The doctor had just left to begin his 20 mile trek back to Madison. Dio had told him she was dreadfully sorry having called upon him to come so far, but he said it was fine, he’d see some patients along the way and probably stay the night with one of them. He in turn apologized to her that he could not do more for Zed.
The young man was not getting better. In fact, he was feverish and his leg was hot to the touch. Dio had been reasonably sure for a few days he was going to die before too terribly long, but she she had sent for the doctor nonetheless, just to see if he could do anything.
He had said he really couldn’t, and yes, he agreed with her that in his opinion Zed wasn’t going to last much longer. And much to her frustration, the dying man still showed no inclination to tell Dio what she wanted to know: the name of the woman who had induced Zedekiah Quinnell to kill Al Husar.
Just then, Asa Johanesen came into the room. Asa had by this point firmly established himself as Dio’s assistant in all and sundry matters while she remained in Ortonville. In all honesty, she had come to rely on him for quite a bit--everything from watching Zed while she slept, to fetching herbs for a poultice, to bringing her meals from the kitchen at the drovers’ hotel.
“There is a gentleman outside wishin’ to speak with you--a Federal Dep’ty Marshal in fact.”
“Ah. Will ye oblige me by watchin’ o’er Zed while I do?”
The boy nodded and took up his usual post. He was still armed with his ancient Hall’s carbine, but now he carried it slung. It was pretty unlikely that in his present deteriorating condition, Zed was suddenly going to jump up and try to dash off. Dio went out onto the porch of the small cabin to find a tall man in a black suit waiting. A US deputy marshal’s badge glinted on the man’s lapel.
“Good day t’ ye sir," said Dio. “I am told you wish to speak with me.”
Yes M’am. I’m US Deputy Marshall Everett Wilkins. I have been informed by Mr. Orton that you are holding and looking after a fugitive from the Dakota territory. A man wanted for murder...”
“An’ attempted murder, as well, sir,” Dio added. “The feller killed an acquaintance in my presence and then did his best to kill me.” She pulled down the cloth she still kept wrapped around her neck to prevent chafing on the now mostly healed wound. Mr. Wilkins glanced at the evidence of her close call and nodded.
“This man is one, Zedekiah Quinnell?” he asked.
“Yessir.” Dio replied. “I confirmed the identity o’ the man durin’ my pursuit o’ him. When I was confident twas Quinnell I was after, I had sent tel’graph messages to US Deppity Marshal Sand Rau, and the victim's employer, so I assume that is how you are aware o’ this man’s name an his crime?”
“Yes Ma’am. It was communicated to the various offices in the region by Marshal Rau that this man was wanted, and that a special deputy D.A. Kuhr was in hot pursuit of the miscreant. I’m out of St. Cloud, and just happened to be passin’ through when Mr. Orton told me of the situation you have here.”
“I see,” Dio said quietly. She had a bad feeling about this, but she tried to not let it show. Time for the poker face.
Deputy Marshal Wilkins went on, “Mr. Orton told me that you are that special deputy...I trust he misunderstood something...”
Dio turned down the collar of her buckskin jacket in order to reveal the badge that she had fastened to her shirt, as the pin back did work well on the heavy material of the jacket.
“Nossir, Mr. Orton had things pretty well nailed down. Special US Deppity Marshal, D.A.Kuhr from the Dakota Territory, at yer service, Mr. Wilkins.”
Dio could see something flicker across the man’s face, and she was reasonably sure it wasn’t an expression of any kind of approval of this state of affairs.
After a pause, Wilkins stated dryly, “Well...regardless...I have directed my colleague to obtain a wagon so that we may take charge of the prisoner and transport him back to other more suitable accommodations..to keep him until he is in condition to be sent on for trial, most likely at Yankton, I should think.”
Dio already suspected that this was where the conversation was going. She wasn’t real happy about it, being as she was still hoping Zed might give up the name of the woman who was behind everything. But, having been somewhat expecting a development of this sort, she managed to remain surprisingly calm, determined to still maintain the affect of a disciplined and professionally-minded officer of the law.
“He will not survive transport, sir,” she said in an even, emotionless voice. “The wound I gave him has taken to festerin’, an he runs a high fever.”
The US Deputy Marshal arched an eyebrow. He hadn’t expected Special Deputy Marshal D.A. Kuhr to turn out to be a middle-aged lady in buckskins, and he certainly hadn’t expected to be told that she had shot the wanted killer. But he had been on the frontier a lot of years, going back to the pre-war days, and he had been in Minnesota during the great Sioux uprising back in '62--he was used to seeing a good many strange and unusual sights. At this stage of his career, it took something truly out-of-the-ordinary to leave him gobsmacked. All of this was coming pretty darn close, but Ev Wilkins was a fairly good poker player himself. He was managing to stay as stony-faced as Dio.
“Well Ma’am,” he drawled, “being as the wanted notice I saw on Quinnell indicated that he was armed and dangerous and was to be brought in either dead or alive, the odds of him surviving a trip in a wagon are pretty much irrelevant. If he passes during transport, it will make little difference in the eventual outcome.”
Dio nodded. Truth be told, she really wanted to be done with this. She'd had enough of playing law officer, she worried about her businesses back in Deadwood, and she was reasonably sure that Zed was never going to betray the woman he loved. He might very well die in the night from the wound, without ever saying another word.
