~~~All things considered the body count from the Meri’s attempt to arrest Bill Pratt wasn’t as bad as it could have been. Once the smoke cleared, there were only three actual corpses on the ground, that of Pratt himself, and two of his men. The latter idiots had pulled iron on Meri and JF when the lawmen announced their intention to bring Pratt in for questioning. The two lawmen had in fact, planned on bringing Pratt in peaceful-like, just for a “lil chat” as it’s called. But these feckless turds decided to draw when they really didn’t have to, so I guess you could say that they were the ones who actually precipitated the violent conclusion for the situation.
What happened was as follows: one o’the fellers--man by the name o’ Coates or Goats or somethin’ like that--did in fact get his piece clear of leather before Meri and JF did, but bein’ as he was an excitable sort (obviously) he didn’t take care to aim proper and his shot went wild. Meri had his Colt out almost as quickly, but being of a more phlegmatic disposition, he aimed with greater care and drilled a hole square in middle of the sonofabitch’s forehead. This other shithead whose name I do not know, also decided to take out his gun, but JF put a couple o’ .44 slugs in his chest whilst he was till fumblin’ around with it.
So then Meri goes after Pratt, while, JF--who you will recall is no small man and can pretty much put a full-grown ox down for a lil’ nap with a single punch, he took on the other two o’ Pratt’s men who were present, smashing the head of the one clean through the Red Eagle’s bar, and than clobberin’ the other and chuckin’ him clean through the front window.
Now mind, you, all of the preceding fun ‘n games had given Pratt the time to dash upstairs--Meri followed and was fixin’ to confront him regarding the accusation of bad money bein’ passed. But before he get a word out, the rascal seein’ his escape by the stairs cut off, fired a couple shots in Meri’s direction and then lept through the window on to porch outside.
And of course, you know the remainder of what transpired with him jumpin’ down, grabbin’ a horse and takin’ off, hell-bent for the hills, only to be shot in the back by Roku, usin’ Dio’s Spencer.
When the two lackeys bein’ held in JF’s lockup sufficiently recovered, Mayor Pel held a trial and convicted ‘em of interfering with lawmen doin’ their duty or some such thing. He fined the pair about a hundred dollars each and tol’ em to get out o’ town by sunset--which they did--and to never come back. The two fellers seemed to feel they were gettin’ off fairly light in the matter--the pummelin’ from JF notwithstandin’--and they denied any knowledge or involvement with any counterfeiting operation goin’ on from the Red Eagle. Matter o’ fact, they expressed considerable outrage that their boss Pratt had been runnin’ a lucrative grift like that and hadn’t cut them in for a share. On their way outta town, they made a point o’ tellin’ Meri to speak to Roku and thank her for shootin’ the greedy prick, expressing the conviction that had they been aware o’ what he was up to, they’d a shot the ungenerous sonofabtich themselves for not having included them in the game.
And of course, once it became known that bad money had been circulating--and Meri posted public notice of the nature of the notes and the serial numbers they bore--folks began lookin’ through every cash box and mattress stash. Sure enough, they found examples of the counterfeit notes that they had taken in (evidently the genuine counterfeiter had actually been pretty busy around town before finally being silenced by Roku on New Year’s eve). The notes were, of course, supposed to be turned over to the custody of Federal Treasury Agent Meriweather Runningbear. But not surprisingly, only one or two of the fake shinplasters made their way to that final destination. Most folks held on to them and actually continued to use them as tender--though by some sort of unspoken general agreement, they did not pass them to any one of their fellow townspeople nor any Deadwood merchants, employing them instead only in transactions with outsiders or some poor mark who was just passin’ through.
You kinda got to respect thieves honor like that, even if it was subject to some clearly defined geographic restrictions.
Yet even with all these considerations, Dio couldn’t shake her discomfort over the idea that two men had been killed over something that they hadn’t had a hand in. It was to some extent, an uneasiness related to the payback that sooner or later comes with all actions. As Rhia--a friend from her Dodge City days--used to say, “Everything has consequences, and sooner or later, it all comes back around...usually to bite you in the hindquarters.” And goddammit, the whole thing just didn’t seem right.
