Tin Horses and Paper Planes

Chapter 10 - A Taste of His Own Medicine

Wyatt hadn't been inside Krantz's room before. Nor, did it appear, was he going to have the opportunity now. Though he'd been tempted to simply barge in unannounced, as the doctor had on several occasions while Wyatt had been sitting with Glitch, Wyatt had decided that he would be the better man and had knocked briskly on the door. He was unsurprised when, a minute later, he was still standing outside, ignored. Krantz didn't strike him as the sort of man who hurried to greet people. Still, he'd expected something and, after the third knock hadn't elicited a brusque 'enter' or the even more peremptory and impersonal 'come', he decided Krantz was elsewhere. Probably busy with that blonde bit of stuff he calls a nurse, trying to impress her with how comfortable he is in a grand place like this. Wyatt curled his lip in an unconscious imitation of his father. She was no nurse. Adora was a nurse. He turned to leave, but before he could step away from the door, a tiny sound made him hesitate.


An oddly potent image filled his head; a bird, perched on Krantz's windowsill, giving the glass a sharp rap with its beak. The same thing had happened a few days before - the sound had brought Wyatt to his window, convinced that someone was standing below, throwing pieces of gravel up at the glass. Instead, there had been a thrush, large and speckled - deep brown on an almost olive-green - pecking petulantly at its own reflection. Trick of the light, he'd thought, fascinated - the same sunslight fooling the thrush into seeing its rival in the glass was effectively hiding him from view so that he was able to get within a foot of the bird and admire its markings. Glass on this side, mirror on that. It could be a hell of a useful thing to the Tin Men... When Glitch was better, he would suggest it to him.

Now, however, the bird that winged its way into his imagination wasn't a thrush, but a crow, trying to get in and finish what its fellows had started. That's why he says it's so dark; the crows are blotting out the sun. He smiled sheepishly at his own superstition. You can take the boy out of the farm... Still, the idea had an eerie persuasiveness to it. And if the crows were conspiring with anyone in the palace, Krantz was enough of a creep to stand out as the perfect ally. Or - how about this? - he was one of the crows himself, kin to that dream-rendition of Wyatt's father, and he'd locked himself out of his room and was tapping to be let back in.

Okay - thoughts like that are a sign you need to get some sleep. Krantz was a creep, but he was still a doctor. The fact that he'd telexed colleagues in the City was proof that he was trying to help Glitch. Or that he's out of his depth, Wyatt thought uncharitably, then frowned. He'd thought of Adora, and there had been no accompanying twinge of sadness, and no guilt when he remembered his declaration in the courtroom.

"I love him," he mouthed to the empty corridor, and waited for something - an echo of reproach - to come back. Nothing stirred the quiet air. Was it a sign that those accounts were finally settled? Of course, Adora hadn't really appeared to him to give him her blessing. That would be one miracle too far. If Raw truly wasn't responsible for what he had seen, then his own mind had made her appear... but that was okay too; it was his own conscience - his own heart - that had been waiting for past and present to be reconciled. I guess the help I needed really was only a crow's-call away.

After a furtive glance along the corridor confirmed that he was alone, he put his ear to the door. There it was again; just on the cusp of hearing, something inside the room let out a short sequence of staccato raps. Then, something new - a soft, shrill note, half-way between a buzz and a whine. Wyatt listened, not even breathing, then smiled as he finally made sense of the sounds.

Personal telex... well, aren't we fancy? He could see the need for visitors to the palace - a doctor especially - to stay in touch with the City, but the palace had its own telex, didn't it? He'd seen the mast, high up on a domed roof, had mistaken it for a flagpole at first, in fact. I guess you can't have confidential medical stuff lying around on a public telex. Which was a shame, because the more he thought about it, the more he wanted to see what was being said. It was a foregone conclusion that Krantz would share only the bare bones of any information he had, and that with great reluctance. Eventually things would filter down from the queen through DG, but Wyatt wasn't sure he wanted to wait that long. He checked once more that the corridor was clear and turned the handle.

Locked. He snorted. Why had he expected it to open? Glitch's room was never locked, but that was because the lock had been removed. He'd questioned DG about it, and she'd given him one of those melancholy smiles she'd been carrying around with her for the last week.

First day here, he managed to lock himself in his room and lose his key. Mister Rawlins has the master keys, and we - Az and I - could always use magic, but it was bound to happen again, and he just looked so helpless and embarrassed. Mother had the lock removed and a blank plate put in to cover the hole.

