The Lightning Lord: Chapter One

Chapter 1 – Deadwood

Agent Elizabeth Persimmon Shuttleworth, kicked at a small pile of charcoal, the gray ash puffed into the air for a second before settling on the pointed toe of her well-polished black cowboy boot. She reached down and pulled a small doll head from the charred wooden remains of someone’s home, probably the bedroom of a little girl. She turned the round ceramic object over in her hand, the cloth body long destroyed in the same fire that engulfed the house. The smell of burning wood permeated the air. She suspected the odor would not come out of her clothes, not even with the latest in steam-driven cleaning machines.

“Persi?” a man’s voice called from behind her.

“Here, Boots,” she answered, and turning, she stepped over and between burned debris to what had been the front door. On the top stone step, she looked back through the ruined doorway and imagined what it had once looked like before the fire had torn through it. She imagined Sunday dinners at the table, and the children playing in front of the hearth during the long cold winter days, and the little girl brushing the dolls hair, as her mother had done the little girl’s. Then she looked around at what had once been a neighborhood and at the other burned and crumbling homes, then her mind took her even further away from the house in which she now stood, to the hundreds of other charred structures here in Deadwood.

Carefully placing the doll’s head back into the ruins, she felt the urge to cry but had learned long ago that tears seldom aided the prosecution of the responsible villains, so she let the emotion turn to anger and refocused her considerable mental faculties towards the situation at hand. Besides, the facts did not, as of yet, point to a villain, or at least not a human one.

Agent Horace Randolph Bosworth Beacon, III, stepped from behind the remains of a blackened wagon, the wheel nearest the fire lay in ashes. Boots’ clothes were clean, pressed and in fashion, however, his black Hessian boots were dulled by a light coating of dirt and ash, and his bowler sat askew, out of character for a young gentleman from New England.

A man followed behind him looking as opposite in cleanliness and dress as was possible. The badge on his dirty ripped shirt, said he was a lawman. The black smudges on his face and the bandage wrapped around his hands said he was a hero.

“Oh, there you are,” Boots said in his heavy Bostonian accent, while navigating around debris. “Persi, this is Sheriff Gladstone, he was present from beginning to end.”

“No sir, I’m only a deputy,” the man quickly corrected, “we haven’t been able to find the Sher …” His tired voice faltered and he looked to the ground and scuffed his blackened leather boot causing a small white cloud to jump into the air and hover briefly.

Persi walked the distance, and placed her hand on Gladstone’s shoulder. “I have heard,” Persi said in her solid Middle-American accent. She pulled a watch from a small pocket in her waistcoat, touched the stem causing the cover to flip open. “I believe you have now been awake for 36 hours.”

“I ‘spect it’s something like that, ma’am, but it’s my job,” Gladstone answered, his smile bright though his eyes were weary.

Persi slipped her watch back into the pocket, folded her hands in front of her and looked directly into the man’s tired gaze with her piercing blue eyes. “No sir, it is not, ‘your job’ as you suggest. Your ‘job’ is to keep the peace of this fair city but you have decided it means to man buckets in an attempt to save homes and businesses, and to run into burning buildings and, if I have heard correctly, carry at least twenty people, most of them children, away from a certain and horrible death.” A smile made its way slowly across Persi’s face. “You sir, are a hero to an expediential degree,” she held out a gloved hand, the polished black doe skin shone in the late morning sun. “And I, for one, would like to thank you.”

Gladstone looked at his bandaged hands, soot-covered and showing pink spots where blisters had ruptured and fluids leaked. The spasms running through his facial muscles told of his fatigue and trouble keeping his emotions in check. “My hands are …”

Persi realized she was about to grab the man’s fire ravaged hands and pulled back quickly. “Oh my, so sorry, that might have been painful.” She folded her hands again, embarrassed. “Well, suffice it to say, this town is lucky to have you.” She looked at Boots, whose expression told her she was making him uncomfortable.

She disregarded his gaze, as usual, and looked back at Deputy Gladstone, who was now in control of himself. She made a decision, and reached into another waistcoat pocket, removed a light pink calling card and handed it to him. He took it between his middle and forefinger, the only two fingers not wrapped, and read it aloud, “Mrs. Catherine Chambers, Chambers House, 1100 Capital Street, Annapolis, Maryland.” He raised his head with a question on his face.

“Should the people of this great city of Deadwood, South Dakota not recognize your incredible bravery and associated skill,” Persi said, “visit this address and request employment. The agency for which we work, could most certainly use men of your caliber.”

Deputy Gladstone raised one side of his mouth and nodded.

