Don't It Make My Brown Eyes Blue

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A rod inside a dark tank antagonizes a snail.

The snail is a highly prized species, murex brandaris. Inside its hypobranchial gland is a mucous which builds empires. A disinfecting mucous, a predatory sedative mucous.

A mucous that is the only source of Tyrian purple.

The snail squirms and gives forth its tiny, insoluble bounty. Glassware collects the prize, and the snail is released back amongst its teeming brethren as another is plucked from the thousands.

Scoopulas transfer the mucous into graduated cylinders, into which large quantities of a slick oily liquid dissolve and dilute it. The ink is left to cure, being stirred over a small fire. Then gloved hands dip rollers into the ink, and roll it over a woodblock carved with raised type. Heavy rollers press paper onto the woodblock, staining a name and a promise onto an advertisement a thousand times over in rich Tyrian purple.

It is a needlessly decadent way for the saloon to advertise its wares. But if there is one reputation that the Arcadia Saloon needs to maintain at all costs, it is decadence.

"A fine poster you got there," said Reuel Randolph House to the terrified artist. "It's got my name in a very pretty typeset, it's got a nice fat reward, and best of all it's got a reasonable and true description of my offenses."

"Reverend House," said the artist, glancing up at the shrouded behemoth Cal on his other side, who looked down at him over her brass knuckles, "What do you want of me? You won't gain anything by hurting me; if I refuse to print these posters, the saloons and government men will have others fill my place."

"Don't get ahead of me," said House. "I don't want you to stop printing these posters."

"You don't?"

"Well, well. So you're observant enough to hear." House leaned in real close to the artist. "Then maybe you're observant enough to see what you did wrong in your sketch of me?"

The artist glanced at the poster, then up at Cal for some direction. "Wrong haircut?" she mouthed, shrugging. He became momentarily distracted: for a moment, it looked like a parade of bugs was crawling across her face. Then, she adjusted her hood and fell back into shadow. Must have been a trick of the light, he thought.

"Wr- " He looked up at Cal for support, who nodded, "Wrong haircu-"

"You drew me white, you bounty-bleaching bastard!" yelled the cocoa-skinned House. The artist cowered.

"I see I've made my point," smiled House. "Now I just want you to do one thing for me before I leave."

"W- What's that?"

"I want you to draw me as I am." As he said this, he struck a pose and grinned.

"You want me to make and distribute…. to anyone who's going to come looking to arrest you … a more accurate picture of who they're looking for?"

"Of course. Would you want someone else to take the credit for your accomplishments? I want you to draw these posters to the most minute detail of my appearance, with no discrepancies or omissions whatsoever. Or would you prefer that my associate here introduce some discrepancies into your own face?"

The artist looked up at Cal. Cal held her large brass knuckles close to his face, so that he could see his reflection clearly in the polished metal. Then, she took a fountain pen from the artist's desk and started to draw on the artist's mirror image a moustache, some glasses, and very large eyebrows.

"Please! Please stop. I'll do it, I'll do anything." There was a pause. "Exactly as you are? No changes or anything? Not even-"

"Exactly as I am, to the smallest detail. No discrepancies."

"Are you sure about that, Rev?" asked Cal. "Because-"

"Exactly as I am right now!" shouted House.

"All right," sighed the artist. "Exactly as you are, to the most minute detail possible." He looked up at his subject, then down at his easel, and began his work.

Several days later, House caught a glance at one of his new posters. He stopped to admire it with a grin. Then that grin turned into puzzlement, then into a frown.

"Why didn't anyone tell me I had spinach in my teeth?"

Then the mighty war-spirit endured for a season
That light-hearted laughter loud in the building
Greeted him daily; there was dulcet harp-music….

- Beowulf, 85-87

By training, a surgeon. By motivation, an epidemiologist. By the people of this town, nothing more than a nuisance, and she wasn't having any of it.

"People of Chugwater!" she announced at the town convocation. "For the past five days, I have been putting POISON in your wells!"

