagon's driver. "Cletus! Who the sam hell said you could drive?"

"I cain't!" Cletus laughed, showing off all the gaps in his rotting teeth.

The thug was annoyed. "You were s'posed to git a wagon and a teamster, you idjit! What happened?"

"Had a little problem with th' teamster," Cletus said. "He done give Billy Ray the evil eye. We had to ask him to git out of th' wagon."

The other Reb on the buckboard seat laughed hoarsely and stroked his Colt. "Yeah. Hadda get out. Heh. On the Parson's Creek Bridge. Splashed good. Heh-heh."

The thug on the loading dock frowned, shook his head, and turned around as if looking for something to kick. "Christ, I-well, okay. Can you two useless fools at least back th' wagon up and park it over yonder? And for God's sake, git them horses rubbed down and give 'em some water. They have to live long enough to haul our cargo to New Orleans. You damn near ran 'em to death, ya morons!"

Billy Ray dropped off the wagon and wandered into the warehouse, looking for a bucket, or perhaps a new brain. Cletus nodded and whipped off a ragged salute. "No problem, Corporal!" Then he gave the reins a hard yank, which confused the horses to no end but eventually got the wagon creeping erratically backward.

"And watch out fer that water tower!" Corporal Thug yelled. "That is the single most termite-infested pile of junk I have ever seen!"

Candace "Fat Can" Jablonski had every reason to feel proud of herself. She'd never been one for the silly-girl dreams of the other camp followers. Well before Bull Run she'd realized she wasn't the type to land an officer, and that blending in with all the other women who followed General "Fighting Joe" Hooker was never going to give her what she wanted from life. So she'd earnestly worked the oldest profession, saving her money, trading her Jefferson Davis dollars for gold back in early 1863, when everybody else told her she was a fool to do so. Then she'd played the European exchange rates, gone deep on railroad stocks, invested wisely in cattle futures ...

And now, here she was, eight years later, sole owner and proprietor of the best little whorehouse in West Virginia. She ran a stable of clean and pretty girls, who were just bright enough to know the difference between Yankee and Confederate banknotes (excepting Clarissa, who came from Tennessee and still thought dried tobacco leaves were legal tender). She had a bartender who knew just exactly how to cut the whiskey with water and iced tea, so's it wasn't obvious. And just last year, she'd brought in a genuine eye-talian pianoforte, imported all the way from Baltimore, and along with it she got that black Joplin kid, who could play it real pretty.

Yes, Fat-Can Candy thought as she surveyed the crowded, smoke-filled saloon, this is the life, and I'm proud of it. The men in the room were dirty, drunk, loud, and stinking, true, and half of them couldn't manage to save enough cash money to buy new shoes or a decent suit of clothes-as evidenced by the tattered and threadbare remnants of Confederate uniforms so many of them still wore-but every last one of them knew they had to pay her cold coin on the barrelhead, and on the whole, they were not an unreasonably unpleasant or violent bunch.

Fat-Can Candy smiled to herself, as she turned her hips sideways to pass through the doorway and waddled into the parlor. She was truly a woman who had been there, done that, seen it all, and didn't have a regret or worry in the world.

Excepting Dora.

Candy brought her massive body to a jiggling halt and surreptitiously examined the new girl. It was just as she'd expected, and hoped she wouldn't find. Dora was sitting at the bar-again-studying the men in the room, trying to avoid eye contact with anyone and looking vaguely repulsed.

Fat-Can Candy pursed her lips and narrowed her eyes.

Don't tell me I've done it again.

She knew Dora-or rather, Dora's type. She'd seen it a hundred times before, although not so much in the last two or three years. Dora looked right. She dressed to kill, like a working girl. She talked the talk, like a working girl. She'd told a truly great story about coming from a high-class bordello in St. Louis when she'd first shown up on Candy's front doorstep, the day before yesterday.

But now that Candy saw Dora in action, she knew she'd done it again. The girl's body language was all wrong. The way she walked, the way she moved her hands; everything was all wrong. The way she couldn't seem to relax enough to really breathe was the corker. Dora was clearly not a working girl.

She was a seeker.

