"My stars!" exclaimed Henry McCoy, blinking owlishly from behind his thick round glasses, for once at a loss for words. Young Sam Guthrie frankly goggled.
"Lord Jesus!" he breathed. "I ain't seen nothing like that since Great Aunt Sadie passed on!" Doctor Xavier just stared. Was that a flash of recognition I saw in his eye? I will admit that on occasion I have wondered about Charles. He still hasn't lost that faint New England accent. What could it have been that drove him west? He's like a fish out of water here in End Of The Line, where his literary passions can only be indulged with one of the town whores.
The tall stranger stepped with easy grace down from the coach and sparkled in the hot mid day sun.
He wasn't wearing a hat, you see.
Clad in black from the crown of his silver head to the rounded toe of his soft leather boots, the stranger carefully flicked non-existent dust from off the broad shoulders of his long tailed coat and looked about. From beneath expressive silver eyebrows he regarded the world and found it wanting. Impatiently, he tugged a gold watch from the pocket of a silken waistcoat the color of drying blood. I watched him carefully. Not once did his hand stray downward to the gun that caressed his hip like a lover. Polished and lethal, it seemed very much at home there resting in its well-oiled holster. Instinct told me that it had seen a lot of use. I may have been the only one who noticed the way he walked (forward on the balls of his feet like a cat as if he never wished to be caught off balance) but I wasn't the only one who noticed that well-cared for gun. Beside me Emma drew in a sharp breath.
"Damn Sebastian!" she hissed. I don't think she knew that I heard her. I'm certain she didn't plan for me to.
She was right, of course. There was only one reason for a man like that to be in End Of the Line like a wolf among the sheep. And only one man who could have brought him here. I am no great judge of men that's certain. I wouldn't be festering here in End Of The Line if I were. But unless I was very much mistaken Logan was in deep trouble. Formidable fighter that he is, our local desperado was no match for *this*. I turned to speak to Doctor Xavier, but he was gone. Strange. I could have sworn he was there standing next to Emma less than a moment ago. Restrained as he is by the use of his canes, he does not normally move so fast but I did not see him anywhere on the street. Where could he have gone? And why?
When Pierce came to collect the stranger the whole town seemed to breath a great sigh of relief. The silver haired man said not a word. He simply walked away, leaving Pierce to collect his sparse luggage and pant along behind him like a faithful dog. It never seemed to occur to him that Pierce might not follow him. But, then, Pierce *did* follow him, so he wasn't wrong was he? I couldn't help but smile. Arrogance like that takes a lot of work.
But when a huffing Donald Pierce trotted after the stranger into the elegant confines of Miss Frost's Massachusetts Academy, I stopped smiling. Of all the places ... Why there, I wondered faintly? What trick of fate had led him to choose someplace so close to - well, to *me*? I found that the prospect of his continued nearness upset me. And I didn't know why.
He signed Emma's Guest Registry "Erik Magnus" in bold very carefully scripted letters, artful calligraphy, stylish and with flourish but without distracting ornamentation. I had to smile again. Magnus. "Great One" in the tongue of Cicero. It seemed to suit him.
Behind the Reception Desk, Doug Ramsey blinked and smiled. The boy has a talent for languages so I wouldn't be at all surprised if he recognized the name. He's one of the few literate people in town which is why he has his job even at such a young age.
Shaw took his time. He didn't deign to visit his new employee until the next morning. Magnus made him wait and I was delighted. There was, after all, absolutely nothing he could do about it was there? Not if he wanted Logan dead there wasn't. I watch people. It's one of the ways I amuse myself and pass the time. After a while you start to notice things. And then you start to understand why some people are the way they are. You just have to know what you're seeing. Slim says it's my biggest talent. But Magnus had me flummoxed. There were some things missing. Some ... vital pieces of the puzzle still unseen. I kept watching.
No one talked to him, either, I noticed. People would, quite literally, cross the street to avoid him. And above all, no one would met his eyes. I thought that much like me he must be very lonely. He seemed to enjoy the fear he inspired, though. It almost seemed that he went out of his way to intimidate the residents of End Of The Line, silently taunting them with his unwanted presence. He was fondest of intruding in small unspoken ways; waiting impatiently for a drink in Kelly's and then leaving it untouched; handing Mrs. Allbright her newly purchased cloth in Drake's Mercantile. His threats were never overt. They didn't have to be. All you have to do to be rid of me, he seemed to say, is ask. No one did, of course. He was the man with the gun, after all. He confused people when he wasn't politely terrorizing them What he did for the Guthrie's was very kind in its way but I think I was the only one who understood it. I was there when lanky Sam Guthrie tried to sell his mother's earrings. The Guthrie's are a proud family but like most people they lost someone in the War. Tom Guthrie was a good man and Sam worked hard to fill his shoes. It wasn't the boy's fault that those were such hard times.