On the evening that the last two of on the morning that the last of A few days after the trial, Dio was in the back room at the laundry, going over the business account books with Hepzibeth, while Roku sat nearby on one of the big sorting tables, reading her newspaper.
I know it seems like a cartoonish-sort o’ observation to make, but the Scotswoman had a head that was greatly suited to dealin’ with numbers, and she seemed to look upon accounting as the height of recreational amusement. Heppy could spend hours upon hours happily poring over columns of numbers and pondering their meaning and accuracy until the cows came home. Dio, on the other hand, exhausted her patience with such past-times rather quickly. Furthermore, her eyes were starting to ache somethin’ fierce--and the inside of her skull wasn’t far behind--so she asked if they could take a break. Heppy, in what was for her an uncharacteristic outburst of sympathy and humane consideration, told Dio to sit back and take off her glasses. She then fetched her boss a warm wet washcloth to put over her eyes and sooth them some.
Dio, leaning back with the cloth covering her eyes, finally said what had been on her mind for some time.
“Hey gals...I gotta ask you somethin’ what’s been weighin’ on m’ mind. First off, how did you convince Meri to go look for the bad money in Pratt’s office, an' how did you make it plausible that you were aware of the crime in the first place?
“Och, mum, tha’ was nae hard a’tall,” said Hepzibeth. Miss Roku gie him some o’ the bad notes we took in here a’ the saloon, so he could see for himsel’--and she tol’ ‘im tha’ I’d seen Pratt handlin’ wee stacks o’ suspiciously new-lookin banknotes o’er at the Red Eagle when I went there t' pay th’ debt. She tol' ‘im naught aboot the pack o’ bills under the chair cushion--we reckoned tha’ he’d do a search an’ find those...I dunna think t’would ha’ been greatly plausible ha’ we tol’ ‘im right where to peek, eh?”
A voice issued from behind Roku’s newspaer at this pint.
“Dio, ah might as well tell ya at this point that ah pass on useful information to Meri ‘n JF kinda regular-like..well, at least when it suits m’ purposes. Ah ain’t never steered ‘em wrong yet...an’ I figgered he’d trust what I had to say in the matter, ‘specially when I handed him a couple o' the counterfeit bills that had been passed by that sneaky cocksucker we had in here at the 10. Meri could see right off they was bad.”
“Aye, tha’ was convincin’ t’ be sure,” agreed Hepzibeth. “And twas no lie to say they’d been passed to us here a’ the saloon--Miss Roku merely neglected to mention tha’ she’d apprehended the rascal what ha’ been doin’ it an’ twas nae one o’ Pratt’s men doin’ it. Joost like twas no lie for her t' say I’d observed Pratt handlin’ stacks o’ suspicious banknotes at the Red Eagle. She only neglected to mention tha’ they were part o’ what I handed o’er to ‘im in payment o’ the debt.”
Dio sighed. “Ok, fine. We got away with it. It looks like this one ain’t
gonna come back around an’ bite us in the ass....but goddammit gals, a couple o’ fellers got kilt cuz of a situation they didn’t really set in motion. Yeah, I know Pratt was a weasel-fuckin’ bastard an all that..but he warn’t really behind this one...”
Hepzibeth snorted. “Och, aye, maybe he wasn’t ...but he was up to somethin’ I’ll warrant. Otherwise why did his man shoot at Mr. Meriweather...an’ why did Pratt gae to the lengths o’ jumpin’ from a winda an’ ridin’ off like he did? From what I hear tell, neither Mr. Meri nor Mr. JF had said nothin aboot the counterfeitin’ charge...they joost said they needed to bring Pratt in t’ talk with him--but him an’ his floonkeys all acted dreadful guilty aboot somethin’ there...”
Dio took the now cold cloth off her eyes--which were feeling better, though her headache was not. “Heppy, look...I’ll admit Pratt acted like he had some kinda shit goin’ on that made him run when he thought that the jig was up--whatever it was--and Meri was there to take him in for it. But was it worth...”
Roku slammed her paper down on the table at this point.
