Ashes on His Boot

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The New Pistol - June 1847

Emily West held her ankle-length skirt knee-high while she climbed the two flights of rickety stairs. She gripped the handle of a large leather-and-cloth valise in the same hand that held her skirt hem. Her other hand pulled at the rough wooden stair rail. Samuel Colt might have fallen on hard times since Emily had last seen him, but surely he could have afforded better living accommodations than this, and a better office than the old workspace he’d first rented years ago in this run-down part of Manhattan.

Her gloved knuckles rapped twice against the weathered door. Footfalls sounded on the other side. The handle turned and creaking hinges announced the appearance of Sam Colt. His eyes widened and the fine line of his jaw dropped. Three years of misfortune had neither spoiled his exuberant look, nor the young inventor’s taste in fine clothing. Sam Colt certainly didn’t match his shabby doorframe.

“Emily. My God,” Samuel Colt enthused. “What a pleasant surprise. You look incredible.” He took in a quick breath. “How many years has it been? How did you find me? Come in, come in.”

Colt motioned her through the door and fumbled with his cravat. He ran fingers through shaggy hair, all the while glancing left and right as if to wonder what she might stumble upon or over. Emily stepped past her former employer and into the dark, dusty workplace. She was silent.

“After all this time,” Sam Colt continued, “are my routines and haunts so predictable that you can track me down in a city of half-a-million people, undetected and unannounced?”

Now she responded, “Sam, come, come! I knew I had a good chance of finding you here in the old place. A simple inquiry downstairs as to your current whereabouts, and here I am. You may be a mechanical genius, but you are indeed a man of rigid habits. Creative though you may be, the Sam Colt I know abhors change.”

Emily put down her valise and peered around the small room. The windows were open and sunlight fell weakly across a long worktable in the center of Sam’s office. A gleaming, long-barreled pistol held down papers against the breeze from the windows, and other metal bits and parts were scattered around. Not unusual clutter for Sam.

More difficult to fathom for Emily, though, were the long wires that ran from somewhere near one window to an odd-looking, levered device on one end of the table. A tiny seesaw with wires? Emily smiled. Sam was a tinkerer. She stepped to the table and hefted the massive revolver.

“So this is your latest work,” Emily said. “Quite the cannon you’ve made this time, Sam. But over there?” She pointed with the pistol barrel. “If that’s a weapon, the thing is indeed a strange one. How does it function?”

“Emily, you are only partly correct.” Colt tucked both thumbs behind his velvet coat lapels. “You’d be amazed at what magic three men named Sam can conjure up these days. The pistol you hold is my first effort at a six-shot heavier caliber revolver. Sam Walker, you remember him? He gave me that idea months ago when he was here.”

Colt moved to the end of the table and held the small, wired device in one hand. He smiled with an almost giddy look. With his other hand, Sam pushed the hinged lever down several times, metal to metal. Small sparks flew and the thing made sharp, clicking noises.

“And this, my dear, is the brainchild of another Sam,” he announced. “Samuel Morse, my compatriot. He calls this machine a ‘talking wire.’ Says the thing will revolutionize communications. Who knows whether he’s truly a genius or simply a mad man. At the moment, I am only helping him waterproof the wiring for use outdoors and underwater.”

“Sam, you never stop experimenting, do you?” Emily observed, shaking her head. “The pistol I understand, but…waterproofing wires? Revolutionizing communications?”

Sam Colt furrowed his brow. “The waterproof wiring, a modest product diversification in my collaboration with Sam Morse, was made possible, indeed necessary, by the cancellation of my underwater explosive mine contract with the Navy last year. I could’ve made thousands of dollars, but that Massachusetts Senator, that bloody pacifist John Quincy Adams, said my mines were ‘immoral warfare.’ The old bastard. On his say-so, the Navy’s banned Sam Colt’s water bombs forever.”

Samuel Colt might be brilliant, and he’d definitely been gallant – her defender that first day on the train, and again on their coach ride to Connecticut – but he was manipulative and at least a little eccentric, if not plain crazy. How and, perhaps more importantly, why had she let herself get involved with this man again? Hard to discern whether he could focus on a real business opportunity long enough to be successful, but Emily had enough money in her valise to test Sam Colt’s dedication to his real talent, making repeating pistols. This time for the war against Mexico.

“Samuel Colt,” Emily sighed and reached for her leather case. “I’ve apparently come to you at the proper time, and with quite a business opportunity.”

The frown on Colt’s face faded. He half-smiled and slid a chair with a worn cushion into the center of the room, beckoning Emily to be seated. She put the valise down, then bent and drew out three pieces of paper. Once she’d shifted in the seat to rearrange her skirt hem, Emily shoved the heavy case to one side and began fanning herself with the sheaf. Sam Colt took a second chair opposite her and leaned in close. Good, she had his full attention, both professionally and personally. She stopped fanning and waved the papers toward Colt.