"I -I was just dickering with the boy, that's all," Drake protested weakly, sweating fear from every pore. "I wasn't trying to cheat him." Magnus lifted one sardonic silver eyebrow.
"Of course not," he said mildly. "Undoubtedly, two dollars is a fair price for a pair of gold and emerald earrings here in your joyous, rustic Utopia. I yield to your greater expertise, sir." He turned to Sam and Drake resumed breathing.
"Those ear bobs are all my Mama has left from her dowry," Sam said.
Drake held his tongue when Magnus paid Sam fifty dollars for them, effectively cutting him off from his share. Sam's blue eyes lit up and he stared at the money in disbelief. That was enough money to keep his struggling family afloat for another half year at least. Sam was stubborn though.
"I ain't takin' charity," he said. "Ya'll ain't doing this just for a handout are you?"
"I find myself in urgent need of ladies' jewelry," said Magnus. No one laughed. Sam clutched his new-found wealth in one hand and held out the other.
"A fair deal, then," he smiled and his eyes shone with pride. Magnus shook his hand. Sam was almost out of the door before Magnus spoke again.
"Young Guthrie, should any more of your mother's jewelry finds its way into Mr. Drake's pocket I'll smash these earrings, I promise you that." After a moment Sam nodded his understanding.
For almost a week we watched one another, he and I. From a distance like two wary warriors we circled one another and vied for position on the slippery rocky terra incognito of our unknown relationship.
Now that Shaw felt safe returning to town again, I had a problem. Shaw wanted me. I managed to avoid him for days but my luck ran out on a busy Friday night. He spotted me from across the room and smiled like a snake.
"Jean, my dear," he said. I went cold as ice. Suddenly I couldn't feel my feet. Behind the bar I could see Slim start to reach for something. I had to move quickly before something really bad happened. But what? Think, woman, think, I cursed myself. Shaw will kill Slim without a thought. I couldn't let that happen.
In a wave people began parting before him as he made his steady way toward me. My heart pounding, I grabbed Logan. Julee was going to be angry with me but I'd worry about that later. I could only hope that she'd understand my fear. Frowning, Shaw paused and the muscles of his jaw clenched. Logan didn't miss it. With a small nod of understanding he curled his muscled arm possessively around my waist. My eyes were grateful. On our way up the stairs I thought I saw something from out of the corner of my eye before it disappeared around a turn of the long corridor. Was that a flash of silver hair?
"Ain't necessary darlin'," Logan said when I slipped from my petticoats.
"Yes, it is," I smiled and kissed him.
"Ain't refusin'," he chuckled and tumbled me onto the bed.
It was a day or so later before more pieces of the puzzle that was Magnus fell into place.
I couldn't sleep. The night air was hot and stifling. It lay over me like a wet smothering blanket. For once I was alone and glad of it. Emma didn't like my impromptu vacation but I didn't care at the moment. I was used to annoying her. I decided it might be cooler downstairs. I was halfway down the stairs before I heard it. The faint sound of music wafted from Emma's parlor. Someone was playing the grand piano that was Emma's showpiece for the richly decorated opulent center of her House. Who could it be, I wondered? I can play, but unlike my unknown pianist I have no real talent for it. Skill, yes, but no great feel for the music. I paused at the top of the landing and looked down into the parlor almost afraid to see who it was.
I was not truly surprised when I saw him bowed over the piano's ivory keyboard as if in prayer. There was no mistake, of course. That hair is impossible to miss.
I listened for several moments as Magnus played on. The last thing I wanted to do was give him an excuse to stop. So I held my silence as I made my quiet way down the rest of the stairs and found a seat. He caressed the keys of Emma's fine imported piano with loving hands and beauty emerged. I closed my eyes and lost myself in the flow of sadness summoned by those long, elegant fingers. The exquisite sonorous music was all weeping minor chords and shouting silences between the notes. But beneath the surface anger and loneliness boiled like acid. Great passion long stifled and denied tolled like a bell and Magnus' skillful fingers captured every note, wrung them dry, then left them choking in the dust of his wrath. It was like listening to the death of a child never given a chance to live or grow.
