Summary: Cody investigates the Mayoress’ disappearance and things get a might tricky.
Author’s Note: This began as my 2006 Nanowrimo Novel.
Cody went round to see Mandy the next morning, hoping for some different answers to the same questions, which was of no use, Cody knew, but it didn’t stop him trying. Doc Smith had sent her home, so Cody had to saddle up the horse he never called Clara and ride out to the big house she had outside of town.
The house had used to belong to Cody’s granddaddy, who, not coincidentally, had been Mandy’s father. It had been a bone of some contention betwixt her and Cody’s daddy before the old man had passed, him being the son, he figured on getting that house, but Mandy was the old man’s pride and joy. After that, Cody’s father hadn’t ever spoken to his little sister, ’til the day he died. Wasn’t but a few days after his daddy’s passing that Mandy came round to Cody banking on a new start, which Cody gladly agreed to. Four years on, they had a grudging friendliness and a certain respect- kin was kin after all, so Cody was glad to be on friendly terms with all that was left of his.
His knocking at the great door was answered promptly by Mandy’s girl Carlotta. As she gave him a nod and led him into the parlor, where his Auntie was sitting up next to the fire, a carpet over her legs, Cody was struck with wondering why it was that Carlotta hadn’t come to him about Mandy going missing. She should have noted it far sooner than Cody, what with living in the same house with her boss-lady.
“Cody dear,” Mandy beckoned him into the room, “Come sit here by my side.” She patted the chair next to her. He crossed the room, his heels drumming on the hardwood, and sat dutifully. He hadn’t done dutifully with Mandy for quite some time, but the thought of his strong willed Auntie out in the dirt, suffering was enough to make him dutiful.
“Doc Smith do right by you?” Cody asked as Carlotta came in carrying a large silver tray laden with clinking tea things. The girl served tea for both he and Mandy before leaving on all but silent feet back into the kitchen.
“Yes, yes,” she dismissed. “I’ll be right as rain in another day.”
“That puts a mind at ease. But, Mandy, I wonder how it is that your horse got spooked at all- such a steady mare she is.”
“Why Cody, I don’t have any idea- there must have been something, but I didn’t see a thing.”
“And you’re an able rider. Took ribbons in your youth, now didn’t you?”
“Cody, you have something else you have a mind to ask, just ask it outright. There’s no call for anything but honesty between us. You should know that.”
Cody took a sip of his tea. It was god-awful. He picked up the tiny set of tongs from the tea set and dropped three sugar cubes into his cup, found his spoon, gave it a stir and tapped the spoon on the cup’s brim to get the drips off. The click of silver on china took his attention for a long moment. “Just seems peculiar that you, an able rider on a good and steady horse were thrown so over an imaginary spook. Doesn’t figure,” he finally said, giving his tea another try. Better, but not much. He set it aside.
“I suppose it doesn’t, but there ain’t no other explanation for it, my boy,” Mandy responded.
“Reckon so, unless there’s some oddity you ain’t mentioned?” He tapped his boot heel against the scrolled leg of the settee she was on.
“No, Cody. Unless-” she paused as if listening to something far off or perhaps trying to remember something from ages ago, “the sun did seem to get unusually bright as I lay there. And- and there were voices. I was sure they were imaginings- I did hit my head as I fell- Doctor Smith said so.”
“Think hard on it, Mandy. What did the voices say?”
“I don’t- they were too muffled, Cody. Do you suppose that they weren’t just my imaginings, that there were men there who didn’t help me? Oh Cody, how could they have not seen me, if I could hear them- I was calling out for anyone. How could they not have heard?”
“I don’t know, but I will,” Cody promised her as he grabbed his hat and made for the door.
On the same trail where Cody’d spotted Miss Lucy and given chase only to have her disappear, was the spot that Mandy’s memory placed the incident with her horse. Prentice wasn’t keen on them finding anything. He kinda seemed to want Cody to go on back to town and pretend that there weren’t nothing strange about any of it.
“Sheriff, there isn’t no call to be spending your time looking for nothing. The Mayoress was just thrown from her horse,” the deputy complained.
“Now which kind of nothing would you be talking about, Jitters- the nothing that goes against God and Nature or the one that means you want me to pay no heed to Mandy’s word?” Cody sniped back at him as they got near to where Mandy had described as where she got thrown and he dismounted. Prentice didn’t answer save for sending Cody a sour look.
First off, Cody spent some time having a good stomp around the area to see if he could catch his footprints making themselves scarce. Unfortunately, there weren’t none of that kind of nothing to be found thereabouts. Then Cody, not sure exactly what else to look for, went over the ground again, searching for something unusual. He did find that kind of nothing there- the empty nothing- the normal one.
“Sheriff, can we let go of this, now? It’s darned ridiculous to be wasting our time here. I mean, what are you even searching for?” Prentice asked.
“Don’t rightly know,” Cody said in reply as he pulled a few stones that were next to the trail up to see what was under them.
“Of course you don’t! Sheriff, I can’t imagine why you’re believing the word of a drunkard and a woman who was recently knocked silly and is most certainly just misremembering some dream she had, but I’m not willing to stay here and watch your foolishness any longer,” Jitters proclaimed and got up on Buttercup (with some difficulty since his going on had made her a might shy of him and his suddenly loud mouth).
