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The Vengeance of Jack Parker

Max_Writer

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Sunday, December 2, 2018

 

(After playing the Call of Cthulhu Down Darker Trails Catastrophe Engine Campaign original scenario “The Vengeance of Jack Parker” Saturday from 1 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. with Ashton LeBlanc, Kyle Matheson, John Leppard, Yorie Latimer, and Ben Abbot.)

 

Eva Weisswald woke up in a barn loft, not far from Ophelia.  The last thing she remembered was being in Jacali’s village in 1855 and then falling through nothingness, briefly seeing the strange city of stone before she awoke.  She could smell smoke and realized she smelled it in the air and on herself.

 

They found themselves in the loft of a long-abandoned barn.  Their horses stood in the stalls below, along with a good amount of feed and supplies.  Both animals were in excellent condition but seemed nervous. There was also a carpetbag filled with money among their things.

 

The house that had once stood near the barn had been burned to the ground recently and was still smoking.

 

They set off fairly quickly and soon came up the town of Canyon City, Oregon, and learned the date was October 5, 1875.  As much time had passed in the present as they had spent in 1855.  They also learned Canyon City was a day’s ride north of Gravity falls.  When they asked about the house they had found themselves at, they learned it was the old, abandoned Quisenberry place, which was reputed to be haunted and avoided by everyone.

 

“Well, it’s burned down now,” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

They spent the night in Canyon City and got directions on how to get back to Gravity Falls, heading south and arriving at the town On October 6.  Asking around, they learned their companions had arrived back at the town the day before and then left once again.  No one was sure where they went.  She also learned they had all left Gravity Falls on Oct. 1 together originally.

 

Dr. Weisswald decided they would wait in Gravity Falls for the others for some time while she tried to learn magical spells from Ophelia.  They counted the money and found there was a thousand dollars in the bag.

 

*              *              *

 

It took a long time for Dr. Weisswald to figure out the madness-inducing spell she’d convinced Ophelia to teach her.  She thought she had learned the spell a few times but, when she tried to cast it, nothing happened.  Eventually, on October 16, she was able, but she passed out when she did so, the spell having taken too much for her to remain conscious.  When she awoke some hours later, Ophelia told her the man she’d cast the spell on had become quite enamored of a nearby tree for a short time, which she found strange but, as that was not typical human behavior, she had assumed it had worked.

 

The spell had worked.

 

Ophelia was a little disappointed Dr. Weisswald had not been able to cast the spell and still remain conscious, but agreed to try to teach her another spell that she might find useful.  She told the woman she had another aggressive spell she might be able to use.

 

It was October 22 when Dr. Weisswald tried the other spell, unsuccessfully. 

 

A couple of days later, they headed south to head back to San Francisco to find the others.

 

It was not until the 27th she was able to cast the spell of shriveling on a squirrel, killing it instantly.  She knew how to cast the spell and what awful things it did.  The flesh of the animal blackened and withered in a blast of energy.  Ophelia was quite pleased.  She ate the squirrel.

 

They began to work on teaching the woman a spell to allow her to communicate through candlelight.

 

They arrived in San Francisco on November 3, 1875.  They went to Professor Stalloid’s house and found he was already gone.  However, they spoke to Chun Zhi Ruo, the old Chinese woman who lived with the man and she was happy to help them, showing them in the atlas where he went and noting he had left the day before.  She said he had made a mess in his bedroom the night before he left.  She told them he had traveled to Canyon City, Colorado and the others were planning to follow the Arkansas River to various towns.  She noted that apparently they were in pursuit of a man named Jack Parker.

 

Dr. Weisswald made arrangements and they left San Francisco by train the next day.

 

*              *              *

 

En route to Canyon City, Colorado, Dr. Weisswald and Ophelia stopped at her small, one-room cabin outside of Cheyenne, Wyoming, on the way, and spent a night there.  Her black Labrador retriever Hoff was glad to see her.  She’d left him in care of one of the nearby neighbors.  The cabin was a little dusty but in good order.  It had been a while since she had been there.

 

There were people who wanted treatment when they learned she was in town.  There was also a good deal of mail, left on a table in the house by the postman who had her route.  Among the few letters of correspondence were a couple of letters from her sister-in-law, Jane Weisswald Westerfield.  The letter noted Bucky Elger was still leading Albert, Jane’s son, astray.  It seemed like there were more problems there and Jane asked quite specifically if Dr. Weisswald was coming home for Christmas.  She also asked the woman to bring friends as she knew some well armed ones and they were welcome.

 

It gave her pause for thought.  She didn’t like what she was thinking.

 

*              *              *

 

Dr. Weisswald and Ophelia arrived in Canyon City on Tuesday, November 9.  They headed up the valley in search of the others.

 

*              *              *

 

Some 40 miles up the valley, Marshal Clayton Pierce and Lydia Fitzsimmons arrived in South Arkansas on the afternoon of Tuesday, November 9.  South Arkansas was tiny and only really consisted of a hot springs, school house, trading post, and the Joseph S. Hutchinson grocery and general store.  A few houses were scattered around the area but the place was very sparse.

 

They found a Sheriff’s deputy in the general store and informed him of the deaths that had taken place at the Inn of the Smiling Spirit.  The man thanked him and said he would head out for the inn the next day.

 

A little asking around found a family who was willing to rent them beds in the loft of their cabin.  They children came down to sleep in front of the fire and they had a sparse but warm meal before they got beds and slept the night away in comfort and safety.

 

*              *              *

 

On November 10, 1875, Miss Fitzsimmons bid Marshal Pierce farewell for the time being as the number of prospectors and the hint of gold in the area had dulled her curiosity for the strange things they were dealing with and increased it for the chance to dig up something worth a fortune.  She said she’d see him again someday.

 

Marshal Pierce talked to people in town and learned Alexander Timmons was the man who received the money he’d heard about.  He found Timmons and learned he was the cousin of Thomas Parsons, the man who was murdered back in 1870.  The man who had given Timmons the money matched the description of Jack Parker.  Timmons didn’t know anything about Jack Parker, just that the man said he had owed him some money and gave him $1,000.

 

Why is Jack Parker paying for his crimes? he thought.

 

Marshal Pierce thought he could make Centerville by that night if he pressed on and decided to do so.

 

*              *              *

 

Marshal Pierce reached Centerville late on November 10, 1875.  The place was not so much a town as a gathering place for the local farmers and some prospectors.  A general store stood on a hilltop, across from a cemetery.  The post office was housed in the general store.  A half mile down the road to South Arkansas was a blacksmith, and a quarter mile up the road towards Helena was a small, one-room school house.  That was the extent of the “town.”

 

He talked to Buford Ames, who owned the grocery store and ran the post office.  The man told him he found the package with $2,000 in it on the counter one morning in early November.  It was addressed to the grocery store and was filled with paper money and coins.  There was no sign of forced entry or any way anyone could have gotten by Shep, Ame’s dog, a big, loud retriever.  Ames noted Shep always alerted him when someone came around and slept in the grocery store at night.  Ames lived upstairs and he would have heard it.  He didn’t hear anything though.  Shep didn’t make any noise at all.  He didn’t know how the money got there or who could have left it.

 

“It’s like a ghost came in,” he said.

 

He was willing to put the marshal up for the night if he wanted.

 

*              *              *

 

Jacali, Lambert Otto, and Professor Stalloid set off from the Inn of the Smiling Spirit on the morning of November 11.  Otto asked both Professor Stalloid and Jacali to help him with his burned hand but neither was able to render any assistance.  The deputy was also unable to help.

 

“We can get that looked at in the town,” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“Yes … a day’s journey away …” Otto said.

 

They stopped long enough for Professor Stalloid to look for something to sooth his pain but found nothing after an hour.  They used some of their rope to tie Otto to the saddle so he wouldn’t fall off before they continued on.

 

They reached South Arkansas in the late afternoon, noting two familiar horses tied up in front of the grocery store.  Shy Ann was the dapple gray mare that belonged to Dr. Weisswald and Satan was the bay stallion with the white snip on the muzzle and the diamond on the forehead that belonged to Ophelia.  Otto tried to quickly climb off his own horse, having forgotten they tied him down so he wouldn’t fall.

 

*              *              *

 

Dr. Weisswald and Ophelia had arrived in South Arkansas in the afternoon.  They had learned Marshal Pierce had left the town the day before.  They went to the general store to resupply.

 

“He was here yesterday,” the man behind the counter told them.  “He left yesterday afternoon.  Him and his wife split up.  I don’t think they’re gonna make it.  But there’s not been any stuffy-puffy man or an injun or a man with a scar on his face.”

 

Professor Stalloid burst in through the front doors.

 

“Is there a doctor in here!?!” he called out with a grin.

 

“Hello, Stalloid,” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

Jacali was close behind him.  She waved at Dr. Weisswald.

 

“We need you,” Professor Stalloid said.

 

He led Dr. Weisswald outside where she saw the terribly injured Otto on horseback.

 

“You’ll be amazed at our work,” Jacali said.  “We kept him going.”

 

They untied Otto from his horse and helped him down.  Dr. Weisswald noticed he was wearing a Federal Marshal Deputy badge on his coat.  She also noticed an old muzzle-loading musket strapped to his horse.

 

She saw to his injured head and hand and told him he needed to get a good night’s rest in addition to the work she had done on him.  Otto explained what happened while she worked.  Professor Stalloid returned to the general store.

 

“So, we were … in hindsight, I’m not sure why we did this …” Otto said.

 

“To watch Pete Sutter,” Jacali said.

 

“Yeah ... but … so … we were … we found some of the snake people’s ruins … we were tracking down a bunch of … desperados … cowboys … they were trying to raid the ruins and when we were fighting them, one of the corpses got back up and … the reason why my hands burned is that Stalloid, in his infinite brilliance, decided to use the lightning gun when all of us were around the corpse …”

 

“Except for me.”

 

“… and it went into my sword and burned my hand.  And then the corpse proceeded to beat me relentlessly until I was woken by Pete Sutter beating me relentlessly.  And that’s how I am here.”

 

“It was a fun day.”

 

Dr. Weisswald looked at Jacali and saw a fresh bloodstain on her left shoulder and a bullet hole in her doeskin jacket.  She looked fine as far as she could tell, however.

 

“There is more to explore down there if Ophelia’s interested, but …” Jacali said.  “But … there are some places that I don’t think I can go anymore.”

 

Dr. Weisswald looked at her.

 

“I’m just saying, if you saw Pete Sutter tied up to a tree, you would investigate immediately,” Jacali said.

 

*              *              *

 

While the others tended to Otto on the wide porch, Professor Stalloid found Ophelia still picking out items in the general store.  He told Ophelia he was trying to learn how to cast a spell to contact Yig and asked if she might be interested in helping him.  He was surprised when he learned she knew that spell already.  She was no sure about teaching him.

 

“Perhaps,” she said.  “I am busy teaching Eva Weisswald … certain spells to help destroy you primates.”

 

She had seemed interested in the idea, however.  Then she noticed the strange snakeskin robes he wore.

 

“What is that?” she said suspiciously.  “Where did you get it?”

 

He told her about the Spiral Crypts they had found, noting he had intended to put it back, but they had rushed out of the crypts in the end and he had simply forgotten.  She questioned him extensively about the crypts, practically interrogating the man, who was more than happy to answer all of her questions very clearly and giving her a lot of details.  He didn’t really even understand it was an interrogation and happily answered all of her questions.  He told her the snakeskin robe had been found there.  He gave her elaborate detail on the mosaics and carvings on the walls of the crypt and the portals and the statue.  He learned the statue was of Yig.

 

She obviously wanted to get back to the crypts.

 

He asked if she knew anything about slimes but she didn’t.  The strange geodes were unfamiliar to her though piqued her interest.

 

She noted from his description, the crypt didn’t sound old enough to be from her time, some 225 million years before.  The mosaics on the walls were also obviously not from her time period, which was long before mammals had even evolved, let alone evolving into man.

 

*              *              *

 

They decided to stay the night in South Arkansas, finding a bed with one of the locals for Otto while the rest of them camped out near the town.  It was cold but the weather was fairly clear and so it wasn’t terribly bad.

 

They talked for some time around the fire, Jacali telling Ophelia of the vision she had when she touched the statue of Yig.  She told the serpent person of men and primal men suffering and dying under the serpent people.  She noted they were not her people, or at least not from her time period millions of years ago, as there were no men in that era.

 

She seemed intrigued, in her own dry and emotionless way.

 

“So, my people enslaved men?” she said.  “Very good.”

 

The description that both Professor Stalloid and Jacali gave her of the strange thrumming energy that seemed to be in the place gave her pause for thought.  She told them the spiral of the crypts and the position of the corpses allowed energy to be drawn from the remains, or from those interred there alive, using their souls, their life force, to be used to power gates and the like for great periods of time, obviously.

 

They described the strange dark cave they had entered through the only functional gate but she was not familiar with that at all.  She reminded them many of the serpent person cities had fled underground with the increasing size and power of the beasts that had evolved on the Earth.  Hers had not taken that path, but rather had planned to come to the present to conquer it for their people.  They had been destroyed before they could fulfill that plan.

