The Responsible Survivialist


Small Town Justice

Here is my entry into the ADR story contest. Enjoy.
———

SMALL TOWN JUSTICE

by David Trammel

(October, 2056)

“So that just leaves the South two acres to seed for Winter,” Zeddie said, taking a sip of his chicory coffee. “We should be able to start on that tomorrow once the ground dries out a bit.”

The early October storm had come up suddenly, like many did now a days, late yesterday afternoon with heavy rain and wind. While it had only lasted a few hours into the evening, it had still soaked the new plowed field well enough to make it impossible to plant in today.

Alex Patterson nodded at his foreman’s opinion. It was a little after 7 am and while the Sun was busy chasing the clouds from the sky, the air still had a chilly nip to it. The two men were sitting on the Main House’s porch going over the day’s chores. Alex found it a comforting ritual. At 67, he found it took more and more time to get going anymore.

They had been up for a couple of hours now, getting breakfast before first light. The farm’s old solar electric system, installed that first year Alex and Mary had moved to the country, still ran well enough to let them run a few lights in the main rooms. With days growing shorter as Winter came, they needed to get as much done as they could. Speaking of breakfast, Alex could hear his wife, Mary, in the kitchen finishing up. She’d mentioned before bed last night, she wanted to do some canning this morning. He need to tell Zeddie to get a load of wood to the outside kitchen for later then.

“Where’s everyone at?” he asked.

“Manuel and Hector are in the big barn, feeding the livestock and seeing to the milking. John said he had some tack which needed to be repaired.”

This was the two brothers third year working for them. Their family had been farmers in southern Mexico before the worsening climate changes had forced them to move north to escape the intense Summer heat. Alex knew they could do their work without supervision.

John was new but Alex liked the man. He had a good way with the horses which in Alex’s opinion spoke to well to his character. A big plus was he knew quite a bit about engines and farm equipment. It was part of the reason Alex had taken him in the Spring Lottery. With their small tractor on its last leg, he’d been resigned to hiring Luftjen’s plow team to get the fields ready, John had not only managed to get the tractor running again, but it sounded so good, Alex expected to get a few more years out of it. Barring something breaking that they couldn’t get parts or repair themselves. They’d changed their plans and planted quite a bit more corn this year expecting to increase their share of the local ethanol production in anticipation of using the tractor next year.

Alex had already told John he was welcome back next Spring. And hinted at more, but that was something Alex need to discuss with the other permanent members of the farm.

“I’ve got all of the rest of the ‘Temps’ checking the apple trees for damage and collecting any fruit blown down.” Zeddie continued. “We need to decide who to send to Town tomorrow for Community Duty…”

A young man’s voice suddenly rang out.

“Hello in the House!”

—————-

“Morning, Zack,” Mary said. “Would you like some chicory?”

The visitor turned out to be one of deputies from the nearby town of Ashburn. It was the closest town about three miles south of their farm. Mary had joined them on the porch while the young man had ridden up.

“Sorry I don’t think I have time, Ma’am,” Zack nodded from atop his horse. “Sheriff Gelb sent me to get your husband.”

“What’s the problem?” she asked.

“Not sure, Ma’am. The Sheriff just said it was important that the Judge come to town.” He touched his hip where a small Ham radio sat. “Sorry, the battery is low but I think he said someone’s been shot.”

“Let me grab some things and I’ll be right with you.” Alex said, standing.

“I’ll saddle you a horse,” Zeddie said.

—————-

Once past the farm’s fences, Alex gave his horse a kick with the spurs and got them trotting. Perfect pace to eat up the three miles to Ashburn quickly. They reached the point the dirt road to the Patterson’s farm meet the old county road 165 and turned. Weeds grew up in the cracks but still the old asphalt two lane was clear enough to be the best way into town.

They rode in silence for several minute, then when the road curved into the woods again, they came upon another traveler. It was a single male, in ragged camouflage, leading a mule towards Town. He’d apparently heard their approach because as they spotted him, he lead his mule off the road and into the woods. Alex reined his horse to a stop.

“Must be close to Harvest Festival,” Zack commented. “ If ‘Just Smith’ is coming to town.

Alex had meet the man only once, a few years back, when he’d come before him on a disturbing the peace charge. A fight in one of Ashburn’s bars over some words with a few locals. When Alex had asked his name, he muttered, ‘Just Smith’. Alex remembered, he never looked him in the eyes, the whole time. Like many returning veterans, Smith was broken and strange, in Alex’s opinion. The townspeople tolerated the veterans, like they felt some sort of debt. Last of their kind, no one went to war any more.

Still those loners tended to get their supplies and head back out without any trouble, so Alex was willing to forgive their oddness. He expected Smith would rejoin the road, once the two of them had passed.

