“What do you think?” asked Cole ‘Buckshot’ Buchannan as he sat on high atop a ladder, adjusting the last of several banners proclaiming his candidacy for Mayor of Ascension.
The entirety of the Ignit-Inn was painted in enough red, white and blue to make Jac Lightning think a flock of American flags had flown into a turbine and the remains had been shot across the saloon. There wasn’t an inch of wood or brass to be found that wasn’t bedecked in patriot décor and the words ‘Buckshot for Mayor’ were blazoned everywhere that the Lightning Marshal could still see the slogan when she blinked.
“I don’t think you’ve been to sleep yet,” she almost said before reflexes stopped her shooting her mouth off.
“Looks great!” Jac smiled.
“Glad you think so,” Cole said as he half-climbed, half-slid down the ladder. “After we talked about my being Mayor it’s like all these ideas just came flooding out. And this is just the start!”
The burly bartender negotiated the maze of paper and ribbon before disappearing behind the bar emerged with a roll of cloth that he unfurled with a snap. Printed were the words ‘Vote for Buckshot and get a Free Round’.
“My first political promise,” Buchannan said, his chest swelling with pride.
“How did you manage to do all this?” Jac asked; the affairs of this morning’s shootout shoved to the back of her mind for the moment.
“I still got my old printing press, back in the days when I wanted to be a writer,” Buchannan said as he poured the Lightning Marshal a shot.
Jac smiled, nodded and knocked it back before she asked, “You wanted to be a writer?”
“That’s right, Marshal. Had me one of them typewritery gadgets, a printing press and everything. Just missed one thing…”
“Ideas,” he said. “Didn’t know what I wanted to write about.” Buckshot shrugged and if Jac’s smile changed any, the bartender didn’t notice.
“Still, if I had got an idea, I wouldn’t be here right now and may have missed my true calling of being a… what did Marshal Caine call it… a ‘luna-tic’,”
Silence hung in the bar like the ceiling full of ribbons before Jac Lightning decided to change topic.
“I’m lookin’ for someone,” she said. “Tall dark fella’, black hair, clothes and hat who goes by the name of ‘Jones’.”
Buckshot batted a ribbon off the bar and refilled her glass. “Can’t say it rings a bell, Marshal,” he said. “Not anybody I remember.”
Jac swallowed the shot and listened to the campaign plans of Cole ‘Buckshot’ Buchannan. More than a couple of times did she advise that potential politicians needed their shut-eye.
Meanwhile across the thoroughfare, the House of Etheric Delights had almost finished tidying up after a busy night of Colt and Ithaca workers when Wendell Caine walked through the door. Wilhelmina Ether, proprietor and madam of the brothel looked up from the bar and smiled a tired smile.
“Marshal Caine, a pleasure as always,”
“Ma’am,” he replied.
Silence reigned before Madam Ether found the words to break it.
“I wanted to thank you, Marshal; for being so understanding with Annie last night”
“Ain’t no problem at all, Miss Ether,” Caine said.
“Poor girl’s been beside herself with fret and worry, but I think talking to you has helped a lot,” Ether continued. Have you had any luck tracking down Spokey Sampson?”
“Not yet, ma’am but we’ll get him,” Caine said, his voice grim and heavy. “I’m hopin’ you might help with some enquiries that’ll do just that.”
“Anything I can assist you with, would be my pleasure” Ether smiled. “All you need do is ask.”
“We’re looking for a thin tall dark fella named Jones. Seen anyone like that?” Caine said as the invitation shot over his head and out the door.
“Jones…” Madam Ether rolled the name around her tongue. “Why yes! He’s something of a regular. Doesn’t normally come in on Payday, I think he might be a trader or something like that for one of the camps.”
“Somethin’ like that,” Caine said. “You expectin’ him soon?”
“Not for a few days, I’m sorry.” Ether replied. “Is he… dangerous?”
“Could be, but don’t you worry. Let us know when you see him and we’ll take care of it.”
“I’ll come to you directly, Marshal. I feel… safer knowing you’re here to look after us,” Miss Ether said as she stared into his eyes and placed one porcelain hand upon his elbow.”
“Just doin’ my job, ma’am,” Caine said and without anything further by way of word or gesture, he walked out the door.
Madam Ether sat back down at the bar and sighed low and long. If she had to get any more direct, what notions of propriety she had left would be thrown to the wind, but she couldn’t, even after a life of studying men at their most intimate or guarded moments, tell what Wendell Caine was thinking behind that bushy beard.
