It was about four days after New Years when Dio got back from the trip to see Sepp. Traveling back hadn’t been too dreadful, but it hadn’t exactly been a trip to a hurdy-gurdy house either. When she rode Hoss over the rise to where she could look down into the semi-civilized little rats’ nest of a town that she called home, she felt slightly warmer inside than she had for a while. Once again having to part ways with that ol’ one-eyed cuss had been harder than she let on.
She had actually been tempted to just send Roku a telegram and tell her she could have the No. 10 if she cared to have it, and another to Hepzibeth giving her the laundry, so she could finally run it with the unfettered frugality and soulless efficiency that her crusty little heart seemed to desire. But after a moment, the thought passed: Sepp had to do what he had to do, and Dio had her part in their plan as well. So long as Providence kept ‘em both from crossing over to the Other-side Camps in the next year, the long-term pay-off would be that much sweeter when they would at last have a ranch together in the hills above Deadwood City.
The plan was draft horses. They were gonna raise draft horses.
And now--coming over the rise and heading down the rutted, dirty snow of the road that led to the Deadwood Creek bridge and onto Main street, and smelling that jumbled perfume that wafted towards her of hundreds of cooking fires, wet straw and raw lumber, and spilled beer and shit--she was glad of her resolve. It was good to be home.
After leaving her two horses to the care of the Metis boy who was working for Silver at the stable, Dio set off with just her saddle bags and carbine for the No. 10--she’d send for her other gear from the pack horse later. Carrie Anne was staying with JF and Lola Kanto and was probably enjoying being part of a more or less normal family for a spell, so she figured she would go collect the girl later. Main thing at the moment was to make sure business was being taken care of. Dio had asked Roku to oversee the 10 in her absence, and to keep an eye on the young man man--an out-of-work miner--that she had engaged to serve the customers.
As she entered the 10, it was fairly busy--some miners in their dirty brown coats and shapeless slouch hats, a teamster wolfing down stew. There were also some of Miss Sal’s girls, off the clock and utterly uninterested in any male company, siting at the one table in the back, smoking their thin, hand-rolled cigarettes and playing a quiet hand of poker. And Roku was tending bar. Dressed in a man’s shirt, waistcoat and trousers--her usual “security guard” garb--washing out some beer mugs.
Roku’s standard hard and unreadable expression briefly broke into a slightly softer form when she saw Dio come through the door.
“Howdy Dio. Glad to see yah ain’t dead yet.”
“Pleasantly surprised to see you ain’t dead yet neither,” replied Dio. "What ye doin’ behind the bar? Where’s that feller I’d hired on to draw beer whilst I was gone? He get shot or somethin?"
“Nope,” answered Roku with a scowl. “Ah fahred the feckless cocksucker.”
“Fired him? How come?”
Roku sat down the beer mug she was wiping off, and leaned across the bar.
“We had somebody--some no-good rat bastard--passing bad bank notes in here,” she said in a hushed tone. "An’ that idjit never caught on...so ah tol’ him his services was no longer required.”
Roku called out to one of the Bella gals who was playing cards: “Hey there Suzy! Hon, would ya take o’er watchin’ the bar here fer a short spell, whilst ah talk with Miz Dio in the back room?”
The girl nodded and took Roku’s place behind the bar. Dio followed her friend into the back room of the saloon, and after lighting a lamp, they closed the heavy door behind them.
Roku pulled a folded banknote out of the watch pocket on her waistcoat and handed it to Dio, who unfolded it and examined it, turning it over a couple of times. It was a twenty dollar note issued by the First Gold Bank of San Francisco, and it looked pretty damned good. If anything, it was tad on the fresh and crispy side compared to the usual condition of the shinplasters that you saw being handed around on the frontier...but it seemed to have the right colors and correct details.
Dio looked back at Roku, who was watching her friend with her hands on her hips and an expectant expression.
“Well, Hon other than the fact that it’s in mighty good shape, and is a relatively larger denomination, which leads me to be suspicious....I can see how they would fool someone of a trusting nature...or a greenhorn...”
Without a word, Roku pulled out a second banknote from the black japanned cash box that Dio kept under the bed. The paper bill was from the same source and of the same denomination as the first one...and it had the same serial number.
“Oh Satan’s huge red testicles,” hissed Dio with disgust. “Some knee-walkin’ peckerhead was payin’ fer shit with new-lookin’ twenties...multiple examples of ‘em, no less...and our goddam bar man didn’t look at the red numbers?”
