SS senior field agent
Posted - 03/16/2009 : 09:24:19
| Chapter Four
Jealousy feeds upon suspicion, and it turns into fury or it ends
as soon as we pass from suspicion to certainty.
Maxim 32 – François, Duc de la Rochefoucauld (1623-1680)
“Hi Jim!” Artie greeted jauntily as his grim-faced partner approached the table. He had to admit he was glad Ellen Collingwood was at the table with him. If being in a public place did not give Jim pause, the presence of Richmond’s former assistant might.
“Jim, you remember Miss Collingwood, don’t you? From the New Orleans job?”
Jim had been aware of the young woman peripherally, his attention centered on his partner. Now he turned. “Miss Collingwood, good to see you again.”
She smiled, holding out her hand. “Thank you, Mr. West. It’s been awhile.”
Holding his temper in check, Jim pulled out the chair opposite his partner’s and sat down. “Artemus…”
“Guess what, Jim? Ellen is engaged to be married. To Geoff Dunham, of all people.”
“Artemus!” Ellen chided. “You make it sound as though Geoff is some sort of… I don't know what. A… a prig!” She glared at him.
Artie laughed. “Not at all, Ellen. We’ve known Geoff for quite some time, and always thought that the Washington attorney was a confirmed bachelor. But if anyone could melt a bachelor’s hard heart, it’s you, my dear. And perhaps that means there’s hope for our James.”
Jim gave up, for the moment. He had had a speech all planned to give his partner hell, but had not expected Ellen Collingwood to still be with him. The tirade was going to have to wait until later. Artie and Ellen had not ordered yet either, so a few moments were spent perusing menus, then talking to the waiter.
Finally Jim asked, “What did you turn up today?”
“Absolutely nothing,” Artemus beamed.
“And why, if I dare ask, does that make you so happy?”
“Don’t you see?” Ellen spoke up. “We could not find any indication that Gerald Kingston actually indulged in speculating, only very limited investments.”
Jim’s brow knit. “Then the money…”
“Came from another source,” Artemus supplied smugly.
“Well, don’t keep me waiting. What source?”
Artie’s face fell. “That’s the problem. We don't know. Jim, we visited every bank, every broker we could find. None had any record that Gerald Kingston had ever dealt with them. Two banks had accounts where Kingston—and now Mrs. Kingston—have deposited funds.”
Jim West thought a moment. “Did you happen to get dates and amounts of those deposits, especially over the last two or three years?”
Artie blinked, and Ellen Collingwood gasped audibly. Artemus was the one who spoke. “Are you thinking those dates and amounts might coincide with murders? Blast it, Jim. I’m the one who is supposed to think of such things, not you!”
“The beating must have rattled your brains,” Jim replied, forbearing to smile, though he could not help but experience a little triumph that for once he had been the one doing the thinking.
“Artemus told me about the beautiful young widow,” Ellen spoke after the waiter served their soup. “Surely you don't think she’s involved in this… this murder-for-hire scheme.”
“I don't know,” Jim admitted. “Not for certain. I mean, I have to believe if her husband was involved, she knew about it. But whether she took over after he was killed… I don't know.” Yet the woman was different. Disconcerting. Her kiss today had been ardent, and tempting, as she tried to convince him to stay longer. He had told her he would try to return for that late supper, despite the length of the ride. At the time he had pretty much ruled such a journey out. Now…
“We can probably get a court order,” Artie was saying, “if the banks don’t want to turn over their records. But it occurs to me we need knowledge of murders that have occurred in the last year as well, to tie them to the widow.”
“Yeah. Lloyd is still working on that. That reminds me, where are the papers he gave you?”
“Oh, I put them in my room. We can go over them later. Ellen has to leave after dinner. The report she is supposed to pick up is finally ready.”
“And I’m catching an evening train,” Ellen Collingwood smiled. “It will be nice to get back to Washington.”
“And Geoff,” Jim teased. She sparkled, but Jim noticed the scowl on his partner’s face. “Give him my best. He’s a lucky man.”
