Episode 45: Ace in the Hole | Scryer's Gulch
Annabelle sent the encoded ethergram out to Chief Howman the next afternoon after school, asking for more information. Sending the ethergram via Simon Prake seemed both dangerous and disloyal somehow, but there wasn't any choice.
"I'm afraid this is going to be a two-dollar ethergram, Miss Duniway," grimaced Simon. "It's a long one."
"I know," she laughed, "but I remembered a few things I just have to tell my cousin as soon as possible--it couldn't wait for the mail. I'll just have to be extra-careful with my money this month."
A few things to tell her cousin--that was sure, or rather, her "cousin" had a few things to tell her. She'd had it with all the guessing; if DC knew anything more about the contaminated ore's effects, or what a plotter might possibly do with it, she needed to know if she was going to pin down the culprit--or even defend against him. Until then, she and John were going to track every piece of ore in and out of Simon Prake's office that they could. She and Misi would scout out the mines, and if Rabbit turned out to be able to "taste" the bad hermetauxite, he'd help too.
"What does it taste like?" he asked her as he walked her home from school that Monday.
"What does hermetauxite taste like to you in its natural form--do you taste it?"
Rabbit wrinkled his nose. "It's not so much a taste as just…it's a draw, a need to be near. I suppose you could say it's a taste--a sensation for sure, but I wouldn't say on the tongue. I'm okay here in town and even up in the hills, but once Johnny and I tried to ride out to Barneyville, two days from town." He shook his head. "We only made it about a mile outside the strike. I had to turn back. Seems I'm stuck here. But t'ain't safe to speak of it, Miss Annabelle," he added, suddenly nervous. "What's the bad stuff supposed to taste like?"
"Mi--my confederate says it tastes foul--nothing more specific, just like the worst taste you can imagine. Foul, disgusting. He only tastes it when he concentrates."
"I do not concentrate on that stuff, nossir," said Rabbit. "I'm afraid if I went into it I wouldn't come out again."
"You don't have to do this, Deputy."
"Oh, no, I'll do it," he hastened. "I'll do it on account of what it did to my nephew. Don't want that happening to anyone else. Well, good day, ma'am." Rabbit tipped his hat and peeled off toward the mines, leaving Annabelle at the Hopewell.
She ran up to her room, where she found Misi pacing the windowsill. "Pussycat, pussycat, where have you been?" she teased, scratching him between the ears.
"Very funny. Not to see the Queen, that's for sure. Well, in a manner of speaking. She does live in a Palace. She was asleep, though."
Annabelle took off her hat, poured water into the basin from the freshly-filled pitcher on the stand and washed her face and hands. "Listen, kid," Misi resumed, "the full moon begins tomorrow."
"I know. Deputy Rabbit and his brother have been making preparations today. They've got prisoners, so I'm led to believe that he'll be making do in a cage in the basement of their house, with a large pile of timothy hay."
"I don't care about that big gawk, I care about you!"
Annabelle grinned and wiped her hands on the lace-edged towel hanging from the stand. "I'm touched, Misi!"
"Listen," he said after a mortified pause, "if you got killed in a town full of hermetauxite, who knows who might catch me. I'd have a deuce of a time keeping myself from gorging on the stuff and then what'd happen to me? Better the master you know than the one you don't know. What if that ape Bonham got hold of me?" Misi puffed out his tail in horror.
"No one's going to kill me."
"I'm telling you Mamzelle is going to kill you!" he shrieked, jumping up and down on all four paws so hard he nearly fell off the sill. "Tomorrow night, or as soon as she's got you cornered! And then she expects me to kill Bonham for her, and then we're supposed to kill everyone else in this godforsaken hellhole--Annie, can't we just go away for three days? Say you've got a sick relative in Oro, or Barneyville--or anywhere?"
"Between the two of us we can lick any demon out there, kitty," said Annabelle as she pinned her hat back on.
"She's not 'any demon,' and where are you going?"
"I've got a piano lesson with young Miss Bonham down at the LeFay, and then I need to finagle a tour of the BB."
"The Big Blavatsky Mine? You gave your bracelet to the Sheriff, how're you going to know what's there?"
"You're going to be my detector."
"I don't follow. Bonham hates cats, he'd never allow you to take me along, like that'd make any sense anyway."
"What's the smallest thing you can turn yourself into?"
Misi considered. "I dunno. A mouse? No--a beetle. I can make myself into a beetle about the size of your thumbnail. Real pretty one, too, all iridescent--"
"Perfect. Pretty doesn't matter, you'll be in my pocket or some such."
"Oh!" said Misi, blinking. "That'd work, I guess. Well, when's this?"
Annabelle picked up her reticule. "I don't know. I hope in the next day or two. All right, see you after dinner, kitty. You can go out or stay in by the fire, as you please. You can change if you'd like, but only if you stay in with the curtains closed and keep an ear out for the help, and that's an order."
"Oooh, thanks!" said Misi with a foolish grin. He sobered. "Okay, here's a thought. You're friendly with that Sheriff now, right? You blew your cover?"
"Not yours, though."
"Good. If you won't leave, then tell him what Mamzelle plans to do. Then you'll at least have another gun in this fight. Is he a good shot?"
"Pretty fair, but not with an etheric pistol."
"You'd never give him one of yours anyway, doll." Misi jumped from the ledge and stood up in his half-human form. "Tell him. Maybe he can stop this whole thing before it starts."
"And how am I to explain how I know this, when Bonham himself doesn't know?"
Misi hugged himself. "I dunno. Maybe it's time to blow my cover."
"I'd rather not. You're my ace in the hole as they say over at the Lucky Pint." With that, she waved and took her leave.
Misi sighed, dropped into the chair and picked up the book Annabelle was reading; it was open to a story called "The Outcasts of Poker Flat" by some fellow named Bret Harte. "Won't be much of a hand if you're dead, lady," he muttered.