(This is a quickie AU starter I did for someone who wasn't sure how to write in the historical/old west/Victorian-ish verse, so I kept it relatively simple. She was writing as a dance hall performer and singer in Oklahoma City. Not my best work, but it’s a more repentant, regretful Bob in this one, whereas in other ideas I tend to write more about his arrogance, desire for celebrity status and the fact that his traveling show performances actually did well with some of the public at first, before his ever-changing luck took another nosedive.)
Seven years and twenty days. Such was the length of time that had passed from the day Bob had gunned down his idol, outlaw Jesse James, and the moment in 1889 when Bob rode into the town recently renamed Oklahoma City. Just a day earlier, on April 22, the town had welcomed its incorporation under the new name, and Bob could see evidence of the festivities everywhere he looked. Colorful bunting adorned fences and discarded confetti littered the streets and boardwalks, all remnants of revelry from the day before. The first rush of eager white settlers was pouring in to take advantage of President Harrison’s opening of the area from its former “Indian Country” designation.
The excitement had nothing to do with twenty-seven year old Robert Ford, of course, and he was merely another face in the crowd. All around him were throngs of land-hungry Americans arriving in wagons, drifting in by foot or on horseback like Bob himself. But being prone to pangs of self torment and regret in recent months, something melancholy inside of the man was triggered by the sight of so much celebration and activity. Only the horse beneath him could sense the change in Bob’s mood, the memories weighing him down as if a blacksmith’s anvil had dropped to the man’s shoulders and added to the saddle load.
You know what I expected? Bob thought miserably to himself, remembering the aftermath of Jesse’s death. He still mourned the fall of his idol, the shooting of an outlaw by Bob’s own hand, a larger than life figure Bob had worshiped since childhood. Applause. Jesse had become a problem to everyone, including himself, and especially the law. I thought I’d be the hero, that I’d be the one celebrated with parades and accolades and confetti thrown in the streets when I passed by. But they didn’t applaud. Not even at the shows. Not once.
Before dinnertime, Bob had checked his horse into the local livery and secured himself a room at a boarding house while he surveyed the town’s potential for his personal interest. It would be good to sleep in a real bed for a change, he decided, after weeks of making camp in the hills during his travels from Kansas and his native Missouri. The railroad was not yet established in the lands of Oklahoma, much of it still considered the country of native tribes, and he’d been on horseback for so long his legs were chafed and sore. But the journey was worth it, if things materialized as he hoped. He enjoyed a bath and a long rest, before the following day would be the start of what he hoped to be a successful chapter in what had been a miserable life so far.
A longing for a quieter life in anonymity was precisely why he was in Oklahoma City. Two failed attempts to establish his own saloons in other areas had pushed him onward, armed with the idea of building another dancehall in a booming town. If he played his cards right, the new town held a great deal of promise, and the morning after his arrival Bob met with a banker to secure his own property claim. Over the next few weeks, Bob was relieved to discover that, with all the excitement around him, no one recognized the man who had shot the legendary Jesse James on April 3, 1882. Jesse’s killer no longer sought the attention and praise he once craved, and blending into the crowd was a breath of fresh air for the first time in his life. Once upon a time he'd resented being a nobody, but that had all changed for Bob Ford. If anything, he now just wanted to live comfortably in a quiet, decent existence while regretting everything he had been, and had become.
It was later that summer when Ford’s Hall was open for business, Bob’s new saloon and dance hall in Oklahoma City. Just as he’d hoped, business was booming like the town itself, but one of his handful of dancers had just run off with some cowboy who had gotten her pregnant. Another young woman had succumbed to laudanum addiction. Desperately in need of some fresh talent, Bob left his bartender in charge of Ford’s Hall for the evening and dressed for dinner in another establishment down the road. A quiet figure in his black, three-piece sack suit and bowler hat, Bob gazed at his unsmiling reflection in the mirror. Jesse would have approved of the clothing, he realized, hardly surprised by that admission. After all, Bob had been obsessed with Jesse, from the tall tales written about the James-Younger gang’s exploits in the dime store novels to the outlaw style of dress and mannerisms.
"But you never owned an honest business in your life,” Bob muttered to Jesse’s imaginary presence behind him. The man’s ghost was always present, it seemed. “And that’s where I need to draw the line from now on. ‘Cause you’re dead, and I’m the reason, and it was all for nothin’. So now I gotta do somethin’ about it. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve gotta find another dancer who’ll give an honest day’s work and give the folks in my saloon somethin’ to smile about.” He nodded to the reflection, forcing a smile. He didn’t feel it, but it would do.
The saloon he wandered into was noisy and crowded. Rough men huddled over a faro table or leaned in chairs around decks of cards. A mahogany bar was lined by other men hoisting mugs of beer and glasses of whiskey. A crowd was beginning to settle into chairs set up in front of a tiny, curtained stage, making ready for another show to start. Bob made mental notes as he leaned against the bar with blue eyes focused on the stage. This saloon was busy, sure, but he knew his could be better. He’d just have to see what the onstage talent might be.