"'Funeral Mass For Leopold Mozart' by his son Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart," said Magnus without looking up from his keyboard. "I don't think he liked his father very much, do you?" He looked at me then. It was my first encounter with those extraordinary blue-gray eyes. I think I can be excused for the weakness that forced me to find a seat.
"Do you always spy on your guests this way?"
"No," I said. I count it as one of the great victories of my life that my voice did not tremble in the least. One silver eyebrow lifted quizzically.
"To which question?" I hadn't expected him to smile so I was caught off guard. Unless I was mistaken he was very good at that.
"Both," I smiled back at him.
His hands couldn't seem to leave the piano in peace. They roamed restlessly about its polished expanse like lost souls. They only left off their musical penance to sip occasionally from the amber contents of one of Emma's Waterford crystal glasses. I inhaled the rich earthy scent of fine Scotch. Emma keeps a bottle or two of Glen Morangie for "special guests". Guests like Sebastian Shaw.
"You play beautifully," I said.
Startled, he looked up at me with those remarkable eyes again. There was something disturbing about his eyes. Something sharp and painful like one of Logan's knives lurked there, hiding in the shadows just behind the truth where all the secrets hid.
"I'm a man of ... many talents," he replied softly and played on.
"Oh? And just what did you do before you came to End Of The Line, Mr. Magnus?" I asked. His answer was almost an echo, it was so immediate.
"I was a killer." he said. My eyes widened but I tried to remain nonchalant. Magnus chuckled low in his throat.
"It's hardly what I was trained for. But then, I expect you're somewhat familiar with sudden career changes, are you not?" He assumed an air of great pride with only a vague tinge of mockery beneath it to give it bite. "My gifts are quite diverse. My father was very proud of me. Isn't that a comforting thing to know? That your father is proud of you?"
I grinned. "That might be a nice thing to know," I agreed then snapped my fingers. "I know! That's who you remind me of!" I cleared my throat and quoted: "'Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune or take up arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them?'"
Magnus' pale face lit up with delight. "Shakespeare!" he cried. He turned from the piano and plunged into a nearby chair. "'To die ... to sleep ... no more ... Perchance to dream! Ah there's the rub! For in that sleep of death what dreams may come when we have shuffled off this mortal coil must give us pause ...'" He speared me with those eyes again. "Imagine that!" he sighed. "An educated whore. How extraordinary!" My lips thinned.
"Almost as extraordinary as an educated gunfighter," I pointed out acerbically. He clapped softly in appreciation of my bitter retort, smiling all the while.
"Touché!" His eyes sparkled. "Shall we test our knowledge of The Bard? And the devil take the hindmost!"
"Absolutely," I rose eagerly to the challenge. "But Hamlet's soliloquy is off limits, agreed? It's done its job." He nodded.
"'Lay on, McDuff and cursed be he who first cries hold enow!' It's not often I have a worthy opponent."
"Is that so? Modest, too, I see." Now it was my turn to raise an eyebrow. I threw down the gauntlet with a tight smile.
"'Beware of jealousy, My Lord; the green-eyed monster which doth bite the hand that feeds it!'" I quoted.
"Tsk, tsk," Magnus shook his pale head in disappointment. "Othello? Desdemona to my Iago? Too easy!" He contemplated for only seconds before chuckling mirthlessly, "'You are one who would not serve God if the Devil bid you.'"
I suspected I was not alone in that. Switching tactics, I shot back, "If music be the food of love, play on: give me excess of it ..."
Magnus' smile was now a mere showing of strong white teeth. "You neglected the the rest of the quote," he countered. "'If music be the food of love, play on,'" he corrected, "'give me excess of it that, surfeiting, the appetite may sicken and die!' An unfortunate mistake, all things considered, don't you think?" My hands spasmed into tight fists at my side. A direct hit, that. But, in the end I could only shake my rueful head. "Walked into that one didn't I?" I admitted. Magnus nodded and slowly a lazy smile crept silently across his pale features. He was enjoying this.
I grinned ferally and crowed: "'I am but mad north by north west; When the wind blows southerly, I know a hawk from a hand saw ... '" Those pale brows lifted again in silent inquiry.
"I never said the rest of Hamlet was off limits," I pointed out. "Just the Soliloquy." With a small nod of his head he acknowledged my hard won victory. The mad Dane seemed to fit him well.
"Mad am I?"