There was a beat as she waited for the crowd to stir to a point of anger. She saw worry and fear, neighbor talking to neighbor, and continued, "But I have only done so to help you! The chlorine I put in your water supply is dilute enough not to affect you, but is potent enough to kill the animalcules that- Hey, where are you all going?"

"Well, y'said it don't affect me none," said Reginald Whitlock, "So I'se going to be seeing if I can catch them frogmen what steal my dang jerky!"

"But you don't understand why it was the right thing to do! You're still on the miasma theory of disease!"

She wheeled around to face the local law enforcement. "Aren't you going to arrest me?"

Assistant Deputy Sheriff Gabriel Chudleigh lit up a cigar. "Go away, kid. Nobody died, the most we could accuse you of is distracting me from my poker game." He peeled four cards from his hand and slammed them triumphantly onto the table, upsetting a few piles of chips. "Speaking of which, I just got a full house. Now who has to sleep in the cell tonight, fools?"

"Chudleigh," said Deputy Johnston, glancing across Sheriff Richter's attempts to re-stack her chips, "Two of those are tarot cards."

"You're right," said Chudleigh with some concern. "I think I just foretold my own death."

The Doctor walked away from the table.

She looked up into the sky. "What is the use," she muttered at last, "Of being the only one in the room to know the most effective cure, if nobody's going to martyr me for it?"

"You think you know the most effective cure?" drawled a voice behind her.

She spun around to see a fellow in beat-up old clothes poking his long, thin, vaguely piscine head out of the back of a slow-moving out-bound wagon.

"I know I do," she said, trotting to keep up with the wagon's pace. "Do you say differently?"

He laughed. "Unless it's as good as the one the Arcadia Saloon has, partner, I'd say you're gravely mistaken."

He poked his hands out of the back of the wagon and gestured to the boil-scars and missing finger-ends, his movements smooth and dexterous.

"They called me the Eel, once upon a time," he said. "I'm a riverboat gambler.

"I thought I had drawn my last card when I caught the rottin', miss," he said, "Till my drinkin' partner Tully shared the rumor of this saloon with tantalizin' stakes. Life for the dyin', miss, so long as you played your cards right."

A series of complex emotions passed beneath the doctor's prosthetic face. "Where is this saloon?" she asked.

He told her.

She stopped running, then, and stood there on the road while the wagon continued on towards the distant seas, as of yet blissfully unaware of its stowaway.

A gambling den claimed a panacea beyond the grasp of her medicine.

She would burn it to the fucking ground.

My dearest Leslie,

I'm afraid I'll have to leave Riddle's clinic in your most capable hands for the foreseeable future.

Her horse trots alongside a deepening riverbank, a line of lush, stubborn life amidst the desert around her.

Because depending on how things go, I might not be coming back.

She lies down on a mat beneath the stars as a meteor shower flies by.

There's three options for what this saloon could be.

House holds up a purple-text pamphlet with the sunlight behind, eyes narrowing as he attempts to determine the quality of the ink.

Number one: it is run by complete and total charlatans, in which case it ought to be destroyed and the mountebanks in charge hanged.

House and the second-in-command of his flock stare intensely into each others' eyes as he offers her a Bible and the sermon notes for the next several weeks. They grip each others' arms tightly, unwilling to let go, but the moment of parting is as inevitable as the swirling of the words tattooed on her skin.

Number two: it actually keeps some secret of medical import hidden from the world, and from me.

House looks back over his shoulder. The encampment of pyramidal tents that encompassed Congregation 666 shines in the desert sun behind him, and people wave goodbye to him with heavily bandaged hands. Those who have eyes left to smile with, smile.

Or, finally, some black magic that requires the sacrifice of the losers to increase the health of the winners is afoot.

From opposite sides, the horse of the doctor and the donkey of House make their spiral approach into the town of Kepler, Oregon.

In any case, I will force someone to care about my existence.

