Simon Prake

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.

Episode 32: Hands All Around | Scryer's Gulch

In the hours after Miss Duniway's discovery of his perfidy, Simon suffered much and slept little. He longed for the chance to express the fullness of his regrets, but none came. It was left to him to make his own chance, and he took it the day after the horrible scene at the jail. He saw her on the street after school, threw on his coat, closed his office and hurried after her. "Miss Duniway!" he called, and she halted.

"Mr Prake, how can I be of assistance?" she replied, in tones warmer than he felt he deserved but cooler than he wished.

"I wonder if we might speak for a moment in my office? There are one or two things I wish to convey to you that I'd rather not say in the street."

Miss Duniway paused, and for a sickening moment Simon thought she might refuse. "Very well, Mr Prake, I have a short moment to give you, as long as it can be supposed I have business at your office," she added in a low tone. Simon gave her his humble thanks, and she followed him through his door and into his back office.

Episode 27: No Offense Intended | Scryer's Gulch

"I suppose we'd better sit down if I'm going to tell you why I'm really here," said Annabelle, taking the chair in front of John's desk. "Where do you want me to start?"

John kept his seat on the corner of his desk, bracing himself on the desk edge with both hands. "Well, we've squared away your fatherless childhood."

Motherless, too, if it matters, she said to herself; aloud, she said, "I was thinking of a more recent beginning to my life, if it's all the same, though I'm expecting you won't believe me."

"I'm listening."

She straightened in her seat, raising her chin to a proud angle. "I'm a Treasury Agent." John's already intent gaze sharpened further, finally resolving into the incredulity she'd anticipated. "I said you wouldn't believe me."

Episode 26: Private Matters | Scryer's Gulch

John met Annabelle's eyes over Simon's dark head; at first, he looked shocked and appalled, but his mien hardened quickly. "Miss Duniway," Simon began, taking a step toward her.

"We're discussing a private matter, Miss Duniway," interrupted John.

"I should say it's a private matter," said Simon. "It's her privacy. She deserves to know. She deserves my apology."

Annabelle folded her arms and studied them both: John's guarded expression, his arms crossed like her own; Simon's remorseful one, hands open before him. "I think I might know the matter in question," she said. "Sheriff Runnels, I cannot guess at a reason why you might feel compelled to read my private correspondence." Simon's shoulders crumpled minutely, and she knew she'd guessed correctly. "And Mr Prake, I confess I am beyond surprised. I thought better of you."

Episode 25: Powerful Stuff | Scryer's Gulch

When John returned to his own back parlor, Rabbit was gone, off to make a final round before bed; Mrs Smith dozed in her chair, her darning still in her lap; and Jamie fidgeted anxiously on the hearth rug with his soldiers. John woke Mrs Smith with a gentle, "Now, Minnie, it's past your bedtime, go on up, I'm home now."

Once alone, Jamie and his father avoided looking at one another, John preferring the flicker of the lamp flame, Jamie the pile of deceased tin men he stirred with one finger. "I hear," John began, "that you picked up something maybe you shouldn't have, son."

"Like what?" said Jamie, giving him a brief sideways glance.

"Like a nugget of hermetauxite."

Episode 24: On Fair Authority | Scryer's Gulch

"Well, now, Runnels, out on a night like this!" said Mayor Prake, rising from his chair. "Is there cause for alarm? Amelia, fill the kettle please, perhaps the Sheriff might like some tea. Perhaps a wee bit of bourbon in the cup?" he added in an undertone.

Amelia lugged the kettle in, put it on the stove, and took her reluctant leave. "I'm not sleepy!" she insisted as her mother shooed her up the stairs.

Once they were alone, John settled back in his chair, a comfortable shot of bourbon in his tea. "No cause for immediate alarm, Anatole, though things are stranger than usual in this town. To begin with, I believe Georgie is innocent. You should let him go back to school."

"Innocent!" exclaimed Prake. "Why, his own brother believes he did it! You amaze me. What did Miss Duniway say to convince you?"

Episode 21: An Enthusiastic Hour | Scryer's Gulch

Annabelle preferred to sit in the back pew at church; despite her general self-confidence, church always made her feel exposed and vulnerable. She'd been raised both Methodic and Enthusiastic, the product of a rare mixed marriage and a childhood spent bouncing between one set of relatives and the next. She loved the clean formality of the Methodic Church and its emphasis on logic, but when it came down to it, she chose Enthusiasm: the brightly clanging bells, the incense wafting over everything, the exuberantly decorated altar, the music so loud it shook her bones, the shouts of the faithful in response to a good sermon. And the sermons were much shorter.

Her mind was Methodic, but her soul was Enthusiastic.

Episode 20: Ethergrams and Homilies | Scryer's Gulch

As it came to pass, Simon did not get over to the Runnels house that night. He stood outside for a fair piece looking up at the door, but couldn't bring himself to walk up the steps, knock, and hand over Miss Duniway's ethergram; revealing someone's private correspondence went against everything he believed in as an ethergraph engineer.

Episode 19: A History Lesson | Scryer's Gulch

It was with some surprise that Lockson received the schoolteacher in his office this Saturday. "Why, Miss Duniway! What can a simple newspaperman do for an erudite lady like yourself? Classified ad, perhaps? No, no, I shouldn't think so. Why, Miss Duniway, it is a stroke of good fortune, a miracle not far removed from that of the Prophet of the Method and His Delivery of the Good Woman of Persia from the Fiery Furnaces of Indecency, that you have sojourned to our offices today. Yes, Miss Duniway, let me assure you that I have longed this month to approach you for the purpose of acquainting my audience with the details of your life, one of education and perspicacity I am sure, a saga that would be a most edifying one for our readers."

"Come again?" said Annabelle.

"I'd like to interview you," said Lockson.

Episode 13: Messages | Scryer's Gulch

The wretched Rabbit woke up at dawn inside the wire cage, naked and shivering. "John?" he called weakly.

"Sheriff's asleepin," said Aloysius. "Hey! Runnels! Wake up! Yer brother's lost his fur!"

John scrambled up from his cot, instantly awake. "Sorry, Rab, sorry! I'm coming." He opened the latch on the cage and helped Rabbit to stand; he wrapped his brother in the still-warm blanket from the cot. "Are you all right?"

"Did I scratch or bite?" said Rabbit. "I'm so afraid I'm going to bite you some day, Johnny--if I ever brought this on you, I'd throw myself in the river!"

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