• Nied Darnell


Updated: Mar 24

It was as the sun began its descent that the first tell appeared. A flash of light as a beam struck a reflective surface east of them. Considering the geologist wore a trillby with a shaped brim rather than a Stetson decorated with silver conchos as he’d seen some Eastern dudes adapt, Heath deemed a telescope or, more likely, those Galileans Ridley had failed to recover were in use. Sadly, from where the fellow was situated, they were within easy rifle shot.

Mena might think the man was familiar with a pistol, but how was he with a rifle? Heath wondered. Since the geologist hadn’t practiced a draw when target shooting, it could be construed that a pistol was not his weapon of choice. If such was the case—

The ground ten feet before Broxton-Alverdeen’s horse coughed a plume of dirt into the air. A moment later the echo of the shot itself reached them. Ridley’s horse reared in fright, easily shaking the Easterner from its back and ran off. Mena fought her mare’s fright gamely. Heath dropped the mule’s lead as he unsheathed his rifle, and in a flowing move cocked it, and swung it to his shoulder. The habit of regular practice sent his shot toward where he’d caught sight of the glint, layering the report of his rebuttal over the echo of the original shot.

“Get low and get behind that clump of grass,” he barked at Mena, indicating the blind with a hasty jerk of his head, then fired again. “Let your horse run off.”

She slid swiftly to the ground and gave her mare a sharp slap on the rump. Heath was barely a second behind her, his own mount released to gallop after hers. Together, they lay facing each other. He reloaded the rifle. She hastily attached parts to a handgun, turning a Remington single-action into a bastard carbine. Mena placed it on the ground, half in and half out of the mediocre blind of grass.

“Allegory enhanced,” she said. “Proto-type, so there may be glitches, but the range, while shorter than your rifle, is better than a pistol.”

“Same ammunition as the shooter you started with?” Heath asked.

Mena was busy removing her hat, reclaiming the blaster from its nest in the crown. “Don’t be ridiculous. The society’s house inventor makes the ammunition himself.”

“So, room for further glitches, like exploding when fired?”

“No. He said it pulls to the left and that I shouldn’t let Ridley touch it. He made no mention of whether or not I should lend it to a frippery actor.”

Heath smiled. “You know how to load a rifle?”

Darling,” she said, using the same intonation he did when drawling the term, “I can even fire one. However, I rarely hit my target. I’m more dangerous with my blaster and pocket guns.”

“Neither of which will –”

“Ridley is within range of both,” she reminded. “I doubt he intends to help us.”

Her partner had drawn a weapon, one that used lead rather than electricity, Heath noted, but the way he cowered behind another clump of brush lacked the required modicum of fear. No, Ridley was merely awaiting an opportunity. The man in the hills to the east was a distraction, though a distraction quite willing to kill them.

“Don’t hesitate,” Heath murmured. “If you do, Alverdeen will have the upper hand. He’s simply waiting f—”

Another shot ploughed into the dirt, this one very close to where they sheltered. When Heath answered with his rifle, Ridley stopped waiting. The gun in his hand swiveled toward them and spat death...

…and missed. An arch of electric power danced toward him, struck the pistol, spinning it from the turncoat Cog’s hand. Ridley flinched, then dived for the weapon.

Mena sent her blast into his reaching hand.

After that, Heath was too busy to watch the battle between the Cogs. The man in the distance had chosen his ambush position well. Was he patient enough to wait them out though?

As though answering, the geologist got to his feet and fired again. The sound of the shot ripped the air.

Heath was on his feet, the rifle to his shoulder. “You stupid, git,” he snarled, though whether it was at the man in his sights or himself, he wasn’t sure. With a clear target though, he didn’t waste his shot. He squeezed the trigger.

And missed as the geologist stumbled back in alarm at the cry of a large predator. In the sky above, Quetz appeared suspended on air currents.

The man fumbled in his pocket for fresh shells, reloading in haste. His target had changed though. It was now the large mythological predator outlined against the blue sky.

Heath swept up the mock carbine and dashed forward, closing the distance, putting himself within range to take action.

The geologist took aim, tracking Quetz as the firebird banked, turning slightly south. It put the glare of the dropping sun in the man’s eyes when he fired. Quetz screamed. In fury, not pain, Heath noted and dropped to one knee. Steadying himself, he fired at the geologist. A chip of rock jumped, striking the man’s cheek. Damn. The reconfigured gun did pull to the left!

Behind him the sizzle of man-made lightning from two weapons was an unearthly sound. Then he heard Mena’s sharp cry of pain and her partner’s laugh of superiority.

Torn over which direction to take, Heath fired on the geologist again, this time striking the rifle, knocking it from the man’s hand a moment before Quetz dove at his attacker.