 

Professor Stalloid asked Ophelia if she knew anything of Bast but she didn’t.  She noted that even if the god were on Earth at that time, there was no guarantee it would be called what men called it.  Professor Stalloid got very quiet at that.

 

“Okay,” he said.

 

*              *              *

 

Marshal Pierce had continued his investigation in Centerville through November 11 both to try to learn about the stagecoach between Centerville and Helena, and to accommodate his horse, Arion, who had thrown a shoe and had to get it replaced.

 

On November 12, he continued onto Helena, reaching it around nightfall.  The small, unincorporated settlement probably had a population of about 500 and housed a post office, hotel and saloon, and a few other services, including a general store.  Most of the populace were prospectors and the town was mostly made of tents, sometimes with wooden structures but most often with canvas or cloth walls.  The post office was the only permanent structure and made of stone.  It looked like it could hold off an army.  A covered bridge crossed the creek north of town.

 

He headed for the saloon in hopes of continuing his investigation the next day.  He was getting close to home and starting to recognize things.  He didn’t want to.

 

“Clayton Pierce!” a voice called to him shortly after he had sat down with a bottle of whiskey at a table in the back of the saloon.

 

He looked up to recognize a prospector who used to live in Granite.  His name was Milo Garrett and he had known Marshal Pierce when he had lived there.  He was an average-looking man with a bushy beard who wore rough clothing.

 

“Why, I haven’t seen you in … like unto five years,” Garrett said.

 

“Sounds about right,” Marshal Pierce said.

 

Garrett sat down and called to the bartender to bring them each a whiskey.  The man downed it as soon as it arrived.

 

“Luck ain’t been with me, I tell ya,” he said.

 

He started talking and didn’t stop for a long time, telling Marshal Pierce he had lost five or six claims to claim jumpers or others with more legal recourse than he.  He had fallen in with a man named Gulliver Thompson and his partner for a while, but the man was a two-timer. 

 

“I saw your wife a couple weeks ago,” he said.

 

“Did you now?” Marshal Pierce said.

 

“How is she doing?  I only saw her in the general store up in Granite.”

 

“Wouldn’t know.”

 

“Wh … uh … wh … uh … what?”

 

“Been separated for five years.”

 

“Well, it’s been good seeing you.”

 

“It’s been good seeing you too.”

 

Garrett had gone red in the face and got up uncomfortably, wandering away.

 

“Yeah,” Marshal Pierce said.  “Oh yeah.”

 

*              *              *

 

It was cold and clear the morning of November 12 in Centerville.  Jacali had woken up first and wandered around the camp, walking alone in the trees, thinking and thinking and thinking.  The others soon awoke and cooked up a quick breakfast and coffee before breaking camp and heading on towards Centerville. 

 

The night before, Dr. Weisswald told Professor Stalloid that Ophelia was teaching her spells.  He talked to Ophelia about the possibility of teaching him how to cast a spell to contact Yig.  She was willing to teach the man if he so desired.  She didn’t seem pleased with the idea of it though.

 

Sometime before the two groups had met up, Ophelia had taught Dr. Weisswald the Candle Communication spell though the magic required two people to contact each other at the same time, which might be problematic.

 

They headed on to Centerville and learned Marshal Pierce had been there just that morning but left on the way to Helena.  They decided to push on to try to reach Helena a little after nightfall.  They left their horses with Ophelia to stable at the livery and eventually found Marshal Pierce in the saloon.

 

“Hey, Marshal Pierce,” Dr. Weisswald called to him as they approached his table.  “I brought what’s left of your deputy.”

 

Otto looked at her.

 

“Thanks,” he said.

 

Marshal looked up to see the others in the party.  Otto had his head wrapped in bandages and he could see the bruises peeking out from underneath.  He picked up the shot glass and downed another gulp of whiskey.  He stood up and walked to them.

 

“Seems like you had the right idea to avoid Pete Sutter this time,” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“Like we all should,” Marshal Pierce said.

 

“Yeah,” Jacali said.  “Look what it did to him.”

 

“I mean … only him,” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“I still think we should have left him tied to that tree,” Jacali said.  “We could have watched that for a day.  I could have watched it for two days, honestly.”

 

“But they were grave robbers,” Otto said.  “So …”

 

“Well …” Jacali said.  “That would have bothered me.  But it would have been made up for watching Pete Sutter struggle tied to a tree.”

 

Marshal Pierce looked Professor Stalloid up and down.  Instead of his usual suit, he was wearing robes made of snakeskin, apparently.  They had wide sleeves and there was a heavy hood.  He decided to ignore him as it was probably the safest way to go.

 

“Can you pull a rabbit outta yer hat?” one of the men seated at a nearby table said.

 

“Why, yes, I can!” Professor Stalloid said.

 

He took his hat off and put his hand in.  He drew forth his hand, only the middle finger extended.  Then he put the hat back on.

 

“That ain’t a rabbit, stupid,” the man said.  “This is a rabbit.”

 

He held up two fingers.

 

“You’re a terrible magician,” he said.

 

“I’m sorry,” Professor Stalloid said.

 

The man ignored him, getting up and walking away.  Marshal Pierce cleared his throat.

 

“What happened to you, Otto?” he said.

 

“Well, I got electrocuted by Stalloid first,” Otto said.  “And then beaten up by a corpse.”

 

“And then beaten up …” Jacali said.

 

“By Pete Sutter,” Otto said.

 

Marshal Pierce’s eyebrows rose up.

 

“Pete Sutter ran away with $200 worth of gold,” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“That’s why you leave him tied to a tree,” Marshal Pierce said.

 

Jacali looked at Stalloid and pointed at Marshal Pierce.

 

“Did you say Pete Sutter?” a man said.

 

“Uh … who’s asking?” Jacali said.

 

The man looked confused and then looked around himself.

 

“Why, I am!” he said.

 

“And who are you?” Jacali said.  “That’s why I asked.”

 

“I’m Clem,” the man said.  “I think he was cheatin’ at cards the other night.”

 

“He was through here?” Jacali said.

 

“He is a known thief,” Professor Stalloid said.

 

The man looked confused again for a few moments.

 

“Yes, he was through here!” he said.  “Why would I be asking you these questions?  Are you a friend of his?”

 

Jacali laughed.

 

“No,” Professor Stalloid said.  “I have many times heard Pete Sutter say, ‘I am Pete Sutter.  Jacali, I hate that lady.’”

 

“And Jack West,” Otto said.

 

“Then you’re his friend?” the man said.

 

“Nope!” Professor Stalloid said.  “He’s never said he hates me but I do not believe we are friends.”

 

“Where is he?” the man said.

 

“Somewhere,” Otto said.

 

“Where is he?” the man said again.

 

“The last place you saw him plus a day,” Professor Stalloid said.

 

The man glared at him.

 

“That’s Stalloid-ese for ‘We don’t know,’” Jacali said.

 

The man put his hand on his pistol.

 

“Careful,” Professor Stalloid said.  “There’s a marshal.”

 

“Two marshals,” Otto said.

 

“We’re in the presence of the law,” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“One and a half marshals,” Dr. Weisswald quipped.

 

Otto sighed.

 

“One two,” Professor Stalloid said over and over, pointing to Pierce and Otto.

 

“I’m watching you, you snaky fellow,” the man finally said.

 

“I’m easy to watch,” Professor Stalloid said.

 

The man glared at him and wandered to the bar.  Maybe he was working up his courage.  Otto kept an eye on him.

 

“So, you were electrocuted by Stalloid, you said?” Marshal Pierce said.

 

“I missed,” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“Clearly,” Marshal Pierce said.

 

“And he hit my sword instead,” Otto said.

 

“He was holding a metal object,” Professor Stalloid said.  “I’m sorry.”

 

“You could’ve hit Jacali!”

 

“She’s not holding any metal.”

 

“But she was in the target area.”

 

“I did still get shot with a gun,” Jacali said.

 

“Why were you shooting a lightning gun where there was …?” Marshal Pierce said.

 

“There was a dead man that was coming at me!” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“Mmm.  But he’s dead.”

 

“Oh.  It was the dead man that did that to him.”

 

Professor Stalloid pointed at Otto’s bruised face.

 

“I think you did that to him,” Marshal Pierce said.  “And I think Pete Sutter did that to him.”

 

“If I had the strength to that, sir …” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“I will defend Stalloid’s character …” Otto said.

 

“… I am very …”

 

“… at least on the account of not beating me up.”

 

“I wish I could beat him up.  Oh, I’d be so strong.”

 

“So, the story is …” Marshal Pierce said.

 

Otto just stared at Professor Stalloid.

 

“Oh, and this all happened in an ancient snake temple,” Jacali said.

 

“Of course it did,” Marshal Pierce said.

 

Ophelia entered the saloon and looked around.  She walked over to the others.

 

“Against your best judgment, you untied Pete Sutter …?” Marshal Pierce said.

 

“Uh-huh,” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“… electrocuted my newly appointed deputy …?”

 

“You skipped a step.”

 

“Nope.”

 

“Tracked down grave robbers.  Tracked down grave robbers.”

 

“Real vigilante justice on this one,” Jacali said.

 

“With Pete Sutter?” Marshal Pierce said.

 

“Yes,” Professor Stalloid said.  “And I gave him a gun.”

 

“Justice and a show!” Jacali said.

 

“Was it Pete Sutter’s idea to track down the grave robbers?” Marshal Pierce said.

 

“No, wait, I didn’t give him a gun,” Professor Stalloid said.  “Otto gave him a gun.”

 

Marshal Pierce looked at Otto.

 

“I did not give him a gun willingly,” Otto said.

 

“No one should give Pete Sutter a gun,” Marshal Pierce said.

 

“He’s good with it though,” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“Yes, that’s why we don’t give him a gun.”

 

“Oh.  Are we taking Jack West’s guns?”

 

“I don’t know who Jack West is.”

 

“Er … wait … yeah you do.”

 

“I don’t know who Jack West is really though.”

 

“Oh!  Oh, okay.  Getting philosophical.”

 

“Considering that he’s not with us right now.”

 

“What happened to that gold?”

 

“We’ll get to that later.”

 

“Pierce, I notice that you’ve had a shift in tones since we last spoke,” Jacali said.  “Is something … happening with you that we should know about?  Are there any developments on the case?”

 

“Uh … yeah,” Marshal Pierce said.  “It’s definitely Jack Parker.  And … uh … I’m getting close to home.  And I don’t like home.”

 

“I understand you on that, although you’ve seen me at my home,” Jacali said.

 

“I understand that sentiment as well,” Otto said.

 

“Yeah,” Marshal Pierce said.  “We saw that.”

 

“Is standing in the middle of a saloon, talking, appropriate behavior?” Ophelia said.

 

They looked around and realized they had met between the door and Marshal Pierce’s table and had been standing there talking for several minutes.

 

“Let’s go back to my table,” Marshal Pierce said.

 

They did so, seating themselves around it.  Jacali called for a round of drinks and Professor Stalloid called for food.  Otto thanked Jacali as he downed the whiskey.  They noticed many people paying with gold dust and saw a scale on the long, wooden bar they used to weigh the gold they took as payment.

 

“Something’s been worrying me about tracking Jack Parker,” Marshal Pierce said.

 

“I know Jack Parker’s important to you, but I don’t think I ever knew why,” Jacali said.

 

“He killed my son,” Marshal Pierce said.  “He ruined my marriage and set me on the path to becoming a marshal.  Which I thank him for the latter, but not for the former parts.  But anyways, Jack Parker seems to be repaying his debts for the crimes that he’s committed.  Most of them have been stealing money, stealing horses, property, stuff like that.  He’s been repaying either the people who have survived his victims, or the victims themselves.  Once we get to Granite, that’s where he committed my crime and I don’t know how he’s going to repay me … for taking my son.”

 

He looked them over.

 

“They say he’s kind of like a ghost,” he went on.  “He’s been entering these places without breaking in.  One owner said he had a dog and the dog barks as anyone who comes near the property, but there was just money inside the house.  No sign of entry or anything like that, so … I don’t think this is ‘pull out his gun and rob you’ Jack Parker, I think this is something strange, strange kind of like what we’ve been seeing with all the stuff you drag me into.

 

“But yeah, I think I’m going to find him in Granite if I … stay on this path.  That’s hopefully where … we’ll see what he’s up to.  I just … am getting a little anxious … about this reunion.”

 

“I can understand,” Jacali said.

 

“And I can’t stop drinking whiskey the closer I get to Granite, so …” Marshal Pierce said.  “If you all would keep an eye on me and … limit me a little bit … that would be good.”

 

“I’ve known losing people in my life and I’ve also lost a partner so … I understand.  If you need to talk to somebody about it, I understand I might not be your first choice, but I’m here.”

 

“Just very curious if he’s really repaying for his crimes.  Does that mean he’s going to try to bring my son back?  And would I even want that?  Would it even be my son?  This is why I’ve been drinking, you see.  Because with what I’ve seen with the rest of you, sounds like bringing someone back is something that can be done.”

 

He looked at Professor Stalloid, as did Jacali.  Professor Stalloid just wrote furiously in his notebook.

 

Professor Stalloid went to the bar and tried to purchase gold dust for cash.  The bartender told him to get away from the bar.  The money he flashed got him some attention, especially from Clem, who was sitting at the bar.  He walked back to the table.

