The telephoney comes first.
It’s a flat black rectangle with a glassy front, and Doc wins it in a poker game with a couple of tourists down at Shorty’s. One of the tourists is holding his own, mostly, until he gets greedy on a hand that Doc strongly suspects isn’t as good as the tourist thinks it is. When he runs out of cash, he throws the black rectangle in the pot.
Doc’s not sure what it is, but he keeps his face still and looks at the other tourist, who looks suitably impressed.
Probably worth his stake, Doc figures, and nods.
The tourist’s face falls when he sees Doc’s cards.
“Pleasure playing with you gentlemen,” Doc says, and collects the cash and the black rectangle before anyone can decide they’re having second thoughts.
Back at the Earp homestead, Doc pokes at the rectangle until it lights up at him. He squints at the screen. He’s seen these before, in Waverly and Wynonna and Marshall Dolls’ hands, but he’s never had call to use one himself.
He pokes at it for a while longer. He can make it make music for him. After a while, he figures out how to make it call someone, but the only people he can make it call are the people who know the man he won it from, who aren’t happy that he’s waking them up in the middle of the night.
After another accidental call and another angry person yelling at him from the black rectangle, Doc stretches and puts the telephoney on the orange crate by the side of his bed. He’ll get Waverly Earp to show him how to use it proper in the morning.
The next thing Doc wins is a slice of time.
He’s in a game down at the trailer park, with a couple Revenants he remembers and a couple more he doesn’t. Waverly calls it unsafe and Dolls calls it stupid. Wynonna doesn’t say anything about it, although Doc catches her watching, sometimes, and wonders if the you’re a dumbass look he sees in her eyes is just his wishful thinking.
The game’s hot, and when one of the Revenants throws a fancy printed page down on the pot, Doc doesn’t hesitate. Ownership title to something, he figures — maybe mining rights. Maybe a motorcycle. He’s still not used to how people document their ownership these days. He won a ruby bracelet worth next to nothing a few weeks ago, and it came with a fancy certificate saying it was authentic. Doc figures that’s true, but if it’s authentic crap, why’s it worth certifying? He remembers when a man’s horse was his horse and his dog was his dog and maybe you’d write things down when it came to your land or your mining claims. The important parts of life.
The other players don’t blink, so Doc goes along with the paper — figures he’ll work out what it is later, after he’s won it.
“It’s a deed,” Waverly says, when he brings it in to dinner.
He raises an eyebrow. There are deeds and then there are deeds. “And?”
“And it’s for a timeshare,” she says.
Wynonna looks up from her whiskey and starts laughing. “You won a timeshare?”
Waverly grins. “A timeshare at Disneyland.”
Doc’s not sure what they mean or why it’s funny. Waverly’s the one who explains how it works: that he won property, but only a little slice of time in that property.
It seems like a good idea to Doc until Waverly tells him that you can’t just show up when you happen to be in the neighborhood; you have to sign up for your week, and you have to tell them in advance, which seems ridiculous to Doc. What if you’re hot on the trail of a rustler? What if the play’s better than expected in the local saloons, and you decide to stay on a while? Nobody can keep their schedule that rigid. It ain’t natural.
“Most people get a week or two of vacation a year,” Waverly says, but that leads her down a long road into trying to explain vacation time and unemployment insurance and a lot of other things that Doc’s never heard of. What happened to the open road, to heading on where you needed to?
A few days later, Doc’s little black telephoney rectangle stops working. It still lights up when he touches it, but the part that let him touch Wynonna or Waverly’s name and call them doesn’t work.
When he tells Wynonna and Waverly about it that night, Wynonna looks at him like she wants to call him a dumbass. Waverly tells him he needs something called a carrier to keep the telephoney working. She keeps talking but he doesn’t understand more than one word in ten.
In the end, Waverly tells him he can give her fifty bucks a month and she’ll put him on something called a family plan so his rectangle will let him call them again.
He tries not to admit to himself that he’s feeling a wee bit sentimental about being on a family plan with the Earps.
Doc’s starting to learn about the electromajiggers now. What Waverly Earp calls “small electronics.” Sometimes they’re worth a lot, and sometimes they’re worth nothing. Sometimes a little black rectangle like his telephoney is worth a lot, and sometimes a bigger black rectangle is worth nothing. Sometimes he wins a big box that’s useful, like the microwave, and sometimes he wins a big box that’s useless, like the food dryer. He thought everyone would still be drying food, when fruit’s in season or when you shoot a deer and it’s not cold enough out to freeze the venison out in the lean-to by the door, but when he brings the food dryer home, the expression on Wynonna’s face tells him he’s wrong.
He tries to read the faces of the people around him, but he doesn’t always get it right.
