NaNoWriMo Update Thirteen

Somewhat smaller update tonight, on account of a nasty head cold that makes me all fuzzy. Word count is 1290 with a total of 21530.

Hawkins watched them stagger into the saloon from across the street. When they’d gone inside he walked away from the shack he’d been using as cover and headed for the jail. There were no lights on, but his insistent pounding on the door woke whoever was inside in short order. There was the sound of a lock sliding back. The door creaked open, revealing the barrel of a shotgun. Sheriff wade loomed behind it. “Oh,” he said once he made out Hawkins’ face. “It’s you.”

“Mind if I come inside?” asked, nodding to the shotgun.

“Sure, sure,” Wade lowered the gun and opened the door wider. “But it’s a bit late for a social call, isn’t it?”

“Oh, this is no social call,” Hawkins pushed through the door and walked to the center of the room. “This is all business. Haversham & Black business.”

The door closed solidly and Wade made sure it was locked. When he turned to face Hawkins he wore a suspicious expression. “Do tell,” he invited.

“Where’s your telegraph?”

“Ain’t no telegraph poles coming into this backwater mining town,” Wade told him. “You shoulda noticed that on your own.”

Hawkins leaned against the sheriff’s desk and crossed his arms. One hand dangled just above a holstered pistol, gloved fingers brushing the weapons grip. “What I know, sheriff, is that you heard about the reward on those train robbers before they’d even gotten to your town. Even if a rider got sent out the moment I made it back to Blackoak, how would they have known to come here?”

Wade’s eyes narrowed, and the shotgun lifted just a fraction of an inch before going back down. “The Arbiter send you?” he asked.

“I told you this was Haversham & Black business,” Hawkins stared him down. “So how about a little professional courtesy, from one employee to another?”

Wade sniffed in an exaggerated manner, but he put the shotgun down next to the door and pulled out a chair. “Lines are buried,” he admitted. “The boys back east wanted to keep it all low key. A lot of the towns along the edge of the Badlands have ‘em. For a modest fee we keep ‘em updated on goyle activity. Maybe they knew the bandits would head out into the Badlands, maybe they were just hedging their bets. Soon as you wandered into Blackoak their man in the telegraph office sent word to headquarters, and headquarters fired off instructions to us. I reckon every town they have an arrangement with got the same message. They want that box back real bad.”

“I can only imagine,” Hawkins replied. “Now where’s the telegraph? It’s time I checked in.”

Wade led him to a back room of the jailhouse, where a complicated looking machine sat. “Puts the dots and dashes on paper,” Wade explained. “So somebody doesn’t have to be here listening all the time. You use it like a normal one.”

Hawkins asked for privacy, and Wade withdrew. It had been some time since he’d actually used a telegraph, but after a slow start it all started coming back. His message was short and simple.

Employee WH3E4S

Location Red River

In pursuit of lockbox

Am accompanying Arbiter

Instructions requested

With the missive sent he sat back and waited for a reply. He didn’t have long to wait. The machine whirred to life, almost silent except for the tack-tack-tack of the mechanism putting dots and dashes to a small strip of paper. He followed along with his eyes, one hand holding up the strip as it churned out. When it had finished he ripped the paper off, folded it neatly, and put it in his vest pocket.

“Get what you needed?” Wade asked when he came out.

“More or less,” Hawkins told him.

“Don’t look too happy about it.”

Hawkins stopped at the front door. He turned his head to look back at Wade. “Good night, sheriff,” he said simply, then walked out into the dark.

Roughly a dozen men showed up in front of the jailhouse come morning, each and every one of them carrying a weapon. Two were Wade’s deputies, here because he’d told them to be, but most looked like miners who worked at pulling up the cynnabar near the river. It was more manpower than Katherine had expected to see, and she wondered just how much Haversham & Black was promising as a reward. Or how much Hawkins had inflated it to get more people. Not that she was going to ask, of course. She stood on the jail’s porch, next to Wade’s rocking chair, and let the sheriff do the talking.

“Thank you all for coming,” he told them, thumbs hooked in his belt. “I know most of you are here for the money, but that don’t change that you’re doing this town a service. The men that came through here a few days ago are the same ones that derailed a train near Blackoak and made off with H&B property. They’re headed into the Badlands now, and if they’re half as much trouble out there as they were at Blackoak we’ll soon have goyles knocking on our door for some payback. None of us want that, so we’re going after them. You already know Mr. Hawkins. This here is Arbiter Wild Kat Bishop,” he gestured back to Katherine, who managed to suppress the urge to glare at Lonesome. “We’ll ride with her people to do it. Some of you may have heard that Clementine Baxter is with the the men we’re after. Don’t let that give you pause. Bishop has a Spirit Talker of her own here, Lonesome Cooper. He’ll be more than a match for Clem. Arbiter, you got anything to add?”

“Just a few,” she stepped forward. “Starting with this. I don’t care if the H&B bounty says alive or dead, I want these men alive if possible. Anybody who kills one of them when you could’ve taken him in still breathing not only forfeits your part of the reward, you’re gonna wind up in jail yourself. And remember, we’re going into goyle territory but our aim is to not piss them off if we can avoid it. We run into any, you let me or Lonesome here handle it. Last, each of these men has been deputized by me. If Hawkins, Lonesome, or Walsh tells you to do something, treat it like it comes from me. Now let’s get to it.”

Tracking fugitives when you didn’t have an actual destination in mind was by necessity a slow operation. There were a lot of signs you had to look for, some of them easily missed, and if your quarry took a sudden change in direction you might have to backtrack to pick up on where you’d missed it. Dogs helped, if they were properly trained, but that was a luxury Katherine didn’t have. Luckily she had something better. She had a Spirit Talker, and while Lonesome had to pause occasionally he could do a lot of his talking from the back of a moving horse. Weather and time could erase physical signs of someone’s passing, but there was little you could do to silence spirits who’d seen you go by.

Clem could have tried, of course, being a Spirit Talker herself. As luck would have it she didn’t seem to have been expecting pursuit by someone with her own particular talents, and so she hadn’t bothered. But then, the box she was towing behind her did half that job anyway. Most of Lonesome’s pauses were to try and figure out if the spirits hadn’t seen anything because there was nothing to see, or if they hadn’t seen anything because they’d left and then come back.


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