Miss Mona cocked her gun, staring down the thin streak of piss who had the gall to be aiming a pistol at her with inexperienced hands. She could see the kid trembling from where she stood in the doorway of the bank. He couldn't have been more than fifteen. Should have been at school or working somewhere respectable, not trying to steal other folk's money. Mona thought the very idea of bank robbing was distinctively uninspiring. She'd have more respect for the boy if he'd tried to rustle some of Old Pete's cattle, though he would have been a miracle worker if he'd been successful in stealing some of the ageing farmer's pigs and sheep. Old Pete may have lived up to his nickname – he had to be creeping eighty – but no one came between him and his beasts, not without coming away minus a hand or foot.
'Kid, you're keeping me from my liquor,' she said sternly. Despite a wave of tiredness washing over her, Mona tried not to yawn. The sandy-haired boy at least deserved a little bit of attention, some time to think he had even a smidgeon's chance of getting out of there with the bag of money clutched in his white-knuckled fist. Maybe she'd play along with the fantasy for a little bit before calling Henry, whose large bulk stood next to her out of sight of the young bank robber.
'Well, get back to it, ma'am,' squeaked the boy defiantly.
'That's sheriff to you,' Mona reminded him, tapping the badge she wore on her shirt lapel with a free hand.
'Papa says a woman's got no right being a sheriff,' the boy told her. 'Says they should be cleaning the home or spreading their legs.'
Mona raised an eyebrow. 'Sheriffs should?'
'Yeah,' replied the boy with a sneer and then realised what she was implying. 'No, I meant -' he began, flustered.
'Look, I'm really not interested in the backward thinking of your father,' Mona interrupted. 'What I am interested in is what you're planning to do with that money?'
The boy glanced at the bag in his hand, lowering his gun ever so slightly. 'I'm running away,' he said. 'I hate this place. I hate papa. I hate being dumb. I just want some excitement.'
'Dumb? Kid, at least you've had the sense to try and get some money before going. Most runaways don't even think that far ahead. Just leave with the clothes on their back and not enough food to last them even two days.'
The boy thought about this for a moment and then smiled. 'Yeah, I suppose I'm not that dumb, then. Now, sheriff, if you'll stand aside, I'll be on my way.'
'I'll stand aside if you leave the money. I really don't care if you leave town, one less person to protect, but you're not stealing anybody's money. Over my dead, but rather svelte, body.' Still aiming the gun at the kid, Mona put her free hand on her hip for effect.
'That can be arranged.' The boy appeared to have grown some balls over the last few minutes. Damn.
'Look,' Mona pressed on, trying a different tact. 'I grew up in England, in a tiny northern village much smaller than this place, so don't give me the Oh I'm so bored routine.'
'So what did you do, then?'
Mona pursed her lips for a moment. 'I... ran away but I didn't steal anyone's money,' she added quickly. For a fleeting moment, she thought she saw a look of doubt flash over his face.
'You know, you talk too much,' the boy said, before pulling the trigger.
Time seemed to slow down to a crawl. She saw the bullet leave the gun, heading straight for her face. Mona moved to avoid being hit and felt something ram her side, throwing her to the floor. She whacked her head on the corner of the counter and immediately saw stars. From where she lay, too woozy to get back up again, she could heard the boy panicking, words muffled, and Henry slumped against the wall next to her. Shit, he'd been hit.
'You little -' she mumbled, trying to grab the boy's leg as he ran past her but he saw what she was doing and leapt over her outstretched arm and escaped from the bank.
'Goddamn it!' she said, willing not to faint. 'Get the hell up,' she ordered herself. 'Your deputy's been shot. Get up right now, woman!' Growling with exertion, she managed to get to her knees and move across to Henry. A large patch of blood had seeped through his pale shirt and his eyes were shut. Moving closer, she pressed her ear against his chest, and was thankful to hear a familiar sound.
She took a moment for her eyes to focus and then stood up. She wasn't looking forward to the next bit. She still wasn't 100% herself, and Henry was a heavy man, but she had no choice.
Slipping her arms under his armpits, she started dragging the deputy along the floor and out into the evening sun. Help was only across the road but every second that passed, Mona felt weaker. If she ever saw that boy again, he'd be hanged within the hour.
She reached the eaved building and with relief, let go of Henry and thumped her fist against the door. 'Open up, you sons of bitches,' she hissed.
'We're closed,' came a voice from inside. 'Come back tomorrow.'
'Can't do, Wesley. Open up right now before I punch this door down,' she called back. She could hear the hurried scraping back of a chair and approaching footsteps. The door opened to reveal a tall, bespectacled young man. He took in the sight of Mona's bleeding temple and then the unmoving form of Henry at his feet.
