SS senior field agent
Posted - 09/13/2007 : 19:38:11
| THE NIGHT OF THE NIGHTMARE DEAMONS
“Come on, Jim, hurry up will ya?” Artemus Gordon, Secret Service Agent, called to his partner.
“Coming, Artie…and lighten up. Our dinner reservations aren’t until seven, and the play doesn’t start until nine, we have plenty of time,” James West, Artemus’ partner grinned at him.
“You know I want to go back stage before the play begins. It’s been years since I’ve seen some of these actors,” Artie admonished him as he tied his cloak around his neck.
Jim chuckled as he donned his cloak as well then bowed low and gestured toward the door. Artie rolled his eyes and sighed dramatically as he strolled out to the waiting hansom cab.
“Tell me again why we are taking a cab instead of just riding our horses, Artie.” Jim asked.
“James, I spent the last three days in a saddle. I think even my saddle sores have saddle sores. Tonight I want to ride in a cab.”
“As you wish, sir,” Jim nodded to his partner as their cab headed toward town and the theater.
The ride to the theater from the train siding would take about half an hour so the agents leaned back into the plush seats and stared out the windows. A few minutes later, they felt the carriage begin to slow. The men looked at each other wishing they had worn their side arms.
Jim pushed against his elbow and his derringer popped out and into his waiting palm. Artie reached into a hidden pocket of his suit jacket and produced a similar weapon. The cab slowed and came to a stop. The agents stayed inside. A man with a bandana over his face stepped up to the cab on Jim’s side and looked in. He glanced at both men.
“Which one of you is Gordon?” He snarled.
“You know anyone named Gordon?” Artie innocently asked his partner.
“No, can’t say that I do.” Jim smiled.
“Out, both of you,” He gestured as he opened the door.
The two agents slipped their weapons back into their jackets and disembarked from the cab. They stood with their hands in the air and stole a quick glance at each other. The man before them snapped his fingers and a piece of paper was placed in his outstretched hand. He looked from the paper to each man before him. Finally he pointed to Artie and two men stepped forward and grabbed him.
Jim lunged toward them only to be hit from behind by another of the highwaymen. As he fell to the ground, he saw them fighting with Artie and Jim saw one man place a white cloth over his partner’s nose and mouth and Artie slumped in his captor’s arms.
Artie became aware of his surroundings when he felt the cold water splash across his face. He shook his head to get rid of the water and opened his eyes to find himself staring at a man in a hooded cloak. He could make out the man’s lower face but nothing more.
“Welcome back, Mr. Gordon.” The man smiled ominously.
“Who are you? Where am I?” Artie asked groggily.
“The where is immaterial, the who you will learn in due time.” The man pulled back from his field of vision.
“Where’s Jim?” Artie demanded to know.
“Mr. West was not harmed, merely subdued. He will be our prey at a later time. He should be back to your train by now,” Artie saw the sinister smile and it sickened him.
“Why me?” Artie continued his questioning.
“I have an acquaintance that would very much like to meet with you.”
“A simple invitation would have done the trick,” Artie snarled.
“Keep that sense of humor, Mr. Gordon, you’ll be needing it later.”
“What does that mean?”
“You shall see, Mr. Gordon, you shall see. But first we need to get you prepared.”
The man reached into one oversized robe sleeve and withdrew a syringe filled with a yellowish fluid. Artie started to struggle when he realized he had been securely tied to the chair he was sitting in.
“What’s that?” he asked knowing that he didn’t really want to know.
“Just a little concoction of my boss’s invention. It’ll make you feel better, I promise,” The man answered.
“Why do I not find that very reassuring?” Artie wisecracked.
“Soon…very soon you will be begging for this.” Artie looked at him quizzically.
The man grabbed Artie’s shirtsleeve and pushed it up. He laughed as Artie tried to resist. He put the needle against his vein. Artie closed his eyes and hissed as he felt the offending liquid course through his body. Suddenly the room began to spin and everything was distorted and twisted. The man was speaking to him but Artie couldn’t understand him. It sounded like the man was talking underwater. Artie tried to focus on the man but he lost his battle and soon passed out.
Jim came to and put his hand to the back of his head, feeling the large lump there. He saw the cab driver sprawled on the ground and rose to check on him. Dead. Damn, he’ll be no help in trying to figure out what happened here, Jim thought as he scanned the area for his partner. Not seeing him Jim remembered the men putting a cloth over Artie’s nose and mouth and seeing his partner slump as he had gone down.
Jim climbed up on the cab and turned the rig back toward the train siding. He intended to get some help in finding who had taken his partner and where they had gone with him.
Artie woke feeling drained. Tired and drained. He looked around and saw that he was no longer tied to the chair and he had been moved to an empty room. Glancing around he saw a tin cup in the corner. He crawled to over to it and looked in. Dead bugs were floating on top and the water smelled rancid. He poured the water out as his eyes scanned the room.
There was one window too high up to reach and too small to be of any help. The walls were plain, with chipping white paint peeling away from the boards underneath in spots. He moved to the door and examined it. Whoever his captor was he had been smart enough to put the hinges on the other side of the door. He tried the doorknob and was not surprised to find it locked. He returned to the back wall and sat down again, wondering how long before his mysterious captor made his presence known.
He didn’t have long to wait as he heard a latch being pulled on the door. He sat up straight and faced the door. The hooded man entered accompanied by two other similarly hooded figures. The man said nothing as he crossed the room and the two henchmen grabbed Artie who tried to protest but he was no match for the burly men.
Again his shirtsleeve was pushed up and a needle stuck deep into his vein. Even though he knew it was useless, he tried to resist the vile concoction as it raced through his system. He closed his eyes to the dizzying sensation and the swirling. Whatever this stuff was he was quite certain he didn’t like the effect it was having on him. What little sleep he was able to get had been plagued by nightmares…bizarre nightmares, he was sure were designed to rattle him and he was determined not to let his captor win.
Jim had left no stone unturned in his quest to find Artemus. He had spoken to every agent in the area and if any of their snitches knew anything they were not talking. No one had seen Artemus Gordon in the past three days and Jim was getting worried. Whoever had taken his partner had basically disappeared off the face of the earth.
Jim sank down onto settee and leaned his head back thinking about the area he had covered thus far. No leads, not one. He was getting nowhere. President Grant was sending Jeremy Pike to help him in his search for the missing agent.
Jim tried remembering back to the night his friend was abducted and tried to recall anything that would be of use to him. He slammed his fist on the settee in frustration. He had to be missing something simple. Something that was probably right in front of his face.
The next morning Jeremy arrived bringing with him a very thick folder. He and Jim poured over the contents. It was the file of every criminal he and Artie had ever put away. After spending hours with the file they could come up with no viable suspects, they were either confirmed to still be behind bars or deceased. Jeremy asked if Jim thought maybe Dr. Loveless or Count Manzeppi could be behind it but Jim had shot them down saying it wasn’t their style. Loveless would want them both.
Artie tossed and turned on the floor, enveloped by his drug induced nightmares. He pulled his knees up to his chest and wrapped his arms around his legs as he rocked back and forth.
Cannon shells burst all around him…rifle fire biting the ground…men falling dead all around him. Finally the shelling and shouting stopped. He looked around…he was the only one left standing. Artie woke with a start and looked around. The darkened window told him it had to be night but he neither knew nor cared anymore.
He knew the mysterious hooded figures would return soon and inject him with more of that vile elixir. He had noticed already when they were late. Usually it was every two hours then after Lord knows how many injections they appeared further between. Trying to see how addicted I am, Artie guessed. No matter how hard it gets I cannot give in to these men or to that disgusting concoction.
The door opened and Artie cracked an eye open expecting to see the usual man with the needle and the two henchmen. He was somewhat surprised to see four men enter. Artie sat up and tried to force his eyes to focus.
“Who are you?” Artie addressed the new figure.
“I am your worst nightmare, Mr. Gordon,’ he looked at him, his eyes examining Artie carefully.
“Stop the treatment. I think he’s ready.” Artie strained to remember where he had heard that voice before.
“Why?” Artie asked the man.
“Revenge, Mr. Gordon, purely and simply revenge.”
“You and that partner of yours caused me to have to spend the past few years in a mental asylum. And things happen there, Mr. Gordon. Bad things. Very bad things.”
“I don’t remember anyone being sent to an asylum.”
“You didn’t even bother showing up at my trial. You sent that partner of yours with a letter instead.”
“I’ve still got no idea who you are. Why don’t you take that hood off?” Artie countered.
“Oh not just yet, Mr. Gordon it’s too early yet.” The man smirked.
“Let’s let him wait till morning then start again.” Artie stared at the men as they departed slamming the door shut behind them.
Jim and Jeremy sat in the saloon sipping their beers, both as disgruntled as they could be. Jim felt like he was stuck in mud…they still had no leads on his partner’s whereabouts.
“It’s been four days now, Jeremy. You’d think someone would have seen Artie.” Jim commented.
“This is strange, James. I even offered my snitches double the price for any information on Artemus and they’re still coming up empty.” Jeremy shook his head.
A barmaid carrying a tray of beer and whiskey approached their table and placed a beer in front of Jim. As she moved to place a beer in front of Jeremy she leaned in between the men.
