The contents of the box were lifted out by Hans Octavius Wilhem’s mechanical arms, the four steam-powered appendages executing careful precision for concern of additional traps. Arizona’s desert wind gently blew, stirring a long length of stiff cloth.
“Robes?” James Lovelace inquired.
“Indeed,” came the German’s response. Lifting them fully out of the box, confident now that no further reprisals were included in the packing, both investigators, as well as Jack Lightning and Wendel Caine moved in for a closer look.
They were ornate in design and construction. A crimson leather with a white and gold trim. Oriental characters were embroidered down the length of white in what Wilhem translated, were religious passages. The shoulders and neck of the garment were stiff, a construction of leather and steel, and flared out past the arms at a point. It was a heavy piece of clothing.
“I believe it to be armour of some sort,” Wilhem surmised.
“Likely to keep the fire out,” Jack added.
“Und offer some physical protection,” Wilhem finished.
Lovelace knelt down and checked the bottom of the once-buried box. There were more items beneath the robes. Large sheaves of paper folded to fit in a pocket. A thick, leather-bound book filled with Chinese characters and diagrams of some kind of control panel. And finally, an steel-constructed, though delicately crafted device. Elongated, with multiple locking hasps down its length, it contoured into a small jutting protrusion. A spout was built into the inside which was tapped into a small resevoir at the larger end.
“What’s that for?” Caine asked.
Wilhem, having discarded the robe and flipping through the book, looked up and cast an appraising eye at the device.
“I’m not sure, but I think it is meant to go around zee neck und chest,” he murmured.
Lovelace carefully placed the device near his throat and noted the device traced a line from the tip of his chin, down the front of his neck and clasped around his chest.
“Some sort of dispenser?” Lovelace said, noting a small switch near the chin which was connected to the tube.
Jack Lightning, in the meantime, had unfolded the paper to reveal very large and complex blueprints of a goldola and elaborate frame work.
“Airship,” she said flatly. “A big one.”
Lovelace gently replaced the device when he saw the plans. “Indeed. Somewhat bigger than The Chancellor class that brought me.”
“A diplomatic airship,” Wilhem confirmed. “For parliamentry figures und visiting authorities. Und zis,” he said, brandishing the book, “Is its manual!”
Caine, who had been largely silent, and content to let others poke around in dangerous and foreign particulars, finally spoke up. “So what’s this got to do with anything about the circus, the monkey or the miner?”
The only response was a dry whistling wind.
“We need to learn more about that miner,” Lovelace suggested.
Agreeing, the marshals returned to the dessicated remains of the circus. Before making trails back to the iron mine, proprietry demanded that the bodies be, at least, interred until such time as proper funeral arrangements could be made. Wilhem’s Steam Tank, with the addition of a modified cowcatcher, made short work of the grave and Legwrench’s Mechnical Marvels was buried save for whatever personal effects that could be salvaged for identification and notification, and the body of William Tapping Junior for Lovelace to present to the Widow Tapping.
Making best speed, the steam tank delivered the lawmen and, after informing Foreman John Henry Anderson as to the fate of the circus, set about making inquiries of the ad-hoc Chinese community of miners. Whether it was the distrust of people outside their country, a secret that the miners were unwilling to share or simply that they didn’t know, no new clues were uncovered. It was then that Wendel Caine had an idea.
“That Gorilla ain’t been seen ’round Ascension and can’t have got far in the desert,” he thought out loud. Turning to the equally giant foreman, the Mountain Marshal asked about nearby water holes.
“There is one about two hours west of here,” Foreman Anderson replied after some thought.
After some hasty directions, the lawmen returned to steam tank, the bone-weary fatigue of having travelled back and forth across the desert had vanished at the prospect of a new trail. Stoking the furnace once more, Wilhem guided the tank over rocky dunes and dust while everyone else kept their eyes peeled for any sign of the Six Gun Gorilla.
“I think I see it!” Lovelace called over the storm of hydraulic pistons. Each of the marshals scanned the direction he pointed to no avail. An eagle eye, this Pinkerton.
As they drew nearer, Jack nodded confirming a hulking black shape, still far away for the tank to be heard. Lovelace squinted in the direction once more.
“It’s him alright,” he said, relaying a description of the beast. “Big and hairy with crossed bandoliers of ammunition and…”
“And?” Jack asked.
“…three Colt .45 pistols. Strapped to each side for a total of six.” Lovelace stated, his keen eyesight literally miles ahead of his companions.
There was a moment’s pause as each considered the armed gorilla and what they’d have to do.
“He might have the scent of them Chinee fellas,” Caine said.
“Not much of a vitness, though,” Wilhem countered.
“Unfortunately, he represents our best chance of finding out what happened,” Lovelace replied. “Though I’m not sure how we can get him to help us.”
Jack had removed her Lightning Coil Guns, flicking a switch that set the weapons to a lower, and less lethal setting.
“Ain’t never had to outdraw a monkey,” she said.
“Let me try something first,” Caine suggested and he stood up and slowly started walking toward the waterhole and the gorilla. Jack gave him a good long lead before following after the mountain marshal. Wilhem returned to the steam tank, deciding to take a wide journey to the other side of the waterhole to cut off any escape, while dropping Lovelace, and his well-crafted longshot rifle, at one of the dunes.
All eyes were on Wendel Caine as he made his approach. Not wanting to leave anything to chance, Smokey had been ordered to wait inside the steam tank with Wilhem, leaving the mountain marshal with the keen eyesight of Lovelace, the quick reflexes of Lightning and his own rapport with animals.
The Six-Gun Gorilla stood up from the waterhole, giant black paws poised over his guns as he smelled the Mountain Marshal’s approach.
TO BE CONTINUED IN PART 3