Debt of Blood
by David Orange
“Arthur, when is that contraption gonna go off or blow us all to Kingdom Come?”
Arthur Dingler turned to see Seamus O’Toole cowering behind a makeshift iron shield. “Seamus, for the umpteenth time, this is not a weapon. And it is most certainly not an in-CEN-DI-ary device.”
“Well, what in tarnation is it then?”
“Dang if I know. But if Sylvester Heath gave us the blueprints that found their way to his Curiosity Shoppe, rather than selling them, you better believe it’s something usefully important. The plans show extenders and ratchets and gears like it does the same thing over and over.”
“If and when it works, that is, “ said Seamus. He cautiously peered around the shield. “Do you really think this gadget can neutralize whatever causes technology to fail around these parts?
“Anything is better than sticks n’ stones. Let’s turn on the juice and cut this thing loose.” Dingler ran his finger down his left mustache, a nervous habit that manifested itself whenever he started up a gadget for the first time. He then took out a small leather pouch, loosened the drawstring and poured an aliquot of green powder into the ghost rock hopper. He closed the lid and pulled a lever, and the machine rattled into life. The racket of the device meant the pair of scientists failed to hear the approaching hoofbeats of three men on horseback who appeared suddenly in the clearing. Two of the riders wore hooded purple robes, while the third one was covered with tattoos overlaid upon apparently purple skin. The strange group dismounted and each stomped their left foot three times and then advanced with a right foot stomp. Stomp-Stomp-Stomp and STOMP.
The tattooed man in front pointed at Arthur. “You. Have. Been. CHOSEN!’
The other two robed figures continued their stomping and echoed the words in a chant, “You. Have. Been. CHOSEN!” They advanced towards Dingler.
Dingler had tied the pair’s horses well away from where they had deployed the mysterious gadget. While prudently not risking their mounts’ safety for an untested invention, their steeds were now a very long way from facilitating an escape from these macabre intruders. Unarmed because of the apparent curse that rendered weapons inoperable outside of Deadwood, he assumed a pugilistic stance. However, the two minions easily dodged the scientist’s feeble blows. They landed strikes of their own, causing Dingler’s bowler hat to fall and roll on the ground, before grabbing him by the arms.
As the minions thrust Dingler towards their leader, who had produced a jar containing something foul-smelling, the mad scientist freed his right arm and unleashed one last desperate blow against his captors. Dinger’s target swiveled his head in avoidance, but as he jumped aside
his hood fell back. Agitated by the unexpected attack, Fred Ayres berated the other hooded man. “Not again, Grimes! At least this time he didn’t get away from us. Now let us take the CHOSEN ONE to the Worm Queen!” The tattooed man held the noxious jar before Dingler’s nose, and after a few seconds he went limp in the cultists’ grasp.
“Well done, brethren,” said Alonzo, the tattooed leader, “but you said there was a second one…”
Grimes and Ayres cast their gaze around in search of Seamus, but all they could see was the strange device which had begun to rattle furiously. “Darn thing sounds like it’s going to explode,” said Ayres, “and I’m not waiting around for Seamus to show in case it does. Let’s get out of here quick, we still got one for the Worm Queen”.
The three then turned and ritualistically stomped their way back to their horses. After slinging Dingler over a horse, they wheeled and collected the scientists’ steeds before galloping out of the canyon.
Frozen in horror, Seamus could do nothing but watch them ride off from behind the iron screen. Only when he was sure they were gone did he extricate himself and deactivate the gadget. Those names sounded familiar, and he had indeed recognized the unhooded assailant as Fred Ayres, who ran the local dry goods store. Likewise, Grimes could only be Landon Grimes, the local butcher. He had to get back to Deadwood to warn the town. In vain, he tried to heft and carry the bulky contraption that they had packed in on one of the horses. With a sigh, he set the device back down and began the three mile walk back to Deadwood.
“Three of ‘em. Dressed in Purple. They got Arthur.” Seamus’ wheezing and agitated gestures drew a growing and curious crowd that would otherwise remain within Nuttal and Mann’s No. 10 Saloon. The mad scientist gathered his breath and continued. “I recognized two of ‘em and right as rain, none other than Landon Grimes and Fred Ayres are behind these disappearances.”
