Thursday, May 29, 2014

World without end, part 2

Part 1

After breakfast, the three companions set out for Cameron Glen. What little asphalt there was gave way to a gravel road. Birds chirped in the crisp morning air. Jackson and Gladstone kept quiet for most of the walk, but Joe passed the time by playing recordings of old songs Jackson had never heard before.

Yankee Doodle went to town,
A riding on a pony,
Stuck a feather in his hat,
and called it macaroni

"What is that?" Jackson asked.

"Couldn't tell you friend. I got a million songs in my memory but I don't remember where they all come from," Joe said.

"He's not exaggerating about that number either," Gladstone said.

After half an hour the trio crested a hill and Jackson laid eyes on Cameron Glen. It was a frontier town like any of the other countless other frontier towns he had seen. Businesses and civic organizations lined the main street with dozens of houses on either side. A small lake was on the left side of the road, surrounded by the largest houses. Obviously the town's high rollers, comparatively speaking.

"There she is. It's not much but it's been home for the last seven years. The church is just off the main street down there," Gladstone said, pointing.

"Nice," Jackson said.

Gladstone continued as they walked. "From what I understand, it was built up from the ruins of another town that used to be here long ago. Nobody remembers who this Cameron fellow was, but somehow his name's stuck."

"You get a lot of visitors?"

"A lot of travelers like you, looking to top off their water supply on their way to bigger and better things. Or so they hope anyway. Merchants from Sacramento and Tahoe. Other than that, just a lot of decent folks here trying to scratch out a living."

"Any suggestions on what I could do?"

Gladstone thought for a second. "Well I'm assuming you want to get on your way sooner rather than later. There's a branch office of the Jefferson Express here and they're always hiring couriers. I suppose they might send you way out of your way though."

"Beggars can't be choosers."

As they set foot on the main strip, Jackson looked around. It was early enough that there weren't many other pedestrians on the road. Mostly businessmen getting an early start. One of them, a lean Hispanic man in his forties waved. "Hello Father! Hello Deacon!" he called.

"How do you do Raul!" Joe called back. The man, Raul, jogged across the street and shook hands with the priest and the robot.

"Raul Garcia, Daniel Jackson," Gladstone said by way of introduction.

"How do you do sir?" Garcia said, extending his hand. Jackson took it. "What brings you out our way?"

"At the moment, looking for work," Jackson replied.

"Is that so? Well, as it happens I might have something for you. Drop by my shop later this morning if you're interested. Father, Deacon," Garcia said, nodding to them in farewell. He unlocked one of the buildings and stepped inside. The sign above the door read Garcia's Guns.

Jackson raised an eyebrow. "Is he who I think he is?"

"Yes sir, he's the fifth cousin once removed of the great-great-great-great grand-nephew - or something like that - of Jorge Garcia himself!" Joe said. The Garcias were old money in California who got their start centuries ago in the arms manufacturing business, though some of the family's critics said they were just another band of Mexican gun runners who got lucky. Jorge Garcia was considered the patriarch of the family who expanded their operation into the massive corporation it was presently.

"Raul is a good pal of mine," Joe continued. "Me and him get together for lunch every week!" Jackson gave him a quizzical look. "Well, I guess technically we talk and I watch him eat, heh."

"Here we are," Gladstone said. The parish church was a long, narrow brick building with a large cross on the roof's peak. The front door was flanked by statues of the Blessed Virgin and a saint Jackson didn't recognize. "Saint Zachary Watts. He died a martyr during the Wars of Secession," Gladstone explained.

Jackson dipped his fingers in the holy water font and crossed himself. He took a seat in the back pew. The church wasn't the prettiest girl on the outside but her inner charms made up for it. Stained glass windows depicting saints and martyrs ran along the walls. The high altar was adorned with exquisite woodworking which directed parishioners eyes toward the gold tabernacle front and center. A crucifix loomed above everything. Jackson wasn't a daily communicant even when he wasn't traveling, but this was the kind of church he wouldn't mind visiting more than once a week. Parishioners filed into the building. Jackson was surprised to see that many of them were young. Typically a weekday Mass was for old people.

Joe the robot silently moved around inside the sanctuary behind the communion rail, lighting candles. Jackson's brow furrowed. Last night and this morning Joe clanked like a kitchen when he walked. Now he was like a cat. Odd. A bell rang signifying the start of the Mass and Jackson put the thought out of his head. Everyone rose as Father Gladstone and one altar boy stepped into the sanctuary. The priest began the two and a half millennia old ritual: "Introibo ad altare Dei..."

