Over the Broken Banks of Bannock Part 2
Well, the plan was to do a small rant on people and design as well as make off-handed mention to Felicia. Then I spent several hours going through and doing organizational work on the photos we upload to this site and suddenly I lost all time to make a real post. So here is part two of the Bannock short.
The man waved his white glove. Once each had entered, the dreadful squeal began again and Felicity turned to see a dark complexioned man in a very plain suit working feverishly at a large metal wheel. Sweat beaded his forehead as he cranked the device running up the side of the wall to the heavy hinges upon the door.
“Necessary precaution,” their host explained. “Come, we speak in my office.”
“Likely ensorcelled,” Schroeder whispered. Felicity examined the parts carefully as she passed but saw neither glyph nor mystic adornment attached to the cold steel.
Their host led them through polished doors and along expensive carpets. Gas lanterns hissed on the walls within copper braziers. Spaced between them were exquisite paintings the likes of which had no business being on the frontier. Expensive old world furniture was imported along with Jader porcelain placed on marble pedestals or polished mahogany tables. Brass handles finally opened into an impressive study. A green velvet high back chair faced a small semi-circle of plain wood chairs carved by less experienced hands. The desk was grand, incorporating old designs of the Lord’s resplendent aspects standing triumphantly over twisted untamed with anguished, bestial faces. Thick curtains framed the large window letting in what light still crept over the grand mound outside and casting the stained wood walls in a soft, reddish glow.
A few potted ferns filled the corners but what drew the greatest attention were the two men seated patiently before the desk.
They stood immediately at the older man’s entrance. The first was the sheriff. A large man with a grandiose belly barely contained within his tucked shirt. His pants were pulled well above his burgeoning gut held by a thick belt and bright gleaming clasp that shimmered in the dim sun. He wore uncharacteristically fancy pin stripped pants, a rubbed leather jacket, a gleaming gold star badge and magnificently polished boots. A silver pistol shimmered at his side.
“About time you got here,” he started, his voice heavy with anxiety. But he drew short of further protestations as Schroeder pulled the bound man into the office.
“That is him then?”
The third member hardly spoke above a whisper. No greater contrast could he make compared to Sheriff Plummer. The man wore a simple boiled stripped shirt tucked into riding pants flecked with dirt from the trail. He was a tall man but thin. His face was half concealed in a grand moustache that curled down to his jawline. A pair of gauntlet gloves covered his hands, the fingers worn from use and the wide cuffs stained with sweat. A fearsome rifle was slung over his back and a simple silver pin on his lapel identified him as a Ranger.
“Hide and hair,” Felicity said. She gestured and Schroeder held the cord out to the Ranger.
Their escort rounded on the large chair, pulling it aside and easing into it. He reached for a pipe resting upon the top, lifting it to his teeth as he produced a small match to reignite the cold herbs. He puffed a few breaths before expelling a soft cloud from his lips that encircled his head.
“Please, draw a seat,” their host said, waving at the chairs. “I wish to gather the measure of my heroes before concluding our business.”
Bernhard Nicolai conducted himself with the grandiose airs one would expect from a magnate. His suit was of impeccable quality, and one certainly worthy of Schroeder’s envy. All imported silk from the western colonies but designed and fitted with the precision of eastern craftsmen. Lavish breast kerchiefs stuck from his pocket, a small rainbow of complimentary colours in rich blue, purple and yellow. He wore a brightly patterned ascot running beneath the lapels of his coat. His sideburns covered the length of his chin, tapering to two separate points on either side of his jaw. They were slightly curly and dusted white from his ascending years. But the moustache poised and greased between was as brown and lively as a man nearly half the magnate’s age.
And his dark brown eyes held an energy and fire hardly seen in even the wildest outlaws. This was no aged gentleman used to cozy meetings and deals forged by pen instead of a gun. This was a man who made and created his empire on the frontier and the signs of slothfulness were more badges of his success than hints at a deteriorating state.
Beneath those brows burned a fury that never crept to his lips.
“Please, Henry Plummer, Ranger Hayes, have a seat.”
The Ranger pulled the outlaw to his side. Hopkins simply stood with head lowered as no chair remained for him. In the shadow of the mound, he appeared as little more than a misbehaving slave brought before his master for reprimand.
“It is a pity it come to this,” Nicolai said. “This situation never needed escalation. I invested too much into this enterprise to let such… disturbance ruin it.”
He paused, letting his genteel disgust weigh upon the gathered.
It was, of course, the sheriff who broke first.
“I told you, sir, if I only had-”
“Yes, I am well aware of your requests,” Nicolai interrupted. So quick had his earlier joviality disappeared. “But for all my money I sent in tracking this villain, your progress never made any headway.”
“Sir, the wasteland is a large expanse and…”
He needn’t say anymore and the sheriff took his peace. A few more puffs of smoke encircled the older man’s head.
“If it would please you, Mr. Nicolai, I’d like to see this ruffian down to the jails,” Hayes drawled. “Must have him prepared for the trial.”
Nicolai turned slowly to the Ranger.
“And then there is you, Mr. Hayes. When I requested assistance of the Rangers, I expected results. Your band is suppose to be the best on the plains. And yet, the first of your order seemed to vanish in so much smoke and…”
“Yes, I am well aware. I continue to invest-”
“Please do not interrupt me again.”
Chilly was his response that even the hardened Hayes grew still. He gave a deferential bow of his head to the magnate.
“You turned up nicht. Nothing! I do not pay the Rangers to post wanted posters. I have many people who can. I expected results and I get but middle men.”
Ranger Hayes cleared his throat.
