SS 1st assignment - desk job
Posted - 12/23/2008 : 15:47:24
| The Night of the Empire Builder
“It’s too... damned... hot! And we can’t even open the windows because then we’ll be not only hot, but completely covered with alkali dust.” Artie removed the damp rag from around his neck and wrung it over a bowl on his lap. Adding to his bad mood was watching his partner practice his game of pool, when it was simply too hot to engage in such athletics.
“So you’re going to greet Colonel Richmond without a shirt on. Correct?” Jim asked. He was at least wearing a cotton undershirt, which by now was just about as damp as the rag.
“Right as rain,” was the angry reply. “They could have outfitted this train with a vapor condenser refrigerator – it probably would have cost no more than the pool t-- – hey! Don’t sweat on the wood! I intend to trade it in for a refrigeration unit and you’re there devaluing it.”
“Sorry.” James rose and tugged at the chain of his pocketwatch. “Fourteen hundred hours, two minutes. Twenty eight minutes to bathe, dress, and invent an excuse for you.”
Artie headed in the direction of the kitchen to draw more water. “Ha! If anybody needs an excuse it’s those high mucky mucks in Washington who ordered this train. And since Colonel Richmond is their representative maybe be he can answer for them and... “
The wind slammed against the windows, drowing out nearly every sound but the urgent rapping on the door to the car. West was in the middle of lining up a crucial shot, so whoever was knocking could wait, since it couldn’t have been Richmond, famous for arriving at any appointment exactly at the minute agreed upon. Perhaps it was a telegram delivery.
The colonel entered and, after taking one whiff, immediately backed up. “Good lord man, have you taken a vow not to bathe?”
“You’re early, sir. I was just about to.”
The wind died down somewhat, making the complaint on its way in the room from the kitchen eminently audible.
“...and another thing that Richmond oughta apologize for is the sorry state–“ Artie stopped to take in the scene before him, then continued, “As I was saying, another thing that the city of Richmond ought to apologize for is the very limited availability of topnotch --“
”Drop it, Gordon. I want to get down to business and, I must say, your choice of attire is most unfortunate. Today especially.”
“Today especially? Sir, I direct you to that thermometer on the wall. Currently, it registers a full one hundred and six degrees. And judging by the atmosphere in here, that’s celsius.”
Jim hastened to offer the colonel a seat, while Artie attempted to calm down, an attempt which ceased once the door opened again.
“Colonel Richmond, I am not a surprise Christmas box to be left on the doorstep. Certainly these gentlemen have laid eyes on a woman before.”
The words came from looked like a cloud of loosely-woven white linen.
All three men were temporarily speechless, Jim and Artie because of the completely unexpected entry of this person, Richmond because he had not yet issued his prepared statement.
The cloud moved forward. “Good afternoon, Mr. West, Mr. Gordon. My name is Anna White. It is my understanding I’ll be working with Mr. Gordon.” She paused and looked over her shoulder at the Colonel. “Sir, is that still the plan?”
“Yes, Mrs. White”
“Ah, and which one of you is the esteemed Artemus Gordon? Undershirt or no shirt?”
Artie raised his hand sheepishly.
“Please don’t be embarrassed, Mr. Gordon. At the risk of sounding unladylike, you are not the first shirtless man I’ve ever seen. I am hoping that some day Americans in these climates will dress as they do in Arabia. Far more practical, and I don’t want to be the only oddity who does so.” Indeed she had done so – her clothing was nearly identical to those one saw worn by the Arabs pictured in travel book illustrations.
“Very charming indeed, Miss White,” said Jim as he regarded her. Was that fabric thin enough to see through? he wondered. Hard to tell in this light.
“Thank you,” Anna smiled. “You’re the first man to say anything even remotely positive. At our last stop on the train ride here, I received a most unpleasant reception. What was it, Colonel, something about my being indecent?”
The colonel reddened as he tried to frame an answer. Anna smiled wickedly and continued.
“Oh, now I remember. Something about my not wearing a corset. Can you imagine? First of all, how could anyone tell, and second of all, who would be mad enough to wear one in this heat? And thirdly, how horribly ill-mannered to pass judgment, out loud and in public, on what a lady is wearing. What if I had been Arabian? – I should have been most insulted.”
Now Jim and Artie reddened, and shared a brief glance. Anna smiled again, greatly amused at their discomfort. At last, the colonel composed himself.
“Gordon, Mrs. White will be working with you while you’re in San Francisco. West, I’ll need you to accompany me up to Vancouver. Now let’s get down to business.”
Everyone was still standing.
“Please, can we all sit down? The introductions have been made, the tea party’s ready to commence,” Richmond growled. All sat, West and Gordon on the hard wooden chairs, lest they sweat onto expensive upholstery. The Colonel and Mrs. White shared the settee.
Indicating Mrs. White with a nod of his head, Jim began, “With all due respect, sir, if at any point we need a secretary on this mission, we could hire one in San Francisco. Artie and I have been studying the Russian situation from every angle, and we are confident that together we’ll be able to determine the true nature of Mladepovich’s operations there. I don’t see the need to go barreling into Vancouver when the we already know that the center of his activities is the San Francisco area. If we’re right, what’s going on inVancouver is merely tangential. Maybe even totally unrelated.”
Mrs. White rose and began to quietly inspect the car. The men stared, and Colonel Richmond was not only offended but deeply surprised that she had done something so unprofessional as to more or less walk out on the meeting. The lady paused next to the entryway to the kitchen.
A split second before Richmond was about to upbraid her, she flashed what Artie was beginning to find a captivating smile.
“Sirs, now that I have your full attention – first, Colonel, I wish to apologize in advance for undermining your authority, but I believe I can answer Mr. West rather more forcefully than you can on this particular matter. My own research suggests that Vancouver is actually the center of the activity and what is going on in San Francisco is, while significant, essentially a smokescreen.”
“Your own research?” Jim asked incredulously. He never took well to his opinions being challenged, and took it even less well from women. Particularly attractive women who were, in his mind, good for a number of things, but serious government work was not among them.
“Yes. I speak, read and write Russian fluently and have been in contact over the years with a number of Russian organizations. Among my contacts are a few people who became involved with Mladepovich. When some of the information I was receiving began to hint at something rather alarming, I constructed a false identity and began communicating directly with him. At the same time, I also alerted the government. So, the plan is that Mr. Gordon will personify the false identity I created, Timofei Edviva, while my cover will be as his mistress, Arnaude DeRouisseau.”
Artie grinned broadly. Jim shot him a look – he was still offended, and was developing an opinion that this woman was some sort of dilettante.
“If we need a secretary we can certainly hire one, as Mr. West suggested, but I was hired to gather intelligence. I have over fifteen years experience in this area, having worked as a spy for both sides in the late war, as well as for foreign governments.” Anna flashed a smile once more. “I now cede the floor to Colonel Richmond.”
Before Richmond began, Artie cleared his throat and raised his hand. “I don’t know if you know this but, although I can speak Russian pretty well, it’s been years and years since I had an opportunity to read it or write it, so if we’re going to interact with these people directly, I believe I’m at a disadvantage. The original idea was to be as covert as possible.”
Anna removed the cowl from her head, revealing a mass of thick dark curls, which set off her green eyes quite dramatically. “My, it’s warm in here. Sorry, Mr. Gordon, what did you say?”
“I said –“
”Gordon, we’ve hashed this out already.” Richmond rose and walked toward the kitchen.”I’m after a cool drink. Mrs. White, you may continue.”
“‘Timofei Edviva’ was raised in this country, has only a beginner’s knowledge of Russian, and cannot read or write it at all. In fact he’s only half-Russian, but over time developed a hatred for this country and his mother’s people – fabulously wealthy Boston Brahmins – but he wants to be Russian through and through. He’s pig-headed and woefully ignorant, but he is also the only heir to an enormous legacy – tens of millions.”
“That’s some interesting character you came up with,” Artie said admiringly.
Mrs. White nodded graciously, “Merci beaucoup.”
“But why does he need his mistress to come along? Not that I’m complaining, of course,” said Gordon as he beamed at her.
Colonel Richmond returned with two tepid glasses of water, one of which he handed to Mrs. White, and a white linen shirt draped over his arm, which he handed to Artie.
“Please, Gordon, Mrs. White is under enough strain.”
Artie had almost forgotten that he was shirtless and was instantly overcome with acute embarrassment. He jumped from his seat and headed toward his room.
“Sorry, ma’am. Be right back.”
“So answer the question, Mrs. White, why do we need you along?” West demanded. The heat was starting to get to him, and he did not like the fact that this woman – a Mrs. White – whom no one had ever heard of, had assigned herself a principal role in this mission.
“Mr. West, you are reputed to have one of the finest minds in the Service, and yet you cannot see how much more effective this plan would be? The Edviva character, for all intents and purposes, knows no Russian, while both Artemus and I are fluent. My alter ego, the Frenchwoman Arnaude DeRouisseau, knows very little English and not a word of Russian. For those reasons, Mladepovich would feel free to say almost anything in front of the both of us.”
“Oh, goodness, if your’s is what passes for a fine mind in Washington these days, heaven help all of us,” she snapped. The heat was beginning to get to Anna as well. “Why would Mladepovich suffer a fool like Edviva? For the money he can pour into Mladepovich’s war chest. But Edviva is half-American, can he be trusted? Perhaps not. But if he is fool enough to travel with his French paramour, he’s automatically trustworthy, if only by virtue of his stupidity. Mladepovich despises the French – something about Napoleon, I’m told. And he is quite the moralist. What we will present as our relationship – Edviva’s and DeRouisseau’s – is anathema even to a man of the world like him.”
“So why not present yourself as Edviva’s wife?”
Anna rolled her eyes. “Because wives, Mr. West, are – in this culture – dainty little things who spend their days at home in dainty little pastimes. A woman of the other sort is granted greater entree into the world of men, if only for the purposes of exploitation. But I have played the game long enough and well enough that I usually win.”
At that, Artie entered the room, coughing to mask his broad smile.
“Gordon, I hope you appreciate the gravity of this approach. You and Mrs. White are going to be working in what might be a very dangerous environment. I myself have reservations about sending Mrs. White, but the President thinks she’ll do a crackerjack job.”
Richmond rose and mopped his brow with his handkerchief. “I’m going to the hotel now – there’s mountain of paperwork to go through before tomorrow morning, and I’d like to cable a few things before we take off. West, you and I will take the Wanderer to Vancouver tomorrow. I’d like to leave around six a.m. Gordon, you’ll need to pack before then - there’s a train leaving from this station that will connect with another train to San Francisco around eight a.m. tomorrow – I have tickets for you and Mrs. White in a... a sleeping compartment.”
Toward the end of that announcement Richmond’s throat tightened up a bit. Taking a deep breath, he continued. “It is most important that Mladepovich not see any cracks in this charade, and... ah... I know we will all comport ourselves as professionals.” Again his throat had tightened up and in his embarrassment, he delivered that last comment to his shoes.
“Indeed we will,” answered Anna, while glaring meaningly, but not unkindly, at Artemus.
Recovering himself, Richmond looked around the room at to see three increasingly bedraggled and sweaty people. Even Mrs. White in her white linen was beginning to succumb. “We might as well all spend the night in the hotel. I understand they have a cold spring nearby, and an underwater river that has caused some big oaks or elms or some such to grow outside the hotel. The rooms should be cooler than this hot box, and we will all need a good night’s sleep.”
“I’ll be packed and in my best bib and tucker within the hour.” Artemus avoided looking at Mrs. White, as it was almost all he could do to suppress a grin.
* * *
“Some high-class establishment, this,” West observed dryly.
The Grand King George Hotel was neither grand nor a hotel, strictly speaking. On the first floor were a kitchen, a bar, six tables featuring a variety of bullet holes, graffiti and splinters, and twenty-five mismatched chairs. On the second floor were four rooms, each with a bed, chest of drawers, chair and wash basin. The largest two of these were termed the “Royal Sweets,” which a sign behind the bar advertised as “Fancy comidations for queen or king. Linens laundered faithfuly every Saturday as needed.” The “as needed” translated to two or three times a year, since nearly all overnight “guests” were bar patrons who’d lost a fight and needed a place to be stowed until the doctor could be found. These were never put up in a Royal Sweet. Yet, for the first time since the establishment’s name was changed from The Ladd Tavern, both Royal Sweets were booked, reservations having been made for Artemus in one Royal Sweet and Mrs. White in the other.
The downstairs was completely unoccupied except for the man behind the bar. Colonel Richmond hailed him from the doorway, “Are those other two rooms available? We’ll be needing two more.”
The barkeep, who was drying glasses with the tail of his shirt, didn’t look up. “Sorry, sir, need to keep at least one vacant. Or don’t you know today’s Saturday?”
“Colonel, why don’t you take other Royal Sweet? I don’t mind sleeping on our car, and Jim has to get up and out earlier than I do. Just boot me off the Wanderer when you’re both ready to leave.”
“You’re sure, Gordon?”
“Yes. In any case, if tonight is what I’m guessing Saturday nights are like here, there’ll be precious little sleeping going on anyway. Too much racket.”
“I may take you up on that or I may not. For now, I’d like to start in on my paperwork. I’ll let you know later if I’m willing to stay for this evening’s festivities or not. You there, we’ll take just one more room then.”
“Suit yourself. Grab one of the keys, top row on the wall there.” The barkeep looked up from his work and cocked his head in the direction of where the keys were mounted. Richmond took one, and went upstairs.
“You folks want my opinion, ain’t none of you gonna get a good night’s sleep here. John Smith’s gettin’ outta prison t’day, and there’s gonna be some dust up here tonight, that’s for certain.”
“John Smith? “ West chuckled as he sat at one of the tables and stretched out his legs. “What’s his real name?”
“Dunno, but that’s the one he used this time when he was sent up. Got a couple more though. You’re pretty sharp, howdja guess ‘John Smith’ wuddn’ his real name?” The barkeep, finished with the glasses, was now sweeping the floor, but was only successful in kicking up the combination of sawdust, alkali, and dried mud. Mrs. White and Gordon joined Jim at the table, Mrs. White with part of her hood drawn over her face to keep out the dust.
“Oh, just a wild guess,” Jim answered as he attempted to brush the dust away from his jacket. “It’s not that common of a name,” he deadpanned.
“True,” the man agreed thoughtfully. “Mostly the people around here, they got a Spanishy name or maybe Indian, but then we got a lotta Irish, and English and so forth. Me, I’m one of a kind, guess what my name is!”
“Haven’t a clue.”
“Aw, that’s cause you ain’t imaginative. I’ll ask your friend and the lady then – hey, wanna guess my name?”
“I’ve never been good at guessing games,” Artie answered ruefully. “Why don’t you give me a hint?”
“Naw, too early in the game. Hey lady – wanna guess my name?”
“Is it... John Barleycorn?” she asked playfully.
“Nope. You’re not even warm. Give ya one more chance.
“Now you’re just teasin’ me. It’s Freddy Hakimoglu! What do you think of that?”
Not knowing what else to do, Jim and Artemus clapped. Mr. Hakimoglu stood up straight and thumped his chest.
“I’m the only half Turkish, half English feller probably in the whole country. And I speak four languages. Unfortunately, three of ‘em are Indian languages and aren’t of much use around here particularly, but there was a parson came through a year or so ago, and he said I oughta try to get employment with the U. S. government on accounta they need people to talk Indian to the Indians a couple hundred miles south of here. And there’s some talk the last coupla weeks some high ranking goverment people gonna be comin’ through town soon. Have no idea why, but that’s the talk. Maybe they’re the ones looking for somebody who can talk Indian.”
The three agents looked at one another. This mission had been planned with the utmost secrecy, even to the extent of having them meet up in one of the most isolated areas train stations west of the Mississippi. Mrs. White rose and walked purposefully to the door.
“Oh, how boring. Government and criminals. What dull conversation. I think I’d like to take a walk.”
West and Gordon shared a glance, then Gordon rose to follow her.
“Oh, Mrs. White, my I accompany you? I’d like to stretch my legs.”
Mrs. White continued on, but waved her hand carelessly, so Gordon took that as an invitation.
Outside of the hotel were only four buildings: church, telegraph office, doctor’s office, and the train station. Mrs. White was on her way to the telegraph office. In spite of the heat, she moved very quickly.
“Mrs. White, is something wrong? I mean, other than the possibility that–“
Mrs. White stopped, yet her clothing billowed about her. ”Mr. Gordon, the sooner we refer to one another as Timofei and Arnaude, the better. However, for the moment, you may call me Anna.”
“Anna, then – is there something wrong?”
“Possibly very wrong, but I believe we can handle it.”
Mrs. White started again toward the telegraph office, and began speaking with a French accent.
“Darling Timofei, I must cable Maman. It is her birthday on Mardi — ah – Tuesday. ‘Tuesday’ – is that correct?”
“Oui, mon cherie,” Gordon answered. Looking around, he noted that the few people on the street were watching them with great interest. Then, very quietly he asked “Other than for Maman’s anniversaire, why are we going to the telegraph office?”
“We’re going to the telegraph office because I have an idea who leaked word of our arrival, and I want to send him on a little trip.”
Gordon did not respond, preferring to think through the possibility that this woman was not entirely above-board. If this whomever had leaked the information about their arrival, who else but Mrs. White could have been the original source?
As if she read his mind, Mrs. White whispered “Mr. Gordon, if you’re thinking that this person got the information from me, you are correct, however it was not intentional, and there is, of course, a possibility that we are not the ‘high-level government people’ to whom Mr. Hakimoglu was referring. In any case, I have some business I would like to pursue while in San Francisco. Rest assured, it will not compromise our mission.”
“Oh?” He wondered if Colonel Richmond had any inkling of whatever this unrelated business might be.
“Purely a personal matter. Well... not purely, it has something to do with law enforcement, or rather a lack of enforcement. Perhaps I’ll discuss this with you later.”
Upon entering the telegraph office, Anna returned to her French accent. “Mon coeur, please can you write for me? My English, now I speak, but cannot write.” She was addressing Artie, but at the same time directed a beaming smile to the telegraph clerk who grinned back at her. Women this attractive were few and far between, especially the middle of nowhere.
She slipped her arm around Artie’s back, and gave him a look that said “the curtain has gone up.”
Anna’s touch was nearly electric and, for a split second, Artie almost lost his composure. Recovering himself, he slipped into character.
“Miliy, miliy, but of course I will write for you.” He wasn’t too certain as to how much of an accent, if any, Edviva was supposed to have. That was one of the things they’d have to discuss later. That and ... well, at some point they’d have to go over the ground rules for this faux romantic relationship.
“So what would you have me write, miliy?”
“Ah...’best of wishes... please to meet in San Francisco in two weeks, from A. W. Leave word Palace Hotel.’ Dear Maman, she so loves to read en Anglais. ”
He handed the note to the clerk along with a five dollar bill, far more than what the telegram cost, but enough to give the impression that he was wealthy and somewhat foolish. The clerk offered change, but Artie waved it away gallantly. “No, my good man. I have far more than that moldering in the bank. One needs to give it an airing now and then. Das svidaniya.” He took Mrs. White by the hand and led her through the door.
“So we’re staying at that new hotel? Those are some fancy digs, from what I’ve heard.”
“Naturellement, mon coeur. Where else would you have us to stay?”
Once more her hand brushed his back, and it was all he could do to keep his mind on what he was supposed to keep his mind on. He had no idea how difficult that would become as time went on.
SS 1st assignment - desk job
Posted - 12/23/2008 : 16:14:29
| Chapter 2
Back at the hotel, West was giving himself the grand tour. If there was to be some chaos later on, a knowledge of the entire layout would be helpful, especially considering that they were now saddled with a woman who needed to be protected. He realized his resentment was not entirely warranted - after all, President Grant himself had approved her participation. He did not want to face the fact that while he knew how to handle women, that was not the same as knowing how to work with one.
He approached Colonel Richmond’s room. The door was open and the colonel was on the bed, propped up against the pillows, writing in his notebook. Also shirtless, which pained Jim to see. Richmond’s body was covered with ugly scars, souvenirs of his war service. Without looking up, Richmond beckoned to West to come in.
“Take a seat, West” he said, indicating a rickety Windsor chair with much of its black paint chipped off to reveal a coat of green underneath. “Judging from what I’ve been reading here, these Russians appear to be extremely well-organized. This is no rag-tag bunch of hoodlums after a little tussle with the Government. It would appear that we either stamp this out now, or we’ll pay dearly later.”
“So why have we engaged this woman no one’s ever heard of?” As soon as it came out, Jim regretted it, but it was at the moment the number one question on his mind.
Richmond smiled involuntarily, and sighed. “I hate to say it, but the reason no one’s ever heard of her – or at least the reason we’ve never heard of her, is because she is so good at what she does. We have abundant proof that she worked for both sides during the war, and also for the British and French governments at one time or another.”
“Both sides? What on earth is Grant thinking?”
“He’s thinking precisely the way you and I should. First of all, the war is over. Secondly, the mark of a good agent is that he – or she – look out for the best interests of whomever he or she is working for. Documentation proves that her work saved a thousand American lives or more.”
“That’s fine, but what’s her excuse for working for both sides? If she’s motivated by who’ll pay her the most, what’s to stop her from joining forces with Mladepovich?”
Richmond sighed once more. “The President trusts her – that’s good enough for me.”
“What about Mr. White?”
“There is no Mr. White, or at least there’s not one anymore – she’s a widow.”
