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17 November 2013

An excerpt from The Night of Writing Dangerously, Live

I'm at The Night of Writing Dangerously. Wanna see what I'm working on tonight? Keep reading...

The Mayor's office was in the Courthouse on Quality Hill, on the fourth floor. There was an elevator that once had a motor, but the motor was long ago replaced by a crank, manned by a sour looking man who smells of onions. He said nothing as Archer and Peter approached, merely grimaced and put his hands to the crank. Peter slid the gate closed behind them and the sour man cranks them to the fourth floor.

The ride up was silent.

At the top, Peter slid the gate back open and gestured for Archer to precede him. Archer stepped out of the elevator, and into a plush world of faded maroon velvets and dark, dense wood.This building, like the library, was an architectural jewel. Somewhere deep, Archer squashed the urge to examine the walls - were they facades, or real? - and contented himself with regarding his task at hand: the boy. Peter's posture had straightened markedly from the haunched and angry shape it had been when they left the Grande. The boy seemed almost a man when he knocked on the burnished double doors at the end of the hall.

The doors swung inward with a creak. Beyond them an office opened, lit by the windows lining its outer walls. There were phosporescent lights here too, unlit. Law books lined the walls in recessed bookshelves, and two large men, perhaps brothers of the onion man from the elevator, stood to either side of the open doors. Archer noted them as a show of force, and narrowed his attention to the man behind the desk. The resemblence to Peter was visible in their small, cold eyes, but where Peter was gawky with youth, the Mayor was jowled and ruddy. A man prone to drink, thought Archer, and with an affinity for keys in his decor. The desk between them was a monsterous block of wood, post-Fall production no doubt but reminiscient of the pre-Fall art deco style, with naught for embellishment but two guilded keys reaching from top to bottom on either side of the desk's front. The Mayor stood and extended his hand, smiling briefly. Archer stepped forward and clasped the Mayor's hand in return.

"Colonel Abraham Archer?" the Mayor said. "I'm so glad you've come. When I heard that the esteemed Colonel Archer of Fort Valor had made his way into our little corner of the Arizonas, I just had to welcome you myself, man to man."

The Mayor gestured to a chair, "Please, sit. Peter, fetch us a refreshment."

Peter stalked to the far wall and retrieved a platter set with two small glasses and a clear glass bottle of something brown - probably whiskey, Archer guessed.

"That's thoughtful of you," Archer allowed. "Might I have your name?"

The Mayor cleared his throat and shot the barest dark glimpse at his son, who had set the platter down and was pouring two glasses from the bottle. "Forgive me, Sir, I've been remiss. I am Rodney DeWitt, honored Mayor of this town, and I am, as I said, terribly pleased that you have come."

Archer returned the Mayor's gaze, his face neutral.

DeWitt cleared his throat again, then gestured for Archer to take a glass, now half full of the brown drink.

"Whiskey," the Mayor began proudly, "from my own distillery." He swirled the glass beneath his nose  and inhaled deeply. "It's not easy, you know, making whiskey in this climate. Have to improvise, what work what you do have." He paused again, looking pointedly at Archer. "It's much the same as running a town. It's not easy to keep this town clean and safe. We got the fighting to the east, as you well know, and nothing but coyotes and mountain lions on all sides. You know, after the Fall, Bisbee was in just as precarious position as every other city in the continent. We just got lucky, being small as cities went, and having so many good people here. People who didn't mind getting their hands dirty and doing some work. That work ethic is what keeps us stronger, growing even. We buckled down and do what we have to do. Never relied much on the outside world before the Fall, and haven't needed it since." DeWitt paused again to regard Archer, who only regarded him back. "But I expect a man of your abilities knows all that. Some say that's all ancient history, but I say history puts us where we are. What do you say, Colonel Archer?"

"Oh I suspect both opinions have merit."

When Archer didn't continue, DeWitt did. "You might be right. But we're not here to philosophize, are we? You strike me as a straight-forward man, Colonel, so I'll just ask you upfront: what brings you to Bisbee?"

Archer held the Mayor's gaze for a moment, then sipped from his glass. Smooth and oaky, the whiskey was better than he had anticipated, and he let the Mayor simmer while he pondered the flavors the alcohol presented. Peter, standing behind his father, began shifting from foot to foot.

Archer began slowly, turning the glass in his hand, "First, I'm not a Colonel anymore. I'm retired." There was a flash of something predatory in the Mayor's face. Archer continued. "Second, I'm not sure yet, that I'm staying." He raised his eyes to meet the Mayor's, then set his glass on the desk.

"Well I hope you do stay. I hope you do. We've got the best town between the oceans here. Good people here, and we need more good people working to keep it safe for those folks. You know what I'm saying. Not everyone who follows the law is good, and not everyone who is good, follows the law. That's just the nature of human beings.."

Archer raised an eyebrow, but the Mayor pushed on.

"Take your story for example - oh yes I know it, I've got family in Tombstone, too, you know. Anyway, you did a good thing and got branded an outlaw. Now, most folks would say you paid your dues putting your all into your military service the last twenty years. That's longer than Peter here's been alive! But I say you never had any dues to pay, and we owe you now, and big! Yes Sir, you've earned yourself a big rest and the gratitude of the Arizona Republic. Well, I can't speak for the Republic or any other towns in it, but you're welcome here, Sir, and I want you to know that if there's anything at all you need, you just ask ol' Rodney DeWitt, and I'll come help you out."

