Most villagers never travel more than twenty leagues from their home. Their entire outlook comes from those who venture out once in their youth and then return to become adults.
— Landris Jib, The Silver King’s Proclamation
Little Rock was similar to all the other villages and hamlets that Linsan had passed through in the first few days of her trip. There were only two businesses, a public house and a general store. A smattering of houses surrounded the two with narrow trails wandering between every building.
In the noon sun, Linsan didn’t see anyone out in the heat. From her experience, most people spent their days in the public house to get away from the boredom and to enjoy company. The others would be at work, toiling away on farms and duties, and not helpful for the information she needed.
Brook pulled the Glasscoaster in front of the store. The engine rumbled before settling down with a plume of white smoke. She frowned for a moment at the hood and then let out a little sigh of disapproval.
“I’m going to need to find a mechanic soon myself. That smoke, not steam, which means some of the joints are cracking again. After we find these guys, I need to get the Glasscoaster into a garage for repairs.” Unsaid was that Brook had no intent of relenting until they had caught up with the murderers.
Linsan smirked. “I heard there is an unaffiliated mechanic in town.”
Brook glared at her. Lifting one hand from her mug, she clenched her hand and before flicking her thumb toward Linsan.
Linsan cringed. “Sorry.”
With a frown, Brook started to say something but then shook her head again. “I don’t know how to do this. How do we ask? What do we do?” She looked down at her hands.
Linsan’s mood darkened.
“W-What if we make a mistake? What if one of us gets hurt?” Tears started to shimmer in Brook’s eyes. She gripped the steering wheel tightly. “I-I don’t know what to do.”
Linsan reached over and clasped her hand on top of Brook’s.
Brook stared at their hands.
“I don’t know either. All I know is that we are both here. I also know—that of all the people in the world—you are probably the only one who can work with me.”
Brook ducked her head. “I hated you, you know.”
“I wasn’t really fond of you either. I think neither of us are entirely to blame.”
“Well, maybe. You were always so independent. You never needed anyone when we were growing up. And you always had the prettiest mother.” Brook wiped the tears from her eyes.
“And you were always the pretty one in class. Everyone loved you and you had all the friends.”
Brook turned her hand over and clasped her fingers over Linsan’s.
They held each other tight for a moment. Then Brook sniffed again. “I need to get a better dress if I’m going to keep doing this, aren’t I?”
Linsan laughed. “Yes. I’m sorry, but fighting in that is going to get you in trouble.”
Brook looked at her. “Thank you.”
“Yes. Friends.” Brook squeezed tightly.
“Let me start, I’ve been asking villagers questions for weeks now. We’ll find them.”
Slowly, Brook relaxed her hand. The strange look in Brook’s eyes came back, it was intense as she stared at Linsan.
Linsan gave her a long look and then stumbled out of the Glasscoaster. She headed straight for the public house. She could feel Brook’s eyes on her as she crossed the dirt road and to the front door.
Her heart pounded in her chest as she considered her options. They were in Gabaw’s home village and she couldn’t assume that he and his friends were hated like the previous village. She needed to be affable to find out but couldn’t be as direct.
At the door, she steeled herself and went inside.
The general store looked less like a store and more of someone’s living room with wooden shelves on one wall. Three large couches dominated the room around a wooden table. All of them were occupied; three men and two women, all in their later years, had started up a card game on the table. Half-empty glasses of water circled the edge of the table.
As one, the occupants looked up.
Two men leered.
A woman scowled.
The furthest man, a balding man with a fringe of white hair in a rim, grunted. “You lost, Girl?”
Linsan’s original plans of being affable fled out of the window. Something about their attitude and her gut feeling told her that the people in front of her wouldn’t accept it. However, she quickly came on a second alternative. Putting on her best distressed face, she gestured to the back. “I’m so sorry, but me and my friend are stuck. She borrowed her daddy’s driver and it started smoking really bad.”
She reached inside like her mother taught her, to find some sad memory to bring up the tears. The vague images of the burning workshop came up, an image that brought almost instantly a pang of sadness.
“I-I… we weren’t suppose to take it out. I-I think it was just going to be little drive. But then there was smoke and it started rattling and… and…” A tear finally crept out and rolled down her cheek.
Almost instantly, the mood in the room changed. It wasn’t entire compassion that drove them, though she could see a hint of it in their faces as they scrambled to their feet. No doubt, all of them had heard the Glasscoaster pull up and one of them must have peered out the window. They knew that one of them had money, probably Brook since she still wore a beautiful dress while Linsan dressed more plainly.
A role began to form. She would play the poor friend being impressed by Brook. Hopefully, she could let her companion know it time when the older folks followed her out of the store.