The fields there grow higher than a maze beneath the shadows of the mountains. As the daytime passes the shadow grows, covering the town and the excessive graveyard that surrounds the fields in every direction.

Even if they care only to see it snuffed out.

"What the fuck?" said Leslie, dropping the letter.

So, this kind of slipped my mind: could you write me a will in case I don't come back?

"Oh, for the love of-"

"God, sir, don't you want another place to spend the night?"

House sat up against the headstone and looked with bleary eyes at the fellow outlined by the moon.

In spite of the friendliness of the words, the man's tone had an air of threat bolstered by the broken shovel-handle he wielded at House like a musket. His head was all clean lines and curves, free of soft hair and scarred.

"The Kepler tombyard's not a safe place to be come darkness," said the man, whom House mentally labeled Handle. "The dead of both neg and blan rise sometimes, so they say, and woe betides the soldier who gets in their way."

"Military man as well, eh?" House said, hoping to find some solidarity to calm the man down. Seeing what little of his dark skin tone showed in the moonlight, he hazarded the man was likely not allied with the Confederates. "Reuel House, chaplain of the Union iteration of the 1st Louisiana Native Guard."

He extended his hand for a handshake, possibly to learn the man's real name in exchange for his own, but the man turned away. Handle he was, then, for now.

"I don't like to recall my part in the war," said Handle, "but you're thinking of a different war than I am. My side lost half our island.

"I do not begrudge you your victory nor your freedom- my own homeland having been formed from a slave revolt- but that doesn't make us drinking buddies. Your side won your war, and my side lost mine, and you can surely keep celebrating your victory somewhere less haunted than my graveyard."

"I can try," said House, "But in my experience a person's going to be haunted by something, no matter where they go." He stood up. "Thank you kindly for your hospitality, sir; I'll finish my rest in the grainfields."

"No money for a room at the inn, then?"

"I'm saving what I have for Arcadia."

"Ah." Handle drew back a little. "I should have expected as much. You'd best get comfortable with this graveyard; you'll be here a lot longer than you'd like."

"You don't fancy my chances?"

"If I fancied more people's chances, this here field would be the size of a postage stamp."

He gestured around at the silent fields. They stretched off as far as the eye could see.

"Come on, stay at my house tonight," offered Handle.

"Your house? Why?"

"I run a graveyard, Mr. House. Giving hospitality to dead men is my job."

"Because I can't do my job anymore, miss," said the Jamaican man whom the doctor encountered on his way out of town. "There isn't a place for an apothecary in Kepler anymore."

"Why not?" asked the doctor. "Everyone needs medicine from time to time."

"Not in this town, miss," said the chemist. "It's practically a ghost town at this point. Most who're left are with the Saloon. And if you know about this town, you know they claim to cure all."

"And can they?"

"For all I know, maybe," said the man. "Anecdotal evidence suggests as much. But from what I've seen, it's a crapshoot. You either leave their lair alive and keep on livin', or you leave their lair alive and die a sudden death soon after."

"What of?"

"Nothing the mortician could diagnose. Got real numb and harder and harder to breathe until they just… stopped." He paused, and looked her square in the eye. "Lost a lot of good folk that way. Hate to lose another medical."

"I'm not here to play their games," she said. "I'm here to flip over their goddamn chessboard."

"That so?" asked the chemist. He looked at her curiously.

"I'd be real careful around 'em, miss." He pointed at a building down in the Kepler valley. "You see that warehouse?"

"I do."

"Would it surprise you to know it was all taken up by the same store?"

"It would," she said. "What store needs all that room?"

"The Mormons called it the ZCMI," he said. "Zion's Co-Operative Mercantile Institution. A new kind of store that sells everything, and that cheaply."

"The Mormons were the biggest economic influence around here," said the chemist. "They could get things like that done. And the bastards at that Saloon burned down all their houses, left em' to flee in the middle of the night."

"Haven't there been reprisals?" The doctor had heard of the three so-called Mormon wars, in which vigilante Mormons and non-Mormons had burned down each others' counties. A group calling themselves the Danites had been particularly vicious.

