Chicago, 1893: Annie Oakley, performing with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, confronts a serial killer the press would later dub “The Beast of Chicago.” Annie Oakley and the Beast of Chicago by Mike Casto. Available from Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords, other fine eBook vendors and Gypsy Shadow Publishing at:
Chicago, 1893: the World’s Fair brought people from all over the world. Buffalo Bill’s Wild West, denied a place at the fair, rented acreage outside the fairgrounds and played to record setting crowds—the likes of which they would never see again. When Annie Oakley, performing with the Wild West, tries to help a friend, it sets her on a collision course with a serial killer who the press would later dub “The Beast of Chicago.”
Word Count: 21000
Pages to Print: 79
Price: $ 4.99
Overlooking the White City—Sunday, April 30, 1893
Annie and Cody admired the view from an observation deck overlooking the buildings of the White City, which stood in stark contrast to the grimy city of Chicago outside the fairgrounds. The pearly veneers of the neoclassical architecture gleamed in the afternoon sun, pristine and virginal, in opposition to the sooty urban blight. Like a bride, resplendent in her white gown, standing in the middle of a muddy street, she held her hem at the perfect height to keep it above the muck while still remaining modest.
Colonel William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody looked down at the petite woman walking next to him. Her long sleeved light brown dress complemented her dark brown eyes and long brown hair exquisitely. Cody knew, like most of her clothes, she’d made the dress with her own hands.
He’d always considered her an attractive woman, but thought of her more as a little sister or a niece than with any romantic interest. What intrigued and impressed him most, though, lay in her ability to outshoot him, or most anyone else in the world, for that matter.
“I concur, Annie. This is a fascinating sight to behold.”
The World’s Fair, dubbed the World Columbian Exposition to note the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the New World, would open the next morning. Cody’s Wild West show, denied a formal slot in the Expo, had rented a parcel of land three blocks south of the Midway Plaisance and set up shop. The show’s performers and promoters had spent the past couple of weeks preparing feverishly to perform two shows daily throughout the next six months of the Expo.
At Bill’s request, and with some fancy talking, Cody’s partner, Nate, persuaded the reluctant fair administrators to grant Cody a sneak peek at the fairgrounds before the opening. He and Annie had strolled through the grounds, admiring the grandeur.
Now, from their vantage atop the Manufactures and Liberal Arts building, the Court of Honor dominated the scene before them. Below, the Statue of the Republic overlooked the Grand Basin, which symbolized the voyage Columbus took to the New World. Waterways branched off the large pool and ran between the buildings of the Court. Cody could just make out a line of Venetian gondolas bobbing at the piers around the buildings, waiting for the throngs of fairgoers that would descend upon them soon.
Cody thought, Seeing the White City from a gondola cruising slowly along the waterways between the buildings would be incredible. Louisa would love this. Unfortunately, his wife wasn’t with him here in the White City. Nevertheless, he planned to find time for one of those cruises once the show got under way. His mind wandered to thoughts of his children. Arta, 27, still lived at home, and helped Louisa take care of the house and the precocious little ten year old Irma. Maybe I shall write to Louisa. See if she and the girls can come visit. They should see this ephemeral spectacle. God knows it won’t last.
Reluctantly, he dragged his mind back to the here and now. A brisk nip rode the air, but the sun shone brightly, and cut the chill just enough to make it pleasant. A few clouds lingered in the blue sky. Their shadows danced like specters on the surfaces of the white buildings as they glided overhead.
“You propose to shoot a playing card edge-on from ninety feet, cutting it in half, then shoot the falling half at least three more times before it hits the ground?”
“That, indeed, is what I propose. I’ve been practicing, and I can do it consistently. It’ll be a crowd pleaser.”
His bushy mustache lifted as he smiled. “I reckon it will. I know I shall be impressed. Let us adjourn to our shooting range and you can, once again, amaze me while I work out some patter for the showmanship side of things.”
As usual, Annie fluttered her eyelashes and smiled a shy little smile at the compliment. The genuine sincerity of this mannerism, and others like it, captivated Cody. Annie’s magnificent stage presence stemmed from her honesty, not her acting. This same honesty had swept Annie’s rough and tumble husband, Frank, off his feet, and had gained her the adoration of millions of fans all over the world.
Cody felt honored she’d chosen to work in his show and had stayed for so long. The previous year, she and Frank had left the show for a time and toured on their own in Europe, all because of Lillian Smith. His own blindness to Annie’s disfavor of Lillian rankled him still.
I really should have fired Lillian at the first signs of jealousy from Annie. Lillian was a fine shot, and her youth intrigued the crowds for a time. But Annie . . . well, she’s Little Sure Shot.
Few people could work an audience as adroitly as Annie. Fewer still could shoot half as well. Not a particularly religious man, Cody still agreed with old Sitting Bull that the Great Spirit had gifted Annie with supernatural shooting prowess.
Touching her temple lightly, Annie grimaced. “I’ve been troubled by headaches quite a bit recently. I saw a pharmacy not far from the Midway. Give me an hour or so. I need to purchase some headache powder. Then I’ll retrieve a long gun and ammunition from my tent and meet you in the field.”