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

We are back. Beyond the Pale will be updating weekly once more, from now on. For those of you who are newly-arrived, or who've forgotten everything because it's been so damned long since I last updated, you may find all the previous instalments here.

When I have time, I am also going to go back and link all the instalments together (basically adding a "previous" and "next" option), so that people can read it all in order.

Without further ado, I present the next bit of the saga for your entertainment.


*****


The Salt Lake City Hotel was a modest affair compared to some of the grander hotels Vicky had seen in other big cities (from the outside, anyway, her purse not usually allowing for such luxury), but it seemed positively decadent after months of sleeping on paper-thin mattresses in cheap boarding houses. The staff flew to Emily’s welcome, fussing about the trio and offering drinks and hot baths, together with soft robes into which they could change after the baths.

A doctor was summoned to take a look at the various scrapes and injuries sustained during the botched attack on the train. Emily circumspectly didn’t mention their involvement, saying merely that they had been present and had been roughly treated by the brigands, which was enough to satisfy the maître d’hôtel. Taft had sustained some impressive-looking lacerations on his arms in his attempts to free himself from his bonds, but they proved to be less serious than originally feared. Vicky’s clothing was whisked away by a maid, who was too well-trained to allow herself to look scandalized by the men’s clothing worn by a woman, to be cleaned and mended for the next day. Emily refused to hear a word of protest from either Vicky or Taft when she ordered rooms be made available for them at the hotel.

“Nonsense. You helped to save my life, the least I can do is offer you a place to stay for the rest of the night,” she told them over steaming cups of coffee (apparently if you were wealthy enough, Vicky noted, things like coffee were made available even in Salt Lake City), once they were all clean and presentable once more. “Besides, I want to hear the story behind all this. You two obviously know each other, for one thing.”

Taft threw Vicky a look that was at once curious, suspicious, and murderous. “Well, I hate to be the one to give you bad news, but allow me to encourage you to stay away from this one. Trouble’s attracted to her like flies to, uh, sugar.”

Vicky snorted at that, and Emily gave Taft a polite and disbelieving stare. “Oh?” she said blandly. “How’s that?”

“Just that,” Taft complained. “I go about minding my own business, and the next thing I know I’m arrested for something I didn’t do, hauled off in cuffs, and then the train I’m on gets attacked, and she’s in the thick of it. It just figures,” he sulked.

“You never did take rescuing graciously, Taft,” Vicky leaned back in her very comfortable chair. “Don’t mind him, his manners always seem to go flying out the window whenever he gets shot at. It’s a shortcoming, but I’m sure with time he’ll get better.”

Emily giggled, and Taft directed another glare at her. “What are you doing here anyway?” he snapped. “Last I saw, you were going further into the Maze, and I heard that… well, I heard you were dead,” he finished lamely.

Vicky glanced uncomfortably at Emily. As much as she instinctively liked the girl, it seemed like a bad idea to relate everything that had happened to her. It was a difficult enough story to swallow even when you’d been there to witness the whole thing, let alone if you had never heard of any of the weird stuff that went on on the outskirts of civilization.

“Well, I’m not dead,” she said finally. “You can see that for yourself. I have a heartbeat and everything,” she added significantly, and saw that Taft understood the implication. “The rest is kind of a long story, but I came here with Monroe and a man named Stone on our way to Denver. Actually,” she grinned, “we’ve also got Elijah Blanton with us.”

Taft choked on his coffee. “What?”

She chuckled. “I told you nothing surprised me anymore. We founds him in Carver’s Landing, where he’d been arrested because they thought he was you, and there was the usual mix-up about that warrant that’s no longer out for your arrest.”

“Warrant?” Emily leaned forward, her interest piqued.

Taft shrugged. “A misunderstanding. I was acquitted, but the telegraph being what it is in this country, not everyone has received the update that I’m no longer wanted in Georgia. It’s a nuisance.”

“An amusing nuisance,” Vicky amended.

“So who’s this Stone you talked about?” Taft pointedly changed the subject.