"Not one, not yet," said the chemist. "I'd been expecting one for the last year, but nothing's come of it that I can see." He gestured down at the valley. "It's one more reason to leave. When retribution takes a while to build up, it's going to be a mighty force when it comes."

"Hmm," said the doctor. Visions of herself being burned alive by a mob mistaking her for others filled her head and gave her a strange thrill. "Then that'll be a sight to see."

"Tell you what," said the chemist, rummaging through his bag and pulling out a key. "This opens my apothecary, I'd rather you stay there than at the Saloon."

The doctor took the key and gave her thanks.

"And remember," he said, leaning in close, "If there comes a time when people come after you for what you're doing, remember these three words…"

And he whispered in her ear.

After was borne him
A son and heir, young in his dwelling,
Whom God-Father sent to solace the people.
- Beowulf, 12-14

A young, light-skinned man greeted Handle when House and he returned to their dwelling, in a language House did not recognize. Handle answered in the same language and gestured from House to him as he said the name Septimus, indicating to House that the name belonged to the man.

A young dark-skinned man called from another room, and Handle answered, naming the man as Forbes. He looked back at House and switched to English. "What do you have, anyway?"

"Me?" House said. "I'm completely healthy."

"Then why risk the Saloon? You must know the stakes."

"The cure I seek isn't for me," House said. "It's for my… let's call them an extended collection of brothers-and-sisters-in-Christ."

Handle called back to Forbes back in the other language. He turned back to House. "Why can't they come themselves?"

"I work for a group of… misfits would be the charitable word." House sighed. "They got cursed with something benign that nevertheless superstitious folk give 'em hell for. No chance of any one of them but me interfacing with civilization to find supplies and medicine."

"Must be tough having to deal with so many weirdos," said Handle. "But even the strangest, most broken of people have their uses." He called out of the room, "Fiver! Let's go!"

From the darkness of an adjoining room hopped a very pale young man.

House struggled to place his ethnicity. He was pale, yes, but his features didn't line up with what House knew of white people. An albino black person, then? No, that didn't line up either. He only began to vaguely fit the categories into which we haplessly pigeonhole someone's ancestors when House thought of the Chinese folks he had met.

His facial expression was blank and yet world-weary, such that to House it seemed its blankness was a desperate act of will. He was stiff beneath his loose robe, and the Kaiser-Fleischer rings around his irises only accentuated his thousand-yard stare.

"Hello, Fiver," said House uncertainly. "How are you?"

Fiver turned his whole body around and looked at House with a slight curiosity and appraisal.

"He doesn't speak English," said Handle. "Unless you know our creole of French vocabulary with African grammar, you're out of luck."

House tried to make gestures that signified kindness and welcome. Fiver looked on.

Handle said something to Fiver in the other language of which House could only catch the word "ZCMI".

He turned to House. "I hope you'll make yourself comfortable here in my absence. We just have to run some errands. Just sit tight and have a good rest. You'll need all your strength tomorrow."

So those retainers lived on in joy
Happy all, till this one spirit,
Hell in his mind, his malice began.
- Beowulf, 99-101

The doctor sighed as she sat down on the floor in the empty apothecary, looking around at the homey stains that covered the stylized wood paneling on the lower half of the walls. Someone had spent a great portion of their life making this a place of medicine and profit, and the Saloon had taken it all away. What a noble way to end, she thought.

And she tried to get to sleep on the cold, hard floor, but she failed because all the dust bunnies that had accrued underneath the queen-size four-poster bed next to her kept triggering her hay fever.

And as she stood up, intending to find some sort of broom, she felt a mosquito on her arm, and shooed it away.

But the mosquito kept buzzing around, and kept coming back, like her thoughts of what Leslie would say about what she was doing in that town.

"You're not going to help anyone by being here, you know," said the imaginary Leslie.

"Of course I am," the Doctor argued. "I'm going to stop the Saloon's lies. I'm going to promote a philosophy of honest medicine."

