The Men of Ithaca Rifle Company entered into the bordello of Etheric Delights in wildly different fashion. Leroy Smith pushed his head down until it rested on his bony shoulders, even with the door frame clearing his crown by half a ruler’s length; his comfort with the location or the meeting to come both likely reasons.
William Henry Baker, as clear from his girth, didn’t make a move unless it was absolutely necessary, which was clear as he almost barrelled his partner aside as Smith floated around the hall. Smith looked stretched and taut, Baker looked like he was hoping to yell at something.
The three marshals, Jack Lightning, Hans Octavius Wilhem and Wendel Caine were reflections of each other as they leaned forward and strode toward the whorehouse. They flooded into the bar to hear the sounds of Baker testing the boards of the staircase he was climbing with each step and found Wilhemina Ether, Madame and Proprietor behind the bar, gazing wryly at the volume of business this early in the day.
“Something I can offer you,” she remarked behind something that was not quite smile and not quite smirk.”
“Ah, Ms Ether,” Wilhem started, his eyes revolving from the staircase to the bar like they were mounted spotlights. “I thought it time to introduce my companions.”
“They look like they’d be challenging customers,” Madame Ether mused as she placed a bottle of vodka, Wilhem’s favourite, as well as scotch that looked it had travelled to Ascension at great expense. “But we cater for all types.” she said as she poured.
“It’s not business,” Jack Lightning drawled as she lead the Marshals to the bar.
Despite herself the Madame’s eyes flickered up a floor before they met Lightning’s gaze. “No?”
Wilhem cut in “Just vanting to be social and ensure that everything remains as such,” noticing the glance.
Three glasses – two scotches and one vodka – appeared from behind the bar and atop the counter as Caine sat down. Wilhemina stopped herself from sighing as the law got comfortable. It didn’t look like they wanted to get into Samuel Colt’s room for the meeting, just be near for when things broke down into shouting. This was good as a reputation for the law just walking into rooms as they pleased would not do well for business.
“How can I be of service?” she asked, her eyes taking the time to examine each of the new lawmen and, curiously, lingering on the sturdy and hairy Wendel Caine.
Caine didn’t notice the look, nor the quality of the scotch he was throwing back, though both Jack and Wilhem were left perplexed. Jack recovered first. “We were hoping you could answer some questions about Spokey Sampson.”
Jack caught the sideways glance, the moment of doubt where a war over talking or lying was waged. Talking won out. “Figured he’d come to your attention.”
The marshals waited. Madame Ether refreshed their drinks as she talked.
“He’s been around for a long time, has interests in just about everything making money in this town. He gets things for the workers; drugs, somtimes women…” her voice trailing off at this.
“Protection rackets?” Jack asked.
“That many men with money and alcohol and only one lawman before you arrived, it’s his biggest profit,” she replied, her voice getting lower with each sentence. “Harry Winsom tends to and enforces that side of the business.” she ended in a whisper.
“Not surprisin’,” Jack responded, her voice cold at the mention of his name.
“The Widow Garrett, over at the general store, pays him for protection. I’m pretty sure one or both saloons as well,” Ether offered, worry creasing her face. Once again she glanced toward the towering Mountain Marshal. Once again, Caine didn’t notice.
Not wanting to disturb Madame Ether further and not wanting to leave the bordello before Ithaca’s owners did, Wilhem changed topics.
“I imagine Colt and Ithaca are talking about ze Indian attacks,” he said. Wilhemina Ether started down this conversation like she’d just stepped into the sun.
“I can’t imagine it’s civil,” she said, despite the fact that the meeting upstairs clearly hadn’t reached shouting volume. “It hasn’t been since they started their space guns.”
“Still don’t know what they’re gonna do when they get to the moon,” Caine grumbled before finishing the next round. The other two, well acquainted with Caine’s misgivings, didn’t press further.
“Wasn’t always a two-horse race,” Ether said after the conversation had lain dead for a few seconds. “Colt originally had the idea, but Ithaca got wind of it,” The marshals focused on her at that. “Colt went to Congress for money and Ithaca got more than a few men elected. Ithaca claimed that Colt was getting old and might not have been the man for the job,” she paused, making sure that the men in question upstairs were staying there. “Not a hard claim to back up given Colt’s new opinion on weapons.”
The marshals, already aware of Samuel Colt’s opinions, and volume thereof, of his former profession, gave a slow nod as one. The conversation lulled again.
