Over the Broken Banks of Bannock Part 3
I had other plans for posting today but it’s late and now I need to put something else. I promise Friday won’t be a brush off short story post though! At the very least, I think the Bannock short is interested.
The General Store was a single story building with a large sign propped over its porch. The paint had begun to peel, flaking off in large chunks that tumbled to the stoop before being picked up by the wind and carried off. Felicity counted three rusting mining carts, some leaning against the sides and another upturned at the front, all turning a brilliant shade of orange. The dim evening light transformed the rust into vibrant spatters of blood. Only one bulb had been extended to the store. The exposed light was cracked, forming little teeth that seemed to grow from the thin metal plate suspending it.
“Surely we get a good price here. We ain’t got many options left,” Laure whispered. One of the windows was half-boarded, revealing a pile of pots stacked awkwardly on the other side. The second window had its curtains drawn closed but couldn’t hide the glow of the lantern within.
Felicity looked down at the promissory note.
“Desperation could inflate prices.”
“It’s curious. The town be prosperous with its mining and investments from the magnate and yet this ain’t the only building to look worse for wear.”
“From out meeting, I ain’t gathered he’s generous of spirit. So, try and keep things civil,” Felicity cautioned. “I betting they ain’t going to appreciate you pointing out the fact.”
Laure nodded, twisting the cap on her head and consulting her list. The engineer had dressed herself in a plain brown jacket and simple baggy kneed trousers tucked into a coal stained pair of socks. She often wore the part of a youthful male who had done little than steal away on the ship of a passing captain and was pressed into feeding the fires. She rarely said much and was quite happy with tending her own within the sweltering engine.
A bell rung at their entrance, the clerk bowing his head slowly as they pushed past the barrels, axles and linens crowding the front. Felicity took to the counter.
“Evening mist… pardon me, madame. You’ve made good time. I was just preparing to close shop for the eve. But I’ve always got time for a lovely customer such as yourself. How might I assist?”
The clerk gave a wary look to the seemingly young man piling mounds of supplies into his thin arms before reaching over and adjusting the nozzle on his gas lamp and bathing the counter with its orange glow. The flames hissed with the anger of a startled snake and for a moment Felicity felt the familiar wave of heat from gunfire wash over her face before fading into the recesses of her memories.
“My colleague and I desire to stock our ship whilst we’re moored. We’re hoping you can provide.”
“Ship you say? We ain’t have many of those come through recently. Afraid it’s affected my stock some but you’re welcome to whatever I got displayed.”
“Trouble on the rails?” Felicity asked.
The clerk sighed. “Truthful, we’re too far out to draw any serious attention.”
“Then what’s keeping your lines clear?”
“We’re a small community. Don’t like stirring the pot. We rather keep our troubles to ourselves.” The clerk removed his hat, running his hand over his scraggly hair and looking towards the window as if he expected to find someone peering between the boards.
Laure stepped to the counter, depositing the pile of sheets and cloths, metal cogs and wheels, bags of dry oats and wheat, bottles of alcohol and other food stuffs before the clerk. She laid the remainder of the list before him and he held the paper close to the lamp.
“I think I can get some of this. If you’re the ship in port, I can have the bigger things delivered to you by the morrow. Is that all?”
Felicity looked to Laure who nodded. She turned back to the clerk.
“There is one thing I’ve got personal interested in. Had a spot of trouble recently myself and I’ve misplaced my gun. Would reckon a fine store as yours would carry some.”
“We’re a peaceful mining town…” He looked her over, perhaps weighing the likelihood of a hold up from this rough looking woman and her thin fellow.
“I understand but even miners got family to watch.”
The clerk seemed to weigh the situation further. And while his poor streak would no doubt make the haggling difficult, it also opened doors that may have otherwise remained closed.
He motioned towards the back, casting one last glance towards the window before snatching his lantern. Felicity and Laure followed him to a padlocked door, and the clerk fumbled in search of the key in his pocket.
“We don’t got a proper selection like any fancy city or nothing,” he warned. “But if it’s just the basics, you’re welcome to peruse.”
He pushed the door open to a small supply room. He led Felicity to a counter, removing a cloth over a pile of boxes.
