Copyright © 2013 by Brian Bixby.
Chapter 22: Solomon Davis takes charge
She noticed the ceiling at first. It had an electrical lamp at its center. The light was on.
She looked down. She was in a bed. There was a sheet and a blanket covering her. She was wearing a nightgown.
I am Abigail Lane, she thought to herself. I am a practicing magician in the United States Secret Service, Office of Occult Affairs. And I have no idea where I am or how I got here.
A voice chimed in. “Nice to know you’re rational and that you know who you are, Abigail.”
Abigail turned and looked. There was a man sitting there. He had red hair, no beard, and a handlebar mustache. A moment, and the name came to her. “Solomon Davis, you were sent here to take charge?”
Solomon doubted he could lie to Abigail, but he was sure he could get away with a half-truth. “I’m here as your partner, Abigail.”
“What happened to me?”
Solomon chuckled. “I was hoping you could tell me that. Now that you’re feeling better, there’s a robe at the foot of the bed. Why don’t you put it on and sit at this table with me and you can bring me up to date on what happened?” And he turned his head away to give Abigail some privacy.
Abigail had lost any modesty she had about people seeing her body while she was traveling in Arizona Territory. Still, she appreciated Solomon’s gesture. She got up, put on the robe, found there were slippers there, too, and put them on. She noticed that her knee seemed to be fine. Normally she would have been happy about that, but now she wondered just how long she had been unconscious.
There was another chair against the wall on the opposite side of the table from Solomon Davis. Abigail sat down, and proceeded to tell Solomon all about what had happened. She was bursting with curiosity herself about how she came to be here, wherever here was, but she knew her duty: inform your partner.
There was a window in the opposite wall, and as Abigail spoke, she could see that dawn was coming. Not long after, a woman came into the room with a breakfast of pie and eggs for Abigail. She introduced herself as Susan Farnsworth, Jeremiah’s wife. Not long after, Jeremiah stuck his head in long enough to give Abigail a smile, and to assure Solomon that all the arrangements had been made.
When she finally recounted how she had been trying to escape the warehouse when it burned, Solomon let out a sigh. “That clears up several mysteries. And now I suppose it’s my turn to explain why I’m here and what has happened since.
“First of all, it wasn’t your telegram that brought me here, Abigail. I never saw it. It was Chief Brooks. Wednesday morning, he was summoned to the Treasury Secretary’s office. There were two United States Senators from Massachusetts in the office with Manning, and he was sweating bullets. Seems they were demanding he put more people on this investigation. They claimed to be acting to protect the interests of a poor helpless widow named Mrs. Bridget Farnsworth.”
Solomon paused, gave Abigail a wink. “I’ve since met Bridget Farnsworth. Methinks the Senators exaggerated her helplessness a fair piece.
“Anyhow, Manning chewed out Brooks. Brooks went back to his office, summoned Andrew and me, gave Andrew a right royal lecture for mismanaging the Office, and ordered me to come here to support your investigation.” Brooks had actually put Solomon in charge over Abigail, and knowing how stubborn she was, had put it in writing in an order to her. Solomon, who felt he knew Abigail’s temperament even better than Brooks, had no intention of ever showing that order to Abigail. He believed he would get more cooperation out of her as her partner than as her superior.
Solomon continued, “I arrived in town just after sun up. The whole town was out fighting a fire at the mill. Besides the warehouse you were in, about a third of the mill was destroyed. There are one or two people who claim to have seen a huge dragon when the fire broke out, but no one is paying attention to them.
“I ran into Jeremiah Farnsworth, who’s one of the captains of the volunteer firemen. Once I explained who I was, he told me they had found Patty Leigh. She was in hysterics. All she could say was that Rebecca was dead in the warehouse and you were dead, too. I was able to persuade Jeremiah to lend me a few men to dig in the ruins of the warehouse looking for you both.
“You were easy to find, there was so much magic pouring off of you. We found you only a few feet from the door. A wall had fallen on you. All your clothes were burned off. Your body was severely burned. You had suffered several major lacerations. Your hair was gone. You weren’t breathing. And yet there was all this very strange magic pouring off of you.
“We dug you out, placed you on the ground outside, and you began breathing. We could actually see your wounds beginning to close up. So we brought you here to Jeremiah’s place. That was Friday morning. Over the course of the last two days, your body healed, even your hair grew back, and the magic gradually disappeared. When it finally went away a few hours ago, I figured you were healed and would wake up. And you did.”
Abigail had been looking at her hands, feeling the hair on her head. “It all looks fine to me, Solomon.”
“It was a good trick, Abigail. You’ll have to tell us how you did it.”
