The floor smelled of wet wood in the large second floor bathing room of the Colorado House. A grateful Helena sank into a tub of meltingly hot water, and adjusted the cover. Firm contentment filled her as the heat of the water sank into her flesh and the pain in her muscles and bones began to ease.
Her contentment faded slightly as she realized she had left her cigarettes and makings in her room. She shrugged philosophically, and picked up the large white cake of soap that lay next to the tub. She was lathering up her shoulders when she heard the metallic clicking of the door being unlocked. A moment later, Yuvon entered the room. He closed the door behind him and locked it. She sank down in the tub, allowing the soapy water to conceal what little of her showed through the opening in the lid. She looked about for something to use as a weapon, if necessary, and cursed herself for being unprepared and defenseless.
"Good afternoon, `Mrs. Arelssyn,'" he said with that damned mocking smile on his face.
"Get out of here." While she was angry about his intruding on her bath, she was furious about his attitude. "I'm sure it's escaped your attention, but I am bathing."
"So I see." He leaned against the wall and regarded her with a mischievous look.
"What, then, do you want?" She returned his mirthful gaze with one of hard disdain. If he intended to collect the full value of the items that she had charged to him at the store, she thought, he's just going to have to be disappointed. She refused to give an inch, especially if he was seeking a liason.
Even so, Helena felt a nervous flutter in her stomach as Yuvon silently stepped toward the tub. She didn't fear him as a man, but in many ways he had shown himself to be an unknown, someone who wasn't entirely predictable.
"All right, then," she said cautiously "I must admit that I took your name in vain, and charged those things to you. Does that entitle you to invade my bath?"
"No." He chuckled. Smiling, he stood over her bath, his presence dominating the rest of the room. "I must admit that it was a good idea. You needed things to ride in and I gave you no time to prepare. I should have thought of something like it myself."
"Then I must repeat myself, what then do you want, sir?" Helena was getting more nervous and angry by the moment.
"Just this." He jerked the cover from the tub and casually tossed it to one side. Helena was startled by the suddeness of his action, and that made her even more angry.
As quickly, he knelt next to the tub, stuck out his hand and pushed her head under water, holding her for a moment. He pulled her up again. Helena spluttered and tried to inhale, momentarily too stunned by his mode of attack to fight back. He plunged her head under again, and held it under water. She began to flail her arms and legs about as she struggled to get her head above water.
Yuvon grabbed one of her legs and tucked it under his arm. He grabbed her other leg and pushed it aside. He ran his hands up and down the insides of her thighs. Helena began to pull herself above the water, heaving and gasping. When he finished, he released her and stood up.
She curled up in the half‑emptied tub and tried to regain her bearings. Realization crept across her oxygen starved brain, as she gasped for breath, that he was examining the sores that she had gotten from riding. She glowered at him as she got her breath back.
"You bastard. Who in the royal hell do you think you are?"
He knelt down next to her and took her arm and began measuring her pulse. She jerked her arm away from him.
"Answer me, God damn it! What the hell do you think you are about?"
He shrugged and rested back on his heel. "If I'd asked you to take off your clothes to let me examine your wounds, would you have let me?"
"No!" Her anger was beyond any simple humiliation.
"And why not?"
"Because I am my own doctor, damn it!" She climbed out of the tub and grabbed her dressing gown. She pulled it around her and faced him again.
"That's why I did it," he said, standing up. "You see, you keep forgetting that I am your doctor."
"You patronizing son of a bitch!" She walked over to Yuvon and pulled back her fist to strike him. Yuvon grabbed her hand, stopping her punch easily. Helena had expected that. She used the hand that was pinning her fist as a fulcrum, swinging her full weight around it and jammed her knee up into his groin.
Yuvon gasped sharply, and without hesitating or even thinking, rammed the heal of his hand into her jaw. Helena felt her jaw slam shut, and herself lifting off the floor. She landed hard, slammed flat onto her back. She lay there, stunned for a moment, then simply trying to breathe. She tried to remember if she had ever been hit that hard before, but nothing came to her.
Yuvon knelt down next to her. He looked as though he was worried that he had broken her. For the few hours that it took her to begin breathing again, she wasn't so certain that he hadn't.
"Are you all right?" he asked gently.
After a moment, she began to laugh. Painfully at first, then more fully. Her anger evaporated as the ludicrousness, the insanity of the situation had become painfully obvious to her.
She choked out her reply. "They didn't teach us about this when I went to medical school, Doctor. They always told us to heal our patients, not damage them."
He laughed with her. "You must have slept through the classes on bill collection."
She sniggered loudly, and to her mind, somewhat indelicately.
"I'll grant that you were correct," she said. "I would never have allowed you to examine me in such an intimate fashion." She smiled sweetly at him, "Was it worth it?"
Yuvon gave her a startled look.
"Actually I was looking at your injuries. Nothing else even occurred to me." His indignant look made her believe him.
She laughed at him. He looked so serious, almost like a small boy, she thought. She sobered as she realized that she was losing her anger. She gave him an icy look.
