Welcome to Flash Pulp, episode one hundred and ninety-four.
This week’s episodes are brought to you by View From Valhalla.
Flash Pulp is an experiment in broadcasting fresh pulp stories in the modern age – three to ten minutes of fiction brought to you Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings.
Tonight, master frontiersman and student of the occult, Thomas Blackhall, finds himself ensnared in a legal predicament.
Flash Pulp 194 – Support: a Blackhall Tale, Part 2 of 6
On the second morning following his unplanned departure from civilization, Thomas Blackhall sat alongside a cottage hearth, with Layton, the Private who’d first lead him to his family dwelling. They’d arrived the afternoon previous, with the intention of Blackhall taking lodging for a final night of proper bedding in preparation for delving into the lands beyond the map’s edge.
Layton, a lad of twenty, had extracted his pipe – a fine piece purchased with a sizable portion of his enlistment bonus, and was smoking contentedly after a large breakfast.
“Likely my last furlough for quite some time,” he said, “I’m going to miss this place. Hopefully they won’t ship me far – and, to think, my Betsy will remain behind with that scoundrel, Green. Bah, although I will be surely mashed in our coming bout, I look forward to the meager chance of dispensing his comeuppance. I do fear, however, that I may not feel such when I find myself in the whiskey’d-hands of the old surgeon.”
From somewhere outside the shanty’s walls, Thomas could hear the youth’s father grousing at his cattle and crops, and the familiar sound pulled at his heart, as if the intonation were carried from his own home across the broad waters of the Atlantic.
Blackhall had received an earful of the boy’s situation while they’d marched through the tall trees, and he was now all too intimate with the lad’s concerns regarding one Betsy Russell, especially as they related to a certain enlisted man, a warrant officer named Green. A recent tussle over the maiden’s regard had left the pair of suitors with a scheduled bout of pugilism – a boxing match Layton knew he had no hopes of winning, but persisted in to maintain face.
Before Thomas could cut the forlorn lover short, he’d once again launched into lamenting his predicament.
While feigning interest, the frontiersman retrieved a small satchel from his traveling kit.
* * *
Two days earlier, after being placed under nominal arrest and escorted to an ostentatiously decorated hovel, Thomas had refused the plush winged-back chair he’d been offered, instead continuing to stand while he laid out his complaints at being roughly hauled away like a common drunk.
Captain Gordon Fitzhugh, who suffered the brunt of the berating, found himself smirking well preceding his being allowed an opportunity to reply.
“Ah, old Bowman is a likable enough lot. A bit superstitious, but who can blame him considering the fate of his lad. Well done, that – on your part I mean. The problem was eating at me for quite a while, and, honestly, each time the girl would come about my office begging for some hint of assistance, I’d oft think of you, and how it would be damned good to have your exotic skills at hand.”
As the captain talked, Blackhall had seen fit to use the army officer’s desk as a platform over which to first extract one of the fine Spanish papers he kept in a waxed pouch, and then apply, untidily, a ragged line of Virginian tobacco.
He made no effort to clean his scraps from the muddle of papers layering the well varnished oak.
“It still seems an oddly hard hearted bit of business to have me rousted,” he said, tearing the twisted-end from his finished work, and leaving the waste to fall amongst the mess.
“Perhaps it was not entirely Bowman’s idea,” replied the Fitzhugh. “Perhaps I noted your entry of the establishment, and knew you a man to rarely be in need of a barrel – at least, not unless you’ve come across, or against, something truly interesting. Whatever the case, we had a conversation, here in my office, which left poor Harold inclined to stand for his property.”
“Fine. To cut to it then, I’ve no interest in fetching milk for the Queen, and, if my accounting of our history is correct, it is you who owes me all of the favours anyhow.”
“I may have harangued that barrel maker into signing a complaint, but I’ll push it if you make me.”
“I think we’d both regret that.”
Fitzhugh took a sip of his scotch, then cleared his throat. “I’ve gone about this the wrong way, and I’m sorry. I know how the tally lies, but I ask for a final accommodation – and, before you refuse, hear me out.”
Digging through the ashy heap within the room’s fireplace, Blackhall found a particularly hardy coal, and lit his ragged cigarette. The captain took the action as acquiescence.
Wiping the damp remnants of his drink from his drooping moustache, the military man stated his case.
“At first it was just a few trappers willing to risk the hinterland – which, frankly, didn’t raise many eyebrows, as we lose those lads all the time. You watch them trot away with a canoe, and you can never assume you’ll see them again, unless you happen across them in town at some future date. It did reach a point, however, when the numbers ran strangely high. Then came the stories – in the Chippewa hunting territory it was said there was a breed of locust roaming the land, razing tracts of forest, and gnawing moose to the bone while still on their feet. Rubbage, I thought, but the reports persisted. I’ve dispatched six men now, in two groups, but have no word since their departure. It was “Rosy Red” Archer I sent out in charge of the second lot, and I ought have heard from the codger.”
Thomas had stood alongside “Rosy Red” when he’d earned his name, while breaching the walls of Ciudad Rodrigo. The man had an unpleasant aptitude with a bayonet, but was also known as greatly competent in all aspects of brutality.
“If the bush has done in Archer, I’m not sure what help I might be,” he replied.
“Don’t dunder about with me now,” answered Fitzhugh, “Will you do the job, or should I bottle you till dawn, to allow for further consideration?”
* * *
When Layton, who Blackhall truly felt some warmth for, had finally run his mouth dry, Thomas offered the favour he had pondered since they’d embarked on their journey.
“It may pain you to see your foe, Green, advance, but I hold a few of your Captain’s debts in my pocket, and I’d be pleased to cramp the old man’s hand with the letter writing required to earn your rival a promotion.”
“What? You’d see him a lieutenant?”
“I can not say what impact it may have on Ms. Russell’s affections, but at least a commission, and the risk of court martial, would restrain your competition’s ability to thrash your soft face into gruel.”
Layton nodded in consideration.
The necessary puppeteering, and paperwork, was only a minor revenge on Fitzhugh, but it seemed to add an extra serving of satisfaction to the bacon Blackhall’s stomach was still greedily digesting.
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