* * *
Gemma went to Farnsworth and asked if he had seen James La Forge.
"I believe he's in his room," Farnsworth said.
"And what room would that be?" Gemma said.
"And why should I tell you, Miss Gemma Jones? After you threatened me."
"My dear man, I am very sorry. We did find the culprits of such a horrific vandalization."
"Who was it?"
"I'm not at liberty to say. But me and La Forge have a special arrangement and "¦ uh "¦"
""¦ it would behoove you to let me in if you would not mind."
"Of course. Of course. I did not know Mr. La Forge was that kind of man."
He gave her the room number and she went up the steps, finding it at the front of the building, not far from the stairs on the second floor. She knocked on the door and thought she heard someone inside say "Who could that be?" A few moments later the door opened and La Forge stood there. He started, obviously surprised to see her.
"Yes?" he said.
"Mr. La Forge."
"I've heard of your "¦ going's on around town and "¦ uh "¦ I feel we need to talk."
She pushed by him and entered the room. There was a bed, a dresser, and a wardrobe which was slightly open. There was also a desk in the room with a lot of paperwork on it as well as a small, somewhat portable safe that was in the corner. It was open and he walked quickly to it and closed it. She noticed a good deal of cash and paperwork in the safe before it closed. He spun the dial on it. She noticed several blank stock certificates on the desk as well, folded as if they came in the mail.
"Oh, I wonder what small fortune that could be," she said.
"Well," he said. "Miss Gemma Jones. Your name proceeds you."
"I've heard from reliable sources that you may be up to some shady business in this town."
"Shady? How ridiculous. I'm merely trying to make the people of this town as rich as I can."
"Well, you should know that I am looking out for several peoples' best interests."
"Hm. Who would that be?"
"I am not at liberty to say. You do not need to know that."
"Very well. How can I help you, Miss Jones? I would hate to be thought inhospitable to my "¦ guest."
"I've heard rumors that you've been involved with mysterious beings in the caves."
"Oh. Have you?"
"Really?" she said.
"Yes, really," he replied.
"I don't think that's very true now, is it?"
"I didn't hear any rumors. None whatsoever. But "¦ what would I have to do with mysterious beings in a cave? You've been talking to that fellow with the rifle, haven't you?"
"That fellow who said "˜something,' a bear or something, followed us out of the cave. Me and my geologist."
"Hm. What did the bear look like?"
"There was no bear. It was an avalanche."
"An avalanche where?"
"A collapse. In the mine we were looking in, hoping to find some more gold."
"You find any gold?"
"We found what we were looking for. Well, not really what we were looking for. But it was close enough."
"You must be alluding to a gem of another sort, I take it?"
She looked at the safe.
"Oh, of course," he said.
He walked over to the safe, turning the dial while being careful to shield it from her. Then he opened it up.
"If you think I've stolen something, just say so," he said. "And you are free to look. Don't take anything for yourself though or I'll have to pull the full weight of the law down upon you. You are just a dancehall girl, albeit one who sings well."
"Oh just," she said.
"My daughters always thought so."
She looked at the safe and he gestured towards it again.
"That could very well be a red herring," she said.
"Where else do you wish to look?" he said. "Under the mattress, perhaps? In the dressers?"
"I want to know what you know and I think it would behoove you to tell me."
"What could I possibly have to gain from that?"
"We've intercepted some telegrams of yours."
"Oh. It seems like everyone in this town does."
"There are things in this town that "¦ we have seen and I know that you have seen. And unless you want those things to continue happening to this town, I'd suggest you tell me what you know."
"What things have you found?"
"The bear "¦ if you want to call it that."
"No no no. There's something else, isn't there? You've found something else in this town, haven't you?"
"You tell me."
"I want you to tell me."
"It seems like we're at an impasse here."
"It seems like we are," he said.
"Knowledge," she said. "Okay. Information for information. What do you want to know?"
"What have you found? Where is it?"
"What are you referring to?"
"You know what I'm talking about. Where is it?"
"Where is what?"
"Where is it?"
La Forge slowly approached her, his arms crossed.
"It," she said. "Describe it."
"She's not gonna tell," A smooth voice dripping with malice covered by a thick Georgia accent said.
