#320 - Season Finale
Part One of Six
Disclaimers: They're not mine. They're Fireworks. The song, "Battle of Waterloo", is by Jim Malcolm and does not belong to me, either. "Boney" stands for "Bonaparte". The story is mine.
For the cold returns in autumn
when the wind rakes the trees.
And the summer lies forgotten
In a cold bed of leaves.
As winter begins, aye mind, Boney.
It wasn't only you
Who was broken on the field of Waterloo.
A barber's job was not so onerous, and it brought the money in, vraiment. For how many men of money in this hacienda were not as vain as their women about their appearance? They were more shy about having their teeth pulled, of course, though Pirenne could do that for them, too. How Robert had laughed when Pirenne had explained a surgeon's most marketable skills to him. Ah, but a surgeon did not have an apothecary's witch-like skills and potions to fall back on. He must cut hair in between those times when the people of this good pueblo had need of a leech to set their bones or cut their flesh. Not that they trusted him to do that for them, yet. They still preferred Robert by far, even after Robert had publicly declared Pirenne his new partner in medicine. And so, for now, Pirenne cut their hair.
Today, he was giving Colonel Montoya a trim. The colonel was in a good mood, having received back most of his powers of government from the Viceroy after the trial of the bandita, the Queen of Swords, a few weeks before. Such a pity that said bandita had subsequently escaped. Pirenne heard none of this from Montoya, of course. He had other sources besides the Colonel's stilted attempts at French conversation.
"I have heard many rumors about you, Doctor Pirenne," Montoya said as Pirenne finished and handed him a mirror. "None of them mentioned your skill as a barber."
Pirenne smiled. He'd wondered how long it would take for Montoya to get around to discussing his new surgeon's histoire mystérieuse. "Cutting a man and cutting his hair, it is much the same skill, n'est-ce pas?"
"True. You were in the Peninsular War with Dr. Helm, were you not?" Montoya's pale eyes, reflected in the mirror, were wide and guileless.
Pirenne chuckled, with no intention of giving anything away. "We made a passing acquaintance then, you could say. Do you like the style?"
Montoya patted his hair, and flipped his ponytail up, smiling into the mirror. "Oh, yes. Very neat. You have quite the skill with a blade, Doctor Pirenne. I think I will even give you a tip."
Pirenne inclined his head. "Merci beaucoup, Colonel. It will be much app--" The sound of a pistol shot nearby interrupted him. He dropped to the floor. A moment later, another shot cracked the air.
Montoya sat up, letting the mirror clatter next to his breakfast dishes on the table next to him. "That came from the barracks." He crooked his fingers at Pirenne. "Come with me, Doctor. It sounds as if you may have more arduous work to do before you collect that tip."
"Mais oui, Colonel." Embarassed by his edgy response, Pirenne stood back up. He suppressed the regret that Montoya could not have paid him first. If someone had been shot, he would be needed. Robert had gone out on the trail earlier in the morning. If he followed his recent habit, he would show up near sunset, drunk or ready to drink. He had grown morose since the trial. Despite the fact that he had gotten the Queen off, his courtship with her secret alter ego, Tessa Alvarado, had soured. Well, such things did make a man bitter.
As Montoya stood up and pulled off his apron, Pirenne washed his hands quickly in the basin set aside for Montoya's shave. He dropped his equipment back into his surgeon's bag and followed Montoya down the stairs. Montoya looked grim and angry. "This had better not be some mischief of the Queen," he growled.
Pirenne shrugged as he came up beside the shorter man. "She is scarcely the only criminal in this pueblo, non?"
Montoya gave him a sharp look. "Indeed."
As they approached the barracks, Pirenne saw several soldiers crowding around one of the private apartments of the officers' quarters. "That is Capitan Grisham's quarters," Montoya said tightly. He snapped an order at the soldiers. They parted for him. He strode through, Pirenne trailing him. The door to the quarters was open. Pirenne opened his mouth to advise caution, but Montoya was already stepping inside. "Madre de Dios!" he gasped.
Pirenne looked over Montoya's shoulder. Inside, the apartment had been wrecked. An overturned table blocked the door while a bed sat, half-collapsed, in a corner. Sprawled across it, on his back, was Colonel Grisham. Pirenne shoved past Montoya, giving the quarters a quick scan as he entered. The room was much darker than the clear day outside, but when no one attacked him, he went to Grisham on the bed. Grisham's eyes were half-open. A small trickle of blood ran from his mouth, staining his teeth, and a stream of blood ran from a large wound in his throat. Despite the evidence, Pirenne laid his head on Grisham's chest to listen for the breath he knew was not there.
"Doctor?" Montoya came up beside him as Pirenne straightened up.
Pirenne looked at him and shook his head. "He is gone."
"Roger...." The sound came from the wall near the foot of the bed. Startled, Pirenne shoved past Montoya to go look. Helm lay on his side against the wall, eyes closed. Blood soaked one leg up near his groin, and the ground beneath it. As he knelt next to Helm, Pirenne saw that Robert had tied his bandanna around his leg. The bleeding had slowed, but not stopped. Pirenne took off his own bandanna, balled it up and stuffed it on top of the wound, pressing down on it with both hands.
"Robert, what happened?" he said.
Helm opened his eyes. He puffed out a laugh, then winced in pain as Pirenne increased the pressure on his wound. "What does it look like? I got stabbed."
Montoya came up behind Pirenne. "Doctor? What has happened? Will he live?"
"He's been stabbed. He has made a tourniquet and it has slowed the bleeding, but I will need to cauterise the wound. We must get him back to the surgery."
"Of course." Montoya turned towards the door and paused. "What about Capitan Grisham?"
"The Captain is dead. Dr. Helm is not. I can only work on one patient at a time. Would you prefer that I try to resurrect a corpse instead of saving an injured man?" He glanced up at Montoya.
