Sunday, October 11, 2009

A Deadwood story -- consequences, part 5


Even as the smoke from Dio’s shot was still lingering on the air, people seemed to pour out of every doorway, corner and crevice. What had appeared to be a deserted street only moments before was suddenly buzzing with armed humanity.

“You allright, Ma’am?” asked Mr. Orton, the store owner. He was carrying an old muzzle-loading, cap-lock fowling piece and had an archaic-looking boot pistol tucked in his waistband. His neighbors were all equipped in similarly eclectic fashion: a Henry or a Winchester here and there; a variety of pistols from diverse eras and makers; but mostly older hunting guns and surplus army weapons.

A boy of about 16 or so, toting a Mexican War-vintage Hall carbine, stared intently at Zedekiah. “We had your back, Ma’am, for certain,“ he said quietly. “But you shoulda let us all help you with takin’ him. We’d a been happy to. Folks hereabout are like that.” A ripple of nodding heads and murmurs of assent went through the small crowd of townspeople, indicating their agreement with the boy.

A grimy blacksmith with some kind of military musket that had been cut down into a scatter gun was standing next to the storekeeper. He intoned in a thick Dutchman’s accent, “Yah, Missus, don’ be forgetting vot dem Northfield folks did to dem James boys, couple years ago. Us Minnezota folks, dots vot vee are like.”

Dio was still holding her Walker on Zed, not taking her eyes off him. He was staring back, expressionless, but directly meeting her gaze. After a pause, Dio said, “Folks, I am deeply appreciative of yer support an’ willingness to participate. It was just somethin” I felt like I hadda do m’self. Tho right now, I can say I would be greatly obliged if’n ye would keep the gennelman covered whilst I get outta these duds and then attend to his wound.”

The words were no sooner out of her mouth than there was a flash of gun-metal as nearly two dozen muzzles were instantly brought to bear on Zed, the action accompanied by a chorus of clicks and ka-klock noises as all those weapons were cocked simultaneously.

If Zedekiah Quinnel so much as wiggled a finger, he was going to look like an old sycamore log at a woodpecker convention.

Dio pulled off the bonnet and the dress, which she had been wearing directly over her buckskins, and handed them to an elderly woman who was standing at the forefront of the group. The lady accepted the bundle with her left hand while she used her right to keep a cocked Colt Dragoon pointed square at Zed’s chest.

“Y’all really do remind me of the folks in another town that I know of.” Dio smiled at the old woman with the Dragoon, “Hon, I want to thank ye kindly fer the loan o’ them garments.”

The elderly lady nodded. “Yer welcome Missy. But I cain’t figger how come ye went thru all this folderol to get up close on him like that. How come ye din’t jus bushwhack the lil’ puke from a good distance--shoot ‘im an’ be done with it? They’s mos’ likely jus’ gonna hang ‘im anyhow.”

“Well, Hon, it’s like this,” Dio replied. “I jus’ really hadda be sure I had the right’ also I wanted to be close enough to him--an’ get the drop on him--so I could try to make sure I jus’ incapacitated ‘im. Don’t want him daid yet. Cuz I got some questions to ask him, an I really need him alive fer that.”

Dio was already kneeling by Zed and cutting away his trouser leg so she could bind the wound and hopefully keep him from bleeding out. As Dio was putting a tourniquet on his thigh above the injury, one of the women from the town came over to her.

“Ma’am?” she inquired. “I have a spare bed in my cabin o’er yonder. If’n you think it would be proper, you have my leave to carry this man in there and continue working on his wound in better circumstances than the dust o’ this street.”

Dio nodded and requested of the blacksmith and some of his friends that they carry Zed inside. The boy with the Hall carbine offered to come along and stand guard just in case.

Dio smiled at him. “Thank ye pard. I shall be obliged to ye fer doin so, tho’ in the state this man is in, an’ as much blood as he has lost, I doubt he will pose much of a potential problem. All the same, prudence don’t cost us anythin’ extra, and your assistance will be welcome.”

After Zed had been moved indoors and Dio had cleaned and bandaged his wound, he fell into a fitful sleep.

When he awoke, he found Dio siting in a chair next to his bed, staring at him. His “guard,” the 16 year-old boy, was in a rocker by the fireplace, his head drooped in slumber, his venerable firearm across his knees.

“Ah, yer awake,” Dio commented quietly to Zed. “Ye know, maybe ye won’ get hung.... Kinda depends on what ye tell me when I get around to askin’ ye m’ questions.”

Zed looked thoughtful. “Well, I gotta ask you something, first. I understand you coming after me to kill me, being as I killed your friend...”

"AND tried to kill me too,” Dio added. “I take that kinda thing sorta personally.”

“Zed smiled an odd little smile through his pain. “Yeah, that too, I did try to kill you. So like I say, I understand you coming to kill me, but why bother with patchin’ me up and turnin’ me in, like you’re the law or something?”