They did not talk business during the remainder of the meal, discussing instead mutual acquaintances and reminiscing about the affair of the deranged opera singer they had encountered in New Orleans. Miss Collingwood had played a very courageous, and dangerous, part in that business. She had also spent a great deal of time in the company of Artemus Gordon, both during the investigation and afterwards, until all were summoned elsewhere by duty.
The dinner completed, Jim and Artie escorted Ellen Collingwood out to find a hack that would take her to the office building where she was to pick up the papers to deliver to Washington. Then the two men reentered the hotel. Jim did not speak until they were in the elevator.
“Artemus, you are going back to the hospital.”
“And you and who else are going to make me?”
“Richmond will order you…”
“He already tried.” Artie gazed at his partner’s angry expression. He knew the reason for the anger. “Look, Jim, I’m fine. Really. I am still trussed up tighter than Aunt Maude’s corset.” He patted the thick wrappings under his shirt. “I plan to take it easy. I can do the legwork for you, like today. I won’t even yield to great temptation to ride out and meet the Widow Kingston.”
The elevator stopped on their floor and they stepped out, walking silently down the hall to Artemus’s room. “I wish you could meet her,” Jim admitted, sitting down on the chair while Artemus went to a bureau to extract a thick envelope. “She has to be one of the most enigmatic women I’ve ever met. One moment I’m sure she’s a veritable black widow. The next… maybe I’ll find out more tonight.”
“Tonight! What do you mean?” Artemus stopped short, still holding the envelope.
“I have an invitation to a late supper.”
“Good lord! You’re not going! Jim, from what we’ve learned this far, the widow could be in it up to her lovely neck.”
“But we don't know for certain. Spending a little time with her might be informative.”
“And deadly. Don’t forget, someone tried to kidnap you.”
“I haven’t forgotten. Let me see those reports. I take it Miss Collingwood was helpful today.”
Artemus handed the envelope over, a scowl crossing his features. “Oh, yeah. She was a great help. She’s a very smart young lady. Thought of some questions to ask that I missed. But…”
Jim looked up from the papers he had extracted from the envelope. “But what?”
“Jim, she’s engaged!”
“So are you. At least last I heard.”
Jim West could not help but grin. “But your manly pride is injured. You imagined Ellen Collingwood was pining away for you all this time. Instead she was happily being courted by Geoff Dunham.”
“Geoff Dunham! Jim, he’s… he’s…”
“I know. Dry as toast. But he’s very intelligent, and you just said that Ellen is smart. Good pairing.”
Artie sighed. “I suppose so.” He sat down on the bed, the frown still on his face. “She said she’s going to invite us to the wedding.”
“Good. I hope we’re free and can attend. Maybe you can bring Lily.”
Artemus brightened. “Yes! Yes, that’s true, isn’t it.”
Jim smiled inwardly as he concentrated on the papers in his hand. He knew his partner so very well. Artemus was now imagining the scenario when he presented his beautiful fiancée, the famous actress Lily Fortune, to Miss Collingwood… just in case Ellen believed he had been pining away for her!
“Harry Hazeltine,” he murmured, picking up the sheet of paper with that man’s name at the top. He scanned it briefly, the looked up. “Not much there.”
“I know. He was one of the first ones I pulled out to read. Respected attorney, although it seems he tends to take on risky cases.”
“And wins them. In particular he seems adept at getting murder charges reduced to manslaughter.”
Both men were silent for a long moment before Artemus spoke. “Such men might be almighty grateful to the lawyer who helps them avoid the noose.”
Jim was nodding. “And when they were released after a few short years, they might come to find out how they can express their gratitude.”
“However,” Artemus sighed, “nothing indicates Hazeltine has any further connection with such men. At least not so far as the police know.”
“San Francisco police wouldn’t know what was going on at Kingston Hall. I wonder…”
“The men I’ve seen in the sentry box. They look as though they can handle themselves.”
“Jim,” Artie said slowly, “I changed my mind. I’m going with you.”
