Episode 11: Moonrise | Scryer's Gulch
In Mamzelle's boudoir, the madam and the cat were still embroiled in their murderous heart-to-heart. "But I do not understand, chéri," she said. "Why would you not wish me to keel your master?"
"Two reasons," Misi answered loftily. "For one, I can't reciprocate. You'd have to maneuver your master into a situation where he became a direct threat to my master."
Mamzelle laughed. "You underestimate me."
"Oh, I doubt that. But for me the more important reason is the second. If anyone kills my master, it's going to be me," he growled. "I've been plotting it for eight years, and no one is going to deny me that pleasure."
"Only tell me who 'e is," she coaxed. "I weel take care of ze rest."
"In time, sweetheart, in time."
A loud voice sounded from down the hallway outside Mamzelle's boudoir. "That hanging tomorrow's gonna have the men riled up!" Bonham's voice floated in. "Be sure you got enough whiskey watered down in advance, and hire on some new muscle if you think it necessary. And shine up the brasswork! I want this place looking fine!"
""E's coming," said Mamzelle, dumping Misi unceremoniously off her lap and pressing a long-fingered hand to her throat. He fingernails shrank to human size, and her eyes changed from ruby to brown. "Sorry to say, 'e hate cats. You'd best go, chéri. Quickly, quickly! 'Ere 'e is!"
Misi bounded out the balcony door, Mamzelle herding him along with her skirts. She watched the little black form flicker over the rooftops toward the Bonham mansion. Was that where his master lived? She would discover him, and when she killed him, Misi would be free to kill Jed Bonham, and everyone else in Scryer's Gulch--even the Sheriff. The flames flickered in her mind's eye.
Her thoughts were so filled with her dreams of destruction that Jed's actual entrance caught her by surprise; she turned, in a tangle of white chiffon, at the sound of the door.
"You look guilty, darling," said Bonham in a dark, silky voice. "What are you looking at?" He strode to her side and surveyed the scene.
"Nossing!" she said, putting on a smile. "Nossing at all!"
"Mamzelle, I know when you're lying to me," he said, returning the smile.
You have no idea when I'm lying to you, you stupid bastard, she thought.
"I order you to tell me," he commanded.
"I was looking at un chat, a cat who stopped by my balcony," she replied.
"That's all. I told you it was nossing."
"Hmf," he said, sitting down on the chaise lounge. He put his feet up. "Why were you so reluctant to tell me, then?"
Mamzelle gave a faux-Gallic shrug. "You hate cats."
"I surely do. Don't encourage it. I order you not to feed it. Change your hair and come rub my feet."
"As you wish," she said. She shook her hair out into the golden wheat color he preferred, and which, consequently, she'd come to hate. It won't be long until I find out who Misi's master is, she thought as she rubbed his gnarly feet. And then, you will die, Jed Bonham, as prolonged and as painfully as I can manage.
When Annabelle returned from the schoolhouse to the Hopewell, she went straight to her room, took off her dress and lay down in the cool of her bedroom. The noise of that schoolroom! I may not survive this assignment, she thought just before she drowsed off.
Misi scratching at the bedroom window woke her. She slipped into a wrapper and let him in, closing the curtains behind him. "You're in something more comfortable," he complained.
"Oh, all right, go ahead," she said.
He gave a quick hop and landed on two feet instead of four. "Boy, what a day," he groaned, unfolding his arms and wiggling his fingers before settling himself in the room's only chair.
"You're telling me," said Annie, sitting back down on the bed. "What happened to you?"
Misi quickly recounted his conversation with Mamzelle, leaving out the part where Mamzelle offered to kill her; if anyone's killing her, it's me, he told himself. "And I left the Palace in the opposite direction, to throw her off."
"I wonder if the Sheriff knows she's the one who's been killing the greenhorns. She wants you to kill Bonham for her?"
"Oh yeah," said Misi. "She wants everyone here dead."
"Can't say as I blame her," mused Annabelle. "I haven't used you that badly, have I, Misi?"
Annabelle laughed. "I'll be more careful, then. Has she made me yet?"
"Nope, but not for lack of trying. I don't know how much time we've got before she does, Annie, and then we're in trouble."
"Hm. Were you able to find out anything about the contamination?"
Misi shook his furry head. "I'm leading up to it. I thought it'd be a little too suspicious to just come right out with the questions."
"Good thinking, kitty." Annie realized she was hungry and consulted her brooch on the bedside table. "Ralph must have dinner going by now. I'm off. You can stay in that form, but you have to stay in here if you do. And if anyone even sounds like they're coming in, you are to change back into a cat. Understood?"
"Yes'm," grumbled Misi.
Downstairs, Julian Hopewell met her in the doorway of the dining room. "Miss Duniway, have you heard? Looks like they caught the little ruffian who defaced your schoolhouse."
"Oh?" said Annabelle, startled. "Who is it?"
"Georgie Prake," said the hotel owner, rocking on his heels. "Coulda said the boy would end up in the jailhouse. Tied my shoelaces together once, the brat," he added under his breath.
"The jailhouse? Surely Sheriff Runnels didn't put him in jail?"
"He surely did, miss. He's in there right now!"
"Oh, dear!" she exclaimed.
Georgie didn't do it, she was positive. The boy was full of beans, but he wasn't destructive, and he seemed to like school. No. More and more, she thought it was Jamie.
She'd sensed adulterated ore on him. The Treasury's encoders were hazy on what that hidden spell would ultimately do, but one thing they would tell her: unless the person carrying it was the encoder, it might make him do things he mightn't do otherwise--and not remember it.
She ate a hasty dinner of chicken and dumplings. She usually commented when the food was good, and Ralph had outdone himself that night--but she said nothing to him as she hurried out the door. His dejected face brightened, though, when he saw that Miss Duniway had practically licked the plate clean. Too bad she'd run toward the jail when he had a second helping saved for her and everything. He supposed he'd have to eat it himself.
Dusk darkened the town; the full moon would be up soon, thought Annabelle as she strode across the still-crowded street. Mamzelle might venture out tonight. It was tempting to go after the demon herself, but she couldn't risk it; maybe Misi could distract the madam from her hunt. She opened the door to the jail, its bell jangling.
John and Rabbit turned at the sound; Rabbit let out a dismayed sigh, but they both stood. "Miss Duniway, to what do we owe the pleasure at this hour of the evening?" said John.
"Good evening, Sheriff. I was looking in on Georgie, I heard you had him locked up in here."
"We sent him home hours ago with a good scare. It's not very wise for a lady to be out in this town after dark. Perhaps I should see you home."
"I thank you for your concern, but it's unnecessary," she said.
"In truth, Miss Duniway, we're closing for the night," said Rabbit, his voice shaking.
"Closing," declared John, moving to shoo her out the door.
Just at that moment, the moon decided to slip over the horizon, its pale rays glinting silver on the river and ashen on the dusty streets and buildings. Rabbit gave a despairing cry. "It's too late, Johnny, don't open the door! Oh, miss, I'm sorry you have to see this!"