Over the Broken Banks of Bannock Part 4
Working late or late working, eh?
Here’s more Bannock for the evening.
Felicity regarded herself in the mirror. After sorting the details with the manager, and passing Nicolai’s promissory along, she had purchased one night’s stay for her and her crew in a modest hotel. The first thing she did was run a bath. Even after soaking in the tin basin for hours, she was still finding smudges of filth. She spent most the morning hunting down the persistent marks of the rails. Dipping the cloth in the small water basin, she pressed against a dark stain, but it took a few wipes for her to realize it was a bruise and not dried blood or dirt.
“Looking awfully fine this morning, captain.”
“Stow it, Schroeder, else I’ll see you scrubbing the bilge tubes till the first snows fall over Huo Hanh.”
She could see him in the reflection of the mirror. The fop drew erect in the door frame, raising his hand in mock salute.
“Sir, yes sir! Just trying to compliment my captain on the benefits of a decent bath and some fresh clothes, sir!”
“Fresh water and a scum’s hanging ain’t luxuries we often enjoy. Might as well make the most of the day.”
“Really looking forward to Hopkin’s five foot shuffle?”
“Ain’t nothing unrighteous in enjoying a bit of justice,” Felicity shrugged.
“Considering our appetites, I don’t know if hungering for justice is a healthy craving.”
“Sure, the frontier ain’t the clearest on the right and the wrong but he ain’t done right by my people and for that I’m aiming to see him pay.”
“Awww,” Schroeder softened his features, “I’m touched captain. But it was only a sprain at best.”
“Get off it,” Felicity frowned. “You know very well I mean Pacal. Ain’t a fitting end for such a noble man. He deserved better.”
Schroeder’s grin vanished. He shifted on his feet, the weight of the unspoken words too much for him to bear. Twice he opened his mouth to respond but nothing came forth. At last he loosened his cravat and the adjustment seemed to free his tongue.
“Forgive me, captain. I didn’t mean anything disrespectful. Just wanted to say I’ve never seen you quite so fancy. If it weren’t for that hat, I may not recognize you at all.”
“I ain’t looking for a celebration. Just to do right by my own. He’d want to see a proper trial and that these folk got the justice they deserved.”
Schroeder nodded. “Well, it’s a good look. Quite the elegant frock and even I don’t have as nice of a twelve button bib. I’m sure even the giant would approve.”
Felicity dropped the cloth in the water and pushed into the hall.
Laure was waiting outside the hotel, standing as still as a boulder waiting patiently for whatever mountain had dropped her in the dirt. She still wore her boy’s clothes and kept a sharp eye on those that passed by.
“Shiny day, captain,” she greeted.
“Sleep well?” Felicity asked.
“Best rest in months but it don’t beat the gentle thrum of an engine or the churn of a boiler at your side. Nights get awful cold no matter how many blankets you got.”
“Leave it to you to find a decent bed and not be able to use it,” Schroeder teased.
“I ain’t use to laying in one all day, unlike others.”
“We’ll be sure to depart shortly, once our business is concluded,” Felicity said, interrupting the exchange. “Meanwhile, tend to the ship. We still got our shipment and it could use some help getting on board.”
The engineer nodded but didn’t move to carry out her orders. Felicity looked at her expecting.
“There anything else?”
She didn’t respond right away, her eyes following the slow passage of the sun for a moment before she shook her head.
“Begging your pardon, captain, but I think S.J. is fully capable of handling the goods.”
“Who’s lazy now?” Schroeder accused.
“I would just like to join you is all.”
Felicity regarded her engineer closely. She had been awfully quiet since Pacal’s passing. At least, quieter than usual. Felicity rested her hand on the other woman’s shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze.
“If you think it best.”
“I could use a saloon.”
“We don’t have time.”
“I hardly think a hanging on an empty stomach is going to be enjoyable.”
“Ain’t enough liquor on the continent to fill you,” Felicity said.
“That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try!”
Felicity shook her head and turned to Laure.
“Get her running hot then come on down to the hall. We’ll put this town behind us soon enough.”
Laure nodded and made her way toward the train.
“Didn’t take her for the hanging type.”
“Let’s just get this done,” Felicity said. “I can’t rightly guess it but I’m reckoning there’s something rotten in Bannock.”
“You think it involves us?”
“I aim to keep it otherwise. Just make sure you keep that rifle close.”
She gave his gun’s shoulder strap a pat and stepped down from the hotel’s steps.
As they walked through the town, Schroeder gazed up at the Mound. His eyes traced the bare rock that burst through the loose soil like the bones of a giant torn open to bleach beneath the baking sun.