"Well, may I suggest that before you try something like this again that you don't. The next time that you try this, I may well kill you."
I believe that you may try to."
"May I finish my bath in peace now?"
He smiled lecherously at her.
"Be my guest, Ma'am. Would you like some help?"
"No, but thank you kindly for asking. I do believe that I can finish by myself."
He nodded his assent. He produced a small vial from his pocket.
"Use this unguent on that chafing." He casually tossed it onto the pile of her clothes with a flip of his wrist.
Yuvon left the bath room, and Helena turned back to the tub. It was nearly empty, all of its water splashed away.
She had just picked up the vial when a loud banging on the door that told her that the water had soaked more than just the floor. Helena slipped her dressing gown on, and frowned as she soaked the material. She wrapped a towel around her hair as she walked over to the door. Standing behind it, she opened the door to face the wrath of the hotel manager for the disrespectable amount of noise and mess that she had made while bathing. The water had drenched the kitchen on the floor below her. Somehow, she was not surprised that the manager had missed seeing Yuvon's exit, even though it couldn't have been a minute before the manager's arrival. That was for the best, though, she suspected. Even respectably married women really shouldn't play about with their husbands in hotel bathing facilities.
Helena apologized to the man and shut the door, fighting to keep a straight face at the ridiculous situation. After locking the door, she removed her gown, dried and straightened herself. Then, she examined the vial Yuvon had left behind. It was a small white porcelain container with a latched on top. She opened it. The unguent inside looked like petrolatum, though with a faint rose and mint aroma. She shrugged and began to anoint her wounds.
After Helena returned to her room, she unpacked and tried on the new men's clothes she had purchased. Although the clothing didn't fit perfectly, they would cause her fewer problems than skirts while riding through the mountains.
She sat down on the bed and pulled out her other purchases. She tried to lose herself in the mindless tasks that she had before her. It bothered her that she had gotten over her anger with Yuvon so quickly. After all, he had humiliated her in the bath, and then he had struck her. Normally, the latter would have been unforgiveable under any circumstances, but she had to admit she had struck him first. As for the other, she couldn't figure out why she wasn't as angry as she ought to be.
She carefully cleaned and loaded the pistol. The weapon was huge in her hands, but as she pointed it at the mirror, it balanced comfortably. Ebin really hadn't been at all pleased by her working knowledge and interest in firearms, but he had eventually accepted the reality. He then taught her those aspects of use and safety that she had neglected in her earlier education.
"A gun is not a toy, young lady," he had told her many times. "It is a tool with only one use. That is to kill someone. You ought never to pull one unless you are willing to use it, never point it at someone else unless you mean it. And for God's sake, take care of it. A gun's like bad whiskey. You abuse it, and it'll come back to haunt you when you least want it to."
She smiled, holstered the pistol, and set it aside. Only after oiling and working her new boots to soften them, did she begin to think about dressing for dinner.
Helena changed into the other new clothes she had bought. The dress fit as well as could be expected from store bought goods. Helena was somewhat an expert on purchased clothes. She spent much of what little free money she had to purchase her clothes from dressmakers. No matter how hard Aunt Melissa had tried, she could never teach Helena to sew a straight seam. It was confusing to Rachel, or anyone else for that matter who knew Helena even remotely, that she couldn't sew cloth to save her soul, but in surgery, that was a different matter altogether. I suppose that's the way it is, she thought as she adjusted her corset.
She looked at herself in the mirror. She declared herself to be presentable, although only marginally. The dress was a little large for her, even though she had given the man her correct measurements. As she thought about it, she realized that her other clothes seemed a bit large these days. She wondered if she were losing weight, as she adjusted her hat and collected her shawl.
She left her room and went down the hall. She rapped smartly on the door to Yuvon's room. He opened the door a moment later. He was standing in his shirt sleeves, holding a large book in his hands.
"Oh doctor," she said coyly when she saw him.
"Yes?" He cautiously answered.
"Might one wonder if the regimen that you have placed me under has any food on it?"
"You mean have I made provision for provisions? Why? Are you hungry?"
She stared intently into his eyes.
"My belly's gnawin' on my backbone. If you don't hurry and feed me soon, I might have to come after you with a fork."
Helena saw the glint of an evil thought pass through his mind. He quickly turned away from her.
"Why certainly," he said. "Just let me get my coat."
* * * * * *
Their dinner was a simple one in the hotel restaurant. Simple by the standards of fare in Denver hotel restaurants, but the food was hot and gave Helena more satisfaction than anything she'd eaten in some time.
Through the window, Helena could see that night was falling already. Although sunset shouldn't normally occur from a few more hours, in the mountains darkness came earlier and more quickly. The streets were already crowded with people going places. The noise of the dance halls and saloons was almost enough to overwhelm the constant thumping of the mills.
Helena thought about all those people for a moment. She shook her head with a shudder.
