Part One: The Heat
Three weeks after the incidents of Keeping the Peace, on an extremely hot and dusty morning, a Southern Gentleman by the name of Atticus Huxtable finds his way to Haskin’s bar. He’s looking for someone: a travelling companion he knows as “Wild” Anne Munny – Legend Of The West, who doesn’t always live up to her self-given epithet but seems to know how to find trouble.
Atticus lost sight of her about three weeks ago – she disappeared from an otherwise unremarkable night of drinkin’ and tall-tale-tellin’. His search was proving futile until he overheard a travelling band of hunters discussing a strange incident involving a female lawman jumping out of a travelling goods cart – of all things – right into the middle of a savage gunfight in some no-name rest stop atween Sacremento and Virgina City. He’s been looking for the place since.
He finds his answer in Haskin’s saloon – the barman Jesse Norton new very well a woman who fit Anne’s description, as he’d been helping his boss Emmett Haskin take care of her since an ‘incident’ a few weeks ago.
Emmett Haskin, deeds interrupted by Atticus’ knock, opens the other guest room door from the inside. Initially suspicious and territorial, he reluctantly invites Atticus in when the gentleman’s queries are answered by the room’s occupant: Wild Anne.
Anne isn’t quite as Atticus remembers. Her usually commendable looks have been spoiled by bruising and swelling of the face, and without much of an inspection he determines she’s received a gunshot wound to her right thigh. She’s also suffering internally – some kind of delirium and fever afflicts her. She’s alive and conscious, though, so that’s something.
Haskin explains his version of events, claiming to have rescued Anne from the thick of the fight when things kicked off between the Obannan’s and Moreau’s men. Her sudden arrival out of the supply wagon was immediately followed by an unloading of six-shooters in all directions, leaving two of Obannon’s boys injured but, against the odds, the Casino thugs entirely unharmed. Anne, Haskin explains, was hit in the crossfire, and he and his man Jesse brought her in here.
Their conversation is interrupted when Polly draws the men’s attention to Anne’s apparently deteriorating form. Without a pause, Atticus begins the process of lifting her with the intent of taking her for proper medical assistance, and Haskin’s attitude changes abruptly from trying to keep her in place, and he moves to assist.
On the way down the stairs, Haskin addresses the bar. “This,” he announces, “is the consequence of lawlessness running rife,” gesturing to Anne’s ghoulish form. “This woman arrived in town offering us another way – a structure and a peace we sorely need – and yet within moments was reduced to this thin record of damage you see before you.”
He goes on in this vein for some time, cursing the poor behaviour of Obannan’s men and the Casino employees. Before long, Red Horse stands from where he was drinking, shakes his head and puts out a cigarette. “This ain’t our fault, or our cause,” he said. “You should know better, Haskin.”
Oblivious to interruption, Haskin talks on, focused on the concept of casting this sickly stranger in the light of some kind of “Providential law-bringer” who has been “smothered by the dark elements”. His regulars weren’t unused to these kind of speeches but the godly tone caused more than a few raised eyebrows.
Meanwhile, outside the General Store, a tense scene is unfolding. A number of locals and travellers alike have formed what’s fast becoming an angry mob which Wallace Hubbard is attempting to calm. The people are hungry – Wallace’s prices have skyrocketed due to a scarcity of food, apparently brought on by three weeks of unbroken high temperatures. Local homesteaders haven’t yet the experience or the reserves to weather the weather, and a general increase in population combined with a slowing of deliveries has left the General Store bare.
In the middle of this stands Lewys Euripedes, a travelling salesman, who upon arrival immediately made two great sales of his remaining travel supplies at oddly high prices. Amidst the crowd, he’s becoming aware that parting with his last strips of jerky may not have been his smartest move.
Standing near Wallace is the narrow figure of Mr Foley, a relative newcomer who arrived in the employ of Alicia Moreau, ostensibly to manager the floor of Hoyle’s Hotel and Casino, but who is presently engaged in attempting to smooth-out the reputation of the establishment following the shootout.
Having grown impatient with Haskin’s grandstanding, Atticus has arrived in the street with Anne on his arm, looking through the haze for a Doctor. He moves towards the crowd, who seem far too focused on their empty stomachs to much notice the presence of these strangers. A first attempt to locate the Doctor comes to nothing as he chooses to address Euripedes, who’s barely found his own feet. Before long, Mr Foley notices the situation and escorts Atticus swiftly to the Barber’s.
Inside, the imposing figure of Rufus Mattox performs a swift diagnosis – not before removing an unconscious and emaciated boy from his operating table. Inflicting a razor wound on Anne’s arm, his answer flows as quickly as the blood from the cut: she’s suffering an iron deficiency. As is half the town, it would seem. He provides her with a small pick-me-up which seems to rouse her – her mild delirium seems to be fading, at least – and the men return to the street under his steely gaze. Mr Foley makes a point of dropping a few dollars into his palm as he leaves.
Back in the street, things are getting serious – as the time approaches noon, more gaunt faces can be seen. Children sit all too quietly on nearby porches and the crowds temper seems muted only by their lack of energy. “There is no food,” repeats Wallace, endlessly, to deaf ears.
Part Two: The Meat