Three months later…
The posse was no more – pursuit of Lady Carstairs having gone colder than an Englishman who finds there is no tea or kettle in his hotel room, the group disbanded, heading in different directions. Hogan disappeared into the nearest Church and was not seen again, Barnes mumbled something about needing to see his Aunt and took an expensive rail ticket east, and Quique – well, the Mexican flat out disappeared, although rumour was that he had met an untimely end having tried to collect one bounty to many.
This left D’Amembord and Shepherd – best of non-friends, but united by a common cause of having no dinero. With only their horses and the goods they carried with them, they rode south to try pick up one of the cheaper rail roads that would see them head off in different directions, with John looking to make an Agency contact out West, and William looking to get back on the RGS membership and lecturing circuit out in the deep south.
Arguing about something and nothing, the two were accosted in a friendly fashion by some townfolk as they entered a decently sized settlement. The promise of easy money for checking up on a doctor gone recluse in his house up on the hill was too good to pass up, even though the story seemed to include some kind of strange encounter the day before, with a crate-delivering man to the house having been seen dragged screaming back in as he tried to leave. William put no stock in the story given the witness was a town drunk, but the curiosity of both men was piqued.
A reconnoitre of the grounds and windows showing nothing out of the ordinary, the two decided to enter via the back kitchen door. Not breaking and entering of course – just sensible protocol when visiting someone who may have some kind of … problem. The kitchen having been found to have been smashed up, literally, the two drew weapons at the sound of strange tap-tap-tap but proceeded to the main hall area where discussion as to whether to head up stairs or downstairs was rudely interrupted when out of nowhere William was struck by a round object in the temple, momentarily flooring him. In his daze he saw a … hand … a severed hand, move across the floor and behind a chair at the end of the hall. Shrugging aside shock, the Englishman threw the object (a glass paperweight) back at it, showing skill in hitting it square on and seemingly stunning it. The biologist ran over and managed to plant one foot down on the fingers of it, pinning it in place. A bemused John tried to work out what was going on as William aimed and demolished the hand with one shot.
A quick explanation to John was just in time as three other “hands” appeared from different areas of the room, all attacking in unison. One hand managed to dive around William’s neck, starting to strangle him. The Englishman managed to dig his hiking cane underneath it’s palm, but it immediately flew back again, this time choking him into unconsciousness.
By this time however, John had despatched the other two, and managed to kick William’s aggressor into the wall, where another dead-eye shot managed to end the melee. A couple of slaps around the face brought William around, although he was clearly marked by the ordeal.
“It was, in fairness, only a hand.” Joked the usually sobered John, who would continue to chide his companion with “You have to hand it to them.” style jokes for some time after.
Descending into the basement the two made a macabre discovery – the doctor had been creating his own “son” from body parts of other people. The creation was complete – alive and well and stood before them, a behemoth of a creature, standing a good two foot taller than them both. The doctor himself lay already dead, to one side – the exact cause of his death a mystery.
A fierce battle commenced, with multiple shots landing heavily into the creature’s chest but to no obvious effect. Eventually, repeated rounds into its exposed heart from John’s Gatling pistol finally did the trick.
John being keen to once again irrevocably burn any evidence of such strange goings on, and William not being minded to argue, the two used the flammables that were easily available in the doctors laboratory that would go on to completely destroy the house. Unfortunately, so keen were they in their task, a group of townsfolk that had approached at the sound of gunfire took it that they were covering up some kind of crime on the town’s otherwise popular doctor, and ran them to the city limits with stereotypical zeal. And pitchforks. So many pitchforks.
It was, in fairness, only a hand.