"The Saloon doesn't appear to be lying, though," said Leslie. "Getting their help is a crapshoot, but Eel claims they cured him of rotting. That chemist claims he's been driven out of business by their work. Snake-oil salesman don't have such a success rate."

"And yet people lose their lives over it," countered the Doctor.

"Ah," said Leslie. "So it's the martyrdom factor that you find appealing."

"I don't want to lose my life. I'm just not afraid of it."

"But what exactly is the plan?" asked Leslie. "These people are quite accustomed to murdering. If you lose, they kill you. If you win, you're no better off than before since you don't have a terminal illness, and if you expose them, they'll kill you and squash your story. There's no good outcome for you, and by playing, you're taking away valuable spots from other people who want a chance to be cured."

"But they shouldn't want those spots!" said the Doctor, pounding her fist on the table astonishingly close to the mosquito. "They should trust modern medicine."

"Yet when modern medicine can't cure their ills…"

"Then they should die."

The Doctor stopped, realizing the enormity of what she had just said.

"Come home, Doctor. You'll only destroy yourself if you continue in this state of mind, and I don't want to see any innocents taken down with you."

So the carle that is young, by kindnesses rendered
The friends of his father, with fees in abundance
Must be able to earn that when age approacheth
Eager companions aid him requitingly,
When war assaults him serve him as liegemen:
By praise-worthy actions must honor be got
’Mong all of the races.
-Beowulf, 20-26

Handle's children were perched over House as he opened his eyes that morning, dark circles under their eyes except for Fiver, who, if anything, looked healthier than the previous night. His stiff mask of a face didn't seem any less miserable, however.

"It's that they hardly ever see a black man carry himself with your degree of confidence," said Handle, when House asked him about it over breakfast.

"I'm not black, I'm brown," said House. It was a sore point.

"In your own tongue, you are, preacher," said Handle. "But the oppression that forged our creole left us with only two colors of people. The neg common folk who speak our tongue, and the blan who speak French. The blan, a minority whose language is the language of education, of business, and of advancement."

"And into which category does your son Fiver fit?"

"Neither, I'm afraid," said Handle, looking not in the least put out about it in spite of his words. "Dreadfully lonely boy. Nobody identifies him as part of their group."

Fiver looked on as the two talked about him, his face as desperately rigid as ever.

"Then you're part of my group, Fiver," said House. He extended his hand to Fiver's right arm, which was stretched out in front of him as though holding a lantern. Fiver recoiled from House's touch, hopping backwards, and House cursed his own misunderstanding of boundaries.

How could he show someone he shared no language with that he cared about and accepted him?

He got an idea.

"Come here, Fiver," House motioned. "I've got a gift for you."

He reached into his satchel and rifled through his sermon notes and doctored card decks. Finally he pulled out a large paper sheet with a lithographed and typeset print and scribbled on the front.

"Here you are, Fiver," House presented it to him. "It's not often you come across a signed, autographed wanted poster."

Fiver stared at the spinach in the crumpled, torn, water-damaged lithograph House's teeth.

"Take good care of it, now," said House. "Keep it pristine. After today, a House poster with a bounty this low is going to be in very short supply amongst collectors."

Fiver took the poster, made brief eye contact with House, nodded, and hopped out of the house, all the time keeping his arms straight out in front of him.

"He likes you," said Septimus to House in the Creole tongue. "I'm a bit jealous."

"I haven't seen him so emotional in months," said Forbes in the same language, getting up from the table. "I need to go see that he doesn't-"

"Oh, let the man go," said Handle, still in Creole, still quite affably. "Whatever he does, he can't possibly end up worse than he's been since his theft."

The two remaining sons flinched at that last word. House looked between the three family members, feeling suddenly alienated.

"Well, I'd best be leaving, sirs," said House at last, as nobody else offered to break the silence. "I go to risk my life to seek my fortune and the fortune of my flock, and have a hell of a good time doing it."

