Edward Willett

Idaho Bill (a.k.a. The Idaho Kid)

(This play–skit, really–was written for Crocus 80 Theatre in Weyburn and performed on an outside stage in 1988 during the city’s 75th anniversary celebrations, which is why the stage directions refer to characters coming up the street, and then onto the stage. As you can see in the photo, I played Corporal Larry Lett, in a Northwest Mounted Police uniform I borrowed from the Mounties here in Regina. I thought I’d post the script here in view of the fact that John Nelson is writing a play about the Idaho Kid for Weyburn’s T.C. Douglas Centre. I suspect there will be few similarities between his and mine! Although I think I’d do a better job of the skit now, I haven’t rewritten this at all, so this is my 29-year-old self writing.)

 

IDAHO BILL

by Edward Willett

(The scene is the bar of the Waverley Hotel: a table, two chairs, and the bar itself, with two stools. HENRY is wiping glasses behind the bar. The OLD MAN enters, pauses to look around at the surrounding buildings, takes a deep breath of air, and finally looks to the audience.)

OLD MAN

So this is how Weyburn turned out, eh? You know, I hardly recognize the place. Come a long way, it has, in the seventy-five years since I lived here as a boy.

(Looks up and down the street again.)

Yep, a long way. Looks real nice. Paved streets, traffic lights, trees . . . real peaceful.

(Pulls one of the stools from the bar and sits.)

But it hasn’t always been so peaceful. In fact, there were three days back in nineteen-ought-three when it might have been Dodge City.

(Glances at the bar.)

I’m supposed to tell you about it, but it’s mighty dry out here . . .

(Pauses. HENRY ignores him. Louder.)

I said, it’s mighty dry out here!

HENRY

Coming right up, Billy.

(Brings a beer to the OLD MAN.)

OLD MAN

Thank you kindly, Henry. By the way, you’re looking well.

HENRY

Can’t complain, Billy, can’t complain.

(Returns to bar.)

OLD MAN

Henry doesn’t know it, yet, but he’s about to have the most exciting day he’ll ever have as a barman. You see, this here’s the Waverley Hotel — you know it as the King George these days — and it’s here that my tale has its beginning.

(Cocks his head as though listening.)

What’s that? Who am I?

(Pauses, considering.)

Well, you heard Henry call me Billy, and that’s my name, right enough. Named after my father, I was; he moved here from Idaho with his wife as a young man, before I was born, but not too long before. I was born in ought-fiue, and Dad came here in ought-three, along with a couple of friends. In fact, I think I hear them coming now . . .

(A ruckus erupts down the street as IDAHO BILL, SAM and PETE appear, whooping and hollering, firing guns and generally carrying on. People in the CROWD run for cover, duck, or faint, depending on sex and/or disposition.)

IDAHO BILL

Yee-ha! Time for a little fun, boys! Who’s a better shot than Annie Oakley, Wild Bill Hickock and Doc Holliday all rolled into one.

(Shoots the hat off a nearby man, who bolts.)

SAM and PETE

(Unison.) You are, Bill!

IDAHO BILL

Who’s the ornriest, meanest, nail-spittingest hombre north of the 49th parallel?

SAM and PETE

(Unison.) You are, Bill!

IDAHO BILL

Who’s meaner than a cross-eyed bull and twice as ugly?

SAM and PETE

(Unison.) You are, Bill!

IDAHO BILL

Ah, you’re just sayin’ that ’cause you’re my friends!

(Takes aim at the feet of another CROWD member, who dances hastily out of the way; then BILL stops dead and shades his eyes, staring at the stage.)

Boys! Do you see what I see?

SAM and PETE

(Unison.) We sure do, Bill!

IDAHO BILL

And what is it?

SAM and PETE

(Unison.) It’s a bar, Bill!

IDAHO BILL

Darn tootin’, it’s a bar! And I’m thirsty enough to drink the Souris dry and still have room for one of them Moose Mountain lakes. (Fake hoity-toity.) Let us honor this establishment with our presence, shall we?

