Once he was out of the Dakota territory, however, he started feeling better again. He was in some little piss-ant place called Orton or Ortonville--something like that--and had decided to treat himself to a night in a proper bed at a drover’s hotel. The next day, he got up somewhat late-ish, had a decent breakfast of some ham and boiled potatoes from the hotel kitchen, and then strolled over to the combined general goods store and post office at the crossroads. Zed noted that not surprisingly, the store was run by a man named Orton, who was also the postmaster.
The man didn’t seem terribly friendly. Zed bought fixings to roll some smokes, and just for fun, a little bag of hard mint-flavored candies, but the store man hardly said two words to him the whole time. The only other person in the store was an old stooped-over countrywoman in a shawl and rough homespun dress and apron, wearing one of those big old-style slat sunbonnets. Zed sighed, glancing at the venerable lady who was peering intently into a case of sewing notions. It made him think of his grandma back in Indiana--her spine and shoulders permanently bent from all those years of hard-scrabble farm work and child-raising.
The young man paid for his fixin’s and the candies, and set off to collect his horse and gear so he could hit the road once again.
“Damnation,” he thought. “I sure will be glad when things have settled down and I can get back to the Black Hills and be with Mary.”
He stopped to roll himself a cigarette: might as well get the day off to a proper start. As he was doing so, the old woman came out of the store and shuffled along the road towards him, a basket on her arm. A few yards from where he stood, she stopped, and he heard a small voice from inside the huge old-fashioned bonnet.
“Good day to ye, young man.”
*Good day to ya, Ma’am.” he replied. “Pleasant mornin’ ain’t it?”
“Tis that. Young man, might I ask somethin’ of ye?”
A flicker of concern passed over Zed’s face, and then he smiled. “O’ course, Ma’am. What's on your mind?”
“Well, two things, I was wonderin’ actually,” said the small voice in the bonnet. “First off, is that yor hoss in that field o’er yonder, back behind ye?”
Zedekiah Quinnell turned and looked into the field where the old woman was pointing. There was indeed, a rather nice horse grazing in the field, but it was not his, of course,
“No ma’am.” he answered. “That’s a fine lookin animal, but....”
As he turned back to face her, he found the woman’s back had straightened up and an extremely large, older pattern Colt’s revolver was pointed at him. With the woman now standing up straight, he could see her face under the bonnet.
To his credit, Zed didn’t do what you’d expect. He didn’t suddenly shout something silly like, “You! Why aren’t you dead!” Nor did he cuss, or try to run, or feebly put up his hands and piss himself.
He elected to face things like a man, which--from a certain point of view--is about all you can do when the light at the end of the tunnel proves to be an oncoming locomotive. Although it is pretty much a lost cause to try to draw on someone who already has pulled and pointed iron at you, you can always hope that they will be excited and their aim will be off, or perhaps--if Providence is really smiling on you--they might even have a misfire. So he did the one thing he thought he could do under the circumstances, which was to drop his half-rolled cigarette and tobacco and try to draw his Navy.
It worked out about as well as one would expect it to.
The slug from the woman’s Walker hit him in the thigh before his pistol had cleared leather. At that range, taking a .44 soft lead ball that is being pushed along by 60 grains of powder is a lot like being hit with a sledge hammer. Zed was down, in excruciating pain, and clutching at his shattered leg.
His gun was nearby on the ground, but the woman kicked it away so that it was completely out of his reach even if he had been feeling frisky enough to try for it again. Yep. Zedekiah Quinnell knew he was pretty much shit outta luck as he heard the resonant "click" sound of the pistol being cocked again.