“I brung ya extra beers. I would stop talking about Mr. Gordon in here if I were you,” she whispered.
“Why is that?” Jim whispered back as he smiled feigning small talk.
“Mr. Gordon ain’t well liked around here. If you value your own lives, drop the subject least ways in this town.” She straightened and playfully swatted Jim with her hand.
“I get off at eleven, sir. You and your friend are welcome to come back then,” She winked as she left the table.
“Hmm, seems someone finally knows something, eh James?” Jeremy asked as he watched the barmaid walk away.
“Sure does. I think we need to be in the area at eleven, don’t you?” Jim also had his eye on the barmaid.
“With bells on,” Jeremy replied.
Oh God how he hurt! Artie tried to shift positions and every position only brought more of the same excruciating pain he had been feeling for the past couple of hours. Must be starting to go through withdrawals, he thought as he was besieged by a series of spasms so painful he swore his insides were trying to escape through his chest. Gasping for breath, he rolled over onto his back and tried to concentrate on the cracks in the ceiling.
As his eyes traced the route of the crack above him, he was overtaken by a spasm that drove the breath from him. He tried to concentrate on the crack and it became the gaping jaws of a wild beast, snapping its foaming teeth at him. Artie put his arms up to shield his face, his screams echoing loudly in the room.
He gingerly lowered his arms and looked at the ceiling. It looked as it had ever since he had woken up in this room. Why are they doing this to me? What could I possibly have done to make anyone this vengeful? Jim, I have no idea how long I’ve been here but I hope you’re looking for me, partner. Artie fell into a fitful sleep as a section of the wall slid back into place and the figure in the hallway outside the room nodded to the other figure and grinned. Everything was going according to plan.
Jim and Jeremy were waiting outside the saloon when the barmaid emerged shortly after eleven. The men fell into step on either side of her and escorted her toward her room at the boarding house down the street. As people passed she would look at Jim or Jeremy and laugh as if they had just said something funny.
When they reached the boarding house she lived in she took them up the back stairs and into her room. She motioned for them to remain quiet and she went over and closed the window. She turned around and removed her cloak, hanging it on the coat rack.
“Gentlemen, I must warn you…you have to stop asking about that Mr. Gordon. It will only get you killed.” She motioned for them to take a seat on the settee and she sat on her bed.
“But why? What is so important about Artie?” Jim asked.
“When the Colonel returned from his extended vacation as he calls it, he was a different man a changed man. He was so much calmer but yet he has this hatred in him that wasn’t there before.”
“Who is this Colonel and why would he want Artemus?” Jeremy prodded.
“Why everyone around these parts knows the Colonel. Colonel Jackson…you aren’t from around here are you?” She eyed them curiously.
“No, miss…uh what is your name?” Jim asked with a smile.
“Around the saloon I’m known as Candy. But my name is Candace Baldwin. I am guessing you are secret service.” She replied the two agents stared open-mouthed at her.
“It takes one to know one, gentlemen. The saloon is my cover. The agency sent me here 6 months ago when they were first made aware of the strange goings on at the Colonel’s estate. They wanted someone to keep an eye on things. And so far I had.”
“What does that mean?” Jim asked all business now.
“About a week ago he completely disappeared. No one has seen him and if the hands at his ranch know where he is they aren’t talking about in the saloon.”
“He must be the one that has Artie. We’ve got to find him. But why would he want Artie?” Jim wondered.
“From what little I have been able to overhear it’s not just Mr. Gordon he wants. He wants his partner Mr. West as well but in a different way.”
“What do you mean he wants James?” Jeremy asked thankful Jim wisely remained silent.
“He really hates that Mr. Gordon and his partner but he wanted to make West pay as well. I don’t know exactly what he has planned but from what I hear it’s not pretty.”
“We will keep checking in with you at the saloon. See what you can find out. Jeremy, let’s go, there’s something I want to check out.” Jim stood and headed for the door.
“Hey, wait a minute I don’t know your names.”
“This is Jeremy Pike and I am West, James West.” Candace’s jaw dropped.
“You’re the one…oh my Mr. West you had really better watch your back. Use a different name or you won’t live to see tomorrow.” Jim thanked her and they took their leave.
Artemus, you can’t give in! You’ve got to fight it! Artie scolded himself. The nightmares had begun to invade his waking moments as he sat huddled in a corner. When will they be back? I need that concoction! Oh what are you saying? Artemus get a grip…yeah like that will happen any time soon. You’re losing it, Artemus, you are losing the battle and whoever that madman is he is winning. Artie slammed his fist into the floor beside him, strangely satisfied by the bone jarring dull thud.
He looked over to the lamp that hung just outside the door to his cell. The flames leapt to life and danced around his room. Artie laughed as his hallucinations grew stronger and he knew his tenuous hold on his sanity was slowly slipping away. James, you are not helping me here…I need you, partner!
“Where are we headed, James?” Jeremy asked as he tried to keep up with the speed walking agent.
“Back to the train. I want to know why we were not notified that Jackson was being released.”
“Good idea, now that we know the who maybe the agency can come up with where to find the elusive Colonel Jackson.”
They entered the train and Jim strode directly over to the telegraph key and tapped out his message. Jeremy went to the galley and made them something to eat. When he returned with sandwiches and coffee Jim was busy taking down what appeared to be a rather lengthy reply to his query. Jeremy waited patiently at the table.
After finally tapping out his acknowledgement of receipt he pushed the telegraph key back into its customary hiding place. Then Jim crossed to the table and took a seat. He gratefully accepted the offered mug of coffee as he reached for a sandwich.
“Did Washington have anything for us?” Jeremy asked.
“A long list of possible places he might be. No positive sightings of him in the last week though.” Jim said as he angrily bit into his sandwich.
“What else did they tell you? There seems to be more to your attitude than that.” Jeremy wondered.
“Apparently Colonel Jackson was moved from the stockade to Fenmore.” Jeremy whistled.
“Fenmore isn’t that the Federal Asylum For The Criminally Insane? I thought anyone who was sent there never got out?”
“They aren’t supposed to. Apparently there was some sort of bureaucratic mix-up and he was released instead of being transferred.”
“Seems the Colonel had become addicted to morphine and heroine during his stay. He had been transferred to a local hospital for treatment and was on his way back to Fenmore when he was accidentally released.
“Some accident. Well, it’s too late to check out that list tonight, what do you say we get some sleep and take a crack at this in the morning?”
“Yeah, as much as I want to find Artie, I do need sleep. You can use Artie’s room if you’d like, I’m sure he wouldn’t mind.”
“No, while Artemus might not mind, I do. I think I’ll sleep on the settee if it’s all the same to you,” Jim nodded his understanding as he headed for his room.
Jim slipped into fitful sleep permeated by dreams of his partner and the trouble he might be in.
As he lay writhing in pain, Artie tried to remember the last time he had hurt this badly. If he took every injury he had ever suffered in his lifetime and lumped them all together into one pain it would not be as bad as he hurt right now.
He tried to stop the uncontrollable shaking but he couldn’t. His body was not responding to his will, it was no longer his own. He hated himself for waiting for, even craving the drugs the hooded man would bring. Fight it, Artemus! You’ve got to fight this. Oh, who are you kidding you can’t fight this anymore. Face it Artemus, you’re hooked. You let them win.
“No…no…no!” Artie shouted as he pounded on his legs with his fists.
The door opened and the hooded figures entered again. The leader stopped in front of him and knelt down. He grinned at Artie as he took in his disheveled appearance. Artie’s skin had taken on a pale and ashen look, he had four days growth of beard on his face and his eyes were sunken and severely bloodshot.
His clothes hung loosely on his frame even though it had only been a few days the drugs were eating away at his once strong body. Artie was shaking and the man could see he was badly in need of a fix. He snapped his fingers and a syringe was placed in his waiting hand.
“It’s getting harder to find a decent vein,” the man grumbled.
He checked both arms and grunted. He grabbed one of Artie’s hands. He saw a vein there and jabbed the needle in. He injected half the contents of the syringe and stepped back. He waited while the drug sped through Artie’s system. Artie’s shaking slowed but did not stop. Artie looked at him with a mixture of fear, trepidation, anger and the man thought he saw a pleading look.
“Look at him, he wants the rest of this.” The man laughed.
“You do want this don’t you, Mr. Gordon? Look at him, Martin, just look. He wants it but the stubborn secret agent in him won’t allow him to ask for it.” The man injected the rest of the vile drug into him.
“This my dear Mr. Gordon, is a special dose…three times the potency you have been getting…” he was grinning evilly.
The man waited for the super dose to begin to take effect watching Artie’s reaction intently. Artie’s eyes grew wide as he felt the massive adrenaline rush. His heart sped up like a thoroughbred’s and his breathing was so fast the men in the room couldn’t tell when one breath stopped and the next began. Artie’s thoughts were racing just as fast as his eyes darting around the room.
His eyes saw the opened door behind the men and like a caged animal discovering it’s freedom he pushed the men out of the way and bolted for the door. The men scrambled to stop him but in his wild state Artie tossed them away like an old newspaper. He emerged into the hallway and saw a door at the end and ran toward it.