Abigail shook her head. “Not my doing, Solomon. You say the magic was very strange, perhaps not human?”
“Then it was probably the dragon’s magic.”
Solomon shrugged. “If you say so. Sloppy way of doing things, to my mind. God knows it didn’t spare much of anything else. As we got deeper into the warehouse, we ran into some heavily burned bones, definitely a man’s, presumably Maverick’s. Not far from it, we found a body untouched by flames, a woman’s. Its head had been shattered by a bullet.”
“Rebecca.” Abigail said it in a flat voice. She had hoped that somehow Rebecca would be resurrected. That hope was dead.
Solomon nodded. “I’m afraid so. No trace of the walking stick, by the way. I presume the dragon must have taken it back to wherever it comes from. Japan, perhaps?”
Abigail shook her head. “Maybe not, Solomon.” Seeing his surprise, she continued. “I got a good look at it there in the warehouse. It did look something like a dragon from Japanese folklore. But it has wings, it breathes fire, and it could use its magic to lure prey. None of those are common features of Japanese dragons. It’s almost as if someone combined a Japanese dragon with the dragons of European folklore.”
Solomon was intrigued. “So what is it, really?”
Abigail replied, “I don’t know. Rebecca told me she didn’t know the name of what she was bound to. With the walking stick lost, I doubt we’ll ever find out for certain.”
Solomon gave another shrug. “Well, it acted enough like a dragon.” He paused, then remembered something else he knew he should tell Abigail. “I mentioned that Patty Leigh was hysterical. I think something’s snapped in her mind, Abigail. She swings back and forth between just saying how you two are dead, and sitting there with a blank look on her face.”
Abigail sat there, trying to take it all in. So many lives wasted: Rebecca, now Patty, the dead postmaster, the missing mill hands, even William Maverick, who had misused his talents.
She was not prepared for Solomon’s next remark. “Well, my congratulations, Abigail, on successfully completing the assignment. You identified who killed the postmaster and he died trying to avoid your justice. And he was a former agent of ours, more powerful than you. Quite an accomplishment.”
Abigail lashed out. “A lot of people died, Solomon, or weren’t you paying attention? My partner died, Solomon. Don’t speak nonsense about how this was a success.”
Solomon shook his head. His voice took on a hard edge. “You succeeded in tracking and punishing the killer, Abigail. That is success. And by your own account, Rebecca Maxwell knowingly sacrificed herself. Her death is not your fault. I won’t quarrel with your calling her your partner. She was. But I’ve lost partners, too, Abigail. That’s a price we pay for upholding the law.”
Abigail shrugged. “Maybe I’ll be able to see it that way, months from now, Solomon, when I’m away from here. But not now.”
Solomon replied, “That will do for me. I hope it will do for you, too, because we should attend Rebecca’s funeral this afternoon.”
Abigail was startled, having forgotten that she had been unconscious for two days. But she had to accept that Rebecca was dead, and she would not shirk this opportunity to honor her partner. She stood up. “I’ll need clothes. And I’ll want to see Patty, to see if there’s anything I can do for her.”
Solomon also rose. “There’s a change of clothing for you in the closet, Abigail. Bridget brought the rest of your clothes with her from Boston. Along with her other three sisters, she’s staying at the Double Eagle. You can go there and see Patty and pick an appropriate outfit for the funeral.”
Abigail almost regretted going to the Double Eagle. Patty was in her “quiet” phase, as Bridget called it. She just sat there, reacting to nothing. Abigail tried to talk with her; she took no notice. Abigail even tried to go into her mind, but it didn’t seem to be functioning normally, and Abigail was no specialist in therapeutic psychology, for all her learning.
Bridget, in her blunt way, told Abigail she was not to blame, “and na be a mule like Rebecca and keep thinkin’ ya are.” Grace, the heavily pregnant sister who had accompanied Rebecca on her earlier magical expeditions, kept up a constant flow of stories about Rebecca, and demanded that Abigail accompany her and her younger sister to the funeral. (Bridget was staying behind with Patty, as Patty was “better” when Bridget was around.) Abigail would have preferred to go with Solomon, but could see no way to refuse gracefully. So to the church she went with the two Leigh girls.
She stood in the line waiting to see the coffin. It was closed, naturally. Abigail wanted to concentrate on remembering Rebecca, but had to keep dealing with questions from the Leigh girls.
She got up to the coffin, placed her hands on the top of it, and reached in with her magic to give Rebecca a parting word.
She couldn’t. There was no body in the coffin. Rebecca wasn’t there.
End of chapter twenty-two