“Let me get you a drink. We only have water and beer?”
“Oh, poor darling, you must be terrified.”
Others spoke up as they surrounded her. The older man who spoke first hung back from the others to circle around and look out the window. From the corner of her eye, Linsan notice him pick up a glass of water that had been sitting underneath it and drank from it. She kept her observations to herself, he already knew exactly what had been parked outside.
Linsan threw herself into the role, making it up as she went. She remembered how her mother said to keep it simple and vague, to let the emotion come out more than the words. “I’m so scared. Her daddy is going to get so furious. It was just a drive. A little drive.”
A man patted her hand from a man who leered. “Just you and your friend out for a drive?”
“Y-Yes,” Linsan responded. She kept clinging to the memories to let the tears roll down her cheek as she struggled to keep the despair of the day in her role. “Her daddy is going to be so angry at us. He… he might forbid me to care for her after this.”
“Well,” he said patting her hand more. “My youngest boy fancies himself a mechanic. We’re pretty far away from the main road and supplies are expensive, but I’m sure he could fix anything wrong.”
“Really?” she gasped as she pulled her hand free. “You think he could?”
Two of the other men walked out the front door.
Linsan cringed when the realization she should have told Brook her plan before she walked in. Now, the lack of communication could risk everything. She faltered as she looked at the door and back around.
One of the grandmothers drew her attention. “Come on, my old man is going to see what he could do. Why don’t we bring out some treats for your friend? I’m sure you two could use a little sweet after all this.”
Stuck in her role, Linsan could only agree. Together, they gathered some sweets in oiled papers. She noted the price, two cukdins each, and then headed outside.
Outside, Brook was bawling as someone had just killed someone in front of her. Unlike Linsan, it appeared that her companion had no trouble bringing up a river of tears and drama.
Linsan froze, her body tensing.
“I-I don’t know what to do! I push the pedals and then all this smoke came out. It was horrible, and it stunk, and it is in my hair.” Brook sobbed as she tugged her dark curls. “I’ll never get this out without my hairdresser. She had to…”
Linsan’s concerns faded quickly and then she had to hide the smile that threatened to broke out. Brook figured it out fast enough.
Linsan was guided to the car.
The men circled around it, peering into the foreign machinery as if they had an idea of what they were doing. One of them poked his finger inside and came out with a bloody finger. Another burned his palm on the boiler.
The lady with the sweets set the packet inside.
The original man who spoke grunted. “Do you think this thing will make it a few miles? Old Straw is the only one with a wagon big enough and he won’t be in for at least a few hours.”
Brook sobbed and nodded. “I-I think so. Maybe a couple more before my bro—”
Linsan interrupted. “It doesn’t matter. Her daddy is going to kill her if we bring it back broken. Please, sir, all we need to do before we get in trouble.”
Brook’s eyes narrowed and Linsan cringed. She shouldn’t have said Brook’s father was the one who would punish her.
“Don’t worry,” said the creepy old man. “My boy will take care of you. Just try to get there on your own. If you can’t, I’ll catch up. Ponar has a pair of draft horses that would work and it’s only a twenty minute walk to get them.” He drew himself up, the suspenders on his belt straining to keep his dirty pants up. “Just head south until you get to the bird tree. Take the first right and follow that to the windmill. Then a right until you get to the two barns.”
There was a brief moment of silence.
Linsan wiped the tears from her eyes. “Bird tree?”
“You’ll know it,” said three of the old people around them in a chorus.
The woman with the sweets patted Brook’s hand. “I left you something on the seat. I made them with my own hands. They aren’t much but you girls need them.” She turned slightly away. “Just twenty-five cuks.”
Linsan almost choked on the double of the price.
Brook nodded and dug into her purse. She pulled out a few money cards and pressed them into the woman’s hand. “Thank you. I owe all of you,” she announced.
Getting into the car, she started up the buggy. It made a roaring, guttering noise. Linsan could see that she was holding both of the pedals with her feet while she twisted something hard.
A cloud of white steam belched out of the car.
The men and women surrounding them staggered back. One of them said “Oh dear, you better hurry.”
Thanking them profusely, Brook pulled away. The car lurched a few times before it smoothed out. Streams of steam trailed behind them.
After a few seconds, Linsan ducked her head. “Sorry.”
“You had your reason?”
“One of them was Gabaw’s father. I thought the helpless maiden would be more effective. I didn’t mean to use your father, I’m sorry.”
Brook sniffed and wiped tears from her eyes. “As long as we get them.”
She released the lever under the dash and vents belting out steam slammed shut. Leaning to the side, she pressed down on the accelerator and the buggy smoothed out as it began to race down the road.