"Is something the matter?" Yuvon asked with that gentle sincerity of his, which continued to startle her.
"No, it's nothing really. I was just thinking that in all of the places I've been, people always seem to stay the same."
"Oh? In what way?"
"I suppose ..." She paused for a moment. "That is, I suspect that given whatever reason, people will find some way to be festive. Don't you think it so?"
"After a fashion. I suppose that people know instinctively that parties and revelry are marvelous ways of releasing pent‑up aggression and frustration. I would suggest that you give it a try, but your tone implies that you think excessive revelry to be a bad thing."
"Isn't it? No, I suppose that it isn't." She stared out into the night for a few moments. "I don't want you to think that I'm critical of revelry."
"I don't. I was wondering if, after dinner, you would be interested in going out into that good night and exploring it?"
"Perhaps." Or, perhaps not, she thought.
After dining, the pair sat for a moment to digest. Helena felt a sharp craving for a cigarette, but she ignored it. The window caught her attention once more. It had grown dark enough outside that the window was now a mirror, reflecting the lighted interior of the restaurant. She saw that seated at her table there were two people: Yuvon and some hideous creature that seemed to aspire to femininity. She stared at her reflection. She had always felt that she wasn't very attractive, but the thing she saw reflected there didn't really even qualify as particularly human to her. Runty and too skinny, with black strings sticking out of her bony, oversized head.
"All right then, Yuvon." She stood up abruptly, looking away from the window. "You wanted to go out into the night air. Let's go. Your evening constitutional awaits."
The pair left the hotel to go for a stroll in the brisk night air. The sun was fully set, and the stars had become a diamond encrusted blanket slung between the mountains rising far above the town on the sides.
Once out on the street, she took a deep breath of the cool, smoke flavored air, and shook off the shock of the apparition she had seen in the window. So what if she was a hag, she thought. Yuvon doesn't seem to mind being seen with her in public. Besides, such concerns were signs of abject vanity.
The main street, or Gregory Street, was filled with people and lights. As they walked along the wooden walkways, Helena glanced through the doorway into one of the tap rooms. As she watched the revelers a thought occured to her.
"Yuvon, back in Jim's place, you were playing a guitar."
"That is a true statement."
"Was it yours?"
"Yes. Why do you ask?"
"Well, because, if I recall correctly, you left it there when you dragged me off over your shoulder to your hotel." They began walking again, down the street to the darkened end, the base of the 'Y' of the town.
He paused, obviously thinking. "I can't recall," he said finally. "But I'm sure I didn't. After all it is with my luggage back in my room."
"Oh? I didn't see it today while we were riding."
"So?" He was sounding irritated. Helena had the distinct impression that she had somehow caught him doing something wrong, but for the life of her, she couldn't imagine what.
"What do you think that I did with it, just stuck it into my pocket? If you didn't see it, then you just didn't notice it."
She stopped and looked at him. She was surprised more by his tone than by any mystery about his guitar. He was probably correct, she just hadn't seen it. She pursed her lips for a moment.
"If you say so," she said finally. She had learned many years ago from Ebin that men didn't like it if you pursued their little mysteries too far, but Yuvon kept coming up with these little irritating things that confused her.
"I merely wondered if you played often."
"Ah yes, well. Yes I do. At the moment I am trying to learn about the native songs of this part of America. I suspect though, that all the songs that I've been hearing are imported ..."
Helena smiled at her success at distracting him. They talked about his musical research as they walked down the street.
Yuvon fascinated Helena with his ability to display interest in anything. It didn't matter about what or who. It seemed to Helena that Yuvon could divorce himself from his other interests and engross himself in something new.
Near the train depot, the pair found a little boy sitting in a large puddle making mud pies. It was obvious to both that the child was out of his house far after his bed time, and they went up to him.
Yuvon quickly made friends with the boy, and convinced the child to guide them to his home. It was obvious to Helena that Yuvon had had plenty of experience with children. Just watching, however, gave her an ache in her chest. Helena loved children. She suspected her childhood had somehow made her more sensitive to the needs of children. Once more, she was forced to wonder for a moment whether she would ever be allowed to have any of her own. By the time that they had finally delivered the boy to his home, they had received a lecture on all the types of mud in Black Hawk.
Later, as they passed down the street in the darkness, Helena heard the muffled clapping sounds of billiard balls striking one another coming from a nearby building. The building was a dilapidated, one story wood frame structure. Light stole out of a few cracks in the front door and frame. There were no windows. The light from nearby structures barely illuminated the sign "Miner's Saloon." Helena smiled as she noticed that Yuvon was subtly steering her in the direction of the sound.
Helena tugged at his arm as they neared the entrance, and stopped.
He stopped and looked at her questioningly.
"Are you actually planning on going in there?"
"That was my intention," he replied. "Why, is there something wrong?"
"Yes, there is 'something wrong,'" she spoke softly and slowly. "That is a saloon. I am a woman. Women are not supposed to go into saloons."
"I hear women's voices in there."
