No Way Out

October 16, 1896
Edith Bowen

The sheriff barged in through the front door and slammed it behind him.

“Get all the girls upstairs and into their rooms.” He ordered while bolting the door closed.

Mrs. Carrington and I hesitated for just a moment, looking at each other. First Penelope’s brother and now the sheriff. What the hell was going on? The sheriff looked at us frozen in place and grunted impatience.

“Now, ladies.” He said.

Mr. Carrington entered the hall just as Mrs. Carrington and entered the dining hall and started ushering the girls back to their rooms. The confusion was immense with nearly every girl asking some variation of, “Why?” I ignored the girls largely and tried to pay attention to the men.

“What seems to be the trouble?” Mr. Carrington asked.

“Seems the damn Democrats have gotten us into a full blown labor revolt.” The sheriff replied.

“I don’t see what that would have to do with us.”

“They’re marching this way for starters and they don’t look none to civil about it either. They’ve got your missing girl and they aim to trade her for the boy we found.”

“The boy is here although I’m not sure he should be moving anywhere. It would be best if the Doc were to look at him first. Either way though, I don’t see any reason to not make the trade peacefully.”

“It won’t happen that way. They got ideas about your girls here taking their jobs and keeping the wages low.”

“Where would they get a crazy idea like that?”

“Apparently your missing girl has been working regular hours at the laundry house. From what I hear, she’s not the only one either.”

“That’s impossible, none of the girls have enough free time to manage a job.”

“Impossible or not, that mob believes it.”

The sheriff pointed out the front widow. I gasped as I followed his finger to the mass of men standing in front of the manor. By the looks of it they had the entire front covered and nobody would be getting out the back without them seeing.

“I thought you said they want to make a trade though?” I asked.

The sheriff glanced at me with obvious annoyance.

“They do and as soon as they have what they want they’ll burn this place to the ground. That boy in here is the only thing going to save all of your lives.” He said.

“Is there a plan?” I asked.

Mr. Carrington took the time to look annoyed at me. I shrugged. What did they expect me to do, just cower in a corner and hope everything would be okay?

“I’m working on that.” The sheriff said.

“In the meantime maybe we should send a couple of girls out the back to the stables. They could ride into town for help.” I suggested.

“Anybody in town that could have helped us is standing out front.” He replied.

“Oh.” I said.

“Now you think you could manage to keep quiet for a few minutes?” He asked.

“Yes, sir.” I said.

The sheriff sat down at one of the tables and started an exhaustive process of counting options on his fingers before shaking his head, negating them. From my own perspective I could not see many options. Either we run and risk getting caught in the open or we sit and wait and risk getting burned out. Then it occurred to me, sometimes you have to fight fire with fire.

“You said they are motivated by ideas that the women here are a threat to their jobs and wages, right?”

“I thought you were going to be quiet.” Mr. Carrington said.

I rolled my eyes at him before thinking better of it.

“Yes, I did. What of it?” The sheriff said.

“So what we need to do is prove we aren’t threat.” I said.

“If you have a suggestion on how to accomplish that, I’m all ears.” The sheriff said.

“I’m not sure I know how to change their minds but I would bet Mr. Parker is behind it. He probably used a surrogate but I would bet Miss Waters knows who.”

“I don’t see how that helps us.”

“Simple politics, sheriff. You don’t defend yourself when attacked, you attack right back.”

A bell started ringing. We all jumped and looked around to identify the source. After ruling out the mob on our doorstep our eyes fell on the telephone. It rang again.

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