Presumption of Guilt – Chapter 10
Friday, March 28, 2008

Ambrose Murchison determines to deal with his wife’s killer himself. During a condolence visit, Shepherd Book overhears an interesting revelation, and details of the case come to a head as Mal, Book and Sheriff Max Garvey are confronted with another body and another mystery.


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: 2,885

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 Ten

Fifteen minutes after leaving his home, Ambrose Murchison entered the restaurant he commonly frequented and asked to be seated in the small private room reserved for him. When his waiter Carlos came, he ordered veal and roasted potatoes and a bottle of excellent wine, which were quickly served.

“Will there be anything else, sir?“ the waiter asked.

“Please close the door, if you would,” Murchison instructed. “I prefer to dine alone this evening, given recent circumstances.”

“Of course, sir. The entire staff extends their condolences, sir,” Carlos offered respectfully.

“Thank you, Carlos.” The waiter turned to leave and Murchison called out, “Carlos? I’ll be leaving for the visitation directly after my meal, so just place everything on my tab, if you would.”

“Certainly, Mr. Murchison.” Carlos bowed slightly and pulled the door to as he left.

Murchison ate sparingly in rapid fashion, rearranging the remains to look as if he’d lingered over his meal, and then drank one glass of the wine, pouring the rest into the potted plants. Panting and struggling, he finally managed to unlatch the shuttered window that opened onto the adjacent alleyway and lower himself over the casing and onto the ground. Once he’d caught his breath, he re-drew the shutters and pulled the window closed, then made his way to where his flier was parked and headed for the home of his brother-in-law.

* * *

At first Jayne had paced the floor of his small cell like a caged tiger, furious and deeply agitated. By the end of the second day, he lay curled on his side facing the wall or on his back with a hand behind his head, considering his situation or reminiscing about the past. The massive amount of liquor he’d consumed with Nellie slowly worked its way out of his system, leaving him shaky and nauseous. Early each morning, the first shift deputy came to empty his slop-bucket and deliver cold biscuits with sausage gravy and lukewarm black coffee. The meals were all that broke up the long days and nights.

If what Zo and Kaylee said is true, then at least I got some hope of dodgin’ the hangman’s noose, he thought over and over, as if by repeating this, he could make it so. He had secreted the lock-pick Kaylee had smuggled to him in between his sock and boot, determined to use it if he had to. Worst of all was the boredom. Apparently Silverton was a quiet town apart from lynch mobs, and he remained the sole occupant of the jail other than a rotating series of drunks up in the front cell. He slept a lot and occasionally thought about whores he’d tussled with, jerking off to pass the time.

As he had on many other occasions, he continued to puzzle over the enigma of Darriel Book. The man ain't what he seems to be, but then, neither are most folk. Given the preacher’s peculiar knowledge of fighting and weapons, Jayne had pretty much concluded that Book must’ve been a Fed until somethin’ he done gave him a bout of conscience. There was a time he’d have found such inconsistencies downright unsettling; now he pinned his hope on the Shepherd’s mysterious past to help save his lousy hide.

On his fourth day in the lockup, he was pleased when the deputy on duty admitted Book. The two men shook hands through the bars, and Book passed him a change of clothes. “Gather up your dirties and I’ll take them back to the ship,” Book offered, handing Jayne a couple of gaudy paperbacks. “Kaylee thought you might appreciate something to keep your mind busy.”

“That’s right kind of ya, Preacher. An’ tell Kaylee I appreciate these,” He nodded at the items in his hands. “Y’all havin’ any luck with this gorramned mess?” Jayne asked, his expression both skeptical and hopeful.

“The Territorial Justice is a man with a reputation for fairness and that’s one of the reasons I applied for the change of venue for your arraignment. It’s also bought us a little more time. I feel confident we have the evidence we need to exonerate you, Jayne.”

The merc’s brows knotted uncertainly as he scowled at Book in confusion. “Eggswhaterate?”

Book explained. “Exonerate, son. It’s just a fancy word meaning we can get the charges dropped.”