 

“Lydia has my horse,” he said.  “Where-where’s Cory?”

 

“Gold,” Marshal Pierce said.

 

“Cory is not gold!” Professor Stalloid said.  “He’s a horse!”

 

“I think it’s time to turn in,” Marshal Pierce said, standing.  “We leave at dawn for Riverside.”

 

*              *              *

 

They got an early start on November 13, 1875, leaving Helena and arriving in Riverside after only a couple of hours.  The town was a little larger than Helena, a village built a little more solidly as well.  There was an assayer’s office among the other atypical buildings like saloons and hotels.

 

It only took Marshal Pierce about an hour to track down the information he needed.  He learned that just the day before, a mysterious man left $1,000 each to several women and children.  Rumor had it they were the wives of the men killed in 1870 by Jack Parker.

 

So, he’s already been here, he thought.

 

He also learned Elmer Green, the son of Clancy Green, one of the men killed in 1870, still lived in Riverside and was available.  When he talked to Elmer Green, he learned he’d seen the man who left the money and the description matched that of Jack Parker. 

 

“Did anything seem off about him?” Marshal Pierce said.

 

“Nope,” Elmer Green said.  “Said ‘This is for yer pa.’  I said ‘My pa was a low-down skunk.  He was a cheat and a card sharp.  And thank you, sir.’  I didn’t want to seem unappreciative because he was giving me a thousand dollars.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“It’d been nice of him to give it to me five years ago when my father died, but …”

 

“Better late than never, huh?”

 

“I guess.”

 

“You hold onto that money tight.”

 

“I’m getting out of this place.  Ain’t no gold left.”

 

“Okay.  Well, if you see a man with a scar, watch out.”

 

“A man with a scar?”

 

“You’ll know when you see him.”

 

“Okay.”

 

*              *              *

 

While they waited,  Professor Stalloid and Otto both found card games to join.  Gambling was very popular in Riverside.  Whereas Professor Stalloid made about $13, Otto lost about five. 

 

Jacali assisted Weisswald with her attempts to find and heal sick people.  Ophelia didn’t have a very good bedside manner so she was happy for the help.  They found a small family of natives who were sick on the edge of town.  They were Ute and didn’t speak the same language of either Jacali or Dr. Weisswald, so they used pidgin and sign language to make themselves understood with only a little difficulty.  She got them all some medicine to help them and bought them some blankets and other supplies to help them out.

 

The Ute did managed to make themselves understood enough to ask if they had heard about the problems in the country.  There was apparently a report on November 9 about the Sioux and the Cheyenne associated with Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse having been hostile to white men.  The Ute were afraid the white men were going to do something about it.

 

The youngest of them was about five years old but spoke broken English.

 

“That’s what they say in Washington D.C.,” she said to them.

 

They all met back up until lunchtime.  Marshal Pierce wanted to push on that day and Granite was about 20 miles but he thought they could get there by nightfall.

 

“He was here,” he told them.  “He’s not far.  Let’s go.”

 

“Yes, marshal,” Otto said.

 

They headed on.

 

*              *              *

 

It was before nightfall when they arrived in Granite, having pushed their horses pretty hard to make it before dark.  Granite was a large town of probably about 3,000 on either side of the Arkansas River along a three mile stretch; it also extended two miles up Cache Creek.  It was a bustling town and the county seat for Lake County and had been since 1868.  Compared to the other towns they’d passed through, the place was huge.  People were coming and going and there were several saloons, hotels, livery stables, and the like.

 

Cache Creek, a mining camp near present-day Granite, had been the first settlement of note in the area.  Marshal Pierce had moved to the area to farm north of Granite not long after that.  Free quartz gold had been discovered in the area in 1867 and a mill built in Granite.  The town had prospered ever since.

 

Arion was limping by the time they got there, Marshal Pierce having pushed him too hard.  He had talked to his horse during the ride and the horse had seemingly responded as if he understood!  In any case, they arrived in Granite before dark.

 

“I’m interested in finding a lawyer while we’re in town,” Otto said to Pierce as they rode down the street.

 

“What do you need a lawyer for?” Marshal Pierce said.

 

“I don’t know,” Otto said.  “I’ve just been thinking about things.”

 

“I don’t personally know one I could recommend you, but I’m sure as bustling as this town is, I’m sure there is one,” Marshal Pierce said.

 

“What kind of law needs do you need?” Professor Stalloid said.  “Law needs do you need.”

 

“Maybe you shouldn’t be teaching Jacali English,” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

“Don’t worry, he’s just teaching me reading and writing,” Jacali said.

 

“Take that snake coat off,” Marshal Pierce said to Professor Stalloid.  “As to not attract too much attention to us.  I’m pretty sure people will see that.”

 

Professor Stalloid removed the robe, rolled it up and put it into his saddlebag, leaving it bulging.

 

“Let’s conceal our badges,” Marshal Pierce said to Otto.  “Until we need them.”

 

They both took off their badges and pinned them to their vests, covering them with their coats.

 

They arrived at the bank on the main street on the left, the sun setting over the mountains to the west.  The front doors opened and a man with a marshal’s badge escorted a manacled man in a nice suit out of the front of the bank.  The marshal took a key out of the man’s jacket and locked the front door.  Then he led the man up the street towards the marshal’s office.  People watched, interested.

 

“Never mind, we might need the badges now,” Marshal Pierce said to Otto.  “Put it back on.”

 

They both put their badges more conspicuously on their coats.

 

Marshal Pierce and Otto tied their horses up out front of the marshal’s office, followed by Professor Stalloid.

 

“I don’t know if the marshal will reveal what I’m going to ask him if five of us are in the place,” Marshal Pierce said.  “Could you possibly post up at the bank that he just pulled the man from and …”

 

He looked down the street.  Not far down, on the opposite side, was the Granite Saloon, where his son had been shot.

 

“… that saloon over there,” he said, pointing without even looking at the building.  “Possibly post someone looking for Jack Parker.”

 

He gave them a quick description of the large man.

 

“Me and Otto will go in and question the marshal,” Marshal Pierce said.

 

“Are we staying in this town?” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

“Might have to,” Marshal Pierce said.

 

“All right, well, I’ll put up the horses,” Dr. Weisswald said.  “Take them to a stable.”

 

“Sounds good,” Marshal Pierce said.

 

Jacali walked back down to the bank, where she could see both the saloon and the marshal’s office.  Dr. Weisswald and Ophelia went to the livery with the horses.

 

“Stalloid, I guess that means you should go question at the bank,” Marshal Pierce said.

 

“Bank’s locked,” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“Well, yeah, but talk to the people.”

 

“I want to talk to the banker.”

 

“Uh … I think you should let me and my deputy handle the questioning.”

 

“Oh, I will.”

 

“Y-you’re not going to stay anything weird, like you do?”

 

“No no no no.  I never say anything weird.”

 

“Y-yeah you do.  Stalloid, this is a big town and, if anybody knows why the banker was getting hauled to the marshal’s office, just in case he’s not going to give me the reasoning, you might be able to ask people before they turn in.  We’re going to lose them in the crowd.”

 

“Fine.  I’ll go ask at the bank.”

 

Professor Stalloid pouted and walked away.

 

“Never been in trouble with the law,” he muttered.  “Never.”

 

*              *              *

 

“Where’s your cigars?” someone said to Jacali as they walked by the bank.

 

“Where’s your money?” Professor Stalloid said to the man.

 

“What?” the man said.

 

*              *              *

 

The marshal’s office was a single, large room with a couple desks in the front, a gun rack, and a pot-bellied stove with a warm fire burning within and a coffee pot atop.  Four cells that consisted of nothing but bars filled the back half of the structure.  A derelict slept on one of the cots in one of the cells towards the front of the room while the man from the bank sat on the cot in the one in the back, his head in his hands.  A marshal and a deputy were in the office, the deputy lighting one of the lanterns on the wall.  The marshal sat at the desk, writing something.  He looked up as the three men entered.

 

“Marshal,” the marshal said.

 

“Marshal,” Marshal Pierce said.

 

“How can I help you?”

 

“Well, I just got into town and am looking for a man and I think this man you just pulled out of the bank might be associated with the man I’m looking for.”

 

“Well, it’s doubtful.  That’s Festus.  Festus Dalrymple.”

 

“Uh-huh.”

 

“He owns the bank.”

 

“What’d he do?”

 

“Confessed.”

 

“To?”

 

“Well … bank got robbed about five years ago.”

 

“Right.”

 

“Twenty-thousand dollars.”

 

“Absolutely.”

 

“Well, he’s confessed it was only robbed of ten.  The other ten went in his pocket.”

 

“Hmm.”

 

“He was in on it.  There’s already rumors spreading.  I do not want to see a lynching.  That’s why he’s locked up.  He’ll remain locked up until … until he’s tried.”

 

“When did he confess?” Otto said.

 

“I don’t know,” the marshal said.  “He called me over in there and told me the whole thing.”

 

“Why would he confess now?” Marshal Pierce said.

 

“I have no idea,” the marshal said.

 

“Hm.”

 

“That’s what I’m writing down right now.  Just writing out my report, right here.”

 

“Who’s going to run the bank?  You can’t run this town without the bank.”

 

“Well, we’ll have to figure that out.  Probably one of the clerks will do it and maybe it’ll become the property of the town.  It’s up to the town council at this point, as well as the judge to determine what’s going to happen to the bank.”

 

“Well, as marshal to marshal, would you mind letting me into his cell so I could ask him a few questions of my own?”

 

The marshal looked at Pierce’s badge a moment.

 

“All right,” he said.

 

He got the keys off the hook on the wall well out of reach of any of the cells.  He led Marshal Pierce back to the cell and unlocked it.  Marshal Pierce walked in and the Granite marshal stood in the cell door.  Dalrymple didn’t even look up.

 

Otto had stayed near the front, keeping an eye out one of the shuttered windows.

 

“Festus, you mind taking your head out of your hands and talking to me like a man?” Marshal Pierce said.

 

The man looked up at the marshal towering over him.  His eyes looked wild and red, like he’d been crying.

 

“So, you almost got away with it, it seems,” Marshal Pierce said.

 

“Nope,” Dalrymple said.  “I did get away with it.”

 

“Why’d you confess?”

 

“I couldn’t - I couldn’t live with myself anymore.  I couldn’t live with myself anymore.”

 

“Any reason why you decided to confess five years later.”

 

“Because of that man.  He was talking to me.  He said─”

 

“What man?”

 

“I don’t know.  He’s a big man.  He’s a real big man.  He said he needed to talk to the bank president about a big loan.  And he said … and he came in … and he said ‘I’m not here to talk to you about a loan, I’m just here to talk to you.’  And then I suddenly … started feeling guilty.  And I started feeling terrible … about all the people who got ruined.  And the people whose lives are in a shambles.  I never felt that way before.  I never felt it at all.  Because … ten-thousand dollars.  Ten thousand dollars.  And … and I just … and I … I couldn’t do it anymore!  I realized I couldn’t.  I just couldn’t.  I couldn’t … do it anymore.  I just … I … I just had to say.  I just had to tell.  I had to tell.  So, they’ll probably string me up.”

 

He looked towards the town marshal, standing in the door of the cell, listening.

 

“Or I’m going to prison,” Dalrymple said.  “Because I said they stole twenty-thousand dollars, five years ago, but they didn’t.  They only stole ten.  And I took the other ten.  Because it was … it was so easy.”

 

“What’d you do with that ten?” Marshal Pierce said.

 

“It’s at my house.  There’s a suitcase under my bed.  Full of money.”

 

“Is it the full ten-thousand or have you spent some of it?”

 

“I’m a banker.  I didn’t need to spend it.  It was for my retirement.  I was going to retire in a few years.  I was going to go to … Cuba.  It would’ve been wonderful.”

 

“Where is this man that spoke to you and made you feel guilty?  Where is he now?”

 

“I don’t know.  He-he just came by and spoke to me and I ruminated on the situation for some time and then I sent one of the boys for the marshal and I told him everything.”

 

Dalrymple looked towards the town marshal again.

 

“And then … now here I am!” he said.  “These bars will be my cage for the rest of my life.  Whether they lynch me or not.  I had to tell.  I just had to tell.”

 

“Does the man know of the suitcase under your bed?” Marshal Pierce said.

 

“I don’t know how he could,” Dalrymple said.

 

He thought on it a moment.

 

“Lessen he could read minds,” he said.

 

He laughed once.  It was a sad and lost laugh like that of a man who knew his life held nothing anymore.  Marshal Pierce laughed once.  Then he laughed once again.  Otto laughed uncomfortably.

 

“I hope you come to terms with what you did, Festus, and, if nothing else, at least forgive yourself,” Marshal Pierce said.

 

Dalrymple put his head back in his hands.  Marshal Pierce turned back to the town marshal.

 

“I’m done talking to him,” he said.

 

The town marshal nodded and closed and locked the cell door once he’d exited.

 

“I supposed you heard about the suitcase under his bed?” Marshal Pierce said.

 

“He told me about that too,” the town marshal said.  “I sent a deputy over there to pick it up.”

 

“How long ago?”

 

“Couple minutes.”

 

“You mind if I─?”

 

The door to the marshal’s office opened and another man with a star on his jacket came in carrying a large suitcase.