"Goodbye, Reuel Randolph House," said Handle in English. "I'll be seeing you again." He held up his unbroken shovel and grinned. "To help tuck you in to your long-term dirt nap."

She hadn't slept that night, nor drank from the town-square well that morning. Her eyeballs throbbed in her skull as she approached the saloon. An albatross flew overhead, blown far from the whale-roads by a great storm.

And the entrance to Arcadia loomed, a vast toothy fish-maw beneath a roof structure resembling an inverted fishing ship. Tanks of live shrimp and lobsters girded the circumference, the expenditure to ship them here colossal. And everywhere, the snail-venomed purple ink advertised the name of the Saloon in repetition gaudy enough to give Ludvig II of Bavaria pause.




Et In Arcadia Ego

Soon it fucking will be, Thought the Doctor, gritting her teeth. She stooped as though against a great wind and pushed forward into the dark curtain.

And the veil parted before her and swallowed her up, and the rest, from outside, was silence.

No sooner had she stepped inside than she had fallen into three fathoms of turbulent murk. She flailed about, trying to get her bearings, when her hand encountered a crook. She grasped it, and it pulled her up onto

A rustic-looking raft filled with the baying of sheep, and their shepherds, one of whom had pulled her up onto it

A shepherd who stared at her through his butterfly mask for a moment, making sure she was all right, and then went back to trading wanted posters.

She breathed.

The look in his eyes was instantly recognizable to a kindred self-destructive spirit


She recognized that look in his eyes: the eyes she had seen in so many of her patients, the ones who felt no relief except by causing themselves pain.

"Thank you," she said.

He turned and bowed to her, and then returned to silently negotiating an autographed spinach-toothed poster for two copies of another shepherd's foil Jesse James.

The shepherds who rowed the raft resumed their conversation with the old one-eyed man the Doctor had not noticed previously. "And then she saw me passed out on the edge of the spring," the man was saying, "And she took me into her house, and cleaned my wounds, and washed my clothes. But for all that, she refused to love me; and therefore I know her to be the cruelest, coldest madwoman on that side of the Atlantic."

"Yes, of course," said the panther-masked shepherd, "All will agree, a woman who took the actions you described is indeed cruel."

The Doctor took the shepherd by the shoulder and spun him to face her. "What the hell is wrong with you?" she hissed.

"Nothing at all, miss," whispered the shepherd back to her. "He's a customer. We want our customers' beliefs unchallenged."

"And for the sake of that you're just going to let slide a double standard so cruel it would give Caligula pause?"

"Double standards are the only way there's ever going to be heaven on earth."

This statement startled her enough that the panther-masked shepherd was able to direct another shepherd to take his place speaking to the old man before the Doctor was able to recover enough composure to reply.

"But double standards cause so much suffering!"

"Only to the people they're wielded against."

A pause.

"Thus they are better than single standards, which are wielded against everyone."

He gestured around the lake. "Pick any two humans and their vision of heaven will be different. Some people," and he gestured to the old man, "Apparently desire a world where they could sleep with anybody, and where everyone who they ask would say yes. Another might desire a world where they wouldn't have to sleep with anybody. If both go to the same heaven, will they both be satisfied?"

"Assuming the first person gets in to heaven, which I rather doubt, and assuming people want the same things in heaven as they do on earth, then no."

"So you see the problem. People on earth interact with each other, without sharing a fundamental picture of how they should get along. Logic only gets us a compromise framework that now exists, and forces us to exist, solely for its own self-perpetuation.

"But double standards are to emotion what single standards are to logic.

"Is death an evil? Only when you feel empathy for the dead person. We feel worse about the peaceful death of a beloved relative than of a foreign massacre of faceless thousands.

"Humanity is built of double standards. And everyone has at least one in common with another person.

"Do you know the key to getting two randomly selected people to truly be at peace with each other?" The Doctor shook her head. "You strip from them everything except that which keeps them on the same side of their few mutually held double standards.

