Harry Winsom’s lanky form had eased itself against the side of the building – neighbouring the Marshal’s office as well as the prototype bullet and affording him a comfortable view of both – lazy like a rubber band attached to counterweight that was waiting for the signal to snap taught.
Marshal Hans Octavius Wilhem was not garbed in his familiar and secure iron armour, but the lawman’s education had not been limited to universities abroad. A life of bringing justice to the wild frontier required a selection of armour and the chainmail lining his jacket – The Impermeable – would stop most bullets.
Assuming that the gambler and reputed gunslinger’s ammunition was limited to bullets.
“Eventful afternoon, don’t you agree?” Winsom continued, filling the gap in conversation between the two.
“Ja,” Wilhem agreed and, retrieving the dusty ball of opium retrieved from the water-powered piano at the Ignit-Inn, added “I believe zhis is yours.”
Inclined to outlast, rather than outdraw his opponents, the ball of opium flicked out his hands and at Winsom at speeds that wouldn’t give Jack Lightning pause. But the question about the criminal gunslinger was not not necessarily how fast he was, but what technological advantage he might use to obtain his reputation.
The fact that he was able to pluck the opium of the air as if it were hanging suspended, confirmed his skills were not manufactured.
Not waiting to see what denials or stories Winsom might concoct, Wilhem took his findings and went into the office to change into something more secure. Jack Lightning could deal with this when she arrived. In the meantime, the Iron Marshal had to build an extra couple of rooms to the woefully small office and the outdoors work would ensure that he could keep an eye on Winsom.
Wilhem had fastened the last gauntlet in place when Jack Lightning and Wendell Caine returned. Informing the Lightning Marshal of their neighbour, Wilhem press-ganged Caine into helping him with the renovations. Lightning left the office quietly, rounded the building on Winsom’s blindside and appeared next to him. Winsom did not appear surprised.
“Mind if I ask what you’re doin’ here?” Jack said, relaxing against the same wall but keeping her Lightning Coil Guns at casual, but ready reach.
“Gainfully employed, Miss Lightning,” Winsom smiled around his words as he shifted to look Jack in the eye as well as ready himself for any sudden movements.
“Oh really?” Jack returned the smile.
“Indeed. The fine proprietors of Ithaca Rifling Company hired me to ensure that their property was protected while they returned with the price Mr Colt set.”
“And how,” Jack drawled, “Do you intend to protect their property?”
“Normally I just ask folks and they tend to make themselves agreeable to my thinkin’,” the drawl just barely covering the menance behind his words.
“So long as it’s kept to words,” Jack replied. “The bullet is in our care until Ithaca and Colt conclude their business.” Her piece said, Jack walked back to the office.
“I’m not anticipating any problems.” she heard as she went inside. In the meantime, Wilhem and Caine were measuring plans and errecting posts out back. The afternoon continued in a tense peace until the engineers from Colt Industries arrived.
“Mind if I ask your business here?” Winsom called as Wilhem allowed the two to examine the bullet under the tarp.
The engineers looked warily at his approach. Wilhem responded for them.
“Until ze price has been met, this bullet remains ze property of Mr Colt.”
“My understandin’ was that you were hangin’ onto that bullet to keep peace and ensure that patent rights weren’t violated,” Winsom said, his eyes not leaving the nervous engineers.
Caine and his bear, Smokey, had placed themselves close to Winsom. Jack Lightning, having heard the discussion, was positioned by a window inside the office. Wilhem placed his armoured form between the engineers and Winsom.
“It is a matter for a judge to decide und Ithaca haz ze right to pursue ze matter in court,” he stated with no small pleasure. “Until zhen, ze bullet falls under scavenger rights und Mr Colt is within zhem to have his engineers examine it.”
“Unless you want to force the issue,” Caine grinned, the mountain marshal still hefted a stout oak pole that would either find itself embedded in the ground, or through the gambler/gunslinger.
Time stretched as Winsom regarded the situation. Then, looking down at the ground, he shrugged and said “I guess Ithaca is gonna have to get used to disappointment.” And with that, he turned on his heel and left.
Jack Lightning emerged from her vantage point and joined her companions as they resumed planting the oak poles.
“That seemed to go well,” she observed.
“Ja, though I think I have dug us enough holes,” Wilhem said as the final pole sank into the earth.
The building continued while Colt’s engineers sketched out some plans for the bullet. It was late afternoon when all was finished and the engineers returned to Colt’s room at Etheric Delights.
As the sky turned purple with twilight’s approach, the familiar sound of the engine carrying William Henry Baker and Leroy Smith grew louder as their car arrived in Ascension and parked outside Etheric Delights. After a couple of minutes, the two emerged with Samuel Colt in tow to reclaim their property. Another engine, as loud as the truck that had brought the bullet into Ascension, rumbled around the Marshal’s office and Ithaca’s workers set about moving the bullet onto their truck.
“I appreciate the precautions you took, Marshals,” Baker said, impressed at Wilhem’s barrier and Jack’s covering.
Knowing that there would be trouble anyway when Harry Winsom briefed them, Wilhem informed the Ithaca proprietors of Colt’s Engineers. Baker’s rare moment of manners was quickly abandoned.
“This is outrageous behaviour for lawmen not long to this area!” he swore. For his part the slender Leroy Smith, engineer and chief looked gutted that his property had been treated as such and turned his full attention to guiding the bullet onto the transport, leaving Baker to rail against Colt, the Marshals, Winsom or anyone else who had the slightest connection to their problems. Both the marshals and Colt were without sympathy and, after numerous threats of lawsuit, Baker and Smith charged into their automobile and tore away from Ascension with the bullet in tow.
Enforcing the law was hungry work and, happy to put this behind them, hte marshals opted to eat in at the office; Caine and Jack eating Jack’s best, and only known recipe; bacon and beans. Wilhem received a plate from Etheric Delights but took the meal with them as they discussed future plans. With payday for Colt and Ithaca approaching in two days time, things would end up being rowdy again and Wilhem hoped to have the extensions far enough along that a couple more cells would be ready.
Taking advantage of a peaceful night, the marshals got some hard-earned sleep.
The next morning as the Marshals were settling in and drinking coffee on the porch of their office, Samuel Colt approached them and offered his most sincere thanks for their help the previous day. Jack was quick to brush off the thanks, stating only that it was their job and that peace in Ascension was its own reward. Unfortunately it was a reward that would have to wait as Colt asked the marshals to check on his engineers who had journeyed back to the camp in the late afternoon and hadn’t been seen since. A chill went through each lawman as they remembered how agreeable Harry Winsom had been and the three set out, following the tracks left by the engineers. They did not have long to travel.
A couple of hours outside of Ascension, the remains of the engineers had been left in the desert sands, their bodies burned to a crisp. Both of their horses had been taken and while the engineers’ attackers had taken effort to conceal their own horses, the extra mounts had left a trail that Caine could follow. Readying their mounts, Caine led the way over miles of dirt and rock until they arrived at the second charred remains of that morning. Five horses were smoking ruins and while there were easily visible tracks of three men, none of them appeared to have left the scene.
Wilhem looked skyward and muttered “Ve have an airship to ground.”
THE ADVENTURE CONTINUES IN COLT APOLLO: RELOAD