 

“Found it sheriff,” the man said.  “Uh … marshal.”

 

He put it on the marshal’s desk and opened it up.  It was full of bills.  There was a lot.

 

“All right, Hiram, take it over to the other desk,” the town marshal said.  “Count it out.”

 

“Yessir,” the man said.

 

He lugged the suitcase to the other desk and started counting money.  The other deputy left the office.

 

“I believe the man who spoke to him and made him feel guilty is the man I’m looking for,” Marshal Pierce said.

 

“Oh,” the town marshal said.  “Who are you looking for?”

 

“Jack Parker.”

 

“What?”

 

“I believe Jack Parker is coming back to Granite today.”

 

“Hiram, unlock the rifles.  What?”

 

“Jack Parker seems to be on a path making up for his past crimes and, this being the last known crime in 1870 …”

 

“How did he make this man confess?”

 

“I don’t know.  Believe me, that is a mystery unto myself as well, but I do believe that he has possibly come for the ten grand, to maybe pay for more past crimes, I don’t know.  Or he is … uh …”

 

“Put that money in a cell, Hiram.”

 

The deputy, who had unlocked the rifle rack with a few Winchester rifles within, started to put the money back into the bag.

 

“Because I’m also thinking that, if Jack Parker took ten grand from the citizens of Granite back in 1870, and this man acquiesced ten grand for himself as well, Jack Parker could pay back the families that he did steal from with the ten grand this man has in that suitcase,” Marshal Pierce said.  “So, we need to make sure that this suitcase is locked up tight in this place.”

 

“That’s what Hiram’s working on,” the town marshal said.

 

Hiram took the suitcase and grabbed the keys, opening up the cell in the back across from Dalrymple’s cell and tucking the suitcase under the cot in the corner.  He locked the cell door behind him once again.

 

*              *              *

 

As Jacali and Professor Stalloid stood by the front of the bank, another man exited the building.  He wore a vest but no coat and had a green eyeshade like a clerk would wear on his head.  He carried a large sack.  He locked the door of the bank behind him and looked around nervously, then headed down the street towards the marshal’s office with speed.

 

Professor Stalloid followed him.  Jacali followed both of them.

 

*              *              *

 

The door to the front of the marshal’s office opened again.  It was a short, skinny man in a vest without a coat.  He had a green eyeshade on his head and carried a sack.

 

“Uh … marshal?” he said.

 

He put the sack down on the desk.

 

“Just before … uh … just before you took Mr.-Mr.-Mr. Dalrymple away, a gentleman left this,” he said.  “He said it was for what happened five years ago.”

 

The town marshal opened up the bag and they saw it was filled to brimming with bank notes.

 

Professor Stalloid opened the door of the marshal’s office and stepped in.

 

“Marshal, I bet that’s the ten grand and that’s Jack Parker that dropped it off,” Marshal Pierce said.  “I have to go!”

 

He flung open the door.

 

“Marshal!” Otto said.

 

“Otto, we gotta go!” Marshal Pierce said.  “He was just here.”

 

“What?” the town marshal said.

 

Otto pointed at Marshal Pierce, who ran out of the door.  Otto ran after the man, fighting the terrible headache he’d had for days.  Professor Stalloid ran after the two of them.

 

*              *              *

 

Dr. Weisswald and Ophelia had found stalls for their horses at the livery stables not far down the street.  Ophelia warned one of the boys there that Satan hated all living things and they should do their best to avoid the angry stallion.  She took off his saddle and then helped Dr. Weisswald and the stable boys remove the saddles and gear from the others’ horses as well.

 

Each stall had, in addition to troughs for food and water, a large, built-in box for gear with a sturdy lock upon it.  Each of them was given the key to their own boxes and invited to leave whatever items they wished there.

 

*              *              *

 

Jacali had turned and walked back to the bank when she had seen where the clerk was going.  She didn’t hear Marshal Pierce, Otto, and Professor Stalloid running towards the bank until they passed her, startling her.

 

“Are we going?” she said to them.

 

She gave chase.  They all arrived at the bank and found the front door locked up.  A couple of children were leaning on the stone railing of the steps going up to the bank.  One of them had a dime novel with a rough drawing of Abraham Lincoln on it, holding a rifle.  The title of it was “Abraham Lincoln and the Buffalo.”

 

“And so this is the part where … where … where … uh … where Abraham Lincoln kills a buffalo,” one of the children said.  “It’s great.  So, he kills a buffalo and then got back on the train.  And they said ‘That was some good buffalo, wasn’t it?’”

 

“This ain’t a very good dime novel,” the other boy said.

 

“Sh,” the first said.  “This cost me a dime.  You are gonna listen!”

 

“Have you seen a giant man?” Marshal Pierce said to the boys.  “He was just here!  Big man!”

 

The boys looked at him.

 

“I’m reading,” the one with the dime novel said.

 

“Yeah, I see that,” Marshal Pierce said.  “But surely you have seen a giant man come through here.”

 

“I did,” the other boy said.

 

“Fantastic.”

 

“He was very tall.  Taller than Abraham Lincoln.”

 

“Uh-huh.  Where did he go?”

 

The other boy glared at the one who had spoken.

 

“Uh …” the first boy said.  “Iunno.”

 

He pointed up the street towards the marshal’s office.  Pierce leaned down and touched his badge.

 

“You could really help a marshal,” he said.

 

“He … he went up that way,” the boy said.  “But I don’t know where he went.  You said ‘Where’d he go?’ but I don’t know where he went because he went that way and I was looking this way while Cletus here was reading.”

 

The way the boy had pointed was also in the direction of the Granite Saloon.

 

“He must be going to the Granite Saloon,” Marshal Pierce said.  “It’s his final stop.”

 

Dr. Weisswald and Ophelia walked up.  Otto drew his shotgun from his back.

 

Marshal Pierce headed for the Granite Saloon.  The others followed him, Otto telling him he’d come from the back.  He cut off to an alley.  Dr. Weisswald called after him to get his key so he came back and got it.  Professor Stalloid continued to follow the marshal.  Dr. Weisswald handed off the key to Jacali and the two of them headed for the front of the saloon while Otto continued around back.

 

The Granite Saloon was a large two-story building with lights on in many of the windows.  The sound of a piano playing “Lubly Fan” while people sang came from inside as well as the sounds of many people enjoying themselves.  Wide windows in the front gave a good view of the well-lit interior.  It was a Saturday night so many of the people of town were there.

 

Marshal Pierce pushed the batwing doors.

 

The interior of the Granite Saloon was very nice.  A large bar dominated the right wall and there were numerous large tables filled with people in the room.  Two sets of stairs went to a balcony that ran around the back edge of the room proper, with hallways leading off to the rooms.  A kitchen was in the back and private rooms were to the right, behind the wall the bar stood on.  The piano was situated to the left next to a small, well-lit stage where on a trio of women did the can-can to the piano music .  Lanterns hanging from the walls lit the place while a large chandelier made of a wagon wheel hung from the ceiling, several more lit lanterns hanging from it.  A rope ran from the chandelier to a crank near the door to the kitchen.  The smell of people, smoke, and tobacco competed with the smell of cooked meat and potatoes and whiskey.

 

A group of prospectors in one corner were singing a song that had nothing to do with what was playing on the piano.  The bartender was busy serving and people were all having a good time.

 

What caught Marshal Pierce’s attention and made him stop short was back in the corner to the left, sitting at a table by himself, he saw Jack Parker.  He looked directly at Marshal Pierce as the man spotted him.  He waved.

 

Stalloid ran into Marshal Pierce from behind.

 

“Is he here?” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“That’s him,” Marshal Pierce said.

 

“That’s him?” Professor Stalloid said.

 

Parker waved Marshal Pierce over in a friendly manner.

 

“Back corner,” Marshal Pierce said.

 

“Let’s go,” Professor Stalloid said.

 

Marshal Pierce made his way through the crowd and around tables.  He stopped and looked down at the floor where an old stain was.  He knelt down and touched the floor on the spot where his son had died five years before.  He looked at the bloodstain that remained despite five years of cleaning and polish. 

 

No one paid any attention as he went down on a knee.  Professor Stalloid found it odd no one even gave a glance to the man on the floor, which seemed odd.  He touched the arm of a person nearby.

 

“Hey, how are you doing?” he said.

 

“It’s a great night,” the man said.  “How are you?”

 

“I’m great.”

 

“Well good.”

 

The man, who had been standing there watching some men play cards, gave him a pat on the shoulder and a smile.  He had a beer in his hand.

 

Marshal Pierce stood back up and continued across the room.  Professor Stalloid followed close behind.

 

*              *              *

 

Dr. Weisswald, Jacali, and Ophelia pushed open the batwing doors and entered the Granite Saloon.  They saw Marshal Pierce and Professor Stalloid across the room.  They had just reached a table where a very large man sat and looked up at them.  They guessed it was Jack Parker.

 

“That looks like it’s his man,” Jacali said.  “I’m not sure I want to get into that, but I definitely want to watch.”

 

“We could go to the bar and get some drinks,” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

“Yeah, and keep an eye on it.  I’m worried that it’s going to go bad.”

 

“Over here.”

 

They headed for the bar.  Once they sat, Jacali removed the bow from her back and held it.

 

“I can’t serve injuns alcohol,” the barkeep said.  “It’s against the law.”

 

He looked at the scowling woman.

 

“You want a sarsaparilla?” the barkeep said.

 

She glared at him.

 

“None, thanks,” she said.

 

He looked at Dr. Weisswald.

 

“I’ll take a sarsaparilla,” she said.

 

He set to work and soon brought her the soda.

 

*              *              *

 

Otto reached the back door.  He could smell food and so opened the door and looked in.  The kitchen was very busy with at least a half dozen men there, cooking and preparing food.

 

“Wha!?!” one of them said.

 

“Sh!” Otto said.

 

“Woo!” another said.

 

“Sh!  Sh!  Sh!” Otto said.

 

The men had stopped working and all of them looked at him, confused.  He gave them a thumbs-up and showed them his badge.

 

*              *              *

 

A bottle of whiskey, the paper seal still intact, stood on the table.  Two glasses were also there, one by Jack Parker and the other at the other end of the table, near Marshal Pierce.  Jack Parker didn’t appear to be armed.

 

“Marshal,” Parker said.  “You made it.  I’d hoped it would be you.  Have a seat.”

 

“I’m fine standing,” Marshal Pierce said.

 

“Fair enough,” Parker said.

 

He reached across the table, tore the paper seal from the bottle and worked the cork out.  He poured himself a drink and then leaned far across the table to pour a glass for Marshal Pierce.  The marshal could see he wasn’t armed.  He didn’t even have a sidearm.

 

“Who’s this?” he asked, indicating Professor Stalloid.

 

“No one,” Marshal Pierce said.

 

“Move on,” Parker said to Professor Stalloid.  “I’ve got some words for the marshal.”

 

“He already said I’m no one,” Professor Stalloid said.  “I’m not even here.”

 

Parker stared at him and he suddenly turned on his heels and walked away.

 

*              *              *

 

Professor Stalloid walked over to the bar and sat with Dr. Weisswald, Jacali, and Ophelia.

 

“I’ll have a sarsaparilla,” he said to the barkeep.  “And a whiskey.”

 

“All right,” the barkeep said.

 

He was served the drinks and slid the whiskey to Jacali.

 

“I wanted a sarsaparilla,” she muttered.

 

She took the glass and raised it to her lips but Professor Stalloid deftly took it from her hand and replaced it with the glass filled with sarsaparilla.

 

*              *              *

 

Parker threw back his whiskey.

 

“How’d you know I wouldn’t gun you across the saloon?” Marshal Pierce said.

 

“How do you know you could?” Parker said.

 

The two men looked at each other.

 

“Marshal, I’m giving myself up,” Parker said.

 

“Why?” Marshal Pierce said.

 

Parker looked at him for what felt like a long time.

 

“When I fell from that train, the Crescent … did something to me,” he finally said.  “It showed me everything I was and everything I’d done.  Everything I wanted to forget.  It showed me my anger and my hatred, misdirected as it had been, and wouldn’t allow me to turn a blind eye towards what I had done and to whom I’d done it to anymore.

 

“In the blink of an eye, it showed me the lives I’d ruined and the people I’d hurt, things I’d never thought about because I didn’t want to, but it wouldn’t let me forget ‘em.  It wouldn’t let me look away or pretend that they deserved it.  It showed me the truth and, for the first time in my life, I had to accept it.

 

“I wasn’t just a man whose family was massacred in Kansas, whose farm was burned to the ground, whose life was destroyed, smashed down like a child might smash down an anthill.  I was part of the family of man, part of humanity.  That was something I strove to forget for years as I tried to get myself killed but was too good at staying alive.  And killing others.

 

“But I’ve tried to put right, at least a little, the things I’ve done.  I might have a hangman’s noose waiting for me, or a long stretch in prison, but either way, justice is more important than just one man and what one man does.”

 

He face went soft.

 

“I’m sorry about your son, Marshal,” he said.  “He was in the wrong place at the wrong time … and of all the things I did, all the things I caused, his death was the closest to something I regretted and do regret now.  I had a son once … and a little daughter … and your son’s death almost … almost … stopped me back in 70.  I’m sorry.  I’m sorry it wasn’t enough.  I’m sorry he died.”

