Episode 10: A Jailbird | Scryer's Gulch
The door of Simon's ethergraph office banged open, and a breathless Georgie stampeded in. "Simon! Can I hide here?"
"What have you done now? Close the door, madcap!"
The door banged shut. "Nothin--well, they think I've done somethin, but I haven't, I swear I haven't!"
"Come into the back room," sighed Simon, getting up from his desk. "But you have to tell me what's going on. What's with the shirt?"
"Mama's mad at me because I got a stain on the stupid thing," said the solid boy, stumping behind his brother into the back of the office. "I wouldn't mind if she did dress me in calico like a miner, then I wouldn't have to worry so much about keepin my cuffs clean!"
"Let me see that."
"No!" he cried, snatching it behind himself. "I'm tellin ya, it's nothin!"
"It's a smudge of black paint, Georgie, I've seen it already." Simon crossed his arms. "You sure it's nothing?"
An echo of his name penetrated through the back wall of the office from the alley, and the anxious Georgie said, "Look, you gonna let me hide here or what?"
"Stay put, short pint," said Simon with a quelling look. Georgie sat down meekly on the floor next to Simon's workbench, and his brother returned to the front of the office to his work.
"Georgie!" called Mrs Prake through the back streets of town. "Georgie, you come back here! Sheriff Runnels wants to talk to you!"
John swallowed an exasperated breath, but now that she'd said it, he called, "Georgie! You're not in trouble, son, I just want to talk to you! That's all!"
Twenty minutes of fruitless searching, and the seekers returned to the mayor's house. Mrs Prake said, "Amelia, do you have any idea where he went?"
"No..." said Amelia, worrying her bottom lip.
Amelia tugged on the end of one fat brown braid. "I don't, but I bet Simon does."
On application, Simon said he knew exactly where Georgie was, and pulled him by the ear out of the back of the ethergraph office. "I figured I'd let him hide here until someone came looking for him. That way, I'd know where he was."
"Aw, you're a fink, Simon Prake!" said the outraged Georgie.
"And you're a rascal, Georgie Prake, who apparently has some explaining to do," replied his brother. "Where's that shirt of yours?"
"What shirt?" grumbled Georgie.
Simon disappeared into the back room and came out with the wadded-up shirt. "This one."
"I didn't mess up the schoolhouse, I swear I didn't!" blurted Georgie.
"No one said you did, son," frowned the Sheriff. "But now that you mention it, what can you tell me about it?"
"Georgie," gasped his mother. "You've gotten into some scrapes, but I never dreamed--oh, Sheriff, you don't really think he did it?"
"Well, now, I don't know. There're only so many people who'd want to scare off the schoolteacher, and the suspicion is they're all under five feet tall. You're a big boy, Georgie. Strong, like your Pa. Strong enough to pull off pickets, perhaps?"
Georgie blinked back tears. "I didn't do it! Please someone believe me, I didn't do it!"
Sheriff Runnels nodded slowly. "We're going to the jailhouse, Georgie."
"Surely that's not necessary, Sheriff!" said the boy's mother.
"Afraid so, Mrs Prake. If you'll accompany us?" The Sheriff took Georgie by the scruff and marched him out of the office, down the boardwalk to the jail, the boy snuffling and miserable and feeling every eye on him in undeserved condemnation.
When they came in, Jamie was sitting in the corner talking to thin air. He jumped up, put something in his pocket, and returned Georgie's indignant glare with one of his own. "What's goin on?" he said.
"In here, Georgie," said the Sheriff. He ushered his young prisoner into a cell and locked the door. "Mrs Prake, a word," he said, escorting the shocked woman outside. Once there, he said, "Now, ma'am, I'm just trying to frighten him a little. Georgie is a good boy, we both know that, but we can't have him tearing up the schoolyard just because he doesn't want to go to school."
"No, of course not," said Mrs Prake, dabbing her wet eyes. "But Sheriff--John! He wanted to go to school! He's been looking forward to it!"
Inside the jail, Jamie and Georgie stared at one another. "I'm not gonna fink on you, Jamie Runnels," Georgie finally said. "You're just a little kid, after all. But danged if this isn't somethin, lettin a friend down like this! Why doncha just fess up!"
"Because I didn't do it!" hissed Jamie.
"Where d'you think that paint smudge on my shirt came from?" Georgie hissed back. "You left the can of paint right outside your back door! I was a pal and moved it for you so no one would find out, you lummox!" They huffed at one another through the bars. "So you're just gonna let me take the blame, huh?" said Georgie.
"I'm not takin the blame for somethin I didn't do."
Georgie looked him over and curled his lip in contempt. "From now on, you're no friend of mine, Jamie Runnels. Until you act like a man and fess up, we're quits."
"That's fine with me!" shouted Jamie. He ran out of the jail, his eyes puffy with unshed tears.
Georgie sat fuming in his cell until he got up and kicked the bars at the mendacity of that coward of an eight-year-old. "You keep that up, yer gonna break that foot, son," cautioned the voice in the corner cell.
"What do you know, ya spook? You don't even have a foot!" said Georgie.
"Yer a brave 'un! Most folks jump a fair piece when I say somethin," said the ghost. "I tend to keep it buttoned, lest I skeer a body!"
"I ain't scareda you! Jamie told me all about you, you horsethief."
"Yep, that's what I wuz, but if gettin hung by the neck till yer dead don't change a feller's outlook on life, I tell ya, bein a jailhouse ghost surely does. I hear all manner'a things." The voice paused. "You really didn't do it, did ya, kid?"
"No, sir!" insisted Georgie, then added in suspicion, "What makes you think I didn't?"
"Like I said, livin in a jailhouse, you hear all manner'a things. I heared the guilty and the innocent, and after a time, ya learn to tell the diff'rence. I think yer not guilty, kid, but it ain't our Jamie, neither."
"Who coulda done it, then?"
"I ain't zactly in a position to investigate, son. No, I'm fair graveled on this'n," sighed the voice. "Well, now that we've argied that'un out, my name's Aloysius."
"I'm Georgie. Georgie Prake," said the boy grudgingly. "You really believe me?"
"I do, Georgie Prake, an I'll see if'n I cain't put a good word in." Georgie perked up. "Though no one listens to me much," added the ghost.
Georgie sunk his chin into his broad little chest. "Aw, heck. One person believes me, and him the ghost of a horsethief."