“It’s a curious landmark,” he said. “Quite the rise in an otherwise flat and unremarkable land. Unlike anything I’ve ever seen. I can see why the tribals would revere it. Something as grand as that doesn’t deserve to be so tarnished by those snaking mine carts and rails boring into its side. But leave it to the magnates to disregard beauty in their hunt for quick profits.”
Felicity turned to him.
“What do you know of Bernhard Nicolai?”
“Has a horrendous two-step.”
“I’m serious, Schroeder.”
“So am I. Heard he trod on poor Katherine Hampton’s toes. She likened it to being pitched beneath one of his great engines. Nicolai didn’t take kindly to the words and Mr. Hampton neither liked the reply. To this day both men keep trying to strangle the other out of business and peace. Why?”
“I appreciate knowing my allegiances. Thought maybe with your connections you’d have some insight.”
“My connections? You mean that ungrateful patrician who claims kinship?”
“Your father? Yes.”
“Well, I told you I don’t care for his business,” Schroeder said. “Doesn’t matter one wit to me if he’s managed to become the fourth biggest rail magnate or whatever title those doddering old men wrestle over. Petty game for petty men who have in their heads if they run the colonies like some hard nosed aristocrat they’ll earn themselves the fancy title to prove it.”
“Is that what it’s about?”
“More often than not. Some lay claim to the old lines that held names in jolly Thyre before King Horitius and his Star Chamber Trials sent most fleeing to spare their necks. They make it sound as if a stained name will ever be cleansed. But even with the Queen and her congratulations, it isn’t anything but appeasement and placation. Those nobles only care about the coin the magnates earn and if they think they’ll be seen as true blood then they’ve spent too long in a Jader’s fog.”
“Is Nicolai one of them?”
Schroeder turned to her and shrugged.
“Yes? Maybe? I don’t rightly know. My father and I never really talked business and the way he discussed his competitors makes them all blend together. You want to know about the business, best speak with one of my brothers. They are snapping at the collar to inherit the kingdom. But I could care less who lays the most track or gains the largest stake of the market. It’ll matter just as much as those that cornered the lumber and shipbuilding hundred’s of years prior.”
“And you don’t got a feeling of him from when you met?”
“Don’t know if I did. Not my interest and if my father did one thing right it was cutting me from business affairs. Anything else?”
He sighed, thinking back on that life. Though Felicity knew most of the crew would always see him as the spoiled child of his namesake, he would pleasantly forget that world of deceitful sycophants and ambitious traitors if he could.
“He’s got guile,” Schroeder said after a moment. “More so than you’d expect from a magnate who typically wears his desires on his sleeve. I believe he connived my father into an unfavourable deal that stained his governorship. My father believed he was after his position and wouldn’t stop raving about it afterwards. Can’t say what the deal was and my father swore he’d never trust him again but that he garnered my father’s trust in the first place was a mark of a true manipulator.”
“So ain’t someone to trifle -”
Felicity stopped abruptly and Schroeder nearly tripped into her. He followed her gaze, his eyes immediately alighting upon a simple, squat building. The large sign bore the faded letters “Mitchell Wood’s.” It had the appearance of an old general store but beneath the sign hung a large savage’s weapon, swinging on a thick, rusted chain. The thin blade was chipped and stained as if it had been salvaged from a recent slaughter and pinned to the building immediately afterwards. A simple wooden barrel was propped near the door with an enticing sign reading “Free Lunch” set on top.
It was a saloon but Felicity wouldn’t stop for that.
Instead, there was a simple piece of paper nailed to the porch post and fluttering in the gentle breeze. It was long and thin and Felicity stepped forward to hold it stiff in her fingers. Two symbols were written in a thick, tapering black ink and stacked one above the other. They were a complex series of lines, crosses and squares that appeared more like some sort of arcane script than a written language.
But both recognized the Jader symbol immediately.
“Give me your gun.”
“My rifle? And where’s yours?” Schroeder cried.
“The pistol. Laure’s still working on mine. Your gun!”
Schroeder grumbled, reaching beneath his jacket and fetching the weapon from the holster strapped to his lower left shoulder. Felicity took it and flicked open the chamber, looking inside.
“It was a rough night.”
“What of the rifle?”
Felicity gave him a glowering look. Schroeder shrugged.
“The hotel had a bar!”
She snapped the chamber closed and tucked the weapon into the waist of her pants. She then tore the paper from the nail.
“We’re not actually thinking of looking for him.”
“This was left for us,” she said.
“How can you be sure!” Schroeder cried as she took to the steps.
“I thought you wanted a saloon!”
She pushed her way inside.