“Let’s see what’s so important,” Alex said after the veteran had disappeared from view. “To get me away from my Farm.”

He slapped the flank of his horse with his hand and set off in a gallop. Zack followed.

————

“Look at that!” the young deputy brought his horse to a stop. “Its a balloon.”

“Its not a balloon,” Alex said. “Its a zeppelin.”

The vehicle squatted in the field that served as the Town square like a pregnant sow, fat and happy. The closeness to the surrounding trees told him it was over three hundred feet long. Its dual gas bag set up, took him a moment to recognize.

“That’s one of the Arctic heavy lift vehicles,” Alex stated.

The rush at Arctic shale oil had been both a godsend and a curse. It had tempered Peak Oil but the companies had over sold the length the fields would produce, and when the inevitable happened and gas stopped, it all came crashing down on the World.

Still in the early day of the Rush, as the Permafrost melted and the roads turned to mush, companies had scrambled to get men and equipment to the drilling sites. An old technology had been resurrected. A fleet of zeppelins had brought supplies north. Now it seemed they were tasked with other duties but what one was doing in their town was a mystery.

————

The airship wasn’t the only thing come to town. As they got closer to the Town Square, where the Police Station and City Hall was, Alex started noticing the Visitors.

Ashburn was a little more than a hundred miles north of Saint Louis, on the Missouri side of the Mississippi river and twenty miles south of Hannibal, the nearest town with a bridge across the river since they closed Lousiana’s Highway 54 bridge a few years back as too dangerous to cross. In the middle of a wildlife conservation area, the words that best summed the town up were sleepy and dull.

And the residents seemed to like it that way.

It had two general stores, as well as a variety of other merchants and businesses. A town of about two thousand if you counted the surrounding area. Then perhaps another thousand from across the Mississippi from neighboring Illinois by way of the informal ferry a mile south. The goods and clothing you found in those stores was practical and sturdy. Jeans and flannel shirts, sturdy leather coats, were the staple of the dress in the community. There were some fancy dresses for the women folk to wear at Festivals but Alex very much doubted you’d ever find what the Visitors were wearing on the local racks.

Alex lead their horses at a walk up 2nd Street towards City Hall. They passed ‘Jagger’s General Store’. Outside two of the Visitors were looking over the Fall apples in bins against the wall of the store.

He recognized the style then, from classes he’s taken in college. ‘Victorian’ with the long skirts and blouses tightly bound with corsets, but the old English had never seen such colors. Neon yellows, oranges and blues, with trim of pinks and purples. The two ladies looking at the fruit both had frilly parasols on their shoulder.

A man came out of the store and joined them. Alex swore he had a waist coat and tails. The short jacket he wore was a bright lime green with yellow cuffs. He had tall boots of polished leather almost to his knees. One of the ladies, took a small device and aimed it at her companion. The other laughed and held up an apple for display. It had been years since Alex had had a cell phone, but he guessed that was what she was using, though he didn’t expect he’s recognize it is she showed it to him.

Truthfully he didn’t miss having one.

“They’re so fat,” Zack said quietly as they passed, turning onto Main. “How do they even walk?”

The young man was right, Alex realized. He himself had grown up when obesity among his peers was common enough, but living here for decades now, eating food grown by hand and without the additives and hormones so prevalent with ‘Big Argo’ back then, meant being over weight wasn’t something that happened much. The Visitors though were big even for Alex’s youthful recollection. Like some completely different species of human.

There were a couple of other horses tied up in front of the Police Station, along with Doc Gozio’s little ethanol three wheeler. The town supported the doctor and provided him with transport. That he was here, with someone shot made sense.

“I’ll take your horse around back and see she gets some water,” Zack said as Alex slide from his horse. “Let Marsha know when you’re ready to leave and I’ll bring her around.”

Alex thanked the young man. He didn’t know how long this would take so having his horse looked after was one less thing to worry about. You couldn’t just tie them up to a post and leave them all day in the sun.

There were two of the Visitors sitting outside the City Hall door, but both had different dress. A utilitarian uniform that Alex didn’t recognize. Both were big, but in a muscular way, like they chopped wood for a living. He gave them both a neighborly nod, which went unanswered, then entered the building.

————

“Thanks for coming, Your Honor.” Sheriff Gelb stuck out his hand. “Sorry it was on such short notice.”

Marsha, the City Clerk, had lead Alex not to the Sheriff’s office as he’d expected but to the Mayor’s. Danny Waters, the Mayor, was there as were several of the City Council. They all looked nervous which wasn’t a good sign.

And there was one other.

“This is Grant Morris, captain of the airship outside.”

Captain Morris was a short man, with close cropped hair of black. He worn a uniform like the two outside, but with outrageous edging and frills you would expect of someone who held command. He also had a few pound on him, but nothing like the Visitors Alex had seen as he’d ridden in.