SAM and PETE

(Unison.) After you, Bill!

(The three make their way up on stage, HENRY eying them warily.)

OLD MAN

(Smiling.) Yep, that was my dad — good ol’ Idaho Bill. Most fun-loving man it was ever this town’s pleasure to know. Knew how to make an entrance, too, didn’t he? ‘Course, some of those people who got their hats shot off were a little upset, but Dad was a terrific shot — they had nothing to worry about as long as they didn’t lose their heads! (Laughs uproariously; regains composure with some difficulty.) Dad wasn’t done yet, neither! Henry don’t know what he’s in for.

HENRY

We don’t get much business this time of day. Can I get you gentlemen anything?

IDAHO BILL

Gentlemen?

(Looks at his partners, down at himself.)

Gentlemen? Do we look like gentlemen to you?

HENRY

(Not quite sure what the safe answer is.) Um . . . uh . . . (False heartiness.) So, what’ll it be?

IDAHO BILL

Well, now, what would you suggest “gentlemen” such as ourselves should be drinking? Five-dollar whiskey? Maybe some of that fancy bubbly stuff in a crystal glass?

HENRY

Coming right up . . .

IDAHO BILL

(Leans across the bar and points his gun at HENRY’s nose.)

I ain’t no gentleman, and I don’t drink that stuff!

SAM AND PETE

Us, either!

HENRY

(Gulps.) No, sir! My mistake, sir. I can certainly see you’re no gentleman, sir. Sorry, sir!

IDAHO¯BILL

(Somewhat mollified.) That’s better. Now, what do you suppose I really want?

HENRY

(Weakly.) Beer, sir?

IDAHO BILL

Why, that’ll do just fine.

(Gestures at SAM and PETE.)

And they’ll have the same. Won’t you?

SAM and PETE

(Unison.) You bet, Bill.

HENRY

Three beers, coming right up — sir.

(IDAHO BILL leans back on his stool and stares at the ceiling. HENRY sets a beer beside him and takes two more to SAM and PETE. As he starts back toward the bar IDAHO BILL stops him.)

IDAHO BILL

What’s your name, barman?

HENRY

Henry, sir.

IDAHO BILL

Well, Henry-sir, look up there and tell me what you see.

HENRY

(Looks up cautiously.)

Uh — the ceiling, sir?

IDAHO BILL

That’s right. The ceiling. Just the boring old ceiling. Blank, isn’t it?

HENRY

Uh — yes, sir.

IDAHO BILL

(Aims gun carefully upwarad.)

I think it needs a little decoration, don’t you? Something along the lines of — my initials?

HENRY

(Wincing.) I was saying so just the other day, sir.

IDAHO BILL

Knew you’d see it my way.

(Starts firing. Henry plugs his ears. BILL shouts above the noise.)

Well, don’t just stand there with your fingers in your ears, Henry! More beer!

SAM and PETE

(Unison.) Yeah, Henry! More beer!

(The focus shifts to the OLD MAN again. While he talks, the scene changes to the railway station. The bar becomes a telegraph office counter; the table is replaced with a bench.)

OLD MAN

(Chuckling.) Good old Dad. What a cut-up. And he kept right on cutting up for the next two days. He and his boys went back and forth from the Waverley to the Royal to the Waverley, and every time they were in the streets everyone else made a point to be elsewhere. It was either that or learn to dance. The village constable was nowhere to be found; seemed he’d suddenly been called away to visit a third cousin in Yellow Grass who’d come down with yellow fever. (Sighs.) But someone always spoils the fun. Some busybody finally told the justice of the peace, Dr. R. M. Mitchell, just what was going on downtown, and the interfering old cuss wasted no time taking action. First he went to the hotels and got them to close their bars. (Shakes his head.) That didn’t sit too well with Dad, let me tell you. And then Dr. Mitchell went to the railway station…

DR. MITCHELL

(He stands at the counter, his heavy walking cane beside him, reading his telegram out loud as he writes it.)

