A noble lawman trying to uphold honor and law, finds everything he fights for in jeopardy.
The audible click engaged again as he checked his grandfathers pocket watch for a second time. His focus more towards the hour as he took note of how late it was. His jaw set and the color drained from his face as the luminescent numbers broadcast silent omens from the clockworks housed within. Not one min past his last check, the sheriff was acting more in response to that sick feeling in his core that told him something more was at play here.
“Late,” he rumbled in low baritone just as the twilight horns blared alerting all within earshot to seek refuge indoors. The nights were filled with dangers and evils that were absolute in their convictions of carnage.
Paladin’s gait advertised his presence to anyone who knew him. A souvenir of his prior dealings the agents of evil, his left leg shuffled across the wooden floor boards so it was no surprise when the ticket master called out a greeting towards him without visual confirmation.
“Barnaby, “ he called out in response as he rested his forearms on the cashier’s window. “Rail from Pembroke ?”
Barnaby was an old fellow with a perpetual grin, His face was shiny and red, with a oversized nose to match. He offered Paladin a nod as he started punching in the keys. The small man twisted at his handlebar mustache as he shook his head.
“Rail left 10 to the chimes half sheriff, shoulda been purging by days end call,” the man stated.
Barnaby looked up and over at the sheriff and stared for a moment. The ticket master held his gaze there momentarily before shifting his focus. The normally perpetual smile became scarce, the mans eyes focused more over Abernathy’s shoulder. The tall lanky law man watched the old timer that always had such a optimistic disposition, turn sour. Paladin whom had his hands resting on the counter dropped them easily and brushed fingers across his hip. The simple act pulled back the curtain of leather and found his weapon.
It was the scent of the cigar smoke that gave her away, “Eve to you Jinx” he announced before turning to face the leader of the Carnies. “No show tonight?” he asked.
Jinxi, the ring master of the cirque and carnival shows that existed just on the outskirts of town, narrowed her painted eyebrows. She was always in the same clothes, sometimes with a hat sometimes without, her face still had the reminders of the prior performance in the creases of her contours where paint still lingered.
She chewed on the end of her nub of a cigar, her hair, a knotted birds nest, clung to one side of her face. Her beady eyes were black as a ravens feather, no pupils, no life, just a void of blackness. The woman had an uneasy way about her, and the sheriff didn’t care much for her at all. He normally paid no attention to the rumors of the citizens or the gypsies that rested on the outskirts opposite the Carnival employees but in some instances he felt it prudent to at least not wave off such rumors either. Especially when it came to Jinx.
“Got bidness on that rail you missin,” she counters.
He nodded in a discreet and professional manner. He was sworn to protect the people of his adopted city but some he cared not interact with unless protection was needed.
“Thessaly, she gettin big,” Jinx prodded with a satisfactory roll of her cigar.
“Where have you seen my daughter?” he asked, Paladin turned his wide visage standing before her, blocking her from moving.
The ring master gave a low guttural hmpf as she pulled the cigar from her gaping hole of a mouth. She spit a brown fluid onto the ground with a rehearsed ease and then wiped her mouth with the back of her pudgy hand before refocusing her empty eyes upon him.
“She not a babe, near womanhood the sweet Thessaly.“ the woman commented. It was then that her eyes flicked up past the Sheriff and out into the rapidly encroaching darkness. Like him, the woman seemed eager for the train.
Paladin swallowed down that painfully dry pill of self discipline. His eyes narrowed and zeroed in on the woman as he once more glanced over her in abhorrence. He studied through that thick cloud of loathing as her voice rambled on about what he seldom knew. His interest with the Carnival woman was always more in her body language and her expressions for they were always more forth telling than her mouth.
“Jinx and hers likes the girl round, always quick the smiles that Thessaly, her innocence be her greatest crime and undoin.” she accounted. “And I not that girls keeper, she comes and goes and jonx don’t stop nobody from doing what they aim. That be the way of the badge no?” he asked pointing that chewed up num towards his tarnished badge.
Before the Sheriff could engage her further, Jinx turned on her heel and hastily departed the scene. The ticket master had also departed without detection. Paladin caught a glimpse of further movement in the shadows just out of focus alerting him that the Ring Master had not been alone. Alarming as it was, Paladin had his mind on other things. Before investigating the disappearance of the train he had to check on Thessaly.
She sat there, arms crossed, fiery in spirit much like her mother, deep red hair, fair complexion. Her almond shaped emerald hues zeroed in on Paladin, Freckles sprinkled across her nose here and there and in certain times and in certain light, Thessaly looked almost like she glowed with her own luminescence.
