Once outside, Deputy Town Marshal Gibson led the trio through town to the jailhouse. Yuvon attempted to strike up a conversation with the him.
"That noise, the mills? Does that racket ever stop?"
"I should say not. I tell you, that thumping is the soul of our fair town. You know, we have six hundred and sixty six mills, stamp and smelter, operating all day, every day, processing all the ore from all over here abouts."
Holliday whispered to Helena. "666? The number of the beast, isn't it? That certainly explains the pleasant atmosphere 'here abouts.'"
In spite of her still shocked state, Helena smiled. The town had seemed nice enough, but now, with death lurking in every glaring light and ensnaring shadow, Black Hawk seemed to be a charming little slice of Hell. She asked Holliday what he thought about it.
"It doesn't surprise me one bit," he replied. "I believe that there is, after all, no hell, nor heaven for that matter, other than that which we make for ourselves out of our lives."
Helena thought for a moment. "That sounds very profound, but where then does that leave God?"
"As I said earlier, dear lady, if there is such a being at the center of all things, then he seems to me to be as cold and uncaring as a rope or a bullet. It is fortunate then that I do not believe he exists."
"If God doesn't exist, then there is no one actually in charge of the world. Doesn't that thought disturb you?" The mere thought that there might not be a God terrified and depressed Helena infinitely more than her belief that God hated her. The idea was like being halfway across a bridge over a deep ravine, only to discover that the bridge was made of paper. An illusory place with no real substance.
"Not in the slightest. Is it so important that someone be in charge?"
"Someone must be responsible, ultimately. Else all is really nothing but meaningless chaos."
"Exactly. And so it is." He sounded so confident about it all.
The group passed over a wooden bridge. Beneath them the muddy stream gurgled sluggishly, stinking of muck and sewage. Waste from the mills blended with the sludge that oozed from the town's cesspools. Helena noticed that Yuvon seemed to be fascinated by the deputy's story of Bat Masterson's visit to town. She turned back to Holliday.
"It's no wonder that you find killing so easy, if I may say so."
"I must admit that it helps," he chuckled ironically. "It certainly makes more sense to me when one considers all the injustices that exist in this 'divine creation' of ours. It seems to me that laying everything at the feet of some divine creator is as much an attempt to escape from the responsibility for one's actions as the obverse is for those people who believe that the entire universe is one giant clockwork mechanism, with everything predetermined from the moment when the very first atom brushed against its neighbor."
Helena nodded, realizing that he had a valid point. A cold, chilled feeling trickled down through her spine. She shook it off with the thought that a valid argument did not the truth make.
"I am sorry, but I cannot accept that." She hoped that she sounded more confident to him than she did to herself. "I would much rather believe that as God has imbued us with a free will, we are responsible for our own actions. He merely sits back, forced to watch us make our own mistakes. Although," she paused. "I won't deny that He may contribute to a few of them."
"Perhaps you are right, but if there is indeed a god who is all powerful, why must he sit by while men are cruel to one another? Or, for that matter, are allowed to suffer natural calamities? Doesn't that strike you as a contradiction? Or even a bit petty?"
"Perhaps, Dr. Holliday, but don't you think that if the good Lord gave us free will, wouldn't it be wrong for Him to interfere with our lives? It seems to me that to do so would defeat the purpose."
"You are obviously not a Presbyterian."
Helena was confused. "No sir, I am a Catholic."
"Ah, a papist. Well, that explains a great many things."
"I am not at all certain I approve of the way that you say that, sir."
"My apologies, ma'am. If it is any consolation to you, ma'am, many of my closest relations are pap‑, er, Catholics. Including my favorite cousin, the only one of my family with whom I correspond. She is, I believe, a Sister of Charity near Atlanta." He looked wistful, as if saddened, but the enotion lasted for only a moment.
"No sir, it is I who should apologize. For my getting annoyed." Helena felt sorry for even getting into the conversation. "There was no call for it."
"Oh, why don't you two just kiss and get it over with," Deputy Gibson sneered at them. "You two wabashin' back there, you sound like a coupla bunkies hip deep in the ole' bushwa."
"How bourgeois of them," Yuvon muttered. Even in the darkness, Helena thought she caught the glint in his eye that told her he was making some kind of a joke.
Holliday looked at Gibson. "Deputy, this a lady to whom you are speaking. I would advise you to curb your tongue."
"You callin' me out?" The deputy's posture nervously altered, his right hand subtly twitching.
"I shouldn't think of challenging a buscadero in his own town." Holliday smiled slyly, his body absolutely relaxed. "I was thinking about something a bit more ‑‑ peaceful. Have you ever heard of a game called bunko?"
"Never heard of it." Gibson looked suspicious.
"No? I'm surprised. But then again, I suspect that you don't get out of the jail that often, do you? It is a game of chance played with a board and a deck of cards."
"What's the ante?"
"Should I win, you will apologize to the lady."
"If I win?"
"Then you needn't bother to apologize for your congenital rudeness."
Gibson looked thoughtful for just a moment. "No, I don't think so. Ain't enough in it for me, really. Besides, you know Marshal O'Neill don't like me to play 'games of chance.'"
"How fortunate for you," Helena muttered.
Holliday sighed. "In that case, I suppose ..." Helena sensed a change in Holliday's demeanor. She had the impression of a predator preparing to pounce that she had gotten in the saloon. She touched his gun arm. It was solid steel, primed for action.
"No. Thank you, anyway, Dr. Holliday. I am quite accustomed to this sort of boorish behavior."
