The Price of Demand (Reintegration Edit 15)

Altman fought the fuzzy mass of pain-filled clouds that seemed to be his mind. “I … I have to—I set up the trail—” He couldn’t seem to work his mouth correctly, but he thought maybe the words were understandable.

“Never you mind that, you’re not t’leave this bed till I give the say-so. Whatever you think you gotta do can wait.”

Another voice spoke up then, a familiar voice that soothed his head for just a moment. “It’s a good thing you’re so hard-headed, Altman. Never thought I’d have to admit to it bein’ a good thing! We’ll have you out of here in no time.” Kaylene was there, at least.

He opened his eyes a crack, then shut them again against the most brilliantly blinding light he’d ever seen. “No! There’s no time. I was setting up to catch the man responsible for all this, and if I delay, all the evidence will wash away! I have to get after him, there’s no time to waste!” He seemed to have gotten his mouth under better control.

There was a long pause. “You can go now if you must, though I’d rather you stayed. You ain’t gonna do that though, are you.” Cranford sounded 1 part resigned, 2 parts exasperated.

He finally got his eyes open; the blinding glare subsided after a few seconds. It was still morning, thankfully, the early sun pouring through a window by his bed. “No, I’m afraid I won’t. Dearest, with your help …? I must examine whatever it was that hit me, first. Is it still where it landed?”

Kaylene came into view to stand next to Cranford. “The stone? Yes, it’s still there. What of it? I told you when we moved in that the roof was in need of repair.”

“I didn’t get a look at whoever it was that dropped the stone on me, but that shouldn’t be of any concern.”

Kaylene frowned. “But if y’didn’t see who did it, why are we rushin’ to find ‘im? How’ll you know who to look for? You should be restin’!”

“I spent some time last night spreading iron dust over all the roofs in town; I’ve never been so thankful there are so few of those! Whoever did it will be wearing the evidence on his skin and clothing for the rest of the day, and with luck, we may even catch traces of it on the ground to help narrow the search. We’ll Waldon Sias’ help, after we’ve confirmed it wasn’t Sias himself.”

Kaylene’s eyes widened. “You suspect ‘im?”

Altman shook his head; the wash of painful dizziness made him regret it immediately. “In … in all honesty, no, but we must be thorough. And we do have to talk to him regardless, if we want his to help identifying the real culprit.”