"Those are saloon girls," she replied, as if that explained everything.
"You went into a saloon in Denver."
"I went into a better class of saloon in Denver." She looked carefully at the building. "This place is a scurrilous dive. I am not at all certain that this place gets even get the high class of clientele that you might find in prison."
"It can't be that bad. They have a pool table." And with that he walked in. Helena watched his departure. She decided she really needed to explain to him sometime that one shouldn't just abandon one's companion in the street. She considered returning to the hotel. Swallowing her annoyance, she followed him through the door.
The place stank. The air was dense with a smoke that weirdly diffracted the light from the vast numbers of lamps that lit the room. The smoke was rank with stale tobacco, cheap alcohol, cheaper perfume, sweaty bodies and urine. The rough wooden floors had been unevenly stained several shades darker by some process that Helena preferred not to consider. Where Jim's Place had shown the desperate hopelessness of its patrons only late at night, here the hopeless and frightened caroused with other, less desirable creatures at all hours.
"See, it didn't kill you," Yuvon said, suddenly standing beside her. He handed her a large clay mug, full of a foamy liquid she assumed was supposed to be beer.
"Are you sure that I should drink anything? I am, after all, under a physician's care." Her tone was sarcastic.
"Don't let it worry you," he said. "They water down their product."
She took the offered drink and looked around the room for a place to sit down. The room was filled with people. She saw a few women of the soiled dove fashion, but mostly she saw men and boys who were varying degrees of filthy. She turned to Yuvon. He was watching the pocket billiards game that was in progress on the sole billiard table in the room.
Helena patted Yuvon on the arm. "Why don't you go and play?"
He smiled at her and chuckled. "Do you think that you can find something to amuse yourself?"
"I don't know, but at least I shall try."
He nodded once, and was gone. Helena shook her head. It was just like a man, she thought. They drag you to a place that you don't want to be, and then leave you to twiddle your thumbs while they go off to play with the other children. And then they expect you to smile and act demure. She continued to look around. After a few minutes, she noticed something in the corner. A man was watching her.
The man was tall, at least to her. She estimated that he was about five foot ten. He had dark blond hair that was shot through with gray, as was his large handlebar moustache. His face showed lines of age, or perhaps disease. Although his impeccably dressed body was gaunt and his skin almost deathly pale, he still seemed to be no older than middle age. He sat alone, playing a solitaire game with a deck of cards, watching her. A bottle and a glass stood on the table beside the field of cards dealt out before him. As Helena watched him, he was seized by a harsh wracking cough. He held a pink and gray stained handkerchief to his mouth.
Helena pushed through the crowd toward him. She was thin lipped and determined.
"Are you well, sir?" she asked, telling herself that she shouldn't get involved.
"Why, no, Ma'am. I am not." His accent was more cultured than hers, but still held the same sounds of northern Georgia as her own. He continued speaking, "I am gratified that you would take the trouble to ask, but you needn't pay any mind to my condition."
"I most certainly must pay mind to your condition, sir." Helena steeled herself for possible conflict with this man. "I am a physician. Doctor Helena McCoy."
The gentleman before her raised his eyebrows at this, then rose to his feet.
"I am delighted to meet you Ma'am. Doctor." He corrected himself and held out his hand. "My name is Doctor John Henry Holliday. If your husband wouldn't object, I would be honored if you would join me." He indicated one of the empty chairs at his table.
"I doubt that he would even notice," she said smiling. "And he is not my husband." Helena set her untouched mug of beer on the table, and moved to seat herself. Holliday held out the chair for her, and eased it under the table. At this close range, she could see that his arms trembled with weakness. She could smell the whiskey on his breath. He sat back down with a wave of gallantry.
"Am I then to understand that you are a doctor of medicine?" he asked with curiosity.
"Yes, I am," she said, her tone defensive.
"I, myself, am a dentist," he continued in an interested tone. "I do not believe that I have ever met a lady doctor before."
"That is not surprising, sir. There aren't many of us."
Holliday sat listening. His eyes were fixed on her face, even as he spoke. "I expect that it requires considerably more work for a woman to achieve that exalted status than it does for a man."
"I like to think so."
"I am pleased to see that it was a Georgia girl who made that effort. I am correct in hearing the lovely lilt of the red hills in your voice?"
"Why yes, Doctor Holliday." She smiled politely. "I am from Georgia, Atlanta."
He stared at her thoughtfully for a moment, then suddenly, "Doctor McCoy, are you by any chance related to the McKays of Atlanta?"
Helena paused for a moment then spoke. "I wouldn't know. I was a foundling. McCoy was the name of the family that took me in."
"You were orphaned in the War?"
"That's terribly unfortunate. I apologize for my presumption." His coughing wracked the table, and made Helena's lungs hurt just to hear him.
"That's quite all right." She paused, craving a cigarette. She brushed the craving aside, and spoke. "So Doctor Holliday, what brings such a gentleman to the fair village of Black Hawk?"
