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Boneshaker

Boneshaker

Boneshaker 45

Page 45

 

  She almost snapped, “I don’t need to see him. ” But instead she said slowly, measuring every word against Lucy’s eager eyes, “I don’t know who this Dr. Minnericht is, but he can’t be Leviticus. For all Levi was a wicked old fool, he was a wicked old fool who would’ve come for me if he’d been alive all this time. Or, if not for me, he’d come back for Zeke. ”

  “He loved you that much?”

  “Love? No. Not love, I don’t think. Possessiveness, maybe. I’m just one more thing that belongs to him, on paper. Zeke is one more thing that belongs to him, in blood. No. ” She shook her head. She uncrooked her elbow and lowered herself against the mattress, smushing the feather pillow and flattening it with her cheek. “He’d never let it stand. He would’ve come for us whether we wanted him to or not. ”

  Lucy digested this, but Briar couldn’t read the conclusion from the other woman’s face. “I suppose you knew him better than anybody. ”

  Briar agreed. “I suppose I did. But sometimes, I don’t think I ever knew him at all. It’s like that sometimes. People fool you. And I was a fool, so it was easy for him. ”

  “You were just a girl. ”

  “Same difference. Same result. But now it’s my turn. I get to ask a question. ”

  “Hit me,” Lucy said.

  “All right. You don’t have to answer if you don’t want to. ”

  “That’s fine. There’s nothing you can ask that’ll embarrass me. ”

  “Good. Because I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t wondering about your arms. How’d you lose them?”

  Lucy’s smile came back. “I don’t mind. It’s not a secret, anyhow. I lost the right one during the running time—when all of us were leaving because if we didn’t go, we’d die, or worse.

  “I was on the far side of the square, closer to the city dump than to the nice hill you lived on. Me and my husband, Charlie, we kept up a place where people used to come—mostly men. The old wharf rats and fishermen in their oiled coats, the prospectors with their tin pans banging together on their backs… They came for the food. I’m sorry, I should’ve said so first thing—it wasn’t a cathouse or anything. We had a little bar, smaller than Maynard’s and about half as nice.

  “We called it the Spoiled Seal, and we did all right with it. We served mostly brew and spirits, and fish poached or fried in sandwiches. We kept the place, just the pair of us—me and Charlie—and it wasn’t perfect, but it was fine. ”

  She cleared her throat. “So sixteen years ago this big old machine came crashing down from the hill, burrowing under the city. You know that part. You know the things it broke, and you probably know better than anyone whether or not the Boneshaker brought the Blight. If anyone knows, you know. ”

  Briar said softly, “But I don’t know, Lucy. So I guess nobody does. ”

  “Minnericht thinks he does,” she said, temporarily shifting the subject. “He thinks the Blight has something to do with the mountain. He says that Rainier’s a volcano, and volcanoes make poison gas, and if they don’t spew it out, it stays underground. Unless something breaks through and lets it out. ”

  Briar thought it was as good a theory as any, and she said so. “I don’t know anything about volcanoes, but I guess I’d believe that. ”

  “Well, I don’t know. That’s just what Dr. Minnericht said. Maybe he’s a crackpot, but there’s no telling. He made me this arm, so I owe him something, for all he’s made things difficult, too. ”

  “But you and Charlie,” Briar prompted her. She didn’t want to hear any more about Minnericht, not quite yet. The very letters of his name made her queasy and she didn’t know why. She knew he wasn’t Leviticus, even though she couldn’t tell Lucy how she knew. But it only mattered so much; the man might as well have been Levi’s ghost, if people still believed in him.

  Lucy said, “Oh yes. Well, the Blight ate its way through town and it was time to run. But I was at the market picking up supplies when the order went out, and the panic hit us good. And Charlie was out at the Seal. We’d been married ten years, and I didn’t want to leave him, but the officers made me. They picked me up and threw me out of town like I was a drunk taking up space on the sidewalk.

  “They were already putting up walls, those treated linen ones with the wax and oil. Those didn’t work too great, but they worked better than nothing, and workers were hammering the frames together. As soon as I could, a couple of days after the biggest part of the panic, I put on a mask and ran right on past them—back down to the Seal and to Charlie.

  “But when I got there, I couldn’t find him. The place was empty and the windows were broken out. People had thrown things inside and were stealing. I couldn’t believe it—stealing at a time like that!