“My pleasure, Magistrate.” Captain Morris held out his hand.

“What brings you to our small town?” Alex asked.

The man had a firm handshake, and his speech held a trace of accent that Alex always associated with the French.

“The Canadian company I work for is starting up a new air travel service along the Mississippi River, from Duluth to New Orleans. We already have a route along the Great Lakes from Quebec to Duluth.” Captain Morris explained. “The ‘Josephine’ was headed to Saint Louis to set up our base there, with equipment and personnel. As well as some of our investors and their families. This is our third day out.”

Air travel, now that was something from the ‘Time Before The Descent’. The day when you could just board an airplane and fly across the World long ago went the way of oil below $200 a barrel. Now with it ten times that, it was relegated to things of myth and fairy tale you told your grand children.

Once or twice a year, you might see a white contrail, high in the sky, as some remnant of past technological marvel winged its way from Point A to Point B, taking who knows who, important enough to command scarce resources. For the rest of mankind, a long trip, if you could afford it, meant a hard bench on a slow train. Alex could see where the Mega Rich, and there were still those out there, wouldn’t appreciate rubbing shoulders with the great unwashed masses. Even in a private train car.

“Someone got shot?” Alex asked, bringing the focus back to why he was here.

“The incident happened last night, around 11pm.” Captain Morris began. “We had tied down and were secure for the night.”

“You had landed?”

“Yes, with the high winds yesterday, I decided it was best to wait it out on the ground. We have an airbag landing system so we can set down just about any where there is open ground. We found a spot on the north side of the island a few miles up river from here.” Captain Morris explained. “The ‘Josephine’ is a hybrid airship. When she was retrofitted a few years back, the Chinese installed solar cells across her upper half. The engines can run on electric or hydrogen gas. The panels output is high enough to give us extra, once the batteries are fully charged, even with the engines running, so we have a small hydrogen cracker on board. We draw up fresh water and refine our own fuel.”

“That’s nice tech,” Alex said.

“Yes, but we our top speed is 40 miles an hour, when the wind gets high it is usually better to wait them out than fight. Plus, this is my first journey along this route, so with darkness and storm, I thought it best to play it safe.”

“Probably a wise move.” Alex nodded. “The shooting happened around 11pm?”

“I was having some before bed coffee, updating my logs on my laptop when I heard the gunshot. Think it was 11:05 or 11:06. I rushed down to see what was going on.”

“What did you find?” Alex asked.

“Several of my crew had arrived before me. They were tending to Mister Casiveire’s wound after they had secured the criminal. I had them lock him in one of the storage lockers.”

“Did anyone see the shooting?”

“No, the two men were alone in the Lounge.” Captain Morris answered. “The ‘Josephine’ has a small sitting area off the dining room, both of which have a nice view of the ground as we travel. Many of the passengers like to sit there as we fly.”

“You know the two men?” Alex asked.

“Jacques Casiveire is the son of the Company’s owner. I’ve meet the younger Casiveire a few times but don’t know him well. He is going down to Saint Louis with us to help with the operations there. His father wanted him to have some experience in the Field.”

“The other man?”

“I do not know him. He is one of the small group of passengers we picked up in Minneapolis.”

“Kevin Schow, by his identifications.” Sheriff Gelb added. “Though he has a second ID that names him Louis Maselus. Says he’s from Chicago and that he was on vacation.”

‘Vacation’, Alex silently chuckled. He tried to remember when the last time he went on a vacation was. Working farms you depended on to feed you during the long Winter weren’t something conductive to a vacation.

“Our cook was the first there,” Captain Morris continued. “He found Schow standing over Mister Casiveire, holding the gun. Mister Casiveire said that Schow was the one who shot him while trying to rob him. That Schow had been playing cards and lost badly, then had come back to get the money by force. Schow had Mister Casiveire’s wallet on him when we secured him.”

“Seems pretty open and shut,” Mayor Waters said.

“Most regrettable, I assure you. All this trouble.“ Captain Morris replied. “I have told everyone here that we would be taking the criminal on to Saint Louis for the Authorities to deal with there.”

Alex never liked ‘open and shut’ when referred to crime. He’d spent six years on the Bench, including a year during the “The Summer of Rage” back in 2024 and he knew there was always something more to it. Still he’d also learned not to go asking for trouble.

“So what is the problem then?” Alex asked.

“Well, Your Honor, “Sheriff Gelb answered. “Seems Mister Schow is demanding his Right to Trial here.”

————

Someone was laughing as the Sheriff unlocked the door to the jail cells.

“Damned,” a voice Alex recognized said. “Never saw anyone with such bad luck!”

