John Runnels

Episode 38: Escort Service

Tony Bonham walked into the Hopewell Hotel like a man walking into a garbage dump. He looked around the stolid building, built for utility not gentility, and didn't bother to repress a sneer in the direction of the front desk.

Julian Hopewell caught the sneer and its meaning, and came around the desk in a hurry. "What do you want, Bonham? What are you doin' here?"

"I am only here to escort Miss Duniway to dinner at my father's house." He sniffed at Ralph, hovering in the door of the dining room. "I hope to escort her soon to better company and lodgings at the LeFay to boot. Rest assured I will leave as soon as possible." Hopewell gave him the evil eye, but stomped upstairs to get the schoolteacher.

Episode 36: Acceptances | Scryer's Gulch

"You gonna go?" said Rabbit, examining the ornate invitation to dinner at the Bonham house.

John shrugged and didn't look up from the shotgun he was cleaning, pieces laid out in precise positions on top of his jailhouse desk. "Haven't decided yet." Which wasn't at all true. He had decided the minute he got the invitation to accept it--anything involving Annabelle tugged at him with a power he chose to chalk up to her mission.

His brother squinted at him, and left off leaning against John's desk. "Uh-huh. I'm going home to eat some lunch, even if you're not. I'll tell Minnie to set aside a plate, but if you know what's good for you, you'll light along to the house and eat it hot. You're apt to get a wrathy look from Minnie to wash it down with otherwise." He paused at the jailhouse door. "And I'll tell Minnie to make sure your best suit is aired and brushed." He ducked out before John could protest.

"Hmf," John said to himself.

Episode 35: An Invitation | Scryer's Gulch

Tony Bonham's first thought when he woke the next morning was that he'd overslept. His watch, the treasured reminder of his mother, had not chimed the morning alarm as it usually did. He sat up, yawning; something furry had crawled into his mouth to whelp during the night, and he poured and drank a glass of water to drown it. The smell of coffee approached down the hall, probably on his man's tray. Won't he be surprised to see me still abed, Tony thought heavily.

He swung his legs over the edge of the bed. No, he won't be surprised. The morning fire had been lit in the grate, so Graham must have been in already. Disconcerting; the Bonham men had the habit of sleeping with one eye open, and yet Tony had slept through Graham's entry. Had he really drunk so very much last night? But there on his dresser next to the water glass sat the near-empty cut crystal decanter of brandy; it had been full at the beginning of the night. He'd drunk more than he'd thought, apparently. At least it had served its purpose; he'd gone the night ghost-less, or if he hadn't, he'd been too drunk to notice.

Episode 33: Aloysius on the Town

Halloween night came to Scryer's Gulch, and many a party was planned. For most of the camp, they were not so much for celebrating; they were more about not being alone. Always tatty at best on top of the hermetauxite deposit, the veil between worlds got even thinner on Halloween.

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 30: Sucker | Scryer's Gulch

"All right," said John once he'd recovered from his shock, "you've convinced me you're a great shot and a great wielder with access to some pretty fancy hardware. Now convince me you're Treasury and tell me why you're here."

"Only Treasury would care about the reason," she answered as she stowed her etheric pistols in their case. "Someone is corrupting ore coming out of Scryer's Gulch."

Icy prickles came over John's skin. "Corrupting--you mean like that nugget you found on Jamie? Someone did that on purpose? It's not natural?"

Annabelle shook her head. "Engineered. The best, our men tell me. Like nothing they've ever seen before."

John's temper rose hand in hand with fear for his son. "And you didn't see fit to take this to local authorities why, exactly?"

"I didn't know who was involved. I still don't. I don't know who the spellcaster is, and I don't know who if anyone is running him."


"Meaning," she said as if explaining to one of her slower students, "that you could have been in on it for all I knew. I'm taking a risk as it is that you don't turn that rifle on me and leave me in some gully for the coyotes."

Episode 28: A Demonstration of Skill | Scryer's Gulch

"Oh, no! No, no, no, Annie, what have you done?" said Misi, pacing atop the bed. "Why did you tell him? Oh, Dark One help me, this is not good."

Annabelle was bending over an open trunk on the floor of her bedroom, carefully removing a panel to reveal a hidden compartment. "You worry too much, kitty." She pulled out a case containing a set of oddly delicate pearl-handled revolvers, and their gun belt. She removed the guns from their case, cleared their chambers, and methodically went through her routine.

"You just cleaned those."

"Can't be too safe," she said, finally loading the cylinders. Annabelle buckled the belt around her waist and placed the guns in their holsters; she practiced a quick cross-draw, and pulled her least-tailored traveling coat on.

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."


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