The driver of the Ithaca velocipede parked the car, opened the door for William Henry Baker and James Lovelace and then wandered off, presumably, to drink himself to stupor or shoot himself in the head. The man of industry and the Pinkerton Detective had found a lot in common in the general hate of this part of their lives and it was all he could ask of God if a piano were to fall on his boss’s head, that it be big enough to squash them both.
Oblivious to this, Baker and Lovelace wandered the man-made quarry that surrounding the unnamed Ithaca Space Gun. Much like the rifles it was famed for producing, their project was long barrelled and built into the ground as sturdy as a stock pressed into the shoulder of Mother Earth. Assembled over a gas vein, the work continued underground to cap and redirect the gas into a communal point where it would be ignited and the explosion would fire the first man to the moon.
Lovelace had got the overview of this as they approached the offices built into the quarry walls and found himself grateful that being stationed in Ascension meant that he wasn’t going to be anywhere near the site when the gun went off.
The office of Baker and his partner, Lerory Smith, was large in space and height. The rock walls kept things moderate in temperature and while it was still a drop in luxury that the Pinkerton Detective was used to, he had to admit that the furnishings that Baker was waving at – those being essential to his continued efforts in Ascension – did make the surroundings seem less than a hole in the wall.
“Bill! Where have you been? I’ve got new designs to talk to you about, some of the men are complaining about working after the trip to Ascension and we have a concern about supplies not arriving for another half-week?”
Lovelace looked at the thin, spidery-looking chap, all knees and elbows, who had unfolded himself from a large drawing desk and shuffled to his large partner. Leroy Smith, he’d been told, the engineer behind Ithaca Rifle Company and, by the Pinkerton’s own deductions, about half the brains of the business.
“Calm down, Leroy,” Baker started, a meaty arm crossing the distance and landing on his partner’s shoulder that had Lovelace conjure the image of Atlas holding up the world. “I told you that I might be away while the Committee was visiting. If you’re going to be like this when I’m gone for a couple of days, how are you going to manage when I’ve moved out?”
“Moved out?” Smith wailed, not noticing his partner’s eyes rolling back. “Why are you moving for?”
“Because it’s becoming apparent to me that you’ve got our project nearly wrapped up, my old friend,” Baker replied and it was the cheeriest that Lovelace had heard him. Ever.
“I’ve explained to you before that once things were rolling downhill, I was going to need to spend time spinning and marketing your ideas to an eager Congress, and that’s just what I’ve been doing. The Committee certainly had interest in our project and, even better, they might be realising what kind of snake-oil Colt’s selling them.”
“Really?” Smith asked, turning slowly under Baker’s arm and looking up at him. “They like my design?”
“Of course. It’s practical, simple and, most importantly, will work! Baker grinned. “Colt’s got some notion involving electricity and magnets. I mean seriously, magnets stick metal to other metal and you’ve told me enough times that combustion got us this far.”
“Yes, yes. And wait till I tell you what else I’ve been thinking about,” Smith beamed as he escaped Baker’s arm and almost danced back to his drawing table.
“Not now, Smith, would you mind?” It’s been a long trip and one not entirely peril-free.”
“Peril?” Smith stopped so suddenly that Lovelace thought something might snap. “What happened now?”
He then peered at the Pinkerton Detective for the first time since he looked up from the desk.
“And who’s this?”
“James Lovelace, an agent of the Pinkerton’s and recently a man of my employ. It was his actions that spared us a calamitous setback with the Committee.”
“Oh. Well,” Smith hemmed and hawed. “Pleased to meet you, Mr Lovelace,” he said without extending his hand.
“Likewise, I’m sure.” Lovelace replied and watched Baker spin a story about how it was vital that they not place all their eggs in one quarry and that this way he could keep an eye on Colt and of course Smith wasn’t in any danger as he had been left with all the guards.
“I even hired my own bodyguard rather than risk your life with the loss of a single man,” Baker finished.
Smith beamed at his partner’s thoughtfullness and Lovelace fought the urge to shake his head in disbelief.
It was then a gunshot rang out.
Smith wailed and leapt to the ground, Baker could shift his bulk to turn in the direction of the sound and Lovelace placed himself in front of Baker with about as much effect as using a fence post to protect an elephant.
“Get down!” Lovelace ordered and Baker joined his partner on the floor while the Pinkerton edged to the office door and peered outside.
The gunman was not hard to spot.
Perched high on the space gun, moving about a gangplank that swung each time he moved his rifle, the gunman was searching for a target from the countless people who had taken shelter and readied their own rifles.
Another gunshot rang out. Nobody dared return fire. This close to the space gun and all it’s gas could mean an explosive end to everyone in the quarry.