Several hooded men blocked his path. Artie shoved his way past them and through the door. He found himself facing a large field. Artie rushed headlong into the field hoping to make it to the woods before they could come after him. He heard pistol and rifle fire as he ran but he didn’t stop. Just as he reached the woods a bullet from a rifle tore through his arm but it didn’t slow him down.
He crashed through the underbrush running wildly. He emerged suddenly onto a road. He ran down the road in the opposite direction from the hooded figures. Artie heard the familiar sound of a wagon or a buckboard coming up behind him. He darted off the road and hid in the brush and waited for the wagon to pass. A thought occurred to him and as the wagon passed Artie ran up behind the wagon and jumped in.
Jim was wide awake and fully dressed by the time Jeremy arose from the settee. He had prepared a hasty breakfast and had a plate for Jeremy sitting on the table. He returned to the galley to fill a bag with some food in case they had to sleep under the stars. When Jim returned to the varnish car Jeremy was seated at the table eating.
“Morning, James,” he said as Jim sat back down by his mostly eaten meal.
“Morning, Jeremy,” Jim nodded.
“I’m about done here and I expect you’d like to get on Artemus’ trail as soon as possible.”
“Yes, I would like to head out soon. I wired Colonel Richmond and requested more agents. I don’t think we should try to take Colonel Jackson on by ourselves.”
“Good idea, are we to meet them or will Colonel Richmond brief them?”
“The Colonel will brief them. Our task is to take the first four sites on the list. If we find Jackson we are to wire for the other teams and wait.” Jim didn’t seem too pleased with that arrangement. Jeremy finished eating and put their plates in the galley and they headed to the stable.
They left the train and Jim felt better than he had in a long while. The agents headed for the first site on their list…Colonel Jackson’s ranch. Jim was pretty sure from their earlier conversation with Candace that Jackson probably wasn’t there and he highly doubted that any of their hands would tell them anything.
They rode through the gates and both Jim and Jeremy were surprised at how well kempt the ranch had been in Jackson’s absence. Jim stopped one ranch hand but he claimed to know nothing but directed them to the ranch foreman. They rode over to a man repairing a hole in the fence.
“You the foreman here?” Jim asked as he dismounted. The man looked up but didn’t stop his work.
“I am. Is there something I can help you with?”
“My name is James West. I’m with the Secret Service. We have urgent business with Colonel Jackson, can you tell us where we can find him?” The man straightened up and stared at them. Jim showed him his ID.
“Sorry mister, I can’t help you. The Colonel came back about a week or so ago. He was here for a day or so then he was gone. All I got was a note telling me to keep looking after things here till he got back.”
“Did he say when that would be or where he was headed?”
“No, never said. It was kinda peculiar though…he took enough supplies to feed an army for some time.”
“Did he take anything else? Like tools or anything?” Jeremy asked.
“No, sir, but he did take a big chunk of the medical supplies and one of the hands that was here said he was muttering something about stopping in town at the Doc’s.”
After getting directions Jim thanked the foreman and mounted his horse. They headed off at a gallop toward the doctor’s office.
The wagon rolled to a stop and Wade got down and walked to the back and threw the tarp back to grab a bag of feed when he stopped. There was a man in the wagon! Wade looked closely at him. He didn’t look well at all. Wade called to his wife and she came running out of the house.
When she saw Artie’s condition she helped her husband carry him into the house and to a small cot by the stove. They gently placed him on the cot and the woman instructed her husband to remove his very soiled clothing and she gave him a nightshirt to put on the stranger. When he removed Artie’s shirt he saw all the needle marks on his arms and he glared at him.
“Ruth, this man has a drug habit.” He spat disgustedly.
“Now, Wade, we mustn’t judge. We know nothing of him or his past. The Good Lord sent him here for a reason. We will help him.” She admonished him.
“Very well, Ruth. We’ll wait until he wakes up and hear his side of the story.”
“Ruth, this man’s been shot!” The woman quickly stepped in and took care of the wound grateful the bullet wasn’t still in his arm and had passed through it.
As they cleaned Artie up the woman came to believe that this man was not your typical drug addict. He had neat clothes and his hair, after she washed it, seemed well kempt. After she cleaned and repaired his clothing, noting that it was of a high quality, she was certain he was a man of character and breeding.
Artie slept fitfully engulfed by his nightmares. The woman kept a vigil as she went about her household chores. She was worried about the handsome young man. He kept calling out for someone named Jim. She put what she estimated to be the tenth cold compress on his fever heated forehead and she stopped to listen to his mumblings, hoping to get a clue as to who he might be.
“Jim…hooded men…stay away…” his face twisted in agony.
“Shhh, mister, you’re safe now…nothing will harm you.” She tried to soothe him.
“No!…go away! Leave me alone! I don’t want any more…please no more,” Artie sobbed.
Wade came in from the barn while Artie was thrashing around. He rushed over to him and held him while Ruth tore a sheet into strips. While Wade held him as still as he could Ruth tied Artie to the bed. Binding his hands and feet to the sides of the cot, and tying strips of cloth around his legs and chest she securely tied him to the cot.
“Ruth, I do not want his man in our home.”
“Wade, I do not think he is as evil as we thought. Take a good look at him. He is a man of breeding.” Wade studied Artie’s twisted features for a moment.
“He does look a lot different now that he’s cleaned up. But these needle marks…”
“Not self inflicted I fear. While you were doing your chores I listened to his ramblings. He seemed very afraid of someone. And needles…he was crying and begging someone to stop hurting him.” The woman said with genuine sadness.
“Who are you?” Artie started to moan, “What did I do to you to deserve this? No, stop…don’t…not again…” Wade and Ruth watched this strange display.
“Ruth, I think you’re right. We need to help this man but how? If this man has escaped from around here somewhere, the Sheriff in town might not be a good place to go to for help.”
“I reckon not, Wade. Maybe in the morning…” She was interrupted by a knock at the door.
Wade hurriedly covered Artie with a blanket and tossed some clothes on top of him before going to the door. His wife went to the stove to start their dinner. Wade opened the door to see several men in long robes. He tried to contain his surprise when he looked past them to their wagon and saw two hooded figures seated there.
“Something I can do for you?” He asked as casually as he could.
“We lost one of our brethren earlier today. Have you seen any strangers?” Wade asked as the man’s eyes scanned the room behind him.
“No, I’ve been too busy on the farm today. Ruth, have you seen any strangers today?”
“No, Wade, I haven’t seen any strangers other than the ones at the door.” She replied keeping her back to the door.
“Well, if you see this man please send word to the old winery down the road. And be careful…this man is a danger to himself and those around him.”
“What is it that he has done?” Wade asked innocently.
“The poor soul has been hooked on morphine since the War. We were trying to help him when he lost his senses and ran away.” Wade looked at one of the men as his robe fell open and he saw that the man wore a gun.
“The old winery, you say? Are you monks taking it over to run it again? It’s been a long time since anyone’s been using that place. It would be nice to have it used again.”
“Yes, sir, we are. We just took it over and we hope to be producing wine with imported grapes until we can grow our own.”
“Well, that is good to hear. We look forward to having neighbors again.” Wade thanked them and closed the door just as Artie started to moan again.
Jim and Jeremy left the doctor’s office a lot angrier than they had been when they went in. The doctor had been less than cooperative, refusing to tell them anything even after both men showed them their ID’s.
“He knows something about Jackson,” Jeremy remarked unhappily as he climbed on his horse.
“He sure tried real hard to make us think he didn’t know anything.” Jim agreed as they rode away.
“What’s the next stop on our list, Jeremy?”
“An old winery a few miles outside of town.” Jeremy told him as he looked at the list.
They headed for the winery stopping at a roadside inn for supper. Jim and Jeremy kept their ears open for any conversations regarding Colonel Jackson or Artie as they ate. Hearing nothing, they quickly finished their meal and again headed toward the winery.
“I’m sorry, sir,” Artie was saying as the man edged closer to hear as Artie’s voice was barely above a whisper.
“We did the best we could Mr. President…we couldn’t save him. He fell over the cliff…we did our best…” Artie again drifted off into a fitful sleep.
“Holy Mother!” Wade whistled, “Ruth must be right about his man.” He put a cool cloth on the stranger’s forehead and went in search of his wife.
“Ruth, we must protect that man,” He told her when he found her folding clothes from the clothesline outside.
“What changed your mind, Wade?” She asked as she continued to fold clothes.
“I just heard him talking…he was talking to the President!”
“Really now? I thought he might be someone important but I never figured him to be that important.” She said as she looked into the house.
Jim and Jeremy rounded the bend in time to see a wagonload of what appeared to be monks turn onto the road to the old winery. Jim nodded to Jeremy and they dismounted and hid their horses in the trees and slowly made their way toward the building. They quietly crept up to a window and looked in.
It appeared to be some sort of lab. Test tubes on racks lined the desks and there were beakers and Bunsen burners all around the room. The men wished Artie were there as he could probably tell them what each one was being used for. They kept looking in windows until they came to the last one.
This room had what seemed to be a meeting going on. The men were wearing the same robes as the men Jim and Jeremy had seen earlier. Jim was thankful there was a broken pane in the window as he and Jeremy leaned in to hear.