“With me? Where?” For a moment Jim did not know what his partner meant.
“To Kingston Hall of course. Yes, I know.” Artie put up a hand to forestall the protests. “I know it’s to be an assignation that you’re going to use to pry deep dark secrets from the dear widow. But from what you’ve told me about her, I have a notion it might turn the other direction.”
“Hear me out. I’m thinking of two reasons why I should go. One very important one is that attack on you last night. We don’t know whether Beryl Kingston was involved in any way, shape, or form, nor whether her attorney friend is. If they are this sudden invitation could be a way to trap you.”
“Artie…” Jim tried again.
But Artemus kept going. “The second one is to throw a little surprise her way. She expects you. In one manner or another, she will be ready for you. But if I accompanied you, making it clear that your visit was strictly business…”
Jim was finally nodding. “I see your point. Much as I was anticipating a cozy supper… and who knew what for dessert… I see your point. But you are not riding that distance .”
“Of course not. Go arrange for one of the hotel’s buggies. At least the moon will be full tonight.”
This time the guard challenged them at the gate, and to Artemus seemed nonplussed when, after announcing his identity, Jim stated that he had brought his partner with him. James West had been expected to arrive alone, on horseback and not in a carriage. He also saw what Jim meant when he said that the guards appeared capable. This man was burly, with a hard, scarred face. He held a rifle as though he knew what to do with it.
The sentry opened the gate to allow the carriage to pass through, though Artemus had a sense he would have preferred to have some specific instructions before doing so. Artie kept thinking about his partner’s description of Beryl Kingston, and how the woman seemed to baffle, almost scare Jim. That was a rare event. He was eager to meet this unusual woman.
Artie was glad to step down from the buggy. Jim had kept the pair of horses at an even pace, doing his best to avoid ruts and potholes, but the ride had been somewhat jarring at times. Artemus had done his best to disguise any discomfort, conscious that Jim looked at him numerous times. He had a feeling that Jim would have turned the vehicle around and headed back to the city if he had been aware just how much his partner’s ribs and abdomen were hurting.
The front door opened as they took the stairs up to the porch, and the same surprise that the guard had displayed was on the face of the well-dressed butler. But he retained his aplomb, stepping back to take their hats and close the door. Jim made a brief introduction, and Chase hurried off to tell his mistress of this sudden change in the plans.
“Quite a house,” Artemus murmured. “That painting looks like a genuine Corot.”
Jim looked in the direction Artie nodded. He had noticed the landscape earlier, but Artie was the connoisseur. “I wouldn’t be surprised, considering the amounts you discovered in the Kingston bank accounts.”
Chase returned, inviting them to follow him. This time Beryl Kingston was awaiting her visitor—or visitors—in the main dining room, a large room with two crystal chandeliers, huge marble fireplace, gleaming parquet floors, and more artworks on the walls and on various pieces of furniture. Artemus was very impressed. A veritable museum.
He was also impressed by Beryl Kingston. Jim’s description did not do her justice, nor could it have. She was a masterpiece herself, the kind of woman one saw in portraits, frozen in time, unattainable. Tonight she wore a ruby red gown in satin trimmed in velvet. The décolletage suggested her intentions for the “late supper.”
“Mr. Gordon, you are most welcome,” she said in that unusual voice. Artemus wondered if he picked up a slight southern accent in her speech. The police were unable to find out much about her, other than Gerald Kingston had brought her here as his bride three years, after a business trip to Seattle. That fit into what she had told Jim about where she met Kingston.
“Thank you,” Artie replied smoothly. “I know you expected my partner alone, and I feel like an intruder, but I was busy in San Francisco when he visited you previously.” They had both agreed to continue to keep the attack and its apparent motive a secret. Artemus concurred that allowing those attackers to believe they had actually encountered Theo was a good idea, although he did not know what could come of it.
Beryl instructed Chase, who was hovering near the still open door, to place another setting at the table and inform the cook, assuring the agents that plenty of food was available. “James can tell you,” Beryl smiled, “I have an excellent cook. And no oyster soup tonight, James.”
