~~~Without a word Dio rose from her seat at the 10’s lone table where she sat with JJ and some of the other raconteurs. Malachi--an older colored miner who worked on the side now and then as a bartender for Dio--was on duty that day, and he reached under the bar to pull out the canvas haversack which held her medical gear. He tossed it to her as she strode past. JJ Drinkwater suddenly found himself sitting in an empty saloon as everyone present had quickly followed in Dio’s wake. He looked around for a moment, and then realizing he was missing an opportunity to be a first-hand witness to the brutal nature of life on the frontier, he rose and went to see if he could find the scene of the shooting.
It wasn’t all that hard. A considerable crowd had gathered around the dance hall, which prominently featured its name, the “Bonanza” painted in large white letters on its false front. He pushed through the ring of onlookers to see his new acquaintance, Mrs. Kuhr, kneeling over the body of a man who lay in the street. She was evidently feeling for a pule on the victim’s neck. Next to her stood a stocky, heavily-muscled young man with tired face and short-cropped hair. Pinned to his expensive-lookin’ waistcoat was a star-shaped badge. He did not look like he was happiest man in the world at the moment.
Dio looked up at the young lawman and shook her head. He nodded and then turned towards the open door of shabby dance hall, his hand on the butt of his pistol.
“Goddammit Shortribs!” bellowed the deputy, “The stupid sonofabitch has gone ‘n fuckin’ died! Now come on out and let’s get this over with...”
An angry voice replied from the depths of the Bonanza, “Sweet Mother o’ Christ, Badger! What manner o’ fuckin’ damn fool do ya take me for? Twas a damned accident I hit that wretched greenhorn! Was tryin’ to shoot Dirty Jon Swenson, cuz he drew on me an’ shot first!”
Another voice--undoubtedly that of Mr. Svenson, and obviously drunk--enthusiastically chimed in from the dance hall’s interior, “Aye, Badger, thas’ right! Me ‘n Shorty was shootin’...but I ain’t mad no more...din’t mean for no one to go get shot...you ain’t gonna try to hang good ol’ Shorty, are ye?”
The deputy spat on the street. “Jeezus fuckin’ Christ, Swenson! Ya goddam drunken witless oaf! That ain’t for me to say...judge has to deal with that...but I gotta bring both o’ you silly bastards in for all o’ this!”
The crowd went dead silent as a man appeared in the doorway. JJ assumed this must be the one called “Shortribs” due to his diminutive stature. Although the writer’s powers of observation were somewhat slowed due to his consumption of substantial quantifies of excellent lager beer during the conversation at the 10, he did focus on an important detail: Mr. Shortribs had his gun drawn. To further complicate the situation, in a blink of an eye, with a rapidity that even in his somewhat befuzzled state JJ found quite impressive, the deputy--whose name was evidently Badger--had drawn his own weapon and had it pointed at the small man in the door of the dance hall.
Suddenly, JJ Drinkwater was starkly aware that the entire crowd of onlookers had evaporated as if by magic. The only ones besides himself who were still present were Badger and Shortribs--both still holding their guns on one another--along with Dio and the dead man. JJ then also noticed there was a tall, shapely blond woman, dressed in men’s clothing and wearing several guns, who was causally leaning against a porch post not twenty feet away, watching the proceedings with a studied indifference. Otherwise, the vicinity was utterly deserted.
“You ain’t takin’ me in, Badger. Twas a accident,” hissed the short man.
“Goddamit Shortribs,” replied Badger, “That man there is deader’n hell’s breakfast. Can you get that through your thick little skull? I can’t let ya walk away from this...”
JJ wondered how this was going to turn out. Neither man apparently really wanted to shoot--otherwise they would have already started pulling triggers--but neither was apparently willing to back down. Then JJ noticed Dio very slowly getting up from her kneeling position next to the body. In a deliberate, almost stately fashion she casually strolled over and placed herself directly in between the two men with the drawn firearms.
When she spoke her voice was eerily gentle and calm.
“Come on boys. This ain’t makin’ no sense. Shorty, if ye go quiet-like, ain’t nothin’ gonna happen to ye. Ye said yerself, ye drew in self defense, an’ Dirty Jon admits it...he shot first. The feller ye hit--twas a accident. They ain’t gonna hang ye fer that. An’ Dirty Jon, he’ll probbly only do a lil’ time fer drawin’ on ye an’ tryin’ to kill ye...hell, folks do that alla time, an' it sounds like he’s sorry. Ye are sorry, ain’t ye Jon?”
“YES MA’AM!” came the cheerful inebriated reply from inside the Bonanza. “Damnably sorry ‘n regretful!”
“Now look, Shorty,” Dio continued, “yeah, ye kin try to shoot it out with Badger, and ye might get kilt, or ye might kill him. But if’n ye do kill him, law won’t ever let ye alone. They’ll hunt ye down like a goddam rabid dog, once ye’ve taken the life of a lawman.”