"If you are certain." Holliday's arm relaxed somewhat.
"I am, but thank you again." It made her very nervous to know that here was a man who was prepared to kill for her. She suddenly remembered Cord's death, and corrected herself. There were two men who would kill for her. Her nausea returned.
Further conversation was postponed by their arrival at the town's jail, a squat, stone building that appeared to have been built to withstand a siege. Inside the door was a scene that did not engender confidence in Helena; a low, smoke blackened ceiling over a darkly stained wooden floor, walls covered with wanted posters, and a pair of doors that led sinisterly away to other rooms. The furnishings were equally as oppressive; the black, cast iron pot bellied stove, the juice-stained spitton, the rough‑hewn benches, and the solidly heavy wooden desk. Only the telephone set onto the far wall, next to the rifle rack, indicated to Helena that this was a modern constabulary.
A tall, muscled man, dark haired and tanned, sat behind the desk, cleaning a worn, heavy caliber Colt Frontier revolver with a richly stained oily rag. His badge read 'Town Marshal.' In the light from the lamps hung about the room, his face looked sunken and somewhat demonic.
Deputy Gibson indicated to Helena, Holliday and Yuvon that they should sit on the benches near the door. Then he walked over to the desk. Helena could barely hear what he and the Marshal were saying.
"What's this all about, Gibson?" the Marshal asked; his voice sounded tired and gravely, a 'whisky voice.'
"Well," Gibson proudly drew the word out as long as possible. "Marshal, there was a shoot‑out at the Miner's Saloon."
"Oh? And these?" The Marshal casually waved the rag, the gesture encompassing Helena and her companions.
"One of these here shot it out with Cord Burdett." Gibson was excited. "Boy, you should have seen it, Marshal. There was blood and brains all over the place."
"Huh?" Gibson appeared confused by his superior's lack of enthusiasm over the news. Helena suspected that Marshal O'Niell wasn't enthusiastic very often.
"Which one of them shot it out with Burdett? And where is Burdett?" The Marshal was sounding more irritated by the moment.
"The tall guy says he did it. But Marshal, the other guy says he's Doc Holliday."
"Oh really? So where is Burdett?" The question was repeated more firmly.
"I've been trying to tell you, Marshal. He's dead."
"That's fine." O'Niell thought for a second. "Did you tell Doc Chaney to go fetch the body?"
Gibson looked startled, then abashed. "Gosh, Marshal. I'm sorry, but I clean forgot."
Marshal O'Niell shook his head, and rubbed his eyes. After a moment, he straightened and began to reassemble the Colt. Without looking up, he asked, "Did you remember to ask about for witnesses?"
Gibson slumped his shoulders and remained silent.
"Right." The Marshal slapped the Colt's cylinder into place. He sounded even more tired than he had when he had first spoken. He stood, reholstered, nodded to the trio and walked over to one of the doors at the rear of the building. Helena could see the bars of the cells beyond as he leaned through the doorway. "Clarence!" he shouted. "Wake up Clarence, I've got a job for you."
A disheveled looking young man, tall and gangly, emerged from the room a moment later, obviously having just been pulled from a deep sleep.
"Yes, Marshal?" he asked, rubbing the sleep from his eyes.
"Miner's Saloon. There's been a shooting. Get it cleaned up. Oh, and Clarence?"
"See if you can find me some witnesses. I want this squared away before them boys in Central City start nosin' about."
"I'm already on my way." Clarence grabbed a hat from a wall peg and hurried out the door. The Marshal stood for a moment shaking his head, then, ignoring Gibson, turned toward the trio.
"Evening, folks. My name's Vince O'Neill, and I'm the town marshal here in Black Hawk. I would like to thank you for your cooperation in this matter. Why don't you tell me who you are, and then I guess I'll take you in the back room and get your stories from you one at a time. How does that sound?" As it sounded, it was a rhetorical question. Even as tired as he seemed to Helena, Marshal O'Neill had the presence of a professional who knew his job very well.
Helena noticed Holliday and Yuvon out of the corner of her eye, nodding in agreement, and shrugged apathetically. She really didn't care how they did this as long as no one killed anyone else. It was already hard enough for her to overcome the shock of the evening.
Introductions were quickly made, and in a trice the Marshal led Yuvon from the room. When they had gone, Gibson swaggered over, pulling the chair over from the desk. He sat down in front of Helena and Holliday and looked them over. It seemed to Helena that the Deputy felt he needed to reassert himself after his dubious meeting with the Marshal.
"So you're the famous Doc Holliday, eh? I heard you was in Denver. What brings you to Black Hawk?"
With a casual slowness that was almost painful, Holliday drew a cigar from within his jacket, put it between his teeth, pulled a match, flicked it alight with his thumbnail, and lit the tobacco before answering. "I am not at all certain that is is any of your business, but ..." He flipped the match toward the stove. "In the spirit of cooperation, I believe that I will answer your questions. I am travelling to Glenwood Springs to partake of the waters there. For my health." He coughed, as if for emphasis.
"But Black Hawk ain't on the road to Glenwood Springs. Leastways not coming from Denver."
"Is that so? Why Deputy, when I next travel, I must remember to come to you that you may plot my itinerary for me." Holliday paused for a moment, to let the sarcasm sink in. "As you may recall, I make my living by way of the cards. I came to Black Hawk to meet with others of my profession with the idea that we might test our skills against one another."
