Albrecht was confident the statue he spied through the window of the school was that which rested in his coat pocket. He strode up the porch and tried the handle.
Drawn by curiosity the man pressed within and looked around with slight trepidation.
The school, Albrecht surmised, had formerly been a saloon, for a bar counter yet remained, as if it had been judged too troublesome to warrant removal. The curiosity lay upon the teacher’s desk. A small, wooden statue, seemingly identical to the one that Mal had given him. He took Mal’s carving from his pocket and held it up to the other figurine for comparison. In all attributions, they were the same.
He checked the books.
Every single one concerned botany or the planetary sciences. He looked at the shelves to the left of the desk, and again, all the books were the same. No math. No history. No art.
Albrecht furrowed his brow and pocketed Mal’s gift before turning from the bookshelves and the desk as the mechanical chugging of an autowagon rang-out in consecutive succession beyond the old, peeling walls. He returned the statue to the teacher’s desk, pocketed his own and ventured back out to the street where Otto sat with arms crossed in vexation and a look of impatience upon his sunburnt face.
“The hell you doing in there?”
Albrecht got in the car and gingerly shut the door, “Just looking around.”
“You’re an engineer, not a private eye.”
“School was empty.”
“Its the weekend. Folk round here are liable to get ansy, seeing you poking your nose around where it don’t belong.”
As he spoke Albrecht noticed two old men staring at him from the porch of a house to the immediate left of the town hall. They said nothing but needed no words to express their heightened suspicion.
“Sorry. I didn’t think anything of it.”
They sat in silence for several moments as Otto turned the vehicle towards the edge of town, until Albrecht felt compelled to break the spell.
“Who was that woman?”
“The one sitting outside of the school when we departed the mayor’s office. A tall man and a little girl were with her.”
“Oh. That’s Ms. Saunders.”
“Yes, we spoke a little, before she left. Introduced herself. I meant, what does she do?”
“Sad story really. Husband died some years back, round the same time Moorley came to town. Husband used to be a mechanic. Even helped fix up the pipelines back before they broke down. So when he died Mal had nothing but the inheritance, and that a pittance. But she’s a way with words—started preaching. An unusual creed. Goes wandering about town spouting it.”
“The people that were with her, they’re her… what, students?”
Otto nodded, his eyes fixed upon the road which swiftly vanished in a blur of reddish dust, like the dessicated blood of an ancient beast.