"Ad Deum qui laetificat juventutum meum," the boy replied.

Jackson closed his eyes and forgot his worries for the next half hour.

"Can I help you sir?" the clerk asked.

"Dan Jackson. Here to see Mr. Garcia," Jackson said.

"Just a second sir." The clerk went off the sales floor and through a door that said Employees Only. Jackson took a second to admire the store's wares. Pistols, shotguns, rifles, and machine guns of every conceivable make. He decided to purchase some more ammunition once he earned some cash. His two revolvers were criss-crossed on his belt. His old service rifle was back at Gladstone's house with his pack and mule.

"Ah, good to see you again Mr. Jackson. I'm glad you could make it," Garcia said, interrupting his thoughts. They shook hands again. "Please, come into my office."

Jackson followed the older man into the back. Garcia's office was spare: a filing cabinet, two chairs, and a desk with an ancient computer. "Can I get you anything - coffee, tea, water?"

"Coffee would be fine, thanks," Jackson said. Garcia sat down behind his desk, motioning for Jackson to have seat. He typed something on his computer and a few seconds later another clerk appeared with two steaming cups of coffee. Jackson sipped and gave an appreciative sigh. It was real coffee, not the harsh chicory blend he had drank for weeks on the road.

"May I?" Garcia asked, pointing at Jackson's revolvers. He removed one from its holster and handed it to Garcia butt first. Garcia opened the cylinder and saw that the gun was partially loaded with an empty chamber currently in place. "You know what you're doing. Good," he said. He stroked the barrel and felt the engraving on the left side. He turned it over and read out loud, "'For Faithful Service.' You are military then?"

"Was," Jackson said. "These actually once belonged to my grandfather."

"Family heirlooms then? They are fine weapons."

"Something like that. And thank you."

Garcia handed him back his pistol. "To business then Mr. Jackson. Let me first ask you a question: do you know much about computers?"

"They're used to write documents, store information. Some fancier models can play music or movies. That's about as much as I know."

Garcia smiled. "Would you believe that there was a time when every computer in the world was connected to each other? You could type someone a letter, click a button, and it would arrive in their computer's storage almost instantaneously. Almost like a telephone but with the written word."

Jackson thought for a second. "Seems like a good deal. What happened, did angry mailmen blow up the technology?"

Garcia chuckled. "That seems as good an explanation as any. But that brings me to my proposition." He typed something on his computer. It spat out a compact disc. Garcia put it into a manila envelope and sealed it.

"The job is simple," he said. "I need this disc delivered by courier to my brother Pedro at our office in Ashville. Payment will be two hundred fifty dollars up front, and another seven fifty upon delivery."

Jackson kept his face neutral but inside he was reeling. A thousand dollars for a ride that was three days, four days tops? Things that sounded too good to be true usually were.

"Not to sound ungrateful for your generous offer Mr. Garcia," Jackson said, "But until this morning you didn't know me from Adam. Why not hire a Jefferson Express courier?"

Garcia's smile didn't reach his eyes. "You understand this is a small town Mr. Jackson. Everyone knows each other. And the Express service requires paperwork. Records. This is something I would prefer to keep secret and off the books so to speak. And," he said, narrowing his eyes, "I'm sure I don't need to remind you that my family has a very long reach in case you should think to make off with our property."

Jackson held in a laugh. He could probably break the weedy little man in half over his knee. He had no great desire to piss off one of the richest families in California. Plus he could forget about ever taking a courier job again if he screwed this one up. Something still didn't sit right with him but a thousand dollars was too tempting to pass up.

"Mr. Garcia, I think we have a deal."

"Excellent. I'm very pleased Mr. Jackson."

A hand gripped Jackson by the chin and pulled his head to one side. Something cold and sharp pressed against his neck and he was released. It happened so quickly Jackson didn't even have time to cry out.

"What the hell?!" he shouted, getting to his feet. He drew his revolvers. The clerk who had brought them their coffee was standing in the doorway, hands behind his back.

"It's all right, it's all right," Garcia said. "No need for those."

Jackson glared at the clerk. The clerk shrugged. Just doing my job, he seemed to be saying. Jackson finally holstered his pistols. He rubbed his neck where it had been stuck. "What the hell did you do to me?"

"Think of it as my unwritten insurance policy. You've been injected with a small tracking device. It will allow my brother and I to monitor your progress. Should anything unfortunate happen to you on your trip, we will be able to... recover you."

Jackson snorted. "For Christ's sake, Ashville's what, three or four days away? How dangerous could it be?"

"Let's hope for both our sakes that it's not much."

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