Helena sat up straighter. "Oh, my. In the rush of events, I entirely forgot about your plans for this evening. I am terribly sorry. We've kept you from your game."
"It is nothing, young lady. It is my pleasure to be at the disposal of a lady in need. In fact, it is my only regret that I was not of greater assistance."
"Oh no, Doctor. You were just fine. At least you didn't kill anyone."
"You shouldn't blame Dr. Arelssyn. You will recall that he did try to talk his way out of that fight. Which was, may I add, considerably more than I was prepared to do."
"Why? I don't understand that. Why would you be willing to risk your life in a fight over nothing."
"I do not consider a lady's honor to be nothing."
Helena sniggered in bitter amusement. "I can't remember the last time a gentleman was worried about my honor."
"I am afraid that I can not allow myself to believe that."
"Believe what you will, Dr. Holliday." She thought for a moment. "When I was living in New York, during my residency, I had an unpleasant truth vocalized to me. It was one that I had long suspected, but had never actually heard from another person. In this case, it came from two separate women ..."
"Woman, you talk too much." Gibson was obviously getting impatient with being left out of the conversation. "So, 'Doc Holliday' ..."
"Deputy Gibson." Helena's voice had taken on a silken tone. She was overcome with an intense dislike for the deputy. She was annoyed by his snearing voice, and angered by his manner towards herself and Holliday.
"What?" His tone told her that he was as least as irritated by her as she with him. This pleased her immensly.
"You interrupted me."
"That wasn't very nice."
"For the love of God, woman, just shut up and let us men talk for a bit. Sweet Jesus, you just keep running on like a river in full flood."
"Do you object to my running on, Dr. Holliday?"
"I neither consider it 'running on,' nor do I object to your conversation, Dr. McCoy."
"Thank you. That being the case, may I please have your cigar?"
Holliday looked a little confused, as well as a bit curious, but he seemed to be perfectly happy to comply. "Why of course Doctor." He took a deep puff off the cylinder, then handed it to Helena.
Helena nodded a silent 'thank you,' and stood up. She took a step over to the Deputy's chair, and, without a pause, kicked Gibson in the shin just below his kneecap. He moaned, jerking forward, clutching at the offended joint. Helena quickly slipped the cigar as far down the back of his shirt as she could reach.
"You shouldn't blaspheme like that." She returned to her seat, and looked at Holliday demurely. The gunfighter was watching the deputy twist and writhe in pain. Gibson flopped over onto his side, rolling around on the floor trying to put the cigar out. After a moment, he just lay there panting, in too much pain to do any more. Holliday looked back at Helena.
"Please, remind me, Dr. McCoy, if you should ever catch me blaspheming before you chastise me."
"I'm terribly sorry about that. I expect that I will feel very guilty later, but I have a terrible temper, and I do get so tired of being patronized."
"Completely understandable, my dear. Now what was it you were telling me?"
"I don't recall." She paused, trying to remember, "Oh yes, that was it. I was informed by both Susan Anthony and Elizabeth Stanton that the men of this world are only interested in women for sexual activity, and as slaves to the masculine desire to dominate. In my life, I have found few men who could lay claim to any other motivations."
"So I see." Holliday glanced at Gibson.
"Well, perhaps an extreme example, but then again, you might be surprised to find just how common his type is. As a woman who is engaged in a mostly men's profession, and who doesn't want to be dominated, either as a Doctor or as a woman, there have been few men concerned with my honor."
"I am sorry that you feel that way. I suspect you do some men, a minority perhaps, but nonetheless some men, a great disservice." He paused for a moment. "I have heard of these women you mentioned. They are suffragettes, are they not?"
"Yes they are. For some reason, they want to have some say in how the government is run."
"You don't agree with the honorable cause of universal franchise?" Helena wasn't certain if she heard sarcasm in his voice. She decided that she preferred not to.
"Let us just say that I feel it is not necessarily a desirable goal."
"Oh, and why not? I would have thought that a woman, with a profession, and a temperament such as yours, should insist upon having something to say about how you were governed."
"That might be true, if I really believed that common man actually contributed to the government, or if I thought for a moment that there was a reason to expect that a woman in government would be any better than the men who are there already."
They both sat silently for a moment. Helena began to get uncomfortable with the silence, but she couldn't think of anything to say.
Holliday finally spoke. "Did you know the ladies well?"
"Who? Oh, Mistresses Stanton and Anthony? Not particularly. They were, ah, associates of the woman for whom I worked at the Women's Infirmary, Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell." Helena sniffed bitterly. "They were three of the most misanthropic crones that it has ever been my experience to know." Helena looked at Gibson lying on the floor, whimpering in pain and confusion. A glimmer of pity began to bubble up inside her, but vanished as Holliday spoke.
"I don't believe that I've ever heard of Dr. Blackwell."
"She claims to be the first woman doctor in America."
"Claims?" Holliday drew out another cigar and lit it. "Do you you dispute her?"
"I suppose so. As you know, until recently, medicine was learned through an apprentice system."
"Of course. Dentistry as well."
Helena nodded, remembering what the 'Doc' in Holliday's name was for. "Well, Dr. Blackwell was the first woman in America to graduate from a medical school. But there were other women doctors under the old system." She thought for a moment. "Not to mention in other professions, such as midwives, or even the 'cunning women' back in the hills."
"This is fascinating, Dr. McCoy. You seem very well versed on the history of your calling."
"It's what I am."
"Of course ..."
