From: Mr. Zebulon Pike, Eastwood Ridge, Dakota Territory
To: Mrs. Hannilore West, Kingsport, Mass.
After the “Dread Tree Incident”, it had been decided by our somewhat haphazard assemblage that we would wait the day or two until the expected arrival of the area's marshal. There had been a series of gruesome murders that would need to be explained to authorities. Since the truth would most assuredly not be believed, it was also agreed that we would describe everything as having happened exactly as it had occurred with the substitution of “bandits” for “ambulatory demonic tree” and “the walking dead.”
And even though the townspeople had received this edited version of events, the “bandits” were still at large and the town had apparently had enough of the killings. They spent the day preparing to abandon their homes. We took the time to investigate the homes of those that had been murdered in recent days. For many of my comrades, it was much a matter of sanctioned looting. The townspeople had already gone through many of the homes and recovered what useful items they could before their own abandonment. Mr. Tobin found a workable shotgun and employed my technical skills in shortening the barrel and stock to add a shotgun pistol to his weighty arsenal.
The cut-away barrel and Mr. Tobin's flaming distillate has given me an idea for a device for my own protection. While my pistol is certainly effective and I am not unskilled in its employment, there are many situations where a pistol's use may be restricted or obviated altogether. There are establishments and entire towns even here on the frontier that require one to check all firearms before entering. I doubt that people such as Mr. Tobin will abandon all their protections and so it seems logical that I also should have such a camouflaged holdout for myself.
Though I know you have a keen interest in the sciences, I will not go into details at this time as I am only in the early formulation of the idea myself. Suffice it to say that it will be an incendiary projector and, should my chemical formulation balance out, this device should be overwhelming in it's effect so as to end hostilities immediately.
As nightfall approached there were signs of a fire quite a distance outside of town. The tavern keeper indicated that “Zeke” lived out that way and since none of the townspeople were interested in investigating so our happy band mounted our horses and set out.
Zeke's home was fully engaged by the time we arrived and the Marshal and his two deputies were on site. It seemed a suspicious coincidence but, as the Marshal was the law in these parts, I suppressed my initial skepticism in favor of a more civilized expectation. As might be expected, the Marshal found us dubious as well and we explained the events of the previous days (as we had agreed). He didn't seem overly concerned with a troop of bandits having murdered a dozen townspeople in the past weeks. My suspicions were elevated.
His two deputies were left at the homestead where it was feared that the body of the unfortunate Zeke was still within the conflagration. We returned to town and were witness to a strange interaction between the Marshal and the tavern keeper. The Marshal, a relative of the tavern keeper, revealed himself to be quite the bully and he was irate with the tavern keeper's decision to pack up and leave.
It was past midnight when the deputies came riding noisily into town. Mr. Bonjiovi and I realized that Mr. Chenshaw and Mr. Tobin were not in the house and instantaneously concluded that they had gone off and done something precipitous. When the Marshal and deputies rode out of town, we collected our horses and followed at a discrete distance.
There was another fire. I guessed that Mr. Tobin had gathered combustables that had not been burned on the previous night and set another bnlaze to draw the Marshal's attention and provide some light for the gunfight I expected him to be initiating. Before coming upon the entirety of that situation, Mr. Bonjiovi and I discovered one of the deputy's horses tied to some brush behind a low rise. Having read von Clauswitz does not make me a tactician but I clearly deduced that one of them was likely to have taken up a firing position on that hill. As we dismounted, my expectation was confirmed as there was a rifle shot from there. We advanced stealthily in an effort to ambush him.
Then there were a pair of shots from the homestead; a report that I recognized as one of Mr. Tobin's Walker pistols immediately followed by a shotgun blast. There was another rifle shot over our heads and I assumed that it was Mr. Pace firing at the deputy on the hill. That suspicion was confirmed when the deputy came upon us heading headlong down the hill.
Mr. Bonjiovi assaulted and disarmed him and as he was restrained be began babbling incoherently, his speech impediment a direct result of his deafness. (I apologize for not having mentioned this fact earlier.) He seemed genuinely scared and mostly harmless in this state so I handed him a piece of paper and a pen in hopes that he could make clear his attempts at communication. It was difficult to see in the starlight but I could make out a drawing of a knife and a star. This, and his wild gesticulations, lead us to confirm our suspicions that the Marshal had stabbed Zeke for some reason and subsequently burned the house to conceal his crime.
Another drawing of a horse indicated that the deputy wished to be allowed to escape. And to that end he pulled from his saddlebags an item for each of us. Heavy and about the size of a pack of playing cards, even in the dark it had the faint glitter of gold. For this bribe, we would allow him to escape.
It was Mr. Bonjiovi who traded the bar back to the deputy and then claimed the saddlebags. The change in the deal was apparently acceptable to the deputy who rightly feared for his life and fled with his single bar leaving us with a total of five bars.
By the time that Mr. Tobin and Mr. Pace had joined us, Mr. Bonjiovi and I had divided the bars with a pair for each of us and the one handed to me to share with the others as the bribe we had accepted to allow the deputy's escape. Mr. Tobin had another bar and, given that I estimated the value of each bar at around five-hundred dollars, there were not many questions. I admit to a certain. . . discomfort in how easily I fell into this deception. It is a weak justification that Mr. Tobin, in looting the abandoned homes had probably acquired some items of value that had not been shared and it was entirely possible that he had found additional bars of gold. It seems unlikely that the deputy would have all the gold save the one that Mr. Tobin found lying about.
We may never know the full story of the dispute but Mr. Tobin had suspected that the dispute had been over something of value and that the deputies had been left behind to guard whatever it was. He had gone out in the night, determined that that gold was the root of this evil and sent the deputies back into town to draw the Marshal out. The Marshal obliged and was killed when Mr. Tobin, defying all reason and probability, outdrew the Marshal's already drawn gun and killed him. The other deputy shot the falling Marshal in an ultimately unsuccessful attempt to ingratiate himself to to Mr. Tobin and was himself subsequently killed.
So, dear sister, as I close this letter you will surely have realized that this weighty package contains more than just my correspondence. The enclosed will more than compensate you for the cash that you advanced me for my passage westward and also lessen the stress caused by my brother-in-law's incharitability. If you do not already have for yourself a trustworthy financial advisor, I suggest calling on Mr. Freeman at his business on Bedford Street near the Green in Boston. He will remember my service in averting damage to his establishment in the fire of '72 and will extend to you every courtesy.
With deepest affection,
Sunday, December 09, 2007
From: Mr. Zebulon Pike, Eastwood Ridge, Dakota Territory