“This is a lawful Texas contract,” Emily said in a flat voice. “General Houston needs one thousand Colt revolvers, the new six-shot .44 caliber versions, and quickly. They’ll go to the Texas Rangers. Maybe later, a few to the Army, too.”

She fixed her eyes on Samuel Colt. He had not moved or blinked. Emily had his focus for now, but was he tuned in enough to produce a thousand pistols unsupervised? Probably not.

“I am to offer you,” she stated, “twenty-five dollars per pistol. No negotiation. Three-thousand paid now, and the remainder once the lot has been safely delivered. We must have everything by August’s end.”

Colt stared long and hard at Emily, then down at the contract he’d been handed. Did he believe her? She bent down and found the oilcloth packet next to the Paterson Colt revolver in her valise. Colt’s eyes followed Emily’s every move. She held the packet in the air.

“I have sixty U.S. Treasury notes in here, Sam,” Emily said. “Fifty-dollar notes. They’re yours as soon as you’ve read and signed the agreement.”

“My God, Emily.” Sam Colt responded. “I’m near speechless. A fair price for the pistols, for certain, and I can obviously use the money. But I have no idea how such a massive order can be accomplished, particularly in the time allotted. I’d wager, however, that a mere three thousand dollars isn’t nearly enough to get things started. And I have no reserve funds to speak of myself.”

“Come now, Sam.” Emily countered. “You think me naive? Uninformed? After all our past history, my embarrassment at your duplicitous mess in South Carolina? You think I’d not come here prepared? I know you still have leverage with the Whitney Company. Particularly for an order this large.”

Emily let the remarks settle in, then stood up. Time to get the deal done and get out. At least out of Samuel Colt’s quarters. Emily wouldn’t go far, though. She’d been ordered not only to get Colt’s commitment, but to stay and see the deal through. Jack had told her General Houston was adamant on that point.

“So, Mr. Colt,” Emily glared. “Let us save ourselves the trouble of useless give-and-take. I am already aware of your production agreement with Mr. Blake of the Whitney Weapons factory. If all goes as planned, you’ll clear at least ten dollars a pistol on this deal. And sure as God made man, there’s another thousand guns that’ll be needed before the war’s done. You’ll be rich, but only if you take my deal and perform. Now sign the damned contract, sir. I have to be off.”

Emily stared at a motionless Samuel Colt, then surveyed the cluttered room again. Samuel Colt needed the money, that much was certainly clear, and Texas needed the pistols. Minutes passed before he finally looked up at her.

“Well, Miss West.” Colt lifted his head and nodded. “Congratulations to you and the Texas Rangers. By August, you shall indeed be equipped with the finest and most accurate pistols the world has seen.” He smiled, a bit thinner than usual, then asked, “If you can alter your plans, may I invite you to dine with me this evening to celebrate the occasion? It would seem I’ve just come into some fresh cash.”

“A kind invitation, sir.” Emily smiled, lips closed. “Regrettably, I have other matters to attend this evening. Shall we instead meet for breakfast two days hence? By then you should be able to brief me on a production plan for your Whitney Weapons venture. General Houston has instructed me to remain in New York to supervise your efforts and ensure delivery on schedule. We shall be seeing a great deal more of each other.”

Samuel Colt shook his head and took the papers to his desk. He moved other piles of scattered materials to one side and put his signature on the contract. Had he even bothered to read the agreement? Colt handed back the three pages. Emily retrieved her valise, stuffed the contract inside and shook a slightly overwhelmed Samuel Colt’s hand before being ushered to his door.

“Until Thursday, then,” Samuel Colt said. “I shall meet you at your lodging for breakfast. You are using the same lodging as always, I suppose? The Parker House, or rather the Astor, now that John Astor’s bought the place.”

Emily nodded. “Then I will look forward to our meeting Thursday, Sam.”

She stepped through the doorway and onto the landing. After the dankness of Colt’s office, the late morning sun was instantly refreshing. Emily had less than an hour to catch the northbound train, and she wanted to keep her appointment at the Thompson Bank in Thompson, Connecticut before nightfall. She was carrying another seven thousand dollars, some in gold, in her valise, and the funds had to be secured. Moreover, she needed to verify that the Thompson Bank was holding the remaining fifteen thousand dollars that had been shipped a month earlier by courier from Austin.

Last on her immediate agenda, there was the matter of a charming little cottage close-by that Emily was interested in; one on the Massachusetts coast near Sagamore Beach. Once her business with Colt was done, she wanted a place to start a new life here in the east. There’d certainly be enough money, and nothing good could come of her going back to Texas.

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