Pulp and Dagger Fiction Webzine presents
The strange and sinister...

Serenity: A Town in the Old West

A Weird Western Saga

by
Jason Chirevas
about the author

Last week in Serenity... A disgruntled gunman, Jackson Diamond, sought to prove his quick draw prowess by kidnapping young Abercrombie Putnam and demanding a duel with the town's best shooter. But that man -- Marsshal Boxer -- was still nursing a broken hand. So it fell to reporter Nolan Paige to take up the challenge -- despite his inexperience with firearms! Nolan won the duel thanks to the secret intervention of Deputy Lake -- a fact only Paige and Lake are aware of. But what does that mean, when the marshal's own deputy secretly saved the life of a man the marshal would like dead?

Meanwhile, Marshal Boxer has his own secrets -- having learned that Paige is not all he claims to be -- and that no New York paper claims to have heard of the supposed big city reporter..

Episode 6:  Crossroads

AVERY COBB PLACED THE STEPS BELOW the open stagecoach door just in time to receive the first disembarking passenger. The old postmaster snapped to attention. “Oh, howdy Marshal Brennan. We wasn’t expecting you 'til the next stage.”

Deputy United States Marshal Harrison Brennan, small of stature, wide of mustache, descended to the street. “Morning, Mr. Cobb. I thought it best to come early, once I received Marshal Boxer’s cable. Seems he has two prisoners for me, instead of the usual none.”

“Oh, yassir, that he does.” Cobb took Brennan’s travel bag from the stage driver and handed it to the marshal. “He’s over at Chaney’s, lookin’ after the trimmings’ for the Summer Celebration.”

Brennan tipped his wide-brimmed hat. “Thank you, Mr. Cobb. You’re looking as . . . well preserved as ever. See to the lady, won’t you?”

A weathered young woman was at the open stagecoach door. Cobb helped her to the street as Brennan strode for Chaney’s Saloon. “My apologies, ma’am. I didn’t see you there.” A moment later, two small, platinum-haired children hopped from the stage door to the dust.

The woman managed a thin smile. “Thank you, sir. Do you know where I can find Vaughn McCallum? I was told he’s a resident here.”

Cobb took a small purse from the driver and passed it to the woman. “Reverend McCallum? I expect he’s over at the church, like always.” He pointed to the far end of the street. “It’s just out yonder, beyond Putnam’s General Store. ”

The young woman’s eyes were like saucers. “Reverend? Ha! This, I have to see.” She tucked her purse under an arm and took a child’s hand in each of hers. “Thank you, Mr. Cobb. Come along, children.”

+========+========+

In the boarded-up ruins of the Serenity Star office, Nolan Paige anxiously rubbed his palms together. “Did you get it?”

Raven Clark, a devilish grin plastered across her face, slipped a large, dusty book from under her petticoat and slammed it on the three-legged desk. “I got it. Brubaker was asleep at his desk. I didn’t even have to show any leg.”

She winked, then they embraced, kissed, and then she stood back with hands on hips over the broad, leather-bound volume on Raven’s wobbly desk. The book’s title was embossed in stern letters across the cover.

Serenity: A Chronology.

+========+========+

If he could just stretch a few more inches under the pew, the dropped half dollar would be his.

Vaughn McCallum scrambled from his knees when the church door opened. He straightened, nervously slapping the dust from his black slacks, and looked to the rear of the church. “Yes ma’am. What can I do for you?”

The young woman looked him over, shaking her head. “Well, well, Reverend Vaughn McCallum, it is. How in the hell did you manage this?”

He took a step down the aisle. “I . . . I’m sorry, ma’am. Do I know-”

“What happened to your face?”

McCallum’s hand went instinctively to his cheek, where one of several bandages still covered his face, the result of an involuntary trip through plate glass a month before (see Episode 5: "Riders" ~ the ed.). “Uh, I fell.” He advanced a few more steps down the aisle. “I didn’t catch your name, my child.”

The haggard young woman laughed manically. “I’m no child of yours, Vaughn. But these . . .” She stepped aside to reveal two small children with bowl haircuts. “These are both yours.”