Lovelace focused on the erratic sniper, zooming his vision in to see if he could identify him or, at the very least, the reason he was risking his and everyone else’s life. The gunman was frantic, definitely agitated and his eyes had a perculiar shade of red to them.
Lovelace wondered what that could mean as he shouldered his Longshot rifle.
High above the clouds and away from the red-root-inspired madness that had infested Ithaca’s camp as well as Ascension, Hans Octavius Wilhem, painfully sober and grateful for it, walked across a metal gantry at 30,000 feet.
The gantry had been errected between the gigantic Missouri Class Airship and its diminutive, though much faster cousin: A Minuteman Dirigible.
Minutemen Class were built for speed and had no room for anything that impeded its purpose. It was used for time-senstive courier jobs. On rare occasions, it ferried people across the country at speeds unmatched by horse, car or rail.
Today it had sped the Deputy Director of the U.S. Marshal’s office to the border’s of Ascension, with the sole purpose of interviewing and recording Wilhem’s testimony.
To be honest, the Iron Marshal was less worried about the fall.
Once aboard the Minuteman, the gantry was disassembled and the larger airship semaphored its farewells before turning with grudging effort and sailing the skies back to the capital. Meanwhile, Wilhem shook hands with the second highest rank in the service. The only other person present was a woman who was perched over a small typewriter, ready to transcribe anything of import.
“Marshal Wilhem, a pleasure to meet you,” Deputy Director Warren Buckley said with no more warmth than was necessary.
“Apologies for distracting you from your duties but in addition to security, we believed it essential that you continue your work at Ascension with minimal disruption,” Buckley continued.
“Zhere is no inconvenience, Herr Buckley,” Wilhem said as he joined his superior at a small table. A large stack of paper was neatly arranged to the Deputy-Director’s left and a fountain pen was filled and ready on his right.
“There are some preliminary questions about your record and service we need to ask for background. Keep your answers short and to the point, if you would.”
Wilhem gave a slight smile. Buckley might make a decent German.
The first sheet of paper was placed before Buckley and the typewriter clacked as the interview began.
Back at Ithaca, things were less cordial.
“For God’s sake man!” Baker screamed at Lovelace, though this was muffled by the fact that the large man’s head was buried under his arms. “Do something!”
Lovelace had, in fact, been doing just that. He had been studying the movements of the manic gunman, his proximity to the structure of the space gun, the location of the guards who didn’t dare shoot for fear of exploding the gas and any other tools or obstacles that might prove a problem.
Setting the Longshot rifle to his shoulder, Lovelace raised the barrel and fixed his sights on the gunman. The range of the shot would have made any other guman think what happened next was luck.
Lovelace wasn’t about to let them know it was.
He fired, the Longshot kicking back and casting the shot well above target. It hit a toolbox that had been left at the mouth of the space gun’s barrel and, to the hissed breath of everyone watching, ignited a blowtorch.
“Gods, man! What the fuck have you done?” one of the nearby guards screamed at the Pinkerton Detective.
Lovelace stood out from the door and walked forward as calm as he could manage. He’d either saved or doomed them all depending on how the wind changed.
The gunman in the gangplank spotted his new target emerging from the manager’s office and lined up a shot, just as a sudden gust blew past the torch, pitching it over the side and slamming it down on the gunman, as he pulled the trigger.
The rock wall next to Lovelace’s face exploded but aside from a couple of scratches he, and the rest of the camp, were safe.
There was no cheering, no words of encouragement, nothing that would jinx the men as they scurried up the ropes and frames toward the now unconcious gunman to get him the hell away from the space gun and, likely, sink the boot into him more than a few times. Unseen by all, Lovelace let out the breath he was holding.
“Great shooting, man. I knew I was right to hire you,” Baker boomed as he and Smith picked themselves off the floor. He dusted off his partner and then sent him back to his desk while he shuffled over to Lovelace.
“Have the men get my things on the truck, I don’t need or want to be here any longer,” he whispered.
“I had hoped that I would get the chance to question the individual. Find out what was going on,” Lovelace whispered back.
“Takes too long and, frankly, I could care less. The men will have him strung up before you’d get a chance and I want us on the road before they tie the noose,” Baker hissed.
“Are you sure that’s wise, sir?” Lovelace whispered, even softer and up close to Baker’s ear. “Congressman Crankshaft did mention an increased danger and this could just be the start of a larger conspiracy.”
Lovelace watched as Baker went from dark red to pale before he continued. “Are you sure you’d be ignorant of another threat to your life before we set out for the long drive in the desert?”
Baker swallowed hard and his voice was hoarse. “Find out what you can from him, but you’ve got as long as it takes to put my things on the truck.”
Lovelace smiled. “Thank you, sir,” and went off to save the unconcious gunman before he was lynched.
TO BE CONTINUED IN PART 3
Posted by Wordmobi