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BLUE SUN ROOM FAN FICTION - GENERAL
Maya. Post-BDM. Mal and some of the crew visit the horse he has inherited, and some light begins to dawn ... I love to keep you guessing!
CATEGORY: FICTION TIMES READ: 1647 RATING: 9 SERIES: FIREFLY
“Casmir.” The steward at the stables swung his hand around like a magician performing a particularly difficult trick. And if he’d managed to pull a stallion out of thin air, he’d probably have got a standing ovation. As it was, the stable boy just led the horse out of his stall into the centre of the yard.
“Wow.” Kaylee’s mouth hung open a little.
“I have to agree,” Simon said. “Wow.”
Casmir was a handsome horse, dark brown, almost black in colour, with a gloss to his coat that spoke of hours of grooming. His eyes were clear, and his ears pricked forward as he watched these newcomers.
“His sire was a winner, and his dam too, but Casmir hasn’t shown any sign of inheriting their genius,” the steward said, shaking his head. “Mr Reilly considered this his last chance.”
“I think he’s beautiful,” Kaylee said stoutly.
Bethany’s eyes were wide. “Can I stroke him?” she asked.
“No, sweetheart, I don’t think that’s a good idea,” Simon said. “We don’t know what he’s like.”
“He’s a good boy,” the stable lad said. “She ain’t gonna get hurt.”
Bethany stared up at her father, imploring him.
“Well, I suppose … but –”
Whatever else he was about to say was lost as she pulled her hand free and ran over to the horse, standing under his head.
“Hello,” she said. “I’m Bethany.”
The horse looked down, lowering his head so he could look at her more clearly, then he nudged her gently. She giggled.
River put her hand on the horse’s forehead, and smiled. Without a word she lifted Bethany up to sit on his back.
“River …” Simon protested, Kaylee grabbing at his hand.
“He doesn’t mind,” his sister said.
Bethany laughed even more. “I’m riding!” she said.
“Do you want me to …” The stable boy indicated with his head.
“Please,” River said, smiling sweetly at him.
The boy led Casmir in a wide circle around the yard, keeping his eye on River all the time as she held onto Bethany, ready in case the little girl slipped.
Jayne glared at him but he didn’t even notice, while Kaylee and Simon were torn between being happy at seeing their daughter so full of joy, and worrying in case something happened.
Mal smiled, and Freya slipped her hand into his.
“That is so sweet,” she murmured.
“What were you saying about shooting me if I said I wanted a daughter?” he muttered in response.
“So maybe I was a bit premature.”
Casmir came to a stop, and River helped Bethany slide to the ground. She ran up to Mal.
“Uncle Mal …” The big eyes were on full.
“Can we …”
What she wanted penetrated his brain. “No!” He shook his head at her. “No, Bethie,” he repeated, tempering his tone a little. “Ain't gonna happen. We ain't taking him on board ship.”
“No buts. He ain't like a puppy, Bethie. He’s a damn great horse. You can’t take him out for walks.”
“I said no.”
For a moment it looked as if Bethany was going to argue, or burst into tears, or probably both, but then she caught sight of Freya’s face. “Okay, Uncle Mal,” she whispered.
“Good.” He scooped her into his arms. “Good girl.”
“Besides,” the steward put in, “the Open is a selling race. The first three are auctioned at the end. He might not be yours to own that much longer.”
“He ain’t gonna win, Mal. He’s a nag!” said Jayne, suddenly the expert assessor of horse flesh, still glaring at the stable boy.
“He’s not.” River patted the big horse on the shoulder.
“He ain't won nothing in his gorram life!”
“Because he never wanted to. No-one ever explained it to him before.”
“You spoke to him?” Mal asked quietly, so the steward couldn’t hear.
“Because I’ll be riding him.”
“What?” Jayne stared at her. “What the ruttin’ hell are you talking about, River?”
“I've ridden horses before,” she said, leaning her head against the smooth black hair. Her arm slid around his shoulder. “And he likes me.”
