Presumption of Guilt – Chapter 9
Tuesday, March 25, 2008

When Silverton banker Ambrose Murchison learns that fresh evidence will exonerate Jayne as his late wife’s murderer, he takes steps to resolve the matter himself. Book visits the local Assay Office to learn more about the mining claims recently transferred from Dwight Powers to Murchison and Kaylee finds Simon has different priorities than she does.


Title: Presumption of Guilt – Chapter 9 Author: hisgoodgirl Disclaimer: All belongs to Joss. I got nada but my imagination. Characters: Crew, omc, ofc. Warning: PG for graphic violence, profanity and other grownup things. Setting: In the town of Silverton, on Santo, immediately prior to “The Train Job”. Words: 3,000

A/N: As a kid, my two favorite TV genres were westerns and detective shows. I finally decided to tackle both in a mix I’ve thought of as “Firefly CSI”. Click my name to access the previous chapters. If you’re following this tale, I’d really appreciate hearing what you think, and if you’re enjoying it, please pimp it to your friends. Thanks!

X - posted from my LiveJournal.


Presumption of Guilt Chapter Nine

Back aboard Serenity after the close call with the lynch mob, Mal lingered over a pot of tea, pondering the confounding situation he found himself in. This certainly wasn’t the first time since picking up Jayne on Caliban that Mal considered cutting his losses and leaving the merc behind.

Why, then, hadn’t he ordered Wash to break atmo for the Black?

It wasn’t that he felt a strong sense of personal loyalty to Jayne. In fact, the big merc had an uncanny knack of getting on his last nerve. Yes, he was strong and a good tracker and handy in a firefight, but so were plenty of other men, men with fewer liabilities. The captain thought about Kaylee’s remark about how quiet it had been on the ship without Jayne, and Mal had to admit he appreciated that quietness a heap. There had been none of the man’s coarse humor and suggestive remarks, no ruckuses between him and the Doc. Peace of mind was good.

Except that Mal knew that was the one thing he would forfeit forever if he did the logical thing and left Jayne Cobb to the wobbly wheels of Justice on this god-forsaken little moon.

During the war it was understood that you never left a man behind. With the destruction of all he’d known and loved on Shadow, Zoe became Mal’s family, and as he added crew members, in a curious way, they were family, too. Even obnoxious, cantankerous Jayne gorramned Cobb. The captain was jerked from his thoughts when Shepherd Book emerged from the aft stairs and stopped to speak with him. “Good morning, Captain.”

“Mornin’, Preacher. Care for a cup of tea? It’s some of Inara’s fancy stuff, but don’t tell her I swiped it.”

Book smiled. “Not right now, but thank you.” He was dressed in the austere clerical garb he’d worn when he first came aboard Serenity: dark pants and charcoal wool overcoat, gray shirt and white collar.

Mal tilted his head and studied the minister. “I must say, Preacher, you look like a man headed to a funeral.”

“Not so far from the truth, actually. I thought it might be wise if one of us was to pay our respects to the late Mrs. Murchison as a gesture of good will. It might tend to go a long way with the local folk – still the troubled waters, so to speak.”

Mal considered this and agreed. “Not a bad idea. An’ maybe while you’re out, you can look a tad deeper into them mining claims you mentioned, too.”

Book braced his fingertips together and smiled. “My thoughts exactly.”

* * *

The morning was raw and overcast, hinting of rain to come. It was just by chance that the first funeral parlor that Shepherd Book visited proved to be the one that Nellie Murchison’s body had been delivered to. He introduced himself to the undertaker and explained that he hoped to spend a few prayerful moments with the deceased on behalf of Serenity’s crew.

“Are any of the bereaved present?” he asked.

“Just Mrs. Murchison’s brother, Mr. Dwight Powers. The actual visitation is this evening at 7:30, but I’m sure the family will appreciate your condolences, Shepherd Book. The chapel is just down that hallway,” he pointed, “and through the double doors.”

“Thank you.” Book said and proceeded down the long, deeply carpeted hall.