“So how come you didn’t just say that,” Jayne snarked. “Still, I’d just as soon get the ruttin’ hell outta this hole.”

“Just sit tight a little longer,” Book reassured him.

* * *

Santo’s sun was setting in a darkening haze when Murchison powered his flyer down and eased it behind the thick hedge that bordered Dwight Powers’ home. He quietly made his way to the back door of the house, which Powers never locked. Murchison felt confident that his brother-in-law would be readying himself for the evening’s visitation at the funeral home. He was shaking and the intermittent ache in his chest intensified as he stealthily lifted the latch and let himself into Powers’ back hallway. With silent, cat-like steps he crept from doorway to doorway until he reached Powers’ bedroom. His brother-in-law stood with his back to the door, searching through the wardrobe for a waistcoat.

Drawing a small revolver from his coat pocket, Murchison pointed it at Powers and cleared his throat, causing the other man to jerk around and drop the garment in his hand. “Ambrose!” he uttered in surprise, his large dark eyes taking in the firearm pointed at him. “God in heaven, man, what are you doing?”

“Perhaps someone should have asked you that very question before you stabbed my Nellie to death.” Murchison’s eyes darkened in anger and his hand grew steadier.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, but please put that thing away. Someone’s going to get hurt.” Powers’ voice took on a panicky edge. He glanced about the room, hoping to find something to defend himself with.

“Don’t give me that fèhuà! You were sloppy, Dwight. That idiot of a sheriff has a piece of wallpaper from the room with your palm print in her blood. Did you know that?”

Powers eyes widened – clearly he had been unaware of leaving such a token behind. “Tamade!” he blurted.

“Why, Dwight? Why did you kill her?” Tears glittered in Murchison’s eyes.

Powers began to back up slowly. “She was going to divorce you, Ambrose. The trust, man! We’d have lost everything. Don’t you see? I did it for you, for the family. I just couldn’t bear her whoring around any more…”

Murchison practically spat with fury. “Damn you, you self-important little prick! I could have made it so she’d have never gotten that divorce. Now she’s gone and I have no wife and Arabella has no mother.” He advanced on Powers. “Sit down at that desk,” he gestured with the gun, “and take out a sheet of paper. You have a confession you have to write.”

* * *

In the quiet, smoky corner of Sullivan’s Bar, Max Garvey was reading a menu and considering what he wanted for supper when a familiar voice asked, “Care if we join you, Sheriff?” He looked up to find Malcolm Reynolds and the minister who had accompanied him earlier.

Garvey smiled. “Good company’s rare enough around this place.” He offered his hand. “Captain.” He smiled at the Shepherd. “Max Garvey. I don’t believe I caught your name.”

“Darriel Book, Sheriff.” The two men exchanged handshakes and then Book and Mal sat down on either side of the lawman.

Book explained, “I’m a Shepherd from the Southdown Abbey on Persephone and I’ve been traveling with the captain for a spell. Looks like I’ll be handling Jayne Cobb’s defense.”

“You’re a bold man, sir,” Garvey chuckled. “Calling in the Territorial Justice has certainly made you an enemy in Ambrose Murchison.” He took a sip from his beer. “Best chance your man has at any sort of fair arraignment, ‘though. Marcus Howery’s a stern man but he’s faithful to the Law, I’ll give him that.”

A buxom waitress came over, her tray balanced on her hip. “What can I get for you gentlemen?”

“Either of you had supper?” Garvey asked.

“Not yet,” Mal admitted, “but we’d best keep it quick. We thought it might be a good thing for us to pay our respects to Mrs. Murchison at the visitation this evening.”

“Well, I was plannin’ on the same.” He tapped the menu. “They serve a decent beef pie here, if you’re interested.”

Mal grinned at Book and the Shepherd nodded.

“Make it beef pie all ‘round, then, Lucy, and a pitcher of beer,” Garvey told her, “but we’ll need to eat and run.”