Marshal O'Niell chose that moment to return with Yuvon. They were both laughing at something the Marshal had just said. It looked to Helena as if they were old friends, newly discovered. Then the Marshal noticed his deputy lying on the floor.
"Gibson! What in God's name are you doing down there?"
Gibson scrambled to his feet. "Marshal, this woman here, she kicked me, and stuck a cigar down my shirt!"
"Oh stop your caterwaulin'. Can't you even handle yourself against a woman?" he growled. "Why don't you go and help Clarence?"
"But Marshal ..."
Gibson turned and puffed his way out the door.
The Marshal shook his head. "What was that word? Oh yeah. Buffoon," he muttered as the door slammed. He turned to Helena and Holliday. "You're next, Holliday."
Holliday turned to Helena with a bow of his head. "If you will pardon me, Ma'am."
She nodded. He rose and followed the Marshal into the back room. Yuvon slid down into the place that Holliday had just vacated. From one of his pockets, he produced another packet of his machine rolled cigarettes and a box of matches. Taking one of each he lit the cigarette, waved out the match and flipped the stick across the room towards the stove. It landed near Holliday's match. He held the cigarette out to Helena.
Helena looked at it, and felt a strong temptation to take it, but resisted the urge. "Yuvon," she said shakily. "Do you remember what I told you about ladies smoking?"
"Of course I do, but we are alone here. I will keep an ear open for anyone who might come in."
She eyed both him and the cigarette suspiciously for a long moment before throwing caution to the wind and snatching the tobacco from Yuvon's hand. The curious pleasure of the smoke filling her lungs gave her a moment to order, as much as she could, her thoughts.
"That's right," Yuvon said, chuckling. "Go for the thrill of the moment. Pretend you're a kid again, sneaking out with your boy friends after you are supposed to be in bed."
She pursed her lips in irritation. "What sort of a girl do you think I was? Even if I would have snuck out at night, it is ungracious of you to mention it. As it was, however, I never did."
"Oh? Why not?"
"I never snuck around after I was supposed to be in bed because neither was I a child nor did I ever have any beaus."
"I am surprised. A beautiful woman like yourself never having a beau, as you call it. You never made Ebin McCoy sound that strict."
"Oh, he wasn't. In fact, I know that he was worried that I didn't seem to show any interest in the young men. He really wanted me to marry."
"So why didn't you?"
"What, find some nice young man, and settle down?" She thought about it for a minute. "I suppose that with all our moving about, I really never got a chance to get to know people. As I got older, I had to guard my reputation, and finally the ladies with whom I have associated as an adult, have never seemed to approve of men."
"What a facile excuse." He sounded absolutely calm as he watched the door through which the Marshal had passed.
"What do you mean?" She turned to face him.
"I mean that it is an easy evasion of the responsibility for your own life, particularly after what you were saying to Dr. Holliday on your way over here."
"I'm not evading anything!" She was seriously confused by his behavior.
"Yeah, right. 'I never got to meet nice young boys because we were always moving around.' I'll wager that your Ebin made friends, even under such conditions, and besides, you kept going back to Atlanta every year. Don't tell me that your aunt didn't try to fix you up."
"I suppose so," she paused, then stared hard at him. "Why are you doing this? You trying to anger me?"
"No, I suppose not."
"I should hope not. Listen to me, Yuvon. You just don't understand what my life is like. A man simply can't understand the stresses of trying to be a woman, particularly a professional woman, even in our enlightened day and age."
He turned on her, a vicious rage burning in his eyes. "Oh, pity me," he mocked. "I'm just a poor, worthless piece of shit. Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, and no one can understand me."
Helena was stunned more by his vehemence than by any accuracy in his description of her current mood. Although she had to confess that his was indeed a valid assessment of her feelings of late, she wondered what had brought this on.
"Gods' blood," he continued. "You really make me want to beat you, but in your state that would just give you the pleasure of reinforcing your self pity."
"What the Hell are you talking about?"
"Listen to me, you stupid little twit. If you don't come to realize your own self worth on your own, and believe it, you might as well chuck the whole thing. Chuck it and fuck it."
She frowned at his choice of profanity.
"My self worth?" She asked querulously. The term, though seemingly self explanatory, was new to her.
"Yes, your self worth. You have avoided men and relationships because you are afraid of getting involved. You figure that a man will realize that you are worthless and abandon you. So by fleeing involvement, you avoid the possibility of pain. But can't you see? There are people who do care about you, regardless of what you have done to drive them off. Do you really think that these people would care about you if you weren't worth it?" He paused for a moment, then a slow evil smile crossed his face. "Oh, excuse me. You've probably been too selfish to have even noticed, haven't you?"
"You really are an absolute bastard, aren't you?" Hate filled her voice.
"I've been called worse." His tone was cavalier, but he became more compassionate. "I'm sorry, I'm just a bit tense, and your continuing attempts to escape reality like this really get a little irritating."
"And your damnable superiority isn't? Who gave you the right to pass judgement on my life?" She refused to be taken by his change in tone.
"For your information, doctor. I am condescending to men as well as to women, so don't give me any of that feminist crap."
"So you think that absolves you?" Helena was solidly angry now. "You're a shitheel to everybody, so you ought to be forgiven for being a shitheel to one person? How egalitarian of you. I'm sure that Miss Anthony and her friends would be ever so happy to forgive you your other flaws, just because you are such a great believer in the greater equality of Man. All mankind is equal for you, is that right? Equally low and dirty under your feet."