“What did you find?” The one hooded figure at the front of the room spoke as the men entered the room.
“Nothing, sir, we found no trace of him. We combed the woods all the way to town. And if any of the folks around here have seen him they weren’t talking.” One of the men told him.
“No matter. He’ll make his presence known very soon. Even the stalwart Mr. Gordon can’t fight off the withdrawals he is going to be facing, all by himself.”
“He’ll surface and when he does he will be very easy to find.” The hooded figure laughed evilly.
Jim and Jeremy exchanged worried glances and Jim pulled back from the window and Jeremy followed. They moved back into the trees so they wouldn’t be noticed.
“Well, at least we know they don’t have Artie anymore. But that man’s comment bothers me.” Jim told Jeremy.
“He’s got to be in the area somewhere. We’ll find him,” Jeremy assured him.
Artie woke in the night and quickly realized he was no longer in the dirty room he had been in. He tried to sit up and found he was securely tied to the bed. I was probably doing a lot of thrashing, Artie thought as he lay back down. You’ve got to pull yourself together, Artemus, Jim is already looking for you and he’ll find you, just keep your wits about you. Whoever took you in obviously hasn’t contacted the sheriff. He lay back down and closed his eyes to stop the room spinning.
When he closed his eyes his mind flooded with pictures. He saw the broken and battered bodies of soldiers in war…he saw dances he had attended…he also saw his partner…Jim was being hit from behind and collapsing on the ground in front of him and the ground opened up and swallowed him and Artie had been helpless to stop it.
“Jim!” Artie shouted, “James!” He continued to shout as the woman came scurrying out of the bedroom.
She rushed over him and felt his forehead,shaking her head He’s still running a fever, she said to herself as she applied a cold cloth to his head.
“We have to find out who this James is, mister. He seems to be close to you, maybe a brother or something? He must be awfully worried about you.”
She set about the task of starting a fire as the other one had gone out. She sat in the chair beside the cot, knowing sleep would not come again this night or as long as the man needed tending to.
“You have some powerful demons inside you, mister. Them drugs you were given can’t get helping any. I hope you can get through this.”
Jim and Jeremy returned to their horses and headed for the woods. They chose to forego the rest of the list and decided instead to begin checking nearby farms and ranches. They spent the remainder of the day knocking on doors. As darkness fell, Jim decided they needed to find a place to sleep and get a fresh start in the morning.
They pulled off the road and camped not far from a small farm and they made a fire. Jim stared up into the night sky praying they would find his partner tomorrow.
Morning found the woman still sitting in the chair by Artie’s cot, her chin resting on her chest. Her husband quietly crossed the room and poured himself a cup of coffee she had prepared. He sat staring at the man on the cot as he sipped the hot brew. The man was tossing and turning as much as his restraints would allow.
“You sure are a mystery, mister. How could a man seems to be so well bred fall into drugs?” He shook his head and put is coffee cup in the sink and left to start his daily chores.
Jim and Jeremy decided to split up and Jim would continue canvassing the area and Jeremy would ride into town and send a telegram to Colonel Richmond to tell them what they had found at the old winery. Jeremy headed off at a canter. Jim doused the fire and mounted his horse, heading for the small farmhouse.
Jim approached the house, tied his horse to the hitching post and went to the door knocking on it. An older woman answered the door, wiping her hands on her apron. She studied Jim carefully before speaking to him.
“May I help you young man?” She asked him dubiously.
“Yes ma’am, I’m James West…I’m with the government. I’m looking for one of our agents…maybe you’ve seen him?” Jim asked her.
“Hmm…” she pondered.
“Oh sorry, ma’am,” Jim said as he pulled his government ID out and showed it to her. A picture fluttered to the porch.
The woman looked at the picture as she handed it back to him. She pulled it back and glanced from the picture to Jim.
“Ma’am that’s my partner. It’s imperative that I find him. He disappeared almost a week ago.” Jim’s eyes searched hers.
“What did you say your name was?”
“West, Ma’am, James West.”
“Mr. West I have something in here you need to see.” She looked around before she pulled him inside.
Jim looked around the small but cozy house and his eyes lit on the cot by the stove. He saw that the man on it was tied to it. Jim ran over to the cot and looked at its occupant.
“Artie!” Jim dropped to his knees beside the cot.
“Oh, my God, Artie…” he turned to the woman and asked, “What happened to him? Why is he tied to the bed?” Jim asked as he tried to untie his partner.
“No, Mr. West, don’t untie him, it’s for his own good. He’s going through withdrawals, Mr. West.”
“Going through withdrawals? From what?”
“That we don’t know. My husband found him in the back of our wagon day before yesterday.”
“He needs to be in a hospital. Could we use your wagon?” Jim asked hopefully.
“The hospital in town…it isn’t the place to take him. It’s not safe there.”
“What do you mean by that?”
“Ever since Colonel Jackson came back to the area…well, don’t take your friend there is all I can say.”
“Can we bring a doctor here?”
“I wouldn’t. The colonel seems to get word of anything that happens around here. If your friend there is on the Colonel’s bad side he’s better off where he is.”
Jim had to think quickly. He asked if they had any hands or anyone that could go get his other friend Jeremy and the woman said her husband would go when he came back from the barn. Jim nodded and took the seat by the cot.
SS senior field agent
Posted - 09/13/2007 : 19:39:18
| Jeremy entered the telegraph office and strode to the counter where he grabbed paper and pencil and wrote out his message to Colonel Richmond. The clerk read the message and began to tap it out. Jeremy stood at the counter to wait for any reply. He pulled his gun from its holster and pointed it at the clerk.
“Perhaps you’d care to try sending the telegram I gave you instead of the one you just sent.” Jeremy told him in a tone that let the clerk know he meant business.
Jeremy listened as the clerk sent his telegram to the right code kept his gun trained oh him as he waited for the reply. When the reply came back quickly he eyed the clerk.
“I know Morse Code so I suggest you take down the message as it comes in or I just might be forced to use this,” Jeremy glared as he waved his pistol at the clerk.
Jeremy listened as he took the message down. When he handed him the message Jeremy paid and turned to leave. He found his way blocked by three rather burly men. The one in the middle shook his head and glared.
“We heard you was sendin telegrams about the Colonel. You really shouldn’t ought to have don’t that.” The man told him.
“Just doing my job, gentlemen.” Jeremy tried to push his way past them.
The men moved as one to block his path. Jeremy moved to the other side of the men and again they blocked his path. Jeremy put the folded telegram in his pocket and secretly wished he had Jim here to fight with him.
Jeremy launched himself at that nearest man striking him in the chest. The big man blocked his punch and landed one of his own. Jeremy fell backward and into the counter and the clerk dove under it. The men advanced on Jeremy who pulled his pistol and fired. The big man clutched his arm and fell to his knees.
Before Jeremy could turn his gun on another man they rushed him. One held Jeremy’s arms while the other punched his body. Jeremy tried to struggle but the man behind him held him tightly in a grip of iron. Just as Jeremy thought he had reached his threshold the door opened and in walked a man carrying a shovel. He snuck up behind the man hitting Jeremy and hit him on the back of the head with his shovel.
“Come on, mister, you must be the one Mr. West sent me here to bring back.” The man said as Jeremy followed him outside.
They mounted their horses and took off at a gallop for Wade's farm before the men could recover and follow them. Once they were far enough from town they slowed their pace and Jeremy turned and looked at his Good Samaritan.
“You say James sent you to get me?” Jeremy asked.
“Yes, sir. Mr. West told me I could find you at the telegraph office. You ARE Mr. Pike aren’t you?”
“Yes, sir, I am. Is James all right?”
“Yes, Mr. West is fine or at least he was when I left. It’s your other friend that is in trouble.”
“Artemus? What’s wrong with him?” Jeremy became alert.
“Seems someone shot him full of drugs. Bad ones. Oh, by the way, my name’s Wade.”
“Pike, Jeremy Pike. Someone gave Artemus drugs?” Jeremy asked astonished.
“Didn’t give them to him they shot him full of them. He’s going through withdrawals something terrible.”
“Oh no! We’d better hurry then.” Jeremy said.
They increased their pace and made good time getting back to the farm. Jeremy kept glancing to see if they had been followed but so far no one had followed them. When they reached the farm Wade told Jeremy he would curry and feed the horses after he had seen to his friend.
Jim pulled his gun and looked toward the door. He relaxed when he saw Jeremy come through it followed by Wade. Jeremy crossed the room to the cot.
“Wade told me little about what happened…is Artemus okay?”
“I don’t know. He needs a doctor but according to Ruth the doctors in the area can’t be trusted.”
“He looks to be in bad shape, James, we have to do something.”
“I know. One of us needs to get to the train and send a telegram to Colonel Richmond. If Artie escaped they’ll be looking for him.”
“They were already here.” Wade informed them, “They came the same day I found your friend. We hid him and told them we hadn’t seen him.”
“Thank you for that.” Jim said.
“Just what is going on here?” Jeremy wanted to know.
“Bad things. Ever since the Colonel came back. Those men at the old winery are constantly coming and going from his place and the winery.” Wade told them.