* * *

By 9:00 PM, the funeral parlor was empty of all of those who came to offer their condolences to Ambrose Murchison and other family members, one of whom had been notably absent. Mal and Book stood with Garvey off to one side of the entrance, speaking quietly together. Pools of lamplight lit the quiet street and the night wind ruffled the plantings surrounding the funeral parlor entrance and tugged at the men’s coats. High in the starry sky, the twin gibbous orbs of Santo’s sister moons gave added light.

Shepherd Book shook his head, clearly puzzled. “It seems exceedingly strange to me that Mr. Powers was absent this evening. Could we have missed him by any chance?”

“I don’t see how, Shepherd.” Garvey pulled on his pipe, which had gone out. “We arrived before the visitation began and everyone except Murchison has left.” He cut a sharp glance at Mal. “Somethin’ ain't right. I can feel it in my bones.”

Mal’s brown duster flapped as the wind caught at the hem of the well-worn garment. The captain ran a hand through his tousled hair and nodded. “Gotta say I’m in agreement with that. If I conjure right, wasn’t this trust supposed to get divided up equally between Murchison and Powers?”

“Yep. Likely to make Dwight Powers a much richer man, too.” Garvey fiddled with his pipe but couldn’t get it re-lit in the stiff wind and finally tucked it away in his jacket.

Mal thought back to a remark that Book had made with regard to the division of the Trust and laid his hand on Book’s shoulder. “Preacher, ‘member when you made that comment about both men havin’ to watch their backs, seein’ as what’s at stake?”

“That I do, son.”

Garvey drew his revolver and opened the breech to confirm that it was loaded, then holstered the weapon. “I think we’d best get ourselves over to Dwight’s place and make sure he’s hale and well. It’s about six blocks north.” Without waiting for a response from the other men, Garvey turned abruptly on his heel and headed up the street.

* * *

Garvey led the other two men up onto the front porch of a pretentious house and knocked sharply on the front door. They could see lights on in several rooms, but no one responded. “This ain't right,” Garvey said and headed off around to the back of the structure. “Man never locks his back door,” he offered by way of explanation.

As they reached the doorway, the sheriff drew his side arm and nodded at Mal to do the same, then whispered to Book, “Shepherd, you might want to hang back until we see what’s up…” He eased the door open and called out, “Dwight? It’s Max Garvey!”

Still, there was no answer.

He whispered to Mal, “Cover me,” and in much the same fashion as Murchison had earlier that evening, he carefully made his way up the hall, checking out each room in turn.

Reaching Power’s bedroom, Garvey swung ‘round the door casing, his weapon braced in both hands, and immediately saw the man they were seeking, sprawled on the polished hardwood floor. “Sweet Jesus, it’s him,” Garvey blurted out. The sheriff holstered his weapon and Mal followed suite as Garvey knelt beside Dwight Powers. He lay face down in a large puddle of blood, a revolver in his left hand.

“See if he’s breathing,” Mal urged and the sheriff carefully rolled the man over and checked his carotid pulse.

“Nothing. He’s cold, damnit.” Garvey glanced around the room for a sign of struggle, but apart from the body, there was none.

“Sheriff?” Book held up a folded sheet of vellum he’d found on the desk nearby. “You might want to take a look at this.”

Garvey unfolded the paper and read the scrawled contents aloud. “I killed my sister Nellie for shaming our family…” He studied the corpse. “I guess we’ve got our murderer, gentlemen.”

“Sure looks that way, but still…” Mal eased the revolver from the dead man’s grasp and studied Power’s left palm. “He’s got a scar like you said Murchison has, Max. Wonder if there’s a way to prove for sure he did it?”

Book suggested, “It’s easy enough to make a palm print and check it against the evidence from the hotel room.” The Shepherd opened Powers’ desk and found a bottle of ink and some blotting paper. “Since we don’t have a roller or pad we’ll have to improvise.” Mal and Garvey shot one another a sharp glance.

