Episode 10: Pieces of the Puzzle
After dinner, Al and I retired to the study. I sat at Pa’s desk, rolling and unrolling the ticker tape, replaying the day’s events in my head, and trying to make sense of it all. Ever since we got home, life seemed off. War had a way of changing things, and I’d expected as much, but not like this. We should have buried our kin’s bodies and focused all our attention on the upcoming harvest—not chasing missing corpses and falling airships.
Al paced around the room, not in the anxious sort of way, but in a way he said helped him think. He carried the splinter we’d pulled from the airship with him, and every so often he’d thrust it forward and slash at the air as if he was holding a dagger.
“Where do you suppose it came from,” he said, after impaling an innocent throw pillow. He thumped the dart’s shaft. “It’s not metal, and its too sturdy to be glass. It looks organic, like a giant wild thorn or pine needle. Who could have made something like this?”
I lifted my eyes from where they’d been fixed on a notch deep in the desk’s wood grain. “That, is a good question.”
We weren’t strangers to experimental contraptions and gadgets. Pa had tinkered and toyed with all sorts of inventions before the war and had saved our hides more than once by rigging up weapons on the battlefield. He’d built advanced irrigation systems for some of our neighbors and was even invited to join some organization committed to advancing science and engineering. I wondered if they were still around, after the war and all.
“Hey, you remember the name of that group Pa was a member of? The one where they’d share ideas and inventions?” The name was on the tip of my tongue, but I couldn’t recall it.
“You mean when they’d meet in Pa’s shop under the windmill?” Al snorted as a grin plastered over his face. “And we’d sneak in and hide under a workbench, and steal sips of whiskey.”
I cracked a smile, having forgotten we’d done that. “That’s the one.”
“Yea, yea. Black something. Blacksmiths wasn’t it?”
I nodded at the recognized term, and at the same time remembered seeing the words in writing. I dug out the letter we found at the crash site and placed it on the desk, next to the ticker tape. Careful not to damage the letter further, I slowly unfolded the paper. Sure enough, the second item on the list was Black…something I couldn’t make out.
“Al, what do you make of this?” He joined me at the desk and placed the stake on its surface. Using my finger, I underlined the phrase in question. “You think it could be Blacksmiths?”
His brow furrowed slightly, an out of place look from his normally jovial guise. “I suppose it could be, but it could be a lot of things. Blacksnake. Blackmail. Blackjack…”
“But why would any of those words be on this list? How would that tie in with ‘Survey Albright Acres’?” I dragged my finger up to the top of the list. “The first item wasn’t hard to piece together.”
“Could be someone’s looking to blackmail us.”
Al lifted the ribbon of ticker tape and bounced it in front of me. “Maybe someone knows we found Red. I heard a patrol of confederate soldiers went missing not far from here. If Red’s not really dead, could be some top secret war games afoot. What if the soldiers aren’t really missing?”
I cocked an eyebrow. “Missing soldiers? You think this is military espionage? Why would someone with the resources of an airship give two shakes about soldiers, and from the losing side I might add?”
I scanned over the ink-smudged writing in an effort to make out any new words that might provide an answer. In the lower left hand corner of the paper, though the edges were partially burned, I noticed—and recognized—the remnants of an insignia.
“Wait a minute…” I pushed and shuffled through papers on Pa’s desk until I found what I was looking for: a single sheet of paper partially concealed by the bottle of bourbon. Lifting the decanter, I retrieved Pa’s letter inviting him to join the Blacksmith organization. “I knew I’d seen it before.” I laid the page next to the letter, so the seals rested side-by-side. On both sheets a symbol featuring an overlapping B and S had been stamped in faded red ink.
“Well I’ll be dipped. It is Blacksmiths.” Al nudged my shoulder to drive home his I-told-you-so tone. “Now we know.”
“We still don’t know anything.” One thing was for sure, it wasn’t a coincidence that the airship was on our land. “You think Pa knew about that airship? What if he sent for it, before he passed away?” I looked at Al, hoping my eyes didn’t reveal how much I still wished Pa was with us. If he was, he’d know exactly what was going on.
“Hell, I don’t know, Pike.” Al pressed a hand to his temple as he took a short step away, only to immediately pivot and return to my side. “Could he have built something like that? Probably. But something that big ain’t easy to hide. Surely we’d have known about it.”
“Maybe.” My gaze drifted to the splinter, and I picked it up. “You think he could have made this?”
Al picked up the tumbler from the desk and used his shirt to wipe it out. “I reckon he could do just about anything. If he did, he’d also have to create something to shoot it from.” He lifted the cork from the bourbon and poured a shot.
“True, but if Pa’s dead, who set it off?”
He raised the glass and pointed his index finger at me. “And why would they target the airship?”
I leaned back in Pa’s chair and clasped my hands together, thinking. “How would they have known it was coming?”
Al tossed back his drink then cocked his head to the side as he swallowed. “Whoever it was didn’t want us rummaging through the wreckage. Someone could have been seriously hurt out there today.”
“I know.” I dropped my hand to the arm rests and gripped them until I felt wood under my fingernails. It was one thing for Al and I to be placed in danger, but Ellie was with us today. “We need to get to the bottom of this and find those bodies. We either have trespassers on our land, or someone close to us is hiding something.”
“You think good ol’ Bern Cornwell knows anything about what’s going on? Didn’t he accompany Pa to some of those Blacksmith meetings?”
I nodded. “Guess there’s only one way to find out.”
Stay tuned! Episode 11 posts Friday, February 20, 2015.