'I'll go and get Mr Sanders,' he said, then dashed back inside.
'Everything all right, Sheriff?' called a voice from behind her. She spun round, almost tripping with dizziness. Two men were walking past, no doubt making their way towards the tavern for an evening's entertainment.
Mona looked down at Henry who lay on his back with his broad arms covering the gun wound and blood. She smiled brightly at the two men. 'Perfectly fine, gentlemen. Henry here's had a bit too much to drink so I'm going to replace him with an automaton.'
The men, used to Mona's strange words – putting it down to her being from the Old World – laughed.
'You have a good night, now, gentlemen,' she added. 'Don't you be drinking too much, though.'
'Sure, Sheriff,' said one of the men, nudging his friend. 'Don't want to get swapped for an auto-mayton!' Continuing to laugh, the men walked on. Mona watched them until they disappeared through the saloon doors.
'Oh my dear girl, what has happened to you?' Sanders, a short, grey-haired London-born man appeared in the doorway, Wesley standing tall behind him. Then the older man noticed Henry and gave Mona an inquiring look.
'Shot in the chest,' she told him, holding onto the doorframe. Her head ached worse than a trip to the town's dentist. 'Help him?'
'Of course, of course,' Sanders nodded. 'Wesley, get his legs,' he ordered his apprentice, while he lifted the deputy by the arms. Mona wasn't sure that the old man would be able to lift him but was surprised when the two half-dragged Henry into their store. When they were all inside, Sanders locked the door behind them.
Behind the main shop was Sanders' workplace where he fixed all manner of broken mechanical items. He was a clock-maker by trade and, until Mona and Henry had arrived in town, that was his main line of business. Since getting to know the English woman and her mute lover, Sanders had found himself mending some strange contraptions belonging to the Old Worlders - a steam-powered clothes press, amongst other things. Despite displaying an outward disdain for such oddities, Sanders found himself most intrigued by these gadgets. And none more so than the machine before him.
'Who shot him?' Sanders asked, rolling up his shirt sleeves as Mona and Wesley hauled the limp but heavy Henry onto the chair by the clockmaker's desk.
'Some stupid boy who'll be hanged a tree once I get my hands on him,' Mona said, bitterly.
'Really? You would hang a young boy?' Sanders glanced at her before putting on his spectacles.
'Do you even need to ask?' Mona replied.
'I suppose not. You're not one to murder a misguided child, my dear.' Sniffing, he beckoned Wesley, who'd been standing at the door, forward. 'Come, Wesley. The more the experience you get, the better you'll be when you take over this place.'
Mona watched the tall youth nervously step forward. 'He will be all right, won't he, Sanders?' She stood just to the side of Henry, stroking his short caramel-colored hair with affection.
'We'll soon see,' the old man replied. 'Wesley, take off Henry's shirt, please.'
'Oh… um… What?' Wesley said, his gaunt face turning a shade of strawberry.
'Come, come, young Wesley. We all look the same underneath,' Sanders began to say and then with a nod to Mona, continued. 'I, of course, refer to the male of the species.'
'Of course,' Mona replied, a flicker of a smile crossing her concerned face.
Taking a deep breath like he was about to out-run a steam train, Wesley began to lift up Henry's shirt, the blood seeped heavily into the linen. Mona helped him slide Henry's thick arms out of the sleeves and stumbled as she pulled the shirt off her deputy.
'The boy attacked you?' Sanders said, nodding at her injury.
She shook her head then quickly stopped. The pain was irritating. 'No, Henry pushed me out of the way when the boy fired the gun. I fell and hit my head on the edge of a desk. I'm all right.'
Sanders gazed at her then stood up straight. 'Well you're no help standing around here bleeding all over my floor. Wesley, take the Sheriff next door and patch her up, please.'
'This way, ma'am… I mean, Sheriff,' Wesley stuttered, placing the bloody shirt on the hat stand in the corner.
Sanders saw this and glared at his assistant. 'I don't believe the deputy wants to go around in a blood-stained shirt. Pour some water into my bathtub and let the shirt soak while you tend to the Sheriff.'
'Oh, yes. Sorry.' Wesley grabbed the shirt again, making sure to hold the least bloodied part of it, which was the collar, and led Mona back through the store and outside.
The clockmaker's home was a familiar sight to Mona, who occasionally attended the Games Nights that were held in the fastidiously tidy abode. Entering through the door led straight into the main hub of the ground-level building. Sanders' oak-made rocking chair which he apparently brought over from England sat next to the wide hearth. A small green and red patterned rug lay between the two, atop the recently-swept wooden planks that made up the flooring.
