Over the Broken Banks of Bannock Part 6
It’s Friday so you know what that means. Actually, it doesn’t mean anything but I still have this short story kicking around incomplete on the site. So have some more Bannock!
“I’m confused. Don’t we hate, Hopkins.”
“I ain’t seeing the relevance.” Felicity stood on a crate, watching the deputy sitting in the office. He was an unsavoury sort with dark, shifting eyes and a large scar running down his cheek indicating he was no stranger to confrontations. But there was an edginess to his character highlighted by the dark leather vest that he wore. He busied himself with a small collection of woodblock prints of questionable content. They appeared most salacious: a variety of paintings of men and women in various compromising positions captured in the base painting style of the western colonies. Felicity had glimpsed a few more bloodier in nature. Those appeared as gratuitous depictions of violence and bloodshed and she wasn’t sure which the deputy found more entertaining.
“Well,” Schroeder said. “I don’t see why we’ve got to ruin a good thing. We’ve been paid. A criminal is going to hang. There’s nothing stopping us from just hopping on and going our merry way.”
“It’s the principal.”
“See, that’s the part where I struggle,” Schroeder said. “We’ve got nothing to prove. We did our job and were paid. I’m pretty ambivalent towards the Bian Chong. If you want to work with him, that’s fine. Coin is coin no matter what Empire it’s from.
“But I don’t see why we should be placing ourselves at unnecessary risk. Hopkins is an outlaw. A despicable man. Lots died in the explosion at the bridge and he didn’t so much as blink an eye.”
“He deserves to hang for what he’s done,” Laure said.
“I ain’t being played a fool.” Felicity’s eyes narrowed. “Pacal wouldn’t want a man to hang for the wrong reasons no matter how much he deserved it. I won’t see Hopkins punished just for gunning Pacal down. Though he ain’t stop the charges from going off he did stop Hopkins from getting away. If Sheriff Plummer had a hand in Pacal’s death – well I’ll see to it he gets the same that Hopkins does.”
“So this is about petty revenge and looking foolish,” Schroeder said.
“It’s about doing the right thing.”
“Right thing. An awfully quaint conceit from us, don’t you think?”
“Of course not. When we rob and steal it’s wholly different.”
“So long as a line’s been drawn then.”
“Look, even a scoundrel can know the difference between wrong and necessity. What’s important ain’t each individual action but the net worth of our lives. We help those that need it and we avoid stealing from those that ain’t deserving.”
“Didn’t take you for the golden scales kind of gal,” Schroeder said. “Weight of one’s own sins and what not.”
“What else you propose?”
“Wu wei. Be like the river and just float along.”
Felicity shook her head.
“Should have guessed. Think we can blow it?”
Laure rapped her knuckles against the stone wall and slowly shook her head. “They build them jails tighter than a hex nut on a vault front for that very reason.”
“It’s true,” Schroeder continued. “A criminal will commit crime. It is his nature. To fight against that nature is to enact your will on the greater cosmic harmony.”
“I ain’t reckoning that’s the priests’ preaching.”
“What would you know? Doesn’t the Lord say something about not killing?”
“I’m fairly certain, given the frame of the discourse, they ain’t agree to turn away from what’s just because the nature of a criminal is cowardice.”
“That’s because you aren’t aligning yourself with the pure force of the universe,” Schroeder said, closing his eyes. He began to weave his hands in stoic mimicry of the priests’ meditations, each limb moving about Felicity in languid, undulating motions as if he were little more than a leaf upon a river rushing to its end.
“I worry what you gather during our trips.”
“Do not fear the unknown,” he continued, his voice slow and peaceful. “Embrace the primordial state. Refuse the desire to assert your will and bend others to your authority.”
Felicity frowned and Schroeder felt the bare of her palm upside his head.
“You see, you disturb the natural balance!”
“Can’t help it – it’s my nature. Now come, your blathering inspired me to our proper course.”
“We’re returning to the train?” Laure asked.
“We should act like the outlaws we are.”
Felicity lifted the pistol in her hands and wove around the jail with the engineer in pursuit. She didn’t wait for the tardy Schroeder, rounding upon the wood front door and casting the briefest glance for watchers.
With a shatter, the latch broke from its hold beneath Felicity’s boot and the startled deputy fell back in his chair. His prints fluttered into the air, falling like thick white leaves about his head. He struggled to address this sudden assault, but as he disentangled from his chair his legs caught about his trousers still wrapped around his ankles. With a shout he tumbled, face cracking against the corner of the desk before he planted upon the floor.