Wyatt could understand the reasoning behind it, but he'd felt just a flicker of indignation on Glitch's behalf. Just another example of everyone but Glitch deciding what's best for him. Like dragging him half-way across the OZ, leaving part of himself at the Sunseeder, because Her Majesty wanted him to be around at her birthday festivities. Did anyone ask Glitch what he wanted? He quelled the irritation before it could flare up into anything more. It wasn't a good time to let anger do his thinking for him. Instead, he assessed the door, dropping to one knee to peer at the keyhole. For all its decorative embellishments, the lock itself looked fairly plain and straightforward.

You aren't seriously considering what I think you are, are you?

"No harm in standing outside someone's room, is there?" No, there wasn't. And there wasn't any harm in investigating the ornate lamp on a semi-circular table near the door, either, although Wyatt imagined the queen might have something to say about him removing one of the long crystals depending from the stand so that he could prise out the wire ring holding it in place. You said it yourself, Your Majesty. I'm not a Tin Man any more. Maybe my sense of justice has outlived my ties to the letter of the law. With a little work, he unfolded part of the wire until he had a sturdy length of metal with a stubby hook at one end and a misshapen loop at the other. A cursory search of his pockets produced a small pocket-knife with a bone handle. Improvised lock picks? Why not? It's all part of the Boy Scout code, folks.

No time to waste. He didn't fancy explaining to some sceptical maid what he was doing kneeling outside another guest's bedroom. With the makeshift pick in his right hand, he explored the inside of the lock, cautiously testing the resistance of the pins inside. If the wire bent now, he was sunk. Fate - or perhaps Glitch's Munchkin gods - were smiling on him. The wire held, and the pins yielded easily. Now Wyatt slipped the thin knife blade into the lock, feeling his way along the bottom of the keyhole, and twisted it gently as he coaxed the pins upwards with the end of his pick.

A minute passed and Wyatt, feeling clumsy and frustrated, was just about to pull the pick free and admit defeat when the lock made a faint metallic 'snick', and the knife twisted a fraction. Almost... He held the blade steady, resisting the impulse to wrench at it, seeking blindly with the pick to find that last, elusive pin. All at once, it slid into alignment and the mechanism rocked smoothly over, the latch springing back with a solid clunk that made Wyatt wince. In the silence of the corridor, the noise had seemed loud enough to bring the whole palace running. He considered taking a moment to reattach the crystal to the lamp, but decided against it. There might be other locks to get through.

Now you're thinking like a crook instead of a Tin Man.

Wyatt grinned, pushing the door open. That had sounded like DG. Princess, every Tin Man worth his salt knows how to think like a crook.

He paid only the barest attention to Krantz's room. There was no time for sightseeing - the doctor might return at any moment, and being found in his room was a sure way to get himself thrown out of the palace, or worse. Wyatt closed the door behind him and listened. The sound of the telex was louder, now, but still muffled, and he turned slowly, trying to get a bearing on it. A second later, the machine fell silent. Don't play coy with me now.

The desk, which had seemed the most obvious location for the telex, was empty aside from a few medical journals with the school of science crest embossed into their covers. Not surprising - the majority of Krantz's medical equipment was cluttering up Glitch's little parlour. The device wasn't able to hide for long, though; Wyatt searched along the walls until he found a socket, brass-framed and decorative, and traced the wires that led from it to...

"A closet?"

He tried to picture Krantz as the sort of considerate guy that would shut a noisy piece of equipment away so as not to disturb his neighbours, but the image just wouldn't sit right in his head. But he might stash it out of sight so that some curious maid couldn't glance at the print-off as it scrolled its way into the output bin. Wyatt opened the door with his other hand outstretched, ready to steady the device if it had shifted as it chattered away to itself in the dark of the closet. Now he cares about confidentiality? Glitch's privacy and dignity haven't exactly been high on his agenda up until now. He jumped back as whiteness spilled out of the partially-open door, then stooped to gather up the loosely folded paper, scanning the blocky text for telling medical jargon.

It was hard to make much out at first. The messages were choppy little assemblies of truncated words, jammed together between lines of telex code and abbreviated so that they read like a man trying to speak without moving his lips. Skip to the end. That's where the important stuff should be. He pulled the print-off through his fingers, rolling it as he went, and found the most recent message.

******MESSAGE INCOMING CC180307+SS+T11******


******CONNECTION ESTABLISHED 20:44 19.08.07******




He read it again. 'LST'... Lost? Last? Last. Last offer five-hundred. Five-hundred crowns? The next message was equally cryptic:

******MESSAGE INCOMING CC180307+SS+T11******


******CONNECTION ESTABLISHED 20:38 19.08.07******



SLK and WSL. Neither of whom sounded particularly cordial, and both of whom were offering Krantz a substantial amount of money for something. He read on with growing unease.

