A Weird Western Saga
week in Serenity... After they initially
get off on the wrong foot, local reporter Raven Clark decides to share what
she knows about some of what goes on in town with newly arrived New
York reporter Nolan Paige --
taking advantage of the temporary absence of Marshal Boxer. But their
investigations don't go unnoticed by the town deputies, who confront
them in the local saloon. Words are exchanged, Raven is struck with a
rifle butt, and then a new figure intrudes suddenly...
Boxer tipped his hat at the writer from New York. “Indeed, Mr. Paige. Now I believe Deputy Lake asked you to come along. Would you mind doing that?”
Paige pointed down at Raven Clark, still doubled up on the floor by a blow from the stock of Deputy Richter’s shotgun. “I’ll have you know, Marshal, this woman was assaulted by your man for merely asking for the charges against me. I want to know what you intend to do about it before I go anywhere.”
Boxer dipped his chin and narrowed his gaze at Paige. “You are under arrest, Mr. Paige. Please come with us. Right now.”
“No sir!” Paige returned to both knees and pulled Raven Clark to his chest, cradling her head against his chest as she continued to struggle for breath. Paige wrapped his arms around Raven’s shoulders, pulled her close, and looked up at Boxer. “I am not going anywhere with you until you get a doctor for this woman.”
“Yew son of a bitch!” Deputy Richter pulled his revolver and took a step toward Paige, but a sharply raised hand from the marshal froze him in place. Boxer kept his eyes fixed on Nolan Paige. His gaze slid from Paige’s eyes, down the man’s right arm, and to the writer’s hands. Paige’s thumb was stroking Raven Clark’s arm.
The corner of the marshal’s mouth curled into a lopsided smile. “Very well, Mr. Paige. You win.” Boxer looked over his shoulder at the crowd of slack-jawed saloon patrons. “Doc. See to Miss Clark, would you?”
“Yes, Marshal.” Dr. Bullshank crossed the floor to stoop over Raven and Paige. Nolan stood and gave way, allowing Bullshank access to Raven, who was still laboring to catch her breath. The doctor poked and prodded at Raven’s middle for a moment before turning to Boxer. “I don’t have my bag with me. I need to get her back to my office to determine the extent of her injuries.”
“You got it, Doc.” Boxer turned to the crowd. “Make way there. Let the doc through.”
The saloon patrons quickly moved to each side of the room, leaving a wide channel from Raven Clark to the door. Paige bent to help Dr. Bullshank pull Raven to her feet, but Art Chaney had come from around the bar. “Leave her go, Mr. Paige. I’ve got her.” The stout Chaney scooped Raven up from the floor with no effort and cradled her in his arms. Bullshank lead the way, and Raven Clark was on her way to the doctor’s office.
When Chaney and the doctor had gone, Paige turned to the marshal. “You were about to arrest me.”
Boxer sighed. “No. I don’t think I’ll do that just yet.” The marshal favored Paige with a grin and clapped him on the shoulder. “Exhale, Mr. Writer. Your quills are safe for now.” Boxer turned to the crowd and threw up both hands. “It’s all over, folks. Just a big misunderstanding is all. How ‘bout a round for the house on me, Carrie?”
Behind the bar, Caroline Chaney nodded at Boxer and held up an empty mug. “Sure thing, Marshal. Who’s first?”
Stick the piano player restarted the music, and the cheering crowd, including Deputies Lake and Richter, stormed the bar. Paige and the marshal were left alone. Boxer turned to go, but Paige stopped him. “I’m no longer under arrest? I don’t understand.”
The marshal looked back over his shoulder and gave the writer a wink. “You don’t have to.”
From a dark corner of Chaney’s Saloon that no one was watching, a tall, dusty stranger watched Marshal Boxer stride for the door. Known only as Grimm since his arrival in Serenity three weeks earlier, the stranger tracked Boxer’s passage through the saloon doors with eyes that were hidden from the world under the wide brim of his weathered hat. Grimm poured another shot from the whiskey bottle he’d been nursing all evening and downed it in a single swallow.