Though confused by the remark, Artie did not react. He knew James West loved oysters prepared in any manner, so he must have had a reason to cause Beryl to believe he did not. Chase brought another setting, and the three of them took their places at the polished table, the men on either side of Beryl Kingston.
Artie continued to surreptitiously study her as the first course, a magnificent tomato bisque, was served, Chase bringing a tureen and ladling the rosy liquid into bowls. Artemus suddenly realized the import of the remark about oyster soup. At an informal lunch, very likely the bowls had been served already filled… thus making it possible for one to be laced with a drug or poison. With the bisque served from a common source, that was much less likely.
Beryl’s fabulous countenance registered further disappointment when Jim asked her a question about her husband’s financial affairs. “Oh, James! Must we?”
He smiled deprecatingly. “I told you, I’m a working man. So is my partner. We’re trying to solve the murder of your husband and at least one other, possibly two, that might be connected.”
She shook her head, the ruby encrusted combs that secured her raven’s wing hair glittering in the light from the chandeliers. “I cannot imagine how there could be a connection, James. Do you agree with him, Artemus? I mean, I have not heard of any acquaintance of Gerald’s—or mine—meeting such a fate.” She turned those lavender eyes on Artemus Gordon.
Artie realized he had not previously received the full impact of her gaze, and he now knew what his partner had been struggling with. The look was intimate, as though she needed and desired his opinion above all others. Yet behind the softness in the exotically tinted eyes, something else lay. He could not decide what that something was. Fear? Concern? Or a threat.
“Our experience informs us that we cannot ignore any angle,” Artie said gently. “I know it’s uncomfortable for you to remember your husband’s tragic demise, as well as to even consider that he had an enemy vicious enough to harm him. We don’t have any real proof that these other deaths are connected, other than the fact that they are also unsolved. Nothing about them is similar beyond that.”
His hand, holding his knife, had paused as he spoke, resting on the damask cloth beside his plate, and her own pale and slender one moved to lay her fingers on his. “Oh, Artemus, you are so understanding! I do so want Gerald’s murder solved and the criminal brought to justice. I’ll try very hard to answer your questions.”
Jim West watched his partner, and recognized the emotions on Artie’s face that he himself experienced when dealing with this woman. One part of you, deep down, realizes that something is off, not right, where Beryl Kingston is concerned. The other part, which bubbles eagerly to the surface, wants to believe that this fabulous creature is as pure and innocent as she portrays.
“Tell me, Beryl,” he said, drawing her attention, and she lifted her hand from Artie’s to pick up her own fork again, “do you mind living out here, away from the city? I know you have neighbors, but it all seems so… remote.” Jim was glad to see that Artemus grasped his intent immediately, a sour expression appearing on his face. He saw Beryl glance at that expression.
“It wasn’t so bad when… when Gerald was alive. We had guests staying with us quite often, as well as an occasional dinner party. I’m afraid we have never gotten close to our neighbors. They are… old money, I suppose one would say, and Gerald was relatively newly wealthy. We were looked upon as… ill-bred yokels, I imagine.”
“That’s terrible,” Artemus put in. “You must be terribly lonely here.” With a half dozen armed guards keeping the public out even if the neighbors did want to pop by!
“It’s not so bad,” she responded, turning to him again. “I grew up an only child, so I learned solitary entertainment. I have my piano, my books…”
“Oh, you play? I’d love to hear you play!” Artie bestowed his warmest gaze on her face. At the other side of the table, Jim West was glowering.
“Perhaps after dinner…”
“We won’t be able to stay long,” Jim snapped. “It’s a long drive back to the city, and we have work to do.”
“We don’t need to be in that much of a hurry, Jim.” Artie allowed a sharpness in his tone.
“Why don’t you both stay the night?” Beryl put in, now reaching with both hands to touch the near hands of each of her guests. “I’m sure I can find some nightclothes and anything else you need. You can have breakfast and leave early for the city and your odious duties. Please?”