He smiled at her. "You may not be aware of this, Doctor McCoy, but here in the west, we have a code that guarantees a man's privacy."
"As a doctor, I too have a code. Mine states that a patient has no privacy from his physician."
"And am I to be your patient?" He coughed a little less violently.
"That remains to be seen."
"I must admit that I've never had such a beautiful physician before, if I may be allowed to say so." He laughed. She smiled as well. She had noticed that she was being as arrogant and impudent a doctor as Yuvon was being.
"I am travelling to Glenwood Springs to visit the spas there. My doctor in Leadville felt that my health was failing," Holliday said. He trembled slightly as he picked up the bottle. He quickly poured himself another glass of the harsh smelling amber liquid and swallowed it. After a moment he continued.
"At the moment, I am waiting for a few gentlemen to arrive. We have an appointment to play a game called Faro."
"It isn't really, I'm afraid, but I do appreciate the thought. Card playing is my only remaining vice." He poured himself another drink and slugged it back. "And you, young lady, what brings you here?"
"My doctor," she waved her hand towards Yuvon, "felt that my health was failing. However, rather than sending me to a mineral spring for my health, he is dragging me to the back of beyond. How long have you had this cough?"
He laughed. "You are a difficult one to shake loose, Doctor McCoy. Tenacious. Well, if you insist. I first developed the consumption over ten years ago. As you know it is not uncommon in those who survived the ruin and 'Reconstruction.'"
"Yes," she replied. "Particularly those who suffered prodigious privations. I have often been surprised, and grateful, that I have not succumbed myself."
"I, too, am pleased that you have not become consumptive. In my case, however, once I was diagnosed, I determined not to give in to the disease. I decided that as every day might be my last, I should live accordingly. I have lasted far beyond the two or three years once projected by my physician. Unfortunately, I suspect that even my stolen time may well be nearly up."
He sobered. Helena was fascinated, but she recognized that she had best change the subject. She thought quickly then decided that an attempt at flirtation might distract him and get his mind off the future. She looked up at him blankly.
"Well then, Doctor Holliday, why is a man of your reputation avoiding his nom de guerre?" she asked, jokingly prodding. Holliday eagerly took refuge in the idle conversation.
"Certainly not, ma'am. I merely felt that while 'Doc Holliday' is a suitable eponym for the uncouth, I would much rather be known as my true self to a lady."
"But sir, if I were a lady, what would I be doing in here?" Helena asked ironically.
"If you are a doctor, ma'am, lady or not, the unpleasantness of the human existence must already be familiar to you. In addition, one may be an observer in a den of iniquity without soiling oneself by participation."
"Doctor Holliday, that may well be the greatest piece of hypocritical rationalization I have run into this week." And, she though to herself, travelling about with Dr. Yuvon Arelssyn, that is saying quite a lot.
"Do not rush headlong into righteous indignation, ma'am. Remember that the human situation is, itself, hypocritical. It is only those of us who attempt to live openly with reality who are deemed hypocrites."
"Why Doctor Holliday, you are a philosopher. None of the stories about you that I have heard ever said that."
"Doctor McCoy, life beyond the pale has its advantages. For those who live by their skills there is, beyond a certain point, a moment when the world becomes very honest. Those who are not honest, particularly with themselves, soon find themselves lying cold in the clay."
Helena sat and thought for a moment. Then she spoke. "I would suspect that being able to determine your opponent's skill is helpful as well."
"Well, of course." Holliday pulled a cigar from his pocket and lit it. The smoke made him cough, but he continued, "For example, your companion there." He waved the cigar at Yuvon, who was discussing money and seemed to be establishing the terms of a wager with another man who was playing pocket billiards. "He is a curious gentleman indeed."
"How so?" Helena glanced over at Yuvon, and then back at Holliday. She wondered if Holliday would find the same odd things that she had been noticing.
"His style of movement. He has the air of confidence, and controlled ease of motion that, to me, distinguishes him as one of, what Bat Masterson calls, the killer elite. But I have never seen him before. Does he have a name?"
"Doctor Yuvon Arelssyn."
"Arelssyn? I have never heard of him." Holliday sounded surprised.
"He told me that he is from England."
"If he is indeed foreign, that would explain why I have never seen him before. His being a foreigner won't please a large number of people I can think of. New blood just appearing might upset the delicate status quo." He paused. "However, as I was saying, he is a man who appears to be used to death."
"Again, I ask, how so?" Helena felt strangely interested in whatever Doc Holliday might be able to tell her about Yuvon.
"Watch him closely. Watch his eyes. He is watching everything about him, while still watching both the game and yourself, as well as the entrance. There are no superfluous motions in his movements. He avoids the brightest lights because those make you an easier target. Even when he is the center of attention, he makes an effort to have no one behind him.
"From his stance and the cut of his clothes, he's carrying something heavy in a shoulder holster."
"He carries a LeMat in a shoulder sling," Helena said.
