Serial Saturday: The Figurine, Part 17

Jefferson turned to gesture to Temperance, but she was already stepping to one side to set up a good field of fire.

Jefferson opened the door to reveal an unassuming man slouched in a brown suit, hands in his pockets. There were a pair of spectacles perched on his nose, with a chain running from their arms around the back of his neck.

For a moment, neither of them spoke. Then Clyburne’s nostrils flared. “You’ve got company, Mr. Quinn,” he said. “My apologies.”

“We were about to step out, Mr. Clyburne. But you’ve been trying to catch up with me for a while now. Why don’t you come in, and tell me what I can do for you?”

Clyburne nodded, and stepped into the room, hands still in his pockets. “Je Reviens,” he said, looking over at Temperance.

“You have a nose for perfume, Mr. Clyburne,” Temperance said. She offered her hand. “Temperance Winter.” Jefferson noticed that her left hand was draped lightly on the open top of her purse, and that she didn’t really move, keeping the fields of fire open.

Clyburne regarded her and her hand for a long moment, still standing next to the door.

“So now that your trigger twist is here you stop avoiding me, eh Quinn?” he said at last, eyes still on Temperance. “Got some muscle so now you’ve got some courage?”

“Hey, now-” Jefferson began.

“Would you like me to show you what kind of trigger I’ve got?” Temperance asked.

“Yes I would, Miss Winter. I really would like to see you try.” Clyburne still had his hands in his pockets–hadn’t moved at all, in fact.

Jefferson put a hand on his revolver, and Clyburne removed on hand from his pocket to hold it toward him, still watching Temperance. “Just a minute, Quinn. The lady and I are talking.”

Temperance turned her head slowly to one side, keeping her eyes on Clyburne. Both of her hands lay loosely on the top of her purse. Jefferson held his breath as one of her heels came off the floor and her foot twisted slightly back and forth like she was setting the ball of her foot more firmly against the floorboards. The seconds passed with everyone in the room stock-still.

Slowly, her hands came away from the purse.

“That’s what I thought,” Clyburne said.

“What the hell do you want?” Temperance asked. There were two spots of red on her cheeks.

Clyburne turned to Jefferson. “I came here to talk to you, not your gunsel girl.”

“Maybe you want to keep a civil tongue if you plan to talk to either of us,” Jefferson said.

Cluburne said nothing for a long moment, just looking Jefferson in the eye. Jefferson felt a jitter begin in his stomach, and swallowed. He didn’t trust himself to speak, but after a few moments, Clyburne did.

“Now that we’ve all come to something of an understanding, I have some questions.” His hands finally came from his pockets and Jefferson took an involuntary step backward. “You’ve seen one of these before,” Clyburne said. Jefferson’s eyes were fixed on the little figurine Clyburne held. It was either the same one that Sullivan had owned, or one very much like it.

“Where did you get that?” Jefferson asked.

“I’ve been hearing things,” Clyburne said, ignoring the question.

“From who?” Temperance asked. Clyburne turned and gave her a look, and Jefferson saw her swallow and seem to brace herself.

“He ain’t been hearing from a person,” Jefferson said slowly.

Clyburne turned and made a pistol of the fingers of his left hand, then a shooting motion at Jefferson. “It is not pleasant, and it is getting louder. I imagine it is causing problems for others.”

“Like Sullivan,” Jefferson said.

Clyburne smiled. “Good. We aren’t going to dance around and pretend we don’t know what we’re both up to.”

“Hell, I don’t even know what I’m up to,” Jefferson muttered.

“You’re a Badger,” Temperance said.

Clyburne turned to look at her again, saying nothing for a time. Temperance clenched her jaw as she met his gaze, and Jefferson saw a tear welling up in her eye.

“Clyburne,” he said. “You’re going to get yourself shot.”

Clyburne dropped his gaze to Temperance’s hand, which had come away from her side and half-curled as it neared her purse. He smiled. “Yes, I’m a Ba’ahd’char.”

“You ain’t working for Mrs. Glass, though,” Jefferson said.

“No. No, I’m not working for Mrs. Glass. Mrs. Glass is insane.”

It was hard to avoid a reaction to that statement, but Jefferson managed. The thought of having Clyburne’s mad eyes turn on him again were enough to keep him quiet.

“Mrs. Glass thinks she can understand the thing that is reflected here,” Clyburne continued, holding up the figurine. “She thinks she can study it without being controlled by it.” He picked up his glasses from where they dangled on their chain and propped them on his nose. “Where do you suppose she’d have gotten an idea like that?” His gaze fixed on Jefferson over the tops of ths glasses, and for a moment Jefferson thought he was about just blurt out the name ‘Chipper Tacy’–he had the strangest idea that if he’d known her real name he would have said it.

“You just said she was insane,” Temperance said. Irritation flickered across Clyburne’s face, and his gaze left Jefferson to light on Temperance again.

“Yes. Yes, I did,” he said. “That must be it, eh?” He looked down at the figurine, peering at it through his glasses. “The A’kar’kchurk,” he murmured.

With an effort, Jefferson managed to avoid exchanging a glance with Temperance. “That what that little thing is?” he said. His maw maw had always said that Jefferson could tell a lie that the Devil himself would have believed, but he knew as soon as the words were out of his mouth that he’d made a mistake. Clyburne wasn’t the kind of man you lied to. He was the kind of man you said no more than was absolutely necessary to, and hoped for the best.

He lucked out, thanks to the figurine. Clyburne was fascinated by it, enough so that he didn’t really notice what Jefferson had said. Jefferson could attest to the way the figurine could catch someone’s attention, though the fact that Clyburne was holding it up to his face would have convinced him the man was insane if the eyes hadn’t.

“No,” Clyburne said slowly. “But that is what is at the root of this, I think.”

Jefferson said nothing to that, not wanting to push his luck. He wasn’t even sure why he wanted to conceal what he knew from Clyburne. He thought it went beyond his usual mistrust of Badgers, in this case.

“Have you seen one of these before?” Clyburne asked, suddenly looking up.

Jefferson felt his mouth fall open, then closed it and swallowed. “Sullivan had one,” he said. “Your Mrs. Glass has it now.”

The mask that Clyburne wore wasn’t that great, if it ever had been; madness leaked out around it constantly. But for a moment the mask slipped and Jefferson could see the rage and sheer craziness behind it. It was almost better, really; Jefferson was used to monsters that came right at him.

Then the mask was back on and Clyburne was a once again the horrible parody of a man. “That’s bad,” he said quietly. “That’s very bad. She’s dangerous, and it sounds like she’s on the track to do some very unwise things.”

“I take it you’re aiming to stop her.”

“I am, Mr. Quinn. I just wanted to come by to tell you that, and let you know that if you go after her, I won’t get in your way. But please, don’t get in my way either.”

Jefferson nodded, and Clyburne turned for the door, dropping his glasses off his nose. He tucked the figurine away, and put a hand on the doorknob before turning back to Temperance. “There now,” he said. “That wasn’t so bad, was it?”

Jefferson and Temperance exchanged a glance as he left and shut the door.


Copyright © 2012 SM Williams

~ by smwilliams on July 28, 2012.