“Well, what happened to him?”
“You’ll have to ask her.” Richmond knew the story, and it was of no importance whatever to the mission. The circumstances of her husband’s death did not reflect poorly on Mrs. White, as he was guessing West hoped. He also knew that West probably wouldn’t put a widow on the spot, unless expediency forced him.
Artemus and Anna walked silently back to the hotel. Neither one was comfortable making small talk, especially considering the stares they were getting from the people on the street. There appeared to be more out now than there were on the way to the telegraph office.
Upon entering the Grand King George, they assumed they’d see Jim still seated at the table, but he was gone and the table was now occupied by four men, each with a drink, one of whom was shuffling cards. Another five men were standing at the bar, and six others were pushing two of the remaining tables together. One of these hooted at Mrs. White.
“Hoo-wee honey, how long it take to unwrap that there winding sheet?” The man cackled and winked at his buddies. “Hey doll, whatsat little present you hidin’ under there?” And addressing the rest, “Betcha old John Smith’d like to take a bite outta that tomato!”
Anna looked up at Artemus and whispered “I’m going upstairs to rest a bit and then change. ”
“May I accompany you?” And in answer to Anna’s raised eyebrows, he continued, “At least to your room. I hate for you to have to be an object of ridicule, and there’s no telling what the rabble are thinking.”
Anna shook her head. “I have an idea I know exactly what they’re thinking, but if it gets too rowdy here, they’re in for a surprise. Let’s all meet again in an hour. If I’m late, just knock.” Gordon followed her to the whitewashed door. As she stood in the doorway, he noted in the corner, neatly stacked, were at least five large packing cases.
“Planning a trip?” he asked wryly, indicating the pile.
“Oui. How clever of you to notice. Alas, one must have the very best – and lots of it – to attract notice of la société élevée.“
”Right,” he laughed heartily, for the first time all day. “Rest well, I’ll see you in an hour.” He went to the door through which Richmond’s voice was audible, and paused to listen before knocking.
“Grant is particularly interested in securing Vancouver first. For obvious reasons, but I think also because he spent some time there, and would like to visit once more, as soon as we’ve taken Mladepovich down. Some of the items Mrs. White’s report were corroborated by the commanding officer at Fort Vancouver. A number of small lumber mills were torched, and two of the largest landowners in the area have gone missing, with their entire families. Neighbors have reported that the estates are now occupied by Russians in military uniform. According to General Forster, the uniforms are not worn by any branch of the official Russian military, at least not today. “
“So if Vancouver is where greater amount of activity is, why put a valuable agent to work in San Francisco?” Jim objected.
“That’s two valuable agents, West.”
Gordon, feeling it was time to make his entry, rapped on the door. A moment later the door was opened by Jim, who appeared somewhat surprised to see his partner standing there alone.
“Where’s your sidekick?” he asked while returning to his chair.
“Resting. She’ll join us in an hour or so.” Seeing that the only chair was now occupied, Artie settled himself on the window sill.
“Resting, uh huh. So I suppose when she’s rises, she’ll take a bubble bath and then–“
”Not another word,” said Richmond sharply. “Considering that Mrs. White has been up for at least the last fourteen hours, I’d say she’s due a rest. I’d also like to say that the sooner you get rid of this animosity, the better for all of us. The simple truth is that she has more experience than any of us, in that we’ve only worked for own government. But she’s also worked in Europe and that, gentleman, is experience that is, at the moment, worth its weight in gold.”
“Speaking of which,” Gordon began, “looks like a lot of it has gone to pay for her wardrobe.”
“Yes, well, we must put forward a convincing front. And fancy clothes cost far less then a hundred or so troops would," said Richmond, rising to refill his glass from the pitcher on the washstand.
A train whistle was heard in the distance. Artie looked over his shoulder to see dozens of people rushing toward the station – far more than anyone would guess lived in the town. “I’ll bet anything that’s the welcoming committee for – uh... What did they say his name was? The fella who’s supposed to be getting out of prison today?”
“John Smith,” Jim replied as he walked to the window. “If this is where the welcome home party is going to be held, the barman was right about us not getting any sleep here. And not a respectable-looking citizen among ‘em” he said as he shook his head.
“Great Aunt Maude’s very definition of riff-raff, I’d say.” Artie then turned to Richmond. “What do you think?”
“We’ve finally met up, we could all get on the Wanderer, and Mrs. White and I could be dropped off at the next station and from there get a train to San Francisco. I have a bad feeling about this.”
Richmond had returned to the bed and to his reports. Without looking up he asked “You’re afraid of them?”
“Of course not. It’s–“
”How about you, West – afraid of them?”
“Answer me West, yes or no.”
“Then that settles it. You’re not afraid of them, I’m not afraid of them, and I’ll warrant that Mrs. White is also unafraid. Now back to business. I’m thinking that what we’ll first need to do, West, is determine the means by which Mladepovich is keeping contact with the Vancouver contingent. If we can do that and interrupt the flow of communication, then it’s a simple case of divide and conquer.”
“I don’t know about that, sir.” West started, tentatively.
“You don’t? Care to elaborate?” Richmond asked, again not raising his head, but continuing to scan the brief on his lap.
“If they’re as organized as you say, then they’re probably very self-motivated as well – not the drifters and ex-cons we’ve seen in Dr. Loveless’s operations. With him, divide and conquer always works.”
“That’s true,” said Artie. “Yep. As soon as we’ve gotten our hands on him, all his plans fall apart. The challenge there has always been to just keep our hands on him.”
“But you both agree,” Richmond interjected, “that seizing Mladepovich would make it a great deal easier to destroy the rest of the operation.”
“Maybe, maybe not. It might be a hydra situation: cut off the head and five more pop up. I think the only way we’ll know for sure is when all of us have taken a good look at the who and the what and the when.”
Richmond shook his head. “Cryptic as always, West. But I guess you’re right, we don’t know what we’re up against until we’ve seen it in person. I remember --” He was interrupted by a rap on the door.
Since West was closest – Artie was still on the windowsill watching the crowd – he opened the door to see a woman in a simple green dress. For a split second he didn’t recognize her, then he noted the very green eyes, which almost matched the shade of the dress. Mrs. White had abandoned the Arabian costume. She smiled wearily. “Difficult to rest while that riot is going on outside. Perhaps we should have cabled ahead to find out if any local celebrities were planning to come to town.”
“Mrs. White? Come in please,” Richmond beckoned as he pulled his shirt on.
Mrs. White entered, looking around for a place to sit. Just at that moment the sound of bullets hitting the building were heard and Artie fell to the floor. Guns were still being shot – it sounded as if the entire town was under siege – as his three companions rushed to his side. Artemus raised his hand. “No, no don’t worry about me. I’m still among the living. But I think we ought to vacate the premises.”
The group huddled together while the shots continued for another ten minutes or so, then a cheer went up that was almost as noisy as the shots. The sound moved from the street and took residence inside the first floor of the hotel. A few hoarse voices sang “When Johnny Comes Marching Home.”
When it appeared that all the celebratory shooting was over, West moved carefully to the window. The street was as empty as it had been only a few hours before. “Looks like the party has moved indoors,” West muttered.
“Sounds like it, too,” Artemus observed. As he got up, he absently ran his fingers through his hair, and when he pulled his hand away, it was bloody. After a brief moment of shock, he grabbed the ancient shaving mirror that stood next to the wash basin and tried to see where the blood was coming from.
Soundlessly, Mrs. White moved behind him and began rooting through his hair. Artie froze, not quite sure whether to complain or comply. “Oh, I see it! The bullet just grazed your scalp for maybe an inch and a half. My, you are lucky, Mr. Gordon. Just a little abrasion, but I would recommend that you wash out your hair – Heaven only knows what dirt and disease lay on the fingers of whoever loaded that gun. I have a special soap somewhere in my luggage, it’ll be just the thing – an herbal combination a lady in Virginia taught me how to make. I’ll be right back with it.”
West’s eyes followed her as she floated out of the room. When he was certain she couldn’t hear, he said “and don’t forget your curling iron.”
Richmond had went back to his reading, leafing through the pages with annoyance at West’s latest comment.
“James, you know my hair is naturally curly, “ said Artie as he began scanning the room looking for the bullet that had grazed him. “I think you must be jealous.” Jim shot him a look, to which Artie answered only with a wide grin before returning to his search.
“Hello..., what have we here,” he said as he pulled a small projectile from the plaster about seven feet above the floor. “Hey, Jim, Colonel, look at this.” Artie was carefully holding something slightly larger than a minnie ball, around which was coiled a very shiny, razor-sharp metal. As they came toward it, he accidentally pressed on it and instantly dropped it. As it bounced on the floor, a few drops of blood from his fingers fell on it.
“Isn’t that the damndest thing?” Artie asked while searching his pockets for a handkerchief. Locating one stuffed into his back pocket, he used it to retrieve the bullet and held it up for inspection once more.
“What would be the point of that, do you think? That razor wrapping?” Jim studied it intently, and was silent for a moment. “You know... “ He took it from Artie’s hand and trailed off, in an attempt to organize his thoughts. “Mrs. White may not have been far off the mark – a bullet with razor around it might injure even if it does not enter the body – that is, if it’s coated with a virus or a dangerous bacterium. A minor flesh wound could end up being as deadly as a bullet to the heart.”
Mrs. White re-entered with a large cake of soap in one hand, and a full pitcher in the other. “Here we are, Mr. Gordon.” She moved briskly to the washbasin and filled it. “If you will allow me, I’d like to handle the job – men are so careless when it comes to washing out their hair.”
“Oh, I...” This was really too much.
“Mr. Gordon, I am able to see exactly where the wound is and what it looks like. So, unless you have eyes on the back of your head–“
”Well, first I’d like to wash my hands with that soap,” he said, reaching out for the soap and the pitcher. “Jim, show her what we found.”
Jim retrieved the bullet from the table and held it up for her inspection, while Artie took the opportunity to plunge in and wash his hair himself. As soon as Mrs. White got a good look, she gasped and turned pale. Recovering herself, she choked “How very – unusual.”
West tried to read her expression, certain that she knew something about this most unusual form of ammunition. “Seen anything like this before, ma’am?”
She did not reply, but continued to stare at the bullet
“Mrs. White, do you recognize this type of bullet?” Jim persisted, holding it in front of her face
“Hmmm?” Mrs. White had turned her attention to Artemus, who was groping blindly for a towel.
“Mrs. White, I’m asking– “
“I don’t shoot guns, Mr. West,” she replied coldly, “nor do I keep up with the latest ways men have found for killing one another.”
“I didn’t ask you if you shot guns, I asked if you recognized this type of bullet.”
“I’m sorry, Mr. West, I know little about guns, and even less about bullets.” With that she turned her back to him, and handed Artie the towel. West looked over at Richmond, who, fully engrossed in his paperwork, did not meet his gaze.
Once Artemus had blotted most of the water from his hair, he rose and shook out the towel. His bottle of hair tonic was back on the train, and he was somewhat embarrassed by the halo of curls that now covered his head. It didn’t seem professional. Yet Mrs. White was charmed.
“Oh, how perfect! I love a man with curly hair.”
“You do?” came the slightly uncomfortable response.
“Of course – all women do.”
“Certainly, didn’t you know that?”
Here’s a chance to lighten the mood, Artie thought, so he began in a stage whisper, “Well, I did, of course. But poor Jim here -- he has such trouble attracting women, what with that straight hair and all – I’ve never wanted him to know that I had an unfair advantage.”
Mrs. White also wanted to make the atmosphere more congenial – that way it would get their minds off of the bullet. She knew what it was, of course – she could tell them all about it, but now was not the time, nor the place. “Oh, Mr. West’s not bad. He has a certain animal magnetism, I suppose.”
West decided to play along. Maybe he could charm her himself, and then charm whatever information she had out of her. “Do you think so, Mrs. White?”
“I do.” she smiled.
“See, Artie, I may not know a lot about the ladies – having straight hair and all – but I do believe animal magnetism trumps just about any follicular superiority you may have.”
“Oh, James my boy, you’re laboring under such a –“
The rest of his response was drowned out by heavy steps on the staircase, accompanied with loud laughter and a voice calling out “Here, kitty kitty! Hey, where are ya, little chicken?”
Another cried out “Aw, she’s gotta be here somewhere, still wrapped up in them sheets I hope. I do so love to unwrap a little present.”
The footsteps sounded like they might have belonged to four or five men – fortunately only a fraction of the men in the building – but all of them were, by now, roaring drunk. When the last of the group stepped off the landing, they began pounding on doors. West, Gordon and Richmond steeled themselves for whatever might happen next. Mrs. White was strangely calm and wandered over to the chair, upon which she placed her left foot, as if she was about to re-tie the lace on her kidskin boot.
Presently, they were banging on Richmond’s door. One began whistling, another to interpret. “Gotta be in there, honey. See, he’s givin’ you a lovebird call. C’mon sweetie, let us loverboys in.”
“You heard them, gentleman. Someone open the door,” Mrs. White whispered. West, Gordon and Richmond looked at the door, now shaking from the fists pounding on it, and then to Mrs. White. “Must I repeat myself?”
“Mrs. White..., Mrs. White..., “ Artie started rather helplessly. He was certain they could deal with whatever came through the door, but it was certainly not a good idea to invite them in.
“Mr. West, would you please do what I ask? I would like you to open the door, and then stand clear. Please.” She smiled as if she were asking him to pass the salt, then flashed a rather irritated glance at Artie.
Something about her calm – almost overly calm demeanor – touched West. For the first time, he got an inkling of why Grant had placed his faith in her. It was a bit odd, though, that she had not moved; her foot was still on the chair. Was she going to knock it over and throw it? No, that wouldn’t make much sense – it wouldn’t hold them off for more than a moment or two. Was she going to reason with them? Maybe. Woman do have a way of addling one’s thoughts and plans, that’s for sure.
She spoke again. “Mr. West?”
West looked back at Richmond, who by now was off the bed and standing. A gun rested on the bed in front of him. The whistling stopped, and the banging intensified. “We know you’re in there darlin.’ Johnny Boy, he’s got a surprise for you! Big surprise.” At that, they howled with laughter. “Now dontcha make us break the door down, honey. We wanna do this genteel-like.”
Mrs. White straightened up, still with her foot on the chair, and directed West to the door. The other two men made a motion forward, but she waved them back. Again she whispered, “Mr. West, when you open the door, stand back. “ She indicated the corner she wanted him to move after to opening the door.
“A surprise for me little ol’ me?” she gushed. “Oh, how nice. So sorry to make you wait, boys. Just let me get the door.” The sound that rose up from the hallway was almost deafening. She nodded at West, and the door flew open.
A split second later, Artie noticed her left hand held something shiny, and grasping it with her right hand, she threw with lightning accuracy three times. Within seconds the faces of the first men to enter were covered in blood, and they had begun to scream and stagger back into the hallway.
“I’m killed! That she-demon! “ The other men in the hall were torn between rushing into the room and taking care of their companions, who appeared to be bleeding very heavily from their heads.
Mrs. White remained completely calm. “Thank you, Mr. West.” She looked into the still-crowded hallway, and continued, “Mr. West, I understand that you yourself have a reputation as a brawler, so if you’d like to get a little exercise, you have my blessing.”
No sooner had the words come out of her mouth than two huge men appeared at the doorway. Mrs. White nodded again to West, who flew into action. Richmond laughed heartily, but Artie was torn between laughing and sitting down to wonder what the service had gotten him into.
Mrs. White lifted her skirt and Artie caught a glimpse of what appeared to be a leather sheath wrapped around her calf, which she was attempting to adjust. From the sheath protruded seven or eight mother-of-pearl handles, no bigger than those used for nail files. She was well aware Artie’s eyes were on her, and looked up at him in feigned shock. “Mr. Gordon, are you trying to sneak a look at my limb? And to think that I had been told that you’re a gentleman. Well, I simply couldn’t be more disappointed in you.” Artie’s reply was only to turn beet-red.
A smiling Mrs. White finally removed her foot from the chair and went to the now-empty hallway. The sounds of a huge brawl issued from the stairwell, so she advanced close enough to watch the action for a few minutes. She disappeared into her own room and returned laughing to Richmond’s room a short time later. “My goodness, he really ought to sell tickets, our Mr. West.”
“Now there’s an idea, “ said Richmond, once again on the bed with his paperwork. “We could make the Secret Service into a money-making concern. Gordon, any opinion?”
Before he could reply, Mrs. White asked “Colonel, may I borrow Mr. Gordon? I think we might have a good talk before we all retire this evening.”
“Certainly, Mrs. White. Just make sure you return him after West has vanquished all these bums. If Gordon gets involved, that’s more money we’ll have to spend on ruined clothing.”
“Of course. Mr. Gordon, it may be a wee bit cooler outside –it’s starting to get dark – would you like to take a walk?”
Artie jumped up, without regard to seeming over-eager. He had a million questions to ask this woman. He offered her his arm, and they passed into the hallway where Mrs. White stopped dead. “Oh, dear, we’ll have to get somebody – a manager or someone – to get a mop. So much blood on this floor, and my poor boots --” she wrapped her arm around Artie’s waist as she stood on one foot in order to examine a sole – “Ugh. And these are brand-new. I was so interested in getting my knives back I scarcely paid attention to the – ugh.” She looked up at him with the expression of a child disappointed to have dropped her ice cream cone.
His first impulse was to kiss her on the forehead and promise new boots, but he restrained himself, although not without difficulty. Involuntarily, he sighed before again offering his arm. They walked silently down the back stairs and into the twilight.
SS 1st assignment - desk job
Posted - 12/23/2008 : 16:30:54
| Chapter 3
The street was deserted once more. It was not yet dark, and the sky was a palette of orange and red, with purple on the farthest horizon. The noise from the Grand King George grew as its patrons grew more inebriated.
“I’ll be happy once we’ve shaken the dust from this town off our feet,” Artemus said.
“Yes,” Mrs. White agreed, “but I feel for the people who live here – the boisterous crowd at the King George can’t be the whole of the population, but I’ll wager they make life here a rather miserable existence for everyone else. “
“Unfortunately, Mrs. White, it’s that way in a lot of places, especially in places where the rule of law doesn’t mean much.”
“Anna, then. I’m Artemus, pleased to meet you,” he said, grinning, as he held out his hand to shake her’s.
“Enchanté,” she said, while executing a rather exaggerated curtsey. “Perhaps when this mission is completed we may return to this subject and take on righting the wrongs of the world.”
“Let’s pencil that in,” Artie replied, still grinning.
“For now, I’d like to go over the plans I’ve made for you, as Timofei. We arrive in San Francisco two days from now. Mladepovich has scheduled a fête in your honor for September 3rd – and we’ll meet informally with him at least twice prior to that. We will, of course, spend the rest of our time in getting a better idea of his immediate plans, his organization, his supporters, and so forth. And –“ She stopped suddenly
“The church, would you like to talk in the church? I’m sure no one’s there, and I’d love to see the sunset through the stained glass windows.
“With the Almighty’s permission,” Artie said as he opened the unlocked door.
The church was a humble clapboard structure, but boasted a large rose window behind the altar facing west. Mrs. White entered first and ran her hand over the back pew. The wood was yet warm and the rays of the dying sun had turned its dark walnut shade slightly reddish. “I love a church at sunset, “ she said quietly.
“Peaceful, that’s for sure,” said Artie as he sat down. “Going to join me?” he asked.
Anna sat next to him, and smoothed the skirt of her dress while organizing her thoughts. “ So..., hmm..., oh dear, I am so scatterbrained when I’m tired. Ah! For the entire time that we’re there we must present ourselves at all times as Timofei and Arnaude -– no sneaking off as Artemus and Anna in order to engage in work that Edviva would not be expected to do. Mladepovich is no fool and he must be expecting sooner or later than that U. S. government is going to take an interest in him, so we really can’t afford to do anything that might imply that we’re not who we say we are.”
“Also, I think it would be in our best interests to be ‘joined at the hip’ so to speak. Two pairs of eyes will be better than one in the presence of these people, and I have an idea that if one pair belongs to a Frenchwoman, it will serve as thorn in Mladepovich’s side – in my experience, if you can anger your quarry, you can get him in the trap more easily.” Anna’s whole demeanor brightened; she loved discussing strategy.
“But doesn’t that also mean that the quarry might act more rashly? More destructively maybe?”
“That’s the risk we take, but there’s not much more that he’s capable of at the moment. He could kill us, of course, but he’s far from realizing his ultimate goal: turning all of the west coast of the U. S. into a Russian colony. “
“Oh, well, as long as he can’t meet that goal yet.” Artie couldn’t help smiling. There was quite a brain behind those green eyes. “Not to change the subject, but how did you end up – doing what your doing?”
It was growing dark in the church, but there was just enough light to see the merriment in Anna’s expression. “I failed the entry examination for teachers college.”
“No, I can’t believe it.”
She placed her hand on his cheek. “Are you laughing at me? I can hardly see your face now.”
“Not laughing, smiling,” he said.
“Shall we go then, it’s getting awfully dark in here now. Are you tired?”
“Nope, my engine isn’t due to run down for at least another few hours.”
“Then we’ll walk some more and I’ll bore you with my life story, if you’re really interested in why I’m doing what I’m doing.”
Darkness had fallen on the street, the only light coming from the King George. Anna beckoned Artie to resume their walk.