A middle-aged woman in a blue and white patterned Mother Hubbard dress and wide-brimmed bonnet stepped forward. “Well, I say we form a posse and show them uppity kidnappers who’s boss around here, or my name ain’t Amity Hopkins.” She held a bible aloft. “Why right here it says in Exodus 21:16 ‘He who kidnaps a man, whether he sells him or he is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death.’”
A pair of gunshots pierced the cacophony and silenced Seamus, Amity, and the amassed drunkards. Seth Bullock waited as all eyes gradually turned towards him. He glowered at Amity. “I am the sheriff of this town. I decide if we need a posse or not. As the leader, I decide, then, and only then can you and others join MY posse. Is that understood?” Amity gave a meek nod of comprehension.
He then turned to a stocky, weather beaten lawman with a worn cowhide vest that contrasted with a blue denim shirt. “Deputy London, please go to the Office of Indian Affairs. Inform Eagle Woman That All Look At that I need a writ of passage to enter the Badlands to rescue Arthur Dingler.“
Danny London confronted Sheriff Bullock.“You do know, good sir, that you’re ‘bout to rescue a dead man.” He turned to Seamus. “Where’s the ransom note? You know, how much ghost rock to bring, and where to bring it.”
O’Toole stood nonplussed as he stammered and stuttered to indiscernible effect.
London once again addressed Bullock. “You see, sheriff, if this was a simple kidnapping, they would have sent their demands back with Seamus here. Mark my words, you’re leading these good folk to their demise. Their deaths will be a debt of blood that you’ll never repay.”
Bullock interrupted his deputy by turning to Seamus. “Where did you say you and Dingler were at when this incident occurred?”
“Up yonder by Crooked Snake Creek,” O’Toole replied. Arthur and I were testing out a new gadget. Before they jumped Arthur, they did this weird stomping dancing chanting ritual. They weren’t run of the mill outlaws, that’s fer darn sure.”
Bullock gave a sympathetic nod. He muttered to himself,“Too bad Marshal Bass Reeves left to deal with the Hickok situation.” Once again, he addressed his deputy. “That Grimes feller seems to know a little bit too much without actually revealing anything. Please add bringing in Landon Grimes for questioning to the warrant request. You got that Deputy London?” said Bullock. “Meet me back at my office.”
London gave a half-hearted nod and strode south on Main Street to the Office of Indian Affairs. Bullock fired his six-shooter twice more in the air. “Rest o’ you varmints git along back to whatever you were doing.”
Roughly an hour later, Danny London returned with two First Peoples trailing behind him. He pointed to one and then the other. “Sheriff Bullock, this here is Dakota Katzeek and SueAnne Betelyoun.”
The former stepped forward. “You’re heading into Rattler country. I will guide you, and if need be, protect you.”
The woman spoke next. “The Office of Indian Affairs is well aware of the vile rumors that the First Peoples are behind these disappearances. Those are lies. I join you to find the culprits behind these villainous acts and to clear my people’s good name.”
“Bullock nodded his affirmation. “Glad to have you fine folks with us on this mission.” He turned back to London and glared at the deputy. London remained impassive. “And…” said Bullock.
“Oh, the writ.” London took the rolled paper from his coat’s inside pocket and proffered it to Bullock. “By the by, there are others waiting outside. Eagerly it seems. Perhaps a bit too eager.”
Bullock raised his voice so it would carry outside. “Y’all come on in.”
Seamus entered the now cramped office accompanied by a woman wearing a white cowboy hat and riding chaps perched above brown riding boots along with a taller bearded man with bib overalls and welding goggles perched atop his head. “Kassandra Nilsson and Roger Wilcox at your service, along with my own humble self,” said Seamus.
Amity Hopkins burst into the room. “Looks like every posse I ever done seen. And I’m a hundred percent backin’ yer play, Sheriff.”
Wilcox chimed in. “The more the merrier, I always say.”
From his propped back chair, Deputy Stan Fredricks surveyed the assemblage. “Looks like ya got what ya need, Sheriff. Y’all go fetch Dingler safe and sound. I’ll stay here and mind the home front.”
Did this clod of a deputy ever do any useful law enforcement, thought Bullock to himself. He then addressed the posse. “Saddle up, we ride for Worm Canyon.”