She was prepared for him to be angry, but instead he just laughed. She glowered hard at him. "What is so damned funny?" She flicked her cigarette at his face, fast and hard. He swatted it away before it could touch him.
"Not much," he replied jovially. "Tell me, are you feeling better?"
"Not much," she responded, mocking the tone of his reply. "Why do you ask?"
"I was hoping to get you out of your funk."
"How? By getting me mad?"
"Well, then, it worked, you ..." Helena couldn't think of a term of approbation extreme enough to do justice to her anger. What was worse, Yuvon looked as if he were about to offer suggestions as to what she might call him when the Marshal and Holliday rejoined them.
"Well ma'am, it's your turn," O'Niell said.
"Very well, Marshal." She stood. Looking down at Yuvon, she told him, "Your turn, sir, is coming."
O'Niell led her back into another room. It was obviously some sort of dining room for the Marshal and his deputies. He didn't begin to speak until he pulled a chair out from beneath the lone wooden table.
"You just sit yourself down here, Ma'am." He indicated the chair. Helena sat down, and scooted the chair in. He stepped around the table and seated himself across from her. He leaned back, slouching in the chair, and looked at Helena with a firm gaze.
"So, I hear you are a doctoress from Denver."
"The correct term is 'doctor,' Marshal. Doctoress is a derrogatory term."
"Oh, in what way?"
"It indicates that one is an abortionist, or worse. I am a serious physician."
"I'm sorry, then. I haven't run into many of your kind of woman before."
Helena winced inwardly. The standard reaction to her occupation was usually irritating, but at the moment it was something familiar to which she could cling. It gave her a chance to get a grip on her temper.
"Well now, why don't you tell me your version of what happened."
Helena took a deep breath, and proceeded to relate, as fully as possible the events of that evening.
Marshal O'Niell sat and listened to her, looking bored with the whole affair. He interrupted her after a few minutes. "Thank you, ah, Doctor McCoy. That's very interesting and all, but are you certain that Holliday didn't provoke the boy?"
"I'm positive. And what are you implying, anyway? Dr. Holliday wasn't involved with any of the action whatsoever."
"I'm sure you understand, Doctor. What with his reputation, I've got to be certain."
"I'm sorry to disappoint you." Helena's voice was tense.
Marshal O'Neill stared at her for a moment. Then he spoke. "Well, ma'am, I think that it's obvious to both of us that this ain't getting us anywhere. I've got all I need from the other two." He rose, and helped her from her chair.
They rejoined Yuvon and Holliday in the front office. Marshal O'Neill sat back down at his desk, and picked up the rag. Helena saw that the two gentlemen were playing with a deck of cards, and smiled bitterly as they both tensed as the law man drew his pistol, and began to clean it once more.
As she got closer she could see a cribbage board sitting on the bench between the Yuvon and Holliday. She wondered briefly where it had come from, then shrugged the question away.
The gentlemen hadn't appeared to have noticed her presence.
"I was a little curious as to why you didn't fire when Burdett broke eye contact," Holliday was asking Yuvon.
"You mean when he leered at Helena."
"Surely you knew that was just a feint, a maneuver so that you wouldn't know when he was drawing."
"Of course, I knew. I also knew I could afford the time."
"Oh, hello, Dr. McCoy." Holliday rose, Yuvon following an instant later. The mundane gentility of the scene suddenly drained the tension from her. With the tension, much of her strength faded as well. Her neck started throbbing, sending pain through her brain. Exhausted, she slid down onto the bench next to Yuvon.
"Are you doing well?" Yuvon asked gently.
"Just play your stupid game, and leave me alone." she snarled, out of habit more than anything else. Yuvon nodded once, then turned back to the game.
Clarence returned after a little while with Gibson in tow. Yuvon and Holliday finished up their game. Yuvon placed the cribbage board into an inside pocket of his suit coat. He then withdrew his wallet, and handed a twenty‑dollar gold piece to Holliday.
They sat and watched the Marshal and his deputies confer. Finally, O'Niell rose and stood before the trio.
"Well, it looks like your story's true. In all, I suppose we should thank you. Cord Burdett's been a major burr under our saddles here for some time." He paused. "I'd keep you around for a proper legal inquest, but there's people around here ain't going to take to kindly to having somebody they know killed by a gunfighter." He nodded at Holliday. "I figure it'd be better for everybody concerned if y'all were to just move out at first light."
"But Dr. Holliday didn't do it. He's innocent of any wrong doing!" Helena half stood in indigation.
"That's quite all right, Dr. McCoy." Holliday gently motioned her back into her seat. "I am quite used to this sort of thing. My mere presence convicts me." He paused. "In any case, I have an appointment that I must keep. I would like to thank you for our conversation. It isn't often that I find such pleasant, or knowledgable companions."
He stood, made a sweeping motion with his hat,and bowed. "By your leave then Marshal, I shall be on the first available transport in the morning." He turned and left.
Yuvon looked at Helena, "Shall we go then, Dr. McCoy?"
"Why not." She was still extremely angry, but her headache was fogging her brain.
They stepped out into a night broken, even this late, by revelry and the stamp mills. As they walked, the night's breezes began, hinting at the smells of damp pine and fresh flowers further up in the high country. As Helena breathed in the air, trying to catch the aromas, her anger ebbed somewhat.