Archer took another sip from his glass, then set it down and contemplated the way light came through from the windows, through the glass and the whiskey, and reflected odd parabolas against the wood grain of the desk. "That's mighty kind of you," Archer said.

As he anticipated, the Mayor filled the proceding silence for him. "Of course, you don't seem the kind to sit idle. No Sir, you're a man of action. Am I right?"

Archer nodded cautiously.

"Well Sir," the Mayor continued, "As I've said, this town could always use more people of conviction to help keep the streets safe for all the good people who live here. You are, of course, welcome to make this you home. In fact, I hope that you do."

"You've mentioned that," Archer said, wiping his hand over his face. "But there's something you're not mentioning." Archer was tiring of this game.

DeWitt feigned shock; surprise would have been more honest, Archer thought.

"Mayor DeWitt, what war are you fighting, that you need an old soldier like me?" The Mayor sputtered, but Archer talked over him. "I'm no outlaw, whatever anyone said. That's all ancient history, anyway, and I have earned a rest. But you don't give a personal welcome and fine whiskey to every man that wanders into town. So who are you fighting?"

Rodney DeWitt sucked in his cheeks and reappraised his guest. Archer watched the big man pick up his whiskey glass and set it back down three times before he lost patience.

"If you'll excuse me, I believe our business is concluded," Archer said as he stood. "Thank you kindly for the welcome and the whiskey."

The Mayor raised his hand, "Wait Colonel Archer, please. Sit, please."

Archer paused, then took his seat.

DeWitt continued, "That's better, yes, thank you." He took a deep drink of his whiskey. "Forgive me. I get carried away, I'm afraid. This town is my heart and soul. I believe in this town, and want nothing so much as to keep the people of Bisbee safe and happy. Please, forgive me. I - I had not intended to burden you with this, but I see now that I must." He paused with a sigh, and locked eyes with Archer. "You see, there is trouble brewing. Trouble that could mean the end for this town, and I mean to have the best team I can muster to help me preserve our way of life here."

Archer steepled his fingers under his chin. His silence spurred the Mayor to continue.

"Colonel Archer, I intend to offer you a job. A man of your skills and experience," DeWitt raised his hand, shaking a finger at the ceiling, "you should be - you should be celebrated! Esteemed!" He lowered his finger in Archer's direction. "You should be well paid." He dropped his hand, and his voice dropped several decibels. "And I can do that for you."

Archer grimaced, about to speak, but DeWitt cut him off with a wave of his hand. "Sir, what I'm asking you is to help me uphold the law. You have been here, what, two days? You've seen the people here. They're good people. We don't have much crime here. Maybe a man gets a little too drunk and does some property damage now and then, or walks into the wrong house and gets removed a little too roughly. That's about it. Keeping the people safe from each other isn't much work." The Mayor leaned across his desk. "It's keeping them safe from them that isn't so easy." He pointed off to his right.

Archer raised an eyebrow. "Them?"

"Them." The Mayor nodded. "The mine."

"I thought the mine was closed - defunct."

"That's what they want you to think!" DeWitt's face flushed. "Shut it down back in '17. Nobody even remembers that anymore. But just last year, an entire district was evacuated, and now all those people are gone. Vanished. Where did they go? Why can't I walk into that district and see what's there? Or what's not there - that's more to the point. All those families, all those people - gone. There's a fence around it. That land - that land that used to be a town - is now part of a  mine that's supposed to be shut down. And I want to know why. And I want to keep them from taking the rest of this town." He looked meaningfully at Archer. "And where can I go for help with this? The government doesn't care unless it's keeping Old Mexico from taking Arizonan land. I've got nowhere to turn, but to the people around me. And forgive me, but I can't let the opportunity to enlist your aid pass me by. You know what you're doing like nobody else. You can find out what's going on, if anybody can. I need you. This town needs you. I'll make it worth your efforts. What do you say?"

Archer looked down at the Mayor's desk. With great care, he said, "Mayor DeWitt, you're in a tough spot here. I can see that. I'll consider your offer. If - if - I accept, I'll name my price, and you can agree to it, or not. But we'll get there when we get there. Until then, I'll need you to give me a few days. I'm not going to say exactly how long, and you won't come bothering me while I'm thinking." He cast a glance a Peter, who was glowering in the corner of the room. "Ask your son how I feel about courtesy. You'll need to respect my space until I come to you with my answer. Are we clear?"

DeWitt sucked in a deep breath. "Yes, I understand. I'm a patient man, Colonel, but I'm afraid the mine is neither patient, nor man. Do not dally too long, for the sake of the good people of Bisbee." He glanced back at his son, whose face was flushed and tight. DeWitt scowled and turned back to Archer. "You know how to find me. If I'm not in, Otis and Melroy here will bring you to me." He gestured to his oniony bodyguards.

"That'll be just fine," Archer said. "I'll take my leave of you." He swallowed the last of his whiskey and left the glass on the desk. "Good day," he said, waving to both the Mayor and Peter.

"Good day Colonel Archer," the Mayor responded. "And thank you."

Archer nodded, and found his way out.

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