Book continued, “First you soak a large section of the blotting paper with ink, like this.” He carefully tipped the bottle so that the blue-black liquid wicked out into the thick, porous paper. Then you lay it against the man’s hand.” He gently uncurled Powers’ stiffening fingers and pressed the inked paper evenly against the dead man’s palm. “Then you take a print on a second sheet, like this.” With fresh sheet of paper, Book captured a reasonable facsimile of Dwight Power’s handprint and held it up. “Let’s let this dry and we can compare it with the one from the Golden Palace.”

Mal studied the dead man. “So this fella was left-handed, just like Murchison.” He sensed something wasn’t right, but couldn’t quite put his finger on it.

Garvey nodded, carefully taking the print from Book and placing both it and the suicide note in his jacket. “Yep, kinda curious, that. I’d forgotten about him having a scar too, but as I think about it, I recall Doc Bailey once saying something about having to treat Dwight for an infected wound on his left hand, something he’d gotten making some God-forsaken pact with Murchison.”

“Max, you notice anything strange about that body?” Mal bent closer. A hole not much larger than a fingertip pierced Powers’ shirt and chest at heart level and his well-tailored shirtfront was saturated with darkening blood. Taking the pistol, Mal emptied the chambers of the five remaining rounds, and then held it in his left hand as if he planned to shoot himself in the same manner as Powers. “See,” he pointed out, “it’s just about impossible to shoot yourself in the heart like that. Don’t matter how limber or how motivated you are. A man’s hand don’t bend that way.”

Garvey’s eyebrows rose. “I’ll be a sumbitch if you ain't right! And there ain't no scorch from the muzzle, either.” He looked up at the other two men. “Dwight might have killed Nellie, but he sure as hell didn’t kill himself.”

* * *

In the stillness of the lamp-lit house, Mal and Shepherd Book stood near Sheriff Garvey, looking down at the body of Dwight Powers. “If our victim didn’t kill himself, maybe there’s something here to tell us who was actually responsible,” Book suggested.

“Good point, Preacher,” Mal affirmed, once again surprised by Book’s insights. As Jayne Cobb had once remarked, passengers are never what they seem to be, and nowhere was that more obvious than with Darriel Book.

Garvey knelt down beside the body. “I’ll check Dwight over, see if there’s anything else. Maybe you can check the windows and tabletops, Shepherd, and Mal – how ‘bout you take a look under the furnishings? Maybe there’s something here we’ve missed, men.”

Mal began to search the far side of the bedroom, looking first under a chest of drawers and a marble-topped table beside the bed. He lowered himself to the floor and scooted under the edge of the bed. “Kinda dim under here. Any chance of more light?” he asked.

“I think that can be arranged, Captain,” Book replied and switched on a second lamp across the room.

Immediately, Mal could see light reflected from something under the far side of the bed. “There’s something on your side, just up under the coverlet, near the head of the bed.”

Book knelt and with a sweep of his hand captured a golden cufflink. He turned the face of the item into the light and Garvey leaned in close for a better look. A large diamond was set in the heavy gold rectangle in the center of an elegantly engraved ‘M’.

Book passed the cufflink to Garvey. “Look familiar, Sheriff?” he asked, cocking an eyebrow.

A fierce smile of satisfaction flooded Max Garvey’s face. “It most certainly does, Shepherd Book. Many’s the time I’ve seen this and its twin on the cuffs of Ambrose Murchison.” He tossed the cufflink into the air and caught it triumphantly. " I’ve got you now, you murderous old scoundrel!”


To be continued… 10 of 13


Friday, March 28, 2008 3:15 AM


Okay, now the question is this. Did Murchison kill Powers? There's circumstantial evidence, but I'm still not convinced. Why? Because this was only 10 of 13! At least there's some proof Jayne didn't kill Nellie, although it could be argued Powers was forced to write the confession by one of Jayne's confederates ... I think I'll stop now, and wait for you to update!

Monday, March 31, 2008 8:44 AM


Nice.Lets see how many people go down for this murder.Excellent mystery writing.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011 10:10 AM


you made me start biting my nails again, girl! :D


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