The wardrobe door opened the rest of the way and a man slipped out. He moved with the grace of a snake though Gemma was sure every step was carefully planned. He had long, blonde hair and wore black. Two reverse holsters were on his belt, each holding a Colt Peacemaker and he wore black gloves that were smooth and clean. He had ice blue eyes and didn't seem to blink, merely stare. There was something terribly menacing about him.
"And who might you be?" she said haughtily. "An accomplice?"
He walked over to her, laughing quietly to himself.
"No, m' dear, I'm not an accomplice," he said with a sinister smile. "I'm his boss. I'm in charge of "¦"
"Of what exactly are you doing?" she asked.
"Mr. La Forge "¦ are we still going with that?" he said.
He grabbed her by the arm.
"Where is it?" he said.
He was still smiling slightly.
"I know it's here," he said. "They told me it's here and I need it and I want it and I'm not above a little rough play if need be."
"What "˜it' are you talking about?" she said angrily.
"I don't have time for this!" he said slowly. He looked at La Forge. "Do you have time for this? I don't have time for this."
He drew a pistol and pointed it at her.
"I really don't have time for this and I'll shoot this whole town if I have to," he said.
He looked at La Forge.
"She's yours," he said. "You tell her what to do!"
Gemma took advantage of his distraction to slip her knives into her hands. When he looked at her and saw her with him, his smiled broadened. He still didn't seem to have blinked.
"She has bite," he said. "You didn't tell me she has bite. Oh! You have bite! I like that. I like that. But this is faster than that."
He nodded towards his pistol. Then he glanced over his shoulder at La Forge.
"Why don't you "¦ just show her," he said.
La Forge looked suddenly nervous.
"Go ahead and kill me," she said. "They'll all be dead soon anyway."
The man in black looked back at La Forge.
"I like her," he said. "Why didn't you tell me about her sooner?"
Gemma grabbed the barrel of the gun, twisting it out of the man's hand and reversing it to point it at him. He turned back to her with a grin and a laugh.
"I like - I like her," he said. "Why don't you show her? Why don't you show her?"
He turned to La Forge again.
"Show her," he growled.
It was an order.
La Forge didn't seem pleased with it.
"All right," he said.
He took off the glasses. Then he pulled off the beard and the wig.
"Hello Jennie," he said.
To Gemma's horror, she recognized her father, Charles Allen. Her jaw dropped and she just stared at the man. While she was stunned, the man in black reached forward and gently took the pistol from her hand and pointed it at her, positioning himself between her and the door.
"Now, I will ask you one more time little girl," the man in black said, his voice almost soothing. "And this time "¦"
He reached down into his boot and pulled out a Bowie knife. He held it to her throat.
"Where "¦ is "¦ the Crescent?" he said.
"Oh," she said
"I know it's here."
"I see. You don't know where it is either."
"You don't know?"
"That's what I've been saying."
"She's worthless to us."
He tried to stab her but the whalebone in her corset turned the knife aside like armor. Charles Allen stepped forward and clamped a hand over her mouth. Gemma stabbed her father in the inside of his left elbow and he grunted in pain. Valentine tried to stab her again but, again, the whalebone in her corset saved her. She reached down and picked up the knife on the floor, brandishing them both at the men.
"Where are the rubies!?!" she said.
Both men stepped back, Allen bleeding profusely. Valentine moved his hands in a strange way that they almost seemed to go through each other. He pointed at her and an intense wracking pain went through her as her face and hands blistered and dripped fluid. As her father came towards her to try to clamp his hand on her mouth, her vision clouded with something red as blood dripped from her eyes. The pain was intense and terrible.
The next thing she knew, she was laying on her back on the ground gripped in pain and unable to say or do anything.
"I don't think she knows," the man in black said. "I don't think there's any point of keeping her around."
"We can't just leave her in my room!" Allen said.
"She doesn't know. None of "˜em probably know. It doesn't matter. We'll find it sooner or later."
"Just, hold on a second."
"Little girl, you shouldn't mess with me."
He stabbed her twice in the gut and she felt herself starting to bleed.
"You better get your money, Allen," the man in black said. "And get outta here. I don't care if he's got them rubies."
She felt the man in black wipe his blade off on her clothing. Then the door opened.
"Blackberry," she whispered.
* * *
Otto had arrived at the Empire Hotel and Saloon about five minutes after Gemma. He sat himself down at the bar and listened for her to call for help, just in case she needed. He had been there for a little while when he saw a man come down the stairs. He was blonde and wore all black, including black gloves. He recognized the man as John Valentine and he stood and drew his sword.