Even through the heavy doors, he could hear a man’s voice, strained with emotion. He cracked the door and discretely surveyed the scene. A dark-haired man whom he assumed to be Powers stood bowed over the fine mahogany casket. The man was dressed in formal mourning clothes and gloves, his overcoat draped across his right arm and a silver-headed cane clutched in the same hand.

Powers was speaking to his dead sister in a low, anguished voice and it took Book a minute to realize that the man was utterly unaware of his presence.

“Damnit, Nellie. It didn’t have to be like this. Imagine what Mother and Father would have thought. After all they went through in the hope of making ours one of the foremost families on Santo, after Father’s efforts to see that you were provided for, that we were provided for… you would have broken their hearts. You were raised to be a lady, Nellie, not the trollop of a drunken spacer!” he hissed.

“At first you were discrete and people looked the other way. But when you gave birth to Arabella, no one could possibly imagine her to be Ambrose’s daughter. To be honest, I didn’t blame him for his outrage.”

He grasped the brass rail along the side of the casket fiercely, his voice dropping to a bitter pitch. “I begged you to just sit tight, to wait him out. We both knew he has a bad heart and it would have just been a matter of time. But no, you selfish little bitch, you had to go and file for a divorce, and that would have ruined everything we waited for!”

Book stood transfixed by vitriol of the man’s oblivious tirade. People grieve in many different ways, but this was clearly something more. Stunned by Powers’ remarks, Shepherd Book backed silently away from the chapel door and eased it closed.

* * *

In a niche in Ambrose Murchison’s front parlor, a tall case clock chimed the quarter hour. Kenny Thorn stood near the elegantly appointed fireplace, drawing warmth from the coal that burned within. He shifted his weight from one foot to the other, his rawboned hands twisting at his hat brim. He could hear Murchison pacing back and forth in an upstairs room, and the occasional sing-song patter of a small child’s voice. Arabella had been Nellie’s little ‘gift’ to her husband. Everyone in town knew there was no way that swarthy Murchison could have sired that towheaded child and it amused Thorn to recall his lewd and vivid memories of lovely Nellie in the arms of her various paramours.

Heavy footfalls echoed down the staircase and through the hallway. Thorn turned and nodded respectfully when the older man entered the room. The dark circles under Murchison’s bloodshot eyes suggested that the banker was truly struggling with his wife’s death.

Thorn considered the curious nature of human attachments. Murchison was as old as Nellie’s natural father, with health issues that made him physically incapable of fulfilling his marital obligations to her, yet he had been shocked and humiliated when she sought solace elsewhere. Even in the midst of his fury over her demands for a divorce, the man was stricken with grief upon the news of her murder. It was all entirely too gorramned convoluted as far as Thorn was concerned and reminded the deputy why he chose to pay for his fun.

Murchison sat down in one of the overstuffed armchairs that bracketed the elaborate fireplace and studied his minion. “Well?”

The banker wasn’t known for his charity toward those who failed him and Thorn wondered how he was going to explain that the sheriff had managed to quell the lynching party he’d organized. Instead, he decided to begin the conversation with the startling news he’d just learned an hour before.

“Sheriff just got in some evidence on Mrs. Murchison’s murder, sir. I thought you’d want to know about it right away.”

“Go on.” Murchison’s voice was gruff as he sat forward in his chair.

“Seems the killer left a bloody hand-print right next to the hotel room door. Left hand it was, too, and the curious thing is, it’s got a big ol’ scar clear across the palm. Sheriff Garvey’s got the wallpaper stripped off the wall and secured in the evidence locker. Pretty well rules out that spacer we’re holdin’ for trial, ‘cause he ain't got no scar and his hands are a lot bigger. Garvey checked him earlier this mornin’ an’ says Justice Howery will most likely release him on insufficient evidence…”

Ambrose Murchison fiercely gripped the arms of the chair he sat in, his teeth grinding together as he struggled to contain his emotions. With hard evidence to identify Nellie’s actual murderer, Murchison realized he would have to resolve the matter himself.