The jail only had three cells, Ashburn never being a hot bed of criminal activity. Most of the time they sat empty, or had someone sleeping it off from a late night. At the moment only one had an occupant. Sitting in front of that cell was Brentley Little, deputy in charge of the cells today it seemed. He turned seeing them enter.

“Hi Uncle Alex!” he waved, holding some playing cards.

Brentley was also his wife Mary’s nephew. Much to Alex’s amusement sometimes. To say Brentley wasn’t the sharpest knife in the rack was an insult to dull knives. From the look of things he had pulled up a couple of chairs next to the bars and was playing cards with the person in the cell.

“Deputy Little, what in the hell are you doing?” Sheriff Gelb exclaimed. “Get over here!”

While the Sheriff read the Riot Act to his deputy, Alex took time to study the man in the cell. In his early thirties Alex guess. Brown curly hair to his shoulders, and a handsome face though marred by what would soon be a world class black eye. He had dark red pants, knee high riding boots and a light blue shirt, which showed signs of abuse and a few stains. He shook his head, figuring that the man’s treatment at the airship’s crew had not been gentle. What surprised Alex was his build, he didn’t have to problem with his weight common with the Visitors Alex had seen so far.

“Sheriff, can you give me a few minutes?” Alex asked. “I’d like to talk to the prisoner alone.”

————

Sitting down in the chair Brentley had been in, Alex picked up the cards. They were a standard deck, like you could still buy, though with a bit of wear. He shuffled them a couple of times in silence looking at Mister Schow. Alex had found that a man accused of a crime usually took one of several different attitudes when first faced with a Judge. Many were scared. Some were argumentative. A few were plain crazy. He wondered what this man would do.

The silence wore on, the sound of the cards the only thing in the cells for several minutes.

There were a few people Alex knew, who had seen hard times or just from the way they were wired, who handled stress very well, just sitting silently. And being in a jail cell accused of attempted murder was what he considered stress. Alex stopped his shuffling and dealt two hands of five card poker onto the chair being used as a table, then set the deck down and picked up the hand closest.

After a moment Schow reached through the bars slowly and took up the other hand. He studied them for a few seconds then discarded two. Alex looked his cards over and then discarded one of his own. He picked up the deck and dealt Schow his two and one for himself. Both men sat there for a minute in silence, studying their cards.

“Did you do it?” Alex asked, setting down a hand with three Fives.

“Do what?” Schow asked, setting down a hand with a pair of Tens.

Alex picked up the cards and reshuffled the deck, then dealt them both another hand.

“I think he shot himself,” Schow said while he studied his cards, before discarding three. “It was a bit chaotic, we were both fighting over the gun.”

“Why were you fighting?” Alex discarded three as well.

“He lost quite a bit of money to me yesterday,” Schow laid down a hand with a pair of Nines. “I think not all of it his. He wanted it back.”

Alex laid down a hand with a pair of Jacks. Picking up the cards and deck, he reshuffled it again slowly.

“You understand what it means to ask for a Trial here?” Alex asked.

“Grew up in a dead end farm town not half as big as this one in Kansas.” Schow chuckled dryly. “Yeah I know.”

Alex dealt them both another hand.

“Thing is, I’m a dead man if I get back on the airship.” Schow said. “I over heard Casiveire order a couple of the crew to see if I could fly later, while they were locking me up. They’re planning on tossing me out a open door, once they get back to altitude. I think that the only reason I’m alive is they stopped here before they could do it.”

“Maybe your luck is changing,” Alex stood.

Schow picked up his hand and for the first time some expression showed on his face. Turning the cards over, he laid them on the chair. The hand was two pair, Aces and Eights. The ‘Dead Man’s’ hand.

“Or maybe not…” Alex said.

————

A very chastised Brentley waited outside.

“Did you search him for weapons when they brought him over? Alex asked.

“Of course, Uncle. I’m not a complete dunce.”

“What about his boots?”

“No weapons but he does have a sheath for a knife in the top of his right boot.” Brentley looked past Alex into the cell block. “Think we need to search him more thoroughly?”

“You’re fine, Brentley,” Alex said. “No need for that. Go play some cards but just try not to let him cheat you as much.”

“But I was winning Uncle…”

————

“How’s the patient?” Alex asked.

They had put Ceriveire in the City Council chamber. It was the one room in the old building with a wall of windows, only two with boards in them now. The light from the morning sun streamed in. Would have been plenty of light if Doctor Gozio had had to work. While the City Hall had a one of the newer Chinese solar systems just a decade old, no one wasted charge when sunlight would do.

“Pretty good,” Hideko Gozio said. The short Asian doctor was putting his instruments away. “He was lucky the bullet went straight through his lower leg. Painful as hell but going down like it did, it didn’t break anything. Even a little bullet like that can do some damage if it clips a bone.”

He closed his bag up.