"It's how literary friendships have formed since time immemorial. Authors strip themselves of all but their words, and if their words keep sufficiently far away from controversy, they may never know their opposition to their dear friend. A vile misogynist may befriend a woman; a racist, a black man; a Protestant, a Catholic.

"It's what the Saloon is named for.

"The literary setting of Arcadia is an emotional safe space thought up by ancient intellectuals, a land where all are shepherds, all are equal, and all are humble. People are self-sufficient, and only interact with others to sing the day away and play games, which, in spite of the rustic life of shepherds, come endowed with ornate prizes."1

"But of course," he continued, "I wouldn't know anything about that. I'm just a simple shepherd."

The raft rammed into a pontoon, alarming the sheep, and the butterfly-masked shepherd set about calming them down. He wasn't very successful.

"This is your stop, miss," said the panther-masked shepherd. "Et in Arcadia tu es, nunc." You, too, are in Arcadia, now.

Far behind her, House stepped through the curtain and fell into the water, but there were no rafts in the vicinity, so he began to swim instead, cursing the whole way.

Here came a visitor to Congregation 666, heedless of the quarantine signs.

Meri didn't see it approaching at her place at the pulpit. "We are all heir to the covenant God made with Abraham," she was saying, "Who made his offspring more numerous than the stars-"

At which point the visitor raised a desiccated hand, and Meri's bandages tightened about her to a state of near-strangulation, and she collapsed on the stage.

"Yet," rasped the visitor from the shadows, "By the recently revealed Book of Abraham, the patriarch knew that there was one planet or star that was closest to God, and that therefore governed all the rest."

As the visitor spoke, buckshot rained from its head.

"I seek your governing star," parched the visitor, and the congregation caught a glimpse of its pale mask with stylized goatee and moustache, creases at the edge of the eyes. It held a paper at the end of a very short arm, with the face of House and his bounty. "Where is he?"

The visitor left the congregation with minimal bloodshed.

And it limped at far greater speed than a locomotive.

Outside of Kepler, the ex-Danites waited.

Their binoculars lensed not with glass, but with rocks. Seeing stones, as Joseph Smith had used before them.

The LDS leadership proper had never approved this mission.

But that was all right.

They would kill two birds with one stone:

To eliminate the cursed Saloon that claimed their territory,

And to show their leaders the folly of keeping around such a volatile relic as Guy.

The butterfly-masked shepherd had followed the Doctor off of the raft. He had not yet spoken, even to the abhorrent guest; the Doctor felt able therefore to project some of her own feelings onto him as a blank slate. Certainly the look of self-destructiveness they had shared had nothing to do with the slight feeling that he could be an ally…

But she remembered that look all too well also in the eyes of her enemy the plague-spreader, and she shivered.

She carried the memory of that young Native American like an albatross around her neck. In sparing him, she had doomed ever-increasing hundreds.

And she would be damned if this mere Saloon would have a better track record than her.

The man behind the bar, shaped as it was like a copse of plane trees, looked like a wolf. His hair was greasy and his skin vaguely jaundiced, his fingers arthritic and stiff. His lapels were golden, his cufflinks silver, and his shirt-buttons aluminium. Between his lips he chewed a cigar, exhaling purple smoke. His nameplate proclaimed him Daniel Dunn. He was watching over the whole of the saloon as he sat there, absent-mindedly torturing a snail.

"Good day, madam," said Dunn. "The Arcadia Saloon cures all."

"How?" asked the Doctor.

"Does it matter to you, as long as the cure is effective?"

"It damn well does," said the Doctor, "As I am a doctor by trade. We could share your methods with the medical world- with a hefty percentage of the cut for you, of course- and thereby we could together end this rotting plague."

And she braced for the rejection. She braced for the bouncers to come, for her token peaceful attempt to fail.

" So you're here to help, are you?" He looked into her eyes, and for the first time she noticed his sclera had turned a decadent purple.