She turned to the deputy.
“Badger, pard, listen...tis best we try to work this out peaceable--if’n ye have to kill Shorty tryin’ to take ‘im, well, shitfire, ye know the man has a great many friends in this sorry lil’ town. Some of ‘em would mos’ likely come gunnin’ for ye as a consequence, an’ then things would jus' get real goddam complicated. How about ye promise Shorty he’s gonna get a fair trial--then I shall count to three, an both o' y’all just reholster on three.“
Badger looked thoughtful for a moment and then nodded.
“Allright, Shortribs--ya got my word...fair trial...all on the up and up. I will put away my gun when Dio counts to three, if you will...”
There was a pause. Finally the short man answered. “I’m agreeable.”
Dio slowly counted to three and the men cautiously reholstered their weapons. It was simple after that: Badger did not even bother to put handcuffs on Shorty, though he told him he would have to take his weapon when they got to the jail. Taking Swenson in proved simple as well, as in his drunken state he insisted that he would happily accompany Shortribs, in order to keep him company. Dirty Jon was at that stage of inebriation where he was rather comically declaring his undying friendship for the little man, and repeatedly expressed his sincere regret for having tried to kill him.
Before Badger led them off to the calaboose, Dio gently laid a hand on Shorty’s shoulder.
“Thank ye fer bein’ reasonable. So what was it...arguin’ o’er a gal?”
Shortribs laughed sardonically, “Ain’t it always gonna be about a woman?”
Dio sighed. “Goddam good thing ol’ Dirty Jon is such a piss-poor shot.”
The little man grinned a bit. “Don’t hurt that I’m a turrible target, as well...”
Dio chuckled and then turned to wave at the tall young woman leaning against the porch post. The well-armed blond nodded and ambled off down the street. Meanwhile, JJ Drinkwater had come up to stand next to Dio as she repacked her medical bag. Some of the men who had disappeared when the guns had been drawn were slowly reappearing, and Dio asked them to fetch a cart and take the dead man to Mr. Sorrowman’s.
Finally JJ spoke,
“Miss Dio...that was quite remarkable...and...well...standing in between two men with drawn firearms like that to stop them from....I must say, I’m just...”
Dio interrupted him. “Aw hell’s britches JJ! Twarn’t no dreadful great act o’ bravery or nothin’...I figgerd they din’t really want to shoot or git shot o’er such foolishness...an’ ‘sides..that tall gal who was o’er yonder...she had m’ back...if’n one of ‘em had showed signs o’ makin’ a move to actually fire, she’d a had iron out faster than ye can say grandma’s knickers and ventilated ‘em.”
A look of comprehension suddenly passed over the writer’s face. “Oh my word..was that..was that the female scout known as Calamity Jane? I have read about her in some publications..there’s this guide to the Black Hills that a gentleman named Horatio Maguire has written...and tales I heard in Sidney, but really didn’t give much credence to...”
Dio shook her head and laughed. “Oh satan’s whiskers, JJ! In the name Jeezus an his happy horn-blowin’ angels, don’t EVER say such a thing to that gal’s face. That ain’t Martha Canary--that’s Roku Hallard--she’s a sometime security guard and sometime courtesan, an’ a good friend o’ mine...an’ she would take great offense at bein’ mistaken fer such a creature as Calamity Jane. You go ‘n ask her if’n she’s that person, an’ she mos’ likely would rip yer arm clean outta its socket, an’ then wallop ye o’er the head with the damned thing to chastise ye fer insultin’ her so.”
JJ Drinkwater looked puzzled.
“Would ye care to meet the actual Calamity Jane?” asked Dio. “Come on then..she’s more’n likely right there in the Bonanza. She works pretty regular as a dance hall gal, among other things.”
Dio walked over to the door of the dance hall and peered in. “Hey Sam!” she called out. “Is Martha in there?”
Whoever Sam was, he replied in the affirmative and Dio gestured for JJ to follow her into the dim interior of the Bonanza. She led him back to a table at the rear of the hall, where a slightly-built woman in a stained and mended dress was slumped over, apparently passed out from a session of personal interaction with a bottle of red eye that stood nearly empty by her elbow.
Dio grasped a handful of the short greasy hair on the back of the woman’s head and lifted it so JJ could see her plain, worn face.
“Mr. JJ Drinkwater, may I present to ye Miss Martha Canary, alias Calamity Jane,” said Dio in a very formal tone.
She then let go of the woman’s hair allowing her head to slump back on to the table top with a dull “thunk.” Dio noticed the look of consternation and disappointment that marked the writer’s face.
“Sometimes feet o’ clay extend all the way up t’ the neck,” she commented dryly.
to be continued...
to be continued...