Who doesn’t like a horse opera about a man and his horse riding into the sunset together, a long shadow behind them?
One of the fastest guns in the West, Billy the Kid had bedded his share of frontier women. Some said he was running from their angry husbands. Truth was, no man wanted to catch up with him. He knew his business; horses, guns, women and banks.
Billy was born in the basement of a crack house in one of the worst neighborhoods in New York City. His parents were from the Carpathian Mountains in Eastern Europe. His father had soft hands. He stole eggs. Most times the hen didn’t notice. Then his soft hands were on the girl next door. That and the missing eggs were too much. The town folks came to get him, so they fled together to Prague. They finally made it to New York, where Billy’s father worked for a ward heeler. When Billy grew up he met the Mayor, Jimmy Walker. Walker was impressed with Billy and made him a minor bagman in Boss Tweed’s Tammany shakedown operation. Five dollars for protection. Ten dollars to keep a salon license current. Billy knew this penny ante stuff was not for him. Anyway most of the money he collected ended up in the ample pockets of Andrew J. Garvey a/k/a The Prince of Plasterers, once having received $133,187 for two days plastering walls.
Jimmy Walker won his second term defeating Republican Fiorello La Guardia and Socialist Norman Thomas by an overwhelming margin. Then the stock market crashed and the Archbishop of New York denounced him for tolerating vice and casinos. With the heat on he fled to Europe with a chorus girl.
Billy thought all this fuss was no way to live. He headed west.
Billy got sent up the river only once. That’s when they started calling him “Billy the Kid.” It was no compliment.
The screws gave him a little booklet that said things like: It’s your responsibility to know and follow all rules and regulations as promulgated by the Prison Director. You are expected to maintain your cell with a high degree of sanitation at all times.
James “Texas Bank Robber” Lucas ruled the inmates. Billy was no man to accept things just because that was the way they were. He did accept banks the way they were but that was the only exception and when he left them they were different anyway, poorer for his visit.
Lucas knew he had to get to Billy before Billy got to him. Lucas swiped a pair of shears from the prison barbershop. He stabbed Billy in the back. Lucas went to solitary, Billy to the prison hospital.
When the local newspapers carried the story about Lucas trying to kill Billy they called Billy an ex-bank robber. They said he played the banjo.
Once the stitches were out of his back, Billy settled his score with Lucas. He cold-cocked Lucas in the laundry, shoved some dirty socks down his throat and then put him in one of those big pots they used to boil laundry to loosen up the dirt. He piled a load of sheets on top of him, poured in some lye, then slammed the lid shut.
While the guards were looking for Lucas, Billy escaped into the Western sunset, slipping through the sage grass and bluebonnets. When they found Lucas he was the same delicate red as some of those wild flowers Billy had ridden through.
Billy never could have any kind of stable relationship with a woman. He was a traveling man. His job kept him on the road looking for banks and avoiding the Feds and husbands foolish enough to follow him. Though, as he got older, (and he never said this to anyone other than Gypsy Blaze Star who never repeated it to anyone other than me) he admitted he’d never shoot a man if there was some way to avoid it. That’s why he only killed twenty-one. Ten were over women, ten were bank business and he never could remember the last one though he tried to his dying day, not liking to leave loose ends. He was cautious. And no bragging man, he never spoke much about his line of work and never said, like those Chicago papers claimed, he knew more about banks than 95% of the bank examiners.
Billy worked his way northeast through Texas straight back to New York City. He hung out in billiard halls and boxing gyms. He even went as far north as a bar near Time Square. And he still had an eye for the ladies. He saw Gypsy Blaze Star walk by on her way to work at the Gaiety Theatre at Broadway and 46th Street, now sadly gone. Elegant, it was designed in Louis XV style with balconies, boxes, and a proscenium arch just grand enough to contain this fulsome ecdysiast.
Billy had never seen a lady like her and the barkeep said, I’ll introduce you to her. Billy fell in love and wanted her to quit burlesque. Her innovation, an almost casual strip style compared to the herky-jerky of most burlesque strippers, made her rich and famous. She liked the money. Billy didn’t want his woman up on that stage and all those traveling salesmen and college boys whistling and carrying on about her pasties and g-string. Finally she threw him out of her Gramercy Park townhouse. Said he was washed up. After that, his drinking got so bad he was in the drunk tank a couple of times a week.
In this inebriated state he often wandered by the Women’s House of Detention, the world’s only art deco prison. Mae West was in there on obscenity charges. She had appeared in a play called “Sex.” He read about it in the Hearst newspaper.
Then he got an idea. Being a careful man he worked out all the details like he used to before robbing a bank. Like a stake-out, he cased Greenwich Village until he found what he was looking for: latex vagina and breasts. Everything. As the ad said: Our special hand-made products are made of latex and are carefully sculpted to look amazingly realistic. For example, all of the hairs around the lips are hand tied to make the vagina even more perfect.
So he got himself dressed up as a woman. Then he got drunk. He went from gutter to paddy wagon to Court House to the House of Detention. When he sobered up, still in drag, he found her cell on the fourth floor and proceeded with his hoped-for-seduction. He was doing a strip tease exclusively for her, slowly revealed to her what he really was. He used the same sophisticated style that had worked so well for Gypsy Blaze Star.
Word spread through the prison that a man was doing a striptease in Mae West’s cell. All the inmates on her floor crowded into her cell, clapping and cheering. The guards threw Billy out to hoots and hollers and worse from the women prisoners.
There he was, flat on his back, in the middle of the sidewalk, breasts around his waist, vagina around his left knee. Newspaper reporters who hung out in the bars on lower Sixth Avenue rushed to interview him. He demanded money from them and drank it all.
Then the same Archbishop who had denounced Jimmy Walker twenty years before, denounced him as a cross dresser citing Deuteronomy 22:5. Now Billy was no scholar but he knew what they would be calling him next.
Some said liquor did to him what no man could. Others contended that he died of a broken heart. Or was it torment and confusion about who he really was? Who knows?
They buried him at the Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York not far from the remains of Jimmy Walker. Gypsy Blaze Star still had a soft spot in her heart for the old cowboy but she had a job to do and was the first to leave the cemetery. Mae West had just gotten out of the House of Detention and was too busy with interviews and book contracts to attend.