Helena felt bewildered. All day long long, ever since she had met Yuvon really, she had been feeling her past, the world she had left in Denver, slipping away from her, leaving her with vaguely unreal memories of a woman she might have once just imagined. Like a snake, rubbing its skin off on a rock, Helena saw her life sloughing away that past, but unlike the snake, she had no idea what she would find beneath. She was feeling in suspension between a past that was obscured by a fog of fantasy, and this new unexplored world that Yuvon was showing to her. It seemed to her to be a world of greater beauties and uglier realities than the one she had left. It was, she realized, more reminiscent, in many ways, of the world where she had lived as a child. A sharp pang of anxiety stabbed through her stomach mirroring the pain in her head. It was, she told herself, just the terror of the unknown, and therefore nothing to worry about. But even so, a strong feeling of uneasiness haunted her.
* * * * * *
It was very late by the time Helena returned to her room, and she was tired beyond all physical sensation; her brain felt like so much numbed sponge jelly filling her head. She felt totally drained by the evening's events. She latched the door, and disrobed without a thought. She rummaged about in her bags to find her nightgown. She slipped the cool cloth over her body, and noted sadly that the material had lost its herbal scent. She sat down heavily on the bed.
She had been sitting there unfeeling and motionless for a few minutes before she noticed a strange woman staring back at her from the mirror across the room. She stared at the other woman's deadened eyes, and saw no glimmer of recognition in them. The face was haggard and wan. The eyes sunken and surrounded by grayish black patches. In all it resembled the faces in the photographs of inmates of Andersonville, or one of the other prison camps in the late war.
Who is that woman? she wondered. It had to be herself, she knew, but shouldn't one know her own face? She felt as if she were losing herself. She didn't have any real identity of her own. She was a healer of others, a loyal daughter, and even a charming conversationalist; but who was she?
Her eyes burned, but the tears still wouldn't come.
She stood and walked over to the mirror, just staring at it. She saw that she had a splattering of blood on her face from where Cord's blood had sprayed when his head exploded. She poured water from the large porcelain pitcher into the basin, and washed her face. She noted with irony that, unlike Lady Macbeth, the blood came away freely.
She dried her face on the towel hanging nearby, then returned to the bed. She picked up and examined the new dress that she had been wearing. Enough of Cord's blood had dried there to ruin the material. At least, Helena considered it ruined. It would take a better washerwoman than she to clean it. She dropped the dress, forgetting about it before it reached the floor.
She crawled into bed and dimmed the bedside lamp. She stretched out under the blankets, and closed her eyes. But even in her exhausted condition, Morpheus was not eager to visit her. She was still too numb and tense to drift off. When it was obvious to her that she wasn't going to get to sleep, she sat up in frustration, and turned up the lamp. She fetched her copy of Poe from her luggage. After lighting a cigarette from the lamp's flame, she struggled to immerse herself in the "Cask of Amontillado."
She eventually finished off the rest of the packet of cigarettes that Yuvon had given her. Her mouth burned raw, her mind and body exhausted, she knew what she needed to do. She needed to sleep. As a resident, fresh out of medical school, she had learned to force herself to sleep. She hated to do so because it usually seemed so artifical to her, but it was either that or else resort to the greater artificialities of alcohol or chloroform.
She dimmed the light once more and lay back, closing her eyes. She began to force herself to relax, muscle by muscle. She mentally envisaged the pine forests blanketing the softly rolling hills of northwestern Georgia, the broad hillsides covered with wildflowers. In all, a vision of peace and freedom.
Within minutes, she was deeply asleep.
* * * * * *
An immense firestorm rages around her. The heat feels almost tangible as it chars her hair and clothes, drying and cracking the flesh of her face and hands. The world around her is a chaotic melange of golds, reds, and oranges flickering and roaring, erupting and rampaging through the charred, skeletal shapes that had once been buildings. It might be day or night. She doesn't know; and there is no way to tell when the sky is obscured by smoke. The clouds glow with an eerie orange light that comes from the Hell that the Federal troops have brought to Georgia.
She is alone, a helpless little girl in a filthy dress, a soiled ribbon still hangs from a torn sleeve. She doesn't understand what has happened to her world. First she was torn from Mama, and now she is lost in this white hot ruin. She flees the flames. Terror draws the breath from her, twisting her insides with an agonized torment that approaches the ecstatic. She runs from street to street, alley to courtyard, but she finds no escape. She screams, but her voice is lost in the runaway train roaring of the holocaust. Suddenly, a cracking, crumpling groan conquers the flames' howl, and she is boxed in by the collapsing structures around her. She is trapped in what had been a street, but is now a coffin with walls of solid flame.
She tries to escape by pushing through the flames, but the heat's intensity presses her back, keeping her in the center region of relative safety.
She sees a movement within the flames, and her blood turns quicksilver cold. They have found her.
The golden buttons of their blue coats shimmer and glow, reflecting the light of the burning city. They emerge from the flames, walking with slow, undaunted steps. Their leader is the Devil incarnate in the uniform of a Federal general. She can't see his face, but she knows the Devil is William Tecumsah Sherman.
They come toward her, their lean, wolfish faces bathed in grimy sweat, glistening. She can see the hungry look in their unblinking animal eyes. She screams and runs away into the flames.
She climbs through the white, crumbling coals even though the flames sear into her limbs. Her hair burns. Her skin peels away in black, agonizing layers. She burns in the flames for an eternity before she erupts once more onto the icy streets beyond. She is momentarily confused by the cold, although the firestorm continues its unabated roar. The sound of the flames overwhelms all other noise, and hammers at her skull. Her time to think is cut short by the soldiers coming out of the flames behind her, following her.