"Blackberry!" he heard a woman scream from upstairs.
Otto rushed to the stairs, brushing past Valentine.
"Excuse me," Valentine said.
He got a good look at Otto's face.
Otto ignored him and ran up the steps. He saw a single door open in the hallway and ran to it. In the room, a man was kneeling by a little safe, filling up a satchel with money. Gemma Jones lay on the ground in a widening pool of her blood. Otto rushed across the room, stepping over Gemma, and stabbed the man in the chest as he looked up at the last second.
Gemma, in a haze, turned her head towards her father and saw him run through. Money flew into the air. The man fall back with a high-pitched gasp and then lay still. Otto sheathed his bloody saber and went to Gemma but found her dying. She clutched at her belly.
"Gemma "¦" he said.
He tried to deal with the wounds but had no way to stop her from bleeding.
"Gemma, what happened?" he said.
She looked up at the ceiling.
He ran out of the room to go get Dr. Weisswald.
* * *
After Dunspar and Dallas had finished with his lesson, the cowboy was going to have a beer and relax before lunch. He always said he was "all dried out." The others came over to him and he bought them each a beer.
"Terrible thing to happen to that widow," Dr. Weisswald said.
"Oh my God!" Dallas said.
He went pale.
"I saw it!" he said. "I saw her body! There was nothing left of it. They say there was a disease that did that?"
"It wasn't a disease," Dunspar said.
"I've been traveling with the doctor for a while now and "¦ that's not a disease," Jacali said.
"That's just what I heard," Dallas said. "I'm just an ol' cowpoke. I don't know these things."
"Dallas, you said you recently got a big pay raise?" Dunspar said.
"I got a bonus. We took cattle up from Texas to Kansas and we did it in record time. The owner was willing to give us a nice, nice bundle of "¦ I got $200. That's over and above regular pay. There were four of us that got that "˜cause we did such a great job. That's amazing! I can't believe it! More money than I know what to do with. I'm looking. I'm thinking I'm going to be able to find a place."
"You ever meet your neighbor at the boarding house?" Bowen said.
"Oh," Dallas said. "Miles Nelson? Yeah. Funny about that man. They told me he left yesterday afternoon "¦ but I coulda sworn I heard him in his room last night. He was bumping or something. I don't know what he was doing because he woke me up. That's why I went for the walk, because he woke me up. I tried to get back to sleep and then I couldn't get back to sleep. So "¦ I'm glad I wasn't in the house. Poor Widow Barrington. What was it? What'd it do?"
"Well, there was a loose floorboard in your room," Dr. Weisswald said. "I'm not sure if you knew about that. And we found something under it. And I think it might be related to her death."
"In my room?" Dallas said.
"I didn't know about any loose floorboards. What did you find? Was it gold? I hear about people hiding gold under loose floorboards."
"It wasn't gold."
"Oh. I don't need gold anyway."
Bowen held up the burnt piece of burlap. Dallas looked confused.
"Here's what I found," Bowen said.
"Oh!" Dallas said. "It's just some burlap. That's not treasure."
"It coulda held treasure."
"I thought you were talking about treasure. I thought you were talking about treasure."
"Also, the floorboards connected from your room to your neighbors," Dunspar said.
"So maybe he had some treasure," Dallas said.
He snapped his fingers.
"He took it with him," he said. "But I couldn't have taken it anyways, because it wasn't mine, and if I'd found it, and I found out it was connected to his room too, I would've had to ask."
"Well, we were just wondering if you knew anything about it," Dr. Weisswald said.
"Huh-uh," Dallas said.
"What was Miles'â”€"
"Wait, which board? I wanna go look."
"What was Miles' occupation?"
"I dunno but he was always looking at rocks. He was only here a few weeks."
Lily came out of her room where she was doing paperwork. She was delighted to see Dallas there and he gave her a big smile. The two of them went behind the bar to chat.
Otto burst in the front door.
"Weisswald!" he yelled. "Come with me! Now! No questions!"
Dr. Weisswald ran out the door with him, followed by Jacali, Dunspar, and Bowen.
