secret_history: (Beyond the Pale)
[personal profile] secret_history
Good afternoon, faithful readers!

Without further ado, here is the next installment.

Happy Trails!


“I don’t understand,” Vicky said flatly. “Why would Helstromme want the plates?”

“He claimed he wanted them for his own personal study,” Allman said darkly.

Stone looked thoughtful. He pulled his pipe from an inside pocket of his coat, and after receiving a nod from Allman giving him tacit permission, he lit it and gave a few puffs. “Hellstromme and Nevada Smith are notorious for constantly being at each other’s throats,” he explained to them. “They’ve been enemies for years, each striving to outdo the other. If Helstromme comes up with a scheme to advance his own agenda, you can be sure that Smith will be there to thwart him. On the other hand, Helstromme has usually jumped at every opportunity to discredit Smith and make his life difficult. He may therefore have taken the plates solely to spite Smith when he found out that he wanted them. Nothing particularly sinister about that, although it is undeniably petty.”

“So how do we get them back?” Victoria wanted to know. She realized as she asked the question that she had somehow allied herself with Stone on this matter, in spite of her misgivings about the man, his Agency, and the whole shady business about taking her to Denver. Damn him.

“We have two choices. Either we ask him directly, or get them back through more dishonest means. Steal them, or get someone else to steal them for us.”

Vicky grinned. “I thought that theft was frowned upon by the Church, Reverend,” she said, giving a slight ironic emphasis to the last word.

Stone appeared unperturbed. “You’re one to split moral hairs with me.”

Allman was honestly shocked. “You can’t be serious!”

Stone shrugged. “It’s up for debate. You don’t have to concern yourself with this, Professor.” He looked at Victoria. “We should be going.”

“Wait!” Allman had completely forgotten his initial nervousness about having them in his office. “You still haven’t explained how you knew about those paintings,” he said, looking accusingly at Victoria.

She turned her palms out in a gesture of helplessness. “I don’t know how to explain it. I just saw them in the cave while we were there. I remember the walls were scrubbed clean. I just… saw it anyway. I’m sorry, I can’t tell you why: I just don’t know.”

“Fascinating. This is completely outside of my expertise, but I have colleagues who would give their eyeteeth to be the first to document this. Would you be amenable, say, to being the subject of a study?”

Vicky shuddered at the predatory gleam in his eye, but it was Stone who spoke up. “I’m afraid the Agency has a prior claim to Miss James for the moment. We really must be going.”

This time it was Vicky who delayed. “Just a moment. Professor, do you know a man named Francis Courvoisier?”

Allman looked bewildered, and she sensed no dishonesty behind the look. “What? No, no, I can’t say the name is familiar. Should I remember him?”

She shook her head, disappointed. “No, I can’t see how. He mentioned your name in connection with the Thirteenth-Day Killer, and said you might be able to help in that regard. Maybe he was confused. There were mitigating circumstances,” she added, trying not to think too hard about it.”

“The Thirteenth-Day Killer?” Allman removed his spectacles and polished them on his necktie. “It’s not really my area, but I do have a very interest photograph that was taken by an enterprising young photographer named Beauregard in one of the towns where the man appeared so suddenly. Would you care to see it?”

Vicky sat up with renewed interest. “Yes, please.”

Stone sat down heavily in a chair, not bothering to hide his exasperation. Allman didn’t notice as he went and rummaged through a filing cabinet that Vicky hadn’t noticed before, hidden as it was under a mountain of papers and scrolls. He muttered to himself as he searched, his spectacles slipping down to perch on the end of his nose. Finally he uttered a small cry of triumph and pulled out the photograph, which he presented to Vicky with a flourish that seemed quite out of character.

“Here we are,” he pulled up a chair next to her. “Do you see? It’s quite remarkable, in spite of it’s being only in black and white. He’s a very talented young man: the framing is excellent, especially for a photograph taken under what must have been very difficult and trying circumstances.”

She picked up the photograph to examine it more closely, and had to admit that it was indeed remarkable. She regarded all photography as vaguely mystical in any case, so to have this piece of evidence only added to the mystery. Unlike many of the photographs published in the “Tombstone Epitaph,” this one was neither grainy nor blurry, nor was the view conveniently obscured by clouds, fog, or a well-placed tree branch: it was a clear, crisp picture. Vicky felt a chill go down her spine as she looked at it. At first glance it appeared to be the picture of a man standing in the street in the classic pose of a gunfighter about to skin leather, but that’s where the normalcy of the picture ended. The man was shrouded in shadow, shadow which appeared to have no outside source. Vicky knew enough about how light worked to know that the sun would have been at its zenith in the sky, and that therefore the man’s face should be clearly visible. Instead, it was plunged in darkness. Where the man stood, it seemed as though the light shied away from him, as though he reppelled it, or perhaps he attracted the darkness.

“I don’t suppose this could be a technical failure on the part of the camera?” she asked faintly.

Allman shook his head. “Nor is it a trick. The ghost rock emulsion sometimes reveals things that aren’t visible to the naked eye. Certainly the journalist’s account says that the man was quite visible in the daylight. Thus one must suppose this darkness to be invisible to the naked eye.”

“May I hold onto this for a little while? I promise to return it to you before I leave the city,” she said.

He hesitated, but only for a moment. “Of course. You are planning to stop this creature?” When she nodded, he looked relieved. “Then anything I can do to help, I will, and gladly. There’s enough darkness in this world as it is.” He turned to gaze mournfully out the window at the bleak city beyond the safe confines of his office.

Stone stood up. “We really need to go. We’re supposed to be meeting Monroe and Blanton in less than half an hour. Thank you for your time, Professor Allman. I’ll be in touch.”

He bundled Victoria unceremoniously back through the door and out into the street, past crowds of students and staff who didn’t give them a second look. He ignored all of her indignant protests and demands to know why the hell he was in such a hurry, and eventually she gave up asking and walked along in sullen and rebellious silence. He at least slowed down when she started lagging behind, unable to keep the pace he had set. He took her to the Deseret Café, where they each ordered a sasparilla (a drink she hadn’t yet learned to appreciate –she mourned the lack of coffee in the city and was anxious to get back to a place where she could actually get the stuff) and waited for Monroe and Blanton.

Blanton arrived first, red-faced and looking mutinous. Vicky wondered if he and Monroe had had yet another falling out, but the arrival of the latter belied that, as he greeted the kid as though nothing was wrong.

“So what’s going on?” she asked, her gaze falling on a deputy’s badge pinned to Monroe’s waistcoat. “Did he offer you a job?” Her heart skipped a beat at the thought. If Monroe were to go to work for the Sheriff, then she would have to continue on to Denver alone with Stone, or else change her plans, and she didn’t especially want to remain in this city for long.

Monroe shook his head. “No, I’ve been deputized solely for the purpose of aiding Sheriff Waters in the event that the Thirteenth-Day Killer, a.k.a. the Revenant, appears in town.”

“I still think he’d making a mistake by not asking me too,” Blanton said, his face almost puce with anger. “I could help!”

Monroe sighed and shook his head, but didn’t answer. Vicky guessed that they’d had this conversation several times already.

“Elijah,” Against her better judgement, she tried to reason with him. “You still need a lot of practice and hard work before you can become a deputy. I’m sure Sheriff Waters already has a full complement of men, anyway. Taking on Monroe is more of a courtesy because he’s representing Marshall Courvoisier. Do you see?”

Blanton said nothing, but didn’t look convinced, so she pressed forward, trying to find a positive note to the situation.

“Besides, the odds are that he won’t even show up here this time.”

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