by Cathy Buburuz
From the second floor of Lillie's Pleasure Palace, Jessie Lee Payton had a clear view of the usual hoard of sinners with money burning holes in their pockets. Seemed like every gambler, miner and bandit in a 150-mile radius was itchin'-to-bet or hot-to-trot, and probably the latter.
Jessie caught sight of a falling star and made a silent wish that the tips would be big, the trouble small. Just last week the small and the big of things had been reversed. After a grueling night, an out-of-towner knocked her over the head with a whiskey bottle and robbed her of forty dollars and a silver necklace given to her by a first-timer. Six black knots on her head and a madam who still bitched and moaned over their losses.
But tonight the rules would change in her favour. Arlis Johnson agreed to ten per cent to stand guard at her door, and no one in his right mind would want to mess with Arlis. Old Arlis was the meanest knife-toting dude in Deadwood, and he derived a special breed of pleasure in drawing blood. Daydreaming under a midnight blue sky, Jessie was jolted back to reality by a wagon load of miners. A dusty old prospector with a crooked smile yelled out a "Yahoo, good evening ma'am" and she gave him an unenthusiastic nod and headed back to her room.
Tonight her dress matched the room, red with black lace with a neckline so low cut it couldn't be ignored. She primped in front of an ornate mirror, admiring her auburn curls, adjusting the red ribbon that held back her hair. She lit three candles and waited.
Downstairs Keifer Jackson was riding a streak of luck in stud, but it wasn't money on his mind. No sir. All he could think about was the little lady he'd banged his last trip to town. Lordy, could she bang. But what to do when the cards were hotter than a whore in heat? Win or lose, he would leave after the next hand.
Aces and deuces, a damned fine way to leave a card game. With grimy hands he scooped up more than eight dollars and made his way to the bar. "Shot of whiskey," he ordered like he meant business. But to the bartender's amazement, he downed the shot and left, made his way up to Room 5 where he was greeted by an owly Arlis.
"Is she free?" Keifer asked.
"No, man. She charges five dollars a roll," Arlis smirked.
"That's not what I meant smart ass. What I meant to ask is, is she available?"
"You betcha, but she don't want no trouble mister."
Arlis drew an eight-inch blade from his boot, waved it under Keifer's bulbous nose, then opened the door to Room 5. "Gentleman to see you Jess."
"Hello darlin', it's good to see you again. I just had a rosewater bath and there ain't nothin' softens a woman's skin like roses can."
"I feel like I'm carrying half the mine in my boots, so rosewater sounds mighty good. How much for a bath and a standard gallop, darlin'?"
His most prominent features were the gaps between buck teeth and a protruding jaw. Yet his eyes were small, too close together. She watched him wiggle out of his overalls, hang his clothes on the bedpost. He pinched her fanny and repeated, "How much, darlin'?"
"How 'bout seven dollars?" she chirped in a musical voice.
"How 'bout twenty?" he responded. Thrilled, she almost spilled the entire bottle of pink liquid into the bath.
"That's more than fine sir."
More than the hot bath, he enjoyed the attention she lavished. "Let me soap your neck," she whispered, "or do you have more important parts that need cleanin'?"
She was sweet alright, and she had more honey in her than a hive. She wasn't a day over eighteen, with more than two years experience at Lillie's.
Jessie wished all men requested baths, but most carried more dirt than the cemetery. Many panned for gold in the nearby streams but wouldn't think of getting more than their hands wet. This night would be easier than most. Hell, this one was already halfway there, and twenty dollars went a long way in this town.
"Close your eyes honey."
"I have a lucky piece I want to tuck under the pillow before we do it. It's something that'll make it good for both of us."
Thinking he might have a gold nugget or a piece of silver, she nodded and said, "Sure, go ahead."
Like last time, she started with a steady trot and before long, they galloped to his conclusion, far too quickly. He wondered if someday he'd make it clear through to the finish line in more mature time. Maybe, but not tonight. He thanked her, dressed, and left her thirty dollars, something Lillie would never know.
In her dreams Jessie saw the vague outline of a man on horseback, tall and strong with a nose resembling an eagle's beak. As he neared he materialized fully and she realized he was an Indian. A bearclaw necklace adorned his bare chest. Oddly, he spoke to her in Sioux but she understood every word.
"I am Two Buffalo of the Sioux Nation," he said as Jesse watched blood trickle down his left eye. With each spoken word his head pulsed and the blood gushed down his naked chest, down the side of his horse to stain the ground below.
"You must die," he said, "so that I can take back what belongs to me."
"But I don't have anything that belongs to you. I don't even know you," she cried.
The apparition seemed to dissipate in a ghostly wind that chilled the room. Yet she awoke in a sweat, her bedding soaked. This is a bad omen she thought, a very bad omen. Martha Jane will know what to do.
She found Martha Jane seated at the bar, whiskey in hand. The rest of the patrons opted for a solid breakfast rather than the liquid variety. Most wouldn't reckon that Martha Jane was a woman with that dishwater blonde, close-cropped hair tucked under a floppy brown hat. The gruff voice, the way she tipped her hat with a "howdy-do," all a deception. But despite the disguise she was indeed a lady who was well respected for her willingness to help friends, and her ability with a gun. To Jessie she was a sister in the strongest sense of the word, though not kin, not true blood.
"Martha Jane, I need your help." Jessie suddenly felt uncomfortable and disrespectful for outright asking for assistance without so much as a hello.
Martha Jane peeked upward from under her hat, downed the remainder of her whiskey. "Must be important Jessie, ya didn't give me so much as a howdy."
"Can we talk somewhere?" Jesse whispered.
"Sure. My place."
Jessie shared the details of the dream, and an eerie look of concern passed over Martha Jane's weathered face. "Go back to your room and git into some ridin' clothes. I think I know someone who can help. I'll feed and water the horses and come by for you."
