This is Part Four of a magical western series.
No copyright infringement intended. All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators or producers of any media franchise.
The silence of the town was torn asunder by the thunder of hoof beats and a hooting and a hollering as to raise the dead. All this punctuated by the sound of pistol shots. I took a step back just as an errant ball came through the open window and thudded into the ceiling.
Boots and wand-belt on, I stood for a moment with my badge in my hand. Though I was in no way obligated to intervene in the case of no-mag trouble, neither would it be officially frowned upon, particularly if discretion were exercised. Unofficially, it would be appreciated as U.S. Marshals can’t be everywhere, and personally, I consider it good manners to help out when I can. Pinning the badge to my jacket, I locked my room and went down to the street.
My eyes met a scene of utter chaos, better suited to a charreada than a street. A half dozen horses and their riders were chasing round and around a faded red brush-wagon. They were dirty, no two dressed the same. One wore buckskins, another could have been a vaquero, another a city dandy, and yet another a wilderness wild-man. The only thing they had in common was a green sash they wore around their waists, the tails flying behind them.
The brush-wagon had seen much use, but was in reasonably good shape. Racks on each side of the wagon were packed with all manner of goods, bottles, pots and pans, candles, canned goods, and several brooms. Over this was an arched sign with the words, ‘Amazing Andrews’s Ambulating Apothecary and Apparatus.’ The wagon was pulled by two mules who seemed nonplussed by the ruckus, and driven, I assume, by the Amazing Andrew, who sat with rounded shoulders and reins slack. An old, pitted shotgun hung in a rack behind him. If he was bothered by what was going on, his face didn’t show it. Andrew was dressed in old-world wizard’s robes.
The horses gathered in front of the wagon, still quite agitated, front hooves pawing at the ground. A few shop owners peeked through their front windows or peered around the edges of their front doors.
The shooting stopped, but the men didn’t holster their weapons, the barrels pointing every which way. The leader of the rabble was a tall, thick-set man with hair so dirty it was more like a clump atop his head. His jacket was made from the poorly-cured hides of half a dozen animals. In other circumstances he would be a joke, but the pistol held lazily in his hand and the cruelty in his expression gave lie to that impression.
“So,” he said through rotted yellow teeth, “thought you could get away from us, did you?”
“I don’t know what you mean,” said Andrew.
“What’s that get-up yer wearin’?” said the Wild Man. “Looks like yer wearin’ my gran-mam’s dress.”
“You ain’t haid a grand-mam,” said a rider in buckskins with prominent front teeth but few others. There two or three few guffaws. Andrew looked up at the laughter and a nervous smile played across his youthful face.
“Cor’ he haid a grand-mam, only she ain’t never wore no dress, I’m wearin’ HER!” said a rider wearing a fuzzy bear-hide coat. There was a roar of laughter.
“Shut it!” bellowed the leader. He pointed his pistol at Andrew’s forehead and cocked the hammer. “I don’t know how you got away from us, but we got you now. First thing yer gonna do is turn that wagon around…”
I stepped forward, but before I could say anything, the stranger stepped past. Apart from half a glance, he didn’t pay me any attention.
“”What’s all this fuss about?” he asked, his voice soft and low, but the riders all straightened in their saddles and their eyes widened. All of a sudden they had a hard time looking at any one thing for longer than a half second, and they squirmed so that you’d think they’d all suddenly developed a rash.
“Well, Mayor, this here feller snuck past us, and since you said to—”
“This is no way to treat a visitor to our town, Piebald,” said the Mayor. “Apologize to the man.” The group of riders looked like they would rather be anywhere else at that moment, no one more so than Piebald.
“Begging your pardon, mister,” mumbled Piebald.
“Oh, that’s quite all right. No harm done,” said Andrew.
Just then another rider came barreling into town, and upon seeing the Mayor headed for him and pulled his horse up a few yards away. He wore most of a U.S. Army uniform, but the coatee was dirty and ragged, and would have brought disrepute to any unit to which he was attached. Above his elbow were the double yellow bars of a corporal. His trousers were likewise filthy, the once yellow stripes faded and stained, and tucked into a pair of non-regulation boots in a very non-regulation manner. He had no pistol belt, but a Model 1841 Rifle was slung over his back, the muzzle poking above his left shoulder. A forage cap partially restrained his unruly hair.
The Corporal hopped off his mount with the ease of a experienced rider and rushed up to the Mayor. He was opening his mouth to speak when he saw me. His eyes went wide and his mouth froze in a most comical expression.
“What is it, Corporal?” asked the mayor.