“He’ll be on crutches for a while but I expect he’ll fully recover. Leave him a scar he can use to impress the Ladies I expect.”

“Can I talk with him?”

“Sure, he’s got a local in him for the pain but given the circumstances I didn’t want to give him anything stronger.” Hideko frowned. “Though he’s still a bit hung over, he must have had a hell of a party on last night.”

“Where did you get a local?” Alex asked. Drugs were hard to get now a days.

“The medic on the airship had it. Gonna go over there right now and see about some horse trading. Latest batch of of my Tonic is ready. Expect we can write off alot of supplies because of this.” The doctor grinned as he picked up his bag. “Daddy’s boy over there only gets the best, from what the medic told me. No one wants to make him mad at them.”

Along with being a half way decent doctor, Hideko was an amateur brewer. For strictly medicinal purposes he told people. Told people alot. His ‘Tonic’ was one mean concoction, though quite smooth after the first couple of tastes. Alex wished him luck in his trading. Anything he could get would go to good use the next time someone was sick or injured in Ashburn.

————

The young man sat in one of the Council’s chairs, his leg propped up on a small table. Someone had cut the right leg of his trousers to above the knee. The leg itself was bandaged from the knee down to the ankle. He was missing his boots, though he had a sock on his left foot. There was another man in the room, quite a bit older. Probably a servant Alex thought. The older one was on his knees, trying to put a sock on the bare foot of Ceriveire’s right foot, without much success.

“Leave it be, Gordon, you oaf.” Ceriveire’s ordered. “Get me a blanket instead.”

The servant went over to where a stretcher lay, presumably from the airship, grabbing the blanket on it. He came quickly back and arranged it on the young man’s lap.

“Mister Ceriveire, may I have a moment of your time?” Alex asked.

Ceriveire waved Alex over.

“You must be the local Magistrate,” he said, holding out his hand. “Captain Morris said you would be by.”

Alex nodded.

“Is it true you plan on trying that scoundrel here?” Ceriveire asked. “I don’t want to bother your Town with my troubles, I’m sure we can handle it ourselves.”

Taking his time to pull over a chair and sit, Alex took a moment to study the other man in the drama. Ceriveire was in his early twenties, blond hair in a ponytail. He would weigh out at close to two hundred if Alex judged right, his stomach certainly stretched his shirt. And a fine shirt at that. His clothes spoke of his Families wealth.

“Yes, I’ve decided to grant Mister Schow’s request.” Alex answered. “I’d like you to tell me what happened.”

“The man robbed me and shot me.”

“Yes, Captain Morris mentioned that.” Alex leaned back in his chair. “What I need to hear the details, as complete as you can remember them, like are you and he friends?”

“No, I meet the man yesterday for the first time at lunch. He came aboard at Minneapolis. Several people boarded there. He was sitting with Amber, and I asked to join them.”

“Amber?”

“Miss Amber Flowers, she’s on her way to visit her ailing mother in Saint Louis. She is a most delightful young woman. I gave her a tour of the airship after the meal and we had a wonderful afternoon. She agreed to have Dinner with me.”

“Do you know if she knew Mister Schow?”

“She said she did not.”

“When did you next meet him?”

“That evening. Amber and I had enjoyed the duck, the chief on board is very good.” Ceriveire said smiling. “We were in the Lounge sharing a bottle of champagne toasting new friends when Schow came in. We had agreed to meet again in Saint Louis once she had seen to her Mother and I settled. Amber asked him to join us, since most of the tables had other passengers.”

“Whose idea was it to play cards?”

Ceriveire took a moment to think.

“Amber’s, I believe. The Lounge had thinned out a bit. There wasn’t anything to see but trees and brush since we were on the ground. She had a deck of cards in her hand bag. I had just ordered us a third bottle as I remember.”

“So everyone was drinking?”

“Yes, though Schow said he didn’t care for champagne, so he was sipping from a flash he had. Scotch or whiskey, I’m not sure. We played for a bit, then a couple of the other passengers asked to join the game.”

“What were you playing for?” Alex asked. “The bets?”

“Mostly coins, Amber telling us she had to watch her budget.”

“It didn’t stay at coins did it?”

“No, when the others joined us, Schow suggested we up the ante. Amber stopped playing but offered to deal the cards for us.”

“How did you do?”

“Very well, she must have been my ‘Lady Luck’. I won about three thousand from them before the two decided to call it quits.”

“And Schow?”

“I won about two hundred off of him by then. He stayed, saying he wanted a chance to win it back.”

“So you continued to play?”

“Yes, after everyone had left and we had the Lounge to ourselves, Amber took her leave.” Ceriveire said. “She said the champagne had gone to her head and she was going to bed.”

“So it was just the two of you then?”