"Where were we? Oh - my curriculum vitae. Born Anastasia Radivilovna in Monmartre to Berenice Greenbough, late of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Yvgeny Radivil of St. Petersburg, Russia."
"Not THE Yvgeny Radivil? The opera singer?"
"The very one."
"Certainly an honor to meet his daughter," said Artie with awe.
"Oh, I'm only one of many offspring, born on the wrong side of the blanket. By the time he died, there were at least fourteen that I know of, and probably a few dozen more. He'd get us all together for summers at his dacha where he'd have us study art and music. That ended when I was ten -- he'd remarried that spring, and the new wife wanted nothing to do with any of us. By then, he'd long soured on Berenice, and she’d long been addicted to gin and laudanum so, other than the occasional wire of funds, I was pretty much on my own."
“Oh, I did well enough,” Anna said airily. “ Papa noticed early on that I had an unusually high level of hand-eye coordination, and he began teaching me billiards almost as soon as I was big enough to hold the stick. By age eleven, I was supporting myself in pool halls in Philadelphia - Berenice and I had left Europe when I was four -- then I came to the notice of some neighborhood reformers, and ended up an orphanage. At sixteen and fully emancipated, I became a governess - with a little billiards on the side. One family whose children I taught moved to Washington and brought me along with them. From there I gained entry into the homes of a number of politicians and foreign ambassadors, and just fell into intelligence work from there. You have no idea how having a steady hand with a pool cue opens doors!" she laughed.
Artie smiled in response, but he couldn't help thinking the story was a little sad. His own mother had died shortly after he was born, but he'd been raised in the happiest and most secure of environments by his father and the many friends and family who frequented the rooming house his father owned.
“And your husband, what does he do?”
“I’m a widow.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry, Anna.”
Anna sighed. “Artemus, I was married for less than six hours.”
Artie was temporarily speechless. Then all he could manage was “Indeed.”
“I had an assignment at a field hospital – the North was sending spies disguised as injured Confederate soldiers. They’d assume the identity of a dead soldier and arrange to get sent to a crucial area. Anyway, a real Confederate soldier was brought in raving – it was thought he had brain fever. Roderick White. In his lucid moments, he’d go on and on about his sweetheart, whom he had promised to marry. When I came in, he became convinced that I was she – he kept a photograph of her with him, and there was some slight resemblance. The same day he first laid eyes on me, word came from his family that the girl had married another. Naturally, we kept it from him, but I believe on some level he knew what had happened, even though he continued to insist that I was that girl and that we must marry so that she – I – wouldn’t be left a spinster. It was heart-rending to hear his pleading – he was only a boy of eighteen. Finally we knew there was no hope, and so I consented to marry him at one in the afternoon on April 10, 1862, standing by his bedside. He was so happy and he did begin to rally, even ate a full meal. But in a few hours he drifted off and was gone by early evening.”
By now they had walked over a mile out of town and the road gave way to weeds and scrub. It was no longer warm, and the wind had returned. Anna walked with her arms folded.
“Anna, are you alright?” Artemus asked as he put an arm across her shoulder.
“Just a little chilly – how quickly one forgets that nights in the desert are cold.”
He removed his jacket and offered it to her; she accepted gratefully. They turned and walked back into town.
“Your talent for knife-throwing –“
“Yes? Well, as mentioned, I have superhuman hand-eye coordination,” she laughed. “One thing I learned from those Northerners – the ones who were impersonating Confederate soldiers – is that there are a few spots on the head that bleed quite spectacularly when cut, even if the damage is not all that serious. So those men who got cut today, they’ll be up and drinking tomorrow, I’m sure.”
Artie thought a moment. Even if that hadn’t been seriously hurt, wouldn’t they – at the first opportunity – attempt to avenge themselves? If not personally, would they put their friends up to it? Would it be safe for Anna to spend the night at the hotel? He wasn’t so sure.
“Anna, I’d like to suggest that you don’t spend the night in the hotel.”
“Really? I was thinking that myself. I’m starting to fade, and I don’t think I’d sleep well there. Would it be appropriate for me to curl up on the settee in your parlor?”
“I can do better than that – you take my bed, I’ll take the settee.”
They walked to the Wanderer, where Anna handed him her room key, with instructions to retrieve a cotton nightgown that should have been in the third packing case from the top, a blue dress, stockings and brown boots that would be found in the top packing case, and the small alligator suitcase he should find next to the packing cases.
“Now how is it going to look, with me carrying all those ladies’ clothes out of the place?” He’d meant it as a joke but... While he’d known far more difficult missions, few promised to be so embarrassing.
“By now, anyone who would object is probably pie-eyed, so I wouldn’t be too concerned. Unless you’d prefer to drag the packing cases here. ”
“No thank you, ma’am. I’ll be back soon.”
* * *
Getting to the second floor of the King George entailed stepping over a number of bodies in various stages of inebriation, many of whom bore some spectacular bruises. One of the few still standing was Mr. Hakimoglu.
“Hey, fella – that buddy of yours put on some show! Like to have him here every Saturday night, ya know, sorta as free entertainment. Maybe we could get some ladies coming in if we had him to keep a lid on the more rowdy elements.”
“He’s doing very well as a buttonhook salesman, but I’ll mention it to him.”
Jim met him at the top of the stairs. “Where’s the lady?”
“On the Wanderer. I – we – didn’t think it was a good idea for her to return.”
“We finally agree on something. Just after you left, a crew of them got together and practically tore the whole place apart looking for her. I have to admit, she can keep a cool head.”
They walked through the darkened hallway to Jim’s room, nearly tripping over two bodies. “By dawn, they should begin staggering out of here, the barman told me. That should make it easier for you to drag all those packing cases out.” Jim said.
“I’m dragging them out?? What about a porter? – the railroad stations in these little towns are always willing send a porter or five – keeps the local economy flush.”
“You just stepped over him.”
Artie stared a moment at the crumpled body, reaking of alcohol, whose nose appeared to have been recently broken. “Oh, that’s fine. I’m sure my best buddy would be willing to get up an hour-and-half early to help.”
“Sorry, he’s exerted himself to the limit tonight – he might be sore tomorrow.”
“Not as sore as he’ll be if he bails on me. You follow?” Artie threatened.
Inside the room, Jim lit the gas jet, and went to the desk to hand Artie his own itinerary. “Arrive Vancouver on the 1stth, meet with General Forster on the 3rd –“
“I know, I know – have the entire area Russian-free by the 6th. The great Jim West does it again.”
“If that happens, pal, you’ll be the first to know. In any case, you’ll be routing your telegraph communications through Jeremy Pike – he’ll be the Chicago office. Direct the cables to “J. W. P.” – if Mladepovich or one of his friends is keeping an eye on your communications, just make up whatever story you want about J. W. P. He’ll also be forwarding my cables to you at the Palace.”
“Sounds good. Listen, I –“
Jim dropped into the chair and stared up at Artie. Jim was one of those rare people who could command more authority sitting in a beat-up chair than any king on his throne. “You talk to our lady friend about the bullet?”
“She knows something about it.”
Artie sought a place to sit, approached the window sill, then thought better of it. He stretched out on the bed, his hands folded behind his head. “She said she didn’t know anything about it, didn’t she?”
“You didn’t see her expression. I did.”
“Since when does an expression trump words?”
“In this case it does,” said Jim. “I’m not wrong about this, trust me.”
“Well, maybe I’ll talk to her about it later,” Artie yawned.
“No,” said Jim, with some urgency, “you talk to her about it sooner.”
“Why is this so important? Somebody in the middle of nowhere came up with a nasty new design. The bullets were probably all spent during today’s celebration, and whoever came up with them will go back to shoeing horses. They couldn’t be mass-produced – they’ll be forgotten a week from now.”
“I don’t think so. A form of ammunition that could potentially spread a deadly communicable disease? The idea gets into the wrong hands – if it’s not there already – and this whoever would work day and night making them.”
“Alright, alright, “ said Artie wearily. “First opportunity arises, I’ll talk to her. Listen, I’ve got to retrieve some of her clothes.” He got up and ambled to the door, Jim following.
“Artie, I’ll meet you downstairs around six tomorrow morning. See if you can get a cart from the station office.”
“Sure, but what if I can’t? You want me to wake the station master?”
Jim rolled his eyes. “I handled at least twenty-five 190-pound men tonight. The very least you could do would be to contribute to handling five cases of ladies clothing.”
“Only twenty-five men? You’re slipping, my friend.”
Artemus returned to the Wanderer, Anna’s clothing draped over one arm. He’d assumed they’d continue discussing their plans, but when he entered, she was nowhere to be seen.
“Anna?” She wouldn’t have gone out again, would she?
He headed toward his room, in order to hang up the clothes. When he opened the door, he found her sleeping in her chemise and petticoat, her green dress and his jacket hanging from the rack. It was still rather warm in the room, which was probably why the blanket lay folded at her feet.
“Sweet dreams, Miss Radivilovna.” he whispered, then shut the door.
* * *
Early in the morning, Anna was awakened by a rap on the door. As she opened her eyes, she felt lost for a moment – where was she? Relief came flooding back when she saw where she’d hung Artemus’s jacket.
“Is that Artemus?”
“Yes, ma’am. Would you like some coffee?”
“Oh, yes. Just a minute.” She hastened to wash her face and re-arrange her hair, then took the green dress off its hanger. The blue one was to be her traveling costume as Arnaud.
She opened the door to see him proffering a cup of very aromatic coffee. “How nice, thank you.” She followed him to the parlor, where warm toast and jam awaited her. “My, you do have quite an establishment here. Are you and Mr. West going to join me?”
“I’ll have coffee with you – Jim and I ate already, after we took all our luggage – yours and mine – to the train station. He’s just now taking care of things at the hotel; in about an hour, he and Colonel Richmond will be shoving off.”
“Anna, I want to revisit the issue of those bullets.”
Anna didn’t reply. She bowed her head and began to stir her coffee. Just before he was about to speak again, Anna looked up at him. “Artemus, have you ever met someone so deficient of heart and conscience that his every thought, his every plan concerned committing the vilest cruelty on his fellow human beings?”
It was a surprising question. Artie thought a moment. Even Loveless – for all his plans for world domination – had, he suspected, a tender side. There was always pain in his eyes and, had nature not deprived him of that “strong straight body” he once mentioned, Loveless might have done great things. As he went though his mental catalog of the miscreants he’d encountered over the years, he saw that they’d all had objectives that may have entailed some cruelty to achieve, but that was never the ultimate goal. It was always power and wealth, wealth and power.
“No, Anna, I haven’t.”
“The man who designed that bullet –“ She stopped, in order to compose herself. “That man – I met him working in Paris shortly after the war. He was introduced to me by a contact from Britain as a great scientist and reformer who was experimenting – “ She stopped again. “Artemus – that man is purest evil. I saw some of the subjects on whom he had tried some of his potions. I shall never forget it. A few years ago, he turned up in New York under an assumed name. He had abandoned chemistry and biology and had taken up physics, specifically the design of weapons of war. He would come through the streets and pick up drunkards, orphans, whomever he could lure, and try his designs out on them. At the time, I didn’t realize it was the same man I’d met in Paris, and I had no idea of what he was working on. I had committed an ... indiscretion and he befriended me. When I finally realized who he was and what he was doing, I enlisted another contact to set fire to his papers. The contact was captured and admitted that it was me who put him up to it. The man – Warriner – has been hounding me ever since. He’s had probably fifty opportunities to kill me, but I’m guessing his plans are even uglier than that. It was he whom I cabled.”
Anna had bowed her head once more, and tears could be seen falling onto the tablecloth. Artie reached across the table and grasped her hand, “Anna – I – how can I help you?”
“I hesitate to say this – but I’m certain he’s killed or crippled dozens by now, perhaps hundreds, and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that he aims to kill thousands more – just for the pleasure of killing them. It is my prayer, of course, that the Almighty might see fit to call him to a final reckoning, but unless that happens soon, I must...” She trailed off and buried her face in the crook of her arm to hide her tears.
“Anna, why did you cable him?”
“Because I believe – God forgive me – that it would be easier to kill him in San Francisco than in New York. ”
Both were silent for some minutes. Anna, having recovered herself, rose and said, “Please, let’s speak no more of it. I’ll be ready to leave shortly. “
“Anna, I have to go over a few final things with Jim. I’ll come back with him and Colonel Richmond, and then you and I can return to the hotel until our train comes.”
Before she turned to go, Artemus took both her hands in his. He tried to come up with something to say, something comforting, encouraging – anything, but words failed him. He dropped her hands. “See you soon.”
At the hotel, only West and Colonel Richmond were in the bar room, having a heated discussion. They didn’t notice Artie until he sat down next to them. “What’s the topic, gentlemen?”
“Nothing of any importance – vacation scheduling,” said Richmond.
“Great importance, sir – it’s been nearly two years, and I haven’t even one week off to de-compress, and I don’t think –.”
Artie broke in. “Anna and I discussed the bullet or, at least, I think we did.”
Artie sighed and looked up at the ceiling. “I don’t know where to begin, she mentioned somebody – Warriner, I think the name was – he was doing biological research in Paris, then he moved to New York, and he’d switched to physics, in order to develop weaponry. According to her, he’s some kind of sociopath – kills for the fun of it, and is looking to kill en masse.”
Colonel Richmond became very excited. “Francis Warriner? He’s in the U. S. now? I read a monograph about him a few years ago. Some kind of monster, I scarcely believed it was a real person. If even a quarter of what was written about him is true, he should be hung up by his thumbs.”
“If this guy is what you say, why didn’t they pick him up in Paris?” Jim, ever the cynic, asked.
“I don’t know if they even tried, “ Richmond said. “The story is that he keeps his activities under wraps by blackmailing anybody who knows anything about it. He was under suspicion in at least two murders of well-known French scientists about fifteen years ago, but they couldn’t make it stick.”
“And Mrs. White knows this man?” Jim asked incredulously.
“I don’t know how well she knows him, she said she was introduced to him in Paris, and met him again in New York under another name. According to her, he’s been involved in some very, very ugly activities.”
“If they’re anything like what I read, I’d feel privileged to kill him in cold blood,” said Richmond with disgust.
“Well, you see, sir – I think that’s what Mrs. White is planning.”
SS 1st assignment - desk job
Posted - 12/23/2008 : 16:45:44
| Chapter 4
Anna examined herself in the full-length mirror on the back of the Artie's bedroom door. She had achieved the effect she was going for, and therefore the idea of dyeing her hair a brassy red was abandoned - maybe Artemus could use that jar of henna for some future disguise. She left the train as Arnaude DeRouisseau.
On the street, all eyes were upon her. Women on their way to church nudged one another and whispered. Another, whose young son appeared fascinated with the lady in the blue dress, placed her hands over his eyes until the offensive sight entered the hotel.
Both Jim and Richmond were seated with their backs to the door; only Artie saw her enter. Unable to contain his shock, he blurted out "Anna, you look like a French –! “ He caught himself, and trailed off “— um, you know..."
"Thank you" she replied without irony, "exactly the reception I was hoping to receive." Her cleavage was spilling out of the top of her dress. Her cheeks were overly pink from rouge, her lips were bright carnelian, which made her eyes appear even greener. Her hair was beautifully arranged in the back, but dangling down the front was a long sausage curl that grazed her bosom, drawing even more attention to the display.
"If that doesn't rattle Mladepovich, nothing will," said Artie, more than a little rattled himself.
Both Jim and Richmond turned around to look. Jim let out a low whistle. Richmond stared, but had no comment. She sat down next to Artemus, who immediately felt a warm pressure against his knee. What that her knee? It had to be.
"Mrs. White, a question: when Artemus was shot yesterday, did you know what we were going to find?"
"Excuse me, Colonel - what are you referring to specifically?"
"Did you know that the revelers had those razor bullets before Artemus was shot? As soon as we knew he'd been hit, you went on about germs and dirt."
"I don't see the connection, sir. I went on about germs and dirt because, having worked at army hospitals, I know from experience that germs and dirt are often more deadly than artillery. "
"But did you know that those people had those bullets?"
"Not until saw one I didn't. What are you implying?" She was desperately hoping the name Warriner would not come up. She was deeply ashamed of her breakdown before Artemus.
Richmond shot a look at West. "Well, it's been bandied about that those bullets could spread disease even without entering the body, unlike a regular bullet."
"Any bullet that gets as far as the skin of a target can cause disease. An open wound, unattended to, is a breeding ground for any number of diseases. I don't know if germs can survive on a flying bullet, but I saw the types of people who were shooting, and I wasn't willing to risk Mr. Gordon's health. I'm sorry that my concern was misinterpreted. "
That last comment was delivered directly to West, who replied with a mumbled, "I see."
Richmond dug out his pocket watch, "Eight on the dot. Here's to a successful and speedy outcome" All rose and shook hands, after which West and Richmond disappeared through the doors.
"Artemus, is your room still available?"
He looked at her with great surprise – a surprise he wouldn’t have felt if she’d been dressed a little more... normally. He babbled assent.
"We need to go over some things we didn't get to last evening, and I'd rather not discuss them in public.”
Artie was both relieved and disappointed. "Let's go then."
Once they were in the room, with the door shut, Anna asked, "What thought have you given to how you're going to play Edviva?"
"Some, but I figured that you created the character, you should maybe set the tone. I'm thinking - just thinking here - of a very loud personality, very expansive, completely oblivious as to how his behavior might be interpreted. His Russian-ness is - as you indicated -- mainly just a form of rebellion. He would be a total clod when it comes to understanding authentic Russian language and culture."
"My goodness, you're brilliant! And Arnaude - how do you see him relating to Arnaude?" she asked. "I guess I should say 'me.' As I said yesterday, the sooner we become Timofei and Arnaude, the better."
A picture flashed across Artie's mind - a rather pleasant one - but his intellect required that he answer her question. "He's long on wealth and short on brains, " he began slowly, "so I don't believe he has any interest in keeping up appearances. He'd be rather blatant about the nature of the relationship. That also should take the heat off of Arnaude - as weak as the Edviva character is, we don't want Mladepovich to think she is running the show."
“Perfect! So you just lead and I'll follow."
A difficult question arose in his mind - how far to go. He'd witnessed drunken tycoons slumming with their gold-digging mistresses in waterfront dives practically ravish them in public. How far would be too far? Or would he be able to read any signals Anna might send?
"Your brow is knotted. Very un-Edviva-like." Anna said laughed.
He saw his opportunity. Artie's brow unknotted immediately, and he grinned. "Anna, you giggled! Never have I ever heard a government agent giggle."
"Artemus, I may have laughed, but I did not giggle. I am no longer sixteen," she replied, her dignity offended.
"No, you giggled. I heard it," he said with gravity, as if he were on the witness stand. "Heee heee hee," he shrieked, "it sounded just like that." .
"Never - now please stop making fun of me." Her voice sounded quite angry, but there was something in her eyes Artie wasn’t quite able to interpret.
"I'm not - why are you so -?" He left the room and returned with a rickety wooden chair taken from the hallway. He positioned it directly across from where Anna was seated. Here goes nothing, he thought. "Sorry, honey, I argue better when I'm seated."
"Honey?? Mr. Gordon, I'm an agent of the United States Secret Service. I am not your honey." She attempted to rise, but Artie gently pushed her shoulders down. Her expression had a taken on a playful look, even though her mouth was definitely frowning.
"I'm not Mr. Gordon, I'm Mr. Edviva and you are my honey, mademoiselle." He backed up, expecting to be slapped. When that didn't happen, he leaned forward again, planning to elaborate on the giggle taunt. What happened then had him floored – and delighted. Anna reached out and put both hands on the sides of his head, leaned in and began to kiss him passionately on the lips. When she finally stopped to come up for air, all he could say was, “Anna!...”
"Mon nom est Arnaude," she smiled, as she rose and pulled him toward her.
* * *
Mladepovich relit his cigar, and waved it around a bit to scatter the scent. He liked to watch the sour look on Tereschevsky's face. "Your report, please," he grumbled, as he kicked off his left shoe and used his foot to maneuver the needlepoint-covered footstool under his right foot, which was thickly wrapped in gauze.
Tereschevsky shook his head and repeated over and over "Zetrudnayne..., zetrudnayne..., zetrudnayne... "
"Zetrudnayne" Mladepovich growled. "Difficulty! Difficulty of finding and arming men! Difficulty of getting through to Tsar, that fool who persists in ignoring me. Tsar - he's no tsar, he's a functionary. And this gout - fires of hell are nothing compared to it!"
"Gospodin..., " Tereschevsky was still standing, in order to make a quick escape when Mladepovich began throwing things, as he undoubtedly would.
"English, Nicolai. For now, we are guests in America, and nothing foolish Americans like better than foreigner who attempts to speak foolish English. Once colony established, first order of business, outlaw English everywhere - in schools, in streets, even in homes. Language is culture, Nicolai - don't forget. Things move so much more smoothly once subjects learn to speak proper language. But for short time until then - English."
"Lord," Tereschevsky began resignedly, "could not explode shack. Was explosion, but-"
"But? Explosion, but? A shack made merely of sticks, still standing?" Mladepovich's naturally ruddy face became even ruddier with rage. "Do you think we just ask nicely, 'Please, Mr. U. S. President, sir, return to us Alaska, and area from Canadian border down to Mexican border and as far east as Nevada, since we have proof that area does truly belong to Russian empire.' What answer would he have, you think?" Mladepovich was waving the cigar again.