* * *
Gemma knew she was dying. She could feel her life running out of her on the floor. She looked at the carpet to one side of her and then dipped her finger in to the pool of blood under her and wrote a message. She was certain she was not going to survive. She blinked and someone was leaning over her left side. The woman had dark hair, reddish skin, and was pretty. She wore a white Stetson and looked concerned, frowning at the girl.
The woman gestured towards her left side and Gemma saw, lying there on the floor next to her, was a large silver crescent with small spikes sticking out of it. She recognized what it was from the description the others had given her. It was the Crescent.
"You need to trust in it and touch it," the woman said. "Pull one of the golden rods forth. The Lunula determines if you're worthy. But it's a matter of faith to believe it will not harm someone."
She gestured to one of the spikes.
Gemma only thought about it for a moment before reaching for the Crescent and grasping one of the spikes. She pulled and it slid out easily. Connected to it was a long, golden rod. It glowed and seemed to sparkle, practically crackling with power.
"Touch your wounds," the other woman said.
She touched the wounds on her belly with the rod and everything got hazy. She closed her eyes and felt very strange but not wrong.
"You have to trust and you have to have faith," she heard the woman say.
When she opened her eyes, someone else was leaning over her.
* * *
Otto burst into the front door of the Empire Hotel, followed by the other three.
"What is going on?" Farnsworth cried out.
"Medical emergency!" Bowen yelled as he ran past.
Otto led them up the stairs and down the hall to the room with the still-open door. Gemma Jones lay on the ground in a wide pool of blood. Nearby, another man lay next to a safe, bank notes and money all around him, in a similarly large pool. Dr. Weisswald ran to Gemma and found cuts on her clothing in her belly. Gemma opened her eyes.
"I think I saw God," she said.
Weisswald quickly pulled up her dress and examined her belly but found not cuts, marks or scars. She was covered in blood. Her dress, belly, face, and hands all seemed slick with it.
Next to her, written in blood on the carpet, were what she had expected to be her last words. It read:
Couldn't find out about rubies
Searching for crescent
James is John
Send my love to Lily
Weisswald continued to look for a wound. There was so much blood and she couldn't figure out how Gemma could be alive after all of the blood. Gemma appeared unwounded.
"Damn, I do good work even when I'm not here!" she finally said.
Otto just stared at Gemma Jones. He couldn't believe she was unwounded. He had tried to stop the bleeding himself and the blood had just been gushing out of the woman. It was simply impossible. He fainted.
Gemma got up and tried to help him.
Bowen had walked over to the other man who lay in a heap by the little safe. He had been run through the chest with a sword and blood oozed from a wound on the inside of his elbow. Bowen didn't recognize him as La Forge but saw the beard, glasses, and wig on the ground nearby. He looked around and then pocketed a handful of the bank notes.
Gemma slapped Otto lightly on the face and he came around.
"You were dying!" he muttered.
"You killed my father," she said.
"I thought he killed you!"
"I thought so too!"
"But "¦ you're alive "¦"
"Good Lord!" Farnsworth cried out as he looked into the room. "What is going on here!?!"
"I'm sorry," Gemma said. "There's been an accident."
"My God!" Farnsworth said. "My God!"
He ran to get help.
Gemma kissed Otto's forehead.
"So, what's going on?" Jacali said. "Who attacked you? Was it him?"
She pointed at Charles Allen as Otto climbed to his feet and brushed himself off. Bowen picked up the shaded glasses and put them in his pocket. Then he left the room at a quick pace.
"What's going on?" Jacali asked again. "Is this the man that attacked you?"
Gemma looked confused. She had been nearly delirious after John Valentine had stabbed her and thought sure she had seen her father flee the room as well.
"Did you do a Pete Sutter?" Otto said.
"I'm sorry?" Gemma said.
"You came back from the dead," Otto said.
"Hey, my question remains!" Jacali said. "What went on? Who attacked you?"
"It was "¦ it was my father," Gemma said.
"That I apparently stabbed to death," Otto said.
"Well, as long as it's resolved," Jacali said.
"This is my father, Charles Allen," Gemma said.
"Was there anybody else?" Dunspar said.
"Yes," Gemma said. "La Forge was not "¦ him. He was my father: Charles Allen."
"And I just "¦ ran him through," Otto said.
"Which I am "¦" Gemma said.
""¦ eternally grateful for," she said.
"Grateful?" Otto said. "I thought you'd be terrified."
