Episode 17: Evidence | Scryer's Gulch
"You look happy this morning," said Jed from the depths of a big tufted leather chair.
Mamzelle returned to her boudoir from the balcony. "I am always 'appy at the full moon," she said, settling on her chaise.
"Don't sit down. Bring me my coffee."
She narrowed her eyes to slits, but got up and poured him a cup. "I wonder, 'ow badly this would sting eef I threw it in your face?" she said.
"Go ahead. Then you'd find out how it feels to lose an eye."
"Eet's a rrrhetorical question. I can't hurt you anyway."
"Just remember that," he smiled over the cup's rim.
"I will, even as I eat your liver while you scream for mercy. That is not rrrhetorical."
Jed chuckled. "Keep dreaming, Mamzelle. It's good for the soul, or would be if you had one. So," he said after a long pull at the coffee, "good hunting last night?"
"Eh. 'E was big and clumsy. A good fight at the end, one supposes, but a bear would 'ave been better."
Jed took his coffee to the balcony door, far enough out that he could see the street, but not be seen; everyone knew he owned the Palace, but he didn't like to advertise it. "You were discreet?"
"Discretion of the most thorough."
"Then explain the little procession down there."
Mamzelle pushed past him onto the balcony, and looked down into the street. The undertaker and his morose Mexican assistant were trudging toward the funeral home, a stretcher slung between them; blood stained the sheet covering whatever-it-was, though she knew very well what it was. She shrugged. "I 'ad to leave him somewhere."
"You're sure no one saw you?"
"It would be easier to make sure eef you let me change shape."
"Ah-ah, my dear, you won't get me to slip up that way." He walked back inside. "Just remember. If you get caught, it won't be me who gets put down."
"It will be both of us, monsieur, je vous assure."
Jed waved a hand. "I order you to hide the body next time."
"Very well," she said, bowing her head and smiling to herself.
"And you're speaking too much French. I don't understand French. I just like you sounding French."
"As you weesh."
"And another thing." Jed sat back down on the leather chair, and pointed down. "Here, at my feet. Charity tells me you were impolite to her yesterday."
Mamzelle sank to the floor before him, sullen and graceful. "Moi? 'Ow could I be impolite to someone 'oo is not supposed to notice I exist?"
"Charity's temper matches her hair. She acts before she thinks, and I figure she looked over here on an impulse."
"I care not at all."
"Oh, I know what you won't care for," said Jed, "and that's my putting Charity in charge of you for a few hours, to do whatever she wants you to."
"What could she to do me?" sniffed Mamzelle.
"She'll think of something. Now go find the bourbon. This coffee needs a little help."
Annabelle passed the undertakers on the street; as a schoolteacher, she'd hardly be expected to take a sight such as that in her stride, and she didn't, the memory of the night before still fresh in her mind. Had whoever--or whatever--killed that man have done it under the influence of tainted ore? She had to believe it was possible. She glanced over at the jail. The temptation to tell John Runnels what was going on pushed hard against her resolve. Didn't he deserve to know? It had affected his own son, after all, and who knew how much of it might be here in town, waiting to cause more trouble.
Jamie watched her anxiously all day in class, and more than once she caught him surreptitiously searching the floor under his desk. He even offered to stay after to sweep, but she sent him home, dejected.
On her way back to the Hopewell, Annabelle spied Mayor Prake coming from the ethergraph office. Time to reassure him about Georgie; she hurried down the boardwalk to intercept him. "Miss Duniway," said Prake, taking his hat off to reveal his balding head. "And how are you? Let me reiterate once again how very sorry I am about Georgie--"
"Sir, at the risk of being rude, please, let me stop you. Georgie didn't do it. Please send him back to school."
"I'm sorry, Miss Duniway," said Prake--and he seemed genuinely sorry. "But how could you know this? Sheriff Runnels is fairly convinced, and the evidence against my son is strong. Do you have evidence against anyone else?"
"No," she said after a pause--at least none she might share, she added to herself. "Not firm evidence, no. But if I can convince Sheriff Runnels that it's so, would you believe him?"
"Oh, certainly! I don't see why you wouldn't be able to convince me, though, as easily as him?"
Annabelle shook her head. "I'm afraid it's a delicate thing. I wouldn't wish to say anything to anyone else right now. But please, please do believe, Mr Prake, that your son did not do this. Please, send him back to school."
Mayor Prake studied her face, his own a sea of hope, shame, and disbelief. "Well, his mother and I will consider it, Miss Duniway. As you might imagine, this has been a source of great chagrin for our family."
"And all of it unnecessary, I assure you. Good day, Mr Mayor," she smiled.
"Good day, Miss Duniway," he replied, his eyes on her back the whole way back to the Hopewell.
Once in her rooms, Misi scratched at the window. "I heard all that," he said, leaping from the sill to the rug, and from there to the back of the settee. "Aren't you coming a bit close to giving us away?"
"I might not have any choice, kitty," she said as she took off her hat. She walked into her bedroom, put the hat back in its box, and the hatpins in their tray on her dresser. "There was a murder last night."
"I know," the reluctant cat replied.
"What have you heard, Misi? Tell me," she said, coming back into the room and joining him on the settee. "C'mere."
"Oh, Annie, don't scratch behind my ears, I can never resist--ah. Oh. Ah, that's the spot."
"Tell me or I'll stop, Misi."
"Oh, all right, all right! I'd have to tell you anyway." He paused, and cleaned his whiskers while he composed his thoughts. "I should have told you before," he said, "but I didn't want to squeal on one of my own...Oh, dammit, I knew you'd stop if I said!"
Annabelle gaped at him. "Are you telling me Mamzelle is killing people--that she killed that man?"
"A greenhorn every full moon," said Misi, "so, probably."
"You should have told me immediately!" she cried, shaking him by the scruff until he squeaked. "What else did she say I should know about?"
"Nothing very serious!"
"Misi, I order you to tell me everything!"
The cat cringed, then poured out the rest of the story: the plot to kill one another's masters, how he'd finagled his way out of it, the full moon killings, and Mamzelle's hinting at a wolfman in the vicinity. "That's all, I swear by the Dark One's Wings!"
"Two werethings in one place would be unusual," mused Annabelle. "But this isn't any place, this is an enormous hermetauxite deposit." She rubbed her temples. "I cannot believe Bonham would let a demon run around without a strict prohibition on the killing of humans. He's either a fool, or...Misi, the next time you see her, prowl around, see if you can get any hints about the tainted ore from her. We may have another suspect."