Dio chuckled. “Well at the moment, I am law. Made the mistake o’ going ‘n gettin’ myself deputized on the way outta I got a federal special deputy badge right now, an’ the more I pondered on it, I figgered I had best act like someone who’s worthy o’ wearin’ it. Does have some advantages though. It’s one o’ the reasons how come these nice folks were so accomodatin’ in helpin’ me round you up.”

Their conversation must have awoken the guard in the rocking chair, as now he suddenly chimed in. “Yes’m, we were mightily impressed--ain’t never heard tell of a woman territorial dep’ty before, let alone seen one.”

“Well, sir, I reckon ye may as well get an eyeful now,” said Dio, “cuz I suspect they gonna figger out some way to make sure they ain’t another one fer a long time after this. The Deppity Marshal who provided me this tin star warn’t real happy about it when he did so...”

“So what do you want to know?” asked Zed in a calm, quiet voice.

Dio was re-tying some of Zed’s bandages as he said this, and she suddenly stopped, a bit surprised by his cooperative tone, She looked at him a moment and stated flatly, “I wish to know if it was one of Hearst’s lackeys such as Mr. Tanner who set you to this, or whether George Hearst himself saw it as important enough to give ye instructions directly.”


Dio fought back an instinctual desire to cuss and strike the young man as hard as she could. She was trying extremely hard to live up to the expectations these people would have for a federal marshal's special deputy. And on some level, she really did sincerely want to behave in a way that was...well, worthy.

So instead of bringing out the verbal artillery and breaking his nose, she looked him in the eye and said in a low, hard voice, “Do not insult me with feigned ignorance, Zedekiah Quinnell. Yer not exactly in a position to be actin’ the fool with me here.”

A tinge of panic flickered over Zed’s expression for just a moment, and then he looked somewhat indignant. “No M’am! I am in earnest! I have no idea who those men are...”

“Then who was it sent you to put a bullet in Al Husar’s head in answer to his message?”

Zedekiah looked like he was about to say something, and then his face suddenly became very fixed and placid. “I am sorry M’am, but I simply am not willing to reveal that information.”

Dio just looked at him for a moment. This wasn’t what she was expecting at all. Finally she spoke with some exasperation. “Allright, so you don’t know who Tanner and George Hearst are...”

“Oh wait, a moment,” interrupted Zed. “George Hearst? Is that the man associated with the Hearst mining interests? If he is the same, then I have indeed heard of that man, I simply did not know that his Christian name was George. But no, I had not previously heard of your Mr. Tanner you’re speaking of. And neither of them instructed me to kill Mr. Husar....”

“And yer not gonna tell me who did?” added Dio.

Zed sighed. “No Ma’am...just wouldn’t be right for me to do so.”

“Well, then,” Dio suggested, “kin ye at least tell me why ye kilt him an’ tried to put an end to me as well? Bein’ as ye damn near did succeed in that, seems only fair fer me to know.”

Zed thought about this a minute. “I reckon so. Long as you don’t wish to make me tell you the name of the person.” He took a breath and went on. “You see, I had developed affections for a young lady residin’ in Lead. She did not accept me as a suitor however, due to m’ limited means and prospects. Instead, she began seeing Mr. Husar...and in point o’ fact, they became engaged to be wed. He then for some reason sent her a message saying he wished to break it off, asking her forgiveness of him doing so. She was greatly embarrassed and hurt by this, and sent for me...said that if I would take an answer to his message in the form of vengeance, she would be greatly obliged to me as the protector of her’ would be willin’ to enter into courtship.”

Dio frowned. “Ye did this fer love...”


“Nothin’ to do with the mines an all that?”

“No Ma’am, not a thing.”

Dio took off her glasses and pinched the bridge of her nose in one of those odd little gestures people tend to do when their brains feel like they are gonna burst. She then turned to the young volunteer guard. “Pard, I regret I did not catch yer name.”

“Johansen, Ma’am. Asa Johansen.”

“Well, Asa Johansen,” said Dio, “tell me what’s yer reaction to this news? Here I thought I was hunting a man who carried out a cruel and cowardly assassination for purely mercenary reasons. Now I find that I have been pursiuin’ a love-struck white knight who pulled the trigger in order to gain the hand of his fair maiden, rather than the proverbial 30 pieces o’ silver.”

Asa looked perplexed. “Well Dep’ty Kuhr, that is all well ‘n good, but there is the matter that murderin’ folks is against the laws o’ God an’ man. And from what you told us, the fello’ did also attempt to kill you as well.”

Dio turned back to the wounded man on the bed. “Asa here has a good point. So why try to kill me? Hell, I didn’t break the heart o’ yer lady love. I was jus’ eatin flapjacks.”

“OH, she tol’ me to make sure there were no witnesses,” replied Zed. “She’s a right clever gal, and sad to say, I guess I was willin’ to do anything on earth to win her affections....”