“When the wind shifts there are strange smells that come from over that way. My sister live over by there and she can’t hang out her wash to dry the smell is so bad some days.” Ruth said as Jim looked at his friend as he slept fitfully.
“Sounds like they might be making drugs there or something.” Jeremy commented.
“Jeremy, I hate to ask…” Jim started.
“No need, James. I’ll head for the train and use that telegraph to contact the Colonel. I’ll get whatever medical help they can give us.” Jeremy put his hat on and quickly left.
Jim sat staring at his partner wishing there was something he could do to help him. Artie’s eyes were moving rapidly behind his eyelids and his face was twisted in pain. Whatever’s going on pal, I hope you know I’m out here for you, Jim thought.
Artie was on stage doing a command performance for President Grant, his wife, various cabinet members and some visiting dignitaries. He was on stage in full costume deep into the character when it happened.
“Alas poor Yorick…” Artie paused and began again, “Alas poor Yorick I knew…” his pulse raced and beads of sweat broke out on his face. He looked out into the audience.
The audience began laughing and pointing at him. Artie’s worst fear was coming true! Any actor feared forgetting a line but an entire act was unforgivable. He looked to Jim for encouragement but found only scorn. Jim glared and shook his head.
“I thought you were better than this, Artie. Looks like it’s time to turn in your actor’s card.” He began to laugh at him as Artie’s understudy came on stage and pushed him off into the orchestra pit, making the entire theater break out in laughter.
“No…noooo…I know the lines,” Artie moaned and Jim leaned in.“Artie?”
“No, don’t do that…don’t replace me. I know this…I know I do.” Artie intoned.
“What is he talking about, Mr. West?” Wade asked.
“Artie was an actor…he must be dreaming. That was his worst fear. Forgetting his lines.” Jim stared down at his partner, wishing there was something he could do for him.
Jeremy entered the train and went straight to the telegraph key and sent his message. Orrin entered the varnish car and let Jeremy know his horse was being taken care of. Jeremy thanked him and asked him if there were any crewmen he could spare to take back with him. Orrin told him he couldn’t spare anyone right now but if he could later he would send them on as Jeremy tapped out his message to Colonel Richmond.
He was grateful the reply came swiftly. It took him several minutes to take down the medical notes alone. As he was compiling the notes to take back to Jim another message came in from the Colonel. Agents would be dispatched to the winery and Jackson’s ranch and should arrive by noon tomorrow. Jeremy made himself some dinner and fed his horse before heading back.
Wade came in from his afternoon chores with a saw blade he needed to repair. Ruth told him to take it back out to the barn. Wade gave her a strained look back.
“What is it, Wade?” She asked.
“Those phony monks are back. They were just over at the Jacobs place asking about Mr. Gordon and Mr. Pike,” Jim’s head snapped up.
“He didn’t…” Ruth couldn’t finish the sentence.
“No, Ruth, he didn’t tell them anything other than that he had seen a stranger ride toward town earlier.”
“It will take Jeremy a few hours to get back to the train I wouldn’t expect him to make it back here before this evening.” Jim informed them.
“Well, by that time the Colonel’s men should have made their way well past our place.” Wade said.
“I think I will work on this saw blade in here by the fire. I’d like to be in here when they come by.”
“That’s a good idea, Wade.” Ruth agreed.
Ruth and Jim sat quietly by Artie’s cot watching him. Ruth kept cold compresses on his forehead and Jim tried to keep his eyes off the grandfather clock in the corner. I hope Jeremy doesn’t run across those guys on his way back here, Jim thought as he got more cold water for Ruth. Artie began thrashing about, or trying to, and Jim could see why Ruth had told him not to untie him. A thought occurred to him and he turned to Wade just as there was a knock at the door.
Jim quickly told Ruth to help him maneuver the cot into the bedroom as Wade went to answer the door. They were just getting the end of the cot through the bedroom door as Wade opened the door.
“Welcome back, gentlemen, what can I do for you?” Wade asked.
“We are looking for a man that passed by earlier today. Tall, lanky man, well dressed,” The man regarded him closely.
“I’ll ask Ruth, but I’ve been inside working on this saw blade most of the day. I’ve not seen anyone.” Wade didn’t like the look in this man’s eyes.
“May we come in and speak with your wife?” the man tried to push his way in.
“No, I’d not recommend that…my wife is sick. It might be catching.” Wade told them. The man looked past him into the house in time to see Jim pulled the end of the cot through the bedroom door and quietly close it.
“That’s quite all right, sir. There’s no reason to trouble your further, we’ll be on our way.” Wade watched as they returned to their wagon and left.
“That was strange,” Wade said as he turned away from the door, “he looked at you, Mr. West and then he couldn’t get out of here fast enough.”
“Damn, if they saw me there could be trouble. I’d better get Artie and head for the train.” Jim headed back into the bedroom when Wade stopped him.
“No, Mr. West. It’s time someone stood up to the Colonel. Mr. Gordon is a very sick man and I’ll not allow anyone to remove him from my home.”
“He’s right, Mr. West. Your friend is in no shape to be moved right now.”
“We can’t stay here. They’ll be back with reinforcements. I won’t put you people in that kind of danger.”
“Mr. West, when we first came here we had to fight Indians and buffalo hunters to keep this land. If we have to fight wannabe monks then so be it.” Wade told him emphatically.
Any further argument was forestalled as they heard riders approaching. Jim looked out the window and saw the monks had returned without their robes and armed to the teeth. Jim asked how many guns they had and Wade disappeared into the bedroom and returned with a trunk full of assorted weapons. Jim raised an eyebrow and Ruth only rolled her eyes.
“Can both of you use any of these?” Jim asked as he looked through the trunk.
“We can and we will.” Wade handed his wife a rifle and a box of shells.
“Ruth, you take the bedroom window and Mr. West, you take the back window. I’ll take the front.”
They took up their positions and waited. They watched as the men made their way to the barn. Once they were in place, they waited for their cue from the leader. Jim was shocked when he saw who the men were looking to. Colonel Jackson himself had come to get his partner! Well, Jackson if it’s a fight you want it’s a fight you’ll get. Jim vowed as he watched the trees behind the farmhouse.
In the bedroom Ruth was watching the side of the barn waiting for the men to make their move. She didn’t hear Artie as he turned his head and took in his surroundings. When he saw the woman by the window, rifle in hand he instantly became alert. His struggle against his bonds finally alerted Ruth and she turned from the window.
“Who are you? And why the rifle?” Artie asked as he continued to struggle.
“I am Ruth. My husband Wade found you in the back of our wagon a few days ago. You’ve been very sick.” Ruth checked him for any signs of a fever.
“Still running a slight fever.”
“Uh…can you untie me?” Artie asked hesitantly.
“I don’t know, Mister. You’ve been going through withdrawals. It might not be safe.” Ruth regarded him warily.
“The names, Gordon…Artemus Gordon.” He smiled at her, “And I think the worst is over. If there’s some sort of trouble here I can help.”
“I don’t think that is a very good idea, Mr. Gordon. You’re still very weak.”
“Ruth, please…you and your husband took me in and helped me. Let me return the favor…please.” Ruth found she could not resist the pleading look in his eyes.
She untied him helped Artie to a sitting position. Artie swayed, thought he would be sick, but he fought the sensation and allowed Ruth to help him stand. He stumbled over to the window and looked out. He extended his hand to Ruth and she hesitantly placed a pistol in it. Artie checked and found it loaded.
Wade called to Ruth to leave the bedroom door open as he pulled the curtains back on the front window. He looked out hoping Jeremy wasn’t going to be riding into an ambush.
As darkness settled upon the farm the tension in the house mounted. Everyone was getting nervous waiting for the inevitable. Wade knew the agent could take care of himself…he wished he could be in the room with his wife and Mr. Gordon. He thought about what had happened to him. These men need to be stopped, Wade thought angrily. They cannot be allowed to do this or they might turn on those of us who live here next. Wade thought he noticed movement the barn.
“Look sharp people!” Wade shouted, “I see em moving by the barn.”
Artie pulled himself to one window and Ruth took the other. Artie wiped his eyes and forced them to focus as he spied several men slip away from the barn and circle around toward the back of the house.
“They’re circling the house!” Ruth called out to the men as she took aim and fired.
Wade fired on an advancing man as Jim fired on a man in his sights. Wade did double take when he heard the sound of two shots from the bedroom one right after the other with a difference…one was a rifle the other a pistol. No one can fire both a rifle and a pistol at the same time.
“Ruth?” Wade questioned, “Everything all right in there?” Wade was shocked when a male’s voice answered.
“We’re doing fine! You just don’t let anyone in that door.” Jim’s eyebrows went up.
“That you, Artie?”
“Yeah, Jim. And have I got a bone to pick with you, partner. Were you going to have this little party and not invite me?”
“Sorry, pal. You were a little tied up.” Jim told him.
“So I noticed. And Jim?”
“Thanks.” Came the soft reply.
“You’re welcome, Artie.”
They continued to hold the men at bay Jim and Wade hoping Jeremy would return with some good news soon. Ruth kept her eye on Artie as she noticed he was beginning to tire as he took down yet another of the so-called monks, who had abandoned their robes and looked like what they were…guns for hire.