“Yes. We played for about an hour and his luck hadn’t improved. I took him for about five thousand. He was not happy when he left.”

“He left you alone in the Lounge.”

“Yes, I wanted to savor my win and finish the champagne.”

“Schow came back?”

“It wasn’t long. He must have gone back to his room to get his pistol. He claimed I had cheated him and demanded his money back.” Ceriveire waved one hand around like a gun. “He was quite drunk I think. I feared for my life so when he stepped close I went for the gun to get it away from him. While we struggled he shot me.”

“That was brave of you.”

“It was nothing my father wouldn’t have done. We Ceriveire’s stand up for ourselves.”

Alex stood and held his hand out.

“Thanks for your time, that was very enlightening,” he said. “I’ll want you to stay for the Trial, which will be this afternoon, if you don’t mind.”

“So soon?”

“Yes, there’s a few more people I need to interview but I believe we can get this wrapped up fairly quickly and see Justice done.”

————

Captain Morris waited for Alex outside of the Council Chambers.

“I need to take a look at a few things on board the ‘Josephine’ if you don’t mind Captain?” Alex told him. “I want to take a look at where it happened, as well as that pistol please.”

“Of course, let me just speak with Mister Ceriveire for a minute and I’ll take you over personally.”

There was a second person waiting in the hall.

“Do you have a moment, Sir?” she asked.

“The delightful Miss Flowers?” he asked. “Here to see her new friend?”

She nodded.

“You should be able to go in to see him, as soon as the Captain comes out.”

“I hear you are going to have a trial today,” she said.

Alex smiled his ‘gravely concerned authoritarian smile’ and nodded his head. He could see where Ceriveire had been so taken by her. Probably a few years older than the young man, but clearly still very attractive. He bet when she turned up the heat, every man in the room noticed.

“Yes, shooting someone is a very grave offense,” he said.

And clearly nervous as well but whether that was from her concern for Cevireire and his injuries, or for something else unspoken, Alex wasn’t sure.

“What will happen to Mister Schow if he’s found guilt?” she asked.

The decades since liberal folk had protested the death penalty with signs outside of prisons were long gone. Too much violence done up close and where you saw the results had hardened people to crime and its punishments.

“Ma’am, robbery and attempted murder is a capital offense.” Alex said flatly. “If he’s found guilty, he’ll be hanged.”

————

“Well Sir, I’m a light sleeper, guess that’s were’t the yelling woke me.”

Alex was sitting in the airship’s dining room. Though it was almost lunch time, it was empty except for him and Danny Ringer, the ship’s cook. Captain Morris had gone to get some things for Alex leaving him alone to ask his questions.

“I bunk out in the kitchen storeroom at night. Got a nice hammock,” Danny said. “Guess its an old habit. Hard for someone to rob the pantry if they gotta go past you to get it, I guess.”

The cook was Alex’s age, grey and wrinkled, thin but tall.

“And I’m signed for the wine we got,” he pulled a key on a chain from his collar. “Guess some of those bottles cost more than my whole years pay.”

“You heard yelling?” Alex asked.

“Yeah, so I got up and grabbed my best rolling pin. She’s a beauty, you should see the way she has with a pie crust.” Danny grinned. “Anyway, guess I were’t just about to open the door and see were’t was going on when I heard the shot.”

“So you were over there?” Alex pointed to the door leading to the kitchen.

“Yeah I guess.”

“And then what?”

“After a moment I heard someone start yelling again, so I peeked out.”

“What did you see?”

“Well that other fellow, he were’t standing over Mister Ceriveire, I guess. He had this gun in his hand and were’t looking at it.” Danny said. “Mister Ceriveire were’t on the floor clutching his leg and yelling.”

“Do you remember anything of what he was saying?”

“Lots of curses. Calling the other man a ‘cheat’ and a ‘thief’.” Danny said, clearly embarrassed. “Said he were’t gonna kill him, I guess.”

Captain Morris returned, holding a small box.

“Thank you Danny,” Alex said.

The cook got up.

“One last thing,” Alex said. “When they finished playing cards and Mister Schow left, what was his mood?”

Danny looked a bit confused.

“It were’t that other man who left, it were’t Mister Ceriveire.” Danny answered. “And I guess he were’t pretty pissed.”

Alex nodded as the cook left.

“That the pistol?” Alex asked.

“Yes, I bagged it up after we took it off Schow.” Captain Morris said, handing it over. “Fingerprints are going to be useless, since a couple of the crew handled it.”

“No problem,” Alex said, opening the clear plastic bag and pulling the pistol out. “We don’t have the budget for that kind of thing.”

He didn’t recognize the pistol but that wasn’t suprising. Alex had never been what most would consider a ‘gun nut’, still there were a couple of things he noticed. First thing, the writing on the side was clearly Asian, Chinese if he had to guess. It was also a small gun. Single stacked magazine of something like .32 caliber. A ‘hide-away’ as the cops he had known would have said. He put it back into the bag.