Constable Larry Lett, Halbrite, North West Territories. Stop. Come up next train. Stop. Party running amuck with revolver. Stop. Dr. R. M. Mitchell.

(He pushes the form across the counter to the [imaginary] telegrapher.)

Send that at once. There’s a freight train leaving Halbrite in half an hour.

(MRS. IDAHO BILL enters behind him. He turns and sees her, and speaks severely.)

Madam, what are you doing here?

MRS. IDAHO

I’m expecting a parcel, Dr. Mitchell — not that it’s any of your business.

DR. MITCHELL

Shouldn’t you be downtown, having a word with your husband?

MRS. IDAHO

(Sitting nonchalantly on the bench.)

About what, Dr. Mitchell?

DR. MITCHELL

About his abominable behavior. A wife, madam, should be a moderating influence on a young man.

MRS. IDAHO

(Laughs.) Me, “moderate” Bill? Honey, back home in Idaho he was always trying to moderate ¼me¾. I figure he’s entitled to a little fun of his own now.

DR. MITCHELL

I see. (Tries a different tack.) Well, madam, if you will not attempt to convince him to desist his unlawful actions for the sake of the community, will you not do so for his sake and your own?

MRS. IDAHO

You sure talk fancy. If you’re going to threaten people, doc, you need to learn to say what you’re trying to say straight out.

DR. MITCHELL

Very well, I will be blunt. I have just wired Const. Larry Lett of the North West Mounted Police, in Halbrite. The next train from that community will carry not only your parcel, but also that worthy gentleman, who is coming here for the express purpose of arresting your husband on charges of creating a disturbance, endangering the public, and wilfully damaging property. Unless you look forward to seeing your husband in jail, I would strongly urge you to go downtown, find him, and convince him to leave this village. If he and his friends are gone when Const. Lett arrives, and do not come back, we will consider the matter closed.

MRS. IDAHO

(Standing.)

Sorry, honey, but Bill likes it here. He’s not going to take kindly to someone trying to chase him away. And I’m giving you fair warning — my Bill’s the fastest gun the North West Territories has ever seen. Nobody’s going to lay a hand on him and live to tell about it. If I were you, I’d tell your Mounted Policeman to get right back on that freight and keep going.

DR. MITCHELL

(Stiffly.) I can assure you, madam, that before midnight this very day, Const. Lett and myself will indeed have laid hands on your husband, and lived to tell about it, and “your Bill” and his friends are going to be behind bars.

MRS. IDAO

(Laughing.) Darlin’, you don’t even have a jail

(She exits, leaving DR. MITCHELL open-mouthed and fuming.)

OLD MAN

(Sniffling.) Good old Mom. Always sticking up for Daddy. A grand old woman, she was. A pillar of the community. (Wipes his eyes.) Well, Mom of course went home and told Dad a Mountie was coming to town. He sent Sam and Pete down to the train station to watch for him, but Pete somehow got lost along the way, and Sam never was much good for anything on his own . . .

(CONST. LARRY LETT strides on stage, gripping SAM by the back of his neck. DR. MITCHELL stands to greet him.)

DR. MITCHELL

(Surprised.) That was quick work.

LARRY LETT

Idiot was standing on the platform wearing a gun. Might as well have been shouting, “Arrest me! Arrest me!” I take it this is your man?

DR. MITCHELL

That’s one of them. But not the ringleader.

LARRY LETT

If he was, it’d be a mighty poor ring. Well, let’s lock him up and round up the others. Where’s your jail?

DR. MITCHELL

(Sheepishly.) Uh — as was just pointed out to me, we don’t have one.

LARRY LETT

(Shocked.) Not even a little one?

DR. MITCHELL

(Defensively.) These are our first criminals.