Once Kenny Thorn had left the Murchison residence, the agitated banker began to pace the floor, struggling to come to terms with what he would have to do next. Five hours later, as dusk was falling, he informed his housekeeper that she was to feed Arabella and put the child to bed, and that he planned to take his dinner in town and proceed on to the funeral parlor for the public visitation that evening. He quickly gathered what he needed to complete his task and had Smith bring his personal flyer around to the front of the house.

* * *

Like a number of the Rim worlds, Santo was rich in mineral wealth. The Silverton Assay Office was a small building located on the town’s main street, several doors down from the jail. A steady stream of miners and prospectors came and went through the dusty entrance during operational hours.

Shepherd Book waited for a slight break in the flow of people and entered. A counter stretched most of the way across the large room, divided into sections marked ‘Claims’, ‘Assays’ and ‘Purchases’.

At the former stood a line of men preparing to lease the mineral rights to particular parcels of land, parcels they hoped would yield rich deposits of the silver that the town had been named for. Under the ‘Assay’ sign sat a hump-shouldered older man with what looked like a small science lab around him. Here ore samples were crushed and tested for purity. At the final desk, a representative from the Santo Federated Mines company paid the miners for the output of individual claims according to the ever-fluctuating price for silver. Behind them, a number of clerks and secretaries were busily filing and researching the status of claims.

Stepping up to the counter, Book flagged down a young clerk and asked if it would be possible for him to speak with the SFM Supervisor.

“Just a moment and I’ll see, sir,” the youth said, then stepped into an adjacent office. He waited patiently until the Supervisor looked up from the report he was reading. “Mr. O’Kelly? There’s a gentleman was wondered whether he might speak with you for a moment? Says he’s the Defense Attorney for the man accused of Mrs. Murchison’s killing.”

O’Kelly peered at the clerk over his glasses. “That’s curious. Well, bring him back, I suppose.”

In a moment, Shepherd Book found himself shaking hands with O’Kelly.

“Have a seat.” The supervisor gestured to the chair he’d just cleared, then returned to his own. His desk and all other horizontal surfaces surrounding him overflowed with maps and charts and claim documents and registration forms. “I don’t often have visitors,” he said, gesturing to the chaos by way of explanation.

Book quickly explained who he was and then continued, “I was hoping you might be able to provide additional information regarding these claims.” He proffered copies of the documents he’d found at the Clerk of Court’s office. “I understand that assays were recently done on ore samples from these parcels.”

O’Kelly peered at the papers and nodded. “Earlier this week. Says so right here.” He tapped at one of the forms and his arched eyebrow revealed his curiosity. “These are part of the Murchison/Powers Trust holdings.”

“Indeed they are, sir,” Book agreed, “and I have reasons to suspect that the changes in their status may be relevant to my client’s defense.” He leaned forward confidentially. “Is there any chance you can share the results of those assays with me, Mr. O’Kelly?”

The supervisor fidgeted. “That’s normally private information between the claim holder and the company.”

“I can obtain a warrant for the information,” Book suggested firmly, “but then you never know what else might turn up…”

“I, uh, don’t think that will be necessary.” O’Kelly’s voice quavered. The corporate management would not look kindly on a detailed review of the company’s records. “If you can just give me a minute to pull the assay forms…”

* * *

The passenger dorm at the aft end of Serenity was finally quiet. Simon shifted his position on the edge of his sister’s narrow bed and stretched out a neatly manicured hand to stroke a strand of long, dark hair away from her face. River had been unusually agitated all day, babbling gibberish and growing increasingly more hysterical until he finally resorted to injecting her with an extra potent cocktail of several sedatives he reserved for her worst spells. He hated using the mixture, aware of its potential to compromise her breathing and heart function, but nothing else seemed to be effective once she reached that extreme state.

Her pale hands plucked at the covers and she twisted and whimpered in her sleep.

“Oh, Mèi-mei, if only I knew what they did to you…” he whispered. Outrage and his sense of helplessness held equal sway within him. As a physician, all of his training focused on helping others and yet he seemed unable to assist the one person in the entire universe who truly mattered to him. Their parents had failed River by refusing to believe her encoded pleas for help and he felt that he was failing her again.

