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
Abigail left some clothes at Bridget’s house? She didn’t take them with her to Rebecca’s village?
I’m not going to worry about the office politics at Occult Affairs, and who’s who. In fact, I like how Solomon describes the confrontation — it’s exactly as one person would describe to another about people they both know.
As for the end of the chapter: Whoa!
Abigail left Boston several days before Rebecca, to pose as Fanny O’Rourke, shop assistant in Jeremiah’s store, for which she could not use her own clothing as it was too fine.
Manning is the Secretary of the Treasury, Brooks is Chief of the Secret Service and reports to Manning (well, actually through an assistant secretary, but that’s irrelevant here), and Andrew Jackson Wallace is the head of the Office of Occult Affairs and reports to Brooks.
As for the end of the chapter, see next reply.
The Patron Saint of Digressions, indeed. Thank goodness for the wisdom (and the expository prowess) of Solomon.
You know, when Rebecca appeared to calmly kill herself, my first instinct was that it was a trick. Later in the chapter, I began to doubt that. Now, I’m thinking it was a trick, again.
Whatever it turns out to be, I expect the unexpected, and await the inevitable!
I did have a lot of fun running off at the mouth for the post announcing this chapter. Solomon, as you so amusingly put it, is more the taciturn type when given the choice. Besides, he knows his duty: bring your partner up to date, especially if there is unfinished business.
I am being cruel, aren’t I, with that ending. Everything will be explained to the readers’ satisfaction next week.
And so the cunning angler reels them in. I believe the word is ‘teasing’, though so excellently done, I grin in admiration. But may I belatedly say, aha, I thought it odd to have an Oriental dragon breathing fire. On its first blast I wasn’t feeling so confident with you that I could query. I thought perhaps you’d found one that I had not. I await the final revelations.
You’re right, CP, Japanese dragons are predominantly water spirits. Abigail knew this, because she’d research the matter. Rebecca, on the other hand, did not know this.
Which explains why Abigail was concerned while Rebecca was not? Well, really 🙂 she ought to have bought the full set of Encyclopedia Britannica (first published 17?? something)
Probably fairer to say that Abigail’s and Rebecca’s concerns were different.
Abigail was generally leery of allying one’s self with a more powerful entity, and she was particularly disturbed to find out Rebecca didn’t know the name of the entity. That it doesn’t conform to what a Japanese dragon SHOULD be like does not comfort Abigail in the slightest; rather the opposite.
Rebecca, on the other hand, knew she had been able to handle the entity, whatever it was, and so didn’t worry much about its precise identity. So she never investigated. And, it should be added, information on Japanese dragons wouldn’t have been easy to come by in the U.S. in the 1870s and 1880s. Abigail, who worked for the Federal Gov’t and had worked for several colleges and universities, had resources unavailable to Rebecca, who was tutored in Israel’s household.
The Encyclopedia Britannica did have an edition run off by American printers in those days. It wouldn’t surprise me if Israel Farnsworth had had the 8th edition.
Knowledge of Japan, yea, opened to USA in, what, 1853? after however long of isolation. But the Chinese culture had long been subject to Western enquiry. But I was tongue-in-cheek when I said of Encyclopedia Britannica. Sometimes, BB, you and the world take me too seriously. 🙂
Oh, I was tempted to make some snarky comment about how the EB hadn’t yet been bought out by Americans and improved. But that got me wondering just how the EB became popular in this country, when Americans normally made it a point of pride to proclaim the superiority of American-made products, and EB wasn’t acquired by Americans until 1901. And yet the 9th edition, which was almost complete at the time of “Dragon Lady,” was heavily pirated in the U.S. Could be a combination of genuine admiration for the work, flavored with Anglophilia among the East Coast elite.
I have a vague memory, Paper Moon was it, with Natalie Wood, and a travelling encyclopedia salesman, but I could be entirely wrong, and anyway that would only set it at the time of the Recession, 1930s? This is not my period of history. But was there no American equivalent? And this is an entirely silly thread!
Sorry, that last comment comes across rather harsh. Not intended. 🙂 🙂 🙂
Not a problem. I gather “silly” has gentler connotations in the U.S. than in the U.K.
Does it? My American dictionary gives silly: simple; foolish; lacking in sense of judgement; being stunned or dazed. While my English dictionary has: lacking in good sense; adsurd; frivolous, trivial or superficial; feeble-minded; dazed from a blow.
Yea. that absurd, superficial and feebleminded is a degree less gentle, wouldn’t you say? Or is that hair-splitting? Or merely the difference between Websters and Collins Concise?
Now I’m afraid, my any reply to your potential reply must await upon my morning!
Possibly it’s merely my dim memory of something I was told running afoul of reality.
That’s why I’m a bit mystified, CP: there were scores of American equivalents, several of them compiled by plagiarism. The traveling encyclopedia salesman is, as far as I can tell, an EB innovation once it is taken over by Americans in 1901.
Good morning, Brian. 🙂
What then is your definition of silly? It is, after all, what you’ve called your blog, just as I’ve used the word skatty. And I’m aware of the differences between US & UK, some major, awaiting an embarrassing footfall for the unwary.
I thought I was running into one of those differences, but (Russell’s exception below) apparently not.
So I went dictionary reading, too. Frivilous, lacking in sense, trivial, those capture my meaning the best. The etymology offered in one dictionary, “blessed,” explains how the word could come to mean both simple and foolish.
As for the blog name, the given name of P. S. Hughes, mentioned in https://sillyverse.com/2012/10/26/dragon-lady-chapter-9-and-the-secret-service/
is Priscilla, who was always telling jokes as a child, and who acquired the nickname “Silly,” both for her behavior and as a natural shortening of her given name. Why the universe was named after her is a long story, 3 or 4 of them, in fact, none of which have been completed, though they’ve all been started.
I always assumed Brian was using “silly” as it’s defined in cricket.
I had to look this up, Russell. Let it not be said that my blog doesn’t have an educational function.
My Victorian etymologist (Walter Skeats) gives me: “originally ‘timely’ AS saelig, then happy, blessed, innocent; Goth. sels, good.” All of which is irrelevant if it’s the shortened form of Priscilla. Which just goes to show how silly we are to make assumptions. Um, is that silly as blessed, or silly as foolish. And what is the silly of cricket? Sorry, Russell, despite I am English, cricket’s not my game.
Words whose fortunes rise and fall, like “silly”, “awful”, or “egregious,” have always interested me. Did not assume all English are cricket fans, but couldn’t pass up the reference. I only know of the cricket sense thanks to silly (as in blessed) Wikipedia while researching a story that is currently on back burner. So, is football your game?
As spectator? Tennis and snooker. As participant, dance. Though CFS means it’s more often an effort to keep up the Tai Chi.
It certainly has for me, in reading your excellent posts on everything from Oneida, to domestic service, to the gold standard. The quality of the writing in these posts proves that — in a time of instant access to data — knowledge is more than an assembly of facts.
True. 🙂 Or quotations, for that matter.
I know I’m behind in a chapter of E&A, but will get to it; today became socially busier than I planned. Moreover, for Monday’s post, I’m going the prospective author as book reviewer route again . . . and the story (not yours, surprisingly) involves a strange pocket watch!
Indeed. No need to apologize for fun outside of blogging, but look fwd to your comments on E&A, and your post about another odd timepiece!