“He’s a Pinkerton, if you can credit it. Turns out that his employers want to question me about something, so he asked me to accompany him back to Denver. I’m on my way back to Chicago anyway –I figured it was high time I saw my brother again– so I figured it couldn’t do any harm.”

“Huh,” Taft took another sip of coffee, his expression making it clear that he knew she was witholding information. “And why are you in Salt Lake City, in that case?”

“Two reasons. One, we promised someone to help the local Sheriff with the Thirteenth-Day Killer, if he shows up. Two, Stone has some sort of business here first, and Monroe and I agreed to help him if we can. Right now the difficulty lies with getting in touch with Dr. Hellstromme.”

Emily glanced sharply at her. “Why do you want to talk to him?”

Too late Vicky remembered that Hellstromme was Smith & Robards’ greatest competitor. There was no help for it now. “We’ve been led to believe that he has some documents or somesuch in his possession that ought not to be. So the first thing to do would be to gain access to him. Except, of course, we don’t really have a way of doing that right now.”

Emily said nothing to that, but busied herself pouring out more coffee. Taft decided that the best way to deal with that problem was to tackle another. “So what’s this about the Thirteenth-Day Killer?”

“Just what it sounds like. Apparently the odds are good that he’s going to make Salt Lake City his next target.”

“I’m sorry,” Emily broke in. “Who?”

“Oh, sorry,” Vicky said apologetically. “I forgot you wouldn’t really be keeping track of things like this. It comes from being around law enforcement types for too long: eventually you assume everyone’s like that. The Thirteenth-Day Killer is also known as the Revenant. No one knows who or even what he is. All we know is that he rides into a town on the thirteenth day of each month, challenges the local Marshal or Sheriff to a duel, and then guns him down in cold blood. So far he’s never lost a fight.”

“You’re insane,” Taft said flatly.

Vicky rolled her eyes. “You always say that.”

“And I mean it every time. You’re telling me you want to take on the Revenant?”

“I think we’re supposed to be there in a solely supportive capacity. But, essentially, yes.”

“That doesn’t sound too dangerous…” Emily ventured. “It sounds as though the one in real danger would be the Sheriff.”

“And knowing this one’s propensity to attract bad luck and a lot of lead, we’d find ourselves in the middle of a firefight within no time,” Taft complained.

“We?”

He rolled his eyes. “You don’t think I’d let you go after this man… thing… whatever… all by yourself, do you? Someone’s got to protect you from yourself. You and Monroe.”

Emily hid a smile behind her coffee cup, and Vicky grinned. “Aww, Taft, you’re all heart. Admit it: you want a shot at the Revenant yourself. It would be a hell of a boost to your reputation.”

He flushed. “Well, there’s that too,” he admitted. “But I’m better-suited to this sort of thing than you and Monroe. Well, Monroe, anyway. And I’m faster than you, for the most part. Besides, if you think the local Sheriff’s going to deputize you, you’re dreaming, and from what I’ve heard, unless you’re wearing a star, you’re not going to get anywhere near the Revenant.”

Vicky let the remarks about her ability slide. “What do you mean?”

“What I mean is, I’ve heard that other people have taken shots at this thing, trying to help out their Marshals, and their bullets have gone clean through, as though he was made of nothing but mist. Doesn’t take a genius to figure out that, if he’s challenging lawmen, then you need to be a lawman to take him down. Hell, for all I know, the only one who can actually do that is the one facing the challenge.”

“Uh, sorry to interrupt again,” Emily held up a hand to draw their attention, “but what on earth are you talking about? Do you mean bullets go through this man without harming him? How is that possible?”

“Well, he could be dead,” Vicky mused aloud, half to herself, “although that’s not how it worked with Landry…”

“Dead?” there was disbelief in Emily’s voice, and Taft’s smile turned grim.

“Why, yes. Or didn’t you know that in this country, people who’re dead don’t always stay buried?”

She shot him a considering look. “Actually, that explains a lot.”

*****
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