Tereschevsky tried mightily to resist the smoke, which made his eyes water terribly, but he was unsuccessful; almost immediately, his eyes were so red and his cheeks so wet that. the casual observer would assume he'd just had a good cry. "Lord, perhaps he suggest to discussion, we persuade him ---" He knew this line would outrage his boss, and get him thrown out, thereby escaping the cigar.
"Fool!" Mladepovich screamed, as he picked up the nearest item, a miniature bronze bust of Peter the Great, and hurled it at Tereschevsky. “Out of my sight! OUT OF MY SIGHT!” Just as Tereschevsky made his way through the door, the bust slammed into it, then fell to the floor and rolled onto the Oriental carpet.
The door opened again, a footman carrying a tray. “Gospodin, telegramma.”
The footman stopped and bowed. “Sir, telegram.”
“Read to me.” Mladepovich glowered. Some days, the pain in his foot was nearly unbearable – this was one of those days. Worse yet, he was too young for this – not yet fifty, and still considered the “the Adonis of St. Petersburg” – over six-and-a-half feet tall, a full head of blackest hair, bluest eyes, and extremely muscular.
The footman read, “Honored Sir, Have learned of your project. Can offer technical support re: explosives. Arrive San Francisco Sept. 6. Please acknowledge if interested. Your servant, F. E. Warriner.”
Immediately, the pain in his foot subsided. “So, perhaps at last fortune has smiled upon us. Mr. Edviva will bring money, this Mr. Warriner will perhaps allow us to speed up work. Alexei, you’re excused, but first pick up bust and hand to me.”
The footman complied, and then exited with a bow. Cradling the bust in his hands, Mladepovich murmured, “Batuschka, ya vash slynak.”
* * *
“Artemus. Artemus?” Anna had backed off, yet Artemus was still standing with his eyes closed and his lips puckered.
Anna slapped him lightly on the cheek. “Wake up, Sleeping Beauty.”
“Oh, no – I was having the most wonderful dream.”
Anna sighed. “Mr. Gordon – Artemus – what just happened was merely to break the ice; to get you comfortable with the idea of us representing ourselves as lovers.”
Artie’s eyes snapped open. “Oh, of course. Yes, very appropriate.”
With the hint of a smile, Anna said, “I can’t say I didn’t enjoy it, though. “
“Ditto.” He checked his pocket watch, which showed the time to be almost 9:45 am. “Oops, we’ve got to get going, ma'amselle.”
* * *
The Palace Hotel was no stranger to wealthy men and their courtesan companions. For her debut appearance, Anna had gone to extremes to give the impression of a fille de joie, dressing in a shockingly low-cut dress – even more so than the blue one – and nearly dripping with millions of dollars of emeralds and diamonds, or rather what would have been millions of dollars, had they not been paste. For himself, Artemus chose a diamond stickpin, also paste, somewhere in the area of fifteen carats or more, and a multi-jeweled pocket watch, actually real, he’d found in a pawn shop years before for only $25. The idea behind the display was to fix in the mind of anyone who saw them that they were quite wealthy but not overly possessed of anything indicating true “class.”
“Mr. Edviva, your suite is on the top floor. I’ll summon a porter for your luggage; you and Mrs. Edviva may go up now, or perhaps you’d like to visit our restaurant.”
“Mrs. Edviva! Non non, monsieur! Moi, an old married lady? No, indeed!” Anna grabbed Artie’s arm, and asked, “Is that how you represent me, mon coeur? You disappointment me.”
The clerk became alarmed. Unrelated couples were most emphatically not permitted in the city’s finest hotel – well, they were, actually, but they certainly had to be a little less blatant about it.
“Arnaude, don’t be silly, darling. The man thought you were my wife, but that’s only because the family resemblance is so slight. Sir, this is my sister. I’ve taken it upon myself to show her the glories of the United States of America, beginning in the great state of California, and that beginning in your fine establishment” he said floridly. “Any telegrams? The man who keeps my polo ponies has been making enquiries about buying a few from one of the old Astors – they drive a hard bargain, as I’m sure you know.”
The clerk looked to the man at his right, who had given the couple a rather hostile glance when Anna first spoke. During this exchange, the man had been writing on a pad. The clerk glanced down to see that what his co-worker wrote was completely illegible. Odd. “Ivy, stop scribbling – are there any telegrams for Mr. Edviva?”
“Yes, Corny.” the answer came, somewhat angrily in a Russian accent as the man rose and went to the telegram files.
“That’s Mr. Cornelius. More than once I’ve told you not to call me Corny in front of guests,” the clerk hissed.
“Then you,” his co-worker replied as he dropped three telegrams on the counter in front of Artie, “call me by my proper name: Ivanovich.”
“Ivanovich!” said Artie, as he reached over to shake the man’s hand. “Tovarich! We must sit and have some vodka – I too am Russian!” While pumping the man’s hand furiously, he also tried to read what the man had written on the pad. Indicating it with a nod, he asked “May I look? I so love to look at Cyrillic script.”
Ivanovich was about to refuse, but Artie had already snatched the pad, holding it upside down and pretending to read it. “Oh, how very impressive! You see, my dear – this is what I mean when I say that the Russian hand is so superior to the Latin.” As he spoke he turned it right side up so that Anna could read it.
Anna studied it, tracing the lines with her finger. “Non, non. You are mistaken, mon amour. I cannot... um, how does one say? – make heads and tails of this – an ape could write this way. Les soeurs à l’école – “ She mimed having her hand struck. “A stick to the knuckles.”
Artie snatched the pad away and returned it to Ivanovich. “Sorry, tovarich, she’s such a pretty little puppet, but so bereft of true intellect.” Sighing, he continued, “So many, many women I’ve known and I’ve learned this one thing: women have only hearts, we men have all the brains.”
“That is so, my friend,” said Ivanovich, looking daggers at Anna.
Artie picked up the room keys and took Anna by the hand. “I understand they have rising rooms here – imagine!”
“How interesting,” she replied wanly. The thought of being suspended six stories high by a single cable filled her with dread.
Artie noted that her face had gone pale. “Would you rather I carry you up six flights of stairs?”
“You wouldn’t – you couldn’t!” she laughed.
“I can, and I think I will.” Instantly Artie picked her up and carried her to the grand staircase. Whispering into her ear, he said “Can’t top this performance, I don’t think. Is anybody watching?”
“Only everyone,” she whispered back. “But I think they’re staring because I dared to wear diamonds in broad daylight.”
Artie pouted in reply. “Then I’ll have to outdo myself,” he said, then began to sing “Vi ravviso, o luoghi ameni” from La Sonnambula in a hearty baritone.
When he finished with a flourish, nearly to the third floor landing, Anna laughed. “My goodness, you certainly are talented!”
“My dear, you have no idea,” he said mysteriously, before giving her a peck on the forehead.
“You can let me down now.”
“Only three more floors to go, are you sure? I have some Elizabethan songs you might enjoy. ”
“Show’s over, Mr. Gordon.
“It is?” This was the most fun Artie’d had in weeks.
“Yes. I suppose you’d want to know what Mr. Ivanovich wrote?”
“Oh, of course,” Artie said as he put Anna down.
“To translate ‘Edviva arrived. Accompanied with French woman,’” and, ah – “
“This is followed by a colloquialism which is rather crude, which I’d prefer not to translate, followed by a second colloquialism which translates something like, ‘the boss is not going to be happy.’ And I was quite right – his penmanship is dreadful,” said Anna, shaking her head.
Artie took the telegrams out of his pocket. “Let’s see, one from Mladepovich, one from – no, two from Jim. The earlier one, “Wilson family may be traveling south. Few still here. We may follow. Decide end of week, depending on weather.’ And this one, ‘Met friends of the Riley’s. Will visit them this week..’ And from Mr. Mladepovich, ‘Please contact upon arrival.’” For years, when Jim and Artie needed to send one another coded telegrams, the “Wilson family” always referred to whomever they were pursuing, whether one person or a group. “Friends of the Riley’s” were anyone in a position to offer information about the Wilson family. These were often either victims of the Wilson family, or former associates. In this case, it happened to be a family who had been forced off their property.
“Anna, how would we like to contact Mr. Mladepovich?”
“I had some calling cards made up for you, I’m sure Ivanovich would be willing to drop one off.”`
Suddenly they were walking arm-in-arm up the steps, neither quite knowing how that happened, but each silently enjoying it.
As they reached their floor, they were suprised to see Ivanovich standing outside the door to their suite. “Mr. Edviva, have word from Mr. Mladepovich – he invites you to luncheon with him in his home at one p.m. Will send carriage for you.”
“Ah, how nice of him. Won’t that be lovely, Arnaude? The man who I’ve been telling you about for so long?”
“Sir, apologies, invitation just for you.”
“Oh, then it’s not possible. I couldn’t leave my... my sister alone, not on her first trip to San Francisco. That wouldn’t be family-like at all, you see. And Papa – well, if word got back to him, I might find myself a few million dollars short come inheritance time. Mr. Mladepovich wouldn’t want that now, would he? Look at her, so dewy and innocent. If she was your sister, would you leave her alone in this great city, even if it were in your wonderful hotel?”
Anna tried her best to appear demure, not an easy trick, at least not in that dress.
“Sir, please – I have my instructions.” Ivanovich had never before been in such a tight spot. If the woman – a French woman, and not only that but not even this man’s wife, and certainly not his sister – were to appear, Mladepovich’s wrath would be unbearable. On the other hand, if he did not produce Mr. Edviva, it might be worse.
Artie ran a hand through his curls, and let Ivanovich dangle another minute or so. “I’ve got it, my good man. I will pretend that I misunderstood, all my fault, you see. Say that you just left a note at my door, you could not deliver it to me in person as you were called out to, say, deal with a drunken guest, or some such. My fault entirely and, if you get any trouble from Mr. Mladepovich, I will defend you to the end, tovarich..
“Yes, but –“
“But? There is no 'but.' As much as I would enjoy a good Russian midday repast, I cannot abandon my sister.”
Ivanovich’s face seemed to be that of a man facing the guillotine. There was no choice but to relent. “Yes, sir. It will be as you say.”
“That’s the spirit!” Artie said as he offered his hand, while grinning hugely. Ivanovich accepted reluctantly, then went in the direction of the rising room, while Artie and Anna went into their suite.
While he’d been in many a fine hotel, Artie had never had accommodations like this. The suite had a small parlor area, and a huge bedroom, with a dressing room on each side, everything decorated in the most opulent taste. His mind reeled at the what this all must have cost. Rather than take a look around, Anna stretched out on the wide settee, and kicked off her peau de soie shoes.
“Oh, no -- it's just that these shoes were strangling my toes something awful. I thank headquarters for outfitting me so beautifully, but I think they had my shoe size wrong.”
“So, curtain goes up in an hour-and-a-half,” Artie said while looking at his watch. “What should we do between now and then?”
“Ah, well, we worked every minute the two days we were on the train, so I really don’t think we could be better prepared.”
“ On the other hand,“ Anna began slowly, “I think we would use more practice in one area, which, as you know, we neglected on the train ride.”
“Oh, yes.” She reached out her hand and pulled him toward her.
“Oh, I remember now,” Artie whispered, before joining his lips with hers.
* * *
The carriage drove through Nob Hill, with the trip ending under the porte-cochere of an enormous stone mansion. Artie and Anna were met by Tereschevsky, whose face fell as soon as Anna greeted him, en francais. He delivered them to the terrace, which overlooked a garden planted with a number of pear trees, herbs, and lavender, the scent of which was most delightful. Mladepovich was seated at the end of a small table, alone except for members of the kitchen staff, who were bustling about with trays of caviar, smoked mackerel, and salads.
“Gos– Lord, Mr. Edviva,” Tereschevsky said, indicating Artie, who stood smiling while holding Anna’s hand. Anna smiled prettily, but said nothing. “And Mr. Edviva, please to introduce Mr. Evgeny Mladepovich,” he said, while standing behind the latter’s chair.
“And the lady, who is she?” Mladepovich asked, the annoyance in his voice unmistakable.
“My lover, of course!” If Mladepovich was to be rattled, best to start in immediately, Artie thought. “We are men of the world, are we not? And I have found that traveling without a beautiful woman makes for a dull trip.”
“She is not wife?”
At that, Artie roared with laughter. “Wife? What need have I of a wife? Do I need my socks darned? Not when I have enough in my pocket to buy a whole sock factory! Do I need someone to cook my supper? I have already the best chefs on my staff! I suppose someday I might like to have a son, but that’s centuries away from now. No, I ascribe to the line in the old poem, ‘gather ye rosebuds while ye may’ – this particular rosebud...” he paused to kiss her cheek, “is among the finest I’ve found in any garden. Of course, she’s French, which is a pity, but –“
“French?? Mr. Edviva, you must have read of Napoleon, and yet you can be involved with... French woman!” It was a Herculean effort to keep his rage in check. “And not married!
“Please, Mr. Mladepovich, tovarich,... love, it makes the world go around, doesn’t it?
“Illicit love? Does not build empire, does not build state.” Mladepovich took a deep breath. Nothing to be gained by discussion. All Edviva good for was money. No wisdom in looking gift horse in mouth. “Does French woman understand English? I prefer conversation to be for our ears only.”
“Oh, just barely, and only when I’m speaking of love,” said Artie, as he kissed Anna’s hand.
“Mr. Edviva, I am empire builder – empire I build will be based on highest moral value.”
“But, of course,” Artie replied genially.
“No doubt you have read of Peter the Great. Without him, Russia remain in Dark Ages, without him to bring Russia into greater life of Europe, Napoleon have no more interest in Russia than in little pygmy village. Yet Peter stopped at bringing Russia into present. While lesser nations, England, Spain, ... France,” that last which he said with repulsion, “pursue to colonize even lesser, more backward lands – Americas, Africa, Orient – Russia stopped in its tracks. Our greatest tsar did greatest injustice to his people and people all over world not moving forward to pursue empire.”
“Yet, who more deserving than great, diligent and pious people of Russia to rule Earth? My plans are great and have started to come fruition. Have cleared out settlements in Vancouver, and will soon proceed south, then east. First Russians come here by land bridge – no longer existing – from easternmost Russia thousands of years ago. Even your American scientists ...
“My American?” Artie asked angrily. “Mr. Mladepovich, I am a poor Russian whose curse was having been brought up in this barbaric country, so please do not attribute anything ‘American” to being mine.”
“Ah, a man who understands!” Mladepovich raised his glass of mineral water, Artie did the same, and they clinked them together in a toast. “To rephrase, American scientists claim Indian peoples come from Russia by land bridge. So are not Indian, are Russian, so it is right of Russia to secure all territory for their good. It is not them we move, but Europeans. And only move Europeans to empty ground for re-education as Russian citizens, as right and proper. We Russians are not violent as Americans are. So many grave injustices to our Russian brothers and yet we are not bitter. We extend branch of peace under great banner of Russia.”
“Wonderful! What is the immediate plan, and how can I be of help?”
“Immediate plan, say, six months, move all Europeans out of Washington Territory into empty wilderness. Then to clear out Oregon, and then – on six-month anniversary, have huge celebration on Russian River, California! How I hope you will help is related matter – very easy. To buy back Alaska. Mr. Seward pays two cents an acre, we buy for three cents, Mr. Seward make hundred-and-fifty percent profit overnight! Six months through one year, plan to move east after Pacific border safely under Russian control. By one year, should be nearly to Chicago. By two-to-three years, depending on cooperation of European peoples, Atlantic border under control. Uncooperative people, by five years, certainly.”
“Why all the way to the Atlantic?” Artie asked. Anna’s original understanding of Mladepovich’s plans implied he was only interested in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest.
“Mr. Edviva, poor Russians labeled ‘Indian’ are found everywhere in America. Should continue to suffer because not in Alaska or Washington Territory?”
“Is any part of the plan related to going into Canada? Plenty of Russians there, too.”
“Unfortunately, not foreseeable. Canada under control of Great Britain. Great Britain very fussy about colonies. America, not so fussy. But after America fully a Russian state, say, after decade, we consider Canada.”
“Very sound plan, that.” Artie said, agreeably. “So what can I do for you now? Right now?”
“Ah, anxious and ambitions man – great example to Russian youth! You may send draft for amount to buy back Alaska, say, 30th of this month?”
“Oh, sure.” Artie said. “But -- um, Mr. Seward passed away two or three years ago. We'll need to discuss our offer with the U. S. Government.”
“U. S. Government made up of politicians. Politicians likely for sale as well. Buy right politicians, U. S. Government pay us to take Alaska, eh?”
“Ah, yes, that would be fine. One more question, how did you go about clearing out those settlements?”
“So very easy, yet humane. Send troops – my troops - to home, make family leave. Easy enough – show rifles, bayonets – people flee like rats from sinking ship. Rarely use weapons, except when display of weapons unsuccessful. Family permitted to take any and all livestock, possessions, anything but weapons. Then we torch buildings so no one returns.”
“What a humanitarian you are!” Artie deadpanned.
“Yes, you see? I do it for their own good and good of mistreated Russian peoples. Europeans soon have a home again, only as part of Russian Empire of U. S. A. Problem is slow approach. Am looking into exploding buildings, rather than fire. Very faster and safer.”
During this discussion, Anna tatted. Keeping a tatting shuttle and thread in one’s handbag guaranteed that one was never completely bored. It also served to calm the mind – so essential in a situation where one needed to listen and remember.
“Yes, I could see that you could turn people out of their homes in less than half the time it takes you now. Isn’t this exciting, miliy?” Artie asked. Anna smiled, and placed her hand on his wrist, then returned to tatting.
“Is not easy. I am thinker and I inspire. Am not expert of demolition, nor my staff. Yet, have good news – Providence sends to me man who may help with explosion.”
“Another Russian, I hope.”
“No, I think not. Sends me telegram, gives name as F. E. Warriner, to arrive 10th September.”
Once more, Anna grasped Artie’s wrist, this time very tightly.
SS 1st assignment - desk job
Posted - 12/23/2008 : 16:57:21
| Chapter 5
Artie’s mind was racing. How could Warriner have gotten in touch with Mladepovich? She must have told him about this and, as much as he wanted to, he simply could not believe that she’d done so inadvertently. He was alone with his thoughts in the carriage, while Anna appeared to be consumed with her tatting. Upon entry to their suite, Artie asked, “Anna, is there something you want to tell me?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Razor bullets –which you admitted were designed by Warriner – turn up in a town the middle of nowhere. Hakimoglu says some government people are expected in town. Then Mladepovich gets a cable from Warriner. Surely, this is no coincidence.”
“Surely not.” Anna had kicked off her shoes, and curled up on the settee.
Artie was at a loss as to how to proceed. “Anna–“
“Artemus, I told you that he has been keeping tabs on me. I don’t know how he does it, but the past several years, my life has been filled with coincidences that have something to do with this person. Each time, the situation serves as notice that he is still around, and that he does have plans for me. Now we’re served notice that – well, I can’t say the tables have turned, but... I suppose I’ll have to change my plans for him.”
Artie was still not satisfied. “This doesn’t add up. He’s followed you, alright, I’ll buy that. But how on earth did he get wind of what Mladepovich is doing? Even the government wasn’t up on it until you blew the whistle.”
“Mr. Gordon, I gave you my answer. This is not an algebra equation, which will reveal its solution if you look at it hard enough,” she hissed. She rose and exited in the direction of the bedroom. Artie wondered whether the discussion would continue, then heard Anna exclaim, “Oh, our own bath! How completely divine! “ Almost immediately he heard the water running, so he decided to take a walk.
At the front desk, he asked for Ivanovich, who, he was told by Mr. Cornelius, was gone for the afternoon.
“How unfortunate. I have something for him. Has he gone home?”
“Probably.” Cornelius replied. “Ivy usually leaves early Tuesdays because he’s in around five in the morning the rest of the week.”
“I see. However, it is most important that I see him today – stock tip, you see. New developments in the futures market for caviar. Wonderful earning opportunity, and–“ Suddenly, Artie’s nose was assaulted by the scent of liquor gone sour. Turning to see where it was coming from, he saw a middle-aged man standing just behind him in a bellman’s uniform, his face bright yellow with jaundice.
“Frankie, you know where Ivy lives, tell this gentleman.”
“Who wants to know?” came the sullen reply.
Artie extended his hand and tried his best to hide his grimace at the odor. “Timofei Edviva, son of Mother Russia by way of Boston. And you, a San Francisco bellhop – best fellas in the world! If you could help, there’s a shiny gold coin in it for you.”
“Uh huh.” Frankie eyed him suspiciously. “You’re the fella with that scarlet trollop checked in here a few hours ago, yeah?”
Cornelius came out from behind the desk and attempted to shoo the bellman away. “So sorry, Mr. Edviva.,” he whispered. “Frankie’s a war veteran, took a few bullets to the head, I think, and the boss, well, he pities him.” Raising his voice, he continued, looking daggers at Frankie “but compassion does have its limits.”
“Vallejo and Davis – some kinda Russian rooming house, yeah.” Frankie sauntered off in the direction of the bar.
“Mr. Edviva, may I provide you with directions? And to reiterate, I’m so sorry–“
“No no, my good man, I’ll find it on my own. And no more apologies. There but for the grace of the Almighty, and all that. I do thank you.” Before turning to leave, Artie tossed two gold coins to Mr. Cornelius. “One for you, my friend, and one for Mr. Frankie.”