Paladin could do little but smile. “Daughter, find your tongue’s truce and hold fast.” he warned her. “Those in the outlands live by different values and convictions. It is too far for one such as yourself to travel alone.” he comments. “But I need not prove reason to you, Trust in your fathers judgement. I ask this of you.”
The young girl scratched at her chin, her eyes narrowed as she assessed her fathers words. “I’m not a babe father, you would do well to remember such for your own sanity,” she summed up. Her head nodded for emphasis but the high set pony tail, the smooth face, innocent eyes all told a different story than the words that spilled out of her mouth.
Paladin pulled his daughter in close, gave her a hug, kissed the top of her head. “Promise me you will stay away from those people,” he whispered.
Her response was a murmured muffled answer that was lost somewhere in the folds of his arms. His arms unwrapped themselves from her as he took a gaze upon his one remaining child.
“I love you father.”
“I love you daughter.”
He considered himself lucky with her easy surrender. He gave her a wink as he withdrew from the house. The door closed as the steam whistle gave its shrill scream into the silence of the night. Directly following, as if on cue, the sounds of wolves could be heard.
For the better part of the night Paladin and his deputies had been combing the rails path with all of greatest technology possible for the deed at hand. They had tested the tracks for recent electromagnetic signature and then matching said signature with the correct train. The ordeal, in its entirety, lasted until mid morn and in the end they had something more disturbing on their minds. The train had completely vanished. It had not passed through the station, It did not go backwards. It just simply wasn’t there.. There was not even a small clue left in the wake. Not blood, not a scrap of metal.
The sheriff twisted on his lip in contemplation as his eyes traced the followed path of the rail. His head canted on occasion as he investigated, an act that made the rest stop and wait to see if he had found something.
“Rails don’t fly.” he mumbled to the forensics chief as he dropped his head down and pressed his ear to the magnetically charged railing. His hand lifted told others silence was called for while he listened to the rail for the fourth time since they had begun,
“I am simply saying, Sheriff, that it could have been detached and lifted from predestined path,” the forensics chief admitted. He glanced around before he stared down at the Sheriff , “We can’t figure out what else it could be.”
“Well you better come up with something believable.” he commented as he pulled out an instrument of some sort. The thing started whirling around on top like rotors of a copter and as he pulled the trigger steam escaped the bottom while an instrument panel lit up with a readout of atmospherics.
The bronze instrument continued its diagnosis process while the sheriff stretched his back. It was then as he stood there, stretching and yawning, that he took notice that they were not alone. Off in the distance there was movement just inside the treeline. He narrowed his eyes as he traversed the landscape for positive identification. He remained subtle in his posture as he caught the eye of one of his men. Jasper, was his name. Jasper followed his lead and confirmed silently with a scratch of his nose. He had noticed as well. A nod was given and quietly Jasper departed the scene. The remaining deputies continued standing around making their presence known.
The deputies had their theories, in fact anyone who knew anything seemed to have an expert opinion on the subject. A headache was forming in the base of the Sheriff’s skull and as feverishly and as frequently as he did it, rubbing his temple, rolling his head around, cracking his neck, nothing was getting rid of the throbbing.
“Carnies for certain,” One of the men stated. “Everyone knows they be gypsies and witches.”
The man was Sergeant Castlebury and he was always running his mouth about the Carnival workers. Castlebury began spewing out his words as usual and had he not been so tired, Paladin would have put a cease to it. He said nothing to the harrier of omens as he studied his own thoughts and theories until it had grown to a fervor that could not be settled as easily.
“Sheriff said that Jinx was at the station for procurement of her goods.” Castlebury continued on. “Now all the time we had them outsiders defiling our fair town how many times they had a package come in by rail?” he asks to the rumbling crowd.
“Soothsay yer intent Sergeant,” the sheriff announced.
“You yerself says no such ting as coincidence Ab,” he calls out in his own defense.
“Not here, not now.” Abernathy countered with as much authority as he could muster..
The damage had been done regardless and was beyond settling. The provocateur had succeeded in his agenda. He had his audience and he had his power therein. The gathering of deputies was beginning to act more like a lynch mob than a organized task force.
It was as if on cue that Jasper came into view and he was not alone. The man he transported was tall and very skinny- unbelievably skinny actually. Eyebrows raised at the approach. Voices quieted and all other actions stopped.
“Soothsay he said. You all heard me call this. You all heard it!” Castlebury called out.
The Sheriff simply groaned his response. He then held up his finger calling for an end to the subject. Jasper knew the routine. He carted the man away from earshot of the others. They were deputies but they also squawked more than hens in a hen house.