Artie leaned back against the wall to reload his pistol. He grabbed a handful of shells from the box and cursed when he dropped them. Ruth hurried over and loaded the pistol for him and noticed his wound on his right arm was bleeding. She forced him to sit on the bed while she tended to his arm. Jim noticed it was quiet and voiced his concerns.
“Everything okay in the bedroom?” He asked.
“Mr. Gordon’s arm is bleeding again and he needs to be lying down. His face is flushed and he’s looking poorly.” Ruth answered drowning out Artie’s protests.
“Artie lay down, we can handle things until Jeremy gets here.” Jim shouted to his partner.
“I’ll be fine, Jim.”
“Skip the lecture, James. I’ll be fine.” Artie rolled his eyes.
“Keep and eye on him, Ruth. When he starts breathing out his nose real fast, make him lie down if you have to shoot him.” Jim instructed her.
“Will do, Mr. West,” Ruth smiled at Artie.
“Oh brother, just what I need…two Mother Hens.” Artie groaned.
“It beats the alternative, Mr. Gordon.” Artie just shrugged his shoulders and went back to staring out the window.
“Jim! Rider coming up the back way real fast!” Artie alerted his partner.
“I see him, Artie. I’ll let him get closer so we can tell if he’s a friendly or not.”
The man on the horse was riding like he had Satan himself on his heels. He pulled a white handkerchief from his jacket pocket and held it out as he approached. Jim realized what the rider intended as he pulled his rifle back. The rider leapt from the horse and sprinted toward the house, Jim firing around him as the man dove through the door and Jim slammed it shut. He glanced back to see Jeremy heaving for breath.
“Nice of you to join us, Jeremy. Does you’re being alone mean we are on our own?” Jim asked as Jeremy got a glass of water.
“Only until tomorrow. Colonel Richmond is sending a detachment from the fort. Before I left the train I got word they should be here by noon. Think we can hold them off till then?”
“If the ammunition holds out I think we can.”
“Wade, how much ammunition do you have?” Jim called to him.
“Enough to supply a small army. Only one problem…it’s in the barn.”
“I’ll go get it.” Jim heard the offer from the bedroom.
“You’ll do no such thing, Artemus!” Jim reprimanded him.
“Artemus?” Jeremy questioned.
“Hi ya, Jeremy,” Artie called out a greeting.
“How are you, Artemus?”
“Fine just fine. Soon as I can get rid of the Mother Hen patrol.” Jeremy laughed at the strained voice of his friend.
“Speaking of which, Artie…Since Jeremy is here now, you get back to bed and let him take over.”
“Someone’s got to go get that ammunition, Jim…we’re about out in here.”
“I’ll go, you stay put.”
Jim listened intently as Wade told him how to find the trunk of ammunition as he prepared to make a run for the barn. Wade and Jeremy began firing rapidly to give Jim cover. Artie could barely make out the barn doors from his window and he heaved a sigh of relief when he saw Jim slip into the barn.
“Damn,” Artie swore when he realized the back door was unmanned. “Someone needs to get the rear!” Artie shouted.
“Stay where you are, Artemus.” Jeremy shouted back, “We can get them both from here.”
“Jim better hurry,” Artie whispered as he fumbled reloading his pistol.
“Mr. Gordon, you need to lay down before you fall down.” Ruth told him as she helped him reload his pistol again.
“I’m fine, I can take care of myself,” he snapped.
“I’m sorry, Ruth,” he immediately apologized, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Just leave me alone, I’ll be fine.”
“No, Mr. Gordon, any one can see you’re not fine. You lay down…” She was interrupted when Artie snatched the rifle out of her hands and fired.
A man fell to the ground from the roof of the barn. Artie slumped against the wall as Ruth called out to Jim as he ran toward the house and came crashing through door, heaving the trunk of ammunition in before he dove through with Wade shutting the door behind him.
“Glad to see you made it in once piece, James.” Jeremy said.
“Piece of cake,” Jim replied as he pried the lid off the trunk and located the ammunition he would need.
“I’ll just take some of this in to Artie and Ruth,” Jim said as he gathered up the needed items.
Jim entered the room, his arms full of boxes of ammunition. He strode over to Ruth and allowed her to take several boxes from him. He handed Ruth the notes Jeremy had brought back and when he turned toward Artie and froze…his partner was pale and had a thick sheen of sweat on his face. Jim moved to the dresser and deposited the remaining ammunition. He then strode purposefully over to his partner and pulled him from the window.
“Jim…” Artie started to protest.
“Stow it, Artie. You’re sick and you’re going back to bed. Don’t make me have to tie you to it again.” Jim reprimanded him as he pulled the pistol from his hand.
“Jeremy! Artie’s tired and he’s going to lie down for a while…can you cover his window?” Jim called to his fellow agent without taking his eyes off his partner.
“I’ll just bet he is,” Jeremy chuckled as he headed for the bedroom.
After getting Artie settled, somewhat unwillingly back onto the cot, Jim took up his position by the back door. He thought about trading places with Jeremy then thought better of it. Artie was having a hard enough time dealing with Ruth let alone him as well.
Jeremy offered to watch both windows so Ruth could make coffee and lots of it. They would need it. Artie offered to take one window, an offer Jeremy quickly declined. Artie chose this lull in the action to fall asleep.
When Ruth returned with a cup of steaming coffee for Jeremy she found him glancing between the windows and his friend. Artie had fallen asleep but it was a fitful one. He was tossing and turning and moaning.
Artie ran out of the tent at the sounds of cannon fire. He looked around and saw men running, looking for their weapons. A cannonball tore through the tent he had just run out of and he could hear the cries of pain and anguish.
Where were the cannonballs coming from? How had the enemy been allowed to get so close? His attention was brought back to his surroundings when he realized the General had been left unprotected! He stumbled over toward the General’s tent just as a cannonball tore through one side and blew out through the other, collapsing the tent.
Artie pulled the material apart to reach the General. As he freed the General he turned him over…there was blood everywhere.
“No…no…no this isn’t right…” Artie mumbled, causing Jeremy to look over at him.
“This is wrong…all wrong. You can’t be dead…You’re the President…you didn’t die here…you didn’t…”
“You failed me, Artemus,” the apparition scorned him. “I will never become President because you failed in your duty.”
“No…no…I didn’t fail. I protected you with my life, sir.”
“No, Artemus, I died and you will never be an agent. All because you failed.”
“Nooo…” Artie moaned.
Ruth sat in a chair next to the cot and tried to soothe him. Oh the things you must have seen in the War, she thought as he continued to moan. Ruth brought cool water and placed a cold compress on his forehead.
Torn, battered bodies littered the battlefield…cannon fire and rifle fire filled the air with smoke. As he stumbled across the battlefield taking in the devastation, he felt sick to his stomach.
“Mr. Pike, hand me that wash basin, please. I think he’s going to be sick.”
Jeremy handed Ruth the basin just as Artie began retching violently. Ruth was somewhat alarmed when she noticed Artie had not woken and seemed trapped in his dream state. Whatever’s happening inside that head of yours, I hope you can realize it’s not real, she thought.
Artie looked out over the sea of bodies. ‘This can’t be happening, not again”, he thought. He reached for the body in front of him, clad in clothing that looked eerily familiar. The body tumbled off the waist high pile and landed face up at his feet.
He looked into the eyes and froze...the vacant, far away stare of a man no longer living...he’d know those eyes anywhere. The eyes cut into him as if they were pleading…imploring him help. The man’s face stared blankly at Artie and he could only stare back as he fell to his knees.
“No, Jim…nooo…” Artie softly moaned, “this isn’t right I know you’re not dead.”
“James, Artemus is having dreams…you better trade places with me. I think you might be able to help him.” Jeremy called to Jim.
Jim entered the room and looked at his partner. Artie’s face was twisted in pain and anguish, his head tossing from side. Jim took the chair vacated by Ruth who returned to the window as Jeremy left to take Jim’s post in the kitchen.
He sat down next to his partner not sure what to do. Ruth told him to just let Artie know he was there. Jim reached out and placed his hand on Artie’s arm. Jim wished he could be wherever his partner was so he could help him through this.
“Artie, I’m here, partner. You aren’t going through this alone.” Jim told him. Artie seemed to be responding albeit not in the way Jim would have liked.
“No, Jim, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. You deserve a better partner than I can ever be.”
“That’s not true, Artie. Listen to me…you’ve got to listen to me! There are people out here that want to help you with this.”
“I failed my friends…I failed my country…I failed my brother…I’m no good to anyone like this. I might as well be dead.”
“Mr. West, I’ve been reading those papers Mr. Pike brought back. This is part of the withdrawal process.” Ruth told him.
“Part of the process? The man is one the verge of being suicidal.”
“Yes, Mr. West. It says here severe depression and I believe that he is at that stage.”
“How many stages are there?” Jim wasn’t sure he wanted to know.
“Near as I can tell he’s in the end stage of the withdrawal process. He just has to make it through this and he’ll not be out of the woods but he should survive.”
“Should? That’s not good enough.” Jim stated emphatically.
“Well, Mr. West, it’s not up to you. It’s not even up to Mr. Gordon. It’s in God’s hands now.” Ruth told him sympathetically.