“Can I interest you in something small? I’ve got a couple of pistols and perhaps a six shooter.”
“Where are your rifles?”
“That’s an awful mighty weapon for a little lady,” the clerk shrugged, pulling more cloth to the floor. Dust clouded the air. Clearly there weren’t many passing through but if the shipping was on hard times it seemed reasonable for the townsfolk to try and stock up on protection. Unless whatever plagued the lines was also affecting the miners.
“Got some simple pull levers. They got a bit of a kick though. Got to watch yourself else you could throw your whole shoulder.”
“Let me see the Colt revolver.”
“That? I wouldn’t recommend…”
Felicity held out her hand and the clerk obediently fetched it from the pile. She tested the weight, holding it up and looking down its sights. She fingered the firing mechanism, feeling its resistance. She then flipped the chambers, listening to the smoothness of their revolution.
“Thing about them is they got a nasty tendency to spray.”
“Yes and chain fire in inferior models. It’s an issue with all revolving chambers. Ain’t much a problem with pistols since your arm ain’t in front for balancing,” Felicity said. “But there be times when a faster shot is worth the risk.”
“You could seriously harm yourself, little lady,” the clerk warned.
“Only because manufacturers are limited in their creativity,” Laure spoke. Though her voice was barely a whisper, it drew the attention of both merchant and buyer. Slowly, the shy engineer took the weapon from Felicity’s fingers. Much like her captain, she turned the weapon in her hands. But she wasn’t checking to see if it was in good maintenance. She was checking the parts themselves.
Laure cracked open the barrel as if she were snapping the neck of a chicken. The clerk gave a quick shout but she turned her shoulder, blocking her actions from his view. Immediately flicking a few of the retaining clasps, she popped the chamber effortlessly free. She refitted part of the loading mechanism into the vacated hold, fishing from her pockets some tools to assist with the transformation. The clerk’s shock at her disassembling quieted into fascination as both he and the captain watched her attach a support cleft to balance the chamber allowing it to stick up from the top instead of hang below by the trigger hand.
“Eh, what are you on about there?”
“It’s such a simple design oversight,” Laure said. “You got your chamber set too low in the butt. Raise the firing mechanism and you won’t have your arm in danger. Like so.”
She held it up for the clerk.
“Not currently. It will once I have proper time to rejig with the new elevation. Ain’t nothing fancy and obstructs the vision if you ain’t used to it but hardly worth abandoning the principle. You can keep her faster fire and not burn your fingers.”
“Well, saddle me up to a may waggon and drive me about the pole,” the clerk said, looking over the device. “I don’t believe I ever seen such a thing.”
“No doubt,” Laure said. “Though it ain’t the first I’ve fashioned. How much you charging?”
“That runs about twenty I think.”
Laure shook her head.
“For a faulty design I got to fix before its got any use? I ain’t buying. You get her down to twelve and I may reconsider.”
“Twelve!” The clerk shook his head. “Excuse me but that’s nowhere near reasonable!”
It happened too fast for the clerk or Felicity to follow. Laure’s fingers flashed over the makeshift fastener and the whole top portion of the gun seemed to fall into its constituent components. She rained the pieces upon the small table in a confounding pile and began to make her way towards the supplies left on the front counter.
Felicity watched the clerk stoop over the parts, tentatively taking one of the pieces and pressing it against the barrel as if the Lord’s will alone would fuse them together. He poked and prodded, trying to separate them into some sort of recognizable mess. After a few moments, it was clear he had no idea how to refashion the weapon into its original state.
And Felicity smiled.
“Wait!” the clerk called. Laure paused, the supplies piled in her arms. The clerk looked between the two woman who watched him expectantly. “You raise an excellent point. Quite unfair of me to not consider the value of your time in working with these fine pieces. Surely it worth… about sixteen? In its current state?”
“Awfully steep price for a gun that don’t fire,” Felicity said. She paused, her eyes roaming over the small pile of weapons. “I tell you what, you throw in that fine looking knife you got there and I think I could do about fourteen.”
The clerk ground his teeth and Felicity waited while he mulled over his options. With reluctance, he snatched the dagger, scooped the mechanical parts into his hand and carried the gun to the front.
“Shall I bundle it for you?”