“Talk to me.” the sheriff stated as his hands brushed past his sidearm once more.
“He aint talking Sheriff. Sealed tight like the lid on a 5 year old jar.” Jasper admitted.
Something like a sixth sense some said, Abernathy could smell a lie without fail. He had grown to trust on those instincts and so when the man, clearly from the carnival, started telling fibs and half truths in his explanation for his proximity, the sheriff decided it best to take the man to the station.
It was a disconcerting method that the sheriff used to obtain information. It began with specially designed cadence tapped out with a pencil. The flickering of the light, the smell in the air, the temperature of the room all were designed, tested and succeeded on many occasions to extract needed information. Until the tattooed snake man came into the office. The Carnie had withstood the most rigorous doses of the subliminal extraction. The man was fighting hard to retain that info he had. He had shown signs of cracking on few occasions but in the end withdrew back into himself
“Tell me what was so important in that car rail car that you people have eyes on our work.” the sheriff pressed on.
His eyes felt like they were in the back of his head. His fingers applied more than adequate pressure to the bridge of his nose as it had done on many occasions.
“Gadje, gadje, a curse, a curse...Amria.” the green skinned tattooed man continued. His yellow eyes had glanced more than enough times toward the door. Paladin knew the romanes terms and he knew the man was looking for someone to come through that door to rescue him.
“In English,” the sheriff stated. “Why don’t we start again? What is your name?”
The man laughed as he had every other time his name had been brought up. Paladin was running out of patience. His hands raked through his hair with renewed frustration. His eyes narrowed as he leaned in nice and close to the apprehended and sniffed.
“I smell secrets. I want my answers. I will get them,” Abernathy stepped back away from the man once more. The man was visibly shaken from his words. His head shook in protest with just slight suggestion as Paladin stepped out of the room. “We will speak tomorrow”
The tall oak of a man stood there in his office staring up at the map of the territory and province. The office manager handed him a cup of her notorious cup of java before standing behind him. She studied the map along with him. Her almond shaped eyes peeled from the wavering holographic images displayed before them and focused on him with an acute intensity. Ms. Hallwell had a certain settling beauty about her. High cheekbones and a perpetual blush to her cheeks. He emerald green eyes sparkled with starburst rays of gold. But it were her sincerity, and genuine attention that made her beautiful by conventional means. Her lip curled up as she chewed on the insides of her cheek. Her eyes flickering and shifting as she studied him. She nodded as he began sipping but she did not waiver her concern for her long time friend.
“You are going to work yourself into an early grave boss,” her raspy voice whispered out.
“27 miles between the two settlements with no track switches in between.” he mentioned aloud as he tried himself to make sense of the anomaly. His coffee cup made its way to his mouth as he pondered over the while his eyes remained resolute and searching on the map.
“Only thing we know is it wasn’t accidental. The disappearance of this train was a deliberate act and I’m beginning to think that those Carnies really did have something to do with it, ” he admitted.
“And that man, Liam- the snake man, he knows something.”
Paladin spent the next hour and a half pondering and theorizing but as it had been the whole day, the actions were futile. The crumpled up balls of scratch papers littered the floor like a mass grave with the corpses of failed theories. He sat there pinching the bridge of his nose trying to relieve the pressure that had been building up until finally he rose to his feet in exasperation.
The plan had been to return to his home for the day, perhaps get in a nap or a shower- Perhaps both. It had been a long day. He needed to get a hold of his son whom was at the academy. He needed to ensure his daughter was engaged in whatever girls her age did. Weak and tired, his eyes smiled half heartedly towards the Office manager.
For two days they questioned the tattooed man. They had received as much as his name but he was growing much more agitated by the moment. Paladin also knew that he shouldn’t detain the guy just because he was in the area. His instincts were that the man knew something profound about the whole ordeal. Castlebury was right. Sheriff Abernathy didn’t believe in coincidences. The train was still a mystery that hadn’t had any details revealed and the one probable lead was clammed up tight in the cell.
“Release him.” Paladin stated as he sipped on his coffee.
The duty officer simply nodded as the keys jangled from his large round ring. The man would have to go back through to be out processed and the sheriff knew it was then his criminals were generally at their boldest. If the man truly knew anything, he would show it there.
It didn’t take long for the duty officer to bring the lanky snake man forward. Those yellow eyes fixated on Paladin and the sheriff smiled. In most cases it was the smile who prompted the more egotistical of the criminals to reveal themselves. The snake man simply blinked at him, as he waited. Instead, he continually glanced up at the office clock.
