The Captain of the Royal Guard had heard of such fantastic machines before, but never actually seen one until now. It was spectacular. Brass and polished steel gleamed with the pride of industry in the subtropical summer sun. The two riders, while largely hidden by the sides of the carriage were no longer shouting at each other. The Captain called out a greeting followed by orders to disembark from the carriage and surrender their arms.
“There you go Mr. Petharic!” Emerson pointed up from the floor of the carriage (where he still lay sprawled). “You are going to go to jail!” He sounded almost gleeful. “I believe even in this remote island kingdom attempted murder remains an indictable offense.”
“No one is going to go to jail.” Petharic assured as he casually re-holstered his Colt. “They are just looking for a bribe. Give me your identification papers.”
“Why should I do that?”
“Because I am going engage them in a parley and they will want to know who they are dealing with. Satisfied? Now, give me your papers.” Emerson nodded, acknowledging the sense of Petharic’s plan.
Petheric reached down to offer him a hand up as Emerson retrieved the documents. Quite casually (during the process of helping Emerson to his feet) he accepted and pocketed the papers in an outside jacket pocket. All the while, the Captain of the cavalry continued to call out what they assumed were surrender orders, but they couldn’t say for sure. Not only was the Captain’s dialect foreign to their ears, but neither of them had been paying attention.
“Come with me,” Petharic instructed so as only Emerson could hear. “Stop just before I reach him. And don’t say anything,” he emphasized, “let me clear this all up.”
“You don’t have enough rounds to clear this all up.”
“I believe diplomacy is still the best course of action.” He then disembarked the steam carriage closely followed by Emerson. Together the two men advanced towards the horsemen.
As they approached, the Captain held up his hand for them to halt. “What business have you gentleman this morning that we should find you coming to blows?” The Captain’s speech rang with the rich phonetics of his native tongue. Emerson found the foreign dialect to be surprisingly cheerful.
“Please let me apologise for this most unfortunate incident.” Petharic offered. “What began as a minor misunderstanding between fellow travellers ashamedly escalated to an unacceptable level. Rest assured it will not happen again… so long as we are on your native soil”
Wow, thought Emerson with a genuine sense of admiration, this guy can sugar the truth into something quite palatable.
“It has happened to the best of us.” The Captain dismissed half of his guard to inspect the carriage. He then seemed to hesitate before continuing… as if pondering some sort of moral dilemma. “One might be persuaded to look the other way had a weapon not been involved.”
“Oh, I’m sure one could still be persuaded to look the other way,” said Petharic “should the flash of silver catch in one’s periphery.”
“The flash of gold is so much more blinding don’t you think?” The Captain would have continued to converse most favourably, had he not been interrupted by the approach of one of his men returning from the steam carriage. In his hands was a green leather satchel emblazoned with the monogram “EL” in orange and gold. The soldier opened the bag and held it at an angle so the captain could peer inside.
The Captain’s face fell at once to a very serious countenance. “Who’s bag is this?” He no longer sounded so cheerful.
Emerson and Petharic stood in silence. “Gentleman,” The Captain was at once stern and severe, “I will not ask a third time: who owns this bag?” each word was punctuated for clarity.
“It’s his.” Emerson pointed at Petheric.
“What!!” Petharic couldn’t control the outburst. The absolute audaciousness of Emerson’s claim was incredible.
“It’s true, Officer, his name is Emerson Lighthouse and he kidnapped me.”
“You are going a little off script Dr. Lighthouse.” Emerson should have taken note of the danger rising in Petharic’s voice; taken that as a cue to remain silent. Instead he turned to the Captain and said: “It is a simple matter to confirm. Check his outside jacket pocket. That is where he keeps his identification papers.”
Petharic had heard enough. He drew the Colt and in a single motion, aimed it at the middle of Emerson’s head. For the second time that morning, Emerson found himself staring down the barrel of the Colt… only this time it stared back with a bitter determination. Who can say with any certainty if Petharic would have pulled the trigger? It was enough that the surrounding cavalry believed he would pull the trigger. Within moments the forest resounded with the echoes of gunfire. Long before the last of those echoes faded in the distance, Petharic lay dead, crumpled like a marionette suddenly bereft of strings.
Something about this doesn’t seem real, thought Emerson, as if it we are living some thought rather than some action. But there, before him, lay Petharic. How could he deny his senses? He shook off the sense of déjà vu. This is really happening. He couldn’t imagine a more fortunate turn of events.
“Well,” began the Captain, the discomfort he felt over the severity of the response apparent in his voice, “I suppose you would be free to go then… so long as you pay the clean-up and body removal tax. What did you say your name was…?” The Captain eyed Emerson.
“Petharic… my name is Mr. Petharic.” said Emerson reaching up to shake the Captain’s hand.
“And I would be most delighted to pay any fine you see fit.” Before the two men finished shaking however, the air rang out with a mighty explosion! Apparently, just over a minute ago, as a result of a combination of curiosity and human nature, one of the cavalrymen upon finding a curious dial on the floor of the steam carriage, decided to turn it – just to see what would happen. In this case curiosity killed no cats, just a couple of horses and half the Captain’s men. Emerson felt the man’s grip upon his hand tighten with vice-like intensity. This was indeed a most unwelcome turn of events.