 

The two stared at each other.

 

“In any case, I’m ready to be taken to justice,” Parker said.

 

“Hmmm,” Marshal Pierce said.

 

*              *              *

 

“What’s going on?” one of the cooks asked Otto.

 

“Is there gonna be a shootout?” another cook said.

 

“There’s gonna be a shootout!” another said.

 

“Oh!  A shootout!” said another.

 

“I wanna see a shootout!” yet another said.

 

“Shut up!” Otto hissed.  “Do what you usually do.”

 

He walked to the door that led into the taproom.  He could hear the music and people behind it.  He pushed the door open slightly and peeked out, trying to spot Marshal Pierce and Parker.  He saw them off to the right in a corner of the room.  Marshal Pierce was standing by the table and looking down at the bandit.  Parker was talking.

 

*              *              *

 

Professor Stalloid watched the dancers.

 

“What happened to that lady we were with?” he asked the others.

 

Both Dr. Weisswald and Jacali were keeping an eye on the table where Pierce was.  Parker was talking intently and Marshal Pierce was not saying a word, apparently.  Dr. Weisswald wondered if the man was trying to hypnotize Marshal Pierce for a moment.

 

Ophelia tried the sarsaparilla.  She grunted and slid it to Professor Stalloid with a frown.

 

*              *              *

 

Marshal Pierce thought about what Parker had said.  Then he picked up the shot glass.  He downed the shot and put the glass back down.

 

“I don’t give a damn about your guilt,” he said.  “Your words have done nothing but anger me, Jack Parker, and I was hoping to find you here with gun drawn and not sadness and remorse in your heart.  You cannot bring my son back and, though you have given the families that you have stolen from and killed their money, you cannot replace the people that you’ve taken.  Though I do not know the powers that this Crescent has, I wish that it had not given you guilt and that I had found you as the Jack Parker that I have been searching for these five years.  So, you may wish to turn yourself over to me and face you ‘justice,’ but I will not have it.”

 

He frowned at the man.

 

“I need to meet you outside, man to man, in a draw,” he said.  “And if you do not have a gun, I will find you a gun.”

 

“It’s too noisy in here,” Parker said.

 

He looked past Marshal Pierce.  The piano stopped playing and the dancers stopped dancing.  All of the people were very quiet for just a moment and then they all started to leave as if it were late in the evening and they had been at the place for some time.  Some laughed.  Others yawned.  A few were very subdued.  The bartender cleaned up the bar and looked towards Parker.

 

“I’ll clean up,” Parker said to him.

 

The bartender nodded and left.

 

*              *              *

 

In the kitchen, Otto turned to leave and noticed all six cooks shrug their shoulders and talk about leaving cleanup until the next day because it was very late.  Otto realized he needed to find the lawyer he had been looking for.  He was also very tired and wanted to get to bed.

 

*              *              *

 

Dr. Weisswald yawned.  It was late.  She got up and headed for the front door with the rest of them.

 

Professor Stalloid looked over his shoulder and wondered why he had left Marshal Pierce alone with Parker. 

 

Jacali and Professor Stalloid were very disturbed by what they were seeing.  Jacali looked at Ophelia but she looked around, nonplussed, at the people leaving, apparently unimpressed.

 

“You are a sad species,” she said.  “Don’t you have minds of your own?”

 

“Hey, Ophelia, I think we’re going to need you at that table over there,” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“What table?” Ophelia said.

 

He pointed at Marshal Pierce and Jack Parker.

 

Jacali ran after Dr. Weisswald and grabbed her by the arm.

 

“Where are you going?” she said.

 

“Jacali, I’m exhausted,” Dr. Weisswald said.  “I’ve been healing people for days.  We’ve been traveling.”

 

“We’re right here with Jack Parker!” Jacali said.

 

“You’re not going to be able to convince her,” Professor Stalloid said.

 

Dr. Weisswald was still pulling towards the door.

 

“I didn’t want to come over to the bar,” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“C’mon, let’s get a hotel room,” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

“You can get it,” Jacali said.  “Just … be safe.”

 

The others leaving were doing so as if it was the end of a long night.  Some talked about going elsewhere to continue their drinking.  Others yawned or looked at their pocket watches as if they were going to be late.  Dr. Weisswald went with them.  Jacali nocked an arrow and waited near the door, watching the table.

 

Professor Stalloid moved to the end of the bar closest to where Marshal Pierce was, leaning on the bar, watching.

 

*              *              *

 

“Impressive,” Marshal Pierce said.

 

“Not really,” Jack Parker said.

 

“I just want to see how you use a gun.”

 

“You won’t.”

 

“Where’s your fight!?!”

 

Marshal Pierce hit the table.

 

“A man doesn’t have to fight when he realizes he’s wrong,” Parker said calmly.

 

“I played this in my mind so many times in these past five years,” Marshal Pierce said.  “Different places.  Different times.  Sometimes I won.  Sometimes I lost.  Sometimes we both lost.  But never did I think I would find a coward sitting before me, turning himself in because he got powers that made him feel ‘guilty.’”

 

“Guilt is the wrong word.  Truth is the right one.  What I have done in my past has been wrong, Marshal.  What I’m doing now is right.  The Crescent opened my eyes and let me see what I’d been.  It forced me to look.  Much as I forced those men who turned themselves in.  Or killed themselves.  To see what they had become and what they had done.  The men from the railroad who caused the deaths of so many people.  The banker who’d stolen from his fellow man.”

 

He sighed.

 

“I’m sorry this isn’t the fight you’re looking for,” he said.  “Perhaps you can console yourself with the fact that you have won.”

 

“This is not victory,” Marshal Pierce said.  “This is not victory.”

 

“What is more important?  Victory?  Or justice?”

 

“Victory.  For me.”

 

Parker leaned back, his chair creaking loudly under his bulk.  Marshal Pierce drew his pistol.

 

“Then shoot me dead,” he said.

 

“I cannot shoot a man who is not armed,” Marshal Pierce said.

 

“I have no arms.”

 

“Then I will find you one.  I will give you a gun.  You must meet me in the street.  That is what I deem as justice.  For me.”

 

“I thought you were a marshal.”

 

“I am a marshal, but not right now.”

 

“I thought that you were a man of justice.”

 

“I─”

 

“Not a man of petty vengeance.”

 

“I am a man seeking vengeance for my son.  I will continue on my marshal duties.”

 

“Then fire away.  I will not stop the bullet that will pierce my heart.  I’m sorry to disappoint you.”

 

Marshal Pierce pointed his pistol at the man.

 

*              *              *

 

Dr. Weisswald walked down the street and noticed the strange looks people were giving some of the people who were leaving the saloon.  Some of them seemed confused by the number of people leaving and she looked around for a hotel.

 

She saw several riders coming up the street from the south.  She recognized the blonde man in black as John Valentine and saw that Pete Sutter was with them.  There was another man wearing leather with a sawed-off shotgun on his shoulder and a beard and mustache.  Another man had wild eyes and a goatee and mustache.  There were a half dozen other men as well as two men who wore leather masks like those who had been terribly maimed in the Civil War might wear to cover their deformities.  She noticed they seemed very slim and had leather gloves covering their hands as well.

 

The shock of seeing bandits she recognized broke the strange spell she had been under.

 

John Valentine was giving orders.  The man in leather broke off with a pair of men and trotted north.  Two other men broke off and headed south.  The rest of them continued up the street, their horses at a walk.

 

She turned and ran for the saloon.

 

*              *              *

 

Otto had not gone very far down the back street behind the saloon when he shook his head and wondered what he had been thinking to leave Marshal Pierce alone with Jack Parker.

 

*              *              *

 

Marshal Pierce regarded Parker.

 

“It might interest you to know, before you kill me, where the Crescent is,” Parker said.

 

“Where is it?” Marshal Pierce said.

 

“There’s a horse and wagon at the livery stables on the south side of town: Thompson Livery,” Parker said.  “It is held under my name, Parker, but paid up for the next month.  If you tell them you are there for Parker’s rig, the man knows to give it to you.  The Crescent is in a crate in the back of the wagon.”

 

They looked at each other.  Parker frowned.

 

“But somebody else is here,” he said.

 

Dr. Weisswald burst in through the batwing doors.

 

“There’s seven armed riders coming up the street and there are five more!” she said.  “They just came into town and are spreading out!  One of ‘em’s Pete Sutter!”

 

“Pete Sutter!” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“And John Valentine!” she said.

 

“John Valentine’s here?” Marshal Pierce said.

 

“They’re here for me too, I suppose,” Parker said.

 

“How do they know you’re here?”

 

“How do you know I’m here?”

 

“Because your trail is easy to follow.  You tell me they’re looking for you too?”

 

“John … poor John.  He was a friend.  And I was his second.  So he’s probably looking for me.”

 

“Are you going to take up arms against him or are you just going to lean back and let him shoot you in the chair?”

 

“I can’t up arms against my fellow man.”

 

“Sounds to me like you’re not a man at all anymore.”

 

“If that’s what you want to believe, that’s what you’ll believe.”

 

*              *              *

 

Otto returned to the empty kitchen and crept to the door where he heard talking.  He peeked out, trying to keep an eye on the back door and the front door.

 

*              *              *

 

“Are they coming for the saloon or does it look like they know where he is?” Jacali said to Dr. Weisswald.

 

She heard the hoof beats of the men riding by in a trot heading towards the north side of town.  She shrugged.

 

Jacali looked around, noting the balcony that ran along the back wall and side of the taproom.  Professor Stalloid moved behind the bar and took out the lightning gun, pointing it towards the batwing doors.  Jacali, Dr. Weisswald, and Ophelia headed up the steps to the balcony above.

 

Marshal Pierce looked over his shoulder and then holstered his pistol.  He smiled to himself and laughed quietly.

 

“It’s a suicide mission,” he said.  “You all actually think we could stand up to John Valentine right now.  Without Jack West even.”

 

The three on the steps stopped.

 

“You all need to get out of here,” he said.  “All of you.”

 

“What about you, Pierce?” Jacali said.

 

“I’m going to stay here,” Marshal Pierce said.  “I’m going to get the fight that I deserve.  It may not be against Jack Parker but … I wanted to go down fighting and I’m going to do it here.  You need to get that wagon and you need to get the hell out of here and you need to get as far from John Valentine as you can because if he gets his hand on the Crescent …”

 

“It’ll be a bad thing,” Parker said.

 

“It’s bad for us,” Marshal Pierce said.  “But it’s worse for … everyone else.”

 

“You got it, boss,” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“Don’t risk your lives for this,” Marshal Pierce said.  “Let me do it.”

 

“I don’t like leaving Pierce,” Jacali said quietly to Dr. Weisswald and Ophelia.  “I really hate it, but … I do feel like we need to get that Crescent before Valentine does as well.  What do you think we should do?”

 

Marshal Pierce quickly told them where the Crescent was located.

 

*              *              *

 

Otto crept across the kitchen as quietly as he could, heading for the back door.

 

*              *              *

 

“We need to get the horses,” Dr. Weisswald said to Jacali.

 

“Yeah,” Jacali said.

 

Professor Stalloid headed for the kitchen door, assuming there would be a back door that led out.  Then he stopped.

 

“I never got a key,” he said.

 

“We could try to come at them from the side once we have the Crescent secure,” Jacali said.  “I think that’s our best bet at doing both things.”

 

“You need to get out of here,” Marshal Pierce called up to them.  “We can’t stand up to John Valentine right now.  I promise you that.  That’s one of the reasons why I tried to befriend Jack West, because I felt like he gave us a good shot─”

 

The batwing doors parted as Professor Stalloid disappeared into the kitchen.

 

“Well well well,” Pete Sutter said.  “It’s Jacali.”

 

He looked around the room.

 

“Howdy, Parker,” he said.

 

He walked towards Marshal Pierce and Parker.

 

“It’s me, Jack West!” Professor Stalloid called from the kitchen in his best gravelly voice.

 

Pete Sutter almost took the bait, taking a step towards the kitchen.  His hand moved to his gun but stopped.

 

“God damn it,” he muttered.  “I ain’t got time for this right now.  I ain’t got time for this right now!”

 

He took a moment to compose himself and then continued walking towards the table.  Marshal Pierce drew his pistol and pointed it at the man.

 

“No further,” he said.

 

“Am I under arrest, marshal?” Pete Sutter said.

 

“Not yet.”

 

“Well, then I can go where I please.”

 

“I wouldn’t move if I were you.  I’m on edge.”

 

“So am I.  I was sent here looking for this gentleman.”

 

Pete pointed over Marshal Pierce’s shoulder.

 

“As was I,” Marshal Pierce said.

 

“You was sent?” Pete Sutter said.  “Who sent you, marshal?”

 

“I sent myself,” Marshal Pierce said.

 

Jacali, Dr. Weisswald, and Ophelia moved down the stairs and headed for the kitchen door.  Pete spared them a glance.

 

“Oh, where are you going?” he said.

 

“None of your business, Sutter,” Jacali said.

 

“I think it is my business!” Pete said.  “I think all this is my business!”

 

He looked at Marshal Pierce and then pointed behind him.

 

“You mind?” he said.

 

“Yes,” Marshal Pierce said.  “You been working for John Valentine this whole time?”

