Tin Horses and Paper Planes

Chapter 12 - In Hot Pursuit

Running after bad guys is a young man's job. That was the thought that Wyatt hung onto as he pounded along the hall, because it was almost enough to drown out the other thought bouncing around the inside of his skull: They were going to sell Glitch. They were going to sell him. Being a Tin Man meant having a long fuse - certainly if you wanted to stay a Tin Man for more than a week - but sooner or later even the longest fuse burned down. Then you had to decide what - and who - was left. Don't think about it now. Get Felix and the telex printoff and worry about it later.

Krantz's door was shut. Wyatt threw his weight against it, not caring if it was locked or not. He was slightly disappointed when it yielded easily; he was in the kind of mood where breaking down doors qualified as therapy. It swung back on its hinges and crashed into something on the other side, and Wyatt hoped that the something belonged to Krantz, and that it was something expensive.

Felix was crouching by the fireplace; his expression a finely balanced mixture of fear and defiance, but Wyatt barely looked at him as he headed for the fire. There was paper charring in the grate, curls of ash floating upwards like contrary snowflakes, and he plunged his hand into the dying flame without hesitation, grasping for the damning words.

"Give it up, Cain. What are you going to do, shoot me as well?" Oh, don't tempt me. The world would be better off without people like you. But that was dangerous thinking, wasn't it? First Krantz for what he had done, and what he'd planned to do. Now Felix for helping him. How about the nurse, who'd turned the dials and flicked the switches that filled the mask with savage light? Once you started, where did you stop? If the ends justified the means once, why not every time? That road leads somewhere I don't want to go, and it sure as hell ain't paved with yellow brick. He stared down at the crumbling handful of ash he'd rescued from the fire; for a moment, two words stood out:


then they, too, were gone.

"You're gonna tell her." He grabbed Felix by the collar and pulled him close, trying not to breathe too deeply. What are you using for tobacco? Dried goat crap? "I'm taking you to the Queen, and you'll tell her what the two of you were plotting. And if y-"

"You there! Stand away from him and put your hands where I can see them." There was a guard in the doorway, his rifle trained on Wyatt. "It's all right sir," he added, his eyes flicking towards Felix for an instant. "He hasn't hurt you, has he?" Wyatt eyed the guard stonily. Look at you, in your nice clean uniform and shiny buttons. How old are you? Eighteen? Nineteen? Jeb was leading a Resistance cell at your age.

"You're aiming at the wrong guy, kid. There's a crime going on, sure enough, but I'm not the one you -"

"Shut up!"

Wyatt marshalled his patience. It wasn't the guard's fault, after all. He held out his hands and rose slowly. Have they found Krantz yet? "I'm not about to make any trouble. But I have to talk to the Queen as soon as possible." There was a snort of outrage to his right.

"Don't let him fool you, guard. The man's insane, and a murderer - he's shot Doctor Krantz, and he'd have shot me too if you hadn't arrived." Felix scrambled to his feet and bolted past the guard, but the doorway was filled by a rather more substantial uniform, worn by a solid slab of humanity with eyes the gods had thoughtfully provided pre-narrowed to save their owner the trouble later in life. "Let me past! I'm not going to stay in here with a crazy man. He's burned all of the doctor's work - he said -"

"Now, sir. Calm down and we'll get to the bottom of this." Wyatt was pleased to see that the new guard was making no attempt to get out of the way in spite of Felix's agitated hovering. Then his view was blocked by the younger guard - only a skinny lad with a rash of acne glowing on his forehead, but the rifle he had pointed Wyatt's face was enough to command complete attention.

"Your gun - put it on the floor and stand over there by the wall," he quavered, and his Adam's apple bobbed energetically as he swallowed.

You forgot 'don't make any sudden moves'. Wyatt reached slowly for his revolver and set it down, holding it with the grip away from him so that there could be no mistaking his intentions. The guard stepped forward and kicked it back to his larger counterpart, who collected it and swung the cylinder out, shucking the bullets into his palm with a professional air.

Felix, meanwhile, was still trying unsuccessfully to edge past the bulk of the guard in the doorway. When this didn't work, he tried a more direct approach. "Let me past, will you? I won't be cooped up in here with a killer." To his obvious dismay, and Wyatt's immense satisfaction, the guard remained unmoved in every sense of the word.

