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“So what do you want to do?” Marshal McKenzie asked.
“To allow him to keep his sight–” she held up a hand to silence the protests building from the three men, “*if* he agrees not to escape while in your custody.” In the stunned silence that followed her pronouncement, she turned to Lieutenant Richards. “Do you think your commander at Fort Laramie would also agree to this?”
“I… I *think* so…” Richards replied, somewhat dazedly.
“Good.” Bookworm began moving to the inner door. “I’ll go talk to him now, and let you know what he says.”
“Wait a minute,” Dr. Williams said. “Cavendish hasn’t said thing one to me this whole time. Will he really talk to you?”
“And can we actually trust his word?” McKenzie added, outraged and skeptical.
Bookworm paused in the doorway, looking back at them. “The answer to both your questions, gentlemen, is, ‘Under these circumstances, yes.'” She left the front room.
The three men looked at Mariah, who shrugged, smiling a bit. “It’s a hero thing.”
Bookworm strode down the short hall, toward a door that was being guarded by two cavalrymen. She was intensely curious about how this conversation would go, never having managed to turn the tables like this in her conflicts with Dr. Obolensky. She nodded, startled, when the two men saluted her. One of them unlocked the door and let her in, closing it after her.
It was an inner, windowless room; the only light came from one lantern hung by the door. Its light played across the figure of Cavendish, who was lying on a cot positioned against the far wall, a light sheet covering the bulky cast on his legs. His face turned toward the door, and paused when he saw her. Several moments passed before Bookworm finally broke the silence. “Well.”
“Well,” Cavendish echoed. He began levering himself up into more of a sitting position. “I must congratulate you – Miss Hienrichs -” He grunted, and finally settled himself into a comfortable posture. “That was a most devestating campaign.”
Bookworm inclined her head, acknowledging his words, and trying to keep a flush of pleasure from her face.
“So. What is next for me?” he continued.
“As soon as Doc clears you for travel, you’ll be taken to Fort Laramie in the custody of the cavalry. Some time after that, federal agents will arrive to take charge of you. I can’t say what will happen after that.”
“I see,” Cavendish said thoughtfully.
“So you do,” Bookworm replied, amused at the opening he’d given her. “So long as you have those goggles.” He twitched in what Bookworm took to be surprise. “You didn’t think we’d really missed that, did you?” She cocked her head to one side. “How did that happen, if you don’t mind my asking?”
“A genetic problem,” he said. “It runs in my family. Came on me early, though.” He paused. “So why do I still have these?”
“You have them,” Bookworm said, “for bargaining purposes.”
“Ahhh.” Cavendish nodded with understanding.
“You may continue to keep them if you give me your word that, while in the custody of Lieutenant Richards, you will not attempt to escape. Lieutenant Richards is of the opinion that his commanding officer at Fort Laramie would also be amenible to such a bargain. If so, I want your word that you will not attempt escape while in custody there, either.”
“And when the federal agents arrive?”
Bookworm shrugged. “I cannot speak for them.”
“And you, and they, would accept my word?”
Bookworm gave him the same answer she’d given the men in the other room. “Under these circumstances, yes.”
Even through the mirrored lenses of his goggles, Bookworm could feel Cavendish’s keen gaze on her. She wondered if he’d divined her reasons for wanting to make this bargain. Frankly, she didn’t care if he did or not, if he would just agree… which he very well might, based on what he’d told her…
Several minutes passed in silence. Finally, Cavendish nodded. “I give you my word.”
“Thank you,” Bookworm replied solemnly. She put her hand on the door knob, then glanced back at him. “I’ll see you at your trial.”
“Hmmm. We’ll see,” Cavendish said thoughtfully. Bookworm smiled, and replied, “So we will.”
“He’s given his word,” Bookworm announced to the occupants of the front room. At the looks the three men gave her, she relented and began her explanation. “Look, even blinded, I wouldn’t put it past Cavendish to be able to escape, either from her or from Fort Laramie. This was the surest way to make sure he wouldn’t. Now, his first opportunity for escape will come when he enters Federal custody, and it will be much harder then. If he doesn’t, well and good. If he does… well, at least the Feds won’t be able to make you the scapegoats.”
“I see!” Richards’ face cleared, and he gave her a smile of relief. “Thank you, Miss Hienrichs.”
“Besides, it also frees Mariah and I up to continue our own journey.” Bookworm grinned. “If we’re going to spend any decent amount of time in Yellowstone and still make it over the mountains before it starts snowing, we need to be going.”
“When will you leave?” Dr. Williams asked.
“First thing tomorrow morning,” Bookworm replied. “We’ll just need to regather our own supplies today, and get another good night’s sleep.”
Marshal McKenzie and a few of the townsfolk helped Bookworm and Mariah track down their supplies and equipment. Folks also kept pressing foodstuffs and other gifts on them, despite Bookworm repeatedly telling them that they could get anything they needed at any of the towns further along the trail. By evening, though, everything was squared away, and after a good dinner, they spent another night in the hotel.
The next morning, the entire town turned out to see Bookworm and Mariah off. As Bookworm tightened the saddle girth on her horse, McKenzie stepped closer. “You sure you can’t stay another day?” he asked softly. “I… might have some good news to share soon.”
Bookworm looked keenly at him, seeing that he was actually blushing a little bit. She glanced over the crowd, saw Sandy Perkins standing among the other well-wishers, then directed her gaze back to McKenzie, and grinned.
“Send a wire to Steelhead,” she replied just as softly. “I arranged for them to keep messages until we arrive. If it’s good news, I’ll send you a present from there.”
“All right,” McKenzie said, holding out his hand.
She grasped and shook it. “And send me anything you hear about Cavendish, would you?”
“Certainly will!” With that, he stepped back and watched as she mounted. With many waves and calls of farewell, she and Mariah rode out of town, heading northwest into the forested hills.
((One post to go…))