The knock at his door the next morning startled Nolan Paige out of his concentration, and he dropped his pencil to the tiny desk. He stood and retied his robe as he crossed the small room in three steps. Paige unlocked the door and pulled it open. “Decided to arrest me after all, eh mar-Raven!” He quickly remembered himself and, embarrassed at the slip, held the door open for her to enter. “I mean, Miss Clark, this is certainly a surprise. Would you care to come in? How’re you feeling?”
“I’m fine, Mr. Paige. Thank you.” Raven moved past him and into the room. She scanned the room, then turned to Paige. “You’re not packed.”
“Uh…no, I’m not.” The writer closed the door and took a look around. “Should I be?”
Raven crossed to the small desk and, unable to hide her wince of pain, settled into the rickety chair in front of it. The concoction Dr. Bullshank had given her took the edge off the pain, but there seemed to be no escape from the constant dull ache. “I just figured you would be after last night.”
“Why is that?” Paige sat on the edge of the bed opposite Raven. “Do I have reason to leave town?”
Raven fixed him with a glare. “The marshal knows what you’re doing now. He’ll be watching every move you make.”
Paige broke into a wry grin. “And? . . . ”
“This is serious, Mr. Paige.” She was on her feet with another grimace. “There are things going on in this town that you’ve no idea about. There are forces at work here that I can’t rightly explain.”
Still seated, Paige looked up at her. “I’m not blind to matters, Miss Clark. I saw the mayor and reverend cleaning out the church collection plate.” He glanced at Raven’s middle. “I witnessed what that boorish deputy did to you. I know things aren’t nearly perfect in Serenity, that’s why I’m here. I’ve only scratched the surface of this town.”
She crouched in front of him and put both hands on his knees. “You’ve done no such thing. Mr. Paige.”
“Miss Clark, I-”
She squeezed his knees to silence him. “There’s something I want to show you.”
Raven stood and opened the door. She took a step out, then looked back over her shoulder. “Meet me at the stables at midnight and dress for a ride.”
“I…I will.” He was still seated on the bed.
She gave him a grin for the first time since she’d arrived. “Good. See you then. Nolan.”
Across the street and a few doors down, a tall, broad figure swept into the post office. “Morning, Cobb.”
Startled, Avery Cobb dropped the ace of spades onto his house of cards at the wrong angle, and the entire structure collapsed to his desk. “Goddangit!” Cobb spun his chair around. “What do you mean sneaking up on -- d’yuh, hello there, marshal! Wasn’t expecting it to be you.” The old postmaster leapt to his feet as fast as almost seventy years of life would allow. “What can I do for you?”
Boxer removed his hat and grinned wide. “I have a little business I’d like you to help me with, Cobb. Law business.”
Avery’s eyes brightened. “Law business? Well, I’ll certainly do what I can for ya. What’s it all about?”
Boxer pulled a folded sheet of paper from inside his shirt and leaned conspiratorially close to the postmaster, who took the cue and mirrored his posture. “I have here a list of all the big newspapers in New York City. I want you to cable a message there and find out if any of them have a Nolan Paige writing for them.”
Cobb took the list and glanced over the names. “Well, Marshal, I’m not sure I’d even know who to talk to find that out. Why don’t you just ask Mr. Paige who he works fer?”
Boxer had to check his eyes from rolling. “I don’t want Mr. Paige to know I’m asking, Cobb. In fact, I don’t want anyone to know, especially Miss Clark. This is between you and me, hear?” The marshal placed an index finger over his lips with a wink and a nod.
Avery Cobb, suddenly a secret agent of the law, returned the wink and nod. He refolded the list and tucked it into his vest. “I’ll have an answer before ya know it.”
