Episode 7: An Accusation | Scryer's Gulch

So you're back, huh? Well, it's a good story. I think I might be keeping you from reading it. I get so wrapped up in all this stuff I know about the Old West, about how the Brinkertons would come in and take over a town, how girls would arrive thinking they were getting a nice job as a maid or something and get stuck in a whorehouse, all the exciting discoveries in technology that came straight out of the western expansion. Can you imagine a time when 35 miles per hour was breakneck?

But I digress.

The thing is, I worry that all my jabbering is more like a lecture. Well, it is. So I might stick my oar in from time to time from now on, but mostly, I'm just gonna get out of the way. That's what happens when you're old. You just get in the way.

The first day of school arrived. Georgie and Amelia stopped next door to pick up Jamie, who stood in the small garden, feet firmly planted, his uncle Rabbit even more firmly pushing him out the gate. "No arguments! If we catch you--and you know we'll catch you--your Pa will whip you till your behind lights up Main Street! And I'll just stand there and laugh, you watch me."

"C'mon, Jamie, it won't be so bad," said Amelia.

"Says you," he scowled.

"Jamie, c'mon," said Georgie. He grabbed his friend by the collar and marched him down the street toward the schoolhouse. "I see Lily in the schoolyard, Amelia, go on ahead." His sister ran to meet her best friend, leaving Georgie alone with Jamie. "Now, listen, Jamie, you can't do that again."

"Do what?"

"You know very well what! Harry Lockson's only six, which leaves you and me. No one'll think it's you, you're the sheriff's son. Which leaves me. T'ain't fair! If you're gonna do stuff like that, you should be a man, and not blame it on other folks!"

"I didn't do nothin, an I ain't blamin it on anyone!"

"Now, I ain't sayin it wasn't a fine thing. Made me laugh, anyway! But I'm still in trouble from tying Mr Hopewell's shoelaces together at our house when he wasn't paying attention. That was funny," Georgie said, his face full of fond memories.

"I didn't do nothin."

"Aw, c'mon, Jamie!"

By now the two boys had reached the schoolyard. Miss Duniway stood in the door ringing the bell; it was time for class. They walked past the rebuilt fence and into the repainted schoolhouse.

As soon as they entered, Annabelle's bracelet pricked at her wrist; she hid her surprise. "Children, please sit down. Little ones to the front, older ones to the back. I'll return in a moment."

"Wonder where she's going," she heard Georgie whisper to Jamie.

"Maybe she's gotta pee," said Harry Lockson. Georgie and Jamie guffawed. "But maybe she does!" Harry repeated in earnest concern.

Annabelle rolled her eyes, and walked quickly up and down the street, as if looking for errant pupils; her bracelet made not a tickle. The schoolhouse stood off to itself enough that she knew nothing came from a nearby building. No, it was in the schoolhouse, and it came from either Jamie or Georgie.

Neither of them were old enough to be fooling with the magical structure of hermetauxite--but someone in their families might be. Simon Prake was already on her short list of suspects; she sadly added another mark against him.

Now, she had the Runnels to consider, too. Sheriff John didn't check out as at all trained in the engineering way, but she'd had bigger surprises. Deputy Rabbit was a blank slate; he hadn't shown up in her research at all. She returned to the schoolhouse and began the lesson, wincing to herself every time she passed Georgie and Jamie's bench.

The schoolday ended, just in time for Annabelle's patience to give out. Teaching a couple of squirming benches full of children was not as easy as she'd thought; as she entered her rooms, she sighed in relief at the relative quiet.

She'd savored it a full minute when Misi came tearing through the window. "Well? How'd it go?" he yowled. She recounted the day, and Misi whistled through his sharp teeth. "A kid, huh?"

"No, of course not! It's a member of the family, if it's really one of them."

"Not looking good for that Prake fellow, Annie."

"No." She worried her lip. "I really don't want it to be him, kitty."

"Hm, sweet on him, are we? I'd've thought the sheriff was more your type. Tight-jawed lawman and all that."

Annabelle ignored him. "What's going on around town?"

"A drunk guy knocked another drunk guy over the head down at the Lucky Pint. Now drunk guy number one is in the jailhouse, and Doc Horridge is standing vigil over drunk guy number two. He's not expected to make it, so we may have a hanging. Um, lessee. Oh! Chen gave me two chicken hearts! I like that man, even if he is a man!"

"I'm sure that was splendid for you. I meant, what's going on that might pertain to our reason for being here."

"Oh, that," he grimaced. "Annie, that stuff tastes so bad!"

"Next time go on patrol first, and then finagle chicken hearts out of sympathetic cooks. Well?"

"It's all over the ethergraph office. I saw traces at the assayer's office, too--actually traces all over town but nothing I could pinpoint. I can't get a really good whiff unless I'm right on top of it, and then, you know, it leaves me a little vulnerable." He shivered his whiskers. "But it's strongest at the ethergraph office."