“Goddammit, Dio, ah go ‘n do yah a big ol’ fuckin’ favor with gettin’ ya out from underneath o’ that goddamn debt what you din’t even actually bring on yahself...and now ya act like ah’m a goddamn murderer or somethin’....well fuck you an’ the hoss you rode in on. Ah reckon ya don’ require mah services no more. Mebbe Sal needs another full-time upstairs gal at the Bella.”
They watched the tall woman stalk out into the dusky gloom. Dio knew there was no point in going after her friend, or calling out to her, or trying to reason with her. Maybe in a few days, Roku would calm down and they could just move on.
Hepzibeth sighed and closed the account books. “Aye mum, ye handled tha’ wi’ yer customary grace ‘n wit. We may as weel forgo finishin’ up lookin’ o’er the books for now. Come along, then...I think you’re needin’ to see somethin’ wi’ me.”
The Scotswoman stood and pulled on her jacket and picked up a basket of shirts that needed mending.
“Weell, ye gunna stir ye’sel’ or set there like last week’s puddin’?”
Dio was curious...this all seemed a bit out of character for the usually dour and uncommunicative Hepzibeth. She pulled on the old butternut-colored wool shell jacket she had got from one of Cap Johnson’s boys after the end of the war, jammed her hat on her head, and followed Heppy outside.
The long-legged laundress was already a good way down China Row, and Dio had to run to catch up. Hepzibeth turned at the end of the alley towards Whitewood creek and strode past the sawyers-yard and the blacksmith to a small, shabby cabin with a dim light showing through its single window. Heppy knocked on the crude plank door and a small, thin voice came from within.
“Roku? Is that you?”
“Nay lass. Tis Hepzibeth. I brung you some more work...if yer willin’...”
“Yes, please...wait...who’s that with you? I can see someone out there with you...”
“Tis only Missus Kuhr, me employer. Nothin t’ fear, lass.”
“Are those men gone?”
“Aye lass, long gone an’ not comin’ back. You’re safe as houses now.”
“Ah...oh...very well...if you say so, Miss Heppy...”
There was a pause while the door was unlatched and opened. The two women proceeded to the dim circle of light within. The owner of the voice who had greeted them was a youngish, pale woman whose eyes no longer looked young.
The woman--a girl really...had a large, ugly scar across her face. Her hair was pulled back tightly and Dio could see that one of her ears was missing. She also had a jagged scar on her neck.
Someone had cut her throat, and evidently done a rather piss-poor job of it, Dio had seen scars like that before. The someone doing it had been in a hurry, and hadn’t gone deep enough with the blade. It had been messy, and certainly blindingly painful for the victim, but not fatal.
There was another young woman as well. She smiled a slight smile and gave a shy wave. The pinky finger on the hand she waved with was missing.
Hepzibeth nodded in reply to the wave.
“Right then, this is Missus Kuhr, who I work for.”
“How do, gals” said Dio softly.
“Quite well, thank ya m’am,” answered the girl with one ear. “I’m Rose and this is Jeanne. Roku has spoken of you often, and it’s a pleasure to meet you.”
Heppy got right down to business. “Weel, if we’re done wi’ the niceties, here’s the work to be done.” She quickly sorted the contents of the basket into piles on a rough table in the center of the room. “These need buttons, these need patchin’ and this one needs a whole new arm. I’ve included this old shirt which you can cut up for the patches an’ the fabric to make the new arm. And here’s a packet with some more thread, buttons that should match up fairly nice...and more needles if you require them.”
“Oh yes, Miss Hepzibeth. Thank you, we are running low on the necessaries.”
“Good. The usual terms, o’ course...when will they be done?”
“Will Friday do?”
“Thursday would be better, lass.”
The girl with one ear looked at her companion who shrugged and nodded. She turned back to Hepzibeth.
“Very well, we shall do our best. Would you all care to stay for some tea?”
“Nay lass, thankye, but I’ve me own work to tend to. And Missus Kuhr has some important things she must look after as weel.”
Dio looked at Hepzibeth with an arched eyebrow. “Yes I believe I do. But gals, I do appreciate the invite an’ if’n y’all don’t mind, I shall take you up on the offer o’ takin’ tea with y’all another time.”
The two young women smiled and the one who did all the talking wished them a good night.
Back out in the darkness of that quiet and lonely corner of town, they walked back past the sawyers’ yard, where Dio stopped Hepzibeth.