At fifteen seconds before midnight, Nolan Paige pressed his small satchel of provisions close to his hip and dashed from the wall of Putnam’s General Store. With only starlight to guide him, Paige made his way across the street in a low crouch and arrived at the stable without incident. Not willing to risk the creak of the floorboards in front of the building, Paige settled in the dirt alley alongside it.
Nolan squinted in the direction of the Serenity Star office when a tap on his shoulder drove a yelp out of him that he couldn’t suppress before it escaped. Raven seized Paige by both shoulders and shoved him into the dirt on his backside. She spoke in a callous whisper. “Keep quiet! There’s a reason we’re doing this in the dead of night, you know.”
“Well, I’m sorry,” his whisper was just as harsh. “I didn’t think you were here yet. You scared me nearly to death.”
Raven cocked an eyebrow at him. “Uh huh.”
Paige wiped a dusty hand on his satchel. “I’m merely saying it’s not healthy for a person to be startled like that.”
“OK, I got it.”
“I could have swallowed my tongue for all you-”
“Hush!” Raven’s whisper was more of a hiss. She pointed over her shoulder toward the rear of the building. “I’ve already gotten my horse out the stalls, he’s back there. Take my hand, and I’ll lead you back. We’ll walk him to the edge of town before we mount. Be very quiet. The very last thing we want is to spook the other horses.”
Paige took it all in, nodding like an admonished child. Raven took his hand and started to tug him toward the back of the stable when Nolan remembered something key. “Wait a moment, Miss Clark. Exactly, where are we going?”
She only looked back at him for an instant, but her eyes caught the starlight in a way that startled Nolan anew. “To a place like none you’ve ever seen.”
“Either of you seen Raven Clark this morning? Her office is all locked up.”
Deputies Lake and Richter looked up from their newspaper and earwax respectively and shook their heads at Boxer, as the marshal hung his duster on a hook near the door. He poured himself a cup of coffee, then settled in behind his desk. Boxer started to put his feet up but stopped in mid-motion. “I don’t think that girl’s been late to The Star since the day she took it over.”
Then he remembered a certain thumb stroking a certain arm two nights before and quickly got to his feet. “Stu, get over to the Star office, would you? See if Miss Clark’s in there anywhere.”
Lake was already reaching for his hat. “You got it, Box.”
The marshal strode back to the hook on the wall and grabbed his coat. “Bump, you come with me. We’re going to take a walk over to Art’s and see if Nolan Paige slept alone last night.”
Five minutes later, a blow from the stock of Deputy Richter’s shotgun knocked the knob off Nolan Paige’s rented room door, destroyed the lock, and splintered the wood around it. Boxer kicked the door in and leapt inside, certain he had Paige and Raven Clark in violation of the town’s indecency ordinance. “You’re both are under…”
The room was empty.
Richter stepped to Boxer’s hip. “You really think Miss Clark’d whore around with this feller, Marshal? He seems kinda sissy t’me.”
Before Boxer could reply, Deputy Lake walked into the room, and the marshal turned his attention to him. “Is she there?”
Lake shook his head. “Not as far as I can tell. All the doors are locked, the shades are down in all the windows, and there’re no lights inside, that I can make out.”
“Paige’s missing, too.” Boxer indicated the rest of the room with a thumb over his shoulder.
Deputy Lake put a finger in the air. “Actually Box, there’s something else.”
The marshal raised his eyebrows. “Oh?”
“I went over to the stables from the Star office, and Miss Clark’s horse is gone.”
Boxer and Richter both straightened. “Gone?”
“Yep. Muggs has no idea where it is, and all the gates and fences are as they should be. He’s pretty upset.”
An empty newspaper office, a vacated room and a missing horse. The three elements combined instantly in Boxer’s mind to form a terrible conclusion.
“Get. My. Horse.”
Next - Chapter 3: Chamber
Previous - Chapter 1: Meetings
Serenity is copyright by Jason Chirevas. It may not be copied without permission of the author except for purposes of reviews. (Though you can print it out to read it, natch.)