 

“He sent me a message.  He said … something about Arkansas River … I don’t remember.  It was a little confusing.  He’s looking for Parker there.”

 

“I’m sure he is.  But this isn’t the Jack Parker you’re looking for, I promise you that.  He’s a changed man.”

 

“Looks like him!  Looks just like him!”

 

Marshal Pierce looked towards Jacali.

 

“My horse is yours,” he said.

 

“Well, I’ll take it!” Pete said.

 

“No, it’s not yours,” Marshal Pierce said.

 

“You’re a hard man, marshal,” Pete said.

 

Jacali, Dr. Weisswald, and Ophelia reached the kitchen door and passed quickly through, leaving only the three men in the saloon proper.

 

“Besides, I feel you all owe me … for turning me into a damned injun woman!” Pete called after them.

 

“We all turned into …” Marshal Pierce said.

 

“Injun women!?!  I don’t think so!”

 

“Not a woman.”

 

“You kept certain parts that I lost.  I’m unappreciative.”

 

“You looked pretty appreciative when you were a woman grabbing at yourself.”

 

“Why you didn’t see─”

 

“Uh-huh.  I saw enough.”

 

“Put your gun down, marshal.  I got no qualms with you.  I just need to talk to Mr. Parker here.  You see, my employer at the moment is outside.”

 

“At the moment.”

 

“He’s heading down the street but I’m sure he’d love to know Mr. Parker’s here.”

 

“Yeah, why don’t you call him in here?”

 

“Oh.  Are you going to shoot me in the back when I do?”

 

“No, I don’t shoot anybody in the back.”

 

“Oh.  Well, I better turn my back on you ain’t I?”

 

Pete turned around and looked over his shoulder at Marshal Pierce.  Then he ambled towards the batwing doors, watching the man over his shoulder.

 

Marshal Pierce saw that Jack Parker had sat forward in his chair.

 

“Marshal, there’s no need for you to commit suicide,” he whispered.  “Take the Crescent and go.”

 

“My friends are taking the Crescent …” Marshal Pierce said.

 

“Then take me.”

 

“What?”

 

“Take me.  I’m worth ten thousand dollars.”

 

“I don’t need money.  I don’t need anything.  This is as far as I thought I’d go anyways.  I’m going to take as many of these sons of bitches with me and I’m going to make sure my friends get a good head start.”

 

“All right.”

 

He moved to Parker, pulled him out of the chair, and led him to the bar, pushing him down behind it and then looking around for a rifle.  There was a double barrel shotgun that he grabbed and broke open to find loaded.  He cast about, looking for more shells, but didn’t see any.

 

“Guess I better not miss,” he muttered.

 

“I’ll have to check upstairs,” Pete Sutter said from outside.

 

He entered the saloon again and looked a little surprised.  He ambled over to the bar.

 

“How much is it worth to you, marshal?” he said.

 

“What?” Marshal Pierce said.

 

“Not telling Valentine to come in here real quick.”

 

“I hope you do tell him to come in here.”

 

“Well, damn it.  I was hoping to make some more money.”

 

He turned around and walked back out the front.

 

*              *              *

 

Professor Stalloid, Dr. Weisswald, Jacali, and Ophelia had run to the nearby livery stables where their horses were lodged.  They set about getting their horses saddled up once again.

 

“We got four of us, so …” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

“We need to get that Crescent,” Jacali said.

 

“It’ll be faster on horses, then.”

 

“I still don’t feel good about Pierce.”

 

“Well …”

 

“What if I just get on my horse while you saddle up and I’ll check on the Crescent?”

 

“Yeah,” Professor Stalloid said.

 

He looked at Dr. Weisswald.

 

“Didn’t you say people were heading south?” he said.  “How many people?”

 

“Two,” she said.

 

“Two,” he said.  “Watch out for them.”

 

“I’ll do my best,” Jacali said.  “Well, good luck everyone.  Stay safe.  And I’ll be back.”

 

She rode out of the livery stable, heading south.

 

Dr. Weisswald asked one of the stable boys to help saddle up Otto’s horse.  The stable boy was little but strong and quick.  He was eager to serve.

 

*              *              *

 

Partway there, Jacali spotted two men on horseback riding slowly down the street.  They appeared to be heavily armed and she guessed they might be Valentine’s men.  She took a side street to avoid them.

 

*              *              *

 

Marshal Pierce had put his pistol on the bar and was aiming at the door with the shotgun.

 

The batwing doors opened slowly and John Valentine strode into the saloon with a smirk on his face when he saw the double barrels pointed at him.  He wore all black, which contrasted with his blonde hair.  He had wide, crazy eyes and two backward facing pistols on his belt.  A rattling came from behind him as two more men entered.  Both of them had leather hoods over their faces like maimed men wore.  They were painfully thin and the strange rattling came from them.  It was as if their clothes were just hanging off their bones and each of them wore heavy leather gloves.  Valentine ambled across the room as the two men flanked him.

 

“Pete Sutter tells me you’re here for Jack Parker but if I know anything about claims, he’s mine right now,” Marshal Pierce said.  “So … you’re second in line, John Valentine.  What do you want with Jack Parker?”

 

Valentine stopped when the man spoke.  He stood about halfway across the floor.

 

“Why, he’s an old friend,” Valentine said with a grin.

 

“Of course he is,” Marshal Pierce said.

 

“And an old friend needs to be saved from the law,” Valentine said.  “Now, we can settle this a couple ways, marshal, if you want.  These boys here are under orders to obey me.”

 

The strange, thin men stopped when Valentine had stopped.  They were far enough away from Valentine that Marshal Pierce couldn’t get all three of them in one blast from the shotgun.  Maybe not even two of them.

 

“I remember you,” Valentine said.

 

“Oh yeah?” Marshal Pierce said.

 

“On Mount Diablo.”

 

“Uh-huh.”

 

“You took my Crescent.  I want … another.”

 

“I’m sure you do.”

 

“What are you gonna do about it, sheriff?”

 

“Well …”

 

“Sorry.  Marshal?”

 

“I’m just here to have a little fun.  Now how do you want this to go down?”

 

“You want to have fun with the fists?  Maybe we can see which one of us is the better man.”

 

“I don’t need to prove myself to you.”

 

“Fair enough.  Fair enough.  Then how is this going to play?  With that?  Because I don’t think that’s gonna help you, marshal.”

 

“Nah, but it makes me─”

 

“Especially not against my boys here.  Rattle it up, boys.”

 

Both of the two men stepped in place and they rattled strangely.

 

“That’s enough,” Valentine said.  “But be ready.”

 

Both of the terribly thin men put their hands by their side, ready to draw.

 

“I’m sorry, John, Jack Parker’s mine,” Marshal Pierce said.  “And I haven’t gotten my vengeance yet.  So … if you want to take him … just give the go ahead and we’ll start.”

 

Valentine laughed.

 

“Where’s your friends?” he said.

 

“I ain’t got no friends,” Marshal Pierce said.

 

“Oh, you do.”

 

“They may have come with me but … they knew this was a solo mission.  Jack Parker was always my mission.  The Crescent was always theirs.”

 

“Where is the Crescent?”

 

“I don’t know where the Crescent is.  Only Jack Parker does and he’s a changed man.”

 

“You’re lying, marshal.  You know where it is.”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Tell me.  I’ll make all this go away.  All of it.”

 

“I’ll never tell you where it is.”

 

“What do you want, then?”

 

“To die where my boy died.”

 

“Your boy?”

 

Marshal Pierce looked down at the spot on the floor.  Valentine was standing very close to it and followed the man’s gaze.

 

“How’d you like your boy back?” he said.

 

Marshal Pierce chuckled.

 

“I got a friend who can do that,” he said.  “And I never asked him to.”

 

“So, you wanna die?” Valentine said.  “You want this?  This is going to be your last battlefield?”

 

“Good a place as any.”

 

“I couldn’t have said it better myself.”

 

Valentine snapped his fingers and the two thin men turned and walked out almost like some kind of automatons.  Valentine more carefully backed away.

 

“We’ll be back in a few minutes,” he said as he reached the doors.  “We’ll make it a good one for you.”

 

“Okay,” Marshal Pierce said.

 

Valentine left the saloon and disappeared into the gathering gloom outside.

 

*              *              *

 

Jacali returned to the main street and continued south for a short time before she spotted Thompson Livery.  She rode into the livery stable and saw an old man sitting on a chair leaned back against the wall, whittling.  He had a bushy beard but no mustache and wore a hat to obviously keep his balding head warm.

 

“I’m here for Jack Parker’s rig,” she said.

 

“Parker?” he said.  “You say Parker?”

 

“Yes, I did.”

 

“Oh yeah.  Yeah.  C’mon.”

 

She followed him, still on Nalin, into the stable.  There was a rig in the back with a horse still hooked up to it.  It was a buckboard with a high seat held up by springs.  The back of the buckboard had a low protective side and, in the back was a crate about four feet on a side.  It was strapped down with ropes.

 

“Yeah, he said somebody’d come by for it, so here it is,” the old man said.  “Yer the lady that come by for it, huh?”

 

“Yeah,” Jacali said.  “Thanks.”

 

“I ain’t never had a Indian lady in here before.”

 

“All right.  Thank you very much.  This is all I need.  You can go … back to your … life now.”

 

She hoped if she acted odd and awkward enough he would leave so she could check inside the crate.

 

“Yes, Indian ‘how,’” she said.

 

“Okay,” he said doubtfully.  “Okay.”

 

He wandered back to his chair near the entrance of the livery stable.

 

Jacali set to examining the crate.  It was made of wood and very solid, nailed shut on all sides.  There was a crowbar in the back of the buckboard but she didn’t want to open it if she didn’t have to.  She looked towards the front, afraid she would see the two men who were looking for the Crescent.

 

Jacali was torn.  She wanted to flee with the Crescent, knowing it was for the greater good that it not fall into the hands of John Valentine.  But she felt she couldn’t leave Marshal Pierce, who felt he was going to his death, as she considered him family.

 

She saw the two bandits ride past the open front doors.  One of them nudged the other and pointed towards the stable.  Then there was a loud, high-pitched whistle that came from the north somewhere.  The two men looked at each other and then turned and headed up the street at a gallop.  She guessed the whistle had been some kind of rallying signal for John Valentine’s men.

 

*              *              *

 

When Otto heard the whistle, he picked up the pace, finally reaching the back doors of the livery stables.  He saw Jacali sitting on her horse next to a buckboard with a huge crate in the back, looking at it indecisively.

 

“Is that it, Jacali?” he said.

 

“Yeah, that’s it,” Jacali said.

 

She sighed.

 

“Listen, something’s about to go down and I can’t be here but I also can’t leave this Crescent alone,” she said.  “Well, do you want to be in this fight that Pierce is about to be in?  I guess let me ask you that first.”

 

Otto looked at her.

 

*              *              *

 

Dr. Weisswald, Professor Stalloid, and Ophelia had their horses saddled.  The stable boy had saddled Otto’s horse as well.  Dr. Weisswald pointed at Marshal Pierce’s horse.

 

“Saddle him but we’re going to head on,” she said.

 

“Yes ma’am,” the boy said.

 

He started to saddle up Marshal Pierce’s horse.

 

“Let’s go,” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

They left the livery and headed south at speed, Dr. Weisswald leading Otto’s horse from her own.  They passed two men riding north at a gallop.  Dr. Weisswald recognized them as the two men Valentine had sent south.  They passed the party by without a glance.  Ophelia stared at them as they went by but they paid her no mind.

 

None of them saw the red-headed man with muttonchops in the bowler who slipped into the livery stable.

 

*              *              *

 

“You know what, Otto?” Jacali said.  “You’re injured.  What if you watch this Crescent for me and keep yourself safe?  If you can─”

 

“But I always keep myself safe,” Otto said.

 

“No, you don’t.  Look at yourself.”

 

“I mean … look at … look at it from my perspective, Jacali.  I feel like … I … like … I was in the war, you know?  There’s no - there’s no way that I think anyone who tries to take on 12 men … like, I don’t think there’s any way for Pierce … or Parker … or even, potentially, you … to take them on and escape alive.”

 

“I’m not doing it because I think we’re going to win.”

 

“But I don’t want to abandon you or Pierce.  Because you’re about the only two people who ever treated me decently.”

 

They heard gunfire from the north.

 

*              *              *

 

Two men walked into the saloon, guns in hand.  They were the men in hoods that rattled as they walked.

 

“They’re not alive,” Parker said.

 

The men raised their pistols.

 

Marshal Pierce fired both barrels of the shotgun at one of the men, blowing a hole clear through the man’s chest.  There was a cracking and snapping of bones and the man stumbled back a step but did not fall.  Marshal Pierce could actually see the hold blown straight through the man.  He didn’t see any blood and he dropped the smoking shotgun.  He ducked back down behind the bar.

 

There were two shots fired at the bar, bullets splintering wood and going directly through the bar.  Bottles stored behind the bar shattered at impact.

 

“What are those things!?!” Marshal Pierce said.

 

“They’re nothing,” Parker said.

 

He stood up and looked towards the two men.  There was a strange noise like breaking sticks and a burst of wind over the bar.

 

“Get down, you damned fool!” Marshal Pierce cried out.