Leaving the firebird to fend for itself, Heath turned to rescue Mena and found Ridley ten feet away.

A Ridley no longer armed with a blaster, but with a lead loaded six-shooter.

“Drop the weapon and hands where I can see them,” the renegade Cog ordered. Heath tossed it way, ensuring that the reconfigured pistol wasn’t within easy reach of either of them, then raised his arms.

Ridley glanced toward his new partner’s location. Heath kept his own eyes on the Cog. “I suppose I should have warned my associate about Quetz,” Ridley said, “but I was under the impression the beast rarely left Fizwick’s world.”

“He probably wouldn’t have believed you even if you had mentioned Quetz,” Heath allowed. “I doubt your man will get a ride to the canyon as you did. Still, teatime is near. Perhaps the bird is feeling peckish. Have you killed Mena?”

Ridley gestured with the gun, indicating that Heath should move toward where she lay motionless. “I never intended to kill, just grievously injure you both, though that plan can change. Otherwise the landscape and its inhabitants can insure your demise. Perhaps a bone hunter in the future will find your remains.”

“You chose your timing well,” Heath remarked. “No one will realize we’re missing. We were headed to the rail town, intent on dashing back East.”

“And I will have gone with you, got old Macus and his cohorts pulled from the area with a few dropped hints of what he’s been doing, and then return to discover the gold on the other side of that hole in the cliff face,” Ridley said.

Heath turned his head slightly, peering back at the man over his shoulder. “Isn’t that against the law, old boy? The government owns any natural riches found within the territories.”

Ridley sneered.

The burke really didn’t have the hang of it, Heath thought. It was a sickly effort. No style, no panache in the delivery.

“I didn’t take you for a man concerned with following the rules,” the Cog mused. “Still, what can one expect of an actor?”

“A monologue, perhaps?” Heath offered and, turning swiftly, dived for Ridley’s gun hand.

The weapon barked. Heath felt a pull on his coat but felt no pain. As close as they were, the man had missed the shot. Heath’s fist did not miss the Cog’s jaw. Ridley flailed, trying to keep his feet and bring the gun back into play. This time the bullet found its mark. Heath staggered and tripped over a low clump of grass. Ridley stood over him, a mirthless smile stretching his lips, and took aim once more.

Heath flinched at the report as the weapon exploded, then dropped from the Cog’s hand. Ridley followed it to the ground, a neat hole in the center of his brow.

A few feet away, Mena dropped her gun. It was one of the small hideout derringers she kept hidden on the contraptions affixed to her forearms. She took a few unsteady steps forward then collapsed next to Heath.

“How badly are you hurt?” she asked.

Her voice was calm, but she was shaking.

Heath pushed to a sitting position. “Not badly. Upper arm winged, It’s going to work havoc on my career as a sharpshooter for a modicum of days.”

She sighed. “I can’t even clean or bandage it for you. The supplies were on the animals.”

He wrapped his arms around her. Held her tight. “They haven’t gone far,” he assured quietly, then added, “You killed your partner. Saved my life.”

“I had to,” Mena murmured and buried her face against his chest.

In the distance Heath watched as Quetz settled his talons into the geologist, lifted high into the sky with a few strokes of his wings…

…and purposefully dropped the man back to earth from a great height.

~ ~ ~

Mena sighed as she stood on the platform at the tiny station. The sun should have blinded her when she looked up into her companion’s face, but Heath Haymes had placed himself so that his shadow blocked the glare. “I was a fool,” she said.

“Don’t be so hard on yourself, ducks,” Heath recommended. “It’s what happens when you fancy a bloke. You thought you knew him, and he was running a con on you the entire time.”

“Apparently on the Society’s director as well.”

“Maybe not,” he said. “The fellow might have put his best agent on the job to flush the bugger.”

“If he had, her name would not have been Mena Ketchem,” she declared then sighed. “I really am not Cog material and this adventure has proven it. You did far more, and you haven’t been trained by the Society. No, you are the only one boarding the eastbound train today, Mr. Haymes. I shall be heading west for San Francisco. I have a cousin to stay with once I arrive, and the journey itself will supply the time to decide what to do next. I’ve already written my report for the Director, but I’ve also written a letter of resignation. Will you look for a theatre in the territories or choose a city as a more likely place to pick up Edmund Heath’s interrupted life?”

“I’ve been considering a change of venue,” he admitted. “Rather than whistle-stop across the landscape to play small houses, it’s time to see if a city is in need of a villainous four-flusher like myself.”

“The city would agree with you, I’m sure,” she said. “If Chicago will be your destination of choice, could I request that you delivery the report and my resignation to Mr. Pendulum in person, Heath? Should he have further questions, I’m sure you can answer them for him.”