That’s why he comes home one night with what Waverly Earp informs him is a yoghurt maker.
He’s not sure what yoghurt is or why you’d need a machine to make it. He’s also not sure why Wynonna starts laughing when Waverly tells her about it. Laughing like he hasn’t heard her laugh for a while now, since everything that went down after the Solstice. Since she shot her sister.
Doc figures it’s worth winning crap once in a while if it makes Wynonna laugh like that.
The kids Doc plays the next week are on some sort of break, driving through on their way to the mountains, so they’ve got a little money and a lot of stuff he doesn’t understand. They lose their cash money and a thing they call a board, which isn’t a board at all. There’s clippy things on the top, and the kids give him some terrible boots too, heavy plastic with no tread. He can’t walk in them.
Wynonna looks interested when he stuffs the board and the terrible boots into the back of her truck after she picks him up outside Shorty’s. “Taking up boarding?”
Doc shrugs. He’s not about to let on that he doesn’t know what she’s talking about.
From what Wynonna tells him on the drive back to the Earp homestead, boarding is like skiing, only how Wynonna describes skiing doesn’t sound like the skiing Doc knew. He knows what skis are, of course — he might be a Georgia boy, but he’d been up in the mountains in the winter, seen how the immigrants coming over from Sweden and Norway used to get around, on greased wood planks strapped to their feet. It always looked slower than a horse to Doc.
But this — “You couldn’t go anywhere on that boardy thing,” Doc says, when Wynonna tells him about sliding down the mountains.
“That’s what the lifts are for,” Wynonna says, and she’s got a sort of yearning in her voice.
Waverly Earp uses the yoghurt maker, probably to be nice. Doc tries some, since Waverly went to the trouble, but it tastes like buttermilk used to, the rancid sort that a farmer’s wife might keep in a clabbering jar at the back of the kitchen wood stove. Doc gets some on his mustache and the smell is almost as bad as the taste.
A few days later, Wynonna has a bad run-in with one of the Revenants. Big Jim. Doc rode with Wyatt’s posse when they went after him. He’d killed a foreman in the mine he was working at and gone on the lam. By the time they caught up with him — well, Doc tries not to think about how that one went. It’s a good thing Wyatt kept his powder dry, that’s all.
Wynonna’s a good enough shot, long as it’s Peacemaker she’s doing the shooting with, but Big Jim was fast in life and a couple trips to Hell have only made him faster. She gets cornered, trapped down in an old crumbling root cellar, and it takes Dolls and Doc and Waverly and Officer Haught all a few hours before they can find her get her out again.
A few hours. To Doc, it feels like a second lifetime. Like a second century caught down in the well, away from the air and the light.
When they get Wynonna out, covered in dirt and roots, she stumbles, against Doc, and he catches her and puts his arm around her and helps guide her to the car. Normally she fights against that, but this time she leans against him. Doesn’t let go.
Three days later, she shoots Big Jim and two of his Revenant pals. Sends them straight back to Hell, which should be the end of that. But when Doc comes in for coffee early in the morning the next day, she’s already awake, staring out into the darkness of the Purgatory winter twilight like someone’s coming for the Homestead, straight from Hell.
Waverly’s the one who decides that they’re going on vacation, Doc and Wynonna and Officer Haught and her. She borrows Doc’s deed to the piece of time and does some magic on her computer machine that lets them trade Doc’s time piece for another time piece up in the mountains, in a big low building made up to look like a fake chalet.
Doc offers to take the couch, but Wynonna insists on sleeping there, giving him one of the two bedrooms.
It’s not like Doc wouldn’t offer to share.
When they get to the mountain, Doc finally understands what Wynonna meant about a lift. There’s giant poles going up the side of the mountain, above the snow, and there’s a wire strung between them with cages holding people with their skis dangling down as the wire carries them up the mountain.
Wynonna and Waverly rent skis, and Officer Haught rents a board like Doc’s.
They chivy Doc over to the lift, and he’s trying like hell to keep his face straight as the little chair comes and sweeps them up, lifting them high up over the deep snows and the pine trees in the valley below. While he was down the well, he figured there’d be nothing he couldn’t do, so long as he could see the light, so now he swallows down on his nerves until they reach the top.
Doc turned down the lessons, so now he’s stuck trying to figure out how to get himself down the mountain on his board. His denim trousers get wet and stick to his thighs, but he keeps getting up, trying to balance on muscles not used to the work he’s putting them to, like horses who haven’t been broken yet.
He’s far enough down the mountain to see the lodge again when Wynonna swoops up, spraying him with snow from the edge of her skis when she comes to a stop.
“How you doing?” she asks, peering down at him.