"He's a madman!" Gemma said. "He's "¦ he "¦ I was abused. My sister and I and my mother and he's "¦ he is "¦ hell incarnate."
"Well, not anymore," Otto said. "He's literally in hell now."
"Nice one, Otto," Jacali said.
"Thank you," Otto said.
"John Valentine was also in the room," Gemma said.
"I saw him go down the staircase," Otto said.
"So, John Valentine is in this town?" Jacali said.
"He's already gone," Otto said.
"He's already gone?" Jacali said.
"Yes," Gemma said.
"I assume so," Otto said.
"Well, I mean, if he's close to town or just left, we might be able to get him on horseback," Jacali said.
"Nobody move!" Marshal Bishop said.
He walked in with gun drawn.
"Put down your guns," he said. "Same for anybody that's armed."
Farnsworth peeked around the door frame. Chubby Hawkins giggled nervously and looked into the room, sawed-off shotgun in hand.
"What's going on?" he said, laughing nervously.
They all put their weapons on the floor.
"Who killed this man?" Marshal Bishop said.
"What?" Otto said. "Which one?"
"No, I don't think I want to know, "Marshal Bishop said.
He took several sets of cuffs out.
"Turn around," he said.
"I'm just the doctor," Dr. Weisswald said.
"You're all coming down to the jail where I'm going to talk to you and find out what happened," Marshal Bishop said.
Marshal Bishop had Chubby cuff everybody.
"Who's hurt?" he asked. "Is somebody hurt?"
"May I have some medical assistance?" Gemma said.
"All right, we'll take you to the doctor," Marshal Bishop said. "Chubby, you're going to take her to the doctor. Keep an eye on her."
The other four were cuffed and taken to the jail. He told Farnsworth to lock the room and when he got to the hotel saloon, he looked in and called out one of the men he knew, deputizing him and telling him to guard the room where the murder had taken place.
The four were taken to the jail and each put in a cell and not allowed to talk to each other until Marshal Bishop had all their stories straight. Chubby returned with Gemma during the questioning and she was questioned as well. He told Marshal Bishop the doctor had found nothing wrong with the girl though she had been covered in blood. Otto confessed to killing the man for what he called "self defense" of Gemma. He also mentioned seeing John Valentine coming down the stairs and how he was somehow mixed up in all of it. They couldn't understand why Gemma was covered in blood and there was some confusion but their stories all seemed to check out. Gemma didn't mention the Crescent or the woman who had saved her.
Lily came busting into the jail to look for Gemma. Bowen had told her about Gemma being found in the room and La Forge being a grifter and being dead as well. She made sure Gemma was all right.
After Marshal Bishop had questioned them he made arrangements to retrieve the money and papers in La Forge's hotel room. He also sent a telegram to R.H. Macy and Co. questioning their employment of La Forge and noting the claims he had made in Devil's Gulch.
Though the others were released, Otto was jailed until everything could be sorted out and they could identify Charles Allen's body and find out if La Forge was legitimate.
* * *
It was suppertime by the time the rest returned to the Gilded Lily. Dallas came by that night as well, a little earlier than usual. He and Lily talked and giggled and then she gave him the key to her room and he went back there. She told Gemma Dallas had a busy afternoon, having ridden to one of the ranches to look it over for possible purchase. She said he was going to nap there until that night as he didn't really feel safe at the boarding house any more.
They talked about the rubies that were still missing and Dr. Weisswald wondered if all of the rubies had been retrieved. Jacali wondered if they got retrieved, why were they not returned. Bowen wondered if Dallas had them and they realized Dallas couldn't have sold them to anyone in town. No one would have been able to afford them.
By the end of the evening, they were still not sure what to do. Dr. Weisswald had convinced Ophelia to drink a shot of whiskey but the beverage didn't seem to affect the serpent person. She didn't seem to like it.
"You're metabolism might be too fast for it," Dr. Weisswald said.
Ophelia looked at her.
"Do I get to experiment too?" she said.
"Uh, if you want," Dr. Weisswald said.
"If they're safe," Jacali said.
"Hmm," Ophelia said. "Can you bring me a child?"
"No," Dr. Weisswald said.
"With more description," Jacali said.
"Or a baby?" Ophelia said.
"Probably not," Jacali said.
Ophelia rolled her eyes and sighed.
* * *