Wesley took a hold of Mona's arm and gently led her over to the chair. Once she had sat down, the young apprentice went to fetch a damp cloth to wipe the trails of blood meandering down the side of the her face.
Mona laid back in the plush, velvet-backed chair. She could feel Sanders' indent on the seat from the countless occasions he'd sat in the very spot, smoking on a pipe and reading one of the many books which lined the shelving on the opposite wall. She contemplated taking a look at one of the thick, leather-bound tomes - goodness knows how long Wesley would take to get Henry's shirt soaked - but at that very moment, the young man bustled back into the room, wiping glistening hands on his trousers.
'Right,' he exhaled, pausing in the middle of the room and gazing at her. 'I'll leave that soaking for a few hours. You'll have to bring over a new shirt for Henry after Mr Sanders is finished with him.'
Mona nodded. 'The cloth?' she asked, seeing nothing in his hands.
Wesley stared at her and then slapped his forehead. 'Oh goodness!' he cried, and rushed out of the room again.
A smile formed on Mona's lips. She liked the boy, and thought his absent-minded professor schtick was endearing, though if Sanders was serious about handing his business over when he retired, Wesley would have to get a bit of sense knocked into him. Maybe Henry could help out with that, Mona thought, That's if he's still around by then.
She tried not to think about her lover. They had spent almost a decade together, starting in the slums of London before fleeing for their lives onboard a ship bound for the new world. Now that she thought about it, it would be about five years since Henry lost his tongue, literally; the thing being cut off during a time she still had nightmares about.
The clatter of rushed footsteps heralded the return of Wesley, dripping wet cloth in hand. Mona reached out as he came towards her, and took the cloth from him before he could splat her face with it. Looking quickly around for somewhere to dispense the excess water, she plumped for steel bin that usually housed logs for the fire. As she twisted the cloth, and watched the water stream downward and hitting the bucket, she glanced up at Wesley.
'I'll take it from here, thanks,' she told him, forcing a smile.
'Oh. Right. Are you sure? You're not going to faint, or anything?' asked Wesley.
She shook her head then regretted it instantly. 'No, go on. Go and help Sanders. Just call me when he's finished with Henry.'
'All right.' Wesley walked over to the front door and pulled it open. He looked back at her. 'He will be all right, Sheriff. Mr Sanders is a clever man. He's fixed Henry before, he can do it again.'
'Thank you, Wesley.'
Once the boy had gone, Mona held the cloth to her temple, flinching as the rough texture came into contact with her injury. Her thoughts returned to her drink sitting at her usual table in the saloon, probably now quaffed by some chancer. She should have drank it all before letting Henry lead her off to the bank where he'd seen the boy sneak in. She wondered about the boy, too. She hadn't noticed if he had indeed taken the money with him; she'd been too concerned with Henry. She hoped, for the boy's sake, that he was far from town. If he was caught then, by law, he would have to be hanged, child or not. Once she knew that Henry was all right - and she went back to the saloon for a much-needed drink, she'd make enquiries as to who the boy's parents were. They needed a damn good talking, too. Perhaps she would have to bring in a by-law for the town; if your child misbehaves, it's into the stocks with the parents and being pelted with rotten food.
Her eyes began to close with tiredness. The sky outside was turning an orange hue. It must have been heading into evening time. She'd have to ask Sanders about the clock she'd commissioned him to make which was to sit above the town's jail for all to see. Maybe it was a good idea for her to find out exactly how many townsfolk could actually tell the time.
Since she had nothing to do but wait until Wesley fetched her again, Mona snuggled down in the chair and fell asleep.
She dreamt about her time in London, though it was more a nightmare. All of her friends, the ones who had died, were reaching out to grab her as she stumbled through a slum; a ghoulish woman with a sickly babe at her bosom constantly watching her from a second floor window. So it was with great relief when Wesley gently shook her awake.
He had a surprised look on his face. 'You were… mumbling in your sleep,' he said.
'What did I say?'
'I didn't understand,' he said apologetically. 'Um,' he reached over and removed the cloth that sat across her forehead. 'Sanders sent me to get you.'
Mona sat upright at the news and almost instantly regretted it. She still felt a bit woozy. Taking a grip of the young man's arm, she rose to her feet and he accompanied her back to the clockmaker's workroom.
Sanders was busy packing up his small leather bag where he kept the tools set aside especially for Henry when Mona and Wesley entered the room. He looked up at the sound of the footsteps and smiled, his bushy moustache rising as he did so.
'All done, my dear,' he reassured her.