She runs through the streets, her only instinct to escape. As she runs, she finds the blue clad creatures have infested the frenzied landscape of the city. They are everywhere, crawling out of the shadows, smashing through burning walls, relentless, searching for her.
She is further horrified to see that many of the soldiers are wearing the faces of people she knows, people she can't forget, people like Rachel, Lizzie, the Jefferson boy, Mattie Gray holding her baby. Her heart freezes dead when she finally catches sight of Sherman's face. The Satan/Sherman wears Yuvon Arelssyn's face.
After running blindly forever, she finds an abandoned street, where there is no sign of the soldiers. She stops to find a place to hide and watch. A pile of packing crates lie in an alley way, and she runs toward them. She starts to crawl into one of the broken crates, but she is grabbed by stone cold talons diggin into her hips, pulling her out and to her feet. She wheels to face her attacker. It is Cord Burdett, his third eye still oozing blood.
She struggles, fighting and screaming, trying to get out of his bony grasp, but she is too small. He effortlessly forces her to the ground, and holds her there easily with one hand. With the other, he tears away the few remnants of her clothing that haven't been burned away.
Smiling with pure evil, he draws his gleaming pistol and shows it to her. He brings it up to her face, and slowly, with a mocking gentleness, caresses her cheek with the cold steel barrel. She can smell the acrid stench of the black powder that has been burned in the weapon; the harsh smell of brimstone and saltpeter. He stares deeply into her eyes, and his blood drips onto her face, blood that turns into little black spiders and crawls away. He slowly brings the barrel up to his lips and kisses it. He draws his tongue along the length of the weapon, leaving a trail that holds the flame's light. She is horrified is trapped by the hand pinning her to the ground.
He laughs at her feeble struggles. He forces her legs apart with his leg, and rams the weapon into her, tearing her open and raping her with his pistol. She fights harder, straining against his strength and the painful brutality of his assault. But it is of no use. Drooling, Cord groans in ecstasy and pulls the trigger.
She screams, feeling the molten lead of the bullet tear through her body. Cord is jerked away from her, and she lies there in shock and pain. She looks at her rescuers, barely recognizing them as soldiers wearing the faces of Elizabeth Blackwell and Susan Anthony.
They send Cord sprawling, and kneel down next to her. Susan Anthony begins to kiss and caress her body. Now, she is trapped by Susan Anthony's attention, the woman's grip as solid as Cord's had been. She writhes in horror, shame and agony. Dr. Blackwell violently shoves her hand into her vagina, groping about inside her body, and rips out bleeding organs, tossing them off to one side.
Finally, the heart is extracted, Cord's bloody bullet still lodged in it. Dr. Blackwell stands and hands the still-beating organ to Yuvon. He examines the pulsating mass carefully, contemplating taking a bite from it. Instead, he places it into an alcohol jar, and slips it into his coat pocket.
Yuvon stands before her, and unfastens his trousers, exposing himself to her. She finds to her further horror that she has no controll over her arms or legs, they just lay there, lifeless, even though Susan Anthony holds her pinned in place, her crone's face split in a leering grin. She is totally defenseless.
Yuvon lies on top of her, and rams something she can't see into her. It feels huge and encrusted with shards of glass. Pain and deepest humiliation wash through her, exposing the dead spaces of her soul.
He finishes with a shudder, and kisses her, whispering in her ear, "I love you." He stands up, and the assembled soldiers cheer.
In an instant, the firestorm transforms into a fair. All around her are banners, happy people, and music, but she is still surrounded by the laughing and cheering soldiers.
At a signal from Yuvon, some of the soldier pick her up and carry her abused body through the happy, celebrating crowd, and over to the cemetary. The graves are still ruined from the soldiers' looting spree. The creatures carrying her throw her into one of the defiled graves. She falls for an interminable time then slams into a pile of dried bones and rotten cloth. She lies there in agony, bleeding, powerless to help herself.
The world grows dark once more, but for that tiny bit she can glimpse in the rectangle of light above her. She can see the soldiers above her, looking down into the deep pit, laughing and full of revelry. She watches, alone and miserable, as the crowd parts, and a small young girl steps up to the grave. She is dark haired and has dark eyes. She is well dressed and cradles 'Mama' in her arms. After a moment, the child turns and walks away, disappearing from her line of sight.
She now feels something crawling along her skin. She turns her head to see what it might be. She sees her Aunt Melissa, and a more shadowy form of another woman beside her aunt. They are touching her, trying to be comforting, but both women are obviously dead, mutilated and decomposing. She screams in horror. A long, bloated earthworm slips from Melissa's empty eyesocket, and drops onto her arm. She retches at the cold slimey trail of the worm crawling along her arm.
The corpses pull on her, trying to drag her into the warm and comforting red soil, with their dry boney hands. She is repulsed, but she succumbs to the caresses of the dead. It is the first concern, the first sympathy she can remember. She goes limp and allows herself to be buried in the damp earthen darkness.
* * * * * *
An immense firestorm rages around her. The heat feels almost tangibler as it chars her hair and clothes, drying and cracking the flesh of her face and hands. The world around her is a chaotic melange of golds, reds, and oranges flickering and roaring, erupting and rampaging through the charred, skeletal shapes that had once been buildings ...