******MESSAGE OUTPUT FIN+000+T06******


******CONNECTION ESTABLISHED 12:04 19.08.07******




Krantz had sent the message shortly after storming out of Glitch's room. Wyatt read it again. A chill crept up his spine, and the back of his throat filled with cold bile. Best bids, please. In spite of his supposed outrage, Krantz had been sufficiently composed to come down to his room and send a telex. What are they bidding on? He began to unroll the sheet, skimming the messages.

SLK and WSL had both made several offers in the past few days. Wyatt barely read them - his eyes kept jumping to the messages headed



After a few entries, the abbreviations no longer registered. Slick and Weasel, as Wyatt had started to think of them, peppered their rising offers with questions - had this test been done? Had that? There had been a fourth voice in the dialogue - CHG - but he had fallen by the wayside at 'three hundred', even after Krantz's brisk exhortation:
Be adventurous - this could be your crowning work, your ticket to Seniority. Before that, the communications had come thick and fast, all three respondents virtually stepping on one another's heels to send back their offers, if the time-stamps were anything to go by.

The paper slid through his fingers, stopped.

Doesn't matter. If you keep it alive, you're a miracle-worker. If not, you look sad and write up the case for your Application for Seniority

Slid onwards. Stopped.

Gentlemen: I have an interesting proposal. Exclusive access to a unique case. For the right price.

He stared down at the paper, momentarily paralysed by a rising tide of cold fury. Is now a good time to let anger do my thinking for me? Dropping the telex as if it was diseased, he slammed out of the room and collided almost immediately with a footman who recoiled at his murderous expression.

"Krantz - where is he?" When the man didn't reply at once, Wyatt grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him. "Doctor Krantz. Tall guy. Red hair. No chin. Limited life expectancy. This is his room."

"Doctor Krantz, sir? I-I think he's in the library. But he isn't expecting to be..."

Found out. Wyatt released his grip and strode towards the staircase.

"...disturbed," the footman finished weakly, to the tune of Wyatt's departing footsteps.


Voices echoed dimly through the archway. Wyatt couldn't make out any words, but he recognised Krantz's educated tones immediately and set off in that direction. This was the first time he'd been into the library, any library, come to think of it, save for the small, musty room back at the old Tin Man headquarters, where the slab-like books of police procedure and the Outer Zone's convoluted system of law were kept. Those books had been, appropriately, uniform - green buckram bindings and silver block-letter titles, like a row of Tin Men on parade. The contents of the palace library were a world apart, reminding Wyatt more of the denizens of the Realm of the Unwanted, the fabulous nestling cheek-by-jowl with the grotesque. Rather than a single echoing hall, the library was housed in a network of interconnecting chambers, shelf-lined walls looking in on marble-topped tables with elaborately entwined wooden stems. Wyatt glanced at them as he passed - a faded block of crumbling paper announcing itself as 'Byinge an Gaderinge of thee Roial Bokes of the Roialme of Oz', a single child-sized shoe made of interlocking silver scales, a dented hand-axe nestled on a bed of straw. Well, one man's trash, I suppose...

He paused. Listened. Edged a few steps closer. The voices were much clearer here, the maze-like library bouncing the sound from room to room until it was absorbed by shelves of insulating paper. There was a glassy clink and then the sound of flowing liquid.

"...make any difference. The Queen's warned him off, and if he makes any more trouble he'll be out on his ear. Just relax, Felix. Everything's under control."

"But you said he was a Tin Man. One of the old ones - you know what they were like. You can't bribe 'em and they don't give up - just keep chipping away until th-"

"I said relax. And he was a Tin Man; that's what the Queen said. Not any more. In a day, two at the outside, I'll have my esteemed colleague on his way to the palace, and then it's not our problem any more. We'll just fade away into the background. What can he say? He didn't like the way I talked to it?"

Wyatt's teeth gritted painfully together.

"He does seem pretty protective of the guy. I heard they knew each other during the war."

"Sentimentality, you see? They're not people, not afterwards. They're just lobotomised, half-bright animals that still remember a few tricks."

How about I teach you to play dead? Wyatt, temples throbbing in time with his pulse, crossed an expanse of blue carpet, shoes sinking silently into the thick pile, and halted in the shadow of a bookcase. From his place of concealment, he could see Krantz - or part of the man, at least. Several large, comfortably-padded armchairs were arranged around a low table, and the doctor was lounging in one of these, a glass in his hand, the wing of the chair hiding his face. Another chair was oozing a thin trickle of smoke - Krantz's stocky assistant wasn't visible, but Wyatt recognised his voice.