“But here I am telling you all about this and I barely know anything about you,” Madame Ether ventured brightly. And it was true, with the recent changes and attacks, the marshals hadn’t had time to introduce themselves fully to those they’d be protecting. “What made you decide to become marshals?”
Jack went first, not surprising given her reputation. “I’m a Lightning, ma’am,” she drawled. “It’s a family thing.” Madame Ether smiled knowingly at this. There was barely a part of the United States that wasn’t patrolled by one of the Lightning clan.
“I don’t like people pickin’ on the little guy,” Caine said when Madame Ether’s attention came to him. Once again, her gaze found home amongst the giant. Once again, it didn’t escape either Jack or Wilhem’s notice.
“And where do you come from, Wendel?” Ether prompted.
“West Virginia, ma’am,” Caine said. “Up in the mountains. Bear country.”
Ether had heard of the Mountain Marshal’s even hairier partner and needed no further explanation. This time the gap in conversation was plugged by Octavius Wilhem.
“I hail from ze Old Country,” he said as he sipped his vodka, the taste taking him back. “I too come from a large family, vone blessed by good fortune and vealth. I only possess 1/32nd of the family fortune, but it allows me education and time to invent.”
The tastes and manners of Wilhem spoke as to the quality of his education and breeding. His iron armour a testament to genius. But nothing was clear about why he would work the thankless task of a Marshal. Madame Ether asked just that.
“I too share Vendell Caine’s distaste for people picking on ze ‘little guy’,” he answered.
The warmth of burgeoning friendship was stopped dead as William Henry Baker’s voiced blasted through floorboads above.
“God Damn you, Colt!”
Any rejoinders or further epithats were lost under the sound of rumbling machinery. The marshals went to the door and things became clear as to what was waiting out in the street.
Idling in the thoroughfair, steamclouds pushed into the sky by powerful hydraulic pistons was one of the largest trucks in the fleet of Colt’s vehicles. It carried on its back the remains of something all too familiar to the marshals: The remains of Ithaca’s ‘bullet’ that had wiped out half the Indian tribe. Baker, Smith and Colt joined the marshals down at the foyer, Baker was choking purple across his face, Smith was livid white. Colt’s smile was wide enough that it hurt to look at it.
“Those are my terms, Baker,” Colt’s gravelled serious tones behind the grin. “Pay me for the damages those savages inflicted because of your bullet or that thing stays with me.”
Baker was still trying to find enough air to fuel the curses he was readying against Colt. Smith bought him some time.
“That’s my property and my designs!” he very nearly wailed.
“You didn’t care where your bullet ended up so I don’t see why you’d care now. But I’m big enough to let you buy it off me,” Colt paused for his words to sink in before continuing. “Course I’d want to see the money up front before I turned it back over to you, so you’d best hurry back to your hole and raid your matress.”
Baker zeroed in on the marshals who were doing their best to keep their faces as neutral as possible. “Marshals!” he started. “I demand you have Colt return our property!”
Caine and Jack both exclaimed “Demand?” before Wilhem stepped in.
“I’m afraid ze laws ov salvage are in effect, Mr Baker,” Wilhem stated. “Ze bullet was abandoned for veeks and Mr Colt’s possession is quite legal.”
The muscles around Colt’s grin practically creaked as the smile grew impossibly wider.
“That is Ithacan technology, patent-pending, Marshal,” Baker responded.
Wilhem’s mind whirled through years of academia. Colt would face a lot of trouble if it was believed that Ithaca’s ideas were incorporated into the Colt Apollo. Moreso, the peace the marshals were hoping to keep was getting more unlikely.
“Zen ve shall keep ze bullet at our office on neutral ground,” Wilhem declared. Colt’s smile got swallowed by the decision.
“Hardly neutral when you told Colt about where our bullet was and not us,” Baker started. Jack Lightning cut off any complaints.
“We are neutral and we were a mite busy cleaning up your mess. We’ve made our decision!”
“If you don’t like it, ve can let Mr Colt do vhatever he likes with ze bullet,” Wilhem offered.
Baker growled the offer down. “Very well. We’ll be back with the money.”
Colt called after Baker and Smith as they rushed for their automobile. “Best hurry, lads. I’m getting all sorts of ideas from this thing.” Any response got lost over the engine roaring into life before the car launched itself away from Ascension.
To be continued in Part 2
“But that is my property, Marshal