Blue arcs of lightning swarmed across Harry Winsome’s wiry body like ants, drawn to the device affixed to his belt buckle that protected the gunslinger from harm. He stepped past the burning, though no longer screaming, body of one of his fellow outlaws, the last distraction between him and Jack Lightning.
The Lightning Marshal was thinking fast. What the hell was Winsome doing here? Why now when her guns were at a fraction of their power? Had he been watching her use them on the disorderly workers? Did he decide to kill her now? Was this about the ‘plans’ or was it too good an opportunity to waste?
It was too good an opportunity, regardless of any other thoughts that might be crawling inside Winsome’s head. But that was only if he underestimated her. Jack Lightning was still the fastest ’round these parts, and anything even resembling a weapon in her hands would make her no less deadly…
…such as the gun Samuel Colt had built into his cane!
Abandoned while its owner was being treated by Hans Octavius Wilhem, the gun-cane was but a diving roll away. All Jack needed was for Winsome to think he had the upper hand, underestimate her and it wouldn’t take a second to get the gun, and shoot the grin off his face.
The grin that crept around the barrel of the Hellfire pistol aimed square at her. She could see the molten core of the barrel primed, saw his finger apply pressure to the trigger. He hadn’t underestimated her at all.
And now only a force from on high could save Jacqueline Lightning.
The ceiling above them both shattered, wood and dust flying as a hairy fist ripped it apart from the third floor. Wendell Caine had heard all manner of goings on downstairs and he didn’t waste time with no fancy acrobatics or, for that matter, stairs. He just fixed a line between him and whatever need punching and punched everything else in the way.
One of the things in the way, now shattered from its coupling, was a brass pipe that ran along between the floor and ceiling. As Caine landed on the second floor gas, that would normally be pumped through the pipe to heat baths, was now being pumped into room…
And Harry Winsome, too fast for his own good, lit the match!
The fireball swelled to double, and then triple its size before Jack Lightning pulled her eyes away and turned to the window. The force of the explosion washed her in fire, ripped her off her feet and threw her out the window toward the street below. Even aflame, the Lightning brand of reflexes reached out and grabbed onto the railings, propelling her into the second floor verandah and wrenching her shoulder into twisting agongy. Still, she was spared further damage.
Harry Winsome had been blown out the front door and into the hall, wicked burns up his hands and arms and scored across his face. Wendell Caine had dived into Colt’s sturdy bathtub, mildy singed for his troubles. Picking himself up, the Mountain Marshal stormed toward Winsome who, without success, was trying to get bring his guns up. Abandoning the Hellfire Pistols, he inched his fingers toward his bowler hat instead as Caine reached down and hefted the gunslinger. Flipping a switch within it’s brim, a piece of the hatband flew off and revealed a ticking timer. Winsome’s trademark grin had turned manic, but Caine didn’t care about the rictus grin or whatever was going on with his hat. With one granite fist crushing the device on his belt buckle and the other secured to the lapel, Caine coiled his muscles and threw Winsome out the same window Jack Lightning had been flung through.
Jack, coat still on fire, could only watch as Harry Winsome sailed over her head and, not possessing any fortunate handholds within reach, crunched in a bodily heap on the main street of Ascension to the wide eyes and slack jaws of all who had suffered under him. Only now did Jack spare a thought for her own wellfare and, as luck would have it, the water trough she’d used previously to scale Etheric Delights was right below her. All she needed to do was simply to let go. So she did.
Oblivious to the splash outside, Wendell Caine was ready to leap out the window himself to finish things with Winsome when a ticking noise at his feet alerted him to the bowler hat at his feet. Intended to make the Mountain Marshal dive for cover and, prior to being thrown through the window, effect an escape to his waiting horse, Winsome was surprised that Wendell had gone with a third option and simply sent the bowler hat sailing out after it’s owner. Staggering to his feet, the gunslinger snaked a hand upward, plucked the hat from the sky and returned it to his head, tipping it in gratitude. The timer ended but it only signalled that the hat was a diversion and even though he was lurching awkwardly with each step maybe, Winsome thought, he might be able to make it to that horse yet.
A fountain of water splashed upward as a now-extinguished Jack Lightning leapt from the trough. Her feet landed on the edges and, despite being caught in the backdraft of the fireball, looked barely singed and naught the worse for wear. Producing both Lightning Coil Guns and, having the presence of mind to keep the wooden trough between her and the ground, she slammed both pistols together and unleashed a combined bolt that thundered across the main street and tore into Harry Winsome as easily as it tore the air between them. Electricity washed down the duster coat as Jack Lightning remained balanced across the trough, the crowd unaware that it was only the finely distributed balance of her position that prevented her from collapsing in a heap. As her vision swum, she could see the citizens of Ascension warily stepping out onto the street, approach Winsome and lightly kick him to see if he was breathing. He wasn’t, and so the kicks became more vigorous as one could never be sure if he was faking…
Wilhem and and Caine emerged from Etheric Delights and were swept up in the cheer as workers from Colt and Ithaca threw their hats to the heavens, shook hands and were bound by the joy of a shared fear laying dead in the dirt. Wilhem, after checking that Jack wasn’t about to die as well, went to find Madame Ether who, along with her girls, had taken refuge in a heavily reinforced room on the ground floor. Assuring them that all was safe, he directed two of the girls to fetch a stretcher and get Colt to Dr Gasket as quickly and as quietly as possible. Caine and Smokey rounded up the remaining outlaws along with Winsome’s body – to the dismay of the scavengers sizing up his boots and clothes – and carted the lot to the Marshal’s office where they were all shoved into the middle cell between Colt and Ithaca. The insults hurled between each company’s workers froze as Winsome’s corpse was stretched out between them. The Marshal’s reputation in Ascension was made.
After Jack recovered and the town winded down from the excitement of the day, Wilhem, Caine and Lightning set about interrogating the living outlaws who had the unpleasant experience of sharing a cell with their former boss, as well as having neighbours from Colt and Ithaca who had been informed of their crimes of murdering the engineers as deduced by Wilhem by matching their boots to the prints at the crime scene. After a fearful night, they were only too happy to volunteer what information they could about what they had planned tonight, and their dealings with Winsome and the elusive Sam ‘Spokey’Sampson. Unfortunately, Spokey had only ever trusted Winsome with his identity and that secret died with him. However a search of his belongings revealed a mirror that may have been used a signal device for communicating between Winsome and Spokey.
Releasing the brawlers of Colt and Ithaca, on condition that if they were ever found to be causing trouble again that they’d be fined, sentenced or worse, and fining the Ithacan worker his wages for using a knife, the cells were emptied of all but the outlaws as the Marshals rode out to Harry Winsome’s house located on the outskirts of Ascension. A life of luxury awaited them inside, as well as a considerable amount of money in the floorboards as well as fifteen gunbelts of those who had challenged Winsome to a showdown. But no further clues as to Spokey’s identity or whereabouts. Pleased that the tropheys did not include any from the Lightning family, Jack and Caine returned to Ascension for a well-earned rest.
Wilhem was not yet ready to sleep though. Taking a telescope up one of the neighbouring cliffs, the Iron Marshal scanned the horizon for any sign of Spokey Sampson’s airship, the signal mirror close to hand. The horizon, however, remained empty save only for Wilhem’s whispered words:
“A storm is coming, Sampson…”
A NEW ADVENTURE BEGINS IN THE CONTINUING TALES OF THE COLT APOLLO: 2ND ROUND, FIRST SALVO!