“I know you din’t want me to meet them gals jus' so I could see that our mendin’ was in good hands. I suspect I know what you’re about to tell me, but I would like to hear the details."
The expression on Heppy’s face was like stone. “Aye mum, you probably already ha’ figured out I took you to meet the twa of ‘em because wha’ ye saw there was some o’ Pratt’s work. Aboot three months back, very early one mornin’ I was headin’ t’ the Blacksmith’s--I was wantin’ a proper latch fer the laundry door, you might recall...an’ I come upon Jeanne an’ Rose an ‘ another lass, whose name I ne’er did discover...they was near to naked, an’ Rose an’ t’other one--as you might guess--ha’ their throats cut.
“And Jeanne, the one who don’t talk?”
“Aye, her tongue ha’ been cut oot. I imagine so she could na’ say who’d treated the three of ‘em so...tho’ tis nae like anyone really needed to do somethin’ like that...this was back before Mr. JF took on bein’ sheriff an’ t’wasn’t like anyone cared a good goddamn aboot young hoors bein’ murdered ’n cut up.”
Dio had never heard Hepzibeth--who was a strict Presbyterian--ever curse before. “So what did you do?” she asked quietly.
“Och weel, I could see the one lass was done for, but Rose was still alive, so I tore up me good apron to wrap her throat, an’ I ran back up the alley, an’ called to the first soul I set eyes upon...’twas Marty, tha' whackin’ great big lad who’s a bouncer a’ the Gem...an’ I tol’ him to get help...an’ he brought Roku.”
Dio nodded. This was explaining a lot. “What then?”
“Marty said there was this army surgeon who ha’ come through town--gent by the name o’ Morpork--an’ he was sleepin’ it off in a back room a’ the Gem...so I put me coat around Jeanne an’ helped her down there..an Roku carried Rose, an’ Marty picked up the third lass...the dead one.”
Heppy’s expressionless face suddenly softened, and Dio though she may even have seen a tear glintin’ in a corner o’ one eye.
“Twas quite touchin’ t’ tell the truth,” commented Hepzibeth in a voice that was much less harsh than usual. “That big monster of a man carryin’ the dead lass as careful an’ gentle as can be, as if he feared to wake her up. And as he walked along cradlin’ her in those bloody great arms o’ his, he kept sayin’ things like ‘dunna ya worry, Miss, ever’thin’ will be allright, an’ the Doc will take good care o’ ya.’ A strange one he is, that lad.”
“So you and Roku and Marty got the gals to this Morpork feller an’ he took care o' the injuries?”
“Aye, as best he could. An’ we come to find that these three lasses ha' been hired the night before by Pratt for a party o’ some sort for his men...and that Pratt an' the others ha’ gotten all dreadful drunk...things got out o’ hand an’ the three young hoors got beaten ‘n cut up...an’ finally two ha’ their throats cut...and Jeanne was spared, but the basterds thought they’d keep her quiet.”
Dio’s heart was beating rapidly and her face was flushed. “Hell’s britches, how come no one ever tol’ me ‘bout this before?”
“The girls were terrified...they desired for no one t’ know they were still alive, fearin’ if Pratt an’ his men knew, they’d come to finish em off. We all promised t’ tell no one. An’ Roku found them tha’ cabin back by the creek...an’ I gie ‘em work wi’ mendin’ from the laundry, so they’d ha’ coin to buy food from the chinee grocer, who’d bring it by and joost leave it by the door. E’en after Mr. JF took on bein’ sheriff, Rose and Jeanne would na’ gie Roku leave t’ report the crime, for in their fearfulness, they tol’ her they would na’ testify...But now wi’ those last two o’ Pratt’s men gone, I considered the lasses might be more willin’ to be known amongst folk, includin’ ye’sel’ for a start.”
“I reckon Roku swore she would fix Pratt’s wagon one way or t’other, din’t she?” asked Dio.
“Aye mum, tha’ she did. An’ she damned weel kept her word on tha’...as is her custom.”
“Goddammit.” muttered Dio. “I need to go find Roku an’ apologize...see if’n I cain’t make amends.”
“Aye mum, tha’ you do.”