"All right, then." Annabelle fetched her valise and brought it into the bedroom, where the curtains were closed. Carefully, she reached inside and pulled out a false bottom; within it was a small black book. "I need to send Chief Howman a message, Misi. Be quiet while I work out the code." She carried it back to the sitting room and began a complicated scribbling, flipping through the cipher book as she went.

Misi fell asleep, purring in the patch of sun from the sitting room window. When the patch shifted, leaving him in shadow, he woke up and stretched. Annabelle was just closing the book back up in the false bottomed valise; she wore her gloves and bonnet. "Where are you off to?"

"The ethergraph office. I'm sending a message to my 'Cousin Daniel' filled with all my news. I don't know how he's going to take our current hot suspect being an eight-year-old boy!"

"I'll be right here when you get back," yawned Misi. Once the door closed, he moved to the new patch of sun and promptly fell back asleep.

Meanwhile at the jailhouse, Jamie Runnels sat on the bench by the corner cell, kicking his legs. "I hate school, Aloysius," he said. "Did you hate it?"

"Cain't say whether I hated it er not, son," said the voice. "Never went. Mighta liked to. Woulda been nice to read, an sign my name as more'na X."

"But you got by, didn't you?"

"If'n you call this gettin by. Didn't really see myself stuck in a jailhouse cell fer all eternity. Didn't see it as my fate. Buuut I doubt school woulda helped me avoid this'n." Jamie pulled a little nugget out of his pocket, rolling it in his fingers. "Watcha got there, son?"

Jamie put it back. "Nothin."

"Aw, now, Jamie, you know ol' Aloysius ain't gonna tell nobody."

"What about that guy over there?"

"Him? He ain't even woke up yet. They're prolly gonna hang him by the neck anyways. Shore hope he don't end up here. Bad enough without gettin crowded to boot. Watcha got?"

Jamie crunched himself up in the corner, trying to get close even though there was nothing to get close to. "It's a piece of hermetauxite!" he whispered. "Found it just lyin there in the street by the ethergraph office!"

Aloysius let out a low whistle. "That's a fine thing, Jamie! Watcha gonna do with it?"

"Just keep it. I like lookin at it. I feel funny when I hold it in my hand, like I'm stronger or somethin."

"You be careful, Jamie Runnels. Who knows what's been spelled on that thing."

"It ain't been spelled on, Aloysius, it's just a nugget! My nugget. Don't tell!"

"I promised I wouldn't, didn't I?"

"All right, then." Jamie sat in the corner, throwing it up and catching it, until it was time for supper.

Comments

Gudy's picture

Embodiment

... Lockson's other child is a girl?

And since I don't want Simon to be the culprit, I'm wondering a) how amicable his departure from his previous job was, b) how amicable the buyout of his partner in Simon's Hardware was, and c) what the heck he is tinkering on in his spare time.

And if Jamie really has no recollection of the incident, that stuff is dangerous.

Episodes 3 through 7 are missing all character tags, BTW.

MeiLin's picture

Most High

Lockson's other child is a girl. Haven't fleshed her out yet.

Ah, Simon.

I'll go back and add character tags. I keep forgetting to do that with this one, and I've been in a tearing hurry to boot! Smile

Kreyopresny's picture

Petitioner

...for the Narrator. Lord knows I'm still in Uni, and teaching a room full of middle school kids made me feel old. Can't imagine how it must be when everyone calls you useless.

I

Pikachu42's picture

Embodiment

how i liked that the narrator realized he was kinda....in the way. Well at least that's how I see it. Now that's he's not gonna be so prominent i like him just fine. ^_^

Clare-Dragonfly's picture

Supplicant

I want to give the narrator a hug.

Pikachu42's picture

Embodiment

does Jaime really no remember doing it, or is he just saying that to Georgie because he doesn't want to risk getting caught? And what did Simon do to that one nugget? Makes Jaime feel stronger does it? Hmmmm

Gudy's picture

Embodiment

... is that Jaime really doesn't remember doing it, and that Simon may also not be completely aware of what he's doing to the hermetauxite. If it is indeed him doing it, which it certainly looks like.

In fact, I think of the hermetauxite poisoning that Miss Dunniway was sent to investigate as a kind of virus (virus = Latin for poison). It does stuff to people (like the amnesia, the feeling of strength, and possibly other things as well), and in those who work on hermetauxite, it influences their ability such that they imprint the viral structure into the matrix of any hermetauxite they're working with, thus propagating the virus.

Pikachu42's picture

Embodiment

I like the way you think! I'm taking what you said and adding....that I think Simon is in fact doing it. He did say he did a lot of 'experiments' with the hermetauxite, so perhaps he discovered the virus unintentionally and it poisoned him.

Gudy's picture

Embodiment

... what I was getting at. I don't want Simon to be evil, so I'll believe for now that he created the virus unintentionally during his experiments and then infected himself.

MeiLin's picture

Most High

I am SO biting my tongue!

Gudy's picture

Embodiment

... I'll stop with the speculation for now before MeiLin starts doing major harm to herself. Blum 3

Amy's picture

Supplicant

The phrase that came to my mind the first time I read this was "curiouser and curiouser" to quote the girl who chased the rabbit down a hole.

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