Once he received all of his personal property the man turned to leave the room and as he gathered his things into his arms he felt the compulsion all criminals had. Whether he was responsible or not, the man had the same nature as any who came through in cuffs. Paladin was there with his shoulder blades pressed against the doorframe, his unmistakable presence filled the room as his form filled the doorway.
“I know you had something to do with that missing rail,” he admits. “If not, those you work for and with are,” the law man leaned in close to the carnie. “I am all that protects you and those like you from the ravages of those you see around you. You would do well to remember this.”
The snake man smiled for the sheriff. It was an unnerving smile as his forked tongue slithered out past his altered teeth. “Beware outsider.” he whispered with renewed defiance. The man pressed past the sheriff and began his departure.
Ms. Hallwell was the first to notice it. Paladin had already returned to his paperwork and was prepared to wipe his desk clean of it all when he noticed the color in the office manager’s face drain much in the same fashion as Barnaby’s had days prior. The man had just left the building when she had noticed. He followed her attention, he didnt see it at first. The sheriff then zeroed in on it. The clue left behind was unfathomable.
The small bow sat delicate and unobtrusive. It’s subtlety was so much in fact that one might not even notice its existence but there it was. A gentle, peaceful pale yellow hair bow. Paladin swallowed as he tried to wrap his thought around its meaning. After what seemed like forever, the sheriff whispered the word in the crypt silence of the station.
Castlebury of all people, was the first to react. He was at the sheriff’s side weapons in hand and as soon as the sheriff caught that shotgun his world caught up in a flash and just a moment later he bursted through the doors into the now late afternoon light. Liam, the snake man was nowhere to be seen but it didn’t matter. The sheriff knew his destination.
The razor was a cycle design that was part of the vehicular arsenal of the station. Like all mechanics it was powered by compressed steam but with the razor, it gathered auxillary power from the static electric friction caused by its own propulsion. it was designed for one thing and one thing only- speed. “Give me till days end call before you bring the men.” he called out to Castlebury Before he could receive and answer, the motors of the cycle whined to high pitch before it engaged and instantly he gone.
He knew in the pit of his stomach his daughter was not going to be sitting quietly in their home. Something told him she was in grave danger. It wasn’t the bow, nor was it the missing train. It was the simple fact that the very moment that bow had been recognized his headache that had been omnipresent since the whole ordeal of the missing rail had begun, was now eased and gone. He accelerated his razor further and the landscape became a blur in his peripheral vision. He wouldn’t last long at the high speed. The current speed was not designed for long bursts. He was determined but despite his determination or their technological advances, the human body wasn’t built for such speeds. He could already feel himself getting disoriented, his brain pushed to the back of his skull.
“Just a bit further.” he willed himself on.
A while later, he arrived on the outskirts of Carnies Craig. He took note of the unusual flashing lights emitted from behind jutting rock formations and always just out of sight. The cacophony of a thousand voices intermittent and undecipherable came from all around him. The temperature was a bit warmer than in the village which was unusual as most desert climates became very cold in the weaning hours of the day.
A slight sweeping movement of his hand brought his long duster to recede behind his weapon, leaving it free for unslinging unhindered. “Thessaly!” he called out into the night.
He knew she wouldn’t hear him over the maelstrom and bedlam around her. He also knew he was walking into a trap. Of course it was a trap. The trail left for him to follow was only too obvious for it not to be. He walked up the common foot trail with shotgun over his shoulder. His unmistakable gait would not allow the grace of sneaking around regardless. He moved up the growing shadows of the foreground into the fervor of the Carnies.
He was not prepared for what he saw there. Fifty or so carnival workers, clearly inebriated, dancing around what seemed to be a festival area. A platform had been built, extending over a rather large cauldron. On top of the platform stood the ring master. Her signature stogie stuffed into her mouth and she just laughed and excited her workers with swooping motions of her arms. The pitch rose in crescendo as tranced workers spun and danced and chanted something undecipherable to him. He inched his way closer all the while searching. Searching for her.
Jinx’s voice echoed out above the crowd. Her words boomed like a salvo from an artillery battery and filled the sky with surprising presence. More unsettling was the suddenly muted chanting. The incessant cacophony fell instantly silent. All were turned in his direction staring directly at him. Paladin not one to be frightened so easily stepped out of the shadows and into the light. His face resolved, the foot length duster brushed along the ground at his feet like a leather broom. Shotgun over his shoulder barrel pointed to the air, sheriffs badge gleamed in the brightness like a badge of authority.
“Where is she?” he called out in a violent outcry.
A bearded woman stepped into his way. Her onyx eyes showed no color or life as she simply stared at him. Her lips pulled back into an sardonic contorted smile.
