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It seemed to take forever for Marshal McKenzie to fall asleep. Judging by his muttering and the creaking of the cot, he apparently kept forgetting that he was supposed to stay on his back. But as the sky outside, seen through one small, barred window, turned dark teal in the time just after sunset, his restlessness died down, and he soon began to snore.
Bookworm smiled. He hadn’t been exaggerating—his snoring was truly prodigious. As it settled into a steady rhythm, she said softly to Mariah, “There. Now we can talk.”
“You think Cavendish is somehow listening in, then?” Mariah asked.
“He was here within minutes of us waking up,” Bookworm replied. “How else could he have done that without something nearby?”
“Of course—the automaton guard outside.”
“Yes. After he left, he would, of course, expect us to ask the marshal more questions, so I obliged—but only with questions I wanted him to know we asked about. The silent questions gave us knowledge he doesn’t know we know. If that makes sense.”
“It does,” Mariah said with amusement in her voice.
“As for now… well, now is the time to make plans. And I defy *anything* to hear us over that.” Bookworm chuckled softly at a particularly stertorous breath from McKenzie.
“So what do you make of this Cavendish?” asked Mariah.
“Oh, he’s a Villain, all right. Quite in the same family as Dr. Obolensky--grandiose plans, brilliant but complicated inventions, little, if any, regard for others except as tools to further his plans. He pegged McKenzie as the only potential hero in town, and made sure to isolate him.”
“Then why are we kept here, too?”
“I think,” Bookworm said slowly, “he’s confused by us. He strikes me as the type that wouldn’t easily consider a woman as a hero. Yet here we are, two women traveling alone through the wilds of the West, well armed, evidently capable of taking care of ourselves. Hopefully, I’ve given him a solution he likes.”
“Ahh—is that why you changed your demeanor when he came in?”
“Yes. I wanted to keep his focus on the marshal as the potential hero, and give us roles that are believable, but not necessarily dangerous to him at this point—potential hero sidekicks. Or, if Cavendish wants to see this as a dime-novel situation, the marshal as the potential hero, you as the potential hero sidekick, and me—“ Bookworm coughed softly, “as the potential hero love interest.”
Mariah chuckled. “He took the bait, then?”
“I think so. Otherwise, he would have focused much more attention on us, and searched us more assiduously. I still have my hairpins, and—“ She broke off, fiddling with her boot heel. “I still have my heel blade.”
“So do I,” replied Mariah as she put the boot back on. “What now? Can you pick the lock? And if so, do we try to leave town and get help?”
“I can pick it, yes. But we’re not leaving.” Bookworm’s voice was still quiet, but very firm. “Even if we could get past that electric barrier—and that’s a big if—neither we nor anyone else would even be able to get in. Cavendish would definitely be on his guard. No, we’re going to have to take him down from within. Which means that our first step is to try to find a way to disable the automata.”
Bookworm rose silently from the cot, Mariah standing up beside her. “I’ll pick the lock and let myself out,” Bookworm whispered. “Then I’ll go upstairs, to that window Marshal McKenzie said overlooked the entrance to this building. Hopefully, I’ll have a good view of the automaton guard from there. If I can see a weakness—even better, if I can disable it myself—then I’ll come and get you and the marshal.”
“All right,” Mariah said, a little unhappily, but knowing this was the sort of thing for which Bookworm had been training for a long time. “Good luck.”
((To be continued…))