The peace had briefly returned to the town of Ascension but it had also brought curiosity along for the ride. The idling truck containing the test bullet had brought crowds out from their businesses and while no one was inclined to get close to it, not least because it may explode, the fact was that it wasn’t just Colt that wanted to get a look.
Unwilling to negotiate the nightmare of a patent infringement suit, Hans Octavius Wilhem directed the bullet-bearing truck to drive to the marshal’s office but as he made to follow, he felt Samuel Colt’s withered hand across his shoulder.
“I appreciate your help in this matter, marshal,” he said warily as if testing the next sentence to see if it would hold. “I assume that I’ll see you later on to get a closer look at my property?”
“I don’t think zat is vise, Mr Colt,” the German marshal responded, bracing himself for further tirades. “If zhere is a case for patent infringement, Ithaca vill be sure to follow it, if just to stall your project.”
Expecting a furious response, Wilhem was taken aback by the flood of sadness that pratically bent the old man over with years of woe.
“I don’t care about that,” Colt’s voice cracking as he spoke. “Them bastards actions have cost me more than lab equipment as the safety of this town. They’ve cost me time!”
Wilhem saw clearly, in each weathered line, the deadline that Colt was trying to keep. “As you vish,” he said, walking off to the truck. “Send your engineers to me vhen zhey arrive.”
Jack Lightning and Wendel, Caine already at the truck, were once more trying to stretch their somewhat limited education around the idea of travelling to the moon.
“…I’m just saying it’s a pretty small target to hit,” Jack drawled.
“I still don’t get why we’re even tryin’,” Caine responded. “Wilhem telled me it’s not made of cheese, it’s all covered in dust and there ain’t no air up there!”
“Iz all about ze journey,”Wilhem sighed as he neared the bullet. “Iz ze exploration that’s important.”
Caine eyed the ruined bullet, disdain smuggled under years of mattered facial hair. “Not for the fools inside,” he declared.
The conversation continued as Wilhem tried, yet again, to answer the salvo of questions and ill-formed opinions of Jack and Caine while they guided the truck to the Marshal’s office. Once the bullet was unloaded, Wilhem retrieved his steam train and circled it around the remains to act as a barrier.
“That won’t keep prying eyes away,” Jack said. True enough, Cole Buchanan sprinted out of the Ignit-Inn in a dead straight line toward the bullet.
“Oh my god, is that it?” he exclaimed, not even waiting for an answer or for oxygen. “The first ever moon rocket?”
“Didn’t quite get that far, Buckshot” Caine growled. Buckshot Buchannan ignored him, still getting closer to the bullet as if pulled by some magnetic force.
“It’s really happening isn’t it?” he breathed.
“Yep, we are one step closer to the lifeless, airless ball of dust called The Moon. Woooeee.” Caine’s voice was as flat as the surrounding plateaus.
“Buckshot, I don’t suppose you have something we could use to cover this up?” Jack asked while carefully placing herself between him and the bullet.
Buckshot was still lost until Jack asked him again. As if waking up, the bartender responded.
“I suppose… I did have some a couple of lengths of tarp to extend the bar…” Buckshot trailed off for a moment, gaze returning to the bullet.
“Can we borrow it?” Jack asked, once again having to return Buckshot back to the real world.
“It’s not enough to cover it completely… Unless we sewed all the pieces together, but then I wouldn’t have much use for it…” he said, more thinking out loud than answering.
“Tell you what, give us the tarp and help us sew it up and you can get an even closer look at man’s first vessel to the moon,” Jack smiled.
“Sure thing, marshal!” Cole shouted. “I got it back at the bar,” He took off in a run toward the Ignit-Inn, slowing only to make sure that Jack Lightning was keeping up.
After a couple of hours of sewing, made faster by one of Wilhem’s inventions, and some judicious preparations to ensure the bullet was completely obscured from prying eyes; though not from Buckshot who would frequently be distracted with each new discovery and a bevvy of questions, the bullet was covered up and the marshals retired to the Ignit-Inn where Buckshot declared that they’d be drinking free all day.
“I’ve been thinkin’,” Caine said between shots of scotch and during mouthfuls of chilli, “Fella’s goin to the moon need themselves a special name…”
“Zis is true,” Wilhem mused. “Ve have pilots, sailors… Voidnaughts, Astro-Pilots…”
“You have any ideas?” Jack asked.
“Yeah,” Caine replied. “I was thinkin’ ‘Luna-Tic’…”
Buckshot Buchannan brought the next round over after tending to the water-powered self-playing piano. Wilhem appraised the musical machinery.
“Iz nice design, Mr Buchannan. Vell maintained.”
“It’s been in the family for years, marshal. It’s a ‘Leopold’!” he stated proudly.
“Perhaps I might look closer?” Wilhem asked.
“Sure thing, marshal. Between yourself and Harry Winsom, this beauty’s been getting some attention.”
All the marshals paused at this though Wilhem was first to break the silence. “Mr Winsom enjoys the piano?”
“Very much so, yes,” Buckshot replied. “Many a night he comes in and just lingers around it while it’s playing. Wouldn’t expect him to be a music lover, but there you go.”
Wilhem didn’t respond but did open up the piano’s casing and started taking more than a cursory glance.
“What’s got you so interested in the bullet, Buckshot?” Jack asked, partly out of interest, partly to distract the bartender while Wilhem investigated the piano.
“Aw, you’d just laugh,” Buckshot muttered.
“Try us?” Jack smiled.
“Well… what with history bein’ made right here with goin’ into space and landin’ on the moon, I’d hoped… I’d hoped that I might get a chance to go up there…”
All three marshals paused at this point.
“Yeah, I know. Dumb ain’t it?”
Jack managed to beat Caine’s answer. “Nah, it don’t sound that dumb at all. Mind you, I’d wait till they got it working right…” she said as she glanced at the covered ruins of test bullet.
Wilhem’s head poked up from inside the piano and, ensuring that Buckshot couldn’t see it, produced a dust-covered ball of opium.
“Vell, I’d best be back to zee office,” Wilhem said, giving Caine and Jack a glance. Both saw the abandoned ball of drugs in his hand “Colt’s engineers vill be by soon, I think.”
“We’ll finish up here and meet you shortly,” Jack replied, her voice barely keeping the menace out. Another part of the gunslinger’s business uncovered meant that the time where she and Winsom were going to have to ‘settle up’ was getting closer.
Wilhem strode out of the Ignit-Inn and made his way to the Marshal’s office. The bullet remained covered and it appeared that everyone had gone about their business. Unfortunately it seemed one person’s business included leaning against a neighbouring building in the shade to watch over the covered bullet.
“Afternoon, marshal,” came the drawl of Harry Winsom.
To be continued in Part 3.