Montoya cocked his head and smiled strangely. "I will defer to your expertise in this situation, Doctor." He went back outside, shouting directions at the soldiers. Pirenne turned back to Helm, Montoya and his priorities momentarily forgotten.
"Roger." Helm's voice was very weak. Pirenne leaned over to hear him. "I'm sorry. It happened so fast. I didn't think--"
"Non," Pirenne said, shaking his head. "No confessions, Robert. I am no priest and you are not going to die. Not today. Do not turn Catholic on me, now."
Helm laughed feebly and closed his eyes. "Heaven forbid," he said.
He was unconscious by the time they carried him out into the sunlight.
"It must have been the Queen," one of the soldiers behind Montoya said.
"She's never struck this high up the chain of command before," the other one said. "I wonder why she attacked Dr. Helm? I thought she liked him."
"I hope he doesn't die," said the first soldier. "He's a mean drunk, but if he dies, then we are stuck with that francés del diable, Pirenne. I don't trust him as long as it took the Capitan to finish with a whore."
Montoya glared over his shoulder at the man. "Try to have a little respect for the dead, Mantero."
Mantero flushed. "I beg your pardon, Coronel. I meant no insult to the Capitan, may he rest in peace."
Montoya doubted that--conscription had not been a popular policy, lately. The way Grisham liked to harden the troops by boxing with them had not helped make his men any happier about their service. And with the Queen killing and maiming them right and left.... Never mind--the man had died unshriven. Whatever sins he had committed, he was now paying for them in Hell.
Montoya wondered if he could replace Grisham with Pirenne. The man had skills, that was certain. He had a sharper mind than Grisham's, too. Though he seemed to be less cunning than the late Capitan, he was still dangerous. Pirenne was more like Helm--he thought too much. On the other hand, Pirenne's French background made him much less popular than Helm in the pueblo. He might be easier to control. The men hadn't liked working under an American, how much less a Frenchman?
Now that his eyes were adjusting to the dim light, Montoya moved further into the room. Despite the chaos that had torn it apart, he could see how neat and regimented his capitan had kept it. Whatever his faults, Grisham had been a career soldier. A small, wooden box lay, turned over, on the floor. Montoya bent over to pick it up. Underneath lay a pile of coins, gold and silver, rings and a silver chain with a pendant. Grisham's private treasure? It seemed too small, and a thief would have taken everything, as it was all tangled together. So, the motive had not been robbery at least. Grisham probably had had more, but had hidden it somewhere. These might have been sentimental tokens, if Montoya had been able to credit Grisham with that much sensitivity.
The noise outside the door increased. Montoya turned; curious townspeople were crowding in the doorway to have a look. Even with an armed bandita around for three years, life in the pueblo was quiet enough than any incident, however small, drew a crowd. This was no small incident.
"Mantero!" Montoya snapped. The soldier appeared, pushing through the crowd. "Get them out of here. I want to finish my investigations in peace."
Mantero bobbed his head. "Si, Coronel! Immediately!" Within a few moments, the doorway had been cleared and the grumbling, curious crowd sent on its way. Montoya turned back to the scene. Grisham's body sprawled across the bed on its back, arms outflung. The Capitan, Montoya noted, was still fully clothed. Had he been entertaining a woman? It could have been Vera Hidalgo. On the other hand, Montoya had heard that Señora Hidalgo had been spending more time at home lately, possibly a product of his nephew, Miguel Rameriz's attack on her last fall. Montoya did not miss Miguel in the least. The entire incident had enraged Gaspar Hidalgo enough to kill Miguel and try to castrate Grisham. And though Vera was assuredly a minx, she could also be a decent spy upon occasion. One did not ruin such promising material for the sake of violent lusts.
Grisham was very dead, but the wound in his throat was not as large as Montoya had thought at first. Montoya bent over the body. Grisham's mouth hung half-open, his eyes already glazing over. Montoya absently noted the familiar look of violent death as he reached down and touched the wound. He lifted his bloodied fingers and sniffed them. Gunpowder--just as he'd thought. Grisham had been shot at close range.
Montoya glanced around the wrecked room, taking in the large bloodstain on the wall and floor where Helm had lain. The window was wide open--could Mantero be right? Had the Queen killed Grisham? But what for? Yes, the woman was vicious and unpredictable, but she generally had some motive, however irrational. For all he knew, she had been nowhere near the place. The alarm had been raised by a pistol shot, after all, and the only other person found here in this room had been Helm, who had been severely wounded. For all anyone knew, there could have been two or even three other people in here, but even if that were true, he only knew of one of them. Montoya sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. Helm, it seemed, was the only known witness to the killing. Montoya would have to ask the good doctor some questions when he woke up, if he woke up. Helm might not live out the morning if Pirenne could not cauterise that wound. Even if he did live, he would most likely have a limp for the rest of his life.
Now, where was the weapon? Montoya walked around the bed and found it on the other side. It appeared to be Grisham's pistol, or what had once been a pistol. Someone had taken it by the barrel and smashed it against the wall, scraping off white daubing and leaving wood fragments sticking out of the mud brick. Montoya bent over to pick up the pistol barrel, which lay in a pile of splinters. Whoever had smashed the gun had been very strong, and filled with rage. Nearby lay a dagger, half-hidden under the bed. It was covered in blood, smeared by a handprint on the handle. Montoya wiped off some of the blood and recognized it--it belonged to the Queen of Swords. Indeed, it had been the very dagger that Dr. Helm had once used to kill the bandit El Serpiente. Perhaps he had given it back to her? Or had he kept it for himself? The Queen could be very angry at times, but she was yet a woman. Besides, if she had not learned to control her temper, Montoya would have caught her by now.
Continue to Part Two
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