“I kind o’ figgered ye’d look at it that way,” Dio commented in a matter-of-fact tone. “If you are insistent on the point...I must say, I shall not grieve at the man’s demise, nor the fact that he will suffer greatly in being jounced an’ jostled as he is driven o’er these roads in the back of a un-sprung farm wagon. I will however, insist on interviewin’ him once more ere you take him.”
Ev Wilkins was about to respond argumentatively to this condition, but he saw something in the woman’s eyes that led him to keep his mouth shut and just nod his assent.
“Very well. I’ll see how my colleague is progressin’ with arrangements for that wagon and team,” he said, and then walked off.
Dio went back in the cabin, and asked Asa Johansens to step outside.. Once he had done so, she picked up the pitcher, poured some water into the wash basin and dashed the water on Zed’s face.
”Quinnell! wake up, goddam you!”
Zed started awake, red-rimmed eyes jerking open and a thin gasp escaping his throat.
“There is a regular US Deputy Marshal here right now, an’ he is fixed upon takin’ you away and out of my hands. This is your last chance to tell me if you will give up the name o’ that woman who set you on this course o' yer own self-destruction. If you will work with me on this, I will do my utmost to stave off this fello’ an’ see if I can preserve ye from his intentions. Will you tell me or no?”
Zed looked at her, not seeming to really understand..but then he coughed and slowly, almost imperceptibly, shook his head.
No sound came from his lips, but his mouth silently formed the single syllable.
Dio scowled. “You do realize it is highly likely this gal ne’er had any intention o’ taking up courtship with ye? It is most probable that you are, as Asa said, the biggest goodam idjit ‘tween here an’ the Sierra Nevadas--that the object o’ yer affections has used you ill, in the most heartless fashion possible, an’ made a great fool o’ ye?”
Zed could only shrug slightly. Dio decided she was over and done with it.
“Very well,” Dio said with more resignation than anger. “I shall leave you then into the the hands of justice that will, I suspect, be far less interested in keepin’ ye alive than I have been.”
Zed feebly raised a hand off the blanket a little way and made a gesture for Dio to come closer. Curious--and slightly hopeful--she leaned in to catch his words.
“I...am...sorry...” he breathed.
She straightened and started for the door, then turned.
“Sorry? Sorry fer killin’ a man who never did anythin’ directly to harm ye? Sorry fer tryin ‘to kill a woman who just happened to be inconveniently situated when ye carried out that crime? Or ye jus’ sorry ye got caught?”
Zed said nothing. But he did smile slightly.
Not long afterwards, Asa and Dio helped Everett Wilkins and his special deputy, a man named Jerry, load Zedekiah Quinnell into a bed of straw and blankets in the back of a rented wagon with peeling red paint. As Dio and the boy watched them drive off towards the East, she gave Zed’s Navy Colt to Asa, and told him that she hoped if he ever felt the urge to come visit the Black Hills, he would seek her out in Deadwood. He assured her that he would. After giving a respectable little wad of banknotes to the lady who owned the cabin where she had cared for Zed for almost a week, Dio made her way to Orton’s combined store and post office. She needed to get a few supplies before starting the trip back, as well as wanting to bid farewell to the gentleman.
She found him sorting through some paperwork.
“Ah, Missus Kuhr, fixin’ to head for home?”
“Yessir, Mr. Orton,” she replied, “I have sent Mr.Quinnell on his way with the US Deputy Marshal from St. Cloud, and now I am lookin’ forward to returnin’ to things as a normal biznesswoman.”
Mr. Orton smiled to himself. He rather thought “normal” wasn’t the right term to be applied, but he elected to make no comment to that effect. Instead he busied himself with bundling up jerked beef, coffee and hard crackers for Dio’s journey. When she pulled out some banknotes to pay him, he shook his head and refused to accept them.
As he walked her to the door, he said, “Missus Kuhr, it has been a pleasure and an adventure having you here. I am confident that you have given us a story that folks will be telling their children and grandchildren in years to come. But I am curious about something...”
Dio smiled at him. “You may ask me whatever you wish, Mr. Orton. I owe you an’ yer neighbors an’ immense debt for your consideration an’ support o’ m’ task. What would you care to know?”
Mr. Orton looked slightly uncomfortable. “May I ask how you will be settling the matter of the rewards with Deputy Marshal Wilkins?”
Dio stopped smiling.
“Yes Ma’am. When he came into the store earlier today, and I mentioned that you were holding Quinnell, he took out some handbills he had, looked through them, and then I overheard him telling his associate that there might be some substantial rewards being offered for the killer of Mr. Husar. Something about the territorial government and one or two of the mining companies possibly having put forth a not inconsiderable sum.”
As Dio stared at him, Mr. Orton suddenly had a minor epiphany.
“Oh...you didn’t know...and he didn’t think to mention it to you, did he?" he said somewhat sheepishly.
Dio turned and looked eastwards for a moment. Then she turned back to the storekeeper.
“Papaw always used to say that money kin have a detrimental affect on a man’s memory.”
Then she shook Mr. Orton’s hand, tucked her bundle of provisions under her arm, and set off to get her horses and saddle up.