"A LeMat?" Holliday looked at Yuvon thoughtfully. "Good for work close in, but poor for range. Giving that amount of thought to his weapon might show that he means business in a fight. Your average shootist carries one of the easy to get weapons, a Colt, a Smith and Wesson. Something that is easy to replace and reload. A shoulder scabbard says that he doesn't care about speed. He doesn't seem to have a hide out gun, but he does have a knife or two hidden away. One up his sleeve, one down the neck; he prefers long thin knives. Logically he should have at least a gun or a knife hidden in his trouser leg or in his boot, but I can not seen any sign. Something about his stance tells me that he is good with his hands as well. Shall I continue?"
"No, thank you." Helena was intrigued by the professionalism of this discussion. "Tell me, do you examine everyone this closely, or does he reveal that much?"
"He reveals practically nothing. First I gauge people to see if they are a threat to me. Only then do I analyze them. That is how I survive. Doctor Arelssyn doesn't telegraph much, but what he does show tells those with eyes to see that they should be cautious and look for more. That means, of course, that he attracts trouble, but rarely trouble that is able to see farther than his 'king of the mountain' stance."
"What do you mean by that?" Helena pursed her lips. She thought she understood what he meant.
Holliday laughed and coughed. "I meant that the way he stands there, arrogantly and full of confidence, tells people that he considers himself the top man here, and dares all and sundry to try and knock him down." Holliday slugged back another drink.
"I must admit to a certain surprise," he continued, smiling at her. "I cannot recall when I was last this open with another person, and a woman as well." Holliday puffed on his cigar and was seized by another wracking cough.
Helena reached out and touched Holliday on the shoulder. When she realized what she was doing, she pulled back from the gesture of intimacy.
"Doctor Holliday," she said sternly. "You shouldn't smoke those things. Your lungs are in poor enough condition."
"Doctor McCoy, I have been courting death for a decade now. One of the benefits of having a fatal disease is the freedom that it gives you. With nothing to lose, you are able to take greater risks."
"Is that why you are such a hand with a gun?"
"But of course. I have nothing to fear from the smoking barrel. The dear Lord took any such fear from me long ago."
"Really? I don't think so." Helena felt angry with him, but she had no idea why she should be. "It seems to be that the Lord has given you every chance. If, as you say, you've been ill all this time."
"Chance for what? I must warn you Doctor McCoy that, if you are trying to save my soul, I was baptised Presbyterian and haven't seen the back side of a church door since."
"Good heavens, I wouldn't try to save your soul, particularly as mine is in such grave doubt. I was merely thinking that Providence has kept you from a quick death by bullet, in favor of a slow and painful death ‑‑ Oh, I'm sorry." Helena was embarrassed by her bluntness.
"That's all right. I am a realist. This death is indeed slow and painful. You then believe there might, in fact, be a reason for all of this?"
"Let us just say that I certainly pray that there is a reason. I would prefer to believe there was someone in charge."
"Do you honestly believe that?"
She thought about it for a few moments. "I once thought so, but most of the time anymore, I simply don't know."
Helena saw Holliday stiffen. She felt a hand clasp on her shoulder. She flinched slightly at the filthy hand's touch, then wondered why this sort of thing kept happening to her. She smiled grimly as she realized that it was just the penance she should pay for spending so much time in saloons.
"Hey, little honey." A man's voice came from behind her. "What'cha doing with this dead old guy when there are real live men about." The voice laughed, and Helena could hear others laughing with it. She look around. There were four cowboys, not one of whom looked to be eighteen years old.
"Young man ..." Holliday coughed as he stood up. There was a threat in his eye.
"No, please don't Doctor," Helena said, and touched his arm. The last thing she wanted was for Doc Holliday to gun down a poor young boy who didn't know any better.
"Yeah," the leader of the four boys laughed, his hand still clamped on Helena's shoulder. He spoke mockingly. "Please don't doctor."
Holliday twitched his right hand back toward his hip. Helena stood up abruptly. She placed herself between the two men.
"Excuse me." She spoke harshly and caught their attention. "Thank you Doctor, but I don't believe that any gun play is called for here. I appreciate your courtesy, but please, let me deal with this myself."
"As you wish, Dr. McCoy."
"As you wish," the leader of the boys sneered.
Helena turned on him, furious. "As for you, you stupid, dog breath'd, little boy, just where the hell do you get the idea that you can lay your hand anywhere on my person?"
The leader's eyes turned cold, but his tone remained light and joking. "Merle, don't she look purty when she's mad? Don't you know that the ride will be just worth it?"
"She shore is easy on the trigger, Cord. All frothy an the like. I can't wait for my turn."
"Don't you worry 'bout it. We'll just slip a ghost line 'round that tongue. That'll gentle her some."
Helena glowered at the leader of the four boys, Cord, and tried to think of some way to cause him intense pain. A ghost line was a wire wrapped around a recalcitrant horse's tongue and teeth to torture it into docility. She wanted to crush his balls in a vice for even implying that she was a dumb animal to be gentled by him. A cough from behind her derailed that train of thought.