+========+========+

“Oh, come on! I could hang it straighter than that, and I’ve only got one good arm. Get it down.”

“Sorry, Marshal.”

Deputy Richter and Stick, the piano player, readied the long Summer Celebration banner for another attempt. Across the room, Marshal Boxer leaned against the bar, and downed another shot of whiskey. There was a tap on his shoulder, followed by a harsh whisper in his ear. “I need to talk to you, Marshal. Now. Right now, Marshal. Need to talk, right now!”

Boxer turned to find Reverend McCallum tugging at his shirtsleeve, his face so drenched in sweat some of the bandages were peeling. “What the hell, Vaughn?”

+========+========+

Deputy United States Marshal Brennan squinted into the jail cell. “That man’s missing an arm.”

“Yep.” Deputy Lake approached with the keys. “Doc Bullshank had to hack it off after the duel.”

Brennan whistled. “Impressive. To not only outdraw the man, but to hit him in just the right spot to wreck his gun arm, this Nolan Paige must be one hell of a shot.”

“Something like that.” Lake opened the cell door. “Let’s go, boys. U.S. Marshal’s here for you.” (for the real story, see previous chapter ~ the ed.)

Jackson Diamond, would be duelist, and Ned Varlow, the last leftover from last month’s pack of twelve riders, trundled out of the jail cell. Brennan kept the prisoners covered with his long-barreled revolver, while Deputy Lake shackled the men together. Varlow’s hands were already manacled; Diamond’s lone arm had to be bound against his torso and thigh. In the weeks since their separate arrests, the prisoners had come to hate each other as much as they despised the lawmen. Neither said a word.

Deputy Lake stepped back, satisfied the prisoners were secure. “All right. All yours, Marshal.”

“Thank you, Stu. A pleasure, as always. Let’s go, gents.” Brennan urged the prisoners toward the door with his pistol. “By the way, how’s your boss’s arm coming along?”

“Like a miracle.” Lake walked with Brennan toward the door. “Doc says he’s never seen a man’s bones heal the way Box’s are. He thought he was going to have to amputate for sure, at first, but . . .” Lake shrugged his shoulders. “What can you say? It’s Box.”

+========+========+

The haggard young woman looked at her three coach mates, closed her eyes, and sunk into her seat. Deputy United States Marshal Brennan leaned forward. “Don’t worry, ma’am. I told these men they’re not to even look at you.”

She opened her eyes, managing a smile. “Oh no, it’s not that. They don’t bother me. I appreciate the thought though.”

Brennan tipped his hat. The driver whipped the horses into motion. and the stagecoach rumbled up the street. Brennan turned to look out the window, but something about the young woman caught his eye. The top button of her blouse was undone; a ring of bruising surrounded her neck.

The petite U.S. Marshal returned his attention to his prisoners, but wondered what could have caused the young woman’s injury.

+========+========+

“Kids?”

“Kids. Marshal. What am I gonna do?”

In his room above Chaney’s Saloon, Boxer reclined in his desk chair as Vaughn McCallum paced the room. “Are you sure they’re yours?”

The preacher threw up his hands. “I am fucking at sea! I could have been in and out of that bitch a dozen times and not remember it. You know how many whorehouses and saloons I stumbled through in my gambling days?”

Boxer peered at McCallum through his eyebrows. “The tone, Vaughn.”

“S-sorry, Marshal.” McCallum wrung his hands. “It’s just . . . what do I do? She just left them there and walked out. I couldn’t go after her. What if the town saw their preacher chasing some woman down the street, trying to give kids back to her?”

Boxer chuckled at the visual, then motioned McCallum into a bedside chair. “Calm down. Where are the kids now?”

The preacher mopped his brow. “Under pews in the church. I didn’t know where else to put them.”

Boxer drummed his fingers on the desk, then slapped it. “OK, here’s what we’ll do. Go back to the church, lock it, and stay there with the children. At midnight, I’ll come by and get the kids from you. I think I know what we can do with them.”

McCallum sprung from his chair, sweat spattered across the marshal’s face. “Oh God, thank you, Marshal! Thank you so, so much! I thought I was going to have to leave town.”