Roku shrugged. “It was the eve o’ New Year’s, an’ we was busier’n a fifty-cent whore in Abilene during cattle season...but yeah, ah wasn’t too fuckin’ happy. Our man wasn’t bein’ too bright."
"Jeezusfuckin’Christ on a steamboat to St. Louis! The swindler warn’t too overly bright neither, havin' a bootle o’ nothin’ but bad notes with the same numbers!”
“Oh, he had batches of a couple different serial numbers--he just got careless or lazy when he was in here an’ din’t mix ‘em up enough,” answered Roku with a sly little smile. “Yah see, ah kinda caught on, an’ followed the chiselin’ bastard out when he left. Him ‘n me had a lil’ ol chit-chat down by the crik an’ he wound up goin’ for a swim.” Her expression went very hard suddenly. “And he ain’t godamn comin’ back. But ah took the libbaty o’ relievin’ him of his saddle bags--bein’ as he sure as hell wasn’t gonna need ‘em no more. And sure enough they had his bootle, which was about six lil’ bundles o’ twenties, each with a differnt serial number, an’ mebbe 'bout fifty to a hunnert notes in each bundle. Ah saw that, an’ then ah come on back here ‘n fahred yer wuthless bartender.”
Dio shook her head in mock sadness, and chuckled. “Damnation, once agin, I am sorely disappointed in humanity an’ its wicked ways. Oh well, let’s move on to more important things. Unless I am very much mistaken, payment to Pratt on the debt is due tomorrow. We need to work on pulling together what we need t’ keep that ol’ sheep-fuckin’ grafter happy fer another month.”
This was actually a sore subject between them. When Dio had taken over management of the Saloon Number 10, that not only meant getting the lease, lock, stock and rain barrel, it also apparently meant everything else that went with it--including a debt that the previous owner had incurred with Bill Pratt, owner of the Red Eagle saloon and a real shark in the moneylending business. Charging exorbitant interest was Bill's specialty. This explained a good bit of why the old owner had been so eager to get out from under running the 10. Dio was not happy when this development cropped up, but Pratt did have a piece of paper that said the money had been lent to the business, not to Mann personally. After reviewing the situation with some of the town’s sharpest legal minds--the sober ones, anyway--Dio had decided there was no recourse but to pay it off. Roku, naturally, had wanted to simply shoot the sonofabitch and be done with it, but Dio wasn’t too sure how that was going to work out, considering the friends and associates that Pratt seemed to have around town.
So anyhow, when she brought the subject up, Dio fully expected Roku to scowl and cuss and grumble about making the payments on that debt...but instead she was remarkably relaxed, rolling herself a cigarette and smiling a happy little smile like the proverbial cat who had just eaten the canary.
“It’s allright Dio. Me an’ Hepzibeth already done took care o’ the matter. In fact, we done got it paid off in full an’ have got you a signed note from that cocksucker Pratt, sayin’ the debt is discharged.”
Dio looked at Roku for a moment, and her mouth actually moved up and down a little bit before something actually came out: “Oh...Hecate’s britches Roku...you...you didn’t...did you?”
Roku just grinned happily and struck a lucifer on the edge of the ice box to light her smoke with.
“Roku...surely he musta..or is gonna notice the notes that have the same serial numbers--you cain’t pass bad money in big batches like that...”
“Shit Dio, ah ain’t as goddam stupid as all that,” Roku snorted. “No, we mixed in some real notes--a reasonable number by mah estimation--an’ we had Lockmort use his artistical skills to change numbers on a mess o’ the bad notes. Then we took em all an’ Hepzibeth worked ‘em over in one o’ her warsh tubs to soften em up a tad to make ‘em look more used.”
Roku held up her hand to stop Dio from saying another word. “An’ besides..we also took out some insurance, to gar-on-tee a satisfactory conclusion to the situation. You know how Meri is now workin’ fer the gov’mint--the Treasury department?”
“Ah. I see,” said Dio in a thoughtful tone.
Meriweather Runningbear was a friend of Dio and Roku's--a former territorial lawman who had been hired on by the federal Treasury department to work as a member of what they were calling the “secret service.” Agents like Meri were assigned to such tasks as looking for distillers who were making untaxed whiskey, tracing down confidence men who chiseled on government contracts, and--most important of all--catching counterfeiters.
“So ye gave Meri a tip-off that Pratt was holdin’ an’ passin’ bad money?”
Roku nodded cheerfully. “Yep.”
"Ye know that when Meri looks at the notes that Hepzibeth paid him with, an’ he sees they’s bogus, Pratt is a’gonna explain they all come from here.”