“Well,” Boots said, “Miss Shuttleworth and I must compare notes. We thank you for your help and hope you have a speedy recovery.” He offered Persi his arm and they began to move toward the transportation they had secured for the day.

Persi stopped and turned once again to Gladstone. “And get some sleep, Deputy. You will be of little use to these people if you cannot stand.” She winked, and continued across the street with her partner.

Boots helped her in to the two-wheeled trap then climbed in beside her, his face wore something between a grimace and a scowl.

She looked at him as he lifted the reigns and prepared to steer them back to their rooms in the unaffected part of town. Smiling she asked, “You don’t like my choice of carriage? Too small, perhaps or too …” She glanced at the chipped wooden side board, in need of maintenance, “… unkempt?” Persi baited carefully.

“Oh, no, this is a glorious vehicle. I am attempting to write a song using the rhythm that the ovalesk right wheel produces as it turns. This, to occupy my mind and keep me from vomiting up the greasy breakfast you convinced me was the regional norm.”

She turned her head, hiding her silent laugh at his refusal to be annoyed, then said, “I thought you would appreciate some local color, a difference from your stiff Boston upbringing, and stiffer morning oatmeal.”

“I have a great appreciation for the differences between the peoples of our great nation however, the ‘meat’ I consumed for breakfast, breakfast mind you, had no resemblance to oysters as the name suggested, and I find it hard to believe they came from any mountainous area, the Rockies or otherwise.”

She could not contain herself and laughed out loud. Placing a hand on his arm she said, “My dear Boots, had I known …”

“Oh, yes, I’m sure you would have ordered something horrendously worse,” he said.

“Now, Boots …”

“Just let it go, Miss Shuttleworth. All is forgiven.”

“Oh, I’m sure,” Persi said, eyes lifted. “I will now need to examine each and every mouthful I eat for the next several weeks to ensure it does contain stray parts of insects or reptiles.”

He smirked, “I have no idea to what you might be speaking.”

“Yes, I’m sure you don’t remember Scotland,” she said.

“Haggis is a perfectly acceptable dish, and actually ‘is’ a regional favorite,” Boots replied.

“Oh yes, in Scotland,” she countered.

“And, it had nothing to do with … reproductive organs.”

Persi bowed forward and laughed out loud. Seconds later, she batted his arm, “Such a thing to say to a lady.”

“Yes, well, I …”

“Mind your words, my friend. I ‘can’ drive this contrivance without you.”

Boots brow furrowed.

She hit his arm again, “I can, my father had me moving stock and supplies around his Kansas City yards until I was sent off to boarding school.”

Boots looked at her.

“I mean, well, he sat next to me of course, but I learned the basics.”

“Understood,” Boots said, one eyebrow raised. “However, perhaps the next time you could lease an actual horse to pull our carriage.” He reached out with the switch and tapped the rear haunch of the large ox strapped between the two jutting poles of the trap.

She suppressed a second burst of laughter. “This does not meet your rigorous eastern specifications?”


“Boots, it is a perfectly acceptable mode of transportation.”

“You continue to use the term, ‘perfectly acceptable’ in a way in which it was not intended.” When she didn’t respond, he redirected the conversation. “What do you think of this calamity?”

Her smile faded, hearing his voice become serious, and she placed her hands in her lap. “Well, from all accounts it was started by a lightning strike.”

“Not quite correct,” Boots said. “Many of those I interviewed indicated the town was hit by hundreds of lightning bolts, each strike within a second or two of the last, and the whole event occurring between three to five minutes.”

Persi shifted in her seat, considering the data.

“Also,” Boots continued, “there are those, ‘not a cloud in the sky’ reports.”

“Yes, there is that,” Persi agreed. “In fact, I believe most said it was a sunny day.”

“The deputy told me they believe preliminary counts show that over fifteen-hundred people will be displaced or homeless.”

“Horrendous,” Persi said, expressionless. “Un-natural.”

“Yes, quite un-natural, and quite ‘up our alley’ as you Midwesterners are so fond of saying.”

“Are we really?” she asked, studying his face. “Fond of saying that?”

“I believe so,” he responded, his mouth quirking up as it did when he was caught in an, “inconsistency” as he referred to them.

“What would your elderly Catholic mother think about your inconsistencies?” she asked.

“Nothing,” Boots countered.

Persi continued to stare as his eyes shifted in her direction, then back to the backside of the ox, now pulling them toward a large barn and horse fencing.

“As long as I make weekly confession. Oh look, we’re here,” he finished quickly.