“Ya like me, but ya don’t ride …” He stopped, for once thinking forward in the sentence. He glanced at Mal and began again. “You ain't a jockey.”
“For once I agree with Jayne,” Simon said. “You are not riding in a race.”
“We don’t actually have a jockey for Casmir,” the steward put in. “There’s usually some around before the start that don’t have a ride, and we let one of them, but if you have someone you’d like to –”
“No!” Simon and Jayne said together.
“Besides, we ain’t even sure he’s gonna be in the race,” Mal said, not particularly wanting a fight right now.
“Ah, well, that’s the problem,” the steward said, his accent and facial expression somehow familiar. “The horse is entered into the race, has been for the last three months. As part of the race conditions, we feed, water and exercise him for that period. In case he is tampered with in any way, you understand. If, however, you decide to withdraw him, he is forfeit.”
“Forfeit?” Mal looked at him sharply. “What kinda forfeit?”
“He belongs to us. And as we’re not in the business of actually owning horses, he would be sold on.”
The steward shrugged. “Anyone. I believe the last one was sold to a local catering firm.”
“You mean he ended up on someone’s dinner plate?”
“I can’t comment.”
Mal closed his mouth as Bethany grabbed his shoulder, squeezing it hard in her anxiety.
“That isn’t going to happen,” Freya said softly.
“No, it isn’t.” Mal glared at the steward. “So he has to run.”
Mal glanced at the others. “Looks like we’re owners.”
“Good.” The steward smiled, reminding Mal of someone else. “I’ll just complete the paperwork.” He headed towards the office.
“Tell me,” Mal asked, just in passing. “Are you related to a man named Badger?”
The steward considered a moment. “I don’t think so. Why?”
River was stroking the horse, feeling the strong musculature under the skin.
“You like him?” Freya asked, walking carefully over to her.
“I do. And he likes Mal.” River laid her cheek on his shoulder. “A lot.”
“I never really looked into an animal’s mind. What’s it like?”
“Complicated. But very simple.” River smiled. “Try.”
Freya laughed. “What, peeking into a horse brain? I think I’ll leave that up to you.”
“I'm really not happy about this,” Simon said. “You’ve never ridden in a race before.”
“But he’s run in them. He knows what to do.”
“And what happens if you fall? Or he falls? Or –“
She laid her hand on his arm, just gently. “I’ll be fine, Simon.”
“Mal, can’t you stop her?” Jayne asked.
“Have you ever tried stopping River doing what she wants to do?” Freya put in before Mal could respond. “Bit like trying to stop a runaway train.”
“Only more painful,” River added. “Casmir won’t let me get hurt.”
“Oh, mei-mei,” Simon murmured. “I hope you’re right.”
Mal couldn’t sleep. He’d been lying on his back staring at the ceiling for hours, listening to Freya making small snuffling noises every so often since the healing incision in her hip meant she couldn’t roll over properly. After counting sheep, goats, dogs and members of his crew jumping fences, and still not having any luck, he turned his wide awake mind to the issue of Reilly. And his treasure.
There was no way old Ironguts was lying. Whatever else he was, he was truthful, so if he said there was money somewhere, then money there was. But without something else to go on, he had no idea where it could be. The wallet was important, he knew that, otherwise Reilly wouldn’t have wanted him to have it.
And the sequence was all too obvious. If he hadn’t accepted the girls, hadn’t been the man Reilly hoped he’d be and left them in the dust of Mead, he’d never have seen the envelope. Maybe Kilbrook had other instructions what to do if Mal had refused, but that was pretty irrelevant now. He hadn’t refused, had taken on responsibility for six girls, and now had to figure out where this money was.
Okay. Back to the beginning. The capture. He’d watched it half a dozen times, and beyond it making his hands itch to get them round Reilly’s throat, it still didn’t give much in the way of clues. Maybe Reilly had thought Casmir was going to win. Maybe he’d rigged the race somehow to make sure Casmir won.