* * *
The sign in Cyrillic just above the transom translated as “Russian Seamen’s Guesthouse.” Artie rang the bell, and the door was quickly answered by an elderly woman carrying a broom, who looked him up and down before saying “Da?”
Artie launched into Russian, asking the whereabouts of Ivanovich.
The answer came “Yuri Ivanovich, Mikhail Ivanovich, Lev Ivanovich?”
Artie thought a moment. Rather than continue in Russian, he remembered that Edviva was supposed to have only a halting understanding of the language, so he tried again. “Palace Hotel Ivanovich.”
“Not here. Nobody here now.”
“Ah, you speak English!”
“May I wait for him?”
The woman shrugged and opened the door so Artie could enter. She indicated a hard chair in the entryway and left. Soon the sound of pots banging could be heard from the kitchen, so Artie decided to look around. The building was much larger inside than it looked from the outside, and was decorated far more expensively than an ordinary rooming house. The first floor boasted a huge dining room, with a table which bore three candelabras of staggering size, wrought of the finest silver. There was also a card on each of the twenty-four seats, twenty with a surname written in black ink: three Ivanovichs - not seated together, Ehmak, Makarii... the rest he couldn’t make out.
The kitchen was still noisy; it sounded like the old woman had been joined by two others, all three arguing about what to put out for dinner. Artie quickly mounted the stairs. All the doors he tried were unlocked, inside all were nicely appointed guestrooms. None seemed to have anything that would indicate a relationship with Mladepovich. The last room he entered was, oddly, much colder than the others. It also had a closet, which none of the others did. And the closet was locked from the inside.
He could, of course, break the door down any number of ways, but there had to be a less obvious way to get in. An idea struck him, but it was nearly four p.m., so he’d have to act on it tomorrow. Returning to the Palace, he was so deeply engrossed in his thoughts that he was surprised to see Anna when he returned to their suite.
She had changed into a dainty lawn dress, sans jewelry, and was once again on the settee, writing in a notebook.
“You look nice.”
“Thank you,” she replied without looking up.
“I found where Ivanovich lives. I’d like to get back in tomorrow – there’s a locked closet, or maybe room, that I’d like to explore. Problem is, it’s locked from the inside. Ordinarily, I’d just blow it up, but –“
“Oh, good heavens, why do you men insist on the most brute methods?” She reached to the end- table, snatched a ring of keys and threw it in Artie’s direction. “Try those.”
“What good are these going to do me?”
“You come home from work, and don’t ask me about my day? I’m so hurt I’m thinking about going home to Mama,” she whined comically.
He couldn’t help smiling. “Sorry, dear, how was your day? Were you able to settle the account with the egg man?”
“Oh, that can wait. What I did do – come, sit with me,” she said, patting the cushion next to her. “What I did do, after instructing Ada to beat out the rugs – they’re so dusty, you know–“
“True,” Artie replied while putting his arm around her shoulder.
“What I did do was go to City Hall and ask to look at the plans for the Russian Seamen’s Guesthouse, and–“
“How did you know about that?” he asked with great surprise.
Anna replied with an irritated sigh. “Mr. Gordon, did I or did I not alert the government about this? Of course I have the address where Mladepovich puts up the help.”
“Should’ve asked you first – could have saved some time there.”
“So I went to City Hall, Department of Building Records, and asked to see the file for that address, in order to get the name of anybody who may have done some work on the property that required a permit. Turns out there was a refrigeration unit – one of those fancy ones, not an icebox – installed on the third floor about ten months ago.”
“Ah, I knew something was up – outside of that locked door, it’s suspiciously cold. ”
“So then I got went to the city directory and found the name and address of the locksmith closest to the property, and paid him a visit.”
“I don’t get the connection.”
“Artemus, you’ve dealt with enough of Mladepovich’s type to know that their properties are usually retro-fitted with all sorts of specialized rooms, haven’t you?”
“Yes, teacher.” This was starting to get embarrassing.
“And they’re usually locked?”
“Yes, ma’am.” Artie’s head dropped in mock shame.
“So, I went in, gave him the address and he copied all the originals he had stored.”
“It was that easy?”
“It did require every woman’s secret weapon, naturally, but yes, very easy.”
“Uh, what weapon is that?” Artie asked, not quite sure he wanted to know.
“Tears – I sobbed that the housekeeper was going to beat me if I didn’t replace the keys I’d lost – I just about broken the old man’s heart.”
Artie smiled. That was one weapon he’d never had any success defending himself against. He’d even seen Jim cave a number of times, although it would have killed him to admit it.
“So, you can let yourself in from the alley. According to the plans I saw that door opens to a flight of stairs, and on the second floor landing are two doors. The one that will be on your left leads to another flight of stairs leading to the third floor. I’m guessing that door may be camouflaged, but it’s the only way to get out of the third floor once that closet door is locked.”
“I’d like to go back there tonight.”
“Probably the safest way to do that,” Anna began “would be to burst in with a prodigious amount of vodka, and announce an impromptu party. Once they’re all dead drunk, it should be a piece of cake.”
“Would you like to join me?”
“I think not. A houseful of drunken men – I’ve done that already, remember?”
* * *
At around 9:30 p.m., Artie returned to the house, with four cases of the best vodka he could scare up on such short notice. Once again he met the old lady at the door.
“You not wait for Ivanovich and now back? Too late.” The noise of voices coming from the dining room said otherwise.
“Oh, no, babushka, it’s a surprise.”
“‘Surprise?’ What is?”
“It’s a party!”
The woman was uncomprehending. Her command of English was limited to short exchanges with tradesmen, none of whom ever used the words “surprise” or “party” with her. “Nyet, nyet,” she said, shaking her head, as she began to close the door.
Artie pushed his foot into the door, while attempting to maneuver a bottle of vodka so she could see it. “Babushka, see? Party!”
“Vodka is ‘party’? Nyet, vodka is vodka!”
“No, you see?” Artie held the still-sealed bottle to his mouth. “Glug glug glug, aaahhh! That is party!”
“Ah.” This she understood. “What is ‘surprise?” she asked suspiciously.
“This is!” He took her by the shoulders and planted a sloppy kiss on her lips. “Surprise!”
Dazed, she flug the door open, which allowed Artie and the carriageman to bring the cases into the dining room.
A few dinner dishes remained on the table, and a number of the men were smoking cigars. At the head of the table was Mladepovich, who did not appear pleased. “Mr. Edviva, what is this?”
“It’s a – how do you say? – prazdnovanie! Did I pronounce that right? Party!”
“Mr Edviva, party not scheduled.” The rest of the men at the table, none of whom spoke English, were confused as to why this person was here.
“I know, that makes it even more of a party!” Artie, all smiles, began to hoist the crates onto the table and hand out bottles.
Slowly, the others began to get the idea. “Da, partiya!”
“NYET!” Mladepovich bellowed. “What you mean, coming into to interrupt?! Am conducting meeting with new officers!”
“Evgeny, tovarich, plenty of time to lecture the troops! I have wonderful news that must be celebrated with my Russian brethren! Washington is willing to discuss getting rid of Alaska! Turns out it’s too cold for their thin American blood.” In order to cover himself if Mladepovich wanted proof, Artie had fired off a telegram to Jeremy Pike instructing him to have someone in headquarters send direct to Artie/Edviva a telegram stating that the government would be interested in offers for Alaska.
Mladepovich looked at him, eyes narrowed. “Willing to talk so soon?”
Artie feigned offense. “Mr. Mladepovich, sir, I hope you’re not the kind of person who would accuse a Russian brother of... of... “ He slapped himself on the forehead, as if he were trying to remember the Russian word for “lying.” “...of not being one-hundred percent truthful. Naturally, prior to our meeting – even long before we met, I thought it was the gravest mistake that Tsar Alexander sold off such valuable real estate, so the very moment you mentioned it, as soon as I could, I cabled the appropriate people.”
“I’m not at liberty to say – very high level, very secret, you see?”
“You have return cable?”
“Certainly!” Artie felt around in his pockets for the telegram, which hadn’t even come yet. “Must be in my other trousers,” he said, with disappointment. Brightening, snatched a bottle from the nearest case and brought it to Mladepovich. ”Boss, why don’t you lead us in a toast? To Alaska, or some such thing – be creative!”
The entire table, eager to open the bottles, was beaming at Mladepovich, who took the bait. “Bratyya, brothers! May na doroge k pobede! We are on road to victory!” Following a chorus of “Da!” all the bottles were opened. Two hours later, all – with the exception of Mladepovich, who had disappeared – were either knocked out on the floor or lustily singing folk songs. Artie had merely taken small sips as the bottles were passed around and so was still more or less sober. After shaking hands with everyone, he left, shortly appearing at the back door.
The keys worked like a charm, but the stairwell was completely dark. On the second floor landing he groped along the walls and, as Anna had suspected, the door leading to the third floor had been camouflaged. The walls were brick, but Artie noticed that some of the brick – an area about four week wide and ten feet high – felt a little rougher than the rest of the walls. Tapping on it, he felt it budge slightly. He threw all his weight against it, and the portal opened. He was immediately met with a cold blast to the face – it was below freezing in there. At the top of the stairs the door was unlocked, and the room was far colder than even the stairwell had been. Artie regretted having drunk so little vodka, for it might have kept him warm, at least for a short time.
The room was as dark as the stairwell had been, and he was unsuccessful in finding a gas jet. Lighting a match, he saw the refrigeration unit, the design of which he had never seen before, standing in the middle of the room. Along the walls were racks and racks of heavily braided uniforms – maybe a hundred or more and, at the far end, an enormous fur-trimmed cape. Coming closer, he saw that it was made of silk, embroidered in gold thread, and covered with pearls. There were two other doors in the room – one leading to the stairwell that ended in the guest room closet, and another just to the left of the cape. That door was also unlocked. The sight that awaited him was even more surprising than the refrigeration unit – the largest telegraph set-up he had ever seen, far larger than the largest one in Washington.
Suddenly, he heard footsteps on the stairs, and ran to hide behind one of the uniform racks. Mladepovich entered, put on the cape, and went to the telegraph machinery. He was there for what seemed like hours. Artie was starting to lose track of time, and had become very sleepy. However, to fall asleep in that temperature could mean not ever waking up again. By three a.m. the effort to remain awake was nearly more than he could sustain. He could no longer feel his hands or feet, and his back was aching horribly.
At last he heard Mladepovich leave. Once his steps were no longer audible, Artie struggled to get to the telegraph room – not easy considering he could barely move on his still-numb feet. Next to the equipment were a pile of telegrams. There was not enough light to read them, nor enough time – by now he was starting to feel the first effects of frostbite. Without considering the ramifications, he stuffed the telegrams into his pockets and left the room.
The steps presented unexpected difficulty. Bad enough to go down them in total blackness, far worse when one has almost no sensation in hands or feet, and he was by now shivering violently. On the third step from the top, he lost his footing and fell face-first. In the split-second that followed, he feared breaking at least a wrist, if not his whole body, once he landed. A mere second after that he felt a warm body pushing against him, in an attempt to break his fall. He landed backwards, which made his back howl, but at least he’d stopped falling.
“Oh, Artemus, I was so worried! Are you alright?”
“Anna? Is that you?” Or had he died and gone to... somewhere? The blackness definitely wasn’t his idea of heaven, but other than the numbness and back pain, nothing much else seemed to be wrong.
“Artemus, I thought you’d be back by one. When you didn’t I came looking for you. If you hadn’t come out by dawn, I don’t know what I would have done.”
“Thank God you came. I thought I ...,” he began. He attempted to stand, but was so unsteady, Anna forced him to sit.
“Good heavens, you’re shivering so – what’s wrong?”
“That third floor room... not more than twenty-five degrees.”
“Goodness, how long where you there?”
“Hours. How many, I’m not sure.”
“Darling – uh, Artemus – you could have died!” Anna’s fondness for her partner had grown unchecked, but not until now had she made such a gaffe. “Here, put your arm around my shoulder, I’ll put my arms around your waist and we’ll try to lumber out of here.”
Artie complied, and her touch made him feel warm, at least inside. “Did... you call me darling, darling?”
“Oh, ah, that’s what I call my pet parrot. Just a lapse.” she replied nervously.
In spite of the night air, which was fairly pleasant, Artie was still shaking in her arms. His hands were like ice and, although he was doing he best in an attempt to walk, she was nearly dragging him. He was exhausted, and still so very cold. If he’d injured himself badly enough in the fall to black out, that would have been the end. “You saved my life, you know,” he murmured.
Anna wasn’t sure how to answer, or if an answer was expected.
His mind became occupied with dark thoughts of what might have happened. That and the “darling” remark.
“Anna, that... that smooch session this afternoon, was that in earnest?”
What an odd question, she thought. Perhaps he’s getting delirious.
“Artemus, we’re working together.”
“You didn’t answer me.”
She sighed deeply. You don’t addle someone’s mind with a declaration when they’re in the condition he was in. “We had some free time – I thought it might be fun. You’re...ah... you’re a good kisser.”
“Artemus, let’s not talk. You really ought to conserve your strength – we’ve still got a ways to go.”
“Would you be sorry if I died?”
Oh, dear, she thought, he really is delirious. “Yes, Artemus. Very, very sorry. But if you keep quiet, that’s less likely to happen before we get to the hotel.”
By the time they reached the hotel, Artie was almost dead weight, although the shivering was less dramatic. She whispered into his ear, “Timofei, let me do the talking.” His head bobbed in assent.
Except for the night manager, the lobby was empty. “Madam? Madam, can I help you?”
“Merci beaucoup! Merci! Please to assist. My brother – a bit tipsy. Our suite is number 622.”
“Madam, right this way,” he said, indicating the rising room, just before getting on Artie’s other side in order to help pull him along.
Once the rising room doors closed, Anna began to quake in fear.
“Timofei, mon nom est Arnaude. Anna was before we met.” The night manager, who was operating the rising room, tried to ignore the exchange.
“Anna’s a lovely girl.”
“Timofei, how could you?!” Anna directed a helpless glance at the night manager, who smiled uncomfortably. The rising room came to a sudden stop, and Anna let out a shriek.
“Madam, relax. We’re now on the sixth floor,” said the manager, who, after opening the doors, returned to Artie’s side.
Once in the suite, they dragged Artie to the bed. “Will you be alright, madam?”
“Oui, monsieur. Merci – thanks to you so much.” She went to her handbag and pressed a dollar coin into his hand. He expressed his thanks and left.
“Artemus – Artemus, you need to undress.”
“I do what?” He was more asleep than awake at that point.
“Undress. You’re not going to be able to sleep comfortably in a suit.”
“Artemus, I’ll help you, can you please, please stand for just a moment? I’ll take off the top half, you take off the bottom half.”
She’d undressed many an unconscious soldier at the field hospital, so she dove in, removing his jacket, cravat, waistcoat, shirt, trousers, and shoes, leaving him in his undershirt, drawers, and socks. Although she moved him under the blanket, he began shivering again. She quickly changed into her nightgown, and lay down as close to him as she could with her arm across his chest. The shivering stopped.
* * *
Anna rose at about eight in the morning, Artie still in a deep sleep. He appeared to be alright, but she removed his socks and examined his feet to make sure he’d not sustained any frostbite. Thankfully, he hadn’t. Before dressing herself, she picked up his clothes to hang them up, and noticed the pockets stuffed with paper. She emptied them, hung the clothes up, then brought the paper to the writing desk in the parlor. These turned out to be telegrams, dozens of them, all in Russian. Once she had read them all, she separated them into three piles: those promising funding; those from recruits, which included the dates they expected to arrive in San Francisco; and those from a number of well-known Russian aristocrats, pledging both monetary and tactical support. These also were coming to San Francisco, and several appeared to be already en route, since the telegrams had come from shipboard. One even mentioned the party in Edviva’s honor.
There was a rap on the door, from room service, bearing a tray of coffee, biscuits and jam that Anna had scheduled be delivered the day before, just prior to going out. There were also telegrams on the tray. She took her coffee to the settee and began to read. The scent of the coffee had awoken Artie, and he appeared ten minutes later, looking very handsome in his silk dressing gown.
“Good morning, Artemus – how are you feeling?” she asked with concern.
“Wonderful,” he smiled. “I had the funniest dream – a beautiful woman was tickling my feet.”
“Interesting, must mean something,” Anna said evenly.
“What do you have there?”
“Telegrams from Jim. About fifty troops have been spotted about ten miles south of Fort Vancouver. It’s confirmed that twenty families have been driven from their homes within the last ten days. The families interviewed didn’t yield up anything that Mladepovich didn’t already tell us. They were permitted to take all their possessions, then their house was burned to the ground. I’ve also gone through a bunch–“ she pointed to the piles on the writing desk, “I found in your pockets.”
“What’s in them?”
“Promises of money, recruits, and so forth. He’s really touched a nerve with some very ambitious Russians. Oh, and what exactly happened last night? I don’t know if you remember, but when I found you, you were rather indisposed.”
“I really have to thank you again, you were a godsend.”
“Oh, think nothing of it. Now–“
“Anna, did I – I didn’t say anything stupid, did I? I sort of remember–“
“No, no – I’m sure you dreamed that. So why the refrigeration system?” She was anxious to get back to the main topic.
“Cold storage for one thing. Enough uniforms stored up there for twenty regiments, plus a cape that looks like something out of a fairy tale. Most likely our Mr. Mladepovich intends to crown himself tsar of the U. S. A monster of a telegraph system up there – larger than anything I’ve ever seen. So probably that needs to be kept cold, too, or it’ll blow.”
“We’ll need to destroy that.”
“Of course. Do you remember the name of the contractor who put it in, or the manufacturer?”
“Contractor was McKendrick Brothers, manufacturer was Pettersen-Olsson.”
“Wonderful. Any plans for this morning?”
“None – I’m all yours,” Anna smiled.
I wish, Artie thought.
* * *
By one-thirty in the afternoon, they returned to the hotel, having visited a print shop to get Artie false IDs – one as a Pettersen-Olsson technician, the other as a city representative; then a hardware store for supplies, and lastly, a photographic studio, just on a whim. Portraits were taken of Anna alone, Artie alone, and both together.
Luncheon was being served in the dining room, followed by a tea dance.
“Mon amour, un thé dansant! How I love to dance, don’t you?”
“Certainly.” Back in the early ‘fifties, he’d spent one summer on the Laval Circuit with Hyacinth van Allen, performing as “the Tennessee Terpsichoreans.”
After a light lunch of watercress sandwiches, the orchestra struck up a waltz. Anna and Artie were first on the dance floor. Once more Anna was attired as the consummate courtesan, in a pink silk dress whose lace bodice, with its thin, loosely woven gauze lining, afforded a very plain view of her decolletage. Two biddies seated near the dance floor glowered at her. During the second waltz, when she and Artie came dancing fairly close to them, one said, in a stage whisper, “Just shocking, the bad taste some people have.”
Anna pretended not to hear, but Artie, once he thought he was in the perfect line of their sight, began kissing Anna’s neck most passionately, then swung her toward the center of the dance floor. The second biddie was heard to declare, “I can’t believe the hotel allows that on the dance floor!”
“Having fun?” Artie asked.
“You dance very well, you know.”
“As do you,” Anna smiled. “We fit nicely together.”
“We do.” Artie began to peer steadily into Anna’s eyes as they whirled around the floor. After a few moments, it became too much for her and she looked away. “Anna, I’m reading something,” he whispered, “but I need a translation.”
“No, you don’t, Mr. Gordon. You know exactly – am I wrong, or are you sending the same message?”
“I love you,” he whispered into her ear.
Anna sighed happily and held onto him more tightly. When the waltz ended, Anna asked shyly, “Timofei, darling, would you... like to continue in our suite?”
“I would indeed, miliy.” He took her by the hand and went to the staircase. Suddenly, he remembered. “Forgot to pay the bill. Go on ahead – I’ll be right up.” Artie ran up to the clerk, paid the bill, then headed for the rising room. On the way, he was waylaid by Frankie, smelling worse, if possible, than he had the day before.
“Gonna go upstairs and poke that whore of yours, huh?”
Artie responded with a haymaker to Frankie’s jaw, then calmly boarded the rising room.
Anna was standing by the window with her back to the door, her long dark hair unpinned and trailing down her back. Artie thought he’d never seen a more beautiful picture. Coming up behind her, he lifted her hair and rained kisses on the back of her neck, while his right hand explored her curves. “My god, you’re beautiful,” he murmured.
Anna sighed appreciatively and turned, kissing him passionately, while he placed her hand on the hard spot on the front of his trousers. They undressed one another slowly as they walked to the bedroom, leaving a trail of clothes behind them. Artie was a tender, almost worshipful lover, and Anna thrilled to his every touch. Being one with him was the most magical experience of her life. For Artie, it seemed as if this was the first time he’d truly made love. All those other times with all those other women meant nothing. What was happening now between them – this was how it was supposed to be. When both were spent and covered with sweat, they embraced until the room grew dark, then made love again. And again.
SS 1st assignment - desk job
Posted - 12/23/2008 : 17:09:54
| Chapter 6
Artie opened his eyes and quickly shut them again. Too much sunlight. What time was it? He yawned and stretched, and then Anna came in, fully dressed.
“Good morning, you handsome, adorable thing,” she said playfully. “Nice to see you’re finally joining us.”
“What time is it?” he asked as he went to draw the shade.
“Around a quarter to eleven.”