The ox took three more steps toward the barn, stopped at a large trough and dipped its snout into the water. A young man came from the barn wiping his hands with a dirty towel, and threw it over his shoulder next to a rope halter. “You made it back. I told you Rex wouldn’t steer you wrong,” he said, slapping the huge animal on the side.

The ox answered with a rumble which was part moo and part growl.

“Thank you, Master Frank,” Boots said, climbing from the cart, then turning to help Persi down.

“Yes, Frank, an excellent match to Mr. Boots here, they got along admirably. Please add an extra helping of feed to Rex’s trough tonight,” she said handing the young man a coin.

“Yes, ma’am, never fear, Rex will be taken care of,” Frank said. He removed the straps from the animal, haltered it, and began to lead it toward an open gate near the barn. Suddenly he stopped and turned. “How bad is it,” he asked, nodding towards the direction they had come, “… in town?”

Neither Persi nor Boots said anything.

The young man’s expression was unreadable for a second. “Oh. You see, I was talking to this girl … there was a dance coming up …”

Persi spoke quickly. “Things aren’t without hope, Frank. Pray for the best, and hope.”

Frank smiled wanly. “Sure, I can do that.”



Back at the Lucky Stars Hotel, one of the few hotels with an available room, the desk clerk stopped them.

“Mr. and Mrs. Beacon?” the man asked, waving a small piece of paper over his head.

Persi quirked an eyebrow at Boots at the mention of their names, but moved with him, her arm still on his, as he turned and approached the desk.

“Atherealgram for you,” he said.

Boots took it. “Thank you,” he said, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a coin, he flipped it to the man.

“Oh, thank you, sir,” the clerk said as he caught it, then fumbled it and watched it drop to the counter.

The two, still arm in arm, ascended the stairs to their room. Stepping inside, Persi untied a small dark violet bowler, the brim decorated with even smaller white periwinkles. She tossed it onto the bed and Boots followed by tossing his own bowler, which landed beside it.

“Please help me out of my dress, dear. I would loosen this new corset and breathe deeper for a bit.”

He raised an eyebrow.

“Yes, I know dear, but perhaps we can wait until later. I would like to focus on the mission for a tad longer.”

“Elizabeth Persimmon,” Boots said, pulling her lavender dress over her head and draping it atop the dressing screen. “When can we stop pretending to be single? I want to proudly declare I caught and married the amazing Persi Shuttleworth!” He planted a kiss softly on her lips.

She turned her back to him, allowing him access to her corset. He removed his black kid gloves and tossed them on the bed beside the hats. A quiet hiss escaped from the incredible piece of machinery that was his right hand. He made a fist, each metal finger curling. He relaxed it, listening again to the comforting hiss of steam.

Turning to Persi, Boots plucked the corset ties like a harp and several seconds later, she sighed as the pressure against her abdomen eased. “Much better.”

She turned toward him and placed her hands on his chest, “We can announce our marital bliss to the world once we retire from the agency and you know this. Agents are not allowed to marry, and especially not to each other.”

He bent his head down and kissed her lightly again. She began to melt against him then jerked back suddenly. “Oh, no, none of that, we need to focus.”

Boots smiled, “Yes, let’s focus.”

“On the case, Boots, on the case.” She stepped away and sat on the bed. Boots removed his cravat, and unbuttoned the top button of his shirt. He slumped in the chair across from her and rubbed his right hand, then twisted an adjustment screw to ease the pressure. “Is your hand bothering you, my love?” Persi asked gently.

Boots looked at the metal fingers, a reminder of the war. “Nothing, my dear. Only the little aches suggesting the weather will be turning bad within the next 24 hours.” Sitting up, he rallied for another attack. “Persi, we’ve only been married a month and …” He looked at his socked feet.

She smiled sardonically, “Yes, I know, later my heart, focus now. We have a large section of town demolished, many dead and many hundreds of others displaced. All this from multiple lightning strikes …”

“From a cloudless sky,” Boots cut in, raising his index finger, seemingly now to redirect his energies to their investigation.

She smiled, “Yes, from a cloudless sky.”

They sat looking at each other. “I have nothing, “Persi said finally, shaking her head.

“Neither do I.” He clapped his hands together. “Well, with that cleared up, on to more important things.” He began to rise, a feral smile spreading across his face.

“Easy boy,” Persi said, dropping her finishing school eloquence and opening the aethergram they had received.

Boots smile fell, then he tilted his head as he watched Persi’s face change from joyful to concerned as she read the paper. “What is it?” he asked.

“There’s been another event, like this one, though not quite as wide spread,” she said looking up.

“Where?” Boots asked.

“In central Florida, a small town called, Orlando.”

He shrugged. “I think we can catch the train east at noon. Let’s pack.”

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