Episode 39: Indigestion | Scryer's Gulch

There were times Annabelle regretted having used schoolteacher as a cover. Would that there were enough women in town to have come as a dressmaker, or a milliner. If she'd been either of them, she wouldn't have to be at uncomfortable occasions such this one. She tried not to fidget on the horsehair sofa in the Bonhams' stuffy front parlor as they all waited on Jedediah Bonham's arrival to his own dinner party.

Charity had done herself and her household up a little too fine. A down-on-his-luck greenhorn in ill-fitting formalwear had been pressed into service as butler; he presented Annabelle with a glass of sherry she desperately wished were something stronger. Bourbon. She liked that now and again, but wouldn't get any until she went back home. She probably wouldn't need it then. Might she bolt down the sherry? Not here, no matter how tempting. John and Tony looked as if they wouldn't have minded a snort, either.

Charity, meanwhile, preened before the men in a new plum-colored silk; its color was ever so slightly the wrong shade for her blazing red hair. Every excess of the French fashion plates plagued that poor dress: an overly-elaborate fringed overskirt, a huge bustle ending in a puddling train, feathers dyed to match at the shoulders and edging her fan, and if the dress had one ruffle it had a dozen. In her room, Annabelle's black faille had seemed drab, but next to her hostess's profusion of bad taste, drab looked good.

The cuffs of Annabelle's dress covered the marks her detector's bracelet had burned into her wrist. Despite the still-tender burns, she'd remained true to her duty and slipped the bracelet onto her other wrist. She prayed none of the tainted hermetauxite turned up tonight. She didn't really expect it to, but the Bonhams still made her nervous. Someone as controlling as Jed Bonham was likely to have a hand in anything suspicious.

Nevertheless, Tony Bonham had set off a slight buzzing when he'd arrived at the Hopewell, and perhaps not the buzz he'd hoped for; he was quite interested in her, wasn't he? A very handsome man, Bonham the younger, but too slick for her taste. He was carrying something--maybe a nugget like Jamie's?

Charity was making no effort to include Annabelle in conversation. Instead she murmured flirtatiously to Tony and fluttered her fan, sending tiny poofs of plum-colored fluff into the air. Flirting with her own stepson? That was all kinds of disturbing.

In desperation, Annabelle turned to John. "And how is Jamie?"

"Still a bit hangdog, I fear," he grimaced. "Rabbit's taking him shooting Monday after school out where you and--rather, at a canyon not far where we frequently target shoot."

A tiny musical chime broke in on the two stilted conversations. Tony absently took out a gold watch and thumbed it open, apparently out of habit; he gave it barely a glance before closing it again. Annabelle's bracelet prickled more forcefully. "What an unusual watch, Mr Bonham!" she said. "Such a charming little chime, I've never heard anything like it."

"On the quarters, half, and full hour, Miss Duniway," he said. "A present from my mother. No," he said at Annabelle's automatic glance at Charity, "the first Mrs Bonham. Would you like to see it? Though it is five years old now, it is still the pinnacle of magical timekeeping."

Annabelle accepted the watch, deftly keeping her fingers from touching Tony's though the watch's chain by necessity pulled them closer together; she stood to avoid a confrontation with his trouser fastenings. She turned the watch this way and that, pretending to examine the engraving, which was top-notch and in the finest style. Ma Bonham at least had possessed good taste, if her successor had none. Tony reached over and pressed the clasp; the cover flipped open to reveal an appropriately motherly admonition engraved inside.

All the while her bracelet did a tiny dance against her wrist. It wasn't half as painful as it had been inside Simon Prake's office, not even a tenth, but it still set her teeth on edge. "However does it work? I assumed it would take a very great hermetic battery to power such a watch, but it is so small!"

"I don't expect you to understand its principles, Miss Duniway, and I confess to no more than an interested amateur's understanding myself," he smiled.

I'll show you a thing or two about its principles, she fumed to herself.

"Suffice it to say that one reason why its makers were able to keep it so small is that the battery needs replaced more frequently than, say, a clock like my father's." He gestured to a large clock supported by two fat, bilious gilt cherubs squatting on the mantel. "I don't believe Father has changed the battery on that clock once in all the time he's had it--since before I was born--and it was one of the first hermetic timepieces on the market." He took the proffered watch from Annabelle's hand, this time making subtle contact. "I replace this battery once a year. In fact, I replaced it just last week."

"Oh?" said Annabelle. "Did you have to send back east for the battery? That would be odd, wouldn't it, sending back east for something that surrounds us!"

"No, no," smiled Tony. "Simon Prake is a dab hand at encoding just about anything. He ran this up for me with just a few days' notice. I believe the most time-consuming element was shaping it."