"What would *you* call someone who kills other men for a living?" I inquired archly. His smile broadened. Did nothing touch the man? He couldn't be as impervious to pain as he seemed.
"Very good! You've played this game before, I see." He wasn't talking about Shakespeare now.
"All the time." I acknowledged. "Most people don't notice, though. That rather takes all the fun out of it."
Undaunted the man with the silver blond hair contemplated the air for a few seconds and began: "''Oh Lord, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself King Of The Universe were it not that I have bad dreams.'" The image that came to me of Magnus as the brooding Danish Prince tippled the corners of my mouth and threatened to grow into a smile. But, no we couldn't allow that, now could we?
I was disdainful, dismissing the quote with a wave of my hand. "The devil hath power to assume a pleasing shape," I assured him. I almost had him with that one. But, now it was his turn for an abrupt change.
"'The youth mistook me pleading for a lover's fee!'" he cried. "'Shall we their fond pageant see? Lord what fools these mortals be!'"
It was difficult to see him amidst the Bard of Avon's Midsummer tale of frolicsome faerie folk and ass-headed Bottom's boastful folly. "'Ill met by moonlight, proud Titania,'" he murmured and I had to smile. Now that was much better. Oberon, Lord of Faerie, was much closer to the truth. But not quite. I bit my lip in concentration. And then I had it. The very thing. It was against the rules of the game, of course, but then I have seldom concerned myself with rules. Neither had Magnus, I suspected. He might even appreciate the irony. I began curtly.
"Out of the night that covers me,"
It matters not how strait the gate,
The man with the gun stiffened in his iron chair. "That's cheating ..." he said softly. "It's not ... . Shakespeare." Was there the slightest hesitation in his voice? Had my verbal reposte actually struck him? Was he bleeding?
Magnus' joyless laughter echoed through the hidden spaces in the large room. It made me want to cover my ears against the pain there. I didn't, of course.
"Who wrote that?" he demanded.
"A man very much like you at heart. His name is William Ernst Henley," I chuckled in my turn. "You'd like him, I'm sure. He's quite the rage in England just now, I understand. He titled the poem 'Invictus' ... that's Latin; it means -"
"I know what it means," the tall man cut me off impatiently. I sighed. How many languages do you speak, I wondered? And how many other things am I likely never to know about you?
"Unconquered," he murmured. "It means 'unconquered'."
Magnus seemed to grew even paler and looked away. I frowned. Something was very wrong. He'd been almost enjoying himself and now he simply sat there his white knuckled grip on the wrought iron chair making the metal creak in protest.
I know about men like Magnus. In many ways, Logan was rather like that. The ex-Confederate was laconic, except for occasional outburst of anger and disdain. "Never let'em see ya cry, Jeannie," he advised me once. But beneath that stoic, silent facade, pain and anger sometimes roiled perilously near the surface. "Why does he do that?" I had once demanded exasperated with the man. Surprisingly, It was Julee who had the answer for me.
"Not everybody bleeds on the outside where you can see it." she had said.
"I'm sorry," I said tentatively, unsure if I were the cause of this abrupt withdrawal. "It's not important if you don't know the poem. It's only a game ..." And still Magnus was silent.
"Magnus?" I let the question ring clear in my voice. And again. "Magnus?"
How to reach him? Something in Henley's dark paean to strength had robbed him of his own. He was vulnerable now. Ironically, I had at last succeeded in wounding him without intending to. But my petty vengeance had cost me. I was about to lose something. Something ... very important ... I could feel him shutting himself off from me; guarding himself from deeper pain.
"Emma took my books away," I said quietly. It was a small thing, really. Not very important to anyone but me. But I thought Magnus might understand my offer of trust. He looked at me with hooded eyes and waited.
"When I first came here," I explained, "Emma took my books away. They were about the only thing Remy left me when he abandoned me. They were my way of proving to myself that I was more than just a whore and Emma took them away from me. 'We'll have none of *that*, my girl,' she said. You're no different than the rest.' And she took my books away. Slim was the one who found me crying. I thought I'd forgotten how but I hadn't." I almost winced. What would he do now with my vulnerability? The silence settled leaden between us. Magnus sat silent and unmoving in his chair, the muscles of his throat working. He sat there so long I was on the verge of admitting defeat, actually rising from my chair to go and leave him as he wished to be, alone.
When he finally spoke his voice was so soft I almost missed what he was saying but not quite.