“Star ain’t got no magic powers up here lawman,” her words were scratchy like sandpaper.
The slow registered step of Paladin Abernathy could be heard as he moved around the obstacle. The strong step followed by the slow drag of the hind foot. An audible click sounded loud as the shotgun fell down into the low ready.
“Where is my child?” the sheriff asked once more.
Not waiting for another to step in his way he lifted the shotgun and rested the end of it right on the cheek of the bearded lady. The woman, large and round gave out a loud hackle of a laugh and before he could retaliate a large flash swooped up and contacted the long barrel of the shotgun. The parry was so strong it even knocked the gun from his hand.
“That child not be yours no more,” the bearded woman stated as she stepped closer to the man. The sheriff being of sound mind and knew he was coming into heated territory had more than just the shotgun. He stepped back regardless.
His hands were quick as lightning as they plunged down into his boot, he pulled up his blades. Over and over he called out to her as the situation elevated and tensions escalated. The bearded woman had started to acquire a few Carnies to her aid but he wasnt about to back down. He advanced upon her with a determined quickness as he let the steel fly.
The tangs protruded from the woman after the tooth embedded itself into her shoulder, between her ribs and into her abdomen. The sheriff was a good shot with the blades. His movements were choreographed, designed on the fly to get him closer to his own security blanket. He reached down and scooped it up, assuming the bearded woman would be down for a good while as deep as the blades had buried.
The others, the many others in the area, those dancing and hosting festivities had turned full attention upon the duo. Some had come into a more hostile imposing range. Like a pack of wolves the circled around at a distance. Their eyes always on him.
“Where is she!” he demanded once more. The moment of courtesy or politeness had run its course. The barrel of the shotgun lifted and leveled off as the man cocked back the hammer on the thing. The action caused a great ruckus as those around them started screaming into the nights sky but the time had come. The Sheriff pulled the trigger and the shotgun leapt from its docile state. Before the shot could even register the bearded lady fell.
The circling carnies moved in on their trapped prey and the fervor rose to a fevered pitch. More shots were fired, more shouts were screamed but still no clue as to where his daughter was. The crowd collapsed on him, pressing on all sides, shoving and driving him, twisting him, eventually bringing him to the base of the stage.
“I am the harbinger of your demise,” Jinx stated as walked the edge of her stage. She looked up with eyes much like the bearded lady, “I’ve got designs on you lawman” her words hummed.
Paladin said nothing, his hands reached for his hidden blade and as he pulled it out, his low swooping pendulum of a swing was parried with ease. The round peasant woman had parried with the skill of a boxer and countered with her own. The act caught him off guard as her walking came was brought up, the rapped him three times hard on his head then she swooped it down and around knocking the mad down momentarily.
It was then that he saw her. He caught a glimpse of her on the stage from the lower angle. “Thessaly!” He bellowed out but his voice was swallowed up by the crowds. Desperation took hold. It gripped him tight and strangled on him, his arms flailed in random fashion. Each second he was making his way closer and closer to her. Jinx rapped him a few more times on the head. He heard the crack of a whip, he felt the sting on his back. He saw with hollow detachment as he made his way to her in the sea of insanity. Another blow struck him from behind and he dropped again. The last blow was heavy and not like the others. He felt a trickle leak down his back. Something heavy landed on him again and then all grew quiet around him.
Jinx slowly made herself visible. Her face was expressionless as she knelt down close to him. “The star hears the rumors of the carnival?” she asked as slid her fingers along the edge of his badge. Her eyes then shifted and focused on him.
“Where is Thessaly?” he murmured as the red trickle filled his eyes.
“Answer the question, lawman.” Jinx stated.
Anxious to get to his daughter, he nodded. “Yes, yes. Poison words about the nature of your people. Why?” he asked “Why do you ask this?” he pushed on.
Jinx nodded and several of the carnies came down and held the man down. She moved up close and the stench of her breath filled and burned his nostrils.
“Those rumors be the true.” she whispered, “Train disappearance changed everything.” she added. “It had valuable treasures for mine.”she added. Her thumb flicked up and over her shoulder in the general direction of the stage in which Thessaly was. “Normally we get tributes shipped in”
“Thessaly found a new home.” Jinx called out. “She fighting it right now but all will sort itself like it always do.”
Paladin exploded in futile rage. His screams and cries and hollers were consumed as before from those around him. Their own battlecries lifting in crescendo as his own blade found its home buried deep within him. He cried out and as he drifted into the forever sleep he heard his daughters voice as she screamed into the night.