LARRY LETT

(Shaking his head.) This community will never amount to anything if it doesn’t build a jail! Remember that. (Looks at SAM.) We’ll just have to improvise. The Royal Hotel’s rooms have good strong doors, don’t they? Come on, you!

(All exit.)

(During the OLD MAN’s next speech, the scene changes to a room in a boarding house. IDAHO BILL sits in a chair, his wife stands nearby. LARRY LETT and DR. MITCHELL should move away so they can approach the stage from a distance during their next exchange.)

OLD MAN

(Shakes his head.) What’d I tell you? Sam always was useless. Dr. Mitchell and Constable Lett carted him off to the Royal Hotel and locked him in the dingiest room they could find, unbeknownst to Mom and Dad, who were holed up, waiting for word, in their own room in Enos Beach’s boarding house, over on Fourth Street next to where the old post office was built later. Dr. Mitchell and Constable Lett headed that way next, accompanied by a crowd of citizens with nothing better to do. ‘Course, having had a taste of Dad’s shooting, most of the crowd decided the corner of Railway Avenue and Fourth Street was going to be close enough to the action, and they just sort of hung around there while Dr. Mitchell and Const. Lett walked up the block alone.

(LARRY LETT and DR. MITCHELL come up the street, DR. MITCHELL carrying his cane, LARRY LETT wearing his gun.)

DR. MITCHELL

His wife claims nobody is going to lay hands on him and live, you know.

LARRY LETT

That a fact?

DR. MITCHELL

I’m told he offered a wager of $25 silver dollars that he’s too “hard and wild for any Mounted Policeman.”

LARRY LETT

Any takers?

DR. MITCHELL

Not that I heard.

LARRY LETT

I wonder if he’d wager with me?

DR. MITCHELL

I just want you to be careful, Larry. In fact, if I were you, I’d shoot on sight.

(They reach the stage, but don’t go up yet.)

This is Mrs. Beach’s boarding house. Are you ready?

LARRY LETT

I am, but what about you? Is that cane loaded?

DR. MITCHELL

Larry –

LARRY LETT

(Laughs.) You worry too much, doctor! Charge!

 (He rushes up the steps and onto the stage. IDAHO BILL tries to draw, but LETT crosses the room and pins him at once, taking his revolver. Meanwhile, MRS. IDAHO, backing away, takes something from inside her dress.)

DR. MITCHELL

(Shouts.) Look out!

(He strikes her hand with his cane. She drops a small pistol.)

LARRY LETT

(Hauling IDAHO BILL upright.)

Not very gentlemanly to strike a lady, Dr. Mitchell.

DR. MITCHELL

(Picking up MRS. IDAHO’s gun.)

This is no lady — this is his wife.

PETE

(Rushing up the street and onto the stage.)

Wait! Wait! Arrest me, too! Arrest me, too! Please, please, arrest me, too!

IDAHO BILL

(In disgust.) For Pete’s sake, Pete . . .

PETE

You’ve got to arrest me, too! Everyone in town hates me now. I can’t go out there again — not by myself. You’ve got to lock me up, too, for my own safety!

LARRY LETT

(Shrugs.) I never turn down a reasonable request. Feel free to tag along.

PETE

(Practically fawning.) Thank you, thank you, thank you…

(All exit. The scene reverts to the bar as the OLD MAN talks. DR. MITCHELL, in judicial robes, takes his place behind the bar. SAM, PETE, BILL and MRS. IDAHO line up in front, guarded by LARRY LETT.)

OLD MAN

(Shakes his head in disgust.) I’ll never know what Dad saw in those sidekicks of his. I mean, the Lone Ranger had Tonto, Marshall Dillon had Festus, Butch Cassidy had the Sundance Kid, but those two… (Sighs.) Well, you see how it is. A man tries to have a little fun in his new home town, and all he gets is persecuted — or, in this case, prosecuted. And that business about Mom drawing a gun — well, heck, I told you she always stuck up for Dad, didn’t I? You know, behind every good man…Dr. Mitchell had no call to hit her like that — and him a medical man. He might have hurt her!

