Story Excerpts

Art by Daniel Zalkus

The Beano

by Floyd Sullivan

A headline in my news feed stopped me cold. “Robert Charles found dead in Old Town home.” I read the article and six more on various news outlet websites. All reported much the same story. The wealthy North Side financier had been discovered “unresponsive” by his cleaning service early that morning. A police spokesperson stated that he died of an apparent head wound but would rule out neither foul play nor an accident. The investigation was ongoing.

I texted Martin. “Hear about Bob?”

“No. What?”

“Check local news sites.”

“Will do.” Five minutes later he texted again. “Holy S! Cops want to talk to you?”

“Not yet. You?”

“Don’t know. In WI. Gig at Delavan Lake last night.” In addition to brokering photography and printing, Martin played in a rock band, an avocation that seemed more important to him as he aged.

A month before, he had emailed me about a freelance photo shoot. Robert Charles wanted his collection of famous baseballs photographed by a professional, but it had to be done at his home, not in a studio. He never let his precious collectibles leave his house.

“How do you know him?” I asked Martin as we discussed the job over coffee at a Starbucks.

“Believe it or not I met him on Waveland Avenue during a Cubs game maybe thirty years ago. We were ball hawks. Are you familiar with the term?”

“Of course. You can’t follow the Cubs, or even baseball, without seeing the ball hawks on TV.”

“Yeah. We would stand at the corner of Waveland and Kenmore waiting for the home runs to come sailing out of the park and onto the street. Batting practice was great, but then things slowed during the games. We got to talking one day and became friends. This was before he made his fortune. We had the same taste in music and books, and, to be honest, women.”

“Get many baseballs?”

“Not me. I wasn’t any good at it. Gave up on it after a couple of seasons. But Bob could judge fly balls better than just about anyone. When he saw one in the air over the bleachers he could run right to the spot where it was going to land. I think he played the outfield in high school.”

“That’s how he started collecting baseballs?”

“Yep. Most of them were worthless BP balls, but every now and then he’d snag a big one, like a game winning walk-off or a grand slam. Then he’d get the player’s autograph and add it to his collection. A lot of players wanted to buy the big ones back from him, or trade autographed jerseys. He rarely made those kinds of deals. He got some bad press about it a couple of times.”

“Bad press?”

“You know. ‘Ball hawk refuses to give rookie first home-run ball.’ Things like that. The players started hating him and refused to sign the balls. So he’d hire some kid to get the autographs. When he started making a lot of money he bought balls from other collectors. And he started collecting other stuff. I’m not sure what exactly. We’ll see when we get there. Right now he’s only interested in having the baseballs photographed. If we do a good job it could mean more work later on, shooting whatever else he collects these days.” READ MORE



Art by Noah Bailey

No God West of Hays 

by Eric B. Ruark

“. . . there is no law west of Kansas City
and no God west of Hays . . .”

—Scribner’s Monthly VIII July 1874

August 1871

Eighteen years old and on the run, again. Little Arkansas climbed off his horse. Using his fist, he rounded the crown of his hat and then poured half of his canteen into it. He held the hat under the horse’s muzzle and allowed the animal to drink. After the horse had sucked it dry, Little Arkansas reformed the crown and placed the hat back on his head. Then he checked the horse’s hooves. If Hickok were following him, he could not afford for his horse to go lame.

Little Arkansas had no doubt that Wild Bill was on his trail. Not because he had killed Charles Cougar for snoring, but because he had given Hickok his word to stay out of trouble while in Abilene. Which he did, for the most part. Hell, he had even gone to the circus with Wild Bill to see Miss Agnes Lake perform. Little Arkansas smiled, remembering how taken his mentor seemed to be with the beautiful equestrienne. No, Hickok could forgive him the accidental killing, but he would never forgive him for breaking his word.

Little Arkansas cursed his luck. It was his own damn fault. He should never have gotten into that card game. He should never have gotten that drunk. He should never have shot indiscriminately through the hotel room wall to wake Cougar up. How was he to know that Charlie’s bed was against their shared wall. It’s not like he meant to put a ball through the man’s head. He had nothing against him except for the snoring. But, damn, that man could snore.

The young man remounted and checked the skyline behind him. Hickok was too good a plainsman to get spotted that easily, but there was always the chance that Wild Bill would make a mistake. Granted, a cow jumping over the moon was more likely, but Little Arkansas could always hope. So far, considering the options, he had been more than lucky. He had had to jump out of the hotel window wearing nothing but his union suit. Before defenestrating himself, he had had the presence of mind to grab his vest to which his holsters were attached. And then he had been lucky enough to find an unattended horse and wagon tied up behind the hotel. Borrowing it was his only option for a quick getaway. (Since he had sent it back with Tom Carson and Ben Davis, he didn’t exactly consider it “stealing.”) And so far, his decision to head down the Chisholm Trail had worked out to his advantage. But he knew that he couldn’t count on luck with a man like Hickok on his trail.

He had thought his luck had run out about the same time his horse did, thirty-five miles south of Abilene. He had run the horse to virtual exhaustion, and sitting there, a lone dot in the vastness of the prairie, Little Arkansas could only hope that the horse would revive before any posse could catch up with him. Then he saw those two specks come over the horizon to the south. Little Arkansas quickly checked the loads in his pistols. The young man favored the Colt Army 1861 revolver. He carried two, nestled in holsters sewn into his vest, which allowed him the cross-body cavalry draw, a motion he considered faster than the hip draw. (Hickok had shown him a couple of tricks along those lines, which managed to increase his speed, making him almost as fast as the legendary gunman himself.) Not wanting to shoot himself in the side, he never kept a loaded chamber under the hammer. Then, there was the ball that went through Charlie’s head. Since he hadn’t been able to grab his possibles bag and reload, he was limited to only nine shots. Not many balls to carry him through country frequented by all kinds of outlaws, Kiowa, Comanche, Sioux, and now two strangers slowly approaching him from the south.

But his luck held. It wasn’t long before he recognized two of Hickok’s deputies, Tom Carson and Benjamin Franklin Davis, the former slave owner and former slave who made a formidable pair on the streets of Abilene. Since they were coming up from the south, there was no way they could have heard of his previous night’s troubles. Little Arkansas took the trigger guards off his revolvers and waited for Hickok’s men to approach. He would have to think of an excuse as to why he was in his underwear. Fortunately, Tom Carson thought of it for him. READ MORE