“That the other things I asked for?” Alex said.

Captain Morris nodded.

“Damned, that’s alot of money!” he said once Alex had opened Schow’s purse and pulled the contents out. “I would have locked it up if I’d known there was so much.”

Alex counted over eighteen thousand in US NewDollars and another fifteen thousand in Canadian Sovereigns, mostly all in one thousand notes. Well worth shooting someone over.

“Yeah, there’s motive a plenty.” Alex said.

Ceriveige’s wallet was there too though it didn’t yield as big a bounty, just two bills totaling fifteen Sovereigns.

“Something’s not right” Captain Morris stated.

Alex nodded.

“One last stop,” he said. “And I think we can wrap this up.”

————

“Those the boots?”

The airship’s medic nodded.

The right one had been cut open to the ankle. Alex could clearly see where the bullet had entered by the powder burns. The barrel must have been mere inches away when it fired. The exit hole was a few inches above the ankle, a neat clean hole. The inside though was stained red from blood. The damage didn’t interest Alex so much as the modification just below its top. A holster for a small gun.

“I’m going to need to take these,” he said.

“Both of them?” the medic asked.

Alex looked at the man, then at the boots. The boots were probably worth a few hundred NewDollars. The leather was that top rate. He bet the medic had plans to use that leather for something or trade it for cash. Having been on the hard edge once or twice he could sympathize with the man’s motives.

“I only need the right one,” he stated.

The medic smiled.

“Captain Morris, let’s get back to City Hall.” Alex said. “I’m done here.”

————

“All rise,” Marsha, the city clerk said loudly. “Court is now in session.”

Alex wore his official robes of black. He mounted the raised platform of the Judge’s Bench and set the papers he carried down on the desk. Zack, acting as court bailiff, walked to the front of the Bench and set the box he carried down, before retiring to the side.

Schow as seated at one table before Alex, and Ceriveire at the other. They’d carried him from the Council Chamber, after Alex had asked him if he wanted to watch the proceedings, and Ceriveire had agreed.

It had saved Alex from ordering his attendance.

As for the rest of the attendees, it was what you would think. Mayor Waters and the City Council. Sheriff Gelb and his deputies. Captain Morris and several of his crew. A few of the curious local towns people.

And one last person, Alex had expected.

Miss Amber Flowers.

“Thank you everyone,” Alex stated. “Please be seated.”

He didn’t need to, but he shuffled the papers he had brought a bit, letting everyone settle.

“Kevin Schow, do you accept the jurisdiction of this Court in the matter of your actions yesterday pertaining to Jacques Ceriveires? You stand accused of attempted murder and robbery.”

Schow stood.

“Yes, your Honor,” he said. “I accept the Court.”

Alex nodded.

“Jacques Ceriveire, do you accept the jurisdiction of this Court in the matter of your actions with Kevin Schows? You accuse him of attempted murder and robbery.” Alex asked. “Given your injures you don’t need to stand, simply affirm your agreement.”

Ceriveire clearly didn’t quite understand what was going on. Captain Morris at his side, whispered in his ear for a quick moment. Ceriveire nodded several times before turning back.

“Are we not to have lawyers?” he asked. “People to testify?”

There was a soft chuckle among the attending crowd.

“What do you think we’ve been doing all morning?” Alex said. “Mister Ceriviere, I can say from my own experience, lawyers don’t bring Justice, they bring confusion. We did away with them years ago.”

Alex looked across the room, settling his eyes on Miss Flowers.

“If I find Mister Schow guilty as you charge him, there will not be endless appeals. Sheriff Gelb will march him out of this court room, throw a rope over a tree limb, and hang him today.”

Alex watched Amber blanch at the prospect. It confirmed his conclusions.

“Then yes, your Honor,” Ceriveire said, grinning. “I accept this Court and await its verdict.”

Alex nodded.

“Kevin Schow, please stand and approach the Bench.”

The young man stood and slowly walked forward, coming to a stop before the Bench. Alex could see the sweat beading the his brow. He’d made his bet, now was time for the result.

“As to the charge of attempted murder,” Alex banged his gavel once. “I find you not guilt.”

There was an explosion of emotion from the room. Ceriveire said a loud curse, while others talked among themselves.

“The evidence is pretty clear,” Alex continued. “Jacques Ceriviere, not you returned with the gun, and in the struggle one of you shot him. There is not enough evidence to tell who. I find the shooting accidental and non-criminal.”

Schow nodded, relieved. Ceriveire though was clearly angry, fighting Captain Morris’ hand on his shoulder.

“However,” Alex continued. “In the matter of your robbery, I find you guilt.”