(Pauses for a drink, wipes his mouth.)

Anyway, off they all went to the Royal, where court was convened downstairs in the barroom. They didn’t bother with witnesses; they had the whole town lined up outside ready to testify if need be. Dad made a strong case for himself, though…

IDAHO BILL

Guilty.

SAM and PETE

(Unison.) Us, too!

DR. MITCHELL

Is there anything you wish to say before I pass sentence?

IDAHO BILL

Be lenient, judge! I’ve seen the error of my ways!

SAM and PETE

(Unison.) Us, too!

DR. MITCHELL

(Sternly.) Be lenient? I am far more inclined to send you to prison for a substantial period of time. You terrorized our peaceful little village for two days. You carved your initials in the ceiling of the Waverley Hotel. You shot the hat off our village constable, and the poor fellow hasn’t been seen since. And you made the Methodist preacher dance, which is strictly against his religion. Why should I be lenient?

IDAHO BILL

But I swear, judge, I swear I’ll never do anything like it again. It was just youthful hijinks. See, my wife and I are on our honeymoon, and I was feeling so good I just got a little carried away, that’s all. (He smiles ingratiatingly.) I’ll be a model citizen from now on, judge, I promise. You’ll see. Just give me another chance!

SAM and PETE

(Unison.) Us, too!

DR. MITCHELL

I still think jail’s the place for you –

IDAHO BILL

Judge, no! You can’t! I’d go crazy behind bars! I — I’d kill myself! So would Sam and Pete. We’d all commit suicide! Wouldn’t we, boys?

(SAM and PETE exchange glances. IDAHO glares at them and repeats, with emphasis:)

Wouldn’t we, boys?

SAM

Uh, yeah, right, sure thing, Bill.

PETE

Kill ourselves, right. You bet, Billy boy.

DR. MITCHELL

Hmmph. Well, what does the Crown say?

LARRY LETT

Oh, be easy on them, Doc. They seem like decent enough chaps to me. They won’t try anything else now they know Constable Larry Lett of the North West Mounted Police is ready to sweep down on them like an avenging hawk!

(Grins, pleased with his turn of phrase.)

They’ll be good.

IDAHO BILL

I will, judge, I promise!

SAM and PETE

(Unison.) Us, too!

DR. MITCHELL

Very well. I’m fining each of you $50 and putting you on probation — if I have any trouble with any of you over the next year, I’ll wire the constable again, and you will go to prison, mark my words. And one other thing –

IDAHO BILL

Yes, judge?

DR. MITCHELL

Stop calling me judge!

IDAHO BILL

Uh, yes, jud — uh, sir. Sorry, sir! And I thank you from the bottom of my heart!

SAM and PETE

(Unison.) Us, too!

DR. MITCHELL

(Sighs.) Somehow I knew you were going to say that.

(Bangs gavel.)

I hereby declare this court adjourned — and the bar reopened!

(HENRY enters and starts serving drinks to everyone; the scene becomes one of general jovialty behind the OLD MAN as he speaks.)

OLD MAN

So there you have it.

(Stands and stretches.)

Dad talked himself out of a prison term with his silver tongue, and instead he only had to pay a fine — and Sam’s fine, and Pete’s fine, since those two couldn’t scrape up a nickle between them. But that was all right, ’cause he made them work it off as farm hands when he bought himself a place not 50 miles from here and settled down. As he told me many a time in my growing-up years, he decided he would like to live in a country where all citizens were made to respect the law.

(Starts to turn around and join the others, pauses, turns back.)

What’s that? How come I’ve never told you my last name in all this? (Chuckles.) Well, the way I figure it, you’ve gotten along fine for more’n eighty years without knowing the real name of the Idaho Kid, as Dad came to be called later. Don’t see any reason to spoil the mystery now!

(Turns around, holds mug out to HENRY.)

Fill ‘er up, Henry!

THE END