No. Unlikely. Whatever else Reilly was, he was honest. Well, as honest as a man in his position could be. He’d never cheated, just relied on good old-fashioned luck to make sure he won. Mal thought back to the days during the war, to the times he’d alluded to before, when Reilly would bet on anything. He’d had the luck then. Even when he’d won because he’d been shot in the part of his anatomy he was betting on, it was never that bad. As if the other side knew it was all a game.
So no cheating. And Jayne had the right of it. There was no way that horse was likely to win, at least not on its previous record. And it wasn’t a ringer as far as he could see. The DNA tests in his papers proved that. So Reilly wasn’t relying on the horse.
What else was there? Only the wallet. The papers for the horse were obvious. If the horse won, Mal could collect only if he owned it. But the others …
Hank’d done some checking on the Cortex. The whorehouse had indeed burned down, some five years previously, and he’d claimed the insurance. There’d been some talk of it being arson, but he’d finally been paid when the investigators decided it was probably someone taking a post-coital smoke in bed and ruled it an accident.
Mal let the images flow in his brain. A fire. Burning. Smoking. Smoke. Lots of smoke. Lots of …
“A smoke screen?” he muttered, his body tensing slightly. “But to what?”
“Coffee,” Freya murmured next to him.
He looked down, saw her eyes were open. “Sorry. Did I wake you?”
“If you’re going to do this, I need coffee.”
“It’ll keep you awake.”
“No, it’ll let me keep you company.” She sat up slowly, letting her hip adjust to the new position. “Pass me my robe, will you?”
“You don’t have to.”
“Yes I do. You’re my husband. At least, that’s what the man said. And you’re not going to be able to sleep until you figure it out.”
He grinned at her. “I love you,” he said, leaning forward and kissing her softly.
“That’s good. And I still need coffee.”
The papers were spread over the table.
“So the whorehouse might be a smokescreen.” Freya pushed her hair out of her eyes. “But to what? The rest of the papers?”
“Maybe.” Mal took a mouthful of coffee, swilling it around his teeth before he swallowed. “Except the others don’t mean much.”
Freya picked up Casmir’s ownership papers. “He’s not worth much, is he?”
“Even if he wins, no, not really.”
“So we put that to one side for the moment. What else?”
“The mine deeds.”
Mal shook his head. “Worked out. Hank checked. Nothing’s come out of that place for the last fifty years.”
“So why did Reilly keep it?”
“Somehow I can’t see the man you describe being that way inclined.”
“He’s done all this for his daughters,” Mal reminded her.
“Point taken.” She turned the paper over. “I don’t suppose there could be a treasure map in invisible ink on this, could there?”
Mal smiled. “You’re letting Bethany’s pirate tales carry you away.”
“Besides, I got Simon to scan them all. No hidden messages or maps.”
She laughed. “You’re as bad as I am.”
“No. Just careful. Like you.” He moved closer and kissed her. “But this isn’t exactly getting us anywhere.”
She sighed. “No, afraid it isn’t.” She picked up the receipt for the capture tab. “I suppose this got put in because it’s the last thing he bought.”
She turned it over in her fingers. “Bought it, recorded the message, then …” She sat up.
“What? What is it?”
Freya held out the receipt. “There’s two items marked.”
“Maybe he bought two tabs, in case one didn’t work.”
“I don’t think so.” She spoke slowly, as if she was running something through in her mind.
“What are you talking about?” Mal took the receipt. “It’s just …” He paused. “Expensive.”
“They did something else for him,” Freya said. “Something that cost.”
“Like maybe we should take another look at the message.”
to be continued
Tuesday, June 19, 2007 5:40 AM
Tuesday, June 19, 2007 9:14 AM
Tuesday, June 19, 2007 10:21 AM
Wednesday, June 20, 2007 1:34 AM
Saturday, June 23, 2007 7:43 PM
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