“Clever gal, eh?” Dio could not hide an ironic smile. “An’ rather than give her up an’ possibly save your own life, ye’ll pertect her identity and undoubtedly go on to hang for all this.”

Asa Johansen had come up alongside Dio and was looking down at Zedekiah with a rather unreadable expression. Finally he spoke up. “Dep’ty Kuhr?”

“Yes, Asa?”

“Ma’am, would you think less o’ me for speakin’ somewhat bluntly in the presence o’ one o’ m’ elders?”

“No, o’ course not, pard.”

“Well I ain’t sure if it’s just me...but I have this feelin’ like that man right there on that bed is mebbe one o’ the biggest goddamned idiots to come down the pike in quite a while.”

“Asa Johansen,” said Dio, “it strikes me you are a feller who is remarkable wise beyond his years....”



  1. Love, eh? I guess the man didn't think things through to the end: if the likely result was ending up at the end of a hangman's rope, he wasn't getting the girl anyway. Then again, what can you expect from a love-struck idiot? :)

  2. Hey Rhia,

    Yeah it's probably one of those things that as they say "thinking had very little to do with it."

    But then, after all, the main theme here is that our choices have consequences, almost invariably of the unexpected kind. It's been one of the ongoing themes in my own life, and I'm having fun playing with the idea here.

    There is one thing in this storyline I am still not sure about. Was the girl actually interested in Zed or was she just using him as a tool of revenge? If things had worked out better for him and he gotten away with this, would she have actually accepted him as a suitor?

    I don't know. What do you think?

  3. It's funny you mention unintended consequences in the context of the (unseen) girl in the story. I had thought that some of the consequences, unintended or not, included Al Husar's vulnerability because he was without his security guys as a result of the Mayor's edict - you hinted that one might have been intended - and Zed's comeuppance for having not done the job on Dio, as well as Dio's reluctance to kill Zed because of the decision to take the badge.

    But the girl? In my mind, she was using Zed as a tool. Call me romantic, but if you like a guy, you probably don't ask him to kill an ex-suitor for you. Or call my cynical: if you think you're in the league of a rich man like Husar, you're probably not looking at Zed as your next best choice.

    Interestingly (well, to me, at any rate), there have been a number of news articles over the past few years about teenage girls, living at home, unhappy with how Mom and Dad (usually Dad) have restrictive rules in place, asking a skanky boyfriend to whack the parents. I'm guessing those boyfriends were also tools of convenience.

    All of which is, of course, just one reader's opinion. :)

  4. Ooooo, you sneaky wonderful bugger, you! I so did not see that coming! Brilliant stuff :)

    For what it's worth I think Zed was a tool too (in more than one sense). The question is why? Revenge for being dumped or is she too a tool of Hearst's? I fear only you can answer that one - well you and Dio and Hearst, because as we all know there comes a point where we are no longer directing the story, merely writing it as it unfolds :)

  5. hey Rhia,

    ooh good thoughts...yeah, there are layers of choices and consequences in this storyline, and we're probably not done yet.

    Interesting point about the analogous modern situations. In situations rooted in the emotions, the reasoning process often is not based on reason. And it is also an interesting line of speculation about how class plays in this. Remember there is a relative shortage of women in the west in this period (generally only one or two women for every three men. I can see how Al might have begun courting a women of a lower social standing, so her being in his "league" could be a relative or temporary condition.

    There is also the remote possibility that she is actually in love in Zed and thought this would work out. After all, was the fact that Zed was originally rejected as a suitor necessarily the girl's decision? It could have been something dictated by her parents.


    Hey HB,

    I'm glad you liked the twist.

    Yes there is a good chance that this story isn't going answer everything to our satisfaction. Frankly, it has kind of surprised me too, as far as where it's gone.

  6. I love that about a tale, when it comes alive and moves in ways you'd never even thought about. Just today it popped into my head to have Shade (in the Far From Home tale) linked to The Great Erase that Salazar Jack has documented and then in turn to my lost babckpack. None of this was even on the table until that point - where does it come from? How is that our creations whisper to us and control their own lives?

  7. I think this is partly a function of having the key characters very well developed in your head--when you have been doing improv theater with a character for a year or two, it becomes easier to slip into that other self, and react in a natural and instinctive way....

    But that isn't too surprising...

    what is surprising and intriguing to me is the unexpected and surprising development of the storyline elements. I think perhaps rather than our stories literally having a life of their own, what happens is that if we open ourselves to letting instinct and inspiration guide the evolution of the storyline, we get interesting and unexpected results. I suspect the source of the inspiration is at least in part the fact that we do know and understand our characters so well, that we have an instinctual inclination to generate and select plots twists and developments that we consciously or subconsciously know will elicit an interesting reaction form our characters.

    In effect, we know our favorite protagonists well enough that it becomes second nature to take our stories in directions that will throw them a curve ball

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