Episode 27: No Offense Intended | Scryer's Gulch
"I suppose we'd better sit down if I'm going to tell you why I'm really here," said Annabelle, taking the chair in front of John's desk. "Where do you want me to start?"
John kept his seat on the corner of his desk, bracing himself on the desk edge with both hands. "Well, we've squared away your fatherless childhood."
Motherless, too, if it matters, she said to herself; aloud, she said, "I was thinking of a more recent beginning to my life, if it's all the same, though I'm expecting you won't believe me."
She straightened in her seat, raising her chin to a proud angle. "I'm a Treasury Agent." John's already intent gaze sharpened further, finally resolving into the incredulity she'd anticipated. "I said you wouldn't believe me."
"I'm not saying I don't," he answered.
"You don't have to."
John crossed his arms and stretched his legs out to the side of her chair to cross his ankles, boxing her in against the wall; on instinct, she calculated the best way out should she need to make a run for it. He tipped his chin down. "Have to admit it's an unusual occupation for a woman like you."
"Unusual doesn't mean impossible, Sheriff," she said. "Think about it. Who besides yourself would ever suspect a woman?"
"Brinkerton has female agents--"
"Yes, and how many? And what kind of women are they?"
"Not your kind of woman. That's my point."
Annabelle pushed the chair back; John drew his legs in and unfolded his arms as she stood up. "You haven't offended me. I'm just going to show you what kind of woman I am. Where can we do a little target practice that's out of the way?"
"It would not be wise for you and I to be seen heading into the hills together unchaparoned, Miss Duniway. And folks might hear the shots, decide to check them out. Not likely with all the gunfire around here, but likely you'd be concerned."
"You let me worry about that."
Simon Prake walked away from the jail as quickly as he could. Never, ever again would he let anyone--not the Sheriff, not his father, not anyone--read another's ethergrams. He picked his way along the muck of Main Street, trying to avoid getting too much mud on his shoes. Was there ever a time when he'd been that humiliated, that ashamed?
He looked ahead to the ethergraph office. Tony Bonham stood there, consulting his pocket watch. Simon felt his cheeks begin to burn. Ask and ye shall receive, sayeth the prophet, he said to himself. To Bonham he said, "Step aside, you're blocking the door."
"Are you always so polite to your customers?" said Bonham.
Simon rattled the key in the lock. "I'm always polite to customers. As far as I can tell, you're only loitering."
"Loitering? Oh no, I have business for you," smiled Tony, following Simon into the office. "I'd be on my best behavior were I you, Mr Prake."
Simon lifted the counter gate, stepped through and slammed it back down; he shed his coat and hung it on the coatrack behind him. "What do you want, Mr Bonham?"
Tony lounged against the counter and handed over a folded paper. "A 'gram to my brother Junior. He's in a bit of a fix. Again."
"I really don't care. One dollar."
"Put it on my father's tab."
"I thought you and your father were done sharing," muttered Simon as he began transcribing the message onto an ethergram slip.
Tony's eyes widened briefly, then narrowed. "Keep a civil tongue in your head, Prake," he said. Tony straightened, tugging his waistcoat down. "Speaking of tongues in heads, how is Mr Morton?"
Simon took care not to snap the nib holder in his hand and kept his eyes on his paper. "I wouldn't know."
"So sad when love ends."
"I can only imagine your grief on your stepmother's wedding day."
"The current Mrs Bonham is my father's problem," said Tony. "I wonder whose problem Mr Morton is." Tony reached across the counter and tapped Simon on the wrist, stilling his pen mid-dip in the inkwell. "It's a good thing for you, Mr Prake, that I intend to save that embarrassing little scene I stumbled upon for something more important than prompting respect for your betters."
Simon flicked Tony's finger away and resumed writing. "I'm plenty respectful of my betters, when I'm around them." He paused; unable to resist, he added, "And I've told you before, you saw nothing."
"Oh, I don't think your parents would call it nothing. I don't think the townfolk would call it nothing. I'm sure the New Valley Printing Ethergraph Company wouldn't call it nothing. And if Mr Morton heard you call your little affair 'nothing' he'd be wounded immeasurably."
"One dollar, Mr Bonham, and then you'll please to leave my office," said Simon in a thick, barely controlled voice.
Tony looked him up and down, smiled lazily, and slapped a silver dollar on the counter. The watch in his pocket chimed; he pulled it out and consulted the time. "I do hate to leave our conversation on such a sour note, but I must waste not the hour." He snapped the case shut. "Good day, Mr Prake."
Simon followed Tony to the door, slammed it shut, locked it, and flipped its sign to "Closed." He drew the shades, then walked back to the office, leaving the counter gate open. Once at his desk, he buried his head in his hands and wept.