Mona looked across at Henry who was in the same position, on the chair, as she'd left him. Except a small section of skin on his chest had been left open. Inside, was a complex display of mechanisation, like the kind you would find if you opened up a clock. Henry's eyes remained closed.
Mona left Wesley's side and moved across to her deputy. 'Henry?' she said softly in his ear. She looked to see if he had heard her but his eyes remained closed. She looked at Sanders in confusion.
'I fixed him. A couple of bolts which held bits together had shattered because of the bullet,' Sanders explained, coming over to stand beside her. 'But,' he added, 'You cannot go on like this forever. He cannot go on like this forever.'
'What do you mean?' Mona asked, gazing at Henry.
'The whole notion of part-man, part-machine is preposterous. You can't expect him to go on living forever.'
'Oh, come come, my dear. You're an intelligent woman. Even the robust train or clock, for that matter,' he paused, and waved a hand around the room, 'doesn't perform to the best of its abilities forever. There will come a time when he will only be good enough for scraps.'
Mona resisted the urge to slap the man. 'If anybody tries to dismantle him, I'll shoot them where they stand.'
Sanders exhaled. 'Do you really think the people around here are not going to start noticing Henry isn't quite normal? What if he suddenly breaks down in full view of people? How are you going to explain that?'
'I thought we were friends,' she muttered, ignoring the fact that the old man was right. She just didn't want to admit it to herself, let alone anyone else.
'We are friends, Mona. And that's why I'm being honest with you,' Sanders said, gently. As if remembering Wesley was still in the room, he turned to address the boy. 'How's Henry's shirt doing?'
'Oh,' exclaimed Wesley. He started heading out again before being called back by his master.
'And go and find a clean shirt for Henry, in the meantime. You don't mind if Wesley goes into your home, do you?' He asked Mona.
She shook her head. 'No. Wesley, there should be a row of clean shirts in the bedroom.'
'B… Bedroom?' Wesley stuttered, blushing again.
'Oh for goodness sake, boy,' said Sanders, irritably. 'It's just a room. Go on,' he said, waving him away with his hands. When Wesley had left, Sanders looked at Mona again. 'I think you need a strong cup of tea.'
'I need something strong but it ain't tea,' she told him, then frowned at the grin spreading across his face. 'What?'
'Ain't? You're turning native,' he said, not unkindly.
'Maybe I am,' shrugged Mona. 'That's not a bad thing, is it?'
'Not at all, my dear. Not at all.'
Mona left Sander's establishment soon afterwards. The old clockmaker promising to get Wesley to help him take Henry back home. As Mona crossed the dusty terrain of No Hope, she patted down her black trousers and dark shirt, then tentatively touched the cut on her temple which, when she'd looked in Sander's hand-held mirror earlier, didn't look all that bad now it was cleaned up. Sure she'd get some enquiring looks from the clientele in the saloon but most of them were wise not to go troubling their Sheriff if they knew what was good for them.
Pushing open the swinging doors to the saloon, she could see the place was busier than when she left it. The place was so smoky, she could barely make out who was tinkling the ivories on the old piano at the other end of the room, next to the bar. Her usual table, the one in the corner near the doors - so she could keep an eye on the comings and goings - was occupied by a couple of faces she didn't recognise. The newcomer who wore a derby hat sat with his back to her.
As she weaved her way to the bar, most people acknowledged her presence with a raise of their drink or a nod of the head. She had bloody well earned the respect the townsfolk gave her so she was happy to revel in it.
'Henry not with you, Sheriff?' Amos, the saloon owner asked, already pouring her a large glass of Jerky, so-called because the aftereffects if you drank too much.
Mona leant an arm on the counter. 'He's currently occupied at the moment. Thank you,' she added as Amos handed her over the glass of murky brown liquid. She took a large swig, swallowing it quickly. It was best to.
Someone approached the bar and stood next to her. The man was tall, grey-bearded and wore round, dirty spectacles. His clothing wasn't much cleaner, either.
'They say your deputy was shot,' the man said bluntly, nodding at Amos to refill his empty glass. 'At the bank.'
'That's right,' said Mona, looking up into the small, brown eyes of Diggory Flay, the town's tanner. 'He'll be all right.'
'Course he will,' said Amos, listening into the conversation. 'Henry's a big, tough fella.'
'Exactly.' Mona raised her glass to his words. Then she thought about something and looked at Diggory again. 'Don't suppose they know who the boy was who shot Henry?'
The tanner was in no rush to answer. He shrugged his shoulders. 'If so they're not saying. Best ask Miss Bartram; find out who wasn't in school today.'
'I think I'll do just that… tomorrow. I'm too tired and thirsty, tonight. Besides, if the kid ran away, he'll be long gone by now.'