"You really think they're gonna shell out hundreds of platinums for a referral? I know they're good for the money, but if they wanted to study a headcase they could go to the gaol, or the asylum - there's got to be scores of them in there. What's so different about this one?"

Krantz sighed, his voice laden with long-suffering patience. "You see, this is why you're going to spend your life as a pharmacist's gofer and I'm going to be rich. Sellick and Wesley are both one journeyman case away from becoming Senior Scientists. They don't want some drooling con. Do you know what they do to make a zipperhead in the first place?"

"Did," Felix corrected him. "The Queen's put a stop to all that." Krantz waved his interruption away, a few inches of honey-coloured liquid sloshing up the side of his glass.

"What they did, then, was go in with a nice hot probe and just," he held up his hand and pinched his thumb and forefinger together, "snuff out the bits they didn't want. Cut them out piecemeal with a scalpel and throw them away. Leave 'em half-blind, half-crippled. Burn out a few extra neurons here and there and they're completely harmless. What good is that to anyone? That's not even a footnote in the Bulletin of Medical Sciences. State-sanctioned headcases are old news. But this is one of hers..."

Wyatt couldn't listen to any more. Krantz and Felix were sitting a good twenty feet from the bookcase, but Wyatt crossed it in what felt to him like three great strides. The doctor only had enough time to get out "Oh, it's y-", then Wyatt's fist broke his nose with a dull crunch, tipping Krantz and the chair backwards.

A heavy hand dropped onto his shoulder and he wheeled around in time to duck as Felix took a swing at him. He planted his hand square in the middle of the shorter man's barrel chest and pushed and, as Felix staggered backwards, toppling the table behind him with a crash of tumbled decanters, Wyatt snatched his revolver from its holster and took aim.

"Now, I get the feeling Krantz is the ideas-man of your setup, so I'm gonna help you out with a little suggestion. Sit your ass back down there and don't open your mouth unless you want a case of lead poisoning no doctor in the OZ will be able to fix."

Felix gave him a despising look, but did as he was told. Now Wyatt rounded on Krantz, who was struggling to his feet, both hands clamped over his enthusiastically gushing nose.

"You're gonna want to put some ice on that," Wyatt told him pleasantly, though the rage was still bubbling beneath his skin, looking for a way out. Very deliberately, he moved his finger outside the trigger-guard. It would be all too easy, right now, to squeeze a little too hard. And you promised DG you wouldn't shoot him.

Of course, that had been half an hour ago and the world had changed since then.

"This is assault," Krantz mumbled thickly through his cupped hands. "I'll see you're locked up for this - you're insane." He sounded like he was suffering from a bad head cold, and blood flew from his lips in a fine spray as he spoke.

"I must be. I haven't blown your brains out," Wyatt agreed, "...yet. You sick bastard - you were trying to sell Glitch to your friends in the City. Are any of them even doctors?" Krantz glared at him, pulling a handkerchief from his pocket and wadding it up under his nose. "Well, are they?" Wyatt raised the gun by way of a prompt, lining it up neatly with Krantz's forehead.

"Yes, they're doctors," Krantz answered, asperity warring with fear. "You should be thanking me. Anyone could just be assigned to deal with the zipperhead. I'm finding doctors who'll pay to work with i-" The gun twitched. "...him," he corrected himself hastily. "I can't help him, but they might. Isn't that what you want?"

"Oh?" Wyatt curled his lip. "'Regret dissection would be at the discretion of Her Royal Highness'? Sounds like they're really set on helping Ambrose. You said you understood the value of his life. You weren't lying about that, were you? Five hundred platinums sound about right, does it?"

The doctor hesitated, then leaned closer, his voice dropping. "I'll split it with you. Think about it - there'll be another doctor here in a few days, whether you expose me or not. Let me go, and you're not only rid of me, you're better off two hundred and fifty platinums. What do you say?"

"Here's what I say." Wyatt snarled, and moved his finger back inside the trigger-guard. "This is a Spade and Marlowe three-five-seven Magnum. It has an effective range of about eighty yards, give or take a couple of yards. A young guy like you, I'll bet you could run that far in about ten seconds." There was a soft, metallic ratcheting sound as he pulled the hammer back with his thumb. "One... two... thr-"

He didn't turn around when he heard Felix's chair turn over. He's just the sidekick. All I need is Krantz, and the telex.

Which was still in Krantz's room.

Which was unlocked.

Ah, crap.

Krantz saw the realisation on his face, and grinned grotesquely through the blood smeared over his lips and chin. "Forgotten something, have we? Never mind. I'm sure Felix will tidy away all the loose ends. You should have taken the m-"

The gunshot filled the library from wall to book-lined wall with flat, catastrophic noise and the stink of cordite.




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