“I should think that would be clear,” Doc says, not able to keep the huff out of his voice. He’s on his ass again, is how he’s doing.
“We told you to borrow the snowpants,” Wynonna says, and she sounds sympathetic but she’s laughing, too.
Doc smiles back, because even on his ass and strapped to a board halfway down a mountain, Wynonna’s smile does things to a man.
She offers him a lesson, but Doc waves her off. He watches her fly down the mountain, her coat red against the green of the scrub pines along the trail, her skis flashing as she swoops across the snow.
When he finally makes his way down to the bottom of the mountain, he’s surprised to find that he wants to go again. Maybe. On the smaller slope, this time, where Waverly and Officer Haught are.
That night, Doc’s muscles ache, like he’s just done a long ride in pursuit of justice.
Wynonna starts rummaging through her bag after dinner. When she comes back to the table, she’s got a small box and a devious expression.
“Anyone want to play a game?”
“I am always ready for a game of poker,” Doc says. He reaches into his vest pocket and pulls out his cards.
“Not with those,” Wynonna says. She tosses him the box. It’s a pack of playing cards, the little slippery modern ones, wrapped up in the glossy clear wrap they use on so many things these days.
Doc shrugs. His cards — they may look dirty, but he’s held them so many times he knows exactly what cards he’s holding just by the feel of the edges in his hand.
Then again. Perhaps that’s why Wynonna wants her new-fangled plasticy cards.
Wynonna settles herself down behind the tiny table. “Waverly? Nicole? Poker?”
Doc hauls himself up from the couch. “We should make these stakes a bit more interesting,” he says. “No time slices or small electronics.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it.” Wynonna smiles like a cat who’s gotten into the cream. “Strip poker?”
Doc leans back in his chair. He is familiar with the game. He spent a week or two down in New Orleans, on his way West, and the way the madams in the brothels taught their girls, well, he learned a thing or two. Maybe even a thing or two about poker.
But with Wynonna —
“Scared?” Wynonna raises her eyebrows.
“I think we’re out,” Officer Haught says.
Waverly smirks. “Yeah. We don’t need an excuse to take out clothes off.”
Officer Haught blushes and follows Waverly off to their room.
“So?” Wynonna meets his eyes. “You in?”
“Oh, I am all in.” Doc unwraps the playing cards and starts shuffling.
When Wynonna gets up to get them another whiskey, she’s down two boots and her left sock.
Doc is down — well now. Jacket, vest, shirt, undershirt. Two boots and two socks. Not that he’s worried, but it’s getting a mite chilly to be sitting around like this.
He’s kept his hat. A man needs to keep his dignity. And hopefully his denim trousers.
Wynonna slides another whiskey in front of him. The plastic glass feels wrong against his lips as he sips and studies the cards in front of him.
Five, six, eight, nine, and one face card, an ace. He studies Wynonna. Her face is still, but her eyes are dancing, which might be a tell or then again might mean that she’s fully aware that Doc is getting down to the last few garments he has left to wager on.
“I’ll bet my other sock on this one,” Wynonna says.
Doc knows the odds for drawing to an inside straight, the odds of getting the seven he needs. Not the odds a man wants to wager his trousers on. He knows the odds that his single ace could beat Wynonna’s hand, too, and they’re not good.
On the other hand… “I’ll wager my trousers,” he says.
Wynonna smiles. “Not your hat?”
“I like my hat.”
Doc discards his ace and draws a card. Seven of diamonds, filling out his straight. He schools his face, keeps his mustache still.
Wynonna takes one card. “See you?”
“Unless you want to make this interesting,” Doc says. He’s wearing drawers. He can double-wager on this hand.
Wynonna takes a sip of her whiskey. “You sure?”
“I am always certain.” Sometimes in error, but he’s always certain.
“I see you, then.”
Doc lays his cards down on the table. “Straight.”
Wynonna smiles, and then sets her cards down one by one. Three of hearts. Eight of hearts. Ace of hearts. Two of hearts.
“And the final card,” she says, and lays the jack of hearts on the table. “Flush.”
Doc sits back in his chair. “Well, now.”
“I believe someone owes me his hat,” Wynonna says.
Doc starts taking off his trousers. “Might a humble rube ask how you got so experienced at the game of poker?”
Wynonna shrugs, and starts shuffling the cards. “Spent a few years bumming around Europe. Girl’s got to support herself somehow.”
“Well then.” Doc strips off his drawers and puts them on the table. “I do believe I am out.”
“You’ve still got your hat on.”
Doc meets Wynonna’s eyes. “You’ll have to think of another way to get me out of my hat.”
Wynonna smiles. “I think I can come up with something.”