There was a calm and a comfort in Martha Jane's words that had a way of punching a hole in Jessie's fears, but when she returned to Room 5 she felt as though someone was watching her. To pass the time she stripped the bed. From the corner of her eye she noticed a dark spot peering from beneath the pillow. Her hand reached out to touch it, but her mind screamed a warning to pull back. In undeniable horror she realized that it was a black hank of hair attached to a repulsive scalp, surrounded by flecks of dried blood.
A ghostly apparition peered in from the window. Two Buffalo was back.
"You must die by my hand so I can take back what is mine." His face emanated an anger far worse than anything she'd seen in the past. "Take it redskin, take the damned thing. I don't want it," she screamed.
"I cannot. Keifer took it from me but you have it now. For this you must die."
As before, the apparition faded into nothingness, but left in the room was an essence of rage that seemed to cling to every pore of her being long after she left to find Martha Jane.
They rode for several hours through the black pine forest, Martha Jane in thelead with Jessie a close second, the hooves of the horses silenced by moss and tangled green growth. Together they crossed the stream where more than a dozen deer grazed totally unscathed by their presence. To the left of the bank Martha spotted a twist of black smoke. She turned to Jessie and pointed, "Golden Eagle's chimney."
As they neared the cabin, good smells of coffee and bannock filled the air. Jessie, who had not eaten that morning, hoped there'd be a meal offered.
A pretty woman in buckskin, and moccasins trimmed with rabbit fur, stepped out into the afternoon sun. "Come," she beckoned, "he waits for you."
Jessie leaned close to Martha Jane and whispered, "But how did he know we were coming?"
Martha Jane smiled, "He's Golden Eagle, Medicine Man of the Sioux. Little happens in these great hills that he doesn't know about."
If Jesse had been asked to guess his age, she would have been hard pressed to give an accurate estimate. His hair was winter white and she could not see the ends of his braids as he sat at the table, blessing himself with the sacred smoke of sweetgrass that burned in a stone bowl. The smoke twisted and rose like an ancient spirit. His dark eyes sparkled in a wrinkled face as old as the Black Hills, old as time immemorial.
"Sit. Feast." And that was all he said.
"This is Golden Eagle, Jessie. Respected Elder of the Sioux Nation. Saved my life once when I was mauled by a bear. His medicine is good." Martha Jane then nodded toward the tiny woman, young but with eyes that reeked of knowing.
"And this is his woman, White Feather."
White Feather nodded her welcome and served them all a meal of cold venison and warm bannock with bear grease. Her coffee served to warm and dissipate Jessie's chills.
After the meal, White Feather cleared the table. It was then that the old man spoke: "Your vision is a bad omen, Jessie, like the owl that hunts by day. The Great Spirit will not let Two Buffalo take his place with our ancestors because he did not die a warrior, but was killed for his furs and a white man's scalp charm. To meet
the Great Elders he must kill you six moons from now and take back what Keifer stole from him."
Jesse reached for the old man's hand, looked directly into those wise old eyes.
"What can I do? Can you help me?"
"Light the sweetgrass child. Breathe deep the sacred smoke."
"H-How can that help?" she stuttered.
"The Great Spirit smells the rising smoke, waits for the prayer that follows behind it."
Jessie reached for an ember from the hearth and lit the braid of grass over the bowl. Amidst the dizzying smoke she was instructed to call upon the Great Spirit for assistance. Her eyes clouded over in dreamstate. The smoke filled her mind.
In the vision she saw herself walk among the graves of Mount Moriah Cemetery until she came to the tombstone of Preacher Stevenson. She knelt at the foot of his burial place and dug a small hole, placing the consecrated earth in her pockets.
When the vision ended, she retold it and asked Golden Eagle what she should do. In turn, he handed her a small porcupine medicine bag.
"Do as the Great Spirit has told you. Then take the sacred earth and Two Buffalo's scalp to the river that flows to the east. When it is done, Two Buffalo will join his ancestors, leave you in peace."
As was custom, Martha Jane gave the medicine man all of the tobacco she had with her. She extended her hand in kind gesture and thanked both Golden Eagle and White Feather for their hospitality.
The trip back to Deadwood was shortened by good conversation and one hundred and one questions from Jessie about the Sioux.
"Why do they have bird and animal names, Martha Jane?"
"It's customary for a Sioux woman to kneel alone in the forest to give birth.
Always nearby, her man waits for the child's first wail and names his own for what he sees. It's not always kin to an eagle or a buffalo. The child could be named for a rock or a star, for the Sioux believe that all things have a purpose, a spirit. I once heard tell that one of 'em heard that first wail while he was fishing in a nearby creek and he went and named that young'un after a dad-burned tadpole.
Imagine livin' yer life with a name like "Little-Frog-Swims-By!"
Jessie let out a squeal of laughter at the end of the tale. The sound of her own joy relieved the tension of the events that lay ahead. She knew she'd have to make the rest of the journey alone, but somehow knew that Martha Jane would be with her when she dug that hole in Preacher Stevenson's grave.
After the river ceremony, Jessie slept peacefully knowing that Two Buffalo would never return. Somewhere far to the east, in a land she'd never known, a brave warrior of the Sioux rode with his ancestors.
A gentle night breeze caressed the lone occupant of Room 5. A woman dressed in a white lace dress, her auburn hair tied up with a pink ribbon, walked through her dreams. The woman smiled with radiance at a tall handsome man, his white shirt gleaming under a dark suit, his silver spurs sparkling under a summer sun.
He handed her a bouquet of wild roses, plucked one from the bunch and placed it in her hair.
Jessie tucked this vision into the safest place of memory knowing she wouldn't wait long for his coming.