“Oh, ah din’t tell Meri to go look at that money,” Roku laughed. “Hepzibeth payin’ the debt off was just a distraction--an ‘sides, with the work that Lock and Heppy did on 'em, they’s probably gonna pass better now.”
“So...Hon...what’s the actual grift?”
“Well mind ye, this was after dark, last night. So whilst Heppy was keepin Pratt an his lapdogs all occupied, makin’ a big show o’ turnin’ o’er the money an’ buyin’ em a round o drinks an’ all...ah clumb o’er the second floor porch under the cover o’ darkness an’ went in thru the winder to Pratt’s office. I took the remainder o’ the bootle o’ bad banknotes--unchanged, with many of ‘em havin’ the same serial numbers--an’ I stashed ‘em under the cushion of a easy chair in the fucker’s office.”
Dio looked impressed. “So...when is the turd gonna land in the punchbowl?”
Roku opened the door and called out into the bar which still had some of the miners and the Bella girls in it.
“Hey y’all!” Anyone got the time?”
“Hang on a second, sweetie,” replied one of the girls. She pulled a small watch on a chain out from between her breasts and peered at it. “About five to ten.”
Roku looked at Dio and smiled. “About five minutes from now. Matter o’ fact I promised Meri that I would pervide him ‘n JF some assistance if needed, an’....”
Just then, a great deal of commotion erupted from across the street at the Red Eagle. Glass was breaking, and several shots were fired. Dio and Roku rushed to look out the door of the Number 10, just in time to see the right-hand first floor window on the Red Eagle suddenly explode into a shower of sparkling glass fragments and bits of window frame as one of Pratt’s lackeys came flying through it--no doubt propelled by JF’s massive arms. The man landed in a bloody, unconscious pile on the boardwalk.
“Well shit,” said Roku, her voice flat with disappointment. “I reckon Meri’s watch must run fast.”
Suddenly, there were two more shots and a scream. Just as suddenly, another window--but this time up on the second floor of the Red Eagle--shattered to pieces as a figure dove through.
It was Pratt. He rolled to his feet on the porch and leapt off down to the street. He quickly got up and limped a few steps to a horse that someone had tied to nearby post.
As he was clambering on and beginning to gallop off down the street, Roku said something under her breath that sounded like, “I don’t fuckin’ think so.”
She dashed back behind the bar where Dio’s Spencer was leaning. By the time she had run back out into the street, Pratt was already across the bridge and heading up the rise past the stagecoach office. Roku threw the carbine to her shoulder and fired two rounds at the disappearing figure of Pratt.
It was one hell of a shot with a short-barreled carbine at that distance. Dio watched as the rider slumped and droped off the horse.
Dio walked out into the center of the street She could see Meri coming out of the Red Eagle, carrying some kind of a bundle in his right hand. His left was wrapped in a bloody rag. JF came out next, pushing another of Pratt’s men who was in handcuffs, hatless and disheveled, with blood streaming down his face. Dio assumed that the remainder of Pratt's boys were incapable of walking--perhaps likewise incapable of breathing.
Meri called over to the women: “Roku! did Pratt get away?”
Roku shook her head, “No.” She pointed up to the rise on the other side of Deadwood creek where a dark shape could be seen crumpled on the snow. Then, wordlessly, she turned and slowly went back into the Number 10.
Dio watched JF put cuffs on the unconscious man and tell some of the bystanders to go fetch Mr. Sorrowman's little hand cart to bring him along to the lockup. As JF started shoving the other man who was still upright in the direction of the jail, Dio turned away and returned to her own saloon.
She vaguely wondered if Roku would feel any discomfort at the idea that her plan to frame Pratt had ended with a number of men being killed and wounded. Yeah, Pratt was a weasel-fucking sonofabitch, and as they used to say down in Texas, he probably “needed killing.” Even his so-called friends would not be inclined to hold anything against Roku for shooting him, once it was made known that the man was “passing bad money” and thereby threatening to ruin the local economy. No one would mourn his passing, and quite a few would most likely rejoice, especially those who owed crushing debts to the man--but it still didn’t seem quite right to Dio.
Back inside, Roku already had the Spencer’s breech open and was running a cleaning rod and patch through the barrel. No one was speaking. Roku did not look happy. Maybe she did feel some regret about this situation.
Dio leaned on the bar next to her and asked softly. “Hon? everthin’ allright? You look as though somethin’ is botherin’ ye”
Roku looked up at her friend.
“Yeah. Goddammit Dio, ah’m sorry.”
“Sorry? About what?”
“That ah didn’t go an’ kill that bloodsuckin’ leech before we got yor debt all cleared up an' paid off.”