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Aug. 8 – End of a Haven (Part 2)

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As Mariah dashed outside, she spied the two men a few dozen yards away by one of the canals, staring back at the house. A rust-bucket of a ship was visible behind them. “Go get help,” she said to Mrs. Sawyer and Mrs. Pritchard, sending them off in the opposite direction. Then she ran toward the two, cocking her rifle and pointing it at the man in blue.

“Oh, by all means,” he said with sarcastic affability. Mariah fired once, but all that happened was a clanging sound, and one pace back by the man.

‘Oh, hell,’ Mariah thought, suddenly realizing what his comment about having his brain cut out meant. She fired again, hoping to hit a weak spot. Another sound of metal on metal, and his neck jerked to the side momentarily. “Hmm,” he said. “Neck hinges might have been knocked loose that time.”

She readied the rifle to fire a third time, but before she could, the bomb, and their house, exploded behind her. Mariah had thought she was far enough away to be safe.

She was wrong.

The force of the explosion threw her into a wall. Her head impacted first; while she didn’t completely lose consciousness, she was certainly dazed, and she slumped down to the ground. Trying to gather her scattered wits, she saw the metal man look up the street at his handiwork. He took a couple of steps forward, but then something behind him caught his attention.

“Such a shame,” he said. “I was hoping to eliminate Miss Hienrichs now. I’ll have to have that pleasure another time.” With that, he descended to the level of the canal and boarded his boat. As it chuffed away, Mariah finally heard, over the ringing in her ears, the sound of running feet. She rubbed her eyes to get them to focus, and finally saw Beryl Strifeclaw come skidding into the street, followed quickly by Jimmy Branagh.

“Wha happened?” Jimmy asked, shock clear on his face, as Mariah painfully picked herself up.

“The man in blue there blew up her home,” Beryl said, jerking his head toward the disappearing ship. His eyes were fixed on the street ahead. The three of them, it seemed, saw it at the same time–Bookworm’s crumpled form, half-covered with shattered bricks and broken glass. Beryl and Jimmy rushed to her, with Mariah limping behind.

“How is she?” Mariah asked, as the large cat felt for breath. “She’s alive,” Beryl replied, “but not conscious.”

“She needs ta be got ta the ‘ospital,” Jimmy exclaimed.

Mariah nodded, and shakily stooped down to pick Bookworm up. With Jimmy and Beryl’s help, she got her friend into a piggy-back position. She looked down while hefting Bookworm’s legs, and saw the remains of the book podium and, amid broken glass and chains, the curiously unscathed copy of ‘Uncle Tingley’s.’ “Beryl, would you get the book?” she asked.

Beryl nodded and picked it up. He led Mariah, with Jimmy trailing behind, toward the hospital. On the way, they picked up Lo Artful, who trailed along, obviously wanting to know what had happened. Mariah was silent, though, partly to save her breath as she toted Bookworm, and partly to try to keep her anger in check.

They finally made it to the hospital; Beryl led them upstairs to a bare-bones room, containing only a bed and nightstand. Mariah gently lowered Bookworm onto the bed, loosening the unconscious woman’s clothing and making note of the numerous cuts on her back, likely caused by flying glass.

“Is she… is she all right?” Lo asked.

“She’s unconscious, but I don’t think there are any broken bones,” Mariah said.

“How dreadful!” Lo exclaimed. “Who would do such a thing?”

“Anyone know where this guy lights?” asked Jimmy and Beryl shook his head. “Does anyone know who he is?” Lo asked, but with the same negative reaction.

Jimmy said, “‘Ee must ‘ave a place in Babbage ta be hittin’ us loike this.”

“He’s still coming and going by boat,” Mariah put in.

“But that’s not enough to hide from the militia,” Beryl replied. “He has to have some place he hides.”

“Maybe the urchins can track him down,” Lo said. “Lots of them will be very cross, I should think, ‘especially as he blew up Tepic’s place as well.”

“And I’ll… call in some favors,” Mariah added. “If he’s traveling anywhere outside Babbage by water, he’ll be seen by someone.”

“Are you a sailor, ma’am?” asked Lo.

“I was. Retired, now,” Mariah answered, a little shortly, not wanting to go into details. In the meantime, Jimmy had pulled out his Derringer, and was checking its chamber. “Oy think Oy’ll need me fat pistol,” he mused.

Mariah shook her head. “Won’t do much good on the man in blue, unfortunately.”

“Naw?” Jimmy looked up, surprised. “‘Ee ain’t ‘uman?”

“He’s metal. Not even my rifle took him down. He said something about his brain being put in there.”

“Metal?” exclaimed Beryl. “Wait… brain…” He suddenly sighed long and hard. Mariah shot him a hard look, but was distracted when Jimmy said, “Per’aps we can get a load of electricity inta ‘im. Catch ‘im between two poles.”

“Good idea!” said Lo with pleasure. “Or throw him in the canals, where he shall fizzle.”

“I will make the diagnosis and prescriptions here,” said a strange voice. “I do not suggest either for the patient.”

((To be continued…))

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