“Come on, Jim,” Artie spoke rather querulously, “nothing we’d be able to do in town this late. Let’s take advantage of the lady’s gracious offer.”
Jim glared at his partner, then allowed his expression to soften as he met Beryl Kingston’s lavender eyes. “I guess that would work. We still need to ask you some more questions, anyway.”
“Of course. I’ll have someone take care of your carriage and horse. Let’s finish dinner, then we can relax in the front parlor and talk.” She was obviously enjoying having two men battling for her attention… and perhaps being distracted from their purpose.
By tacit agreement, the two agents continued to allow her to believe that they had lost interest in asking her questions about the death of her husband. In the fine parlor they sipped brandy while she played her piano, as they admired her, jousted for her attention. And when the evening ended, Beryl showed them to their rooms, sweetly wishing each a pleasant night.
“Well,” Artemus asked, “what did we accomplish?”
“Damned if I know, beyond making Beryl very happy with the knowledge that two friends were quarreling over her.” Jim pulled on the reins slightly, urging the horse to the left so as to avoid the rut in the road as much as possible. He was quite aware that his friend was still suffering. He himself had been utterly appalled this morning when Artie asked him, with obvious reluctance, to come to his room and help him adjust the heavy bandages on his chest, and he saw the livid bruises that still remained on Artemus’s upper body.
“She’s very accomplished,” Artie said then. “An accomplished hostess, an accomplished pianist, and probably an accomplished liar. Whether she’s an accomplished murderess remains to be seen.”
“One thing is for certain, Mr. Hazeltine was not particularly happy to arrive this morning and find us as guests.”
“I noticed that.”
They had been preparing to take their leave when the attorney showed up. He entered the house without knocking, finding Mrs. Kingston and the two agents saying their farewells in the foyer. The scowl had washed over his countenance swiftly, as he then cordially greeted Jim and was introduced to Artemus, while Beryl explained how the two agents had visited late and then remained overnight.
“How in the devil,” Artie said after a long silence, “are we going to find out if she is involved, let alone heading this organization of hired killers?”
“Or is it Hazeltine?” Jim muttered. “Or neither. Are we completely off the trail, being distracted by this… unusual woman?”
“No,” Artie stated firmly. “We aren’t off the trail, distracted or not. She knows we suspect her, Jim, and she’s enjoying the game.”
Jim glanced at him. “You think so?”
“I’m sure of it.” She’s also enjoying baiting you, James. Artie hesitated to mention what he had noticed regarding Beryl’s feelings toward Jim West. He knew that Jim was quite aware of his effect on women, and a lesser man might have taken advantage of that effect to a greater extent than Jim did. Beryl Kingston was obviously impressed with James West, but Artie detected something different about her attitude.
Artemus would not have been surprised had Jim at least hinted this morning that he had had a midnight visitor. So far as Artie could discern, however, nothing had happened. Beryl’s demeanor did not suggest a rendezvous either. She wants Jim, that’s for certain. But maybe not in the same way, and for the same reason, other women want him. At least not entirely for the same reason.
“I guess it’s back to digging for dirt,” Jim said, speeding the horse up on a smooth stretch. “I think I may pester Condit some more.”
“From what you said, you made him pretty nervous, nervous enough to inform someone that you were digging up old problems. Maybe you can now make him nervous enough to say something he shouldn’t.”
“That’s what I was thinking. You got any ideas?”
“Well, I suppose I’ll go check in with Lloyd. Maybe you ought to come with me first, before seeing Condit.”
Jim shook his head, again slowing the horse down to avoid a rough patch in the road. “I don’t need anything further on Gaskin just to talk to Condit.”
“One of us ought to check in with Colonel Richmond.”
“You do that, will you, Artie? I just have a sense it might be good to hit Condit first thing this morning, let him know I haven’t forgotten him. And you know what? I might go pay a call on Mrs. Condit.”
