Episode 36: Acceptances | Scryer's Gulch
"You gonna go?" said Rabbit, examining the ornate invitation to dinner at the Bonham house.
John shrugged and didn't look up from the shotgun he was cleaning, pieces laid out in precise positions on top of his jailhouse desk. "Haven't decided yet." Which wasn't at all true. He had decided the minute he got the invitation to accept it--anything involving Annabelle tugged at him with a power he chose to chalk up to her mission.
His brother squinted at him, and left off leaning against John's desk. "Uh-huh. I'm going home to eat some lunch, even if you're not. I'll tell Minnie to set aside a plate, but if you know what's good for you, you'll light along to the house and eat it hot. You're apt to get a wrathy look from Minnie to wash it down with otherwise." He paused at the jailhouse door. "And I'll tell Minnie to make sure your best suit is aired and brushed." He ducked out before John could protest.
"Hmf," John said to himself.
"If'n I got an invite like that, I'd shorely go," said Aloysius from the corner cell. "Free grub."
"Have to have a body to eat, spook."
"Don't need eyes to look at thet Bonham woman."
John sighted down his shotgun barrel. "Looking is all you want to do with that one."
"Thet's all I can do anyhow. But you, Sheriff John...wager you could do more'n look."
John loaded the newly-cleaned shotgun and snapped the boxlock shut. "I'll grant you she's fair to look upon--from a fair, fair distance."
"Distance ain't what she got in mind, the couple times I seen her in here."
"Man shouldn't take Charity Bonham seriously. She wants everyone dancing to her tune," said John as he hung the gun on its rack. He stopped, resting his hand against the shotgun's stock. "Let me revise that: every man."
"I kin dance," sniggered Aloysius.
"You're not a man."
"Hard to git used to," the ghost answered, subsiding into a gloomy silence.
John pulled on his hat and coat. "Hold down the fort, spook. I'm off to eat my lunch and avoid a skinning."
In reality, no one had anything so fierce as a skinning to fear from the gentle Mrs Smith, least of all him and Rabbit, but John knew she'd be disappointed if he didn't show. Her disappointment was worse than a skinning to the Runnels men, all three of them. She was old enough to still call lunch "dinner," and dinner "supper"; it was her big meal of the day, and she put all her considerable energy into it. He didn't fancy eating cold dinner for supper in any event. He had an appetite, too. He sat down to his ham steak, potatoes, boiled greens and thick slice of winter squash pie, and plenty of her good coffee, with a gusto that left Minnie smiling.
Thus sated, he strolled back to the jail in a happy mood. He would accept the invitation, surely, and spend an evening watching the candlelight shine off Annabelle's golden hair.
Misi licked his paw apprehensively. "But why the Palace?"
"I want to know what this dinner party's about, kitty," said Annabelle.
"Why do you think Mamzelle'd know?"
"I'd wager she knows more about Bonham than anyone else in the world."
"Mmrr," he growled reluctantly. "That's probably true. But still... She's not right in the head, even for a demon. I think Bonham broke something in there. It's not safe for me to be around her. She's going to track me back to you sooner than later, and I shudder to think what'll happen then."
She scratched him at the base of his tail. "You don't think I can handle a demon?"
Maybe me, he thought as he arched his back in bliss, but not her. "What's got you so suspicious, anyway?"
"Charity Bonham cannot stand the sight of me, and here I'm invited to dinner." She rose from her perch on the side of the bed, opened the wardrobe, and stared pensively. "With nothing to wear."
"You've got a dozen dresses you could wear! What about the French-gray silk? Or the lilac--you always looked a treat in that one."
"Back in my closet in Washington, with all the rest of my good dresses. I've been on undercover assignment for nearly two years, the Mother knows if they'll still be in fashion when I get home. What if hoops come back? I'll have to buy new everything." She brightened. "Then again, I'll have to buy new everything! Oh, well. My black faille must do. Pretty enough, I suppose," she said, pinching its skirt and lifting it towards her, "but a bit dowdy. As it should be for a schoolteacher." She opened the window and shooed at him. "Now, off to see Mamzelle--skedaddle, puss."
Misi struggled briefly with yet another objection, then sighed in defeat. He stepped across the sill onto the roof, and walked as slowly and circuitously toward the Palace as it was possible to walk and still claim forward motion.