Simon Prake. Again. Annabelle sighed inside. She did not want her culprit to be that earnest young man, outwardly so conscientious and honest. Could he be that great a dissembler? He must be.

It was time to ethergram Chief Howman. Now that she had her man, she needed to know what to do with him.

Comments

Clare-Dragonfly's picture

Supplicant

I don't want it to be Simon, either! You can figure it out, Annabelle!

Hmm, isn't the construction "needs replaced" kind of out of place here? At least, I think of it as Appalachian mainly.

Zandu Ink's picture

Embodiment

I believe "needs fixin'" would be the Appalachian turn of phrase. "Needs replaced" is neutral enough that it should fit anywhere.

Is the current Mrs Bonham younger or older than Tony?

MeiLin's picture

Most High

And I'm not sure of the answer! I think they're close to the same age, or perhaps she's a bit younger.

TheBoy's picture

Embodiment

"needs [verb]ed" is a primarily PA formulation.

Clare-Dragonfly's picture

Supplicant

Maybe that's why I thought it was Appalachian. It's somewhere over thereto the west.

But as a Philadelphian, I would never say "needs [verb]ed"--I would say "needs to be [verb]ed" or (less likely, but works with "replace") "needs [verb]ing."

MeiLin's picture

Most High

Interesting. I've said it that way all my life, and I was raised in California by Oregonians.

TheBoy's picture

Embodiment

it's mostly pennsyltucky and the Pukesburgh areas that I Hear it from.

LaCiega's picture

I don't think I've ever heard "needs replaced" before. I assumed it was a typo. (I'm from Wisconsin.)

MeiLin's picture

Most High

Y'all have caught me in a regionalism or something. Tony wouldn't talk any other way but educated, on the one hand. On the other, I don't do rewrites on the Gulch except for typos. What to do, what to do...

TheBoy's picture

Embodiment

My friends who speak that way are college-educated. let it ride.

Clare-Dragonfly's picture

Supplicant

It might be a regionalism, but evidently it's a bigger region (or more regions) than I thought, and education doesn't really change it that I know of.

Gudy's picture

Embodiment

... to conclusions. We already know, and so does she thanks to those scars on her wrist, that Simon Prake's ethergraph office is infested with the poisoned hermetauxite. So it should come as absolutely no surprise that the stuff turns up in hermetic devices for which Simon replaced the battery.

Given that Annabelle has first hand experience of what the poisoned hermetauxite can do, I am, frankly, wondering why she never thought about the effect that being constantly surrounded by such a large amount of the stuff would have on Simon. Or that being good at dissembling is by no means a requirement for Simon to look conscientious and honest. (hint: from all we know, one thing Simon is not good at is dissembling).

Mind, that doesn't mean that Simon isn't the source of the poisoning - he very likely is - but it doesn't automatically make him an evil mastermind, either.

MeiLin's picture

Most High

Annabelle is looking for instruction on what to do next: arrest the guy or what.

Amy's picture

Supplicant

That although Simon is up to his eyeballs in the tainted hermetauxite that he is not the actual reason for the problem. I'm betting Meilin will make him only partly at fault but not the real culprit as it were.

Cheez-It's picture

My guess is that Simon's "lover" is to blame. We've already seen how Simon can be browbeaten into doing things he thinks are wrong. Part of that decision stemmed from loyalty to the sheriff.
Acting like a lover would give someone access to the hermexetite (sp?) and to Simon's loyalty.

Gudy's picture

Embodiment

... it's either Simon or his former lover Cole.

If it's Cole, that would require that Simon be largely unaware of the effects of the poisoned hermetauxite, given the way he's still pining for his ex. Which, given the effects we know of, is certainly plausible.

That Cole is currently working for the Treasury would mesh in interesting ways with how strangely... undersupplied Annabelle was with detailed information about the poisoning when she arrived at Scryer's Gulch, while at the same time establishing that Cole ought to be talented enough to pull off an encoding like that.

I actually favour the idea that it was Simon who originally came up with the encoding, possibly in a misguided attempt to rekindle Cole's flagging passion for him. Except the whole thing backfired, and Cole left for good, sufficiently miffed that Simon still doesn't know that Cole is working for the treasury, while Simon is now caught in the net wrought by his own genius.

Never having watched a soap opera in my life, I have no idea which of those theories fits better into a soap world, or if there's a better one out there, but there you go. Smile

Kreyopresny's picture

Petitioner

Mine is that the "poisoned" Herm. is really just fancily encoded with some spanking new method that Simon's dreamed up. It's essentially like saying a Lithium battery is "poison" since up 'til then you'd only encountered Alkaline.

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