The Corporal shook his head as though splashed in the face with cold water and said, “I come to say… I mean,” and then he leaned close to the Mayor and whispered in his ear. Only once did his gaze dart back to me. The mayor remained perfectly still and uttered not a sound during the Corporal’s report.
The Corporal straightened, story told, and I could see the sweat standing out on his forehead.
“I see,” said the Mayor. “It’s getting late. Why don’t you go get yourself cleaned up and get yourself fed.” Turning to the other riders, he added, “You as well.” They variously nodded or touched the brim of their hats and promptly vanished as silently as they had arrived noisily.
Stepping up to the wagon, the Mayor patted the side of one of the mules and said, “I must apologize. This is not how we normally greet strangers, mister…?”
“Andrew! The Amazing Andrew, sir, a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Mayor,” said Andrew brightly, as if he hadn’t just stared down the barrels of half a dozen pistols.
“Just what is your business?”
“Why I’m the preeminent purveyor of peerless products and prodigious potions!” Anything you need, I’ve got! Everything you didn’t know you needed I’ve got also! Please, for your kind assistance, take anything you’d like. Anything at all.”
“Why thank you,” said the Mayor, “I’m sure you have all manner of… excellent… wares, but I haven’t time now. I’m sure you won’t have any problem finding customers here.”
“And where is here?” asked Andrew. “The sign appears to have gone astray.”
“Enjoy your stay,” said the Mayor turning and seeing me as if for the first time. Had I not known better, I would have thought his look of surprise was entirely genuine. “Two visitors in one day! How delightful.” He approached me with his hand outstretched, lavender eyes twinkling.
The mayor was handsome, with refined features and regal bearing. I could easily see him as mayor of Boston or Philadelphia, but of some non-existent town in the middle of nowhere? His lavender eyes sparkled like the edge of a highly polished dagger.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” he said as we shook. “I’m the mayor of this humble town. Who do I have the pleasure of meeting?”
“Crow,” I replied. “Feng Bao Crow.”
“That is an unusual name,” said the Mayor.
“I’m the child of far-east missionaries,” I replied.
The mayor smiled and nodded, but even the change of expression revealed nothing. His eyes drifted to my badge. “Tagetes lemmonii? This far north?” he asked, voice betraying incredulity.
Tagetes lemmonii, Lemmon’s marigold—the charm that was on my badge so that only wizards would see its true form. So whatever else the Mayor was, he was no-mag. I shrugged. “The nature of my work takes me far afield.”
“And what work would that be?”
“For the railroad,” I replied. “Scouting potential routes.”
“Ah, I see. In that case, I hope you find our humble little town to your liking.”
I nodded. The Mayor gave my hand a final squeeze. “I think you will find the food at the hotel… adequate.” After a small nod, he departed.
The Amazing Andrew was smiling at me. “Yes, nice flower,” he said. I approached him.
“So,” I said, watching the Mayor disappear into a nondescript whitewashed building next to the mercantile. “What brings you out this way, wizard? This town is on no map.”
Andrew smiled with perfect, white teeth. “Well, Mag Marsh, I just go where the wind blows me. The wind blows over plains and hills and through valleys and gorges. It touches on all lands and all people, even ones not marked on a map.”
I knew from his manner that this was all the answer I was going to get, so I started to peruse his wares. The brooms were strictly of the non-flying variety and of decent quality. The iron pans were of similar quality, though the tin pots, coffee cups and plates were dented and scratched. There were rows of carved wooden toys, and some finely crafted jewelry boxes as well as pocket watches and silver lockets to go in them. What interested me most were two rows of bottles.
“Half off for law enforcement!” he said, cheerily.
“Do you have a license for this?” I asked, lifting a bottle of The Amazing Andrew’s Fortifying Tonic from a rack. I uncorked it and sniffed the thick, black contents. I was lucky my nose hairs didn’t fall out.
“No need, sir. Entirely herbal. Nothing magical about it.”
“Herbal? Since when is gunpowder a herbal ingredient?”
“Only enough to give it a kick.” Andrew smirked at me.
“And this?” I asked, holding up a bottle that read, The Amazing Andrew’s Miracle Ointment. “What’s the miracle ingredient? Lard?”
“Only as a thickening agent.”
I sighed. There was nothing illegal about peddling non-magical potions to no-mag, regardless of how dubious the origin. “Very well,” I said. “But I’ll be keeping an eye on you, so no black-market magic.”
“Perish the thought,” said Andrew, his surprise as believable as the Mayor’s. He seemed a rascal, but harmless enough. I wouldn’t learn until it was too late just how wrong I was.