“I know that. I just wish there were some way to get through to him. Let him know he’s not alone.”
“He knows, Mr. West. He knows.”
Jim spent the remainder of the night alternating between standing watch at the window and watching his partner. As morning approached, Jim felt a renewed sense of hope. They had seen no evidence Jackson’s men were trying to advance on the farmhouse and Artie made it through the night. He was staring out at the barn looking for any man trying to sneak closer to the house when he heard Artie begin to stir.
He turned to look at his partner when Artie opened his eyes. He looked around the room and saw Jim. Artie smiled weakly at him and moved to get up when he froze. His eyes frantically scanned the room…not seeing a gun close to hand, he shouted to Jim.
“Jim! Behind you!” Artie shouted.
Jim whirled around in time to see one of Jackson’s men toss something into the bedroom. Jim fired his pistol, not missing at this range, and a red stain formed in the middle of the man’s chest as he fell to the ground.
Artie rolled off the cot pulling the blanket with him. He tossed it over the torch the man had thrown in the window and patted it with his hand. The room quickly filled with smoke and Jim, Ruth and Artie began gasping for air. Artie grabbed Ruth and shoved her out of the room and slammed the door. He and Jim broke the glass out of the windows and used folded blankets to fan the smoke out the windows.
Out in the other room Wade fired as several men advanced on the farmhouse. He didn’t look away as Ruth put her rifle in the window and took up a position next to her husband. She fired her weapon, taking out a man who fell into the watering trough.
In the kitchen area Jeremy placed himself behind a cupboard and took aim felling his man. He risked a glance at the grandfather clock and shook his head. They still had to hold them off for several hours before help would arrive. His anger rising, Jeremy took aim and quickly felled two more.
“How many men has Jackson got?” he asked no one in particular.
“I’d be guessing he has close to 100 men working for him in his various businesses interests, so it’s hard to tell how many are out there.” Wade informed him.
“Oh nice,” Jeremy commented, “Nothing like fighting a small army to make your day.”
“Artie, you okay?” Jim asked as the smoke began to dissipate.
“I’ve been better,” Artie coughed and sputtered as he wiped soot from his clothes with a glare.
“Your hand is bleeding, Artie. Go let Ruth take a look at that.” Jim told him as he grabbed more shells for his rifle.
“It’s just a scratch, Jim. I must have cut it when I broke that window. I’ll be fine.” Artie replied as he tore a piece of cloth off his shirt and wrapped it around his hand. Jim glared and sighed.
During the next lull in the fighting Jim called Ruth into the room and she took care of Artie’s hand. Ruth didn’t like how pale he looked but Artie vetoed both her and his partner by grabbing a pistol and extra ammunition and placing himself in the nearest window. He suggested Ruth take the opportunity to make some food and she agreed. Gathering up the medical supplies, Ruth headed to the kitchen to prepare a meal.
“You in the house!” A man somewhere near the barn shouted.
“We don’t want to harm you. Send West and Gordon out and we’ll leave you in peace!”
“Sorry, gentlemen, but you’ll have to tell your boss no. I’ll not send these men to their deaths!” Wade shouted back.
“That’s not a wise decision, friend. We outnumber you…we could rush you or we can burn you out. Just give us West and Gordon and we’ll leave!”
“I’m not sending Gordon back to that man. He’s sick…might not even make it. Tell your boss the answer is still NO!” Wade watched as a man rode away at top speed.
“That ought to buy us some time,” Wade said to his wife, “You aren’t upset by all this are you, Ruth?” He asked her.
“No, Wade, not at all. I think what the Colonel did was unforgivable and these boys need our help.”
“Besides, the Army will be here soon. We’ve held them off this long a little longer won’t hurt.” Ruth smiled at him.
The rest of the morning passed slowly, both sides waiting for the other to make the first move. Jim forced Artie to lie back down and he was sleeping somewhat comfortably. Jim hoped the worst was over. Shortly before noon Jeremy saw a lone rider approaching.
“James, rider’s back!” Jeremy shouted toward the bedroom.
“Can you take him out?” Jim asked.
“No, I can’t get a clear shot at him, he’s staying pretty low in the saddle.”
“All right then…let’s hope the Army gets here soon.”
Artie woke up and shifted positions to lay on his side as he listened to the conversation. All of this fuss on account of me? What could Jackson want me so badly for? Maybe I should just give myself up. Thinking quickly, Artie slipped off the cot and into the kitchen.
He snuck up behind Jeremy and hit him over the head with the butt of his pistol. Catching him as he slumped, Artie gently leaned him against the wall and quietly stepped outside and made his way around to the front of the house. Jeremy came to and stumbled toward the main room. Ruth saw him and ran to him.
“It’s Artemus, he hit me on the head and he left.” Jim heard Jeremy’s proclamation and came running.
“Gentlemen, I suggest you take a look out there,” Wade said as he pointed toward the window.
“What the hell does he think he’s doing?” Jim started after his partner but Wade held him back.
Artie strode across the yard toward the barn, his hands held high. If they want me so bad I’ll go willingly. I’ll not let them harm anyone on my account. Artie stopped midway, his body shaking.
“I’m the one you want. I’ll go willingly…just let my friends go.”
“That’s all well and good friend, we will take you. But we can’t leave here without Mr. West too.”
“I’m willing to go why can’t that be enough? There’s been more than enough bloodshed here already.”
“No can do, Mr. Gordon. Orders is orders. And no one crosses the Colonel and lives to tell about it and I for one would like to go on livin.”
“What is he trying to do get himself shot?” Jeremy voiced the thought that was running through Jim’s mind.
“That might not be a bad idea.” Wade said, getting glares from Jim and Jeremy.
“Sorry, Mr. West, but think about it. If we shoot him they aren’t going to make a move to take him.”
“I can’t shoot my partner and I will NOT stand by and let you shoot him.” Jim’s stomach turned at the thought.
While Jim and Jeremy tried to talk some sense into Wade, Artie continued to plead their case. Jim was certain there had to be another way to get the men to hold off until the Army could show up. Jeremy agreed and pled their case to a rather insistent Wade. All eyes turned when a single shot rang out.
Artie jerked forward, a look of surprise and shock on his features. He turned around to stare back at the farmhouse and his body kept turning like a corkscrew as he toppled to the ground. The man that had left the barn to apprehend Artie made a mad dash back to the relative safety of the barn.
In the dead silence that followed both sides looked at the man on the ground weighing their options. The Colonel’s men not wanting to get shot trying to get what could be a dead man and those in the house not wanting to put anyone else in jeopardy trying to rescue their fallen comrade. Jim’s eyes were glued on the figure on the ground, the rest of his body frozen.
“What did you do?” Jeremy finally found his voice.
“What needed to be done.” Ruth sighed.
“What needed to be done?” Jim was finally able to talk, “What needed to be done? How is killing Artie going to help?” He looked at her with fire in his eyes.
“Calm down, Jim.” Jeremy cautioned him.
“Mr. West, I didn’t kill him. I aimed for his shoulder and I never miss.”
“But we can’t get to him! He could bleed to death out there!”
“I don’t think so, James.” Jeremy told him as he looked across the yard and down the road.
A plume of dust was visible on the horizon. The Army was on its way. Hold on, Artie, hold on, Jim willed his partner to last until he could get to him.
“Unless they have a lookout back there they won’t see them coming and by the time they hear them it’ll be too late.”
“Draw their fire. Keep em busy till the Army gets here,” Wade told them as he began firing at the barn.
Jeremy rushed to the bedroom and took position at one window and began firing to cover the Army’s advance. Ruth went to the kitchen leaving Jim and Wade in the in the main room. They fired their weapons in rapid succession keeping the men inside the barn. Wade glanced at Jim and saw him trying to keep his eyes off the figure on the ground.
“I think I can give you sufficient cover if you want to try to reach Mr. Gordon.”
“I don’t like him out there like that.” Jim replied, “He’s a sitting duck.”
“If I lay down good cover…can you run out and bring him back quickly?”
“I couldn’t help but overhear,” Jeremy told them as he appeared out of the bedroom, “Jim, go get Artemus, I’ll cover you too.”
Jim didn’t need to be told again. He leaned his rifle against the wall and crouching low, he flung the door open and Jeremy and Wade burst through the door, firing their weapons. Jeremy stood behind one end of the wagon and Wade took cover behind the other end.
As they fired their weapons Jim dove across the yard to Artie’s still form. He slid across the dirt and came to a stop lying almost flat. Jim quickly checked to see if Artie was still breathing. Just as he was about to pull him up men erupted from the barn, firing at Jim. Then all hell broke loose. The men from the barn were joined by some of the men from the side of the house as they made a mad dash for the two agents.
The men didn’t hear the rumble or feel the shaking of the earth as the soldiers rode up until it was too late. Suddenly the yard was a sea of blue-jacketed men on horseback firing on the Colonel’s men. As more soldiers filled the yard several of Jackson’s men dropped their weapons and raised their hands. One man bolted for a horse and took off at a gallop.
“Sergeant…stop that man!” The Captain shouted and a soldier lifted his rifle and fired a single shot…the rider fell from his saddle.