"You know, boy," Holliday said, each word a promise of death. "You ought not speak that way to a lady."
Cord stepped to one side of Helena, so that a clear field of fire opened up between himself and Holliday. He kept his hand on Helena's shoulder, while the other braced to draw his pistol, a heavy caliber Smith and Wesson.
"You wanten to c'rect my manners old man? You'd better be ready to do it with a gun."
"My pleasure." With one smooth motion, Holliday flipped his coat away from the silky smooth, worn handle of the Colt that rode his hip. People at the nearby tables slowly began to move out of the immeadiate area.
Helena stepped once more between the two glaring men. She had no intention of letting the boy, Cord, get himself killed on her account.
"You get out of my way!" Cord shoved her to one side. Helena fought to maintain her position, admitting to herself that she might need some help in this case. She saw Yuvon at the billiard table, lining up a shot, and called out to him. "Yuvon, come here please."
A loud clacking noise burst out from the table as Yuvon hit the cue ball. The ball arced through the air, over its target ball, landing cleanly in the pocket beyond. Still leaning over the table, Yuvon lifted an eyebrow and glanced at Helena. His fellow players laughed loudly.
"Hooey!" Cord said, momentarily distracted from his dispute. His hand slid off Helena's shoulder, down her back and onto her hip. "Did you see that ball fly?"
The bar grew silent, as the remaining bystanders began to sense that something was happening. The billiard players stopped laughing. Yuvon ignored the boy's comment and stood, looking at Helena. "Is there something that I can do for you?"
"Don't he talk purty, Cord?" Merle asked.
Cord squeezed Helena's hip. She restrained her urges toward violence. The situation was far too tense already. She knew that given a chance Doc Holliday would shoot this boy, and regardless of anything Holliday had told her, Yuvon hadn't killed anyone that she had seen.
"Yeah Merle, but he sure sounds like a foreigner to me," Cord said.
"These boys are disturbing my discussion with this nice man. He was willing to stand up for me, but I'd really rather that no one get hurt."
Helena looked at Yuvon. She prayed he would understand and somehow defuse the situation.
Cord, Merle, and the others all laughed. Yuvon smiled at Helena. He glanced at Holliday, who was still prepared to draw, and arched his eyebrow again. The eyebrow then slammed back into position.
Yuvon set the cue down on the table and walked over. The other people in the saloon cleared a path for him, pulling away in case there was some sort of violence. After a moment's consideration, Holliday slowly eased back into his chair. Yuvon looked up and down at Cord calmly.
"Leave the lady alone."
"You telling me what to do too?" Cord asked. "First the old man, now a slick‑heeled foreigner like you. Is she yours? Cause if'n she is, I don't see no brand on her."
"Yes. I am telling you what to do, and she is mine." His voice was calm and cold. Helena jerked at the intensity of his words.
Cord fluidly stepped away from Helena, his right hand braced once more for the gun on his hip. Behind him, his friends looked eager to see him kill.
"I don't like people to be telling me what to do, 'specially a soft living boiled shirt like you," Cord said threateningly. "But I'll be nice this time and give you a chance. We'll fight for her."
"I regret to say that this is unlikely, as you see ..." Yuvon opened his jacket carefully, exposing his right hip. It was bare of any weapon or gun belt. Cord looked at that and then pointed at the table.
"Merle," was all he said. Merle carefully drew one of the two pistols that he wore, a Remington .38. He checked the cylinder, then slid the weapon across the table. It stopped within easy reach of Yuvon's right hand.
Yuvon looked at the weapon, then at Cord, and sighed. He locked eyes with Cord.
"Young man," Yuvon said, coldly. "Before we begin this little experiment in natural selection, I must tell you that I don't want to hurt you."
"Yeh, I just bet you don't," Cord said with a sneer." What's the matter mister? You ain't scared, are you?" He laughed, a high giggling sort of laugh. His friends were laughing as well. They had moved into a tight group to back up their leader. Yuvon ignored the question.
"Boy, I don't know you. I don't want to have to kill you. If you have to prove that you're a man, I'll fight you for her with fists. However, if you have to play at being Billy the Kid, prepare to die." With lighting suddenness, the room went silent.
"Make your play, stranger. I got plans to get down to." Cord gave Helena a meaningful leer. The two combatants were less than ten feet apart.
Helena thought she saw Cord draw first. Yuvon ignored the pistol on the table. With a speed she wouldn't have believed if she hadn't seen it, he reached into his jacket, drew, took aim and fired, all before Cord had pulled his gun into firing position. The shotgun shell in the lower barrel of the LeMat erupted. The tight group of pellets neatly penetrated Cord's forehead before expanding and tearing off the rear of the boy's skull. The spread of shot, brains and bone struck Cord's gang at head and chest level. In an instant four young men had fallen, one dead, and three blinded and wounded. The acrid stench of powder and burnt meat filled the room.