Then she realised he hadn’t belched nor broke wind once while with her. Maybe there was some hope yet.
Wendell Caine poked his head through the door of the Ignit-Inn, took one look at the decorations and was back on the street shaking his head. Jac Lightning seized upon the distraction, said farewell to Buckshot and joined him.
“When this goes wrong,” Caine said, “And it will. I want you to remember this was all your idea.”
“It’ll be fine,” Jac said
“Uh huh,” summed up everything Caine felt, and both lawmen walked back toward the Marshal’s office. The Mountain Marshal filled Jac in on what he’d learnt along the way.
“Might be he does do some tradin though’,” Jac said when Caine had finished. “Might be he also needs some supplies,” she continued.
Caine said nothing.
“Think I’ll call upon the Widow Garrett,” the Lightning Marshal finished. “She’s dealt with Spokey’s men before and might be she knows somethin’.”
Leaving Caine at the Marshal’s office, Jac Lightning headed off to the General Store where Fanny-May Garrett was performing her other role as Schoolmarm to the children of Ascension. Jac waited until Mrs Garrett noticed her by the door, away from the children so as not to interfere with the lesson and, after getting one of the girls to read from Shakespeare’s Othello, the widow joined her.
“Looks like it’s going well,” Jac said though it was more of a question. The Lightning Clan weren’t big readers.
Mrs Garrett nodded, looking at the assembled class of thirteen children and admiring the gusto at which the play was read. She then turned her gaze to Jac.
“How may I help you, Marshal?”
“We’re lookin’ for a man,” Jac Lightning said and described him. The Widow Garrett said everything when she raised a hand to her mouth in shock.
“I know whom you refer, Marshal,” she whispered and glanced about, expecting him to jump out from behind the shelves of flour and oats. “He frequents the store each week, purchasing foodstuffs, some supplies, grain for livestock and the occasional pot or pan.”
“Yeah, we’ve got word this ‘Jones’ fella’s got himself a routine. Expectin’ him again soon?”
“Not for five more days, Marshal,” she replied, her brow furrowed. And I’ve always called him ‘Smith’,”
“’Smith’? Jac frowned. “You sure we’re talking about the same guy?”
“If he’s like what you say he is, then that’s the guy who shops here. I don’t know whether he’s your… ‘suspect’, but it’s the name he gave me.”
“Fair enough,” the Lightning Marshal replied, turning the new development over in her head. “I’d be obliged if you let me know when he next comes in. Might help sort out any confusion.”
“Absolutely, Marshal. I’ll be sure to do just that,” The Widow Garrett had been very open and helpful with Jac Lightning after the shoot-out that took Spokey’s right-hand man, Harry Winsome, out of her life and Jac was pleased to see that she seemed a lot happier as well.
Jac tipped her hat and left Mrs Garrett to help her charges with a word the Lightning Marshal had no chance of spelling, even if she had occasion to use it.
Both lawmen sat on the porch of the Marshal’s office, lunch being chewed over as much as ideas as to what to do next.
“Either way you cut it,” Jac said between mouthfuls of beef and potato, “This ‘Jones’ or ‘Smith’ character won’t be back till sometime later this week.”
“Yep,” Cain said between plates of beef and potato.
“We could check out that spot your Miss Ether put us onto…” Jac said after a while.
“Reckon we could.”
“’Course, we don’t know whether that spot’s gonna get used again,” Jac added.
“No we don’t.”
Both lawmen gazed out from the porch and followed a drifting tumbleweed as it blew past the Blacksmith and Cog-Wranger’s Foundry. A whistling blast of steam pushed it into the brass-fitted ankle of one of Dr Richard Gasket’s patients, who kicked it – a testament to the Doctor’s handiwork – across town toward Brasshorn’s Tavern where the elderly bartender was sweeping the porch clean of dust and detritus from last night’s celebrations. The broom batted the nest of straw and grass out to the street in a smooth and singular arc that saw it land in the water trough where the Finnegan brothers, earlier, had made the last mistake of their lives.
…The Finnegan brothers. And Jac Lightning felt as if she’d been struck by her namesake.
“Of course, we could check out that Injun cave where we found that crazy red root in the first place,” she said, shooting upright.
Caine poked his head through the office door and at Alfonse, the Six-Gun Gorilla, who was leaning back on a chair, paws resting on a desk.
“Goin’ out. Don’t shoot nobody innocent,” he said and with that, the lawmen rode out into the desert.
TO BE CONTINUED IN PART 3
Posted by Wordmobi