The Captain jumped down and ran toward the two agents in the yard. He helped by getting Artie’s legs and Jim grabbed Artie’s shoulders. They carried him into the house. Ruth was waiting for them in the bedroom. They gently placed Artie on the bed.
“Our doctor is on his way. He should be here within the hour.” The Captain informed them.
“An hour? Artie might not have that long. Isn’t there something we can do?” Jim asked as he stared at his partner.
“It’s all right, Jim” Artie whispered. I’ll be fine.”
“Sure you will, Artie. And Grant will stop drinking tomorrow.” Jim smiled at him.
“It sounds like we don’t have a choice, partner. If you want I’ll hop on a horse and go meet him halfway,” Artie joked, trying to alleviate some of the tension in the room.
“You’ll do no such thing, Artemus. I plan on giving you that hour to explain to me just why I shouldn’t be so mad at you for that bonehead stunt you just pulled that I don’t shoot you myself.” Jim glared at him.
“Wade…Ruth why don’t we give them some privacy?” Jeremy said as he ushered them from the room.
“I’ll get what I need from those out in the other room before I come get a statement from you gentlemen.” The Captain said as he followed Jeremy and the others out to the main room, leaving Jim and Artie alone in the icy silence.
“Artie, I don’t understand why you did what you did care to explain?”
“Just let it go, Jim.” Artie stared at the ceiling not wanting to look at his partner.
“No, Artie, you put your life in danger like you didn’t care anymore. Like you had a death wish or something. When my partner acts in a way that is so unlike him I have to question him.”
“I couldn’t stand by and watch those men storm this house just to get to us. I’m not worth it.” Artie still refused to meet his partner’s concerned gaze.
“What would ever make you think that? Artie you’re worth more than any other man I know.” His partner’s attitude was beginning to scare him.
“No, Jim, I’m not. This whole incident is my fault…you’d be better off with a partner who’s not as soft as I am.”
“What? Where is this tripe coming from? You can’t take responsibility for Jackson. The man is certifiable.”
“Certifiable he may be but that doesn’t change things, Jim.”
Ruth entered the room, she had been listening and felt she needed to shed some light on the subject from the notes she had read. She motioned to Jim to join her in the hallway.
“Mr. West, he’s showing signs of the severe depression those papers talked about. You best keep your eye on him. Don’t try to reason with him it won’t do any good. Just be with him and don’t leave him alone.”
“He’s not going to try anything drastic is he?” Jim wanted to know.
“That I can not say. Just be there for him. The doctor should be here soon.” Jim nodded and continued to talk quietly with Ruth for a few minutes before turning and reentering the room.
Artie had moved to a sitting position and Jim froze when he saw a piece of broken glass from one of the windows in his hand and a tell tale scratch on his wrist. He stared at Artie watching the tear make its way down his cheek. Not speaking, Jim crossed the room and sat down next to him. He waited for Artie to speak.
“He almost won, Jim,” Artie whispered.
“What do you mean, pal?”
“Jackson. He almost won. I’ve been fighting this as hard as I could and he almost won. I almost slit my wrist with this…” Artie gestured with the glass.
“But you didn’t. So he didn’t win. You won, Artie.” Jim told him quietly.
“Yeah, I guess I did.” Artie smiled as he let the glass slide out of his grasp and fall to the floor, shattering the last of Colonel Jackson’s hold on him.
THREE DAYS LATER –
Artie woke to the excruciating pain in his shoulder. He tried to sit and realized he was again tied to the bed. But this bed was different somehow. He slowly opened his eyes and blinked to adjust them. He was no longer in Wade and Ruth’s home he was in what appeared to be a hospital. He turned his head and saw Jim resting quietly in the chair. He turned back as the door opened, wincing and hissing. Jim started awake at the sounds.
“Mr. Gordon, you’re finally awake. That is indeed a good sign.” The doctor smiled at him.
“Finally?” Artie coughed as Jim brought him a glass of water and helped him drink it.
“You’ve been asleep for three days, Artie.” Jim told him.
“Three…okay that I can understand I think. But what about these?” Artie nodded toward the restraining straps.
“You had a slight relapse into the withdrawal symptoms, Mr. Gordon. My guess is that it was brought on by the anesthetic needed for your surgery.” The doctor told him.
“Well, I’m better now aren’t I? Can’t you take them off?” Artie asked.
“I was just coming in to take care of that.”
The doctor removed the restraining straps and before Artie could move the doctor produced a sling causing Artie to roll his eyes. But he said nothing as the doctor placed his right arm in the sling and pulled it tight.
“When can I get out of here?” Artie asked and Jim chuckled.
“I need to find out who you will be released to. Then it’s merely a matter of how quickly you can get dressed.”
“Who I will be…” Artie began.
“He will be released to me,” Jim announced.
“All right, Mr. West, then I’ll give you my instructions while you Mr. Gordon, can try to get dressed. And don’t use that arm no matter what. Any clothing you can’t get on we can help you with.”
“Anything that gets me out of here.” Artie said as he reached for his pants.
Artie listened as the doctor gave Jim the instructions and snorted when the doctor said no lab work for the next eight weeks and not even light duty for the next twelve. Like that will ever happen, Artie thought as the doctor glared at him and Jim tried to hide his amusement.
“Mr. Gordon, morphine addiction is nothing to mess around with. While I do admit your recovery was almost miraculous, even though your exposure was brief, you can and you will still feel the effects for some time.”
“Don’t worry, doctor, I’ll see to it that he follows all of your instructions.” Jim smiled at them.
Minutes later Artie and Jim emerged from the hospital and Artie breathed deeply and sighed, he hoped he didn’t have to see another hospital anytime soon. They reached the train after a long, slow ride, Jim had thought about renting a hansom cab but then decided against that for obvious reasons.
As they entered the train they were surprised to find Jeremy sitting at the telegraph. He looked up and waved as Jim helped Artie settle onto the settee. Artie didn’t even bother to pay attention to the back and forth messaging Jeremy was doing. After he finished Jeremy pushed the key back into place and smiled at his fellow agents. Artie took in his beaming smile and shook his head.
“Let me guess, you’ve got good news for us, Jeremy?” Artie asked with a smirk.
“Yes, as a matter of fact I do, Artemus. It’s nice to see you up and about finally. You were asleep every time I visited you in the hospital.” Artie lifted an eyebrow.
“You came to see me?”
“Yes, I was there everyday. But that’s all right. I didn’t expect you would remember, what with the withdrawals and such. Now, do you want my news or do I keep it to myself?” Jeremy couldn’t contain his smile.
“Yes…yes by all means tell me your news. I could use some good news about now.” Artie told him.
“The Army caught Colonel Jackson as he was trying to make his get away from that old winery.”
“That is good news.” Jim said.
“Even better news is that they confined him to Fenmore and this time he goes nowhere. He gets a hangnail and the doctor will be brought to him.” Jeremy told them.
“So Colonel Jackson won’t be seeing the light of day anytime soon. Good, I’m glad.” Jim commented dryly.
Artie yawned and wondered where that came from if he had just slept for the past three days. This didn’t get past either Jim or Jeremy and they exchanged glances and Artie was certain he wouldn’t like the outcome.
“Come on, Artie time to get you to bed.” Jim said as he helped him up.
“Aww, Jim…the doctor couldn’t have meant…” Artie started to protest when Jeremy interjected.
“Sorry, Artemus, but the doctor wired Colonel Richmond who in turn talked with the President and…well…” Jeremy stammered not wanting to add to his friend’s grief.
“I can just bet how that conversation went.” Artie sighed and rolled his eyes as they walked down the hallway toward his room.
Artie pulled up short as they passed his lab. He looked at the door and his eyes fell on a shiny new lock. He looked to Jeremy and raised an eyebrow. He reached over and pulled on the lock. It held fast when he pulled on it. Artie lifted the lock on its hasp and looked for the keyhole so he could figure out how to pick it. Jeremy looked sheepishly at him.
“Sorry, Artemus, but the order came from the Man himself. He wanted to make sure you would follow your doctor’s advice and stay out of the lab.”
“This shouldn’t be too hard to pick…” Artie was already becoming lost in the new puzzle.
“Not on your life, partner,” Jim pulled him away from the lock, “The design for that lock was taken from files confiscated from Loveless during our last encounter. That thing is supposed to be pick proof and Grant himself had it tested with the best lock picks in Washington.”
“The best huh? Well, give me a little time, I’m sure I can break it.” Artie commented as Jim ushered him further down the hall toward his room.
“Well, it will wait. That lock isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. And neither are YOU, pal. You are following orders if I have to shoot you to get you to do it.” Artie eyed his friends warily.
“You wouldn’t…” he looked at them quizzically.
“We can and we will. Grant’s orders and you know that orders is orders.” Both Jim and Jeremy grinned broadly.
“I think you two are enjoying this way too much.” Artie grumped as they helped him settle onto his bed.
Jim mixed Arties medicines and helped him drink them. As they settled him back onto the pillows Jim and Jeremy sighed with relief. At least they had Artie where they could keep an eye on him. Whether or not he liked it didn’t matter. The agent was where he belonged and they would make sure he stayed put and out of his lab.
Agents! Ya can't live with them. And Admin takes a rather dim view to ya blowing em up.