“You might be playing with fire there, James. She might be more dangerous than Beryl Kingston.”
“She could also have some information we could use, quite possibly information she has no idea she knows she possesses.”
“Twelve! A round dozen so far.” Artemus Gordon dropped the sheet of paper on Lloyd Morris’s desk, his expression angry and dark. “My God, Lloyd!”
Lloyd Morris’s face was equally grim. “We haven’t even heard from everyone yet, Artemus. All these deaths, up and down the state over the last half dozen years. Who knows how many that Gaskin was not involved in? He’s our only link among them right now.”
“Yeah.” Artie sank into a chair. Telegrams had been delivered to police headquarters from law officers throughout the state of California in response to queries about Theo Gaskin and possible unsolved murders. Besides the four murders they had known about here in San Francisco and Sacramento, eight had been reported from other locations, with one Theo Gaskin involved in some form with the victim prior to the deaths, but always having a solid alibi and never suspected.
“But no sign of Gaskin himself,” Morris muttered. “Artemus, Gaskin might be the key to the whole thing.”
Artie looked up. “Might be? Lloyd, I’m sure he is. If we could find Gaskin… but hell, he could be anywhere, even dead.”
“If he is, those guys that beat you up don’t know it.”
“True.” Artemus stared toward the window behind Lloyd, the germ of an idea forming. He needed to run it by Jim, and maybe the colonel. He pushed himself to his feet. “There’s a couple of banks and investment houses that we weren’t able to get to yesterday. I’d better go check them out today. Who knows, they could have information that might knock all kinds of holes into our theories about Gerald Kingston.”
“You don’t really believe that.”
“No,” Artie sighed, “but we have to cover everything. If Jim shows up, tell him I’ll meet him at the hotel for dinner. I have a suspicion that working by myself it’ll take that long to hit these places.”
Lloyd grinned. “Sorry I don’t have a pretty police matron I can assign to work with you.”
“Well, you can help otherwise by digging up all the information you can on Beryl Kingston, her late husband, and Harrison Hazeltine.”
The police sergeant shook his head doubtfully. “I suspect you already have all we got.”
“Has to be more, Lloyd. Do what you can, okay? See you later. Give whatever you find to Jim when he shows up.”
James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: "Thanks Artie"! Is that all you can say to me? I've just come back from the grave, risen like Lazarus, and that's what you say? "Thanks, Artie"?
James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: It's a pleasure.
- TNOT Pistoleros
SS senior field agent
Posted - 03/16/2009 : 09:25:38
| Chapter Five
It is dangerous to abandon oneself to the luxury of grief;
it deprives one of courage, and even of the wish for recovery.
Frédéric Amiel (1821-1881), Swiss writer
Artie pulled out a chair and sat down opposite his superior. “I expected him to be here by now. Have you seen him all day?”
“No. I’ve been in my room, working on reports, ever since you came by this morning.”
Artemus picked up the menu, stared at it a long moment, then lifted his gaze to colonel. “Odd. His plans, as I told you earlier, were to visit Condit and try to put some pressure on him, and if that didn’t work, go visit the wife. That wouldn’t take all day.”
“Wouldn’t think so. Perhaps he got a lead to follow up.”
They were interrupted by the waiter arriving to take their order. Artemus glanced at the menu and made a quick selection, something he seldom did. He could not explain his feelings, but he knew something was wrong. Jim West could act recklessly, and often did, but even in his impulsiveness, thought was behind it, although he sometimes got himself in trouble with his rashness.
They had reached the hotel a little before ten this morning. Jim left the carriage at the hotel stable, where they had acquired it, and then took his black horse to head for Condit’s office while Artemus went up to report to the colonel. Artie had taken cabs to visit police headquarters, then spent the day checking the financial institutions missed yesterday. He had not returned to the hotel until just now.
“I was just thinking,” Artie said when the waiter had gone away, “Jim probably went to talk to Lloyd Morris. I had asked Lloyd to continue to dig for information about the Kingstons and Hazeltine. Could be Lloyd had something for Jim, and he went to investigate further. After we eat, I’ll go check with Lloyd.”