* * * * * *
Helena jerked, and sat upright, shaking in terror, cringing with each beat of the giant unseen heart that hammered in the distance. The room was cold and dark, although a dim moonlight glimmered off the mirror and the lamp chimney as though they were Union army buttons. Helena knew that if she stayed exposed as she was, They could get to her. Silently and slow, with a skill burnt into her through many long nights evading capture, she slipped off the bed. She peeled the blankets off the bed and carefully crawled beneath the metal frame. The floor was cold and dirty, but it was dark in her cave, and the darkness was her only friend. She pulled the blankets and her baggage in behind her, using them to conceal her position. Only when she was fully hidded could she curl up in the corner, cowering with the terror that tore into her.
She was silent, breathing as shallowly as possible to ease the noise. She listened, like an animal. Each beat of the giant unseen heart, each noise in the building, movements in other rooms, the settling of the structure, sharpened her anxiety, honing it like a knife's blade, until it became a tangable, mindless thing, out there, waiting for her. She knew that there was no hope for her, They would catch her eventually. No one would help her. Both Ebin and God had abandoned her, and Yuvon was one of Them.
After a time, her intellect asserted itself, and slowly, the terror began to give way to realization and depression. The heart she was hearing was only the thumping of the stamp mills; there was no one after her, no one who wanted her; she was cowering under her bed, behaving like an idiot. Yuvon had lied to her. There was nothing anyone could do to help her. She was alone, and she deserved to be. She had unknowingly commited the unforgivable crime of uselessness. She was worthless, to herself as well as to anyone else. There was only one thing left for her to do. She had to remove herself from the wasteland her life had become.
Perhaps after she had gone, Mama and Melissa might visit her. Did Hell have visiting days? Surely Hell would be an improvement over Colorado. If they could come, she could apologize to them for driving them away, making them abandon her.
She slowly slipped from under the bed, and dragged her luggage back out. On her knees, sitting on her heels, she unfastened the latches, and began to look through it. Ebin had tried to teach her that one should always use the correct tool for each task. She took a great deal of care in her search. It was not an easy thing to find the right tool to kill yourself with.
The first thing she found was her pistol. She pulled it from its holster and hefted it. She lay back on the floor, held it up over her and considered it. She looked at the weapon in the moonlight. The weapon was heavy and cool, and powerful enough to do the task right. Then she remembered her dream and Cord's pistol. The pistol was too noisy and too messy, she decided, and started to look for something else.
She slid over to her medical bag and opened it. She started pulling out bottles of chemicals. She was certain that she had enough poisons with her to do the job.
She smiled to herself. What to use, now That is the question. It occured to her as she struggled to read the labels in the shadowy light, that the poisons she had with her might take too long. Yuvon might find her before the poison had done its work, and with her luck, his foreign medicines would be able to cure her, and keep her in this prison. Then where would she be?
She reached her hand back into the bag and jerked it back out as she felt a sharp pain. There was a thin line on her finger that began to bead with blood as she watched it. She put her finger into her mouth and sucked. The metallic flavor flooded her mouth. With her other hand, she reached into the bag and extracted the scalpel that had cut her.
She lay back again and looked at the knife. It was ideal. She would just open her veins, and slide off in to that deep, permanent sleep that would free her from her prison. No longer would she be buried alive, trapped as her world collapsed around her.
She lay there and contemplated the blade, carressing it as she might a lover she was considering giving entry into her body. The stainless gleaming face, the sharper‑than‑a‑razor's edge. She looked at it, and knew it to be perfect, both in form, and for the task ahead of it. This instrument designed to heal the ill by slicing away the diseased parts would now heal her life, by slicing away her existance. It was so easy. She was amazed that she hadn't decided to do this before now.
As she examined the blade, a sense of peace began to fill her. She ran the blade along the underside of her arm, caressing her skin, using the point to identify the veins and the tendons. The edge of the metal tickled slightly. She relaxed, knowing that in a few moments, all her problems would go away. A little pain would wash away all those others.
She located her ulnar artery, on the outside of her arm. Starting there, she would slit across to the radial artery. She drew the blade along its intended path, leaving only the faintest of scratches. Taking a deep relaxing breath, she wondered if she would have to fight some animal instinct to survive.
She felt a moment's regret for those things she had never known: the love of a good and decent man, those pleasures that men and women could share, the sacred joy of bearing her own children. She was confident that she would have been a good mother, but that was obviously not to be.
She pressed the blade down on the artery. She felt her pulse through the metal of the blade, each throb signalling an extra half-second of her pathetic existance. There was a moment's twinge of pain as her skin stretched, indenting with the blade's pressure. The muscles directing the knife tensed for the thrust.
Holliday had been right when he had told her that a sentence of death, the knowledge of imminent eternity, made everything so simple. And with that simplicity, a certain new perspective was gained.
Yuvon was also correct. She did have the power to end it all, at any time. She controlled her destiny. Perhaps he was right that things might improve. So why shouldn't she hold off, postpone the inevitable, while she waited to see what was next. If Yuvon was indeed wrong, she could end it then. She had that power. She had the ultimate power over her own life and death, second only to God, didn't she?
Helena smiled with an odd self‑assurance. She felt as though a great weight had suddenly shifted, removing much of itself from her spirit. Perhaps she might even learn to understand Yuvon a little, before she died. Overcome with exhaustion, she yawned, and slipped the knife back into its case, inside her bag.
She wondered about how it had fallen out of the case, and why it had been mixing freely with the rest of her supplies when she had found it, but only for a moment. All that mattered was that she knew where it would be when she decided to actually use it. She slipped the other supplies back into the bag, and closed it.
She returned to bed, and, within moments, a dreamless sleep had washed over her.