"My mother was a very beautiful woman," he said. Looking at her son I had no trouble believing that. "She sang in three languages. My father liked to hear her sing; especially in Italian. His guests were always amazed at her versatility. My father would smile and call her his Songbird. When I was fourteen she went to my father to ask him about my future." He poured himself another drink. "You see, she wished to educate me beyond what they called 'my station in life'. He refused, naturally. She persisted. It ... annoyed him." His grip on the arm of his chair tightened considerably.
"So he sold her."
I stood very still. Narrow eyed, he watched me closely, searching, waiting for some sign of my rejection to reach him in the curve of a cheek, the sweep of a disdainful lip. I hoped to God that he didn't find it. I was once caught in the wake of a violent thunderstorm. I huddled foolishly beneath a tree lashed by the wind and the rain, at the mercy of elemental forces much stronger than I, fearfully waiting for the lightening to strike. This was a lot like that. Absently, I wondered how many people's last sight had been that beautiful face.
"Appearances are deceiving," he said and tugged at a loose strand of his shoulder length silver hair. "Did you know that in New Orleans there are names for the progeny of miscegenation that go back six generations? Names for things like me. There are many career opportunities available to the son of an octoroon slave. Piano player in a fancy House ..." His eyes drifted to the piano and I remembered Mozart who "didn't much like his father". "Back room gladiator for the betting white gentlemen ... Bed warmer for the more adventurous amongst them ..." He closed his eyes. "Do you know I was still surprised when he sold *me*? I never saw my mother again but once. We briefly graced the same House. I heard her singing while she waited for a customer and went to find her. She was no longer very beautiful. I don't think she recognized me."
"But your name," I said thinly. "That beautiful name ..."
"My father's. It was his greatest pride. And I'm covering it with glory, don't you agree?"
I had to turn away. Logan was right. Don't ever let them see you cry. Tears draw wolves to feed; wolves like Magnus. Slowly he rose from his chair and advanced on me. He never touched me. But I could feel the heat of his anger raising off him in waves like steam. When he spoke his breath was hot on my neck.
"Are you crying?"
"No," I lied. "Why would I do that?" His baritone voice was sharp.
"For my father's good name, perhaps?" I shook my head.
"No, not for your father," I said.
At that moment I would have given anything to comfort him. But I didn't know how. He stared at me for long moments before he looked away. Those startling sea born eyes are a shield beyond which very few people were allowed to pass and I wasn't yet one of them. I hadn't the slightest idea where to find someone like that, either. Isn't it strange? I had already met one and didn't even know it.
"I *will* kill him, you know." he told me. "This won't save him."
"I know," I said.
Wordlessly, he held out his hand to me and I shivered with something other than the suddenly cold desert air of End Of The Line, New Mexico. You'd think that someone who spends their nights with so many different people wouldn't be this lonely. His hand was strong and warm and I didn't protest at all as he lead me silently up the stairs.
I watched him for a long time as he slept. At rest he was free. Free of his sordid past, his damning present and his uncertain future. Asleep he wrestled with no demons, fought no futile battles. He was peaceful in my arms. He must have been very tired. When I slipped quietly from his embrace he never even stirred. But then I have had a good deal of practice at that sort of thing. For a moment I felt like a mother abandoning her child. We had more in common than I had known. Every whore has a limit. Something they will not willingly do or allow to be done to them. Some small thing that is reserved just for themselves; an untouched part of them that must remain untainted, almost ... virginal. With Magnus it was his hair. "No," he warned me harshly when I went to kiss that silver glory and directed my lips elsewhere. Me? I've lost clients before because I won't let them touch my hair either. As I said, more in common than I had known. Watching the silent play of moonbeams among those tousled silver locks it was hard not to touch them. My fingers longed to explore their softness. But I didn't violate him against his will. He would never have known, of course. But I would have.
Still restless, I drifted back downstairs. Through the windows the lights of the town sparkled in the night. Feeling the need to breath the cool, clear air for a bit longer, I walked over to seat myself in the chair that Magnus had abandoned earlier. Closer now, I bent to inspect it's white-painted iron arms. I ran my fingers over the metal. The iron of both arms was bent and twisted, crushed with the force of great strength. And along both sides where Magnus had lain hands on it the white expanse was marred with a dark stain of blood.
"I told you," I seemed to hear Julee's ghost-like voice, "not everybody bleeds on the outside where you can see it."
End Part Two
*Cue Music From "The Good, The Bad And the Ugly"* On To Part 3! Ya'll!