“Quarter to eleven??” he asked, aghast. He never, ever slept later than six in the morning.
“Well, you so exerted yourself yesterday, I suppose you needed the rest,” Anna said wryly, as she went to the mirror to re-arrange her hair.
Artie tried to compose a snappy comeback, but came up empty. The best he could do was, “You’re something, you know that?”
“So I’ve heard,” she said over her shoulder, as she tried to decide among the five tortoiseshell combs on the dressing table. She chose a light-colored one in the shape of a lyre, and nearly had in place before she felt a pair of strong hands around her waist, and Artie’s lips on her neck, with occasional side trips to take a nip out of her earlobes. Her heart began to pound, and she felt almost woozy.
“Mr. Gordon, if you don’t cease and desist, I’ll faint.”
Regretfully, she removed his hands. “Time to leave the love nest and go fight the bad men.”
“You’re no fun,” he pouted.
Anna was tempted to reply, “That’s not what you said yesterday,” but that would just have encouraged him. It was really high time to get started on the day. “Going back to the guest house, I hope.”
“Yes, indeed. What do you think?” he asked as he joined her in front of the mirror. Preening, he continued, “World’s handsomest equipment technician on a required maintenance call, or the most devastatingly attractive city inspector in the United States?”
“Whichever one will remind them least of Timofei Edviva.”
“Ah, beauty and brains!” he gushed, while making a beeline for the nape of her neck once more. He was stopped by her hand on his chest.
“Artemus, the sooner you get to work, the sooner –“ Her comment was interrupted by a knock on the door.
Artie snuck a peck on Anna’s cheek before going to answer the door.
He was met by Frankie, whose yellowed face bore a black eye, and a very nasty bruise.
“Actually, three telegrams, sir.” Frankie handed them over with his left hand, his right extended to receive his tip.
“Thank you,” Artie said coldly while digging for a coin.
As soon as the gold dollar coin dropped in his palm, Frankie gave Artie a disappointed look. “That’s all you got? “ His expression then changed to a hideous leer. “Y’know, there’s cheaper girls down by the docks.”
Artie would dearly have loved to give him a black eye to match the other one, but he decided against it. “I could get you fired.”
“Nah, pal, I don’t think so.” Frankie saluted, and closed the door behind him.
Anna met Artie in the parlor, surprised to see his face red with anger as he read the first telegram. “Something wrong? Bad news?”
“Huh? No, no – just that bellhop. I can’t guess why they keep him on – I’ve met stevedores with more class.”
“That’s surprising – from what I’ve heard they only hire the best of the best here.”
“He’s gotta be the worst of the worst – maybe they use him as an object lesson.”
“Well, what’s the news?” she asked as she put her arm around his waist.
“Routine stuff – greetings from Jim, fifteen Russians apprehended are being questioned. And.... let’s see... oh!... here’s one from President Grant. He’s considering sending troops to Vancouver and Oregon. Huh, wonder why he’d consider it before we have all the data in.”
“Political pressure, most likely. It’s safe to assume at least one of ths families who lost their home went to a government office to complain.”
Artie pulled her closer and planted a chaste kiss on her forehead. “That’s why I love you – you’re smarter than I am. What will you be doing while I’m out?”
“I’d like to go back to City Hall. I want to know if Mladepovich’s home is owned or rented. If he’s renting it, perhaps we can talk to the landlord. If not, maybe I can learn who he bought it from. He’s not poor – his father was a very wealthy landowner – but I know he’s not rich enough to own that mansion, the guest house, and wage war on the scale he’s done. If his money is coming from someone in this country we should see what we can do to stop the flow.”
Artie placed his hand under her chin and looked her full in the face, the ghost of a smile on his lips. He’d couldn’t remember ever having been happier. Hopefully he and Anna could continue to work together. He’d enjoyed his years with Jim, and loved him like a brother, but maybe it was time for someone else. Especially if that someone had her intellect and experience.
“Artemus, you’re looking at me so funny – is something wrong?”
“Oh, no. Quite the opposite.”
Anna sighed, then headed back to the bedroom to retrieve her purse. Coming back, she asked “I should be back here maybe by three or so. What about you?”
“Dunno – how long should it take to secretly destroy a telegraph system?”
“I don’t know – I left my textbooks at home.”
“Anna, uh – where do you live when you’re not working?”
“Annapolis – I have a tiny little house on Pinckney Street I bought when I received my legacy from Radivil’s estate.”
“I like Annapolis very much – I’ve always had an idea about retiring there.”
“Well, then, maybe someday we’ll be neighbors,” Anna smiled.
Artemus smiled back, while wondering if he’d dare say what was on his mind. Throwing caution to the wind, he began slowly, “I think – I think I’d like to be more than that.”
Anna blushed. “Oh my goodness... how sweet you are. Alas, duty calls. ” With that, she left.
* * *
Artie chose to go to the Russian Seamen’s Guest House in the guise of refrigeration technician, wearing a blond wig and matching goatee, oversize canvas jacket buttoned to the neck, under which was his suit jacket, shirt and cravat; canvas trousers, and thick boots with two-inch lifts inside. He carried a large leather tool bag on his shoulder, and a clipboard with a work order on phony stationery. In addition to a few tools in the top of the bag, a large compartment in the bottom held a change of trousers and shoes, and the telegrams he’d stolen. He was going to toss them randomly in the telegraph room as if they’d been scattered by a draft.
His knock was again answered by the old woman. “Da?”
“Ma’am, Pete Hagerty, Pettersen-Olsson. Do you realize you’re over a month late for the scheduled service for your Pettersen-Olsson unit?” Artie held out the clipboard as proof.
“You wait.” The woman not only had no idea what he was talking about, but the paper on the clipboard meant nothing to her. She was illiterate. Returning with one of the cooks, who had a better knowledge of English, she indicated her companion. “You tell her.”
“Miss, Pete Hagerty, Pettersen-Olsson. I’m here to service your refrigeration unit.”
“Refrigeration? What is?” While the cook had a better understanding of English, and could even read it a little, longer words only confused her.
“The equipment on the third floor that makes the room cold.”
“Ah, da.” She spoke to the old woman in what sounded like a dialect. As well as he understood spoken Russian, he was only able to pick up a couple of words from this exchange.
The cook left, and the old woman beckoned Artie to come in and follow her. They mounted the stairs and walked to the room with the closet. The door was unlocked. “You go. See me you come back.”
The unit was running at full blast, powered by a steam generator that Artie had missed on his previous visit. Once disconnected from its power source, the hum of the telegraph equipment became audible. Almost immediately it began to heat up, and eventually it would either explode or the wires would melt and short out the entire system. Artie decided to speed up the process by taking a match to the wires. An explosion might cause a fire, which, unless immediately contained, would cause the entire building – constructed of wood – to burn to the ground, thereby destroying what might have been valuable information. Once the wires were completely melted, Artie picked up his equipment, tossed the telegrams onto the floor, and left.
Downstairs, the woman was nowhere to be seen. “Hey, lady! Lady?” No answer. So he scribbled some a note on the fake stationery, “Refrig. needs new condenser. Some parts wearing out due to overuse. Should be moved. Will contact again,” and placed it on one of the end tables. He exited through the front door, then walked around to the alleyway, where he tore off his wig and beard, and changed into the other clothes. A few blocks away, in another alley, he abandoned the bag and clipboard.
On his way into the lobby of the hotel, he was beckoned by Mr. Cornelius. “Mr. Edviva, you have a great number of telegrams. “
“I do? One from the Astors I hope.”
“I don’t know, sir.” Cornelius handed them over. Artie began reading them while walking to the rising room. Most appeared to be from Jim. Questioning had gone well, and now over one hundred Russian troops were in custody. He did not explain how this was accomplished – maybe he’d brought them all in by himself – it certainly wouldn’t surprise Artie. Other telegrams alluded to many more coming. It was starting to look like Grant would have to send troops. If that were to happen, then Jim and Colonel Richmond would remain in Vancouver as Secret Service liaison to the military authorities.
So, it looked like Vancouver side of the operation might soon be finished. Then the mission would be nearly ready to wrap up. All that remained would be to collar Mladepovich and his local supporters. Francis Warriner as well. Every time Artie thought of him, he’d get an ominous feeling. He’d try to shake it off – but the man was still out there. Artie’s faith in Anna’s strategic abilities was unshaken, but his concern for her had grown by leaps and bounds. He dearly wished that he could handle Warriner all by himself, and save her the effort. And the risk.
Anna was still out, so he decided to go out again, this time to pick up their photographs. The photographer had made four sets, two sets as cabinet cards, and two as carte de visites. Artie went through them before paying, and was most impressed. He’d never considered himself particularly photogenic, but these had turned out pretty well, and the ones with Anna were just exquisite. From there he wanted to go to Gump’s to buy frames for the cab cards. Halfway up the block, he decided to go back to the photographer’s studio and take a look at his selection. Sometimes, photographers had more and better frames than the department stores.
The studio was empty of customers when he left, but on his way back he could see through the window that there was customer. And, judging from the body language of the photographer, he was trouble in some way. As soon as Artie came through the door, the man’s body language started to relax.
“Mr. Edviva, so glad you’ve come back! I’ve been trying and trying to explain to this gentleman–“
Artie saw in the mirror behind the photographer that the “gentleman” with his back to him was Frankie.
“... well, you just don’t come into my studio – or any photographer’s studio-- and demand prints of somebody else’s photographs without proper authorization.”
“Naturally – yes, one of the few great things about this country. We do everything on the up and up, eh, Frankie?”
“Nuts to you,“ Frankie said angrily, then left the shop.
“He wanted prints of my photographs? What for?”
“Mr. Edviva, I think you should know that when you and the lady came her yesterday, I noticed him watching from across the street. Now, ordinarily, I’m too busy to notice what’s going on outside – there are people walking by all day long. But for some reason I noticed him. He stood right across the street –“ the photographer pointed to a cigar store with a huge wooden Indian beckoning beside the door. “And he just didn’t move --just watched. And a minute or two after you left, he began walking in the same direction.”
“Well see that you don’t ever make copies of my pictures unless I or the lady come in for them.”
“Time to get moving,” Artie thought, on his way out. Did Frankie have anything to do with Mladepovich? Very odd.
About a block from the hotel, he noticed Anna walking about a half block ahead of him. He ran and stopped just a few feet behind her, and said in a voice a little higher-pitched than his own. “Glory be, now I can believe there’s a God! For only he could make a woman as beautiful as you, madam.” Anna did not turn around. “I mean you in the purple dress, my dear.” She still did not acknowledge him. “And the lovely black hair and that charming little hat. What color is that? Lavender or lilac?” Still nothing. He moved to her side and grasped her right arm; Anna was about to punch him with her left. She had nearly connected when she recognized him.
“Good heavens, you know I could have deprived you of at least one of your teeth,” she said with irritation.
“No, I can’t believe that.” Artie grinned has he clasped her right hand and kissed it.
“No? Try me.”
“When? Where? I do so love a challenge. I’m not much of a boxer, though. It’ll have to be a wrestling match. Yes, let’s wrestle.”
At that, Anna couldn’t help laughing. “How did your appointment go?”
“Very well, but there’s a troubling new development.”
“Oui?” Anna lapsed into French since they were about to enter the hotel. “Mon amour, it’s the same avec moi. Un tête-à-tête is called for, yes?”
"Tête-à-tête, lips-to-lips, whatever you’d like, my darling,” Artie said as he continued to kiss her hand. “Mr. Cornelius, anything for me?”
“Wonderful. My eyes are getting so tired from reading.”
Artie indicated the rising room, but Anna shook her head. Artie found this very disappointing; he was fascinated by it. There were a few other people using the stairs, so Artie and Anna were silent on the way up, just holding hands.
As soon as the door to the suite was closed Anna took Artie in a tight embrace, resting her head on his shoulder.
“What’s all this about?”
“I missed you.”
“But you saw me.... four hours ago.”
“Indulge me, Artemus. You’re the sort a girl dreams of... well, this girl.”
“I am, am I? “ Artie beamed, “Well, then – carry on.”
“May I.... have my way with you?” Anna asked, her eyes flashing.
“Yes, you may. Oh, yes, you may,” he murmured as he sought her lips while she slowly unbuttoned his shirt.
* * *
Early in the evening, Artie rang downstairs for a room service dinner. It was delivered a short time later, and included flowers and candles.
“Now we can discuss the events of the day,” Artie said, in a rather professorial tone.
“Love, before you do, would you open a window, it’s rather too warm in here.”
“It wouldn’t be if you hadn’t insisted on putting your clothes back on. You know, there’s a reason the Greeks and Romans depicted their goddesses nude.”
Anna rolled her eyes. He was adorable, to be sure, but he could also be a bit much.
“Goddesses are not known for rolling their eyes, Miss Radivilovna.”
Anna tried not to smile. “The window, Mr. Gordon.”
“Artemus, I think I was followed this afternoon. There was a man – an odd sort of person with bushy whiskers – wearing a uniform I did not recognize. It didn’t look quite military, nor did it look like what you see police or other civic authorities wearing. I must have walked five miles or more today, going from office to office, and I saw him four times.”
“What do you remember specifically about the uniform?”
“Sort of a charcoal gray, unusually long jacket, epaulets, silver buttons.”
Artie thought about the uniforms he’d seen in the guest house. They seemed to come in three styles, but one, he remembered, had longish jackets. The colors were dark, but had not been enough light in the room for him to make out actual shades. “How close did he come to you?” he asked with concern.
“Maybe... ten yards or so.”
“Sounds like one of them. Did you find anything out about the properties?”
“Mladepovich owns both, he has for about two years or so.. I’m guessing he raised quite a bit of money before he showed up in this country. The people he bought them from are now deceased.”
“How convenient for him,” Artie said with frustration.
“And how did things go for you?”
“Fine, up to the point where I realized I too had been followed. Somebody trying to get copies of our photographs.”
“I don’t know.” He didn’t want to mention that it was one of the hotel’s bellmen. He didn’t want to scare her. Anyway, Frankie seemed like a coward – the type who entertained himself by intimidating other people, although the only thing truly intimidating about him was his smell.
Just then, a draft blew out the candles. Artie searched his pockets for his match safe and came up empty. He’d always had it on him, but now – had he accidentally left it in the telegraph room? What an awful thought. It wasn’t an expensive item by any means, but it was engraved “To Artemus Gordon with Gratitude,” and had been a gift from Jim after the Pistoleros incident. Should Mladepovich or one of his people find it, they’d be sure to put two and two together. And there was no point in going back for it – it would be too dark to find it at night, and he couldn’t risk going back in the daytime.
“Lose something?” Anna asked.
Artie shrugged in reply. He couldn’t give voice to the reply in his mind, which was “the game, maybe.”
* * *
Mladepovich was deep in thought. Was this following Edviva even worth it, as Tereschevsky had insisted? All because Edviva had suddenly disappeared from that foolish vodka party? Yes, the next day he noticed his telegrams had gone missing, and now they were back, but that probably had nothing to do with Edviva – they might have just blown off the equipment. But it was odd. Then somebody comes from the manufacturer of the refrigeration system claiming to be a technician, and the telegraph system – a five thousand dollar telegraph system – is irretrievably broken, and the engineer on his staff says that it was broken on purpose – not just because the refrigeration unit was turned off. And then a match safe with the name “To Artemus Gordon with Gratitude” is found in the telegraph room. To cap it all off, Ivanovich claims a secret source told him that this Artemus Gordon and Timofei Edviva are one and the same, and that he is a government agent.
The fête would be in two days – maybe he could ask Edviva point-blank Or maybe he could flush out this secret source.
* * *
Although Anna said they should meet with Mladepovich twice before the fête, both she and Artie were too busy researching manifests of ships that might have brought his supporters and troops over from Russia. The idea was to construct lists of names, and foward them to Washington for further research. It was dull, time-consuming work, so much so that both actually looked forward to the fête, which promised to be interesting.
For the fête, which was a white-tie event, Anna decided to pull out the stops, wearing an extremely low-cut white duchess satin ballgown, faux diamond tiara and bracelets.
“Anna, you look like a dream,” Artie marveled.
“So do you, sweetheart, so do you.” Artemus was so very handsome – what a pleasure this mission has been, Anna thought.
Coming down the grand staircase at the hotel, they nearly stopped traffic – such an attractive couple, so beautifully dressed. The evening was warm, so it was pleasant to ride in an open carriage.
“Do you often get these types of assignments? Hobnobbing with the wealthy and criminal?” Anna asked. She’d done similar work in Europe, but most of what she did in the United States was conducted in far humbler circumstances.
“Sometimes, but mostly we work out in the snakebite belt.”
Anna laughed and reached for his hand. “Part of me wants to be working on this assignment forever. I know I’ll miss you something awful when it’s over.”
Artie kissed her hand, then held it to his chest. “You feel that?”
“Yes – goodness, you’ve got a very strong heartbeat.”
“Well, if you were to wander off when the mission is over, it might get lazy and careless. So I really need you to hang around. For my health, of course.”
“Oh, if it’s for your health, I’ll consider it,” she smiled.
Artie leaned over and gave her a passionate kiss. “Anna, I’m serious. I adore you.”
She nestled closer to him and sighed. “Oh, how dear you are, Mr. Gordon," she smiled. "But we’re both of us employed by a concern for whom the condition of one's heart is – at best – a secondary consideration.”
“You wouldn’t want to quit and just make love all day?”
“Would you? How would we eat?” she laughed.
“Eating is overrated -- I know, I’ve done it all my life. I’m up for something a little more...” He paused to take a nip out of her earlobe. “...a little more exciting.”
Anna wrapped her arms around his waist, and rested her head on his shoulder. “Whatever happens, you’ll always be in my heart, and I hope I’ll always be in yours–“
“Oh, yes – no doubt about that.”
For the rest of the ride no words passed between them. Funny. He’d fallen in love, or at least became infatuated more times than he’d had hot dinners, but he’d never been even remotely as happy as he was in Anna’s company.
Outside of Mladepovich’s mansion was a line of hansom cabs and fancy carriages of every description from which issued men and couples attired in the most expensive clothes to be had in St. Petersburg and Moscow.
“Let’s be shocking,” Artie proposed as he stroked Anna’s breasts.
Anna was getting that woozy feeling again. “Oh, my...”
Under his palm, he could feel her heart beating faster. “With your permission, miss.” Artie buried his head in her cleavage, then moved upward, planting kisses all over her bare skin, finally settling on her lips. The group mingling outside, enjoying the warm evening before going into the party, watched in horrified fascination. This behavior was simply not acceptable in polite society – not in Russia, not elsewhere. The consensus was that the man was either drunk or an idiot, or both. Either assessment fit Artie’s modus operandi.
Under the porte-cochere, he and Anna alit from the carriage just as the uniformed footman appeared at the door. Once inside, all the attendees were announced – in Russian - before taking their place at the dining table. Artie and Anna were the last announced; the address translated as “Timofei Edviva and lady.” At the head of the table, Mladepovich clapped, but most of his guests were looking at the couple with greater or lesser degrees of hostility.
“Ladies, gentleman, tonight we honor our brother, Timofei Edviva, who has promised to make plans for Alaska reality. Mr. Edviva born in this country, yet understands best hope for future of United States of America is under flag of Russia.” This opening comment was also translated into Russian by Tereschevsky “And you, my friends, who will underwrite the takeover of this land from the Pacific to the Atlantic, as your leader, and soon to be your tsar, I salute you. Mr. Edviva, you would like to address us?”
Artie rose smiling. “Unfortunately, as a son of Russia who had the misfortune to grow up in this backward wilderness of a nation, populated and governed by barbarians, I cannot yet speak the Russian language. For those of you who do understand English, I say this, “Long live Mladepovich!”
He sat and dinner was served. In the middle of the second course, Ivanovich approached Anna with a bottle of wine in one hand, and a full glass in the other. “Mladepovich offers French lady special Russian wine – he desires to promote Russian wine, would like French lady’s opinion.”
Anna behaved as if she hadn’t understood, so Artie relayed the message in French. “Merci,” said Anna as she took the glass enthusiastically, “please to thank Monsieur Mladepovich.” The wine had a odd scent and the taste was very fruity, not unlike tokay, but more like something added to make a bitter-tasting medicine palatable. In her opinion, the Russian wine industry had a very long way to go.
“Mr. Edviva, would you like to try some?”
Ivanovich returned with an empty glass, and allowed Artie to fill it himself from the bottle. It wasn’t the worst wine he’d ever had, but it sure needed work. From there Ivanovich offered it to the other guests, some of whom partook, others who stayed with the French wine that had been provided. In spite of his antipathy for the French people, Mladepovich was dearly fond of French wine.
After dinner, there were a number of toasts, all very predictable, followed by dancing in the ballroom. As the guests of honor, Artie was permitted on the dance floor first, but rather than Anna, one of the guests had pushed his wife into Artie’s arms. Anna stood alone watching, fanning herself. The dance seemed to go on forever, so Anna decided to look around. After peeking into all the rooms on the first floor, she found herself near the portico, where Ivanovich was smoking with another man, who was only visible in outline. He must have been American; Ivanovich was speaking to him in English.
“San Francisco – whole city? Can blow up whole city?” Ivanovich asked incredulously.
“Sure,” his companion replied.
“But not this house. Is nice house.”
“Yeah, this could be spared – I might like it for myself.”
At that Ivanovich laughed, but his friend didn’t join in “Won’t be trouble with U. S. government?” he asked.