“Haven’t seen Jim all day. To tell you the truth, I was surprised he didn’t come by the station.”
Artie frowned deeply. “He didn’t come by the hotel either. Thanks, Betty.” He accepted the cup of coffee from Lloyd’s wife. Because the sergeant was off duty, Artemus had come to his home.
“He probably got wrapped up in something and forgot the time,” Betty commented.
A smile played on her husband’s mouth. “Or met a beautiful lady and got wrapped up a different way.”
“You could be right,” Artemus said slowly. “He was going to pay a call on Condit’s lovely and flirtatious wife. But I don't think…” He halted his words. Jim usually avoided married women, other than some mild flirtation. Was it possible that Irving Condit arrived home and…? “I’m going back down to headquarters to see if anyone else might have seen Jim, perhaps after you left for the day.”
“I’ll go with you,” Lloyd began.
“No, no. You’ve been putting in too much of your own time, Lloyd. Stay home for tonight. Betty will appreciate it, especially now that your company has departed.” Artie winked.
The trip to police headquarters was fruitless. James West had not been seen there. Well, not entirely fruitless because Artemus was able to pick up a folder that Lloyd had told him about, the one containing two more telegrams confirming that Theo Gaskin had a connection with two more unsolved murders. These were outside the state of California, one in Oregon, the other in Nevada.
Back at the hotel, Artie went to Richmond’s room after checking at Jim’s and receiving no response to his knock. The colonel confirmed that Jim West had not shown up since Artemus departed a couple of hours earlier.
“I don’t like this, Artemus. Considering the attack on Jim the other night…”
“I’ve had that on my mind all day, sir. I think I should go visit Mr. and Mrs. Condit. And perhaps Mrs. Kingston again.”
The colonel got to his feet, grabbing his hat. “Let’s go.”
Mr. and Mrs. Condit were home, and entertaining. Mr. Condit was highly annoyed to be pulled away from his guests, Mrs. Condit not so much as she viewed the two handsome men who had called. Irving Condit admitted that Agent West had come to his office to talk to him. “I don’t know why you want to talk to my wife. She met Mr. West only those few moments in my office.”
“Oh, Irv, darling. I completely forgot to mention that Mr. West called. It was midday, so I invited him to stay for lunch. A most charming man, I daresay. We chatted about so many things.”
“Mrs. Condit,” Richmond said, forestalling whatever the husband was about to explode with, “did Mr. West give any indication of where he intended to go when he left here?”
“No, I don’t think so. I tried to persuade him to stay longer. We were having such… such a pleasant time.”
“What time did he leave?” Artemus inquired.
“Oh, my. Around two I believe. Yes, I’m sure of that because I met with the man who delivered the flowers for our party just after that, and his appointment was at two.”
Irving Condit cleared his throat. “Er, when Mr. West left my office, he told me he was going to the waterfront.”
Artemus and the colonel exchanged a glance. “The waterfront?” Richmond echoed. “Did he say why?”
“Well, of course not. He also did not tell me he planned to call on my wife.” Condit was staring at something over Artemus’s shoulder. Artie saw the perspiration on the realtor’s brow.
“Do you mind telling us what information, if any, you gave Mr. West?” Artie asked politely.
Condit’s eyes flitted momentarily to Artemus, then the colonel, and returned to that most interesting spot on the wall behind Artie. “Well, nothing new. I have no idea why he returned. I had nothing more to tell him. After all, I told him the truth during his first visit, which I felt was unnecessary, by the way. He had no right barging into my office and…”
“We’ll be going now,” Richmond broke in.
“Oh, must you?” Lydia Condit cried, taking hold of Artie’s arm. “Come and join our gathering. I’m sure you’ll have a wonderful time.”
Artie gently disengaged her hand. “Thank you, Mrs. Condit, but we have work to do. If you should remember anything that Mr. West told you, please contact police headquarters and ask for Sergeant Morris.”
