Stone returns to Appletree, unsure who he should tell about the ambushed convoy.
by Jonna Hurst
Episode 1.3: Appletree
When Stone rode back into Appletree it was the afternoon of the following day, the sky a rubble of broken white cloud and in his mind it was no better. Whole ride back a blur of thoughts, debating with his father’s ghost about what to do about the convoy and whatever had killed all those men. Listening to the wind and hoping for answers when all he got was dust.
He didn’t want folk worrying, of that he was sure, but he couldn’t ignore it none either. Appletree defended herself, but there weren’t enough men or guns to toe up with something big enough and bad enough to put down a convoy. He should be calling Tahlasei for help, or even the Citadel. But Stone knew folk wouldn’t take kindly to that. Appletree’s oldest families were free settlers. Sure, they paid their tithes and their taxes and when the Confederate armies marched in the west they sent their boys to die just like everywhere else, but it seemed to Stone when most folk talked about the Citadel in these parts it might have been the way a child talked about their indolent and drunk father.
He steered his horse down the middle of Main Street, folk parting before him like he were some kind of prophet. Sheriff Wyatt Stone. A prophet he was not. He looked around the town that was his keeping. A silver badge, a paycheque and a lone deputy were all that kept this see-saw from tipping down. His line in the sand was thin, but it was there all the same.
By the time he tied Nell up outside the Sheriff’s office Stone would have liked to have said his mind was made up, but in truth he still wasn’t sure. Instead, he dusted himself down and then took the box, his rifle, and the yak harness and went inside.
“Sheriff,” Deputy Toby was sitting with his feet up, some old world music coming through all scratchy on the radio over by the iron barred window. “How’s hunting?”
“Toby,” Stone said, ignoring the question. He laid Clementine on his desk and slid the repeater he’d found at the Censure into a drawer and locked it. “Where’s Maria?”
The deputy thumbed towards the back office. “Filing. Says there ain’t nothing else to do.”
“We’ll see about that,” Stone dropped the grimy harness on Toby’s lap. “Why don’t you go and get that cleaned up for I get back.”
The deputy balked, almost fell out his chair. “Yan Corporation,” he called out. “What the hell happened out there?”
Stone didn’t bother to answer; he was already halfway down the hall.
The filing room was Stone’s idea. Back in the days of Sheriff Gomez they’d write it all up on computers but the damn things kept breaking on account of all the dust and problems with the town’s genny. The room was dark, with only a single window grill letting in slits of afternoon light. Maria was sitting on the floor surrounded by boxes of incident reports and citations and town ordnance. The Eldersmeet held the originals but Stone liked to keep copies all the same.
“Maria,” he said.
“Afternoon Wyatt,” said Maria Delforte without looking up. “How’s hunting?”
Wyatt. Maria was about the only person in town who still called him that, least since Sheila’s passing. Wyatt Stone the welder’s boy. He had taken Maria to the dance but married her sister and that’s all there was to it.
“You gonna answer me Stone?”
“Ah good, just fine,” Stone said, removing his hat. “Maria I got a question. How long does it take to get the telegraph fired up?”
She furrowed her brow. “Long as the day is old. Still waiting on that new plex coil from the Citadel. I told Nick Selwood to just out and make a new one but the boy ain’t half as smart as he makes out.
“When’s the piece due in?”
“Next convoy I suppose.”
Stone pinched his brow. “That’s what I was afraid of.”
“Wyatt?” Maria looked up from her pile of forms.
Stone threw her the box he’d brought back from the Censure. She caught it two handed and shook it. It rattled. She put it in her lap and opened the lid and pulled out what was inside. A coiling copper tube attached to some plastic widgets with a wafer of computer board fused onto it.
“That it?” he asked as she examined the piece.
“Ahuh,” Maria nodded then turned her head to look out the window grill. Her husband, Bob Layman, ran Layman’s Saloon and Telegraph over on Mayberry. “I didn’t hear the convoy coming in.”
“That’s cause they didn’t,” Stone rubbed his neck. “Won’t be anytime soon neither.”
“All of them?”
Maria turned the coil over in her hands, frowned. “Is that why there is blood all over your shirt?”
“That was a separate incident.”
“Know who did it? Raiders?”
Stone shook his head. “The bodies… they were all… I ain’t sure of that just yet.” He didn’t like admitting that either. He changed the subject. “How long to get the Telegraph up and running now you have the piece?”
Maria shrugged. She began packing the coil back in the box. “A day I guess. I got to go down to Nick’s Antiques so he can take a look at it first. Bob would just about have my head if I fried the whole system.”
“You do what you gotta do. But as soon as that thing is up and running I want to know. Day or night. Wake me up if you have to.”
“You planning on calling Tahlasei station?”
“Ahuh. Whatever killed those fellas, we could use some help from the Citadel.”
Maria got to her feet. Stone offered her a hand but she waved him away. “You sure about that Sheriff?” Appletree’s been pretty good at handling things our way. Don’t see why we need no help from the big smoke on this.”
“Well I am sure. Sure as I am still Sheriff round here,” Stone picked up his hat and brushed the rim. “Sure as you won’t be telling no one about this neither.”
Maria faked a curtsey. “Yes Sheriff.”
“That includes your pappy, you hear?”
“And don’t you be making those eyes at me missy.”
“Whatever you say, Sheriff,” Maria gathered up the box and her things and Stone followed her out and saw her into the street. He stopped a moment on the porch and watched her press through the mill of ordinary folk going on about their ordinary business. They could never know, he realised. Appletree had to be preserved.
When he came back into the office Toby was leaning against the desk. The radio was off and the harness was on the floor.
“Thought I told you the clean that damn thing,” Stone said.
“And I thought I was the deputy round here, Sheriff. Not Bob Layman’s wife.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means if there’s something going on I sure as hell should know.”
Stone didn’t reply right away. He just gave the younger man a hard look. Toby fidgeted under the gaze. He crossed his arms then uncrossed them. He adjusted his gun belt.
“Alright set yourself down,” Stone said, rubbing his face. “I’ll explain everything.”