  “So I came inside and called his name over and over, and he answered from the back. I climbed around the counter and stormed into the kitchen, and there he was, all bit up and covered with blood. Most of the blood wasn’t his. He’d shot three of the rotters who’d tried to bring him down—you know how they do, like wolves on a deer—and he was alone with their bodies, but he was so bit up. He was missing an ear and part of his foot, and his throat was half tore out. ”

  She sighed and cleared her throat again. “He was dying, and he was turning, too. I didn’t know which one he was going to do first. We didn’t understand back then, so I didn’t know that I shouldn’t get down close to him. His head was nodding all loose-like, and his eyes were drying up, going that yellow-gray color.

  “I tried to pull him up, thinking maybe I’d rush him over to the hospital. It was a stupid thing to think. They’d closed everything up by then, and there wasn’t anywhere to go for help. But I got him up onto his feet. He wasn’t a big man, and I’m no tiny woman myself.

  “Then he started fighting me; I don’t know why. I like to think that he knew it was the end, and he was trying to help keep me safe by pushing me away. But I fought his fighting me. I was as determined as hell to take him away and get him safe. He was equally determined to stay.

  “We fell together, landing against the counter, and when I got him back up again, he was gone. He’d started moaning and drooling—with all those bites on him, the poison had worked its way inside him.

  “That’s when it happened. That’s when he bit me.

  “He only got my thumb, and he barely broke the skin, but it was enough. I knew he was gone then, even more than when his eyes had gone nasty and his breath had turned stale like a dead animal on the street. Charlie would’ve never hurt me. ” She cleared her throat again, but she wasn’t crying. Her eyes stayed dry, glittering in the candlelight.

  The pipes whistled again, and she used it as an excuse to pause. She continued with, “I should’ve killed him. I owed him that kindness. But I was too afraid, and I’ve hated myself for it ever since. Anyway, it’s all done now, or left undone, and there’s no fixing it. Point is, I ran out to the Outskirts and found a church where they let me lie down and cry. ”

  “But the bite. ”

  “But the bite,” Lucy said. “Yes, the bite. The bite took to rotting, and the rot took to spreading. Three of the nuns held me down and a priest did the first amputation. ”

  Briar cringed. “The first?”

  “Oh, yes. The first one didn’t take enough. They only took my hand, right at the wrist. The second time they came back with the saw and they took it above the elbow, and then the third time I lost it all the way up to the shoulder. That did the trick, at least. I nearly died from it, each time. Each time the wound was red and hot for weeks, and I wished the sickness would just take me, or someone would just shoot me—since I was too weak and hurt to shoot myself. ”

  She hesitated, or perhaps she was only tired.

  But Briar asked, “Then what happened?”

  “Then I got better. It took a long time, about a year and a half before I felt like myself again. And then, I could only think of one thing: I needed to go
back and take care of Charlie. Even if that meant putting a bullet through his eye, he deserved better. ”

  “But by then we had a wall. ”

  “That’s right. There’s more than one way inside, though, as you learned yourself. I came up through the runoff tunnel, same as your boy did. And I wound up staying. ”

  “But…” Briar shook her head. “What about the other hand? And what about the replacement?”

  “The other hand? Oh. ” She shifted again in bed, and the feathers in the mattress rustled together with the blanket. A great yawn split her face, and she used the tail end of it to blow out the candle beside her bed. “The other hand I lost about two years later, down here. One of the newer furnaces exploded; it killed three of the Chinamen who worked it, and blinded another one. My hand got caught by a scrap of white-hot metal, and that was the end of that. ”

  “God,” Briar said. She leaned forward and blew out her own candle, too. “That’s terrible, Lucy. I’m so sorry. ”

  Lucy said into the dark, “Not your fault. Not anybody’s fault, except my own for being down here after all that time. And by then we had our wicked old doctor, and he fixed me up. ”

  Briar heard a settling swish of legs turning over underneath flannel.

  Lucy sealed off another yawn with a high, satisfied note like the warning whistle of a teakettle. “It took him a while, figuring out how he was going to do it. He made up all these plans and drew all these pictures. It was a game to him, putting me back together. And when he had it all made, and all ready to wear, he showed it to me and I like to have died. It looked so heavy and weird, I thought I’d never be able to carry it, much less wear it.

  “He didn’t tell me, either, how he planned to make it work. He offered me a drink and I took it. I went out like a light, and I woke myself up screaming. The doctor and one of his fellows was holding me down tight—they’d strapped me onto a board like for surgery, and they were drilling a hole in my bone with a wood bore. ”