“Go on, if you want. I’ll be wanting to see this through.” Cody waved a dismissive hand at his deputy- Jitters had lasted a sight more than Cody had expected considering how peculiar things had gotten round Burgess Gulch of late. At least he weren’t showing sign of turning Blackhat yet. Of course the Blackhats weren’t what they used to be, Cody thought, but he wasn’t sure why he did.
Prentice set Buttercup trotting away, but maybe a hundred yards on, they come to a stop. After a moment, they turned round and trotted back. Cody didn’t even look up as Prentice got down off his horse saying, “Guess the foolishness is catching,” and got down on his knees to have a good look at the moss growing on the side of a bolder.
Even with Jitters added eyeballs, Cody didn’t find nothing on the trail, not nothing or anything else of any worth. But there was some niggling thing about the Blackhats he’d been thinking on since then. A thought that wouldn’t make itself whole enough for him to grab a hold of. It was too little to think through and too much to put from his mind for long, so he went up to Prowess Copse to see if being where they were brought it more clear in his head. He left Prentice behind this time. He wasn’t too certain why- just an urge to go at this alone, perhaps.
The lead Blackhat called himself Deadeye Brody, and much as you might expect, he couldn’t shoot worth a darn, which was a complication when it came to his former trade- that of being Cody’s deputy. His situation wasn’t helped by his general laziness and greed. Cody himself wasn’t one to quarrel with a man who enjoyed a slow pace in life, having made pursuing the snail’s particular brand of existence one of his own ambitions, but he just couldn’t brook a lawman with no regard for law, or at the very least fair-mindedness. So, when it came down to choosing, Dillon Brody chose cheating and Cody choose to cut him loose. He was expecting to have to put Brody down when next they crossed each other.
Prowess Copse wasn’t much of one- just a few scraggly bunches of scrub brush out near the edge of town with some falling down buildings that once were a homestead and some craggy caves that marked the entrance of the goldmine. Whatever Blackhats were lingering round Burgess Gulch could be found either there or over to the saloon.
Cody rode up to the copse, and while he was still a few hundred feet off from the buildings, Deadeye’s voice called out, “‘Less you got a writ, I’d just turn your ass back round, Sheriff.”
“Now, Dilly, you know I can’t get this nag to heed if she ain’t got a mind to,” Cody drawled back lazily. It didn’t put a body in a better position to rile Deadeye. He couldn’t shoot, but his little hired gun, Gater, was a crack shot, and he’d gladly take a poke at anyone Deadeye looked sideways at.
“No further, Sheriff, or you gets it between the peepers,” Deadeye warned.
“Just want to have a little sit down with Miss Lucy, Dilly,” Cody said. “How about you come on out and we talk man to man?” Cody was sitting out in the open, mostly on account of his desire not to kill Deadeye today. The man wasn’t really worth the lead.
Took a moment of silent waiting, but eventually Deadeye stepped out from behind an outhouse that was missing most of its door, and Cody got down off the horse he never called Clara and paced up to Deadeye.
“Miss Lucy- she here just now?” Cody asked.
“Nah, not now, she ain’t. Only ever comes when there’s a new task or it’s pay time. Never made so darned much for doing so darned little,” Deadeye leered avariciously. “Makes honest work seem worth finding, if it’s that easy.”
It was powerful strange to hear Deadeye speaking of work with such energy, and easy work in the mine? There wasn’t a lick of gold in that hole in the ground, never had been. The only reason anyone worked that mine was Tiberius J. Frenic’s Wild West Tales, the darned dime westerns some fool kept setting in Burgess Gulch. More than half the poor souls that come in on the stage come hoping to strike it rich in the mine that Frenic writ was so rich, the U.S. government wanted to keep it secret so as not to lower the price of bullion.
Once they caught on that the mine was nothing save fantasy, they usually went one of three ways- firstly, if they had the wherewithal and the cash, they went on to California or some such place to try their hand at mining somewhere else, or secondly, they made the best of it, settling down and farming or taking on a trade in town- being good honest folk, or thirdly, they turned Blackhat and spent the rest of their days robbing the good honest folk and the newly arrived greenhorns before meeting their end, usually violently and more often than not, at the wrong end of Cody’s gun.
“All right then, when’s the next time you anticipate her coming round?”
“Sundown, not before.”
“Fine and dandy. I’ll be back at sundown. And you tell Miss Lucy I’ll be looking for her then.” Cody left then, but the niggling thing was still there, in fact it seemed to have an odd kind of echo in his head saying that there just might be two niggling things about the Blackhats he couldn’t lay a finger on.
On his way back to town, Cody managed to get a hold of what was going on. Took a couple of times through before Cody cottoned on- he’d already had the same meeting with Deadeye days before. It had been before Mandy had been thrown from her horse and before Whitey had dropped off into the bottle and come back crazier than before. He and Jitters had been investigating something- Cody couldn’t rightly say what and they’d gone up there after some sort of answer. Cody shook his head. Remembering was harder than he remembered it being before- at least he thought it was.