Continued from December 11, Chapter Three: Part One
Silk grinned. It felt like finding a letter from an old friend, perhaps not for him but for someone else he knew well. He had never met the person who wrote the message. Van Vleidt had. Van Vleidt told Silk things about the lost soldier, now hunting murderers in the hills.
“All three of the brigands had the same message,” Digger said. “At first I thought they were for me. I came across him, though, and now I think he means them for someone else.”
Silk raised an eyebrow and looked cheerfully at Digger. “You met him?” Silk said. “Do tell.”
“You know, your attitude about this is far too revelatory. It brings your sanity to question. Anyway, yes, I met him. I went hunting for him. On the third day out I picked up a faint trail—hard to follow, like a panther or some such. Best I had to go on, so I followed it. Tracking that trail put me on edge, and I don’t muss easily. I already felt like someone’s eyes followed me. The feeling got worse when I found the trail—gradual like, not quite enough that I wanted to turn back. The trail led me on through that day—an eerie day, unnaturally still. I never saw any animals. When I pitched camp I couldn’t ever quite settle. I made an extra big fire that night and tried not to sleep. I should have taken someone with me.”
The story lacked humor. Silk chuckled anyway, puffing on his cigar. “What then?”
“I thought I heard something. I have no memory of any actual sound, now that I think of it. It could have been nothing but a gust of wind. Whatever it was, I took up a torch and my crossbow and went out into the dark.”
Silk was enjoying the story. The nervous quiet—the paranoid watching. It was all good fluff. He gestured to Digger, encouraging the end. “Did you find anything?” Silk asked.
Digger thought for a moment before continuing the story. He had a blank expression on his face. “Not a sound disturbed that black night. A sliver moon cast deeper shadows than no moon would have. My torch wavered. I walked through the unnatural silence, feeling oddly lost. Eyes seemed to follow me—I felt them watching. On a rise, in a clearing, I paused to look back and see if I could judge the distance to my camp. I turned once and saw no firelight except my torch. My emotions rose slightly. Again I turned, judging I may have missed it. No noise except those I made interrupted the night. And yet, without any clue, there he stood, not a yard from me, in his white face his cold eyes stared into me.”
“Hmm,” Silk said, growling the syllable. “What did you do?”
“Raised my crossbow,” Digger said. “And dropped my torch. It sunk in the snow and went out. I shot toward the person anyway—I’m a pretty good blind shot. When my eyes adjusted to the sickle moonlight, however, I could see nobody where he had been.”
“Well, you ought to be dead,” Silk said without sympathy. He smiled, though. It was the kind of thing that got you killed in enemy territory. Sometimes, though, it couldn’t be helped.
“I thought the same thing,” Digger said. “I could see my campfire when the torch had gone out and I hurried back to it. I thought for certain that he’d come get me in the night. I’d have made a sure reckoning of myself if he did.”
“Aye, no doubt there is. Anyhow, he never came to get me.”
“Perhaps he didn’t know who you are,” Silk puffed on his cigar and looked again at the board of outlaws. He tried to guess who would be next on a hit list made of the outlaws.
“Aye, that being so, I’m unlikely to be the person he wants to come get him,” Digger said. “He knows I’m sheriff here.”
“Does he?” Silk thought he knew the next name he’d hit if he were hunting the outlaws: Krist Novoselic. Murdered six. Large reward.
“Aye. He’s obviously been sneaking into town to read this board. A few townspeople saw a black-cloaked stranger who they couldn’t explain. He’s been here.”
“Hmm,” Silk growled again. He hovered his hand over Novoselic’s poster. “I think I know who he wants to come for him.”
“Yes,” Silk took his cigar out of his mouth and rubbed his chin. He glanced at Digger. “So you are obliged to follow me around and learn from me?”
“Aye,” Digger said. “Call it a novitiate.”
“How long do you expect this arrangement to last?”
“Till I am capable of killing you,” Digger stated.
“Well, that’s rather final.”
“It’s the way of things,” Digger said. Silk would have liked a little more expression in the young man’s voice—perhaps some gravitas or drama. He spoke thoughtfully and introspectively. At this point he nearly sighed, but didn’t quite. Not very useful cues. The voices mumbled their agreement from around his ears.
Silk rubbed his beard, looking vaguely at the down-at-the-edges eyes and round face of Novoselic. Whoever had done the original etching made him look a little slow. Silk sometimes wished for the blissful ignorance of the stupid. The context of his actions constantly wore him down. He had condemned himself to a certain course of action. He had thrown his lot in with Van Vleidt, who no one quite understood, and would be stung with the association that came with the allegiance as soon as it became public. Van Vleidt and his theories, especially his later ones, had such an unsightly reputation that public declaration in their favor made you immediate enemies. Also, Silk had declared war on Engelkind, which went on a very small list of acts he had done with only limited calculation. He still waited to see how Engelkind would react; there were any number of ways and all of them would make Silk’s life suddenly exciting. No matter what would happen, Silk had put himself into a position where he could only forge ahead. Any other course had become deadly.
Silk stretched his hand. Old scars made his joints stuff. Too many more would end his finessing powers.
“You can come along,” Silk said. “You might learn a thing or two.”
“Why? Where are we going?”
“We’re going to find your vigilante.” Silk turned away from the board.
“I think he’s writing to me,” Silk held the note up—Come get me.
“Do you?” Digger said. Silk paused as he walked across the chessboard in the square. He turned to look at Digger. “How will you find him? I couldn’t.”
Smiling, Silk glanced at a man who’d walked into the square. He had a large rolled-up poster in his hand. “Oh, I don’t think I’ll have much trouble,” he said. The man unrolled the poster and secured it to the board. It covered many of the smaller posters. Digger glanced around to see. The poster had Silk’s face, Silk’s name, and a massive reward on it. Enemy of the state, it proclaimed.
Continued on December 15...