“Sure. But just blow them up. Blow up, blow up, blow up. It’s easy if you know what you’re doing.”
“Maybe a week, depends. I have to go, my job is done here for tonight.”
“Yeah, awright bub.”
Anna backed into the hallway, and ran to the ballroom. Artie was scanning the crowd for her, and when she finally ran into his arms, he breathed a sigh of relief. “Where were you?”
“En tournée. La maison est très belle..”
Just at that moment, Mladepovich approached them. “Mr. Edviva, you don’t dance with French lady friend?”
“Well, all these Russian lovelies... but, well – Arnaude, may I lead you in a waltz, or two?”
Anna was panicked, but since she realized there wasn’t much she could do that moment, she fell into Artie’s arms, while smiling at Mladepovich.
“Enjoying yourself, Arnaude?” Artie asked.
“Oui, mon couer.” She began to nip at his earlobe, which cause the witnesses to move away in disgust. As soon as they were far enough, she whispered, “We’ve got to leave as soon as possible.”
”Give me four more waltzes. I think the fact that I disappeared from the party the other night bothered Mr. M.”
“Alright, then.” After awhile, one dance seemed to run into the next, and it began to feel stifling in the ballroom. By the fourth waltz, Anna was very dizzy and began feeling a bit nauseous.
“Darling, can we go now?” Alas, Mladepovich was back.
“French lady dance well. May I?”
The last thing Anna wanted to do was to continue dancing, especially with Mladepovich, who stunk of cigars. But if it would reflect well on Artie/Edviva, she had no choice.
As Mladepovich spun her around the floor, he began to speak to her in Russian. She pasted a smile on her face, and tried to play tipsy and, of course, uncomprehending. What Mladepovich was telling her was even more troubling than what she’d heard from the portico. His Muscovite accent was very thick, but what she made of it was that Mladepovich had his suspicious about Edviva, there was talk that he wasn’t who he said he was and, if that were true, it would be his pleasure to personally tear him limb from limb. Or maybe hand him over to a Mr. Warriner, to test explosives on him. The entire time this speech was uttered, Mladepovich grinned at her. Just before the dance was over, Anna fainted.
Everything came to a stop, and once more the crowd backed away from her as if she were a leper. Artie ran and picked her up, speaking to her in French. To Mladepovich, who stood by, still with a ghost of a grin on his face, he offered apologies. “So, sorry, tovarich, I told her to go easy on the vodka – you know how weak the French are.”
Mladepovich signaled on of the attendants to bring water, then led Artie, carrying Anna, out to the sitting room, where Anna was placed on one of the sofas. She revived, whispering, “Merci” when the water was offered to her.
Mladepovich stood by, a concerned look on his face. “French lady feeling better?”
“Oui, monsieur.” Then, appealing to Artie, she said, “Timofei, si’l te plait, return me to hotel, mon amour. I wish not to spoil the party.”
“With your permission, sir,” Artie said.
“Naturally,” said Mladepovich. “You will come back to the party, I hope.”
“Yes, of course.”
“Very well, then.” replied Mladepovich, who then walked out in the direction of the ballroom.
“Darling, are you alright?”
Anna wasn’t sure what to answer. “Please... the hotel.”
Artie moved to pick her up, but she said, “I can walk” However, as soon as she got up, she felt horribly nauseous and so she sank again onto the sofa. “Well, perhaps not” she said with a wan smile.
Once in the carriage, Artie nestled as close as he could to her. “That was very clever.”
“What was?” she asked.
“The fainting – you said we needed to talk, and I’m guessing whatever it is, we couldn’t talk about it there.”
“Yes,” Anna said uncertainty as she looked away. She was feeling feverish and the heat from Artie’s body was just making her feel worse. .
“You did do it on purpose, right?”
Anna struggled with what to say, but she realized sooner or later he’d know, so she told the truth. “Artemus, I believe I’ve been poisoned. “
SS 1st assignment - desk job
Posted - 12/23/2008 : 17:36:57
| Chapter 7
Artie was horrified, most of all over his own insensitivity. Had he paid a little more attention, he would have seen something was wrong.
“For now, let’s just talk. When the dancing started, I heard Ivanovich and another man – an American this time – talk about bombing the city – the entire city – of San Francisco. “
“Good God, how is that even possible?”
“I don’t know, but the person he was speaking to seemed confident that it could be done.”
Artie whistled and shook his head.
“But something worse,” Anna continued. “Mladepovich suspects that you’re not Timofei Edviva.”
“How do you know?”
“Oh, he went on and on in Russian when we were dancing – I guess it amused him, thinking that he could say these things, and I wouldn’t understand.”
Artie shook his head again. How was he going to take care of Anna, while keeping Mladepovich in the dark, and tracking Warriner down before it was too late? Right or wrong, Anna’s well-being was his first priority. “How do you think they poisoned you?” As soon as the words left his mouth he remembered the wine. “Oh, no...
“If you’re about to say ‘the wine,’ you’re right. I can’t believe I fell for it – what was I thinking?”
“I should have–“
“No, Artemus, I should have known – don’t you dare blame yourself. In these situations I know never to take anything – food, water, anything – that are in anyway different or from a different source from the people around me. Stupidly, I drank what was handed to me, and everyone else drank from the bottle.”
“Including me,” Artie replied in a pained voice.
“Artemus, if you intend to blame yourself for this, I promise you I’ll never speak to you again. I am not some helpless female – I've done this work for fifteen years, and I just made a very stupid mistake. Please recognize that. Please,” she said as she reached for his hand. “It – well, it could just be accidental food poisoning – there wouldn’t be much reason for Mladepovich to kill his cash cow’s honey.”
“That’s true.” Not knowing what else to do, Artie attempted to embrace her.
“Darling, I’m a little too warm at the moment – would you mind?”
“Oh, I’m so sorry, sweet.” He placed his hand on her forehead, then quickly dropped it. She was burning up.
“Don’t apologize. I applaud your intent,” she smiled.
Artie returned her smile. “When was the last time I told you I love you?”
“Oh, it’s been hours.”
“I love you. I adore you. I worship the ground you walk on. I worship your little feet that walk on the ground. I think you’re the most beautiful, delectable–“
“Delectable, goodness,” she laughed.
“Yes, delectable – where was I? Delectable, charming, brilliant thing I’ve ever laid eyes on.”
“And you're all of those things, and then some. And quite a lover, Mr. Gordon.”
With that, he grinned and kissed her hand.
Once at the hotel, Artie carried her to their suite and laid her on the bed. She looked so lovely in that gown. He reached over to straighten her tiara. “I’ll be right back with a doctor..”
“Can you help me out of this dress first?”
“Avec plaisir, mon amour.”
Once she was out of the dress and in a nightgown, Artie kissed her and left. As he approached the rising room, the doors opened and Frankie, smoking a cigar, got off. “Going out without your whore? Whatja get tired of her?”
Artie raised a fist, intending to deliver another haymaker.
“Hey, bub, I wouldn’t try that – I was a little loaded last time, but now I’m stone cold sober, and not somebody you want to tangle with, yeah.”
In a rage, Artie pinned him to the wall. “Why were you attempting to buy our photographs?”
“‘cause I think you’re pretty,” Frankie replied acidly.
“You know, it would be the easiest thing in the world right now to crush your trachea, and I would do it with great pleasure..”
Frankie saw that he meant it. “Hey, buddy, sorry!”
Reluctantly, Artie relented. “Come tomorrow, you will no longer have a job,” he threatened before the doors closed.
Frankie just laughed and shook his head as he rushed to the suite door, and opened it with the pass key. He walked silently to the bedroom – fortunately Anna was sleeping, so it would be easier to chloroform her. He succeeded without a struggle, and carried her to the rising room, leaving from the hotel basement, and then outside into a waiting carriage.
An hour later, Artie returned with the house doctor. Oddly, she was not in bed. “Anna, sweetheart, we’re – Anna? Anna!“ Where was she??
The doctor seemed unconcerned as he headed for the door. “Sir, if she comes back, you know where to find me.”
Artie dropped onto the bed, wondering what had happened. Then he noticed on the floor a handkerchief which, when he picked it up, reeked of chloroform. He got up and ran to the rising room, and from there, to the front desk.
“Sir, did someone leave recently with a lady – tall, slender, dark hair? He may have been carrying her.”
The night clerk looked up. “Leave? No, sir. Would you like me to keep an eye out?”
“Yes. Her name is An– Arnaude DeRouisseau, but she answers to Anna as well. If you see her, please speak to her and let her know Timofei should be back shortly. Also, please, if she is with someone, get that person’s name. And if you could commit to memory what he looks like, I’d be grateful.”
* * *
Anna awoke in a darkened room, watched by a man smoking in the corner. When he saw her eyes open, he came closer. It was Warriner, dressed in a bellman’s uniform.
“How’s Anna this evening?”
Anna did not reply – it was pointless to make the effort, considering how ill she felt and how she desperately needed to focus on finding a way out.
“Didn’t expect to see me yet, yeah? Funny, I thought you’d have noticed me at the hotel. Your friend Artemus sure did,” Warriner said as he rubbed his jaw. “Got a good right arm on him. But I guess that’s not the appendage you’re interested in, yeah?”
Anna remained silent.
“Cat got your tongue, yeah? Or maybe too much poison in your drink – I tried to measure it out just right, but maybe my hand shook -- I get the DT’s now and again. I’m disappointed, though – I thought you’d want to talk. Especially since we’re now coming to the end of our long association. Before I decided to get into the explosives game, I had a lotta stuff left over from my chemistry days. I thought you’d be a good prospect for getting rid of it. And, if my calculations are correct, Mr. Gordon should be measuring you for a shroud some time within the next thirty-six hours. Unfortunately, I probably won’t be around to witness it – gotta get myself cleaned up so I can present myself to Mr. Mladepovich as Francis E. Warriner, bomber extraordinaire.”
Anna continued to stare at him. The room was windowless and smelled somewhat musty. It must have been a basement. There was also a strong smell of gunpowder.
“No questions, no questions at all?”
“Where am I?”
“On your way to meet your Maker. Any other questions?”
“Two: how have you been able to keep track of me all this time? And, do you really think you’re going to get away with this?”
Warriner picked up a chair and sat next to the army cot on which she lay. “Let me answer in reverse order, yeah? The second question, my answer is a resounding yes. You are going to die – even as we speak your body is becoming less and less able to process oxygen. Mladepovich is gonna get what he wants, and your gentleman friend should follow you into the great beyond probably within the week. I’m not sure how I’m gonna do him in – maybe try out some new bombs, or maybe I’ll let Mladepovich come up with something. He’s a tough nut, that Russki. I gave Ivy proof that Gordon’s not this Edviva, but Mladepovich doesn’t seem to want to believe it. Now he’s got this match safe with Gordon’s name on it, I think his resistance is breaking down. ”
Anna closed her eyes. The thought of Artemus being killed....
“Your first question – now this surprises me, considering you’re not as dumb as the average woman. I’ve done my share of raping and pillaging, so I have a considerable bank account, yeah? And a great brain – couldn’t get into any university, but that didn’t stop me from my scientific pursuits, yeah? A certain Mrs. White knows this, and then she gets it in her head to blow the whistle on me. Problem is Mrs. White is one of those moral types – can’t be bought at any price. See, that’s unfortunate – if she were a little more realistic she wouldn’t be here dying alone on a dirty cot in the basement of an old flophouse. Anyway, sharp she is, but naive. Lotsa war vets no longer employable due to war wounds – at least they can be paid to watch a certain lady. And telegraph operators – I bet you didn’t know the average telegraph operator earns about twenty dollars a month. I pay a little better, two hundred dollars a month if I’m given copies of every telegram that this Mrs. White sends or receives. Including the ones that name – or rename – Artemus Gordon as Timofei Edviva.”
“Oh, where are my manners? – that telegram you sent me earlier this week. See, it was just re-routed – I only received it today, since I’ve already been working at the Palace for about three weeks now, in anticipation of your arrival.”
* * *
Artie was back at the mansion, this time with his shoulder holster on. He was met at the door by Mladepovich. “French lady alright?”
“Good, then come in. So many ladies to dance with..”
“First, I wonder if I can talk to Mr. Ivanovich. I did so enjoy that Russian wine, I’d like to know more about it.”
Mladepovich was puzzled. “Russian wine? Russian wine is vodka!”
“He brought around a bottle of a fruity-tasting red wine – it wasn’t Russian?”
“Mr. Edviva, all things Russian not good, only most things. Russian wine worse than worst thing.”
“Well, I must know where he got that wine. Can you tell me where I can find him?” Artie persisted.
“Ivanovich only here to serve dinner. He’s gone now. “
“Gone where? Gone home?”
“I don’t know. Maybe. What does it matter, we’ve music and dancing and vodka, and glorious future?”
“Is there any place else he might likely be? Please, sir – I am a wine enthusiast of the highest order and, although you have your own ideas of Russian wine, whatever it was he served was pure nectar. I simply must find out how to get more.”
“Maybe saloon near guest house - Mermaid’s Tail, he’s there often. But that’s for later. Now sing, dance, be merry.”
Artie went back into the party and danced with a number of women who, speaking to him in Russian, propositioned him, often with a dig at Anna.. He remained smiling, but kept saying over and over, “Sorry, dear, I don’t speak Russian.” Those who knew enough English to understand that either switched to English or French. Had he not been on duty – and in love – he’d could have had an assignation with a different Russian woman – all of them married – every day for the following two weeks.
After about an hour, he approached Mladepovich. “Tovarich, I’m so tired and my lover is so demanding, and .. Well, I’m sure you know.”
Mladepovich knitted his bushy eyebrows. “Before you go, may we sit and talk?”
Mladepovich put his arm around Artie’s shoulder, and lead him to his library. Mladepovich indicated the two oxblood leather wing chairs near the fireplace. He took one; Artie, the other.
“Do you know Artemus Gordon?”
“What’s an artemusgordon?” Artie asked. “Is that like a jereboam?”
“Is person. Is person Ivanovich says you are. Has friend who claims this is so.”
“Of all the cockamamie names --‘Artemus?’ Must be a joke,” Artie chuckled.
“He says no joke. Is government agent working to stop foundation of my empire.”
Artie laughed bitterly. “No one in their right mind, if they understood what you’re working toward, would attempt to stop it. And the government – the U. S. government? – too stupid to understand anything.”
“True, but am expecting proof that you are this person, not Timofei Edviva,” Mladepovich said calmly. “I hope, friend, that you are not. For your sake.”
“I am confident that whoever it is who is attempting to libel me, will be proven to be an enemy of yours.”
“Good. Now other news. Mr. Warriner will arrive in two days. Would like you to meet with him and myself.”
“Yes, indeed, tovarich,” Artie said as he rose. “And thank you again for your hospitality. Miss DeRouisseau and I had a wonderful time.”
* * *
Artie walked the mile-and-a-half to the guest house. The Mermaid’s Tail was at the end of the block. As he had hoped, Ivanovich was at the bar. Approaching him from behind, Artie put the business end of his revolver against Ivanovich’s spine. “Mr. Ivanovich, would you like to come outside and talk?”
“Indeed, sir” Ivanovich had no idea who was holding the gun. It didn’t matter.
They left the bar with Artie still pointing the gun at Ivanovich’s back. None of the rest of the crowd at “the Mermaid” seemed to notice; gunplay was a nightly event.
Out on the cobblestone street, Artie pushed Ivanovich into a street lamp and ordered him to turn around.
“My sister is sick,” Artie said coolly.
“Am sorry to hear, sir.” Why was Mr. Edviva holding a gun to him, if only because his sister was sick? Was he mad?
“Not as sorry as you’re going to be. Who put you up to it?”
“The wine – who put you up to serving her poisoned wine?”
“Wine poisoned?” Ivanovich noted the malevolence in Artie’s stare and in his terror, he began to shake.
“You didn’t know?”
“No, sir. No, sir! Frankie, he wanted to come along tonight, help in kitchen. He said give glass of wine to French lady, Russian wine.”
“You knew nothing of poison?” growled Artie. “Swear to me – if I find out you’re lying, I won’t hesitate to kill you.”
“Sir, please – am telling truth, all truth! Frankie is very –“ Panicked, Ivanovich struggled to find an appropriate English word. “Is bad man... is...is violent man! “At last the right word turned up. “Starts fights with weak people. Very bad.”
“Where can I find him?”
“I don’t know. Today was last day at hotel. He gave only two days notice.”
“Did he have any hangouts?”
Ivanovich thought a moment. There was that flophouse in the Tenderloin he liked to go to, so he could beat up drunks. “Is rooming house, Sixth and Market Street. He goes there. I don’t know where he lives.”
Artie put the gun back in its holster and walked away without another word. It was late, he was tired, but Anna was missing, so he slogged on. The flophouse was, for the most part, empty according to the desk clerk. Men fitting Frankie’s description – middle-aged, unkempt, jaundiced – were in and out at all hours. “They all look alike to me, pal,” the clerk said. He did not offer the information that someone fitting that description had signed a one-month lease on a basement room the week before.
With only dead ends, Artie returned to the Palace. The empty room was cold – a sad reminder that Anna was missing.
The following day was another litany of frustration. Hotel management didn’t know where Frankie had gone, and the address he’d given them upon taking the job turned out to be non-existent. Ivanovich shook when ever Artie passed by the front desk, but Artie had already removed him from consideration. He visited every flophouse in the Tenderloin, but either nobody remembered him or they remembered dozens of men who fit his description. Upon his return to the Palace, Cornelius gave him two telegrams – one from Jim, the other from Mladepovich.
The one from Jim was very heartening. The communication cutoff resulting from the destruction of Mladepovich’s telegraph system left his troops scrambling like confused roaches. Another forty had been brought in, and there was no sign that any, other than stragglers, remained at large. Mladepovich’s telegram was an invitation to have lunch with him and Warriner at an estate outside of the city the following day.
* * *
Prior to leaving for the luncheon, Artie planted weapons all over his person – his gun, smoke bombs, knives, acids in vials so tiny he could fit nearly ten in his breast pocket. The carriage arrived at the estate at eleven a.m. It appeared to have been long neglected – strange that Mladepovich would have scheduled their meeting in such a place.
He was met by Mladepovich on the porch and ushered into the dining room where sat Frankie, well-dressed, clean-shaven and without his usual stink.
“Mr. Edviva, I would like to introduce Mr. Francis E. Warriner. Is demolitions specialist, as previously mentioned.”
Artie extended his hand. “I believe we’ve met, sir.”
“Yes, I believe we have, Mr. Gor–... Mr. Edviva.”
“Let’s commence then,” said Mladepovich, snapping his fingers at the footman who stood by a cart on which sat bowls of beet salad and mushrooms in sour cream, plates of red caviar sandwiches, and apple vareniki. “Following our meal, I have scheduled light entertainment.”
“How nice,” Artie deadpanned.
The conversation that followed centered on Mladepovich’s immediate plans: restore the telegraph system, appoint his supporters to positions supporting the imminent take-over of the West Coast, perhaps consider Mr. Warriner’s suggestion that bombing large swaths of San Francisco might serve notice to the U. S. Government that he was in earnest and not to be trifled with.
Artie applauded every suggestion, until it came to the bombing of San Francisco. “How could this be achieved? To effectively plan such an operation –“
“Mr. Edviva, plans are complete,” Warriner said with a sickly grin. All I have to do is enlist some of my associates to set off my bombs at the right time.”
“And your associates are?”
“A number of gentleman who, you may say, have seen better days. For the promise of a few bottles of rotgut, they make the very best employees. I’m hoping to kill at least two or three thousand people on the first day, and badly injure a few thousand more,” he said, with his eyes shining with excitement.
“Sounds like fun. But don’t you think the government will come down rather hard on you and on Mr. Mladepovich?”
“Bomb them as they come off the trains! Bomb them on horseback, bomb them on foot! After a few tastes of it, they’ll turn tail and run back eastward. I have no doubt of this. The golden west, littered with dead and bleeding bodies – what a thing to look forward to!”
The meal was over, and glasses of port were offered. Smelling his glass before taking a sip, Artie asked, “So what is our entertainment going to be?”
Mladepovich laughed heartily. “You, Mr. Edviva – or Mr. Gordon, whichever you prefer – you are going to be entertainment.”
* * *
Artie’s hands were tied behind his back, shackles clanged from his ankles. Mladepovich walked along his left side, Warriner on his right.
“I purchased estate for – how do Americans say it? – ah, for song. Purchased for song. Will use to test bombs. Then maybe rebuild, make summer palace here.”
Artie was led to one of the outbuildings, with double doors facing the house, and a single door on the opposite end of the building. Probably it originally held the larger farm equipment.
The double doors were opened and Artie was pushed to the dirt floor.
“I’m going to blow up the entire building with a single charge of my new design.” Warriner showed him a small box, no bigger than a deck of cards. “Now, you might not blow up with it, but any injuries you sustain will probably kill you shortly after. I’m very proud of this innovation – we can now carry hugely effective bombs just in our pockets! In a few days we’ll place these all over San Francisco, kill at least two, three thousand people, maybe five thousand, thousands more injured. Blood everywhere,” he said, his eyes shining.
“Congratulations,” said Artie dryly. “One day you’ll be up there with Gutenberg and Ben Franklin.”
Warriner gave him a swift cuff across his face, which set Artie’s nose and mouth bleeding. “I’ve waited to repay you. And maybe – if you survive the explosion – I’ll really enjoy myself by beating you to death.”