 

He grabbed Parker by the arm and pulled him back behind the bar.

 

It was very quiet for several moments.

 

Marshal Pierce peeked over the bar.  The two men were gone.  Shredded clothing lay on the floor and shining white bones were embedded in the far wall.  A pair of polished skulls lay on the ground.  Boots, hats, and torn leather masks were lying nearby.

 

“This don’t seem like a fair fight to me,” Marshal Pierce said.

 

“They’re just bones,” Parker said.  “You’ll get your fair fight.”

 

“Can they be killed?”

 

“Are they moving?”

 

“No.”

 

“Then they’ve been killed.”

 

“Nice.”

 

“Did you kill ‘em?”

 

“Probably not.”

 

“Now it’s a fair fight.”

 

“Well, you can still run if you wanted.”

 

“I thought you wanted to kill me, marshal?”

 

“I can’t kill you.  Not with you acting the way you are.”

 

“This is the way I’ve always been.”

 

“Sure.”

 

“Hidden underneath layers and layers of terrible things.”

 

“What does he want you so bad for?”

 

“Valentine?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“He still thinks I’m his friend.”

 

*              *              *

 

“I’m not sure if I can convince Pierce … to not go down here,” Otto said.  “But … I feel like I should try to convince you to … to … to … live, I guess.  You can’t save him … and I feel like he’s made peace with the fact that he’s doing to die here.  But I … if you’re going to stay here and fight, I’ll … I can … I … I’ll stay here and protect you.”

 

Jacali looked at the man.

 

*              *              *

 

Dr. Weisswald, Professor Stalloid, and Ophelia heard the gunfire coming from somewhere behind them.  Dr. Weisswald urged her horse to go faster as she wondered if they were going to be in time.

 

*              *              *

 

Marshal Pierce grabbed cheap whiskey and other alcohol bottles from behind the bar and started flinging them down on the floor in front of it, smashing them and starting a large puddle of alcohol.  He set aside some of the better bottles on or behind the bar.

 

There was the gunshot and the glass shattered.  Marshal Pierce was struck in the left arm by the bullet that came from outside.  He felt the bullet strike the bone.

 

“Damn my hubris,” he muttered.

 

He ducked down behind the bar once again.  The bullet wound bled only a little bit and hurt like hell.  He was just glad it had hit him in his bad arm.  He grabbed a rag from behind the bar and tied it around the wound as best he could.

 

“I guess I shouldn’t have thought those outlaws would play fair,” he muttered.

 

“You damned fool!” Parker said.

 

Parker helped the man tie up his arm.

 

“I got him!” someone yelled from outside.

 

*              *              *

 

“I don’t know if I can … bare to just let more family go away without doing anything, Otto,” Jacali said.  “But, you’re probably right.  We should do this the smart way.  I know the others are coming.  Maybe once we get everybody together, we can give it our best shot and we can protect each other.”

 

Hoof beats rattled on the hard dirt street outside the livery.  Otto lifted up his shotgun and pointed it towards the front of the building.  Dr. Weisswald, Professor Stalloid, and Ophelia rode into the stable, Otto’s horse in tow.  Professor Stalloid was wearing the snakeskin robe once again.

 

“All right, Stalloid, I think you know what to do with that wagon,” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

“Go to San Francisco,” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“Yep,” Dr. Weisswald said.  “As far away from here as possible.”

 

Professor Stalloid dismounted and tied his horse to the back of the buckboard before climbing into the seat.

 

“Anybody else riding?” he said.  “Actually, y’all all have horses.  Never mind.”

 

He slapped the reins on the back of the horse and drove the buckboard out of the livery stable, turning left and heading south the way they’d come.

 

“Do we want to get Pierce’s horse before we go?” Dr. Weisswald said.  “Or do we want to go fight and then get his horse.”

 

They heard another gunshot from up the street.

 

“Aren’t we all leaving?” they heard Professor Stalloid call from the street.

 

“Keep going!” Dr. Weisswald called back to him.

 

“We should just fight first,” Jacali said.  “We might lose him if we delay any longer.”

 

“Okay,” Dr. Weisswald said.  “Let’s go.”

 

They galloped out of the livery and headed back up the street towards the Granite Saloon.  Weisswald took the lead as Shy Ann pulled ahead of the others.

 

*              *              *

 

Marshal Pierce found some tobacco and rolling paper on a little shelf behind the bar.  He quickly retrieved a lantern to light it with.

 

We got time, he thought.

 

“You want one?” he said to Parker.  “Might be your last.”

 

“All right,” Parker said.

 

Marshal Pierce took out a piece of rolling paper and carefully started to pour tobacco into it when he heard the movement of the batwing doors and footsteps in the saloon.  It sounded like several men at once.

 

“Y’all want a cigarette?” Marshal Pierce called.

 

“I think they’re behind the bar,” someone said in the saloon.

 

“How can you tell?” another voice said.

 

“Just unload!” the first voice said.

 

There were a half-dozen gunshots and bullets burst through the bar, shattering bottles and glasses that hadn’t already been broken before and sending splinters of glass and wood everywhere.  Marshal Pierce cursed.

 

“Damn my hubris,” Marshal Pierce muttered to himself.

 

He guessed they had placed their nearby shots due to the sound of his voice.  He grabbed the lantern he had put behind the bar and chucked it over the top, hoping to hit the whiskey he had dumped in front of the bar earlier.  He heard the glass in the lamp shatter and a scream.

 

“He threw a lamp!” someone yelled.  “It hit me!”

 

There was more gunfire and bullets crashed through the bar, splintering wood and shattering glass.  None of them hit Parker or Marshal Pierce.

 

“Feel free to jump in any time Parker!” Marshal Pierce said.

 

He leapt up, spotted six men, one of them swatting at himself, obviously the man who had been hit by the lantern.  The other five were cocking their pistols.

 

“There he is!” one of them said.

 

Marshal Pierce shot the man in the chest.  Then he ducked down and rolled away from where he had been.  The man let out a shout and Marshal Pierce heard the sounds of tables being lifted and shifted.  Then there was more gunfire crashing through the bar.  Parker grunted and Marshal Pierce looked over to see the man was bleeding from a bullet wound in his shoulder. 

 

Marshal Pierce popped up over the bar and saw several tables had been turned on their sides.  The bandits had taken cover behind them and were peeking out.  He shot one of the men in the head and the man let out a shriek and disappeared back behind the table with a cry.  Marshal Pierce ducked back behind the bar and rolled to one side as bullets crashed through the wood, sending splinters and glass flying once again.  A bullet winged Marshal Pierce in the side.  Another struck Parker, grazing him in the head.  The man grabbed at his skull.

 

“I can’t stop what I can’t see,” he muttered.

 

He lay down on the floor and held the bloody wound.

 

“Damn,” Marshal Pierce muttered.

 

He crawled to Parker and grabbed the man, dragging him backwards out of cover and towards the kitchen.  It was painful to use his injured left arm to pull Parker but he managed it as he backed out, firing at the men in the saloon.  A bullet struck the man in the left arm and he fell with a shriek, dropping his pistol and not moving again.

 

Three men were still able to return fire.  One man was so shaken he missed them by a mile, shattering another liquor bottle.  A bullet went directly towards Parker, who raised up his arm.  The bullet stopped in midair and then dropped to the ground, still smoking.  The other bullet struck the back wall somewhere.

 

“They’re trying to get out the back!” one of the men yelled.

 

There was more gunfire outside.

 

*              *              *

 

Galloping up the street, Dr. Weisswald, in the lead, saw several men using horses as cover, firing at the marshal’s office.  Many people were fleeing from the gunfire on the street and there were signs of a few others lying on the ground, covered in blood, obvious victims of the gunfight already.  It looked like Valentine and two other men were shooting up the marshal’s office.  Pete Sutter was looking towards the saloon, obviously trying to see what was going on inside.  Then the man with the beard and goatee blew some kind of smoke or miasma like a jet of steam that went over 20 feet to a window of the marshal’s office.  There were screams from within the building and she guessed it was some kind of terrible spell.

 

She turned her horse to the right and galloped down an alley.

 

Her friends saw where she went and also turned their horses to the right, heading down a nearby street.

 

*              *              *

 

Marshal Pierce shot another man, the bullet striking him in the foot. 

 

“Why didn’t you do that sooner?” he said to Parker.

 

The man screamed and fell out of sight, but then peeked around the side of the table and returned fire along with two others.  One of the men’s gun didn’t go off; he must have had a dud round.  Another man missed completely.  The last bullet flew towards Jack Parker, who flung his hand to the side.  The bullet seemed to slow and change course as if the motion of his hand actually pushed it.  It crashed into the floor to their right.

 

Parker started to sway and dropped his hand.  He muttered some strange noises and Marshal Pierce was certain the man was passing out.

 

*              *              *

 

Dr. Weisswald had trouble controlling her horse and had to slow as she turned on the back street. 

 

Behind her, down the street, both Jacali and Otto burst out of a side street and expertly brought their horses onto the street some ways behind her, Otto just ahead.  Ophelia, just behind them, slowed to take the turn a little more carefully.

 

*              *              *

 

Marshal Pierce dragged Jack Parker into the kitchen.  He heard men running across the saloon floor.

 

“He’s getting out the back!” someone yelled.

 

The sound of gunfire from the front of the saloon had stopped.

 

He dragged Parker to the back door, leaving a trail of blood from both of the injured men.  Parker was muttering words that didn’t make any sense.  Marshal Pierce feared he was going to lose the man.  They reached the back door.

 

*              *              *

 

As Dr. Weisswald approached the back of the saloon at a gallop, she saw a man wearing all leather come around the building on the opposite side that she approached.  She saw a handle of a scattergun on his right shoulder and a holstered pistol on his hip.  She recognized him as one of Valentine’s men.  He saw her.

 

She turned her horse and cut into the alley on the near side of the saloon.  She had turned so quickly her horse struck the side of the building.

 

*              *              *

 

Jacali and Otto, riding several yards behind her, saw Dr. Weisswald turn into the alley near the building and spotted the man down the street.  Otto recognized him as Rex from Mount Diablo a few months before.  Jacali, bow and arrow in hand, fired at the man.  Otto drew his saber and cut his horse to the left, following Weisswald.

 

The arrow struck the man in the upper chest near the neck.  He let out a grunt and pulled the scattergun from the sheath on his back, firing a shot at Jacali’s horse.  Nalin stumbled and then balked, stopping on the spot and moving around nervously some 10 yards away from the man.

 

*              *              *

 

Marshal Pierce heard the blast of a shotgun right outside the back door near where he stood.

 

What the hell? he thought.

 

He pushed open the back door, saw Rex standing next to it, and recognized him.

 

“Howdy Rex,” he said.

 

He put his pistol up to Rex’s head and fired, shooting the man in the forehead and killing him instantly.  Rex fell backwards to the ground without a sound.  Then he pulled Parker out of the kitchen.

 

*              *              *

 

Professor Stalloid pushed the horse pulling the buckboard as he continued to hear gunfire behind him.  Then, out of a side street, a man rode a familiar horse.  It was a solid red roan stallion with a familiar saddle and gear, including Marshal Pierce’s shotgun and rifle tucked in sheaths. 

 

The man riding it wore a suit and coat.  He had red hair and muttonchops and wore a bowler on his head.  A small pistol was in his hand.

 

“Professor Stalloid!” the man said.

 

With some little difficulty, he got the horse going the same speed as the buckboard.

 

“The name’s Malcolm Flynn,” the man said.  “I believe ye have somethin’ that m’ employer … wants.”

 

He pointed the gun at Professor Stalloid, keeping it close to his side.

 

“Why don’t we’ keep goin’?” Flynn said.  “We’ll jus’ take it t’ him, won’t we?”

 

“He’s south?” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“No sir.  He’s not.”

 

“Well, I’ll have to turn the buggy around.”

 

The man fished out a badge from his coat pocket.  It read “Pinkerton National Detective Agency.”

 

“Well, that’s fake,” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“Don’t make m’ kill y’, Professor,” Flynn said.  “‘Cause I will.  ‘Cause y’er a thief.”

 

“Well, I’m going to have to turn around, though.  We’ll have to stop.”

 

“If y’ try t’ turn around or stop, I’ll blow y’r brains out.”

 

“You said he was north, I thought!”

 

“Keep drivin’.”

 

“Okay, I’ll drive south.”

 

Flynn, having pocketed the badge, fell back and followed behind the buckboard, keeping his horse at a brisk pace.

 

*              *              *

 

Dr. Weisswald stopped her horse in the alley as Otto did the same.  She dismounted and drew her bow, nocking an arrow, and made her way to the corner.  Otto sheathed the saber and pulled his loaded musket from the sheath.

 

*              *              *

 

Marshal Pierce heard footsteps behind him.

 

“He’s getting out the back!” someone yelled from the kitchen.

 

Gunfire erupted from the kitchen and struck the interior wall of the building, one of the bullets punching through but missing them all entirely.  It sounded like there were two gunmen.

 

Jacali got Nalin under control.

 

“Captain Pierce, are you riding out or are we fighting out?” she said.

 

“This man’s terribly injured,” Marshal Pierce said.  “We should probably leave.”

 

“We got three horses,” Jacali said.  “We can load both you and him up and ride out.”