Fat-Can Candy sighed heavily. She'd taken on a lot of seekers, in her first year or two in business. Sometimes they were trying to find their long-lost husbands, or fiances. More often they were just dirt-stupid farm girls, looking for that smooth-talking son of a soldier boy who'd marched off to war and left 'em with a belly full of baby and a promise to come back and get married, "later."

Pathetic fools. After the war, by the tens of thousands, Johnny didn't come marching home. Because, let's face it: After you've seen the gaslights of Charleston, how are you ever going to go back to pushing a plow and staring at the back end of a mule for the rest of your life?

Candy looked at Dora again and shook her head. It'd been a long time since she'd seen a girl who had it this bad, though. And Dora certainly did look pretty as a five-dollar French girl. So, what the heck. Maybe the situation could be salvaged and even turned to profit. Candy stoked up her resolve, signaled the boiler room to put her legs in forward gear, and set course for the bar.

Dora was staring at a group of men at a table across the room, while trying very hard not to appear to be staring. The focus of her attention was a fascinating, motley, and actually somewhat revolting bunch. A few were general-issue thugs, who wore the usual remnants of Confederate uniforms and were in desperate need of shaves and baths. One was a fearsome-looking Indian, with full black warrior braids, incongruously dressed in a Savile Row suit and homburg hat.

But the centerpiece of that tableau: He was a veritable mountain of drunken pus. Obese, bearded, and sweating like a Devonshire hog; wearing a greasy and battered enlisted man's kepi and a filthy, stained, Confederate battle jacket that might have fit five years and a hundred pounds ago. Despite the heat he had the jacket buttoned up just as tightly as his rolls of suet would allow, and one of the man's ears had been hacked off-which was not so odd, there were plenty of men missing parts hobbling around these days. But this man wore a strange little brass ear trumpet in its place.

The pile of rancid lard that called itself a man looked up, noticed that Dora was looking at him, and smiled and blew her a grimy kiss. Dora turned away and very nearly blew lunch.

Fat-Can Candy was standing there. "A little rowdier than the top-hat crowd you worked in St. Louis, eh?"

Dora gulped. "They certainly are, Miss Candy."

"Call me Fat-Can. Everyone else does." Candy followed Dora's line of sight to the table across the room, then turned back to Dora. "Your first night out, you may want to stay away from that one. General McGrath has his ... quirks." Candy raised her arms and took in the room with a flabby, wiggling sweep. "The rest are just lonely boys." Dora wrinkled her nose. "Lonely ... smelly boys."

"Here." Candy dipped a hand into her monumental jiggling cleavage and came up with a perfume spritzer. "This helps. I know." She gave the perfume to Dora, along with a wink and a friendly smile, then waddled away.

Dora considered the perfume spritzer a moment, then closed her eyes and began squeezing the tiny bulb, in an attempt to erect a barrier of scented fog. While her eyes were closed, something warm, slimy, and disgusting slipped into her ear.

She opened her eyes with a jerk. The jerk had bad teeth, whiskey breath, and eyes that pointed in two different directions at the same time. She was still trying to figure out which eye to look at when he leaned in, tried to lick her ear again, and whispered ... something. "I'm sorry," Dora said, as her stomach did somersaults. "That won't be possible. I have ... tonsillitis."

West had seen and heard enough, and his face was starting to hurt from being pressed against the knothole. He backed away, then seemed to realize where he was: still in the water tower, wet and naked, with a woman with a bad case of the pouts. He was mildly surprised that the water around her was not boiling.

West looked at his fingers. "Hmm. Maybe that's enough for me. Gettin' kinda pruney." He tried a charming smile on the woman. "Mind handin' me my clothes?" The smile did not seem to be working....

Corporal Thug and the rest of the gang in the tobacco warehouse were busy loading heavy wooden crates into the wagon. No one had noticed that Cletus had backed the wagon into the base of the water tower, in the process snagging an axle hub on a tower leg strut.

Billy Ray staggered unsteadily out onto the loading dock, carrying a crate all by hisself. "Careful with that!" Corporal Thug hissed.


Excerpted from Wild Wild West by Bruce Bethke Copyright © 1999 by Bruce Bethke . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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