“You know, that doesn’t really sound enjoyable to me.”
“Be assured, it won’t be” Warriner laughed, with Mladepovich joining in.
Just then, Tereschevsky ran to them. “Ivanovich is here with news. Bad news. Hurry!”
Mladepovich ran in the direction of the house, calling behind him, “Wait to explode when I come back!”
“Wait? I don’t want to wait, yeah. But I suppose I could beat you to death now, eh, Mr. Gordon? I hate to waste time.” Warriner said with a grin, while he looked around the building for a two-by-four or something similar.
Artie was sure he could get out of this somehow. Luckily, the only thing in this building was the dirt floor. Warriner was disappointed, “I guess I have no choice but to wait, then.”
“While we’re waiting, why don’t you tell me where Mrs. White is?”
“‘Mrs. White?’ How gentlemanly. Well, Anna’s dying or maybe dead already – I'm not sure, but it's definitely one or the other.”
“Where is she?” Artie persisted.
“What do you care – you’ll never see her again.’
“Where is she??” Artie roared.
“I won’t say. I can’t hurt you physically – I really want to see what you look like after the bomb goes off – but I can hurt you mentally. It’s not as much fun, but it’ll do for now.”
Tereschevsky peeked through the double doors. “Mr. Warriner, leader must talk to you. Many problems.” Warriner left, and Artie hoped Mladepovich could hold his attention for at least ten minutes.
Warriner left the building and locked the double doors behind him. As soon as he was gone, Artie tried to raise his jacket so he could get to the breast pocket. He was successful, and was able to get the case out of the pocket with his teeth With his teeth he also opened the case, and ten vials of acid rolled onto the ground. He picked up one, again with his teeth, and dropped it in the center of the shackles. He then took the case in his mouth and shattered the vial with it. Within a few seconds the acid ate the metal and his legs were free.
Next he did the same with another vial, trying to get it to rest on the center of the rope tying his hands. This was far trickier, since he could only feel, but not see what he was doing – his hands were still behind his back. He’d have to break the vial by crushing it somehow with his hands, and move them away quickly enough so the acid wouldn’t burn them. After sending up a brief prayer, Artie succeeded on the first attempt, and his hands were free. As quickly as he could, he collected all the vials but one, put them back in the case and the case back into his pocket. That last vial he used on the backdoor lock.
He could hear Mladepovich talking now, something about fresh recruits sent up the coast in a fishing boat and the boat capsizing with all lost, and then something about an escapee from Vancouver who claimed that since commucations had ceased, the remaining troops ran about like frightened cockroaches, and ultimately were seized. Warriner spoke up and said he was ready to test his bomb.
Artie scrambled out of the back door and crawled as fast as he could in the high grass. When he was about twenty feet from the building, it blew up, covering him in sawdust and rubble, but not injuring him. He reached into his jacket and took out one of the knives and stopped moving. Eventually Warriner would want to see if he were in one piece and killable or not.
After picking through the mess on the site where stood the building, Warriner started rooting through the bordering area. When he came close enough, Artie reached out and buried the knife into his ankle. Warriner fell screaming. Artie shot up out of the rubble and kicked him in the side, then sat on his chest, holding another knife to his throat.
“Where is Anna?” Artie asked.
“Not gonna tell, you, yeah.” Warriner said through clenched teeth.
“Let me explain cause and effect to you.” Artie said in an eerily calm voice. “Cause: you don’t tell me the truth as to where she is. Effect: I slice your throat from ear to ear.”
Warriner replied by leering at him. Artie ran the knife for a few inches below Warriner’s left ear, deep enough to draw blood.
“You talk or I finish the job.” Warriner didn’t respond, so Artie reached back to the knife still protruding from his ankle and jiggled it a bit. Warriner screamed again.
“I tell you where she is, you have to let me go.”
“Now we’re getting somewhere. Where is she?”
“You promise –!
“Sure, promise. I don’t care what happens to San Francisco, I just want to get her and get the hell out of here.”
“Flophouse, Sixth and Market, in the basement.”
“Not good enough. I need proof.”
Warriner struggled to get his hand into his pocket. He pulled out a key with a plate dangling from the ring on which was engraved “Everick Smith Hotel, 6th & Market, S. F., Cal.” “You got your proof, now get off my chest.”
“Warriner, how many people have you killed in your life?”
“Not including the war? Two hundred and fifteen. You and Mrs. White were to be numbers 216 and 217, which is why I wanted the photographs. I like to have photographs in my records,” he said proudly.
“You know you’d get the death penalty if you were caught.”
“I won’t get caught,” Warriner said defiantly.
Artie laughed. “You are caught. And rather than take the time to submit you to the authorities, round up witnesses, hold a trial, I’ll hand the sentence down now: death.”
“I lied.” With that, Artie buried the knife in Warriner’s heart.
Artie got up and walked in the direction of the house. He was shocked to see Tereschevsky holding a bleeding and dying Mladepovich. Tereschevsky looked up at him and said, “Stood too close to exploding building. Is great tragedy – now persecuted Russians have no savior! No hope!”
Artie said nothing, and ran toward the carriage, yelling at the driver to take him back to the city as fast as he could.
An hour later he was at the front desk of the flophouse. “The basement – how do I get down there?”
The clerk looked up from the dime novel he was reading and cocked his head in the direction of a door next to the stairs.
* * *
Artie flew down the steps. The door to the room at the bottom of the stairs was open and he could see Anna lying on the cot. Her eyes were closed, her breathing was very labored. Rushing to her side, he checked her pulse, then embraced her in an attempt to listen to her heartbeat. The signs weren’t good.
As her eyes fluttered open, she broke into a smile. “Artemus,” she whispered. “You’re alright... I’m so glad. I was so worried about you... and here you are.”
Artie picked up her hand and kissed it humbly.
With great effort, she tried to lift her other hand to his cheek. Hot tears dropped onto her fingers. “What’s this – you’re not crying?”
“No, dearest, I’m not crying -- I’m too happy to see the woman I love.”
“Then smile for me.”
He held her hands in his and smiled warmly at her, until light went out of her green eyes, and her heartbeat ceased.
Almost immediately, the floodgates opened and his body was wracked with sobs. Soon, he was crying so hard he began to hyper-ventilate. With that, he attempted to calm himself. He’d have the rest of his life to cry.
* * *
The telegram to Jim had been all business. “Mladepovich, Warriner dead. Associates in custody. A. White resting. Visit Sept. 12 at 435 Union St. 10 a.m.” In the Service, to say that an agent was “resting” meant that he had been killed in the line of duty: “visit” meant funeral. When Artie met Jim and Colonel Richmond at the train station, he merely offered the facts. He couldn’t have told them of his feelings for her, first because it wasn’t seemly and secondly because he could not have done so without risking a sobbing fit.
Only Artie, Jim, and Colonel Richmond attended the service. Just before Jim and the Colonel arrived at the funeral parlor, Artie asked the undertaker for some time alone with her. She was dressed in the green dress she’d worn the day he met her – the dress she was wearing when she first told him about herself. She’d been so alive then. Artie tenderly stroked her face and kissed her forehead before clipping one of her curls for remembrance.
Although he didn’t realize the significance until much later, the first inkling Jim got was at the gravesite. When the parson finally closed the book, he and the Colonel walked to the waiting carriage, Artie bringing up the rear – at least that’s what Jim thought. As they got into the carriage, Artie seemed to be missing. Then Jim saw him standing at the grave, with his back to him. Jim noted that Artie’s shoulders seemed to be heaving, and when he finally did get to the carriage, his eyes were red.
In the coming weeks, Jim was puzzled about the changes in Artie. He never seemed to sleep, for one thing. Jim would wake in the middle of the night, disturbed by the light still burning in the hallway, and from there he’d see Artie at the dining table staring at photographs or reading a journal that didn’t look anything like his own. Something about his demeanor said that these were very private moments and Jim’s questions – or even presence – were extremely unwelcome. Artie’s eyes were almost always bloodshot. He’d stopped eating, and his clothes began to hang on him. He worked like an automaton, always very seriously, but seemingly without interest. Any attempt Jim made at non-work-related conversation was politely rebuffed.
Artie had been through rough times before – he’d been wounded and nearly given up for dead more times than Jim could remember. They’d lost colleagues before. Yet even in the worst situations, Artie retained his good humor and did whatever he could to keep despair at bay. But he was slowly turning into a person Jim did not recognize.
After several stops across the country in order to tie up loose ends from previous missions, the Wanderer arrived in Washington. Both men were invited to advise President Grant about an upcoming meeting with representatives of the Russian government. The day of the meeting, Grant was shocked by Gordon’s appearance.
“You’ve been ill, Gordon?”
Artie was surprised by the question, as he’d been somewhat oblivious to the changes to his appearance. “No, sir.”
Grant was unconvinced. The man had lost at least twenty-five pounds since he’d last seen him, his face was deathly pale. Perhaps he was dying and attempting to hide it for fear of losing his job.
“Gordon, I’d like to speak to Jim alone for just a few minutes. Would you excuse us?”
“Certainly, sir.” Artie got up and left the office, and began to pace around the anteroom, while trying to figure out why the president would want to speak to Jim without himself being there.
“Jim, the truth: Is he ill?”
“Honestly, sir, I don’t know. He doesn’t eat or sleep, at least not that I know of. He hasn’t told me anything – he doesn’t want to talk about anything other than work. I’ve tried asking him, but he shuts me down every time.”
“How long has this been going on? I saw you both in early July, you remember. He looked fine then. And here we are at the beginning of November, and it’s not the same man.”
“It started right after we closed the Mladepovich case. At first I thought it might have been from the strain of the case – it’s always hard to lose a fellow agent – but now I don’t know. If he is ill, I don’t think he’s seen a doctor.”
“I could order a physical. Or I could ask him to take a leave of absence, to get his affairs in order, if... ” It was very painful to think that Gordon might be mortally ill. Grant had always been fond of him, and few in his employ had Gordon’s abilities and dedication.
“Jim, you know him better than anybody – what would you suggest?”
Jim shook his head. “I can only suggest that you let him decide, sir.”
“Alright then. West, go get him, then wait out there.”
“Yes, sir.” Jim beckoned Artie to come in, while he waited in the ante-room.
“Gordon, take a seat. Now, you tell me you’re not ill, and I guess I have to believe you – you’ve never lied to me. But your appearance says something very different, so I’d like to propose that you take some time off–“
“Sir, I couldn’t – there’s so much work to do.” Artie couldn’t believe this was happening – did he really look that bad?
“We’re none of us irreplaceable, Gordon. The work will get done. I don’t want to force you to take time off, I want it to be your choice. But, as you know, I do have the final word.”
“Yes, sir. I suppose I could take off a couple of days.”
“No, not a couple of days. I’m thinking a month, minimum,” Grant said with conviction.
Artie’s heart sank. To be idle and alone with his pain for a month would be pure torment. But if he resisted, Grant might decide for a longer stretch of time. “Yes, sir – a month, then.”
“Effective as of tomorrow morning, son.”
* * *
Artie returned to the Wanderer with a heavy heart. Jim and a few other associates had invited him out to dinner, but he begged off. Jim, in particular, looked disappointed. He was always looking disappointed nowadays, but there wasn’t much Artie could do about it. There was a raw wound and he didn’t dare expose it – it was painful enough as it was. He couldn’t sleep because he couldn’t bear to wake up and know that one more day separated him from her, and face the fact that, eventually, the days would turn into months and the months into years. Sometimes pure exhaustion would take over, but he never slept more than two or three hours. He had no appetite; the only time he ate anything was to get rid of the throbbing headache that would come after a few days without food.
He did feel bad for Jim, who’d have done anything for him without question. But Artie wasn’t ready to talk about it, and figured it was a real possibility he might not ever be ready. More than once, he’d considered sitting Jim down and explaining, but the fear of falling apart into a sobbing mess – it wasn’t worth the agony.
Jim returned from dinner several hours later. Artie was at what had become his usual spot – the dining table – where he was once more reading Anna’s journal. Although it was very late, and he was tired, Jim said, in a calm voice, “Artie, I need to talk to you.”
“It’s really to late too get into conversation, what with all you and I have to do tomorrow.”
“Yes, it is late. But I know that you’re not going to sleep anyway, and I can stay up a little longer.”
“Well, I have a few things I’d like to finish up.” Artie closed the journal, rose and headed to his room. Jim followed.
“Artie, President Grant thinks you may be dying. I’ve been aware of your transformation, but today I saw it through his eyes and I’m wondering the same thing. You do look very ill and...” Jim hesitated to go on – this was probably the hardest thing he’d ever had to say “...if that’s the case, I’m more than willing to help in any way I can.”
“No, I’m fine.”
“Artie, you’re not fine.”
“I’m fine, I told you.” Artie was starting to become angry.
“Artie, I went past your room today, and caught a glimpse of you putting on your shirt. I could count your ribs.”
“Why don’t you leave me alone?”
“Artie, look at yourself in the mirror. If I looked that bad, would you leave me alone?”
Artie felt cornered, and he regretted not heading to his room and closing the door the minute he heard Jim come in. After a few deep breaths, Artie said, “It’s late, I can’t talk now.”
“No, I can’t. I can’t.” He shook his head, and took another deep breath, silently praying Jim would leave before he lost control and started to cry. He pressed his palms over his eyes, but they was futile in holding back the torrent of tears.
“Artie! Please -- talk to me!”
Artie put his hand up and shook his head.
Jim thought a moment and, in those few seconds, the light finally went on. “You were in love with Anna,” he said quietly.
Artie nodded, his face still buried in his hands.
“I’m so sorry, Artie.”
“She... she saved my life. And I didn’t save her’s...” Artie sobbed bitterly.
“I’m sure you did your best, Artie,” Jim said patiently.
“My best – what good did it do?”
“You need some rest, friend. You can’t keep torturing yourself, or you will get sick. If she loved you, too – and I’m sure she did --, she wouldn’t want you to be in this condition.”
Artie remembered what she said she’d do if he blamed himself for her poisoning. “Alright, alright” Artie choked between sobs.
“I’m sorry, Artie.”
Artie nodded once more and Jim left. Artie stretched out on his bed and slept, fitfully, until morning.
* * *
Artie was awakened by the smell of fresh coffee. After dressing, he came into the parlor to see Jim eating breakfast.
“Artie, some eggs and sausage?”
“No, just coffee. I have to get going soon.”
“You can stay, you know – I don’t have to take the train out of Washington until the eleventh.”
“No, I – I really need to clear my head. I figure getting away might be a good first step.”
“Sure.” Jim was heartened by the hopeful sound in Artie’s voice. “Where are you going?”
“No place far, I’ll just kick around the area, maybe make a trip up to Annapolis. Anna, she... she had a house there.”
“Uh huh.” Jim wasn’t yet sure how to handle himself when her name came up.
“Listen, Jim – I gotta apologize –“
“No, you don’t.”
Artie raised his hand for Jim to stop. “I do. You didn’t deserve to be treated the way I was treating you.”
“It’s alright – now that I understand, I might have done the same thing.”
“You’re a great friend, one of the best I ever had” Artie said, his voice trailing off.
“You, too Artie – you, too.”
* * *
After a few weeks of wandering around Washington, seeing a few plays, making side trips to Alexandria and Norfolk, Artie took the train to Annapolis. During the Mladepovich debriefing, he’d caught a glance at her personnel file – her address was 435 Pinckney Street.
On a bright Saturday morning, warm for November, he walked up Pinckney Street and soon found himself at her front door. From the outside, he could see it was just as tiny as she said, but it was also very charming. There were a few purple asters still blooming in the window box. He was comforted to see something that she’d touched was still living.
He was about to try the doorknob when he noticed the door was slightly ajar. He pushed it lightly and it flew open. “Hello?”
No answer came.
The downstairs had only two rooms, a parlor and kitchen, both very simply and appealingly decorated. The windows were especially nice and the rooms were flooded with sunshine. Upstairs was a single bedroom, furnished with a writing table and a very large wardrobe cabinet. The bed was covered with a hand-crocheted spread. Artie noticed the wardrobe had a key in its lock. He turned it and as soon as the door opened Anna’s scent – honeys*ckle – came wafting out. Artie breathed it in deeply, then buried his face in her dresses, weeping, yet so happy to feel close to her.
“Hello? Somebody in here?”
Artie wiped his eyes and came downstairs. He was met by a well-dressed man carrying a clipboard.
“You’re the gentleman I was supposed to meet?”
“Uh, no. I’m a friend of the deceased.”
“I’m the executor of the estate, Morris Fearne.” the man said, extending his hand.
“Artemus Gordon, pleased to meet you.”
“There’s supposed to be somebody here today to look at the house, prospective buyer.”
“I’ll buy it,” Artie said impulsively.
“Sir? Do you know anything about the property, the asking price?”
“I said I’ll buy it.” Artie repeated.
“It’s twelve hundred dollars, and–“
“Give me your card, I’ll come to your office on Monday with a bank draft – full amount.”
“You’re not trying to toy with me, Mr. Gordon?” Fearne had been in the business for over thirty years, and nothing like this had ever happened.
“Absolutely not. What time does your office open on Monday?”
“Here, it’s on the card – eight-thirty.”
“I’ll be there. Here’s my card.”
“Secret Service, huh? Must be an interesting life.”
“Well, then – that’s that. See you on Monday, I’ll have all the paperwork drawn up” said Fearne, his face breaking into a smile.
“Good, see you then.” Both men shook hands, and Fearne left, still with a smile on his face. The guys in the office would love this story.
Artie returned to the bedroom to once again fill his lungs with the honeys*ckle scent. A sunny room smelling of Anna and honeys*ckle – he’d never been so sad and so happy at the same time. He began to feel a bit tired, so he laid down on her bed and looked out the window, the roofs of the neighboring buildings reflecting light into his eyes. He completely lost track of time, but the light had become a little too much – his eyes were began to burn, so he closed them for just a moment.
Suddenly he felt a warm presence. “Good morning, you handsome, adorable thing.”
There stood Anna in her green dress, her face radiant with happiness.
Artie felt as if his heart would jump out of his chest.
“I’d have come to you sooner, but you see, I do keep my promises. As long as you wallowed in guilt, I stayed away.”
“Artie, no one ever really dies,” she said soothingly. “We just move. Some day you’ll move from this house you’re now living in,” she said as she patted his chest, “to another house in another country.”
“More than neighbors, I hope.”
“Oh, yes, darling. Much more than neighbors. Much more,” she smiled. “May I give you this?” She handed him half of a mizpah token. “‘The Lord watch between me and thee, while we are absent one from the other.’ When you move, bring it with you.”
Anna began to kiss him, and she felt solid and warm in his arms. The kiss seemed to go on forever, he wanted it to go on forever. Then he opened his eyes. She was gone. It had only been a dream – a happy dream. Yet he looked down to see the the mizpah token in his palm.
* * *
The Wanderer pulled into Washington on a raw, rainy night in mid-December. Artie was scheduled to come back around eight p.m. and, on this depressingly cold night, Jim was wondering how he’d be.
From the platform, Artie came bounding into the car, his face ruddy and with at least ten pounds added to his frame. “Jim!” He quickly embraced his friend in a bear hug.
“How was your vacation?” Jim asked tentatively. He’d hoped Artie was better, but he wasn’t quite expecting this.
“Wonderful, wonderful! I’m now a property owner. Bought Anna’s house, a fine place for when I’m an old bachelor retiree. Saw a number of plays – let me tell you, the American theatre has really been negatively impacted by my absence from it. Had dinner with Jeremy – he’s in Richmond for the next six months, he sends his regards. Let’s see, what else? Oh, I had a tooth pulled – you know, that one way in the back that was bothering me? Spent a weekend with Charlie Cornwell – remember him? He tried to teach me golf – stupid game, but fine for the unathletic, I suppose. Um, I guess that’s about all. Wanna go out to dinner? ”
“That’d be nice.”
“So, how are you, Jim?” Artie asked.
“I could not be better – just couldn’t be better,” Jim said. His best friend was back.
SS 1st assignment - desk job
Posted - 12/23/2008 : 17:41:14
| The following is a translation of all the foreign words that appeared in the story:
Maman - Mama
Mardi - Tuesday
oui, mon cherie - yes, my dear
anniversaire - birthday
mon coeur - my heart
en Anglais - in English
naturellement - naturally
la société élevée - high society
enchanté - enchanted
mademoiselle - miss
Mon nom est Arnaude - My name is Arnaude
fille de joie - literally, “daughter of joy,” a euphemism for prostitute
Non - no
monsieur - mister
mon amour - my love
Les soeurs à l’école - the sisters (nuns) at school
en francais - in French
un thé dansant - a tea dance
avec moi - with me
tête-à-tête - literally, “head-to-head” – a face-to-face meeting
En tournée. La maison est très belle - on tour. The house is very beautiful.
si’l te plait - please; a more casual version of si’l vous plait
avec plaisir - with pleasure
miliy - sweet or sweetheart
Das svidaniya - goodbye
dacha - country house or villa
zetrudnayne - difficulty
gospodin - sir, lord or mister
Batuschka, ya vash slynak - Father, I am your son.
tovarich - comrad
da - yes
nyet - no
babushka - diminutive of grandmother or old woman
prazdnovanie - celebration
partiya - party
Bratyya! May na doroge k pobede! - Brothers! We are on the road to victory!