Episode 9: Rabbit's Time of the Month | Scryer's Gulch
Misi had almost fallen asleep in Mamzelle’s lap, when she said, “Well?”
“Well what?” yawned the demon cat.
“‘Ow are we going to keel our masters?”
“Ah. That. Yes.” Think fast, old boy. “Yes. There’s a problem with that.”
“I’m under orders...general orders...not to kill humans.” It’s even true! he thought, though it hurt his pride to confess to such a weakness. It’s so humilitating, being owned!
“Any human?” said Mamzelle in astonishment.
“Only allowed to kill humans my master wants dead,” said Misi. Annabelle had only told him to kill one man, many years ago, and there really hadn’t been any way around it; it was either him or them.
“Not me,” said Mamzelle.
“Oh? Why haven’t you killed everyone in town but Bonham? At least his family.”
“‘E would make me suffer for it, and I am under orders not to keel his family, which pains me already. I wish to scrrratch out the eyes of dat Charity very much so. No, he tells me, keel if you need to, even if you want to, but be discreet.” She shrugged. “Now and again, you just have to keel someone, ehn? So I keel someone nobody will miss--a newcomer--’ow d’you say--a greenhorn. Once a month, I go hunting--tonight, yes, I weel go! De humans think it is a giant wolf. Or a wolf-man. Mais non, ç’est moi, but I keep to de full moon. I play wit’ dem. ‘Oo knows,” she added with a mischievous look. “Maybe we do have a wolf-man.”
Down at the jailhouse, Rabbit and John stared glumly at the calendar. “Tonight?” said John.
“Yep,” said Rabbit. “I guess there’s no way around it.”
“I got company fer the night, then?” said the voice in the corner cell.
“Shut up, Aloysius,” the men responded automatically.
“I hate that cage.”
“So do I, Rab,” said John, “but I don’t know how else to deal with it.”
“Nope, neither do I. I wish I’d never been bit!”
“If wishes were horses, beggars would ride, little brother.”
The door banged open and Jamie came running in, chalk dust still covering the tops of his trousers. “Where you been, to the bakery?” said his uncle.
“Huh?” said Jamie. He stared down his front, then beat at his clothes. “Dang erasers.”
“Don’t swear, son,” said his father. “Beating erasers for Miss Duniway, huh? You must like her at least a little bit.”
“I had to, she asked me to, an you told me to do as she says,” sniffed Jamie. “I still don’t like her. She’s askin me and Georgie all kinds of questions.”
“Oh?” said John, sitting down on the edge of his desk. “Like what?”
“I dunno. She asked Georgie about if he knew who tore up the schoolyard.”
“Does he?” said John.”
“Naw, nobody knows who done it! He keeps tryin to make me confess, an Pa, I didn’t do nothin!”
“I believe you, son,” reassured his father. “What other questions? What did she ask you?”
Jamie scratched his head with the hand that held his lunch pail. “She asked me if I wanted to be an etheric engineer, if you can picture it! She asked if anyone in the family was interested in that stuff and I said, no, we’re lawmen! And that’s what I wanna be, Pa, so I still don’t know how come I hafta go to stupid Miss Duniway’s stupid school!”
“Stop right there, young man, or it’s the shed!” warned John.
“Aw, I’m sorry, Pa, don’t switch me,” said Jamie, hanging his head. He glanced up at the calendar, put down his lunch pail and walked over to his uncle, taking his hand. “Hey, Uncle Rab--it’s tonight, isn’t it?” At Rabbit’s nod, he said, “I’m powerful sorry, Uncle Rab. I wish this didn’t happen to you.”
“If wishes were horses,” smiled Rabbit. “Can’t be helped, Jamie. Say, tell me what’s going on down to the ostler’s. You been down that way today?”
As Rabbit and Jamie talked on, John fell into a brown study. That was certainly an odd question for Miss Duniway to ask. No one in the Runnels family had the sort of education you’d need to be an etheric engineer--that was clear to anyone who knew them. Why would she ask such a thing? He wondered where it fit into her game, if she had a game.
And the schoolhouse vandalism still niggled at him. It was a boy’s prank. No one else would have a motive to do it. It couldn’t have been Jamie--he was too small to have torn out those pickets. So was Harry Lockson. There were a few other children--one or two out in the minefields, a Chinese boy, and then a couple of the working girls who used to live at the Hopewell had children. The miners’ children were working and wouldn’t be allowed to come; the Chinese boy didn’t speak English; and the whores’ kids were just babies.
That left Georgie Prake. Perhaps it was time to pay a visit to the Prakes.
At the mayor’s house, Mrs Prake and Amelia stood at the kitchen table, sorting through a basket of clothes just back from the laundress. “Go through the shirts to look for mending, Amelia,” said Mrs Prake as she separated out the clothing into piles for each member of the family. “I do wish the laundress would do the sorting for us. How hard can it be, after all? She’s already seen every inch of these things. Unfolding and refolding everything like this...”
“Here’s something, Mama,” said Amelia, holding up a shirt of Georgie’s.
“Where does it need mending, dear?” asked Mrs Prake, her back still to her daughter.
“T’isn’t mending, Mama, there’s a stain on the cuff.”
“A stain? That laundress! I declare!” Mrs Prake turned around and took the shirt. There on the cuff was a splotch of black paint. “Well, what on earth--! That Georgie! I’ve a mind to dress that boy in calico shirts like a miner if he’s going to stain things like this. Where would that have come from?”
“Where did what come from?” said Georgie from the doorway. He froze when he saw the shirt in his mother’s hand. “I put that under my bed!”
“Which is where I fished it out from when it came time to take the laundry,” said Amelia with her nose in the air.
“You should have brought this to me straight away, Master Prake,” chided his mother as she scratched at the stain. “I might’ve gotten this out before it set. Oh--perhaps not! Is this paint? How did you get paint on your shirt? Have you been hanging around those sign painters again? I told you those men are drunkards and not to go near them!”
“Where’d this paint come from, if you weren’t hanging around those rascals?” she demanded.
A knock at the door interrupted them. Mrs Prake took off her bib apron and patted her hair as she bustled to the door. “Why, Sheriff Runnels, how nice to see you!” floated back into the kitchen.
Georgie made a snap decision: He snatched the shirt off the kitchen table and ran out the back door, leaving Amelia squeaking “Georgie Prake, where are you going?”