2 July NByr5
It must be that time of year again. I had another paranoid client come into the office wanting an escort. He looked very much the role of a minor noble’s major domo-whipcord thin, impeccably dressed in an expertly tailored suit. He reeked of upper class deportment and privilege. His story was that he was in the employ of the Comte de Beauville, some expat refugee with a lot of money and influence that settled in a chateau up in the hills. He took the train south to New Babbage, in order to conduct the Count’s business, and hire for some vacancies on the household staff. I smiled and nodded a great deal, and after a bit of prodding and redirecting found out a few additional bits of information about the Count and his manservant. Daumier (I got his last name after a bit of prying) is wholly unused to answering to women in general, and I suspect he has issues with female authority. The Count is single, and apparently has both a demanding social life and a very singular private one. He is in his late 40s, and is very much an avowed bachelor. He has a large staff, and while he is very generous to his employees, he also enjoys a fairly sharp turnover rate by all accounts.
Daumier said that he received a cable from home that caused him a bit of concern. Apparently an old political rival of the Count had been seen making preparations for a bit of retribution, and he felt that having his right hand man in a foreign place, exposed and carrying a large sum of money and a large number of important personal documents merited a little extra caution. His offer was sufficiently generous, and he assured me it would be a very short trip. After arranging the tickets, I headed back to the apartment to pack.
I packed my valise, making sure to include extra changes in case we were delayed, my writing set, journal, extra cartridges, and the normal impedimenta that I carry on the road. I jotted a quick note and left it on the bed, then headed downstairs to the depot.
Once again something came up on short notice at the agency. I have to move quickly, and I regret having to dash without saying a proper goodbye. Promise to make it up when I get back, so make our usual reservation at the Rabbit. All my love,
I boarded the coach, and took my seat. It was then I realized just how large an entourage we had. Myself, Daumier, a young couple (the man was to be a gardener and his wife a cook), and a pair of tittering school-age girls bound for some position amongst the maids. Checking my watch, I noted it was 15 seconds fast next to the station clock.
The train rolled forward, pulling away from New Babbage and headed north…
The coach gave a shudder as it slid to a stop, and this bit of motion proved to be just enough to wake Jed from her latest round of slumber. She slid the dark glasses down her nose and looked out the window. The train was stopped in a dingy little town with a simple platform. Jed scowled a tiny bit once the wind shifted. This place would make some of the mining camps out in the Indian Territory back in the States look like New York City. The town was one street deep, with a row of squalid and dilapidated frame building running along each side. The conductor wlaked back through the coach, telling everyone that this was just a quick water and mail stop, and that we shouldn’t be delayed much at all.
Jed threw a gaze across her charges. The trip had given her enough time to size up her traveling companions, and her opinion was that the Count was getting a 50% deal. The ‘Happy Couple’ would do well enough, as she had ample opportunity to hear them discuss what they were saving for and where they would go once there contract was over. They were frugal, and careful, with nothing of any due excitement to cause anything past a first glance. The maids were another thing altogether. One was convinced she was so lovely and charming that some handsome lad with a per annum income and a title would instantly fall in love with her and take her away. The other was a fussy girl with thick ankles, who only signed up for the job because her most recent beau had found another interest with a lower cost of maintenance.
Five minutes into the stop, Miss Fussy decided that she would avail herself of the facilities. Jed smiled and allowed her to leave the seat, not so much from courtesy as to allow a bit of quiet in their section. This of course came to an end when she saw the girl headed down the sidewalk at a full walk. Jed stood, adjusted her hat and set off after the girl. She clambered down the stairs at the end of the car, and saw the one thing she had not anticipated seeing hanging there on the end of the platform. A weatherbeaten sign, with the large friendly letters painted on it “Welcome to Bump”.
Jed walked quickly down the street toward the last spot she saw the maid. A few residents went about their business, giving little notice to the tall redhead in the dark dress. She was just past the second saloon on the right, an inviting looking place called the “Snake Eyes”, when she heard a sharp scream that was quickly cut before the actual nature of the noise could be heard over the normal noise of the city. Jed ducked into the alley and drew the pistol that had been riding on her left hip since they left New Babbage. What she saw make her stop and stare. A huge man stood by a cellar door, the prostrate form of the maid tucked under his arm like a toy. He was big, something of the nature of “if Bib and Henry had an offspring that was given growth serum” big. The man turned, and took a lumbering step towards Jed. She turned to back up the alley, when she saw the second figure enter the alley from the street, His arm shot forward, and despite her attempt at blocking the strike, the sap managed to hit her behind the ear.
Jed saw stars, and despite the fact her mind screamed at her legs, she toppled over and landed nearly face down in the street. Rolling to her side, Jed made a vain effort to get a shot off, but the first hit was enough to ruin her reflexes. The second man stepped on her wrist and placed the pistol in his waistband. She tried to stand, but the toe of the man’s boot finished what the sap had begun. Jed collapsed into the dark velvet of unconsciousness face down in a backalley of a town that proved the rumors to be so.
Jed was off the train in Bump.