"Now sir, that's a very serious allegation you're making. Why don't you make yourself comfortable over there until we've found out exactly what's going on?" The guard gestured towards a small couch at the side of the room. "You too, sir," he prompted Wyatt and, as there didn't seem to be any other options on offer, Wyatt skirted carefully around the rifle and sat down. After a minute, Felix joined him reluctantly, sitting as far from Wyatt as he could get without actually perching on the armrest. Wyatt ignored him, and gave the young guard an amicable nod.

"What's your name, kid?"

The young guard stared suspiciously at Wyatt then glanced at his colleague, who seemed somewhat more at ease with the situation. It was the older guard who spoke.

"This is Private Sweetly and I'm Captain Mellor."

Wyatt gave a nod of acknowledgement to the captain, not taking his eyes off the rifle's small, black mouth. "Well, Private Sweetly, seeing as you've taken my gun, and the most fearsome weapon I've got to hand now is," he looked around "this fine embroidered cushion, why are you looking so worried?" He was careful to keep the challenge out of his voice; Sweetly was inexperienced and edgy - a potentially lethal combination.

Captain Mellor sighed, forbearance exuding from every pore.

"He's teasing you, Private. But only very gently, so we won't shoot him just now." Sweetly relaxed, shouldering the rifle, and Wyatt studied the other guard shrewdly.

"If someone was to cut you in half, Captain, I'm willing to bet they'd find 'Central City Constabulary' written all the way through you."

Mellor met his gaze.

"If they tried, Mr Cain, they'd be too busy picking their teeth out of the gutter to think about reading," he said pleasantly. "But yes, I was a Tin Man once. How did you know?"

Takes one to know one. Wyatt shot a sidelong glance at Felix, who was looking increasingly nervous. Fine by me. You go ahead and sweat. "You unloaded my weapon. There's no way you didn't see that one round's been fired recently," he said. "But you're still here asking questions instead of hustling me off to the dungeons - this place does have dungeons, doesn't it?"

The captain smiled enigmatically, but said nothing.

Felix stared between them, incredulous. "This is crazy! This guy assaulted me, and very likely murdered Doctor Kr - are you even listening to me? Aren't you going to arrest him? Lock him up?"

"Bless you, no, sir." Mellor beamed. "He's surrendered his gun quite peaceably to me, and he's not causing any trouble. Now, if he was to pick up that paperweight there and try to attack me, I'd arrest him post-haste, you may be certain, if Private Sweetly didn't shoot him first..."

The private stared straight ahead, but his cheeks flushed a healthy shade of pink and Wyatt awarded the captain a virtual medal. You look like a suspicious bastard, and I guess that's something you can't help, but you play the plodding guard role to the hilt.

"I've two men at the library," the captain continued, "and once they've reported back to me I'll do any arresting that needs to be done. In the meantime, sir, why don't you give me your version of events? Get the ball rolling, so to speak."

Felix leaned forward, all too keen to tell his side of the story.

"This has had it in for Edgar - Doctor Krantz - from the start. He threw us out of the zipperhead's room this morning in the middle of a medical procedure, and he's been trying to bad-mouth us to the Queen." The doctor's assistant glowered at Wyatt, who pretended not to notice. "I guess when that didn't work, he had to find some other way to sabotage us. He came storming into the library ranting that he'd get rid of the doctor one way or another."

Wyatt listened with half an ear as Felix painted a lurid scene. GUN-WIELDING EX-COP ATTACKS CITY MEDICO AT PALACE. That'd sell a few copies of the City Post if it ever got out. When the tale was done, he whistled, impressed.

"That was quite a performance. If the doctoring doesn't work out, you could always take up acting."

Mellor turned to him. "You're saying there's no truth in this gentleman's allegations, Sir? As you yourself observed, your gun has been fired, and you are in Doctor Krantz's rooms."

"That I won't deny, but the rest of it is horseshit of the highest quality."

