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Bookworm hurried out the front door of the hotel and turned aside to where Doc Williams was kneeling by the prone figure of Cavendish. Marshal McKenzie and Mariah were shooing people away, urging them to go home and get some rest. Bookworm knelt down by the doctor, in the pool of light shed by a lantern set on the ground nearby. “Well?”
“Oh, he’s alive, all right,” Doc replied. “Those bushes did a good job of breaking his fall. Broken right leg, possible broken rib or two, probable concussion. Couldn’t say yet about any internal injuries; that’ll take a more extensive examination. But Miss Hienrichs–take a look at this.” He slid Cavendish’s goggles down to the end of his nose, and peeled back first one eyelid, then the other.
Bookworm inhaled sharply in surprise, then bent forward more, examining the goggles as well as she could in the flickering light, running her hands along the skullcap, even tucking her fingers inside it a little and feeling around. Finally, she sat back on her heels and whistled softly.
“Should I take them off him?” Doc asked.
After a few seconds of thought, Bookworm shook her head. “No, keep them on him, if they won’t be in your way. And don’t tell anyone else about it yet. This… could be useful later.”
Doc nodded, then stood up as two townsmen approached, carrying a stretcher between them. Bookworm tried to rise to get out of their way, but a wave of exhaustion swept over her, and she thumped back into a seated position. She watched as the three men wrangled the still-unconscious Cavendish onto the stretcher and bore him away.
Then Mariah stepped forward, holding out a helping hand. “Come on, Book,” she said. “They have things well in hand now–time for us to get some sleep. Ms. Gustafson has a room for us.”
Bookworm nodded, gratefully accepting Mariah’s help to get to her feet. She stumbled along in Mariah’s wake as the Captain led her to a room that was, thankfully, on the ground floor. The sight of the two beds drove nearly all other considerations from her mind. “Tell them to wake me at sunrise,” she mumbled as she fell into one of the beds. She thought about loosening some of her clothing, but was asleep before she could make any such effort.
Bookworm indulged in the luxury of waking up slowly, enjoying the comfortable bed. She couldn’t, for the moment, remember why she was in a bed, but it didn’t seem to matter. It didn’t, that is, until the events of yesterday rushed back into her conscious mind. Her eyes flew open to a room lit by sunlight leaking around the curtains. She shot bolt upright, then swung out of bed and went to the pitcher and basin, pouring some water out to splash on her face. Her grumbles muffled by the towel, she quickly dried herself and headed out the door.
She went to the small dining room of the hotel, and found Mariah there, sitting with a cup of coffee. “I thought you were going to wake me at sunrise,” Bookworm said, as she sat down and poured herself a cup.
“You needed the sleep,” Mariah replied with equanimity. “Besides, I *did* wake you at sunrise.”
“You did?” Bookworm was arrested in her reach for a plate of biscuits.
“Mm-hmm. You most eloquently said, ‘Buh,’ and went immediately back to sleep.”
Bookworm burst into laughter. “I guess I did need more sleep, at that. Well, I’ll just have some biscuits and coffee, and then we can go find the marshal.” The scent of the biscuits had reached her, though, and forcibly reminded her that she hadn’t eaten for nearly a day. Her stomach growled loud enough to be heard across the room, which caused Mabel Gustafson, coming in heavily laden with plates, to laugh.
“Your stomach has more sense than you do, Miss Hienrichs,” she said, divesting herself of her burden. “You just eat up first. Everything else will keep.”
Bookworm would have tried to dispute this, but her mouth was full.
Feeling better than she had in hours, Bookworm left the hotel with Mariah, looking around. Townsfolk and cavalrymen alike were bustling about with purpose, though Bookworm wasn’t sure what those purposes were. She finally spotted Deputy Allen in the mixture, and waved. “Deputy!” she called.
He looked around, spotted her, and waved back, trotting across the street to join them on the steps. “Feeling rested, Miss Hienrichs?”
Bookworm nodded. “Do you know where the marshal is?”
“I believe he and Lieutenant Richards are in Doc’s office.” Allen gestured to a building across the street and a few doors down.
“Perfect,” she said with satisfaction. “Thank you!” She and Mariah walked briskly to the front door of the indicated building. Bookworm knocked, and opened the door at the muffled invitation to come in.
Marshal McKenzie and a young man in a cavalry uniform were lounging in a pair of chairs; they quickly stood as Bookworm and Mariah entered. “Miss Hienrichs,” McKenzie said with true warmth in his voice. “Are you feeling rested?”
“I’m feeling much better, marshal,” Bookworm replied.
“I don’t think you’ve been formally introduced yet,” McKenzie continued. “Miss Hienrichs, this is Lieutenant Richards of the 6th Cavalry Regiment. Lieutenant Richards, this is Miss Sarah Hienrichs.”
Bookworm shook the Lieutenant’s hand. “I want to thank you for what you and your men did. This would have been a great deal harder without your help.”
“Happy to be of service, ma’am.” He gave Bookworm an interesting expression, one composed nearly equally of respect and disbelief. She and Mariah exchanged amused glances as they sat down in a pair of chairs the marshal had pulled closer.
“What news?” Bookworm asked.
“Well,” replied McKenzie, “we sent a couple men after the noncombatants. By the time they caught up with them, though, everyone was already nearly at my ranch. So they decided to go there, rest a while, and then come back in a couple of wagons. They should be here this afternoon.”
“That’s good to know,” Bookworm said with relief.
“My men fixed the telegraph wire,” Lieutenant Richards said. “Sent a report off to Fort Laramie first thing, and we’ve already got our orders.”
“That was fast,” Mariah commented.
Richards nodded. “Once Doctor Williams gives the OK for Cavendish to travel, we’re to take him to the fort. We’ll have custody of him there for a few days, until some federal agents can arrive and take charge of him. They’re also sending some agents here to study his equipment.” He sighed, running a hand through his hair. “I must admit, I wish we weren’t going to have custody of him for so long. Folks like him are notoriously hard to keep corralled. Even with a cast–“
“Who says it’s just one cast?” Dr. Williams said, grinning, from the interior doorway. The rest looked at him with varying degrees of surprise. “Well, *we* know Cavendish has only one broken leg. *He* doesn’t. Which is why he’s currently resting in a half-body cast.”
Mariah snickered. Richards muffled a guffaw behind his hand. Even McKenzie stood up and slapped Dr. Williams on the back, grinning broadly. “Doc, you’re wonderful,” he said, amusement plain in his voice.
Bookworm, though she definitely smiled, kept a rather serious mien. “That’s a definite help, Doc, but it may not be enough. But there is something else we can do.” She looked around at the others. “Doc discovered something last night about Cavendish. He’s blind.”
“Blind?” Richards looked dumbfounded, and Marshal McKenzie not much better. “But… how…”
“His goggles and skullcap contain some very sophisticated wiring and other electronics. Somehow, they’re sending images to his brain.”
Mariah whistled, impressed. “I wonder why he did that, though, instead of implants.”
“Well, the implants I’ve seen have been rather obvious. If he wanted to hide his condition, this is a good way. He can always pass off the goggles as an affectation, rather than a necessity.”
“So, all we have to do is remove the goggles and skullcap, and he’ll be helpless?” McKenzie said in astonishment. “Let’s go!”
“Wait!” Bookworm held up a forestalling hand. “That’s not actually what I had in mind…”
((To be continued…))