The Price of Demand (Reintegration Edit 18)

“You men, stop ‘im!” Waldon bellowed, charging after him. Altman forced himself into as quick a run as he could manage, and was quite surprised when he managed a brisk jog that only made him a little nauseous.

“Kaylene, your staff—” The words were barely out of his mouth when Kaylene, supporting him in the jog, gripped the staff.

“We’ll stop ‘im, catch us up when you can. An’ try not to make yerself sick, runnin’ too hard!” And with that she was off.

With grim determination Altman pressed on; thankfully he didn’t have far to go. After a minute of dizzying exertion he came upon the struggling man. Waldon and one of his men had the suspect pinned to the ground, Kaylene’s staff held down across his shoulders, keeping him from moving. He smiled grimly and caught his breath. “We’ve got you! What are you playing at, causing all these accidents?”

The man struggled and thrashed. He couldn’t move; he was a rather slight man in comparison to the other workers. “What? I don’t know what you’re talking about!”

Kaylene growled, “You’re a filthy, red-handed liar!”

“That’s ridi—”

“You’ve got the evidence all over you,” Altman cut in. “I spread red iron oxide over all the roofs and high places in this town; there’s nowhere else you’d have gotten covered in it.”

He stopped struggling and turned his face to the side out of the dirt. “Look, I swear I didn’ come here jus’ to cause trouble, I was put up to it! E’s the one you want.” There was a wheedling note of desperation in his voice.

Altman frowned. “And who is ‘he?’”

The man gave one final effort to push up against the staff pinning him down and gave up. “’E’s some Mitchell bloke back in ‘ol Holdswaine, a high-up rich type with plenty ‘o influence. ‘Ad his thugs visit me after I ‘ad some … troubles … payin’ a debt. Them’s the ones set me up with this job an gave me the … er … extra instructions.”

Altman felt a sour feeling in the pit of his stomach at Mitchell’s name, and he was sure it had nothing to do with the blow to his head. With the reputation of the town ruined, Mitchell would have no problem denying them the manpower to build. The workers themselves might demand that they not be sent to help. That would make Mitchell’s Conclave friends very happy. “That’s a tough position you found yourself in,” he said finally.

The man was shrewd enough to sense the change in Altman’s attitude towards him. “You’re tellin’ me! I carried th’ bruises for days after that, an’ I didn’t even give ‘em any trouble. Them’s bad sorts.”

“What’s your name, fellow?”

“Moyle, sir. Ewen Moyle.” His voice was calmer, but he definitely sounded nervous.

“Did you leave family behind in Holdswaine, Ewen Moyle? Friends?”

“Nah, just me mates at the waterin’ ‘ole, but thems that ain’t ‘ere won’t care. Uh … what’re you plannin’ on doin with me?”

Kaylene took the staff back, passing it to Altman, who leaned on it gratefully. She eyed Moyle, a considering look in her eyes. “They’ll kill ‘im, or make ‘im wish they had if we send ‘im back.”

“It’d be no better’n a death sentence,” Waldon agreed. It wasn’t clear to Altman whether Waldon thought this was a good thing or bad. He and the other workman dragged Moyle to his feet none too gently.

“You can’t send me back there! It’s like she said, I’m as good as dead if I show my face in Holdswaine!” He looked on the verge of trying to fight free again.

“No, you can’t go back to Holdswaine.” Altman paused in thought a moment. “But we can’t keep you here, either. Mitchell has too much influence over the union men. You haven’t exactly won yourself any friends here, either.”

“One o’ the northern cities?” Kaylene asked.

“The bigger the better, I think. Big enough to have its own unions, where Mitchell has no power.”

“You’ll let me go? Oh thank you sir! I won’t forget this, see if I don’t!”

“Yes … But this isn’t a free pass, Moyle. Before we escort you out, I’d be appreciative of anything you can tell me about Mitchell or his union work gangs. If he’s sent you to cause problems, he can and will send more, and I think you can help us be ready for it.”

They retreated back to the house for a long talk while Waldon spread the word about the source of the ‘bad luck.’ The story spread like wildfire; it wasn’t long before a sense of relief replaced the growing dread around the work sites.