“Heh, I can’t have that just yet.” Boxer rose and endured the preacher’s clammy handshake.

“I’ll get back to the church straight away.”

McCallum turned to go, but Boxer held his grip on the preacher’s hand. “Hey, Vaughn.”

A slow turn and a hard swallow. “Yes, Marshal.”

Arched eyebrows and a grin. “Now, I really own you.”

+========+========+

“Wait a minute. Oh my God, wait a minute!”

It was almost midnight. Raven Clark and Nolan Paige took turns examining Serenity: A Chronology all day, yielding little. Now, barefoot and cross-legged on the floor of the demolished Serenity Star office, Raven jabbed a finger at a particular passage. “Look at this!”

“What is it?” Raven passed the book to Nolan as he approached from his makeshift bed on the wobbly desk, then hopped to her feet. Nolan looked at the passage Raven indicated and read aloud. “Mister and missus Thomas Putnam welcomed a new addition to their family today, a baby boy they named Abercrombie James. Doctor Bullshank reports both mother and son are in excellent health following the birth.” Paige looked from the book to Raven’s wide eyes with a furrowed brow. “So . . . ?”

Her hands were on her hips. “So? So, this is it. It’s not just the mine (whuch they first investigated back in Episode 3: "Chamber" ~ the ed.).” She took the book from Nolan and shook it in his face. “This is the proof we’ve been looking for that something unnatural’s going on in this town, too.”

Paige waved the book away. “Look, I realize Abercrombie is a curious name, but I hardly think ‘unnatural’ is the word I’d use to-”

“Oh Lord. You know, for a writer, sometimes you . . .” Raven dropped the book on the wobbly desk bed, then hopped up onto it. “See if you can stay with me, New York. What’re the only two significant things we’ve discovered about this book today?”

Paige fixed her with a glare as he recited. “Its last recorded events took place ten years ago, and there’s no mention of Boxer anywhere in the book. Last town marshal it mentions is named Grady O’Halloran.”

Raven held her arms outstretched. “Exactly! Aren’t you excited?” Her arms and expression dropped at the sight of Paige’s cocked eyebrow. “Ugh. Come here.”

Nolan crossed to the desk. Raven pointed again to Abercrombie Putnam’s birth announcement. “What’s the year on this entry?”

Paige leaned over the book. “Seven years before the end of the record.”

Raven was beaming. “A few months after I arrived in town last year, Mrs. Putnam invited me to Abercrombie’s birthday party to help me get to know some of the other ladies in town. At the party, she told me their family had only moved to town themselves two years before; Abercrombie was their first child born in Serenity. He turned seven that day.”

Nolan’s grin was as wide as Raven’s. She wrapped her legs around his hips; her feet locked together, and pulled him close. “According to this book, Abercrombie Putnam should be seventeen years old.”

The kiss lasted long into the night.

+========+========+

“It sure is neighborly of you folks to do this. I can’t tell you how grateful I am.”

Eli and Merle Gunderson, an arm around each other’s shoulders, favored Marshal Boxer with warm smiles. “Eets our pleasure, marshuhl. Waht’s tew more win yew hahv tehvelve alreddy?”

Boxer returned the smile, tousling the children’s platinum hair. “Well, we’re all much obliged in town. When we found these little angels stowed away on the stage, we didn’t know what we were going to do.” He shook his head solemnly. “Packing children in luggage and leaving them on a stagecoach. Some people today . . .”

Eli Gunderson stepped forward and shook the marshal’s hand. “Well, dey needn’t worry about dat no more. We gots plenty uh luv tew go ‘round on dees farm.”

“I’m glad.” Boxer replaced his hat and stepped to the door. “Well, I best get back to town. Good luck, folks. And thanks again.”

Eli, Merle, and the two new Gunderson children watched the marshal’s buckboard disappear over the hill. As soon as Boxer was out of sight, the children looked up at their new parents, an impossibly wide grin etched in both their little faces.

“When do we get to see the mine?”



Next - Chapter 7: The Fire (part 1)

Previous - Chapter 5: Duel




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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.)