That quieted the room.

“The evidence shows you conspired to put Mister Ceriveire into a situation where you could steal his money. That with an accomplice who will remain unnamed, you set him up to trick him of his money.” Alex grinned. “Put myself through law school dealing balckjack at the local casino, Son. I can spot marked cards.”

Alex saw Ceriveire turn and look Amber’s way. The young man had finally connected the dots, Alex thought.

“I order your winnings to be returned to Mister Ceriveire,” he said. “And I order you to serve 30 days in Community service, or pay a fine of two thousand NewDollars.”

Schow nodded.

“I’ll pay the fine your Honor.”

Alex nodded.

“In addition, I declare you a person of low moral standing, and give you until sunset to get out of the city limits.” Alex smiled. “I doubt you want to continue on your present journey.”

“No, I don’t think so your Honor.”

“See the clerk then,” Alex said.

His verdict clearly had been a surprise for those watching. For Ceriveire and his people a big one.

Alex banged his gavel a few times to quiet the room.

“There is a case yet unresolved before the Bench,” Alex said. “Jacques Ceriveire, given your injury you may stay seated.”

Looking across the small crowd, Alex shook his head.

“There is no stronger bond than a man’s word. With a World turned upside down, and civilization in descent, when one person states a thing to be true, it must be.” Alex banged his gavel once. “For lying to a court of law, Jacques Ceriveire I find you guilt and sentence you to 90 days Community service. Deputy take the man into custody.”

That caused a commotion.

———–

“May I approach the Bench?” Captain Morris asked.

Alex nodded.

“I have a proposal,” he said.

“Yes?”

“Let us put up a Bond.” Captain Morris offered. “The boy is clearly unfit to do any work what with his injures. Let me take him to Saint Louis so he can heal, then say, in a few months he’ll return and serve out his sentence.”

“And he would actually return?” Alex asked.

“If he doesn’t you will get to keep the bond.”

“I’m not going to let you buy us off.”

“True, but I know his Father. He’ll hire a bunch of mercs to come down here to get his boy out, whether he’s guilty or not. Your people might fight back, but you’re a hole in the wall dirt town, whose disappearance no one will miss. This way you get to punish him and still serve Justice.”

“How so?” Alex asked.

“I know that his Father sent eighty thousand in Canadian Sovereigns down as seed money. Obvious that money isn’t the boy’s.” Captain Morris replied. “Set his bail at eighteen thousand, which will clean him out. His father will hear of it from me, I promise.”

———–

“Did you see the fruit?” one said.

“Yes, you’d pay ten times at much home for them,” the other replied.

The two Visitors headed back towards the airship, with Julie Wilson, one of the locals trailing behind them, carrying two huge sacks of what looked like Fall apples. She grinned as she walked passed Alex. The passengers of the airship had been out among the township, and from the reports Alex had heard, buying everything in sight.

“We have to get them to stop here on the way back home,” the first said.

“Oh of course!” said the second.

“Your town can profit from this,” Captain Morris said.

Across the street, Alex watched Netty Couvion and her older daughter, arms full of home made blankets, follow two other Visitor’s towards the ship.

Schow and Amber were being escorted to the city limits. She’d chosen to join him, rather than stay on the airship. A few minutes ago, several crew men had carried Ceriveire to the zeppelin, which was due to depart within the hour.

Everyone seemed happy.

Alex just shook his head, realizing yet again, Justice was truly blind…

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5 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Great job! Nice plotting and characters, and you got the details of post-descent life into the story smoothly. Glad you got in under the wire!

Comment by Cathy M

Good story!
Last sentence puzzles me a bit, though…

Comment by Thijs Goverde

I do need to work on that a little…lol.

I was trying to imply that the town had made money based on misfortune. For Americans the belief is that the Law often harms those who are blameless in pursuit of the so called ‘justice’.

I ran out of time and words unfortunately. Usually my endings are much better. The story comes in at 7497, just under the limit. The original version, which is about half done, will probably at about twice that.

I had to be pretty harsh with the edit to get it down. About the only bit that I could take out now, is the parts at the beginning about either John the mechanic, or about ‘Just Smith’ but both seem like they need to be in. I suspect that an editor will be able to tighten the story up enough to get me a few hundred more words to make the ending better. I’ll have to wait and see if its picked.

I’ll try and finish the original version and post it for everyone soon.

Comment by dltrammel

…”lawyers don’t bring justice, they bring confusion…”

So true.

Very creative. Congrats on the “space bats” selection and thanks for taking the time to read mine.

Drew M.

Comment by flyingcardealer

I liked the 19th c. riverboat gambler theme, updated with an airship, and emphasised by the Victorian fashions. It’s also nice to contemplate a future where justice may trump law.

Comment by Odin's Raven




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