Episode 32: Hands All Around | Scryer's Gulch
In the hours after Miss Duniway's discovery of his perfidy, Simon suffered much and slept little. He longed for the chance to express the fullness of his regrets, but none came. It was left to him to make his own chance, and he took it the day after the horrible scene at the jail. He saw her on the street after school, threw on his coat, closed his office and hurried after her. "Miss Duniway!" he called, and she halted.
"Mr Prake, how can I be of assistance?" she replied, in tones warmer than he felt he deserved but cooler than he wished.
"I wonder if we might speak for a moment in my office? There are one or two things I wish to convey to you that I'd rather not say in the street."
Miss Duniway paused, and for a sickening moment Simon thought she might refuse. "Very well, Mr Prake, I have a short moment to give you, as long as it can be supposed I have business at your office," she added in a low tone. Simon gave her his humble thanks, and she followed him through his door and into his back office.
Once there, Simon poured out his deep shame and regret with such sincerity that Miss Duniway was obliged to not only forgive him but to beg him to forgive himself. "I know few people who could hold up to a strong demand from Sheriff Runnels. He was persistent, I take it?"
"Yes, very," nodded Simon, relieved to be understood. "I do assure you, Miss Duniway, that such a thing will never happen again as long as I live--with anyone's correspondence--no matter how the law might threaten me. I have been miserable since I undertook to deceive you. Please do not let distrust of me color your decision to use the New Valley Printing Ethergraph Company."
"If your office sees less of me, Mr Prake, please be assured it's from lack of funds rather than lack of trust," she laughed. "I have been told by my cousin to use the mail more and the ethergraph less, which suits me as well. I must learn economy!"
Thus forgiven, Simon shook her proffered hand and saw her from his office as relieved as he could be.
But not as relieved as Annabelle was. From the moment she entered Simon's back office to the moment she left, her detector bracelet tormented her so badly she almost couldn't keep still. Hard to believe that a young man as seemingly upright as Simon Prake might be involved in this hermetauxite business--whatever it is, she mused as she walked to the Hopewell.
As soon as she closed the door to her rooms behind her, she stripped the bracelet from her wrist and laid a cool cloth on the welts it had raised. "I think I'm done with that thing for now, Misi, unless I ever have to go to Simon Prake's back office again."
"Wow, kid, that looks like it hurts," said the cat.
Annabelle sighed. "I've had worse. I'm sad that it's looking more and more like young Mr Prake is our man. He strikes me as so kind, and so unlikely to be involved in any bad business, the ethergraph snooping notwithstanding. As to that, I suppose Mr Prake is no match for the Sheriff."
"Question is, are you?"
Annabelle was always amazed at how well he could smirk even in the form of a cat. She switched tacks. "How goes your surveillance of Mamzelle? Has she let anything slip about Bonham?"
"I haven't been that way in a couple days. She's way too curious as to who you are. If she finds out, Annie, she'll kill you next full moon."
"She'll try, you mean."
"You better watch it, missy," cautioned the demon cat. "She's older than I am. Much stronger. I wonder all the time how Bonham caught her. He doesn't strike me as that much of a wielder, but maybe I'm wrong."
"Hm. Might be worthwhile to find out before the full, find out what we're up against. Get on that, kitty."
He shook his thickly ruffed head. "If you make me, but I'm telling you, the less I see that gal right now, the better off we are."
"That's as may be, but I'd like to find out how close Bonham might be to the poisoned hermetauxite first. I can't believe Mr Prake would fall in with any scheme of a Bonham, but money and power make people do things they mightn't otherwise."
"What makes you so suspicious of Bonham? All the evidence points solidly at Simon Prake."
Annabelle flipped the damp cloth on her wrist to its cool side; the welts had blistered. Even were she determined to continue wearing the detector bracelet, she knew she couldn't put it back on now; it wouldn't close over the swelling. "I just cannot bring myself to believe that anything happens in this town without Jedediah Bonham having some hand in it, or at the least an ear."
Mr Bonham himself had been watching the street from Mamzelle's balcony, sipping his bourbon and surveying the town he believed to be his, if not in its entirety now, then soon. He often watched the street; he saw more than anyone, and more than anyone might suspect. He saw Annabelle Duniway sneaking around with the Sheriff. He saw an obviously overwrought Simon Prake buttonhole the Duniway woman and practically drag her into the ethergraph office--jealousy? Perhaps. And he saw the looks his son Tony gave the pretty blonde schoolteacher every time they passed on the street.
All of it made him wonder exactly how upright this lady might actually be, especially her little rendezvous with Runnels. If Tony was interested in her, perhaps he might prove to his son who was in charge in this town. If Tony wanted her, and she appeared to be open to suggestion, Jed thought he might want to stake his claim first. Perhaps it was time to invite her to dinner. A little party, of which Tony might make the fourth.
It'd also irk his shrewish wife, which tickled him more than a little. Making Cherry jealous always paid off in bed. Jedediah chuckled to himself, turned away from the balcony and called for Mamzelle. "Demon! Come rub my feet! I'm in an excellent mood! I won't even make you clean them with your tongue!"