Felicity walked over, pressing the cold tip of the pistol against his cheek.
“How about we not paint this floor today, hm?”
Twisting his lips to the side, the deputy protested.
“The mag already came by to take your money to your ship!”
Felicity heard Schroeder struggling to set the door back in place and motioned urgently for him. As Laure began searching for some restraints, Felicity directed Schroeder to the lawman’s lowered belt and the fop rescued the gun. Felicity took it for a second before pitching it in the dirt outside the jail.
“I’ll tell you how we’re proceeding,” Felicity said. “First thing: my man is going to lift your long johns…”
“… and then you’re going to tell me which of these desks is the sheriff’s. While we bound your hands, you’ll co-operate yourself peacefully into one of these cells while we get the information we need.”
“We don’t got anything more, I swear!”
The deputy choked back further cries as Felicity pressed the gun harder against his cheek.
“We ain’t looking to steal. Least nothing legal.”
“This about the shipments? Plummer said you ain’t going to collect until the end of the month.”
Laure paused from searching the nearby hooks and even Schroeder turn to the captain at the deputy’s confession. Felicity wasn’t sure she had heard the deputy correctly either.
“You know about that then?”
“Do I?” the deputy asked in faked surprise.
Felicity released one of her two bullets into the floorboards by the deputy’s head. He flinched, giving a great deluge of apologies as his face turned away and his body quivered.
Felicity returned the smoking barrel to his other cheek.
“Must I explain the alternative? Because I reckon I can find what I need before that sham trial ends and still replicate at least one of these.”
She flipped through the wood prints with her boot until she found one particularly torturous one.
“I… what do you wa-want to know…”
Tears started to stream down his face in an unseemly manner. They mixed with the blood oozing from his nose to patter against the smooth floor. Laure located the sheriff’s manacles. The thick iron weighed more than she anticipated and she grunted as she lifted them over. She clasped the bracers around the deputy’s waiting wrists. With the manacles securely fastened, Felicity grabbed roughly at the chain binding them, pulling the deputy from the ground and pressing him up against a post. A quick flick of the chain and she had it wrapped securely about one of the hooks. A final tug confirmed they were solid before she extracted her new knife from her boot.
“What was on that print? Nose to navel?”
She ran the blade sharply down his front, splitting the buttons on his vest and cutting the whole cloth through. The deputy simpered, his entire body shaking violently against the chains.
“I’ll tell! I’ll tell! Please!”
Felicity stepped back. The deputy took four slow breaths, sniffling his bloodied nose as he steadied his heart. When he opened his eyes, he visibly squirmed at the knife tapping impatiently against her neck.
“Ain’t nobody suppose to know. Sheriff Plummer got it right in his head that we could start skimming some off the miners’ shipments. You know, a few crates here and there. Ain’t nobody going to miss a bit of ore. Given the bloody price they go for after awhile we’d have a nice, cozy profit.”
“I ain’t seeing where Hopkins comes in to this.”
“Well… the sheriff, see, he’s getting a little fat on the hog. He’s liking this scheme but reckons there’s more to squeeze. So he gets a couple of the boys together and we wrestle up some bandanas and big hats. Make ourselves like fancy brigands and what-have-you. Ain’t nobody going to question and we can just knock a few ships when they come for their loads.
“But the mag’ ain’t liking this. The bigger our take the more it cuts his profits, see? So he tells Plummer this needs proper concluding. Plummer says he’s doing all he can but the mag’ won’t be satisfied without a neck in the noose. So, Plummer convinces the fool that a few more men is needed for tracking these bandits. The suit agrees and now Plummer’s sitting on a big group of hooligans. More hands means more hauling from the ships when we come knocking.
“But the suit’s getting real angry now. That’s when the Rangers come. Start poking around, see? Guessing he got full of Plummer’s hamstringing and sought the lawmen on his own.”
“Ranger Hayes?” Schroeder asked.
“Naw, not him. First bloke came alone and discovered the sales deeds. Obviously, he gets right suspicious. Plummer gets him taken care of and sends him packing in a five foot hole. But that makes the suit even more irate. So then Plummer gets the brilliant idea to start laying the blame on some actual thieves. Offers some foolish sap way more than its worth to knock over a pointless post then catches him and strings him up.”
“So why was Hopkins sent to blow the Glorious Belt Bridge?” Felicity asked.