“She’s as fine as the day she were born,” Felicity smiled. “I’ll pay for this now and the rest of my order once it’s delivered. I believe this should do nicely for the moment.”
She produced the promissory note and slid it across the counter. The clerk picked it up and held it to the lantern. His eyes widened.
“It is true then?”
The clerk lowered the note, looking over the two women.
“You got the bandit? That Hopkins fellow? I hardly dared hope… what even with sir Nicolai coming to town and all…”
“I gather Mr. Nicolai ain’t one for parting with money easily,” Felicity said. “But yes, we got him.”
“Oh Lord’s blessings upon you!” the clerk sighed. An unexpected change washed over him and his face slid into a look of adoration. “Bless the both of you. I assure you, I will make sure to have your supplies to you by the morrow. I’ll even give you a discount for the service you’ve done this community!”
Felicity looked at Laure who simply shrugged.
“Not that I ain’t appreciative of your hospitality,” Felicity said, “but what exactly we done for your fair town?”
The clerk shook his head.
“That Hopkins… a right old villain he was. For months now, our shipments from port have been getting knocked just days from here. Old Bartholomew was saying that there’s been skimming from the mines but none of us took him seriously until every single one of the trains got hit. Seemed clear someone’s been cutting into our work. And it was doing wonders against our prosperity.”
The clerk turned to the window, walking over this time to draw open the curtain and hold his lantern aloft. He looked up and down the street before being satisfied enough to draw the curtains closed again and return to the waiting women. He leaned in close, his voice dropping low.
“Many been whispering it was an inside job, see. Lots of gossip in the streets that the Hopkins fellow was paying off some members to learn about them shipments and to make sure a blind eye was turned. But those trains weren’t just for taking our ore. When they returned, they brought the supplies we needed to support ourselves. That line’s the foundation of our town and Magnate Nicolai’s got full command of it. He makes sure none else come through. Without ore, we got nothing. With each shipment threatened, the magnate stopped ordering them altogether. No shipments means no goods for me and no pay for the miners. We’re broken.”
“Who’s been tipping off Hopkins then?” Felicity asked.
The clerk twisted his lips but shook his head.
“Can’t rightly say. Don’t know who would throw in with the untamed. All I know is the sheriff and his boys don’t appreciate too much talk on the matter.”
“Why is that?” Laure asked.
“Well, there are some who’ve never liked Plummer. Came in when the town was still struggling with its savages. Rode in bright as the day with that gang of his. They were suppose to be some steady shots. Ended up getting quite a few of the skinner’s heads for the magnate. Got appointment to office but he’s a hard man to follow. Order of the law ain’t his speciality if you catch my drift. Lots have been talking about his penchant for fancy suits, especially the newer ones he manages while the rest of the town’s been blanching beneath the drought. But then, from what I’ve been hearing, the magnate’s been sending him more to see that Hopkins gets caught right quick. I can’t rightly say I’ve seen the sheriff’s gang getting bigger so that money’s going somewhere.”
“Guessing he’s not one to take criticism lightly,” Felicity asked.
“You met him then?”
“Briefly. I ain’t saying he left a good impression.”
“Well, now that the ore’s been found, I’m sure things’ll pick up again,” the clerk smiled. “Like I said, you’ve done us a service, ma’am. One ain’t none of us can pay you proper for.”
“It was my pleasure,” Felicity smiled.
She gave a tip of her brim before motioning Laure out the door, clutching the core of her new rifle and carrying the rest of the pieces in her hand.
“I don’t recall you returning with any ore after catching Hopkins,” Laure said.
“We ain’t,” Felicity replied. “But more importantly, I ain’t reckoning I’ve ever seen this trick you’ve done with the rifle!”
And for the first time, the engineer blushed, turning her face to look across the street.
“It was nothing.”
“Was a damn fine play,” Felicity laughed. “I should get you to do more of my haggling. I’ll see to it that your next pay reflects it.”
“As I said, it was really nothing.”
“Well, don’t get none too excited. I ain’t picked it up yet. Unless the promissory will do you?”
“Honestly, I could use a new primer for the ignition more than any thing else.”
“You get this beauty fixed up,” Felicity said, patting her new gun, “and I’ll get you a whole stock of primers you can build a new bed from.”