Episode 51: Trouble Is Expected | Scryer's Gulch
Annabelle lifted her chin. She didn't smile; smiles on a woman's face in combat always made her look weak, and she kept her gaze steady and sober. She unbuttoned her duster just in case, and a good thing.
"Boys, come here!" called Bonham. "It's okay, Mamzelle's corralled." Three men carrying rifles crept out one by one from under the far-flung cover of rocks and equipment. "Were you expecting me to give you trouble, Mr Bonham?" said Annabelle.
"I'm alive because I expect trouble," he answered, "though I do confess I did not expect it from your particular corner."
Annabelle pushed back her duster to display small pistols slung low on her hips; the man to her far right whistled. "Them's etherics! You know how to use 'em, lady?"
"I suggest you not try to find out," she answered.
"Whut about thet there…critter?" the one to Annabelle's left said, pointing at Misi.
"I do believe the furry fellow is under the unlikely control of little Miss Duniway here," said Bonham.
"I do believe I am," growled Misi, "and I do believe I'll gut anyone who makes a move for his gun."
"You can't kill all three at once, demon," said Bonham.
"Oh, by all means, kill Annie. Set me free. I can't reach all three of your men in time, true, but once she's dead it doesn't matter, does it? I can take my time and kill all of you as I please. Once you're dead, then Mamzelle's free--"
"--And then will have a reckoning, traître," said Mamzelle.
"--Once Mamzelle's free," continued Misi, "she will undoubtedly slaughter everyone else in town, including your son Tony and your little girl Lily. And I won't be able to do much about it, assuming I'd want to at that point."
Bonham paled. "You'd threaten Lily?"
"We're not threatening anyone, Mr Bonham," said Annabelle. "We're telling you to call off your men before they do something untoward. I could shoot you right now and take Mamzelle away from you that way, if I really wanted to. I could have shot you ages ago. But killing you's not what's best for Lily either, is it?"
"You couldn't hit the broadside of a barn with those pea-shooters! Who'd you steal those from, a circus midget?" said Bonham, some of the color returning to his face.
"Trust me, she can hit anything she chooses to, and it'll never hit back," came the firm voice of John Runnels. "Evening, Miss Duniway, thought you might need a little help."
Annabelle never took her eyes off Bonham; she felt more than saw that John had his shotgun. "Thank you, Sheriff, but I have this situation in hand."
"I don't doubt it, but I'll feel a little less like shooting fellows if they put their guns down right now," said Runnels. The three riflemen complied, heaping their weapons at the sheriff's feet while staying as far away from Misi as possible.
"Now, scat!" said the cat-man. All three took off running.
"So now you're armed, Runnels is armed, the demon is a demon--and I'm just sitting here like a clay pigeon, is how I picture it," said Bonham.
"How I picture it is you and I see who's the stronger wielder," said Annabelle.
"Put those pistols down and we shall do that very thing."
"If you were me, would you put them down?"
Bonham laughed, a good-natured sound in spite of the tension. "You are something, Miss Duniway. What, I don't know, but I intend to live long enough to find out. To answer your question, no, I wouldn't. Very well, you've behaved honorably so far. Keep 'em. Now, let's get to it."
Annabelle nodded. She gathered her will around her and cleared her mind of everything but Bonham--just what he'd wanted, but in the worst possible way, came a stray thought quickly pushed from her head.
A few yards away, a stinging flared on John's chest. He'd put Annabelle's detector bracelet on a thong down inside his shirt; it had given him little prickles as he'd walked about town, strongest down by the assayer's and by Simon Prake's office as expected but surprisingly quiet out here by the BB. "Miss Duniway, he's got something on him. Something hermatauxite-powered."
"How do you know?" frowned Bonham.
"Better than a guess. What is it, Bonham? Something to boost your juice?"
"I wish my watch'd boost my juice, but no. I'll turn out my pockets if she puts down the pistols."
"Very well," said Annabelle. She unbuckled her gunbelt and handed it to Misi. "He can't use them, so feel secure."
"Oh yes, I am very reassured, ma'am," sneered Bonham, who nevertheless took off his coat and laid it aside a few feet away. He turned out his pockets under John's armed eye until he came to the last, his watch pocket. "Here," he said, handing over the watch.
John took the ornate, heavy gold timepiece in his hand; the detector on his chest went wild. "It's a strong signal," he winced.
"Where did you get the hermetauxite for that watch, Mr Bonham, and when?" asked Annabelle.
Bonham looked at her in surprise. "Just this morning, from Mr Prake the younger. Tony said he did a fine job on his own watch not long ago. Why? What is it?"
"I'm not entirely sure yet," she said, "but I may tell you it's not good."
Bonham narrowed his eyes at her. "What are you, Annabelle Duniway? Is that even your name?"
"I assure you it is, and what I am I may have to tell you, though I hadn't intended to. But we have more pressing business at hand, and that is ownership of Mamzelle. Shall we get down to it?"
Bonham nodded and took his position facing Annabelle, opposite the sigil containing Mamzelle.