“The girls have been going on a lot of ‘deliveries’ and ‘house calls’ lately, haven’t they?” Jed said. “We always see them riding off, but never in the direction we think they would have a lot of business. Never to the farms, or the ranches. Always out into the wilds, askew of the Old Mission.”

“Our homesteaders and settlers need love as well,” Scarlet said. “As do we all.”

“And you say your boudoir is getting paid in advance, in gold?” Jed continued. “We haven’t seen a courier come in here, and certainly no one who looks like they’ve got enough gold on them to pay for a ‘house call.'”

“The girls are my couriers,” Scarlet said. “They collect as they come back.”

“And while I’m thinking about it, who out that way has gold to pay with in advance?” Jed said. “The mines are all to the south. Most of the farmers and homesteaders from up in the wilds barter for most of what they need. The Cuttergrilles, out of Sagescrub, send Mr. Butterhollow to exchange their grindings for gold to buy necessities, and the Butterhollows do the same with their mushrooms. And you know what else? For the life of me, I can’t think of a single…well, single!…homesteader out there. Even Jinny Witchazel is ready to pop, which means she must at least have a fella on the side. How would your girl Pearl, your brilliant girl Pearl over there, show up to a homestead of two or three and manage to get a little private time?”

Scarlet said nothing, but she placed a hand on the revolver tucked in its hiding place.

“And you know, funny thing. With the viaduct out, we inherited all the Valley Union men who normally guard it coming in. I put two of those idiots, John Skulljelly and Bill Grindstone, on the outskirts of Smokewood to keep track of comings and goings. And, wouldn’t you know it, your girls going out and our wagons failing to come back? They match up exactly. Like an Eastern & Wilds railroadman’s watch.”

“That seems an awful stretch,” Scarlet said. “But you seem to have quite a tale you’re spinning there, so don’t let me stop it.”

“You’re a funny sort, Scarlet. Don’t go by your real name, always wearing that fancy makeup, always have your hair over your ears…it’s almost like someone hiding who or what they are. And even though there’s wild folk that aren’t so different than me on the rivers, we both know most of them are elves and orcs. You’ve got Pearl, here, whose mother was wild folk. Melish, your other girl, the one that filthy rebel boy got ventilated for burning up, she was an orc, wasn’t she? I don’t suppose I need to tell you what the city offices have to say about her old man and where he came from.”

“That’s Melish’s business, assuming we ever get her back.”

“So here’s how it looks to Mr. Edenburner right now. Miss Scarlet, a wild folk herself or maybe a miscegenate, sending her two half-blood girls out constantly on ‘house calls’ that just happen to line up with Valley Union losing stuff. And all while the wild folk are as riled up as they’ve ever been.”

When he didn’t hear a response, Jed pressed on: “So here’s what’s going to happen, Miss Scarlet. You’re going to give me the names and locations of the wild folk you’re meeting. My men will ride out to meet them in your stead, and the problem will correct itself. Otherwise, in addition to the neck of lovely, fierce Miss Pearl here, I will also break news of your duplicity to the town at large.”

Through her Art, Scarlet could see that Jed had laid down one of his revolvers to stick a coarse-rolled cigarette in his mouth. He snapped a match alight with one hand and lit it, inhaling deeply. “You ever seen a lynch mob, Miss Scarlet? The good people of a town coming together to right a wrong that they don’t trust to the wheels of justice? It strikes me as a bit risky for a boudoir owner to risk it, risk her girls, for something like the wild folk. That horse is out of the race, Miss Scarlet. You can see its ribs through its raw hide and the flies are already buzzing. All it needs is a good pistol shot to put it down and to proper use in the tannery. And here you are, feeding it carrots on the sly as if it’ll help anything at all.”

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