“I’m getting to that!” the deputy growled. “See, while the mag’ is happy to see some sap dangling from the cage he’s still right riffed there ain’t no sign of his ore. And the sheriff is prancing around in his fancies and the suit is all dusting for Plummer’s white powdered face. He’s saying that the sheriff best find his ore or heads will roll. sheriff decides it’s best to make it seem they ran the rocks over to the Jaders so the suit will rattle off his back. And what best way to do it than to have an outlaw attempt a daring escape while blowing the route to cover his trails!”
“And the bounty was just to legitimize the scam?” Schroeder asked.
“Naw, that was the Ranger’s idea. Guess offing one don’t get rid of the pack. This one’s even more ornery. At least the first would join us in the saloon from time to time. This Hayes fellow just scowls and heads off into the wilds on his own. Don’t seem none trustful.”
“So where are you keeping the goods?”
The deputy paused, licking dry lips.
“I… don’t rightly know.”
“That’s a shame. And you were doing so well.”
Felicity raised the knife again and the deputy howled before the blade even drew close.
“Check the desk!”
She slapped the deputy hard across the check.
“Which is his?”
Blubbering, the man pointed with his chin. Schroeder hurried over, rifling through the papers on top. But most were notices from townsfolk about petty disturbances or Nicolai frustrated with the lack of progress. Once he’d made a proper mess, Schroeder turned to the drawers, ripping them open and scattering the contents about the floor. But nothing looked like a proper bill of sale. However, as he went to rip the bottom drawer, it caught against the lock and no matter how hard he pulled he couldn’t work it free.
“Do-don’t know. The safe?”
“I ain’t got time for this,” Felicity sighed.
She whistled for Schroeder’s attention then tossed the pistol to him. Schroeder fumbled to catch the weapon, gritting his teeth worried it would discharge in his hands. Once he realized he hadn’t put a bullet through himself he looked back at his captain.
“Just get this done.”
Stepping back, Schroeder closed his eyes and leaned away from the weapon. The crack filled the entire room and a puff curled from the barrel. The bullet splintered wood and he sneaked a peep of his work.
“Not bad,” he smiled.
He pulled the drawer right out from the desk and frowned at his prize.
Felicity turned back to the deputy, raising the knife high over her head. The man howled as she thrust it forward. Laure gave a sharp scream. The blade crunched as it bit into the wood. It took a few seconds for the deputy to process what happened and Felicity noted the stain growing along the leg of his long johns. She walked over, looking at the fruits of their labour.
She also frowned at the bare bottom of the drawer.
“That ain’t right. Who locks a naked drawer?”
Schroeder shrugged, leaning over the container and running a slow hand over the surface.
“Could be some sorcerer’s trickery. It’s not unheard of for a magnate to commission a ward or glamour to protect his most important documents. Doubtful the sheriff would be able or inclined, though.”
Felicity saw Schroeder pause, his brow raising curiously.
“You got something?”
“Not a reactant for an incantation. It’s smaller though, like a hole…”
The was a soft crack as he pried the entire bottom loose.
Beneath was a stuffed secret compartment.
A whole pile of paper was kept inside. Felicity snatched them up and as she scanned them she passed them to Schroeder. Stacks of letters and correspondences were jumbled together and as she scanned the spidery, flowing script she noticed they were an exchange between Sheriff Plummer and some cautious individual who only signed as Mr. Qv in a soft, flowing hand.
But the contents were clear enough. The fool went so far to even explain that it was pinched from the magnate’s shipments. Unfortunately, it lacked the location where the sheriff had it stashed and the only mention seemed to be for an exchange in a few days time.
“What do you make of it?”
“Certainly not a bill,” Schroeder said, “but I’d think damning enough. The correspondent is incredibly cautious but we got Plummer’s own confession in writing. Should weigh heavily in a court, I’d wager.”
Felicity stuffed them in her pocket.
“This will have to do,” she said. She motioned at the deputy. “Best bring him along too.”
She pulled the knife from the post, leaving the snivelling man to Schroeder and Laure.
Schroeder struggled to loosen the manacles from the nail and, when he finally did, he gave the man a sharp kick in the rump to get him moving. The deputy stumbled and tripped over his trousers still dragging on the ground but Schroeder refused to lift them. Laure gathered up some of the loose chain, trying to keep it from dragging. Felicity stepped into the street and searched for the town hall. But as the others emerged with the deputy, she could hear the echo of voices ringing through the abandoned town.
The trial had concluded.