Heath smiled faintly. “Even though I’m merely the hired help?”

Her hand rested on his arm. “He’ll see your true worth,” she assured then took three separate envelopes from her purse. “The report, the resignation and the balance of what I owe you, plus a bit more. Oh, and this.”

She bent to the carpet bag at her feet, lifted the latch and withdrew a package wrapped in brown paper and twine. “Our blasters, the carbine proto-type and the Galileons will need to be returned to the Director as well. They are the only items Mr. Pendulum insists should not fall into any but Society hands.”

“Yet you trust me with them?”

“I trust you entirely,” she said. “You’ve proved yourself to be more than a world-famous stage villain, Mr. Haymes. You were quite the hero in this real-life melodrama.”

He was speechless for a full minute. Something she had doubted him capable of being. His injured right arm was supported by a sling of red silk which looked quite like a woman’s scarf.

A parting gift from whatever doxy he had visited the evening before? Now he simply stood next to her, a tall handsome man in a black suit, florid silk vest, and black hat tilted forward over his eyes. Kind eyes, she decided, although the sneer that broke susceptible women’s hearts was soon back in play.

She was surprised when he simply bent to his own carpet bag and slipped the package and all three letters inside without looking to see the amount she had paid him.

“The address for the Allegory Society is on both the envelopes for the Director, so if you decide not to go to Chicago –”

“Don’t worry, darling,” he murmured. “Chicago sounds like just the place for a fellow like me. I’ll make your deliveries, never fear.”

In the distance to the east a steam whistle sounded, announcing the arrival of her train. Once she was aboard and the locomotive was once more in motion, she looked back. Heath remained standing on the platform looking after the departing train. Mena watched until he was out of sight.

~ ~ ~

The man behind the desk was reserved as he read the letter of resignation. Heath was surprised nothing in his tale or Mena’s report changed Pendulum’s expression. When the man finished, he refolded the letter, opened a desk drawer, and placed it inside.

“Interesting,” he said.

“Not unbelievable?” Heath asked before enjoying the dregs of the port the Allegory Society’s director had offered him.

Pendulum allowed a faint smile to curve his lips. “I’m sure Verne or Mayne-Reid could insert more grandiose plot points, but I deal in reality, not fiction.”

“Yet you believe this other place exists?”

“Why should it not? You’ve been there and returned, Mr. Haymes,” the director said. “Sadly, the episode has left me short two agents. Might I lure you into being a Covert Cog rather than a villain on the stage? You acquitted yourself well according to Miss Katchem’s report.”

“It’s kind of you think me worthy, sir, but my heart is in the theatre,” Heath demurred.

“I understand,” Pendulum answered then stood and offered his hand.

Heath put the now empty goblet on the desk and after a gentlemanly shake, took his leave.

Chicago lay at his feet and there was money in his pocket. He’d begin interviewing theatrical companies the next day, Heath decided. Perhaps one that wouldn’t cast him in a series of melodramatic claptraps. Tonight, it would be a fine dinner and perhaps a lovely companion.

Which is when a door opened down the way and a shapely redhead pulled it closed behind herself. Her skirts whispered toward him. She nodded and passed by, her steps muted by the band of carpet down the center of the hall. He caught the scent of expensive perfume. Wondered who she was. Doubted he’d ever know.

Decided he wanted to know.

Heath turned and found she had paused in a different doorway and was looking back at him, a smile curving her lips.

“Are you free for dinner?” he asked.

“Possibly,” she said. “I would need a name to go with the invitation though.”

“Heath Haymes.”

“Zephyr McCabe,” she murmured. “Do you know the Boston Oyster House at Madison and Clark?”

“I will by seven this evening,” he promised. “Are you one of Pendulum’s Cogs?”

She nodded, the copper sausage curls spilling from her upswept hair brushing against the high ruffled collar of her gown.

“Then perhaps we’ll both work and dine together more often in the future,” Heath said, reevaluated his previous decision.

Her smile widened. “I’m quite sure we will, Mr. Haymes. Quite sure.”

(c) Copyright 2020 Beth Daniels/Nied Darnell

And that, dear friends, concludes

another adventure with

the Covert Cogs!

As mentioned before,

this is the third outing with our agents.

It follows


with Mick Tindale and Ariel Knapp,



with Samanthalia Gast and Major Colter Webb,

both available in e-book

and trade paperback editions

from Amazon.


will leave the website

and resurface in e-book and trade paperback

editions on May 1st, 2020.

Sometime this coming summer

a new serialization will begin with


Until then, Steam on!

Respectfully yours,

Nied Darnell