 

“We better go now,” Marshal Pierce said.  “Also, you’re not supposed to be here.”

 

*              *              *

 

“So, if your employer’s not John Valentine, who is he?” Professor Stalloid called back over his shoulder.

 

“The man that y’ took that from,” Flynn said.

 

“Jack Parker?”

 

“Don’t be daft.”

 

*              *              *

 

Marshal Pierce leaned into the room and saw two bandits carefully crossing it.  A large, wooden topped cabinet was in the center of the kitchen and he fired at one of the men, the bullet passing right through the cabinet and striking the man in the right leg.  The man shrieked and dropped, falling forward, his chin slamming against the top of the cabinet before he disappeared behind it, crashing to the floor.

 

Marshal Pierce pivoted back out of the room.

 

“I need to reload,” he said to the others.

 

He reached for the bullets in his belt as the other man screamed some profanity from the kitchen.

 

*              *              *

 

Dr. Weisswald peeked around the corner to see her friends in the back street.  She noted the blood on both Marshal Pierce and Jack Parker.  She rushed over and saw to the unconscious Parker, working on his bloody head first and wrapping it in gauze.

 

Otto, still around the corner, dismounted and peeked around to see the group of his allies in the back street.  The others noticed him when they looked where Dr. Weisswald was coming from.

 

There was another gunshot from the kitchen and several splinters came out of the wall near Marshal Pierce.

 

“I think there’s one more, Otto,” he called out.

 

Jacali slipped off her horse and took aim at the kitchen door with her bow.  Ophelia rode up and looked over the situation.

 

It had gotten very quiet.

 

*              *              *

 

Professor Stalloid flung himself over the back of the bench to hide from Flynn behind the crate.

 

He heard Flynn’s horse pick up speed as he came around the left side of the buckboard and pointed his pistol at Professor Stalloid from the hip.

 

“Get back in yer seat, professor,” he said.

 

*              *              *

 

Dr. Weisswald worked on Parker’s other wound.

 

“We need to leave!” Otto called from the alley.  “They’re probably coming back there.”

 

He pointed the musket at the door to the back of the saloon.

 

“Watch this end of the alleyway!” Jacali called to Ophelia.

 

While Ophelia turned her horse around, Jacali grabbed Jack Parker and manhandled him up onto her own horse.  It  was a painful exercise as the man was very large, but she managed to get him situated there.

 

“Sorry, Mr. Parker,” she said.

 

She didn’t imagine it would be a comfortable ride.

 

They heard the clip-clop of hoof beats as John Valentine rode around the far side of the building, gun in hand.  He glanced their way, frowned, and then shot Marshal Pierce in the belly.  The law officer crumpled and fell.

 

“Give me Parker and give me the Crescent,” Valentine said.

 

*              *              *

 

Professor Stalloid acted like he was going to get back on the bench but instead grabbed the rein and pulled to turn the horse and wagon to the left into Flynn.  The wheels of the wagon slammed into Marshal Pierce’s horse.  Flynn tried to get the horse under control and he had almost done it when the roan suddenly took off down the street at a canter.

 

Good job, horse, Professor Stalloid thought.

 

He pulled on the reins and turned the buckboard to the left, heading down a side street at speed as he climbed back onto the seat.

 

*              *              *

 

Otto fired his musket with a blast of smoke.  The bullet struck John Valentine in the chest, knocking the man off his horse.  Otto ducked behind the wall and dropped the musket.

 

Valentine crashed the ground and lay flat.  The horse ambled a few feet away but didn’t run. 

 

Weisswald had heard the massive ball of the musket fly by her head.  She rushed over to Marshal Pierce and worked on his abdominal injury, binding it.  The gut shot looked really bad and she was very concerned about it.

 

“All right, you all need to give up out there!” they heard a man call from the kitchen.

 

Jacali pulled out her bow and shot an arrow at John Valentine, hitting him in the left hand. 

 

Valentine sat up.  He shook his left hand and the arrow fell out and landed on the ground.  They didn’t see any blood though his glove appeared to have been pierced and there was a large bullet hole in his jacket and vest.  He looked down at it, annoyed.

 

“Well, that’s not very neighborly,” he said.

 

He picked up his gun.

 

“Well, I ain’t Pete Sutter, so I’m more than willing to shoot a woman,” he said.

 

He shot Jacali in the abdomen, just as he had shot Marshal Pierce.  Ophelia spoke a word and pointed at Valentine.  Dr. Weisswald realized it was the madness spell that she had taught her.  Valentine’s eyes suddenly rolled up in his head and he fell back and lay still.

 

“Can we go now?” Ophelia said.

 

“Yes, please,” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

Dr. Weisswald got some camphor out of her pocket and put it under Marshal Pierce’s nose.  He coughed and awoke, looking around, confused.  He stumbled to his feet, noting Valentine’s body down the street.  He picked up his pistol.

 

Otto came around the corner and rode through the gun smoke to the others.

 

“Can you get Pierce on your horse?” Jacali said to him.

 

“Yes,” Otto said.  “Get my musket.”

 

Jacali ran down to where the musket lay in the alley and then ran back to her horse.

 

They heard the sound of a hammer being drawn back on a peacemaker back the way they’d come.  Pete Sutter came around the corner where Otto had come from.

 

“All right, nobody get crazy now,” he said with a grin.  “How much money you got?”

 

“Ninety-one dollars,” Otto said.

 

“Put it on the ground,” Pete said.

 

Otto pulled cash and coins out of his pocket and threw them to the ground.

 

“This is the kind of thing I prefer to do,” Pete said.

 

Ophelia rolled her eyes.

 

“Ten grand,” Marshal Pierce said.

 

“Ooo,” Pete said.

 

“By Yig,” Ophelia said.

 

She cast the spell again and a strange look crossed Pete’s face.  Then he blinked and started laughing hysterically.  He leaned against the wall of the saloon, gun pointed at the ground, and laughed and laughed and laughed.  He pounded his cocked piece against his leg in mirth.

 

“I … I did have ten grand though …” Marshal Pierce said.

 

Weisswald, realizing what Ophelia had done, mounted her horse.  Otto offered a hand to Marshal Pierce.

 

“Pick up my money, Pierce,” he said.

 

“We’ll deal with it later,” Marshal Pierce said.

 

He pulled himself up onto the horse.

 

Jacali mounted as well and they all headed south.  Pete Sutter, giggling, just waved as they all rode past.  Jacali looked back and didn’t see Valentine’s body lying on the ground.

 

They soon found Professor Stalloid on the buckboard on a back street.  As they reached the outskirts of town, Marshal Pierce’s horse, Arion, trotted up.  Marshal Pierce reached out and caught the reins, leading it.

 

They fled Granite, Colorado.

 

*              *              *

 

They pressed on through most of the night, stopping for Dr. Weisswald to tend to people.  Jack Parker was put in the back of the buckboard with the Crescent.  Professor Stalloid, as they rode, tried to talk quietly to the Crescent.  He got the impression that it didn’t want to be left behind and that it could help them find the other Crescent.  He tried to comfort it, noting whatever its disposition, they would be not abandon it.  He got the feeling it wanted to be with others.

 

They continued on until the early morning hours and then made a cold camp off the road, rubbing their horses down but leaving them saddled, so they could rest but move quickly if need be.

 

Professor Stalloid showed Ophelia the black metal balls they had found in the first room of the Spiral Crypts and she told him they were simple firestones.  She noted if they were lit on fire, they would stay lit for several hours.  She suggested putting one in wax or something that could be carried easily.  It was an alchemical mixture of her people and each would burn up to give light for some time.

 

Jacali wanted to know what to do with Mr. Parker.  Professor Stalloid suggested taking him to Midnight but Marshal Pierce noted he had not yet decided what to do with the man.

 

“He has turned himself over to me and entrusted me with whatever decision I will make,” Marshall Pierce said.  “But I do not know what decision I will make.  Don’t take this as being ungrateful, but you all are not very good at following plans.”

 

“I followed the plan,” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“Yes, you did,” Marshal Pierce said.  “Surprisingly.”

 

“I know,” Professor Stalloid said.  “I am.”

 

“Mr. Pierce, with all due respect, I think we both know what losing family is like and … I think …” Jacali said.

 

“You should have … let me go,” Marshal Pierce muttered.

 

“… at least to me, you’re family,” Jacali said.

 

“That’s awfully sweet of you, but I am in too much pain to express how sweet it is,” Marshal Pierce said.

 

“I mean, I think you’re in my will,” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“Oh God,” Marshal Pierce said.

 

“Don’t worry,” Professor Stalloid said.  “Far down the line.”

 

They opened the crate and found the Crescent within.  The curved silver device looked exactly as those who had seen it before remembered, the small spikes sticking out of it around the interior and exterior, the strange, glistening metal silver of the device, the feeling that it was somehow watching each of them.  It was hung in a series of leather straps, keeping it in the center of the crate on a harness of sorts.  They closed the crate and nailed it shut once again.

 

They discussed who wanted the Crescent: John Valentine, the Secret Service, the Yithians, and the Pinkertons who worked for Rotheschilde.  They thought the Yithians and the Secret Service were the same people.  Dr. Weisswald noted the Crescent didn’t want to go with any of them, but wanted to be taken into the heavens and space.  Jacali said the three Crescents wanted to be together in space.

 

Marshal Pierce suggested they hide the Crescent at Professor Stalloid’s house.  Professor Stalloid disagreed, noting it was probably watched.  He suggested taking it to Midnight, but Dr. Weisswald pointed out there was no railroad in Midnight.  Marshal Pierce asked what Midnight was and Professor Stalloid told him it was a town in southern California that he had fostered and was helping grow.

 

“Oh God,” Marshal Pierce said again.

 

“Also, San Francisco would have the best place to make a rocket,” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

“Yeah, San Francisco─” Professor Stalloid said.

 

“If you want to do that.”

 

“San  Francisco is the most─”

 

Marshal Pierce laughed.

 

“A rocket?” he said.

 

“A rocket,” Otto said.

 

“It’s the laudanum,” Marshal Pierce said.

 

“My problem with San Francisco is 1) they know my name,” Professor Stalloid said.  “Rotheschilde knows where I live.  If Rotheschilde wants─”

 

“You can make a gate, right?” Dr. Weisswald said to Ophelia.

 

“No,” she said.  “I know how to make a gate through time, but it would kill me to try to do so.  It takes your very soul to make these things.”

 

“Here’s the thing with San Francisco,” Professor Stalloid said.  “Rotheschilde knows where I live.  Rotheschilde wanted that.”

 

He pointed at the crate.

 

“One of his goons knows I have it, last seen,” Professor Stalloid went on.  “So he would just go straight to my house.”

 

“Yeah,” Dr. Weisswald said.  “I …”

 

“Also the Chinese are always visiting my house,” Professor Stalloid said.  “The tongs.”

 

“I think Midnight’s a good idea except we can’t get there by train,” Dr. Weisswald said.

 

Professor Stalloid realized Rotheschilde had known the route the Crescent was taking to San Francisco on the Sequoyah Star and might have been the one who tipped off or even paid Valentine and his men to steal it.  He also realized Flynn had probably followed him all the way from San Francisco, most likely losing them when they stopped at the Inn of the Smiling Spirit but finding him again in Granite.

 

Professor Stalloid didn’t want to leave the Crescent in Oakland with Professor Terwilliger as he figured they knew where he lived and they knew him.  Jacali suggested they could leave the Crescent at her cabin in the wilderness in northeast Arizona.  She told them she was not there often and she imagined she was not an easy person to find.  Her cabin was in the badlands right on the edge of the Navajo Reservation that stretched from northeast Arizona territory into northwest New Mexico Territory.  There was no road or path to the cabin and no railroad went anywhere near it either.  The only landmark of note in the area was Pastora Peak on the reservation.

 

Some more discussion led them to the realization that the shortest path to her cabin lay in simply heading southwest and overland though it was probably over 200 miles away and would take them at least two weeks with the buckboard.  That was the shortest distance to the place, however.

 

Dr. Weisswald suggested the possibility of taking it to Cheyenne, Wyoming to her cabin but it was pointed out by Professor Stalloid and Jacali that Dr. Weisswald was more well-known than Jacali was.  Dr. Weisswald agreed they were probably right.

 

“I know Jacali,” Otto said.

 

“Thank you, Otto,” Jacali said.

 

“Other than us,” Professor Stalloid said.

 

He suggested they bury it near Jacali’s cabin.

 

Dr. Weisswald also invited them to spend Christmas in West Virginia with her family.  They all agreed with that idea though Professor Stalloid wanted to go by Denver first but they figured it would be on the way.

 

They decided to split up.  Professor Stalloid would remove the livery horse from the buckboard and replace it with his own horse: Basil.  Then they saddled up the horse that had originally been hitched to the buckboard.  That horse and saddle and gear he would give to Jack Parker.  While Professor Stalloid, Jacali, Dr. Weisswald, Otto, and Ophelia went overland to the place where the four territories met and Jacali’s house, Marshal Pierce and Jack Parker would ride back down the road through the various towns along the Arkansas River to Canyon City, where they could board a train bound for San Francisco.

 

As they bedded down to get a few hours sleep before dawn, they all had the strange feeling the Crescent did not want to be left behind.


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