As the drugs began to take effect, River’s breathing evened out and she grew more still until at last Simon was satisfied that he could leave her. He bent and pressed a kiss to his sister’s forehead, then tiptoed from her compartment, sliding the door half-closed in case she cried out in her sleep, as she often did.

Simon walked the short distance to the medlab and drew himself a glass of water, realizing just how exhausted he actually was. This fugitive life they were leading required constant vigilance, toward the ship’s captain and crew as much as with the strangers they encountered, and that vigilance was wearying.

He crossed the passageway and dropped heavily onto the tattered yellow couch that faced the medlab door, asleep within minutes. He was still sleeping an hour later when Kaylee found him.

“Doctor?” the girl mechanic said softly as she sat down next to him on the couch.

The young doctor jerked awake. “Is, is something wrong? Does River…?”

“Nah, she’s still sleepin’,” the girl reassured him. “You missed supper and I figured you might be hungry, so I brought you a sandwich.” Kaylee pointed at the plate she’d placed near the doctor. “It’s protein loaf and mustard on the last of the Shepherd’s bread, if that’s okay.” She grinned hopefully at him.

“Oh, uh, thanks. That’ll be fine.” Simon knew that the diet on Serenity was adequate, with plenty of protein and the nutritional supplements they all took, but he still longed for the well-prepared fare he'd known back in the Core. Kaylee looked slightly disappointed at his response and he realized the girl had wanted to please him. “It was thoughtful of you to fix this, Kaylee,” he offered. “You can just call me by my name, you know.”

The mechanic blushed. “Ain't nothin’. I just knew you’d had a rough day with River.” She wiggled a little closer, turning so that she partially faced him. “Any idea what got her so wound up today?” “I wish I knew.” Simon picked up the sandwich and bit into it. The protein loaf was dry and gritty and had precious little flavor, but he did his best to pretend that he found it delicious since Kaylee was watching him intently.

“This… sandwich is very good,” he remarked between hesitant bites.

“It was bad at supper and it’s bound to be bad now. There just wasn’t much a nothin’ else.” She wiggled a little closer. “Ya ain't gotta lie to me Doctor, I mean – Simon. I just wish we could be friends and relax with each other, is all.” Her face grew more wistful.

“We… we are friends, Kaylee. I’m just very preoccupied with trying to figure out how to help River, and it doesn’t help that we’re stuck here on Santo because of Jayne and this murder business…” His voice faded away. “The longer we sit here, the greater the chance of someone recognizing us.” He glanced toward the cabin where his sister slept.

“But what about Jayne? Ain't like we could just fly off an’ leave him. Simon, they were gonna hang him this mornin’.” Kaylee’s voice grew more urgent and she leaned closer. “There were all these fellas with rifles and weapons and ropes gathered ‘round the jail while I was there with Zoe, and they were fixin’ to lynch him!”

Simon thought to himself that whether or not Jayne Cobb was guilty of Nellie Murchison’s killing, there were certainly plenty of other crimes he deserved hanging for, but he had sufficient presence of mind to keep that opinion to himself. “I gather that the Captain and Shepherd Book are both working with the local law enforcement officers to resolve the issue,” he offered.

“I guess so. We sure was glad they showed up when they did this mornin’.” The girl mechanic smiled at him flirtatiously, oblivious to the smudge across one cheek or her grubby coveralls. She wiggled closer still. In an abrupt change of topic, she asked, ”Anybody ever tell you what handsome eyes you got, Doctor Tam?”

“Ah, well…” Simon squirmed as he finally recognized Kaylee’s romantic interest. “Perhaps my mother, although it’s very kind of you to say so.” He wondered how he could possibly entertain the idea of a relationship, when his sister needed his whole focus and care. Discomfort welling up within him, Simon scrambled to his feet. “Thank you for the sandwich, Kaylee. I think I’d better go check on River.” And with that, he fled.

Kaylee watched his abrupt retreat, mouth agape. “I guess he ain't ready to get friendly yet,” she concluded.


To be continued… 9 of 13


Tuesday, August 23, 2011 9:54 AM


now the banker knows about the handprint, that can't be good....


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