The airship Chancellor owned the skies as six powerful propellers heaved its luxurious bulk toward Ascension. It was a high-class airship equaled only by the vessels of state employed by the Senate and the President.
It was also the standard to which the Pinkerton Detective Agency kept their employees accustomed.
Idly reviewing the folder packed with sheaves of briefing notes and photos the British-born, though American-at-heart detective, James Lovelace glanced outside the comforts of the airship to the dusty wastes of the desert plains of Arizona below. It was standards, such as they were, that he would have to become accustomed as well; the clients of wealth and influence that made use of the Pinkertons did so specifically to avoid locations that Lovelace would soon become acquainted with.
James’s client, however, was languishing in a far worse state– namely death. Wealthy businessman, William Tapping, had shuffled the mortal coil and, being possessed of only one heir, had bequeathed his fortune and enterprises to William Tapping Junior. A problem had arisen though as Junior, far from willing to be chained to the weighty stone of fiscal responsibility, had left home to seek his fortune away from the disapproving gaze of his father. Regardless, Tapping Senior had willed his estate to his wayward son and James Lovelace had been charged with the duty of notifying Junior of his inheritance.
Not willing to allow his son to roam unfettered, the Pinkerton Detective Agency had kept one eye upon the roving Tapping heir. Unfortunately his vagabond lifestyle had left little clues for the agency to follow and the trail was all but cold when Junior had arrived at Ascension. Either employed at the Space Gun camps, or at the iron mine situated further from the town, Lovelace had hoped that he had remained at the approaching small prospector-like town, to make his job easier, or had moved on to somewhere more pleasant.
Docking at one of the tabeltop plateaus, a common feature to the landscape, Lovelace disembarked the Chancellor and laid eyes upon Ascension. A motely collection of buildings, some fashioned for permanence and the comfort it affords, others errected as temporary places either to stake a claim to the land or to abandon it with minimal expense, Ascension existed only for the purpose of providing each gunsmithing camp a place to relax and spend their wages.
One of the camps, the one belonging to Colt, could be seen on the horizon. A giant six-barreled revolver pointed toward the heavens, had been studied with a mixture of awe and stark disbelief by the Pinkerton Detective. The structure was impressive though who was to say whether it would actually work. Based on the contents of his folder, Ithaca’s camp lay hidden in a gulch over a deposit of gas. Both were curiosities though neither affected Lovelace insofar as it applied to the case. One of the local children loitering near the docks, had offered to carry his luggage to the town for a nickel. It was a bargain Lovelace was quick to seize.
Climbing down the steps of the airship docking port, there was one other bit of information included from the agency. Another Pinkerton had been hired recently to act as bodyguard to Samuel Colt. Apparently there had been a couple of attempts on his life and the inventor/businessman was taking them seriously. Lovelace had also heard rumours that Ithaca’s proprietors had made similar dealings with the Pinkertons to secure protection, but there wasn’t any time left to dwell on rumours as the climb had ended and the child already had his hand out, having already steered him toward a luxurious bordello house named Etheric Delights.
It was remarkable, given the rudimentry layout of Ascension, that any level of comfort could be found, much less the level afforded by Etheric Delights. And yet the interior was lavishly decorated, the bar was well stocked and the women present and ready to make him feel welcome were clean and attractive. The owner, Madame Wilhemina Ether, had been only too happy to provide comfortable rooms and the promise of comfortable company. She was also only too happy to provide vodka or any other spirit he would desire. However, for the second time this day, James Lovelace would forego luxury and venture into the frontier– this time in search of the local constabulary.
Said constabulary, as informed by Bethany Cartwright, while she swept the front porch of what appeared to be a newly constructed office, was to be found at saloon called the Ignit-Inn taking lunch. Tipping his hat, the Pinkerton crossed the road toward the cylindrical cone-shaped three-floored structure, dust and dirt crunching under boots long accustomed to the paved walkways of New York. Ascension itself appeared to be remarkably quiet. The Ignit-Inn was no different.
Walking through the swinging doors, Lovelace believed he could inventory the rest of Ascension’s businessmen at first glance. A sturdy fellow and a wiry compatriot, both bearing the grease and grime of cog-wranglers, were ordering whiskey to accompany their meal. A man of learned appearance, and quizzical demeanor, peered over his spectacles as if diagnosing the Pinkerton like he had walked into a surgery. Two fellows, not local to the town but, judging again by the grime, likely worked at one of the camps, were losing at poker to a wiry woman in a duster coat and a wide hat, sporting two large pistols at her hips. Seated nearby was a hulking hairy brute in overalls, who was demolishing a bucket of chilli. Also close by was another man, mid-forties, learned and accomplished with a monocle and handlebar mustache. Each of them sported the tin badges with ‘U.S. Marshal’ stamped across it.
Never one to pass up any kind of game of chance, James Lovelace took the seat of one of the workers and was dealt in. It was clear that the one who had abandoned the game was hoping to salvage some of his earnings for a journey back to civilisation. The one still at the table believed that there was some hope he could win his money back and more besides. What was most surprising though was as Lovelace sat, so did the monocled marshal who, it appeared, had been previously been more interested with analysing his lunch than the game.
Lovelace, though rich by circumstances too lengthy to detail, had made a not inconsiderable amount of money on the gambling tables across America. In Ascension though it appeared that it was more than luck that ran this table. With the German marshal – judging by the accent – being dealt in, the worker experienced a windfall of cards that soon saw his earnings, and his cheerful disposition, restored. The woman marshal wasn’t even the least bit perturbed, or had a poker face that could have seen her swimming in coin from any game along the Mississippi. The hairy fellow, identified as a marshal too, once Lovelace had seen through the tangled knots of hair that could be charitably called ‘a beard’, didn’t seem interested in the proceedings though. Instead, his gaze was fixed on the now-lucky worker who appeared to be fidgeting with his belt somewhat.
Bowing out of the game, the German Lawman returned to the study of his lunch while Lovelace found that his eyes too had been paying attention to the worker’s gunbelt and the fingers that hovered nearby. The furtive glances over his cards, the small beads of sweat, irrespective of the Arizona heat, the quickening of his breath as he glanced from the woman, to her cards, and then back to the woman, spoke of a murderous intent. The large marshal in the overalls had picked up on this as well and shifted his muscled bulk behind the worker’s chair, keeping him within the reach of his massive arms. The woman appeared oblivious, focusing only on her cards. James Lovelace, eager to make a first impression, and not eager to sit at a table where gunplay would ensue, decided to up the ante.
“It’s problem enough,” the clipped British tones wresting the worker’s eyes from the woman and toward the badge Lovelace had planted on top of the poker chips, “When a man thinks he can get a drop on a Marshal.”
The worker’s eyes danced between the badge, Lovelace and the woman. A looming shadow that eclipsed the collection of winning was a grim reminder of the large marshal’s presence. He had hoped before he quit this town and its foolhardy projects that he could take the marshal’s money, as well as the bounty on her head. Right now, under the gaze of the Pinkerton, the larger marshal and the German marshal who had overheard the conversation, he realised that the only foolhardy project in Arizona was thinking he could get away with this.
I… uh… think I’ll quit while I’m ahead,” his hands scooping money as he banged his knees on the table in his haste to get up. Not willing to stay any longer, he shuffled out of the chair and around the marshal behind him. Worried that he might be shot in the back, he glanced back at the table as his feet propelled him toward the door…
…and into the cold electric blue gaze of Jack Lightning who hadn’t moved, hadn’t spoken but conveyed the message that if stayed any longer than it took to blink, he’d never open his eyes again.
Several coins spilled to the floor as the worker ran for his life.
TO BE CONTINUED.