Helena heard a loud metallic click from behind her. She ignored the sound, as she stood staring whitely at the scene of carnage that Yuvon had created. Yuvon whirled toward the sound. Holliday was already laying his unfired pistol on the table.
"I didn't know as if you'd need my help." Holliday coughed and wheezed.
"I appreciate the offer, sir," Yuvon said, reholstering his pistol.
Helena slowly turned toward the two men. She shook her head as she forced herself to be numb.
"Yuvon," she said, her voice shaky. "Doctor Arelssyn, I would like to introduce Doctor John H. Holliday. Doctor Holliday, Doctor Yuvon Arelssyn."
Holliday rose to shake Yuvon's hand. Helena sank back into her chair. Her diaphragm had turned to ice and she was having trouble taking a breath. Her face felt hot, her brain tingled, and she felt dizzy.
"Pleased to meet you."
"Charmed, I'm sure." Holliday coughed harshly into handkerchief. "I must say, sir, that you certainly can cut a swathe through the populace, if you have a mind to."
Yuvon looked down at the bloody mess and shook his head.
"I really hadn't wanted to kill him, but I don't believe ..." Yuvon's voice trailed off. He looked regretful for a moment, then, as suddenly as a mechanical switch, he resumed control over himself. "Shouldn't we inform someone? I am unfamiliar with the protocol in this country."
Holliday smiled ironically.
"I am quite familiar with the protocol. I believe the someone has already gone to fetch the constable."
"Good." Yuvon paused. "Perhaps we should get him out of the way, and then take care of his friends." Yuvon crouched down and picked up Cord's body and set it up in a chair at the table. The rest of the saloon watched, overcoming their paralysis at the shock of violence. Yuvon turned, and found that Cord's companions, both whole and wounded, had fled the scene.
Yuvon shrugged, pulled out the fourth chair and sat down across from Helena, Holliday to his left. Yuvon looked at Cord and sighed, the sound merging with Holliday's card shuffling.
"He was just a child."
"Doctor Arelssyn," Holliday said, throwing out a hand of cards. "He may have been a child, but he knew what road he was on. He wanted to build a reputation, and to do that he needed to kill people in gunfights."
Helena was in a state of shock. She looked down in front of her. There were five cards on the table. Poker, she thought, and picked up the cards. Her voice sounded faintly shrill to her when she spoke.
"It has been my observation that those who want the reputation, and hunt it, aren't nearly as good as those who have it thrust upon them." That was a stupid thing to say, she thought to herself.
The two men agreed with her statement, however. Helena looked at Cord's corpse to her left. An oozing hole sat in his brow, as if a third eye. Holliday had dealt the corpse his hand facing up, aces and eights. It was a winning hand, if they'd been playing for money, Helena thought sourly. Suddenly nauseous, Helena turned in her cards without looking at them, and sat back rubbing her eyes.
"All right." A nasal, vaguely officious voice came from behind Helena, startling her. "What's going on here?"
The two gentlemen turned to look. Helena looked up quickly, and then behind her. There was a large metal star with a rather portly man attached to it. She sneered at both.
"We're not certain yet. Do you think that you could possibly go away and return in a few minutes? I am certain that we'll have our story straight by then." She craved a cigarette as the stress of the evening began to affect her. She was still deeply in shock, but the deputy's stupidity iritated her. "What an asinine question. There's been a gun fight, or haven't you noticed the clues?" She indicated Cord's head; the oozing had stopped.
"We won't want anything of that sort of cracking wise here, young lady. There's hair in the butter, and I want everyone to be as straight as a wagon's tongue." He smiled, his round face was all teeth.
"I'm sorry, constable," Yuvon interjected. "But Dr. McCoy's been under a great deal of strain lately."
The man looked surprised at the term 'Doctor' and looked down at Helena and chuckled. "A pill roller, eh? Well, seems most sawbones I know are right in there with a whittlin' knife when it comes to minin' lead."
"And with a gun when it comes to throwing it," she muttered bitterly.
The deputy, grinning at his own joke, ignored her. "Well, well, well. Which of you three here killed this here boy?"
"I did, constable." Yuvon sat calmly filling his pipe.
"That's deputy," the man corrected. "Deputy Town Marshall Sheldon Gibson."
"Charmed," Holliday said smiling genially.
"And you all are?"
I am Dr. Yuvon Arelssyn. You have already met Dr. McCoy. This gentleman is Dr. John Holliday."
"'Doc Holliday?' You sure that you didn't kill the boy?"
"'Certain sure.'" Holliday's tone was barely patient. He coughed harshly, then continued. "The lady doctor here kept blocking my line of fire."
"Why would she do that?"
"It is my belief that she had actually intended that no gunplay take place. Unfortunately the boy just kept asking for someone to shoot him."
"Is that right? Well I think that you all should come along with me, and we can have a nice little chat down to the jail house."
"Certainly." Yuvon stood abruptly, followed by Holliday. Holliday held out his hand to Helena.
Helena numbly took his hand and rose. Holliday offered her his elbow, and barely aware, she took it.