“The Rangers see that results get done,” he grumbled. “Even if that requires the aid of outsiders.”
“Come, take a look from my window,” Nicolai said, motioning with his pipe. The Ranger raised a brow but obliged. The pair looked at the grand mound lit with the dark red of the retreating sun slinking behind its edge.
“You see this. This town I forged with blood and steel. Before, this was nothing more than a small outpost supplying troops on the furthest lines.”
The pipe encircled the furthest edges of the township and the separate wooden compound half decaying into ruin. What had once housed soldiers, horses and supplies had long been purchased and turned into warehouses supporting the nearby town.
“But then a soldier stumble upon a magnificent discovery when climbing the Mound. You know what he thought, Mr. Hayes?”
“Why they ain’t build their fort on top?”
“Yes, precisely,” Nicolai smiled. “Why set an outpost at the base when you can’t see around. Half the day you are covered in shadow. Well, climbing its top, he found silver rock sticking from the ground as if dropped by flying birds. The soldier reckons he found a silver seam. He thinks he will be rich. But a soldier can’t afford to mine and he requests money and supplies. And do you know who gave those to him?”
“I be guessing it’s you, sir.”
“That’s right. I give the soldier his supplies so he could dig before the one who requested the outpost here. But yet neither sit in this office.
“You see, he found not silver in the earth. He found tin. But tin is not as valuable. Not as easy to find buyers. So, I find them for him. And you know what they say to me? That this not tin. This is wolframite. Do you know what wolframite is, Ranger?”
“I don’t, no.”
“Neither does the soldier. So, I tell him tin not as valuable but I will buy rights from him for more than it is worth. I assure him that I can turn decent profit if I build my own line but that it is not profit if I must split it. Which is true. He accepts and is happy with my price. He gets money and I get mine. And with mine, I get wolframite.
“For rocks are not good as they are. Rocks have more to them. You can look at a stone and see only so much on its surface. But those with keen eyes can find value where others can not. From wolframite you can get what mechanists call tungsten. And they are very happy with it. I have built this town from it. Those lights burn with it. This building is reinforced with it. It has many uses. And that is what makes it valuable. Even more valuable than silver. Now you know why this city built on steel.
“But there is another reason the soldiers build not on the Mound. And that is because the savages revere it. They think nonsense that it houses one of their great spirits. They grow angry that I come and take its wealth; wealth that belongs to their god. They attack my workers as they build my line and my mine.
“And now you know why this city is built on blood. They would not sell their Mound. So I am left with no other recourse than the sword.
“You see, not once did I pass on my responsibility. When the tin needed selling, I sold it. When the ore needed mining, I mined it. When the town needed defending, I defended it. Do you get my point?”
Ranger Hayes gave the magnate a bored look and nodded his head placating. Nicolai smiled, patted the man on the back, then walked to his desk. He picked up a letter opener, his smile never changing. Then he circled the desk and jammed the object square into Hopkin’s wounded shoulder.
The outlaw gave a great cry, falling to his knees and the Ranger shouted as he hurried to his side.
Nicolai simply tightened his grip around the letter opener, twisting it for one final scream from the outlaw and retracting it while wiping its edge with one of his kerchiefs.
“I do not appreciate those who steal from me,” he said. “You can tell your boss that I only pay half price for a half job. I will not be cheated by thieves or louts. Now go, and do your half job.”
Ranger Hayes stood with a terrible rage in his eyes. But he said nothing as he pulled the outlaw to his feet. They excused themselves and Nicolai rounded on the sheriff, his letter opener still in his hand.
“We are done.”
The sheriff stammered an apology and acknowledgement, getting to his feet and hurrying after the Ranger. Nicolai watched him with darkened eyes, never turning away until his study door closed behind them.
Then he finally regarded Felicity, his warm smile returning like a dawning sun.
“Now, to our business.”
“We just aim to be paid,” Felicity said.
“Yes, I know your kind well.”
He searched his bureau, pulling out a sheet of paper and dipping his quill into a sleek ink pot. As the tip scratched across the surface, he spoke though his eyes never left the note, “There is much to be learned in business, and not just the value of stone. Quality never depreciates in value. And one can always find a use for something of value even if others fail to recognize it themselves.”
Nicolai looked up, holding the slip for Felicity. She crossed the plush carpet to pick the note from his fingers. Written in impeccable script was a promissory for her services to be exchanged at the constabulary and through trade goods produced in the town. Nicolai’s signature drew elegantly across the bottom, framing the seal that made the document official.
“Much appreciated, sir.” Felicity added the last after a moment’s hesitation.
Nicolai leaned back, clutching his pipe and puffing a few clouds into the air.
“I do not begrudge you, fair hunter,” he said. “You perform your duty. Unlike the others, that money is well spent. It gets results and I care not how they achieved.”
He sighed, looking out the window for a moment.
“Competition breeds strength. While others may not notice, many tracks come to Bannock. Not all of them finished. Not all of them mine. Many have seen value in the Mound. It takes dirty hands to reap a harvest.”
He thrummed his fingers against the desk as if he were weighing some deeper consideration.
“By your leave, sir, I’d appreciate the chance to bear witness to Hopkin’s trial,” Felicity said.
Nicolai looked at her, his expression blank.
“You two have history?”
“Ain’t more than what it took to get him,” Felicity said. “Came at much a price I ain’t enjoy paying. And your generosity don’t cover some losses. I like to see my work to the end, sir, and there’s some satisfaction in seeing justice run its course. In my profession, it often to my benefit to know a job’s right and done.”
Nicolai nodded slowly.
“Very good. I will arrange your ship to harbour.”
“Thank you, sir.”