'Your call,' shrugged Diggory, taking his full glass back from. He nodded at Mona before heading back to his table.
Just as the space was vacated by the tanner, it was filled seconds later by a short woman, dressed all in black, and with a severe grey-brown bun. Despite the woman's outward appearance, Mona found her to be one of the nicest and caring people in the town.
'Why, Mrs Fontaine,' Amos declared, bushy eyebrows raised in surprise, 'We don't normally see you in here at this time of the evening? Girls having a night off?'
The brothel owner shook her head. 'Too damn quiet is what it is,' she said dryly. 'Got most of them cleaning the place, in the meantime.'
'What about those men over on that table?' Mona asked, looking towards the table where the newcomers sat. The one that had his back to her when she came in was nowhere to be seen, but his friend still sat, throwing back his drink and looking around him. He caught sight of Mona and raised his glass in a toast.
Mrs Fontaine watched the man then grimaced. 'He came in earlier but his friend made him leave again before he could choose a girl.'
'Maybe they'll come back later when they're both drunk,' Mona offered.
'Oh I'm past caring… for tonight, anyways,' Mrs Fontaine said dismissively. 'I'm going to get drunk then I'm going to try and seduce a young man,' she added, winking at Mona.
Mona laughed. 'Well, I'll join you on the getting-drunk part,' she said, swallowing more the her Jerky.
Mona managed to last until she had downed her fourth Jerky and then had to leave the brothel owner to it as the middle-aged woman set her sights on one of the young bucks in the saloon.
Stepping outside, Mona paused as the cold air hit her. The sky was littered with stars, and the moon sat large and bright. Mona rubbed her arms, feeling the chill through her thin shirt. She would have to speak to Fortitude McClure, the town's tailor, and get a warm coat made up for the oncoming Fall
'So you're the Sheriff, then,' a male voice called out. Mona turned to see where the voice was coming from. A small orange glow appeared from the shadows, followed by a man she didn't recognise.
Mona casually lowered her arms again, all the better to grab her gun if need be. 'That's right,' she said.
The man stopped a safe distance from her. It was one of the newcomers, the one who had his back to her when she'd entered the saloon. He was slightly younger than she'd thought. Needed a shave, too. His five o'clock shadow more prominent in the moonlight.
'You're not from these shores,' he went on. 'Your accent…'
'England,' she answered. 'What about you, stranger? Where you from?'
The man shrugged. 'Well,' he said, exhaling slowly and looking around. 'I was hoping to maybe settle down in a nice little place such as this,' he paused, as if waiting for a reaction from her. When he didn't get one, he went on. 'But as from where I'm from, I'm a Minnesota boy, born and bred. So, a lady Sheriff, huh? That's progressive, I guess.'
'Who says I'm a lady?' Mona asked, then regretted it. That was the drink talking.
The man chuckled. 'Oh, the folks round here seem most impressed with you. And a little afraid. Should I be afraid of you, Sheriff?'
'Depends if you've been a bad boy.' Oh shut up, she told herself.
Another chuckle. 'Well, Sheriff. It's been a delight to meet your acquaintance. I best get back to my friend. He gets a bit silly when he's had too much to drink. Goodnight.'
She didn't respond, but watched him disappear back into the noisy saloon.
When she got back to the small house she and Henry shared, Henry was lying on their bed, beneath the blankets. His eyes were closed but she loomed over him.
'I'm back, my love,' she whispered.
His eyes swiftly opened. He hadn't been asleep at all, just waiting for her to return. She hoped he hadn't been waiting too long. He raised a hand and stroked her cheek tenderly. She put her hand over his, feeling his warm skin.
'I thought I'd lost you,' she said, feeling the sting of tears in her eyes.
He shook his head and gave her a concerned look.
'I'm fine,' she answered. 'A little tipsy, I'm afraid.'
Henry grinned and raised an eyebrow.
'Yeah, I know. When I get tipsy, I get horny,' she said, apeing his smile. 'Maybe I should suggest to Mrs Fontaine that she open a brothel for women,' she teased.
Henry shrugged his shoulders, in a that's-could-be-a-good-idea way.
'But you'd only get jealous,' she added, biting her lip suggestively.
He nodded his head firmly and grabbed her, pulling her down onto the bed next to him. She snuggled down with her back against his chest as he wrapped his arms around her, bringing the blankets over them both. She could feel the vibrations of his machinations through his chest. When she had first lain against him after that terrible accident, she had found the sensation creepy and odd, now it had become a reassurance that he was working, for want of a better word. Her breathing started synchronising with the faint tick-tock of his innards as she fell asleep.