Mellor blew out his cheeks in apparent perplexity and gave his pockets a theatrical pat. "Well, there's a thing." Eventually, he drew out a slim, dull-grey tin - which looked as if it had been dropped, scuffed, sat on, scorched and quite possibly gnawed during its lifetime - and opened it to reveal a regiment of expertly-rolled cigarettes.

"If you don't mind, gentlemen?" he enquired and, when met with no objection, he selected a cigarette and tucked it into the corner of his mouth. "Can I offer either of you..."

Felix pulled out a battered packet of smokes and pulled one out with his teeth. "Got my own," he mumbled.

The pocket-patting began again. "I don't suppose I could trouble you..."

Felix, clearly keen to ingratiate himself himself with the guard, produced his lighter and held it steady while Mellor lit his cigarette.

"Much obliged, sir. I know smoking on duty isn't generally the done thing, but the role of Captain does have its perks." He and Felix exchanged a conspiratorial glance - We're just two men of the world, it said. We're both initiated into the ritual of the opportunistic smoke when the world pauses for breath for a moment.

Wyatt sighed. "I hate to interrupt this moment of harmony, Captain, but I'll save you the trouble of asking - no, I don't have any matches, or anything else I could use to set fire to Krantz' documents. Feel free to search me if you don't believe me."

Mellor grinned and flicked his cigarette into the fireplace and Felix, sensing that his situation had taken a downward turn, stared at him and then at Wyatt.

"You're the one with ashes all over your hands," he snapped.

"And yours are clean. Because you were the one holding the papers before they got burned. I only touched them when I tried to pull them out of the grate." He felt light-headed, almost elated. Felix's dawning expression of dismay seemed like a prize. Mellor caught it, too, and his avuncular manner changed.

"Anything you feel you'd like to change about your story, sir?"

"You - he's lying! You haven't even searched him." Felix glanced between Wyatt and the captain, and Wyatt glared back.

"Go ahead and search me, you conniving asshole. If you can find so much as a match on me, I'll fu-"

"Am I interrupting something?"

Wyatt got to his feet; he didn't need to look around to guess who was at the door. Everything about Mellor's stiffening posture screamed 'top brass', and Ahamo's slight accent had survived, even after years in the Realm of the Unwanted. Felix, who was slower on the uptake, twisted around and gawped at the newcomer for a moment before jumping up as though galvanised. The Royal Consort was flanked by guards. The doorway being relatively narrow this meant that, in practice, one was beside him while the other peered worriedly over his shoulder.

"Your Highness. These gentlemen have had an altercation."

"You don't say," Ahamo drawled. He beckoned Mellor over and there was a brief conference. Wyatt caught the words 'blood' and 'library', and fought to remain impassive as Mellor glanced sharply towards him. The two men conversed gravely for a moment longer, then the captain left the room and there was a flurry of activity outside. The remaining guards stationed themselves either side of the entrance, while Ahamo sauntered over to lean against the open door of the cupboard where the telex machine - now denuded of its incriminating messages - sat, looking forlorn.

"Well, Mister Cain," he observed cheerfully, "You're in a lot of trouble. I've just come from the library, where - according to Doctor Krantz - you broke his nose and then proceeded to try and shoot him."

Punching the widening smirk from Felix's face was probably the wrong response to that statement, Wyatt guessed. Besides, if Ahamo stepped in, he was in the textbook definition of a no-win situation. He shook his head. "No, sir. Um, Your Highness."

"No?" Ahamo blinked. "Doctor Krantz was very emphatic."

"No, sir. I broke his nose, and then I shot the chair behind him." It was, Wyatt felt, an important distinction. "Felix made a run for it, but if I'd just left Krantz and gone after him I -" Felix made an indignant noise, and was silenced by a mild look from the Consort, who nodded at Wyatt to continue. "If I'd left Krantz, he might have vanished. So I put a round in the chair behind him, because I knew the guards would come running and - whatever Krantz told them - they'd want to keep him around until things got straightened out. I wasn't expecting him to faint."

"He fainted."

Wyatt nodded. I guess he's not used to people shooting... near him. "Maybe if I hadn't stopped to check he was okay, I'd have got here in time to stop his sidekick torching the pr-"

"It's his word against mine!" Felix broke in, and this time Ahamo turned to face him.