"I'm here to help the world at large-"

" So am I," he said. " Work with me, Doctor."

"What?" asked the doctor, caught off guard.

" Work with my Saloon," he said. " We need people with your training, doctor. Work with us, and we can perfect our cure. Work with us, and our customers can stop betting their lives. Make our cure mass-producible, and the world will be free of pestilence."

Destroy. Destroy. Destroy.

The Doctor was circumscribed to a single path by her guilt. Since she failed to catch the neck-snapper, she had begun a dark spiral into her own self-destruction.

The hope that Dunn's words offered made her all the more want to blot this foul place from the earth. Hope is the bait of quacks and snake-oil salesmen. Hope is anathema to the scientific method.

Hope is what she could never have again.

She looked away and caught a glimpse of the butterfly-masked shepherd. In the purple fire-glow she saw dense scar-tissue hiding in his robe-sleeves. And she thought of her own nights trying to feel the sweet, sweet pain of knives.

The butterfly man was far too young and far too cute to have gone through all the trauma she had. Was there a pain on earth that equaled hers?

It was a very emotionally private era. Nobody discussed these things. All were alone.

But maybe,

just maybe,

she could find a kindred spirit here.

Maybe she could finally open up to someone.

Daniel Dunn watched the eyes behind the mask turn from fury to sadness to quiet acceptance over a long, long couple of minutes. He smiled a big, toothy grin.

"Where do I start?" asked the Doctor.

"Work a while on the card tables with Fiver." He pointed to the butterfly-masked man.

"But that has nothing to do with-"

"You want to help reduce the deaths? You need to see them happening. You need to understand," he exhaled his cigar's purple smoke, "The deals we make here."

He poked the snail for emphasis. It squirmed and released its mucous.

For a person who claims to have the world's best interest at heart, thought the Doctor, He sure isn't making an effort at hiding his animal cruelty.

Had she made the right decision?

Well, given that her dip into the water had rendered her gunpowder useless…

"Perfect," she growled. "Show me to the tables, Fiver."

Better to bide her time, then.

This place couldn't hurt her.

She'd lost her soul long ago.

Fiver regarded her there, stiffly. His face was a mask beneath the mask, his arms outstretched before him.

"Fiver, was it?" said the Doctor, as she went to shake his hand. He didn't take it. He didn't even make eye contact.

"I'm-" she grasped for a pseudonym- "Berta Artz."

His motions were too stiff to tell, but she thought there was a tremor in his hop as he heard the lie. Somewhere beneath her prosthesis, she blushed.

He hopped back onto the nearest boat. The leap was mighty, his quadriceps bulging, as he sailed over ten feet of water. He fell flat on his back almost immediately, to the cackles of all but one inhabitant of the boat.

Already soaked and prepared now for the water, the Doctor swam up to the boat and climbed aboard. She helped the butterfly-masked man stand up.

"I'm a doctor," she whispered, "And hopping everywhere isn't healthy. Maybe you need a cane, and some better shoes? I may need to examine you later."

He remained silent. Perhaps he didn't understand the language.

"Ah, Fiver!" said a voice, startling Fiver, who fell again. They both looked and saw a dark-skinned man with a nice haircut and in a very nice, yet soaking wet suit. He looked familiar to the Doctor, though she couldn't quite place his face. "I didn't know you worked here."

Fiver turned away from the man in embarrassment.

"You know him?" said the Doctor.

"Yeah, I stayed at his home last night," said the man.

The hypocritical old man from earlier growled, "A huge conflict of interest here, if the gambler knows the house."

The dark-skinned man chuckled.

"I suggest," said the old man, "That Fiver should not play against this man. Maybe you should play him, lady."

"A very good suggestion," said the tall, bald black man at the head of the table. He tipped his hat to the Doctor. "My name's Handel Gemini, miss, and I'll be your boss as long as you're working with my son."

The dark-skinned man in the nice suit slapped himself in the face.

"So what will be the game, House?" asked Handel. "Roulette, poker, blackjack?"