"I don't remember asking you anything," he said softly, "But go ahead and correct me if that's not so." Felix stared at him, mouth agape. Then he sat down.

Ahamo nodded. "That's what I thought. Do you have any evidence, Cain?"

"The printoff was all I had," Wyatt admitted reluctantly. "But put me in a courtroom, Your Highness, and I'll give my oath as a Tin Man. They were-"

"As I believe I've reminded you, Mr Cain, you are no longer a Tin Man." Wyatt felt his hackles rise at the Queen's cool tone. Once again, an entourage of guards were visible through the open door.

Tough luck, Krantz - all these important visitors and you're not here to bask in the attention. He bowed - there was probably some protocol to follow when the Queen entered the room, but he figured he'd pretty much tossed the book of etiquette out of the window as soon as he'd told her what to do with her Royal Prerogative, so a bow was the best she was going to get. Iskra sat down gracefully on the chair Ahamo brought for her and looked expectantly up at Wyatt and Felix (who had hurried to present himself properly, sensing that he had some ground to make up).

"With respect, Your Majesty, I may have given up the tin," he met her gaze and held it, inviting her to pry inside his thoughts if she were able. "But I held onto my morals. You can bring in a Viewer, if you don't believe me."

"That won't be necessary. There is a way-station between here and Central City that records all messages travelling to and from the palace. We do take our security quite seriously here, gentlemen." Wyatt felt a weight roll off his heart. By the pained look on Felix's face, it appeared to have landed on his foot. "A copy of this alleged communication will reveal the truth. Until then, you will both remain in your rooms."


Wyatt spent the night alternately listening for the slightest sound from Glitch's room and committing treason inside the confines of his head. Perhaps Queen Iskra hadn't meant to give his imprisonment an extra twist of cruelty, but it was something like torture being so close to the ailing zipperhead and unable to see him. At first, he paced, patrolling the room with brisk, angry strides. Then he'd heard a muffled cry through the separating wall, and that had been the end of his pacing. The guard outside his door was sympathetic, but not so sympathetic that he was going to let Wyatt leave. There was nothing for it but to wait it out.

Some time in the early hours of the morning, he awoke from a fitful drowse, slumped in the chair he'd set by his wall. There had been no sound from next door since the brief commotion earlier and now, in the silence, he found his thoughts turning inward.

Well, you got what you wanted. When they see the telex records for themselves, Krantz will be out on his ear. So now what?

"Now we get a real doctor to find out what's wrong with Glitch and fix it." He spoke with all the conviction he could muster, but his worries weren't so easily silenced.

Fine. Assuming that a doctor can fix whatever it is, then what? You planning on handing him a bunch of roses, announcing "hey, Glitch - ever thought about sleeping with another guy?' and sweeping him off his feet?

"No. He'd probably poke himself in the eye with a thorn. A bunch of poppies, maybe." He said it lightly, but his heart sank; he knew where this was going.

You can't tell him. You can't tell Glitch how you feel about him. Forget whether it's right or wrong, you can't tell him because -

"Because he's Glitch." It sounded worse when he said it aloud, but he forced himself to go on. "There's no safety catch on his mouth. Tell him, and you might as well announce it on the wireless." He rocked his chair back on its elegant carved legs, crossing his ankles on the corner of a marble-topped table, and rested his head against the wall, listening, frowning. "And he's impressionable. You could put an idea in his mind that should never have been there, and Glitch has a way of taking a new idea with both hands and running with it until he trips over his own feet."

There. Two genuine, sensible reasons to say nothing. If he stuck to those, he didn't have to think about the third, which was this: What if I tell him, and he's horrified. Disgusted. What if he looks at me the way my father would look at me if he knew what I was?

Wyatt scowled. "Okay, okay. I'm convinced. So what the hell am I supposed to do?" No answer was forthcoming, and he wasn't all that surprised. After all, what could he do, except wait and hope, and - improbable though it was - let Glitch make the first move?

"I'll wait." He whispered it into the darkness, wishing that it didn't sound so much like surrender. "I'm good at waiting." He leaned back against the wall again and listened to the silence coming from Glitch's room, until the sky grew pale and he drifted into an uneasy sleep, serenaded by the birds bickering softly outside.




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