Artemus did not speak again until he was settled in the hack, sitting across from the colonel, and when he did, his voice was taut. “He’s lying.”
“Obviously,” Richmond replied calmly. “But why?”
“Nothing we’ve found so far has any connection with the waterfront,” Artie persisted, angrily.
“I’m agreeing with you, Artemus. My question is, why?”
Artemus Gordon shook himself mentally. “Obviously someone told him to say that.”
“And the next question then is…”
“Who? Colonel, if Irving Condit hired someone to murder his partner, that ‘someone’ would have a perpetual hold on him. If they go down, he goes down. I presume the situation is the same for every person involved in this murder-for-hire cabal. So they’ll do what they’re told, even while sweating bullets. After Jim visited Condit yesterday, Condit’s assistant took an envelope to a man in a nearby building. That man immediately departed, apparently to deliver that envelope. That evening, Jim was attacked.”
“I know all this, Artemus. But who is the person in charge of this cabal… and where’s James West?”
Artie sighed. “I don't know. I don’t usually worry too much when Jim is out on his own, but this time…” He shook his head. “I also don’t usually have premonitions. But…”
“This time you do. I agree, Artemus. This whole business is entirely too strange. And it’s huge. Statewide, reaching into nearby states. That alone makes it federal business—if we can prove that all these murders are truly connected beyond the involvement of this Gaskin fellow.”
Artie leaned forward slightly. “Colonel, if Jim is not back at the hotel, nor left word, I’m going down to the waterfront.”
“Thought you said Jim wouldn’t go there.”
“And I still say so. But there’s a reason we were given that information.”
A heavy fog was rolling in off the bay as Artemus Gordon and Colonel James Richmond made their way along the darkened piers. At the late hour on a raw summer night, few people were about unless they had business there, such as the crew who were still loading a ship due to sail with the early morning tide. The two federal men talked to as many of those workers as they could. None could remember seeing a man fitting the description of James West in the vicinity during that day.
Richmond lit a match to consult his watch. “I think we’d better check in with Morris and his men.”
Artie wanted to protest, to insist on continuing the search, but he knew the wisdom of his commanding officer’s suggestion. They had been out here nearly three hours, fruitlessly searching. Lloyd Morris had men on other portions of the waterfront, men who were to report regularly to the sergeant. The possibility existed that one of those men had come across some information… but Artemus doubted it.
Jim had absolutely no reason to come to the waterfront. If he discovered a reason, he would have managed to at least send a note to me or Colonel Richmond. I know this is some sort of ploy, but the question is why, and who is setting it up? Where is Jim?
He was not surprised, therefore, when they found the sergeant at his post outside a closed fish market, that no news was forthcoming. Morris’s men had been asking questions all over. The good news was that Lloyd had a fresh hot pot of coffee brought from a restaurant a couple of blocks away, so the two Secret Service men could warm themselves with a cup before heading back out into the chilly summer night.
Artemus was draining his cup when they heard shouts. Turning in the direction the calls were coming from, he could barely make out forms coming down the street, ghostlike in the glow of the fog-shrouded street lamps. “Oh my God,” he exclaimed suddenly, dropping the porcelain cup on the pavement and not noticing when it shattered as he took off at a run.
“Where did you find him?”
The uniformed patrolman leading the gleaming black horse replied. “He was tied up in an alley down on pier seventeen. Couple fellows we talked to said he was there since the middle of the afternoon, but they didn’t see who left him there.”
“That’s Jim’s horse,” Richmond said, unnecessarily, as he came up with Morris.
“What else?” Artemus directed his question to the patrolman, who clearly had more to say.
The young man cleared his throat. “Well, sir, we did find an old fellow who said he saw a man who fit Mr. West’s description. He said…” The officer halted, looking toward his sergeant.
“Go ahead, Blake. This could be important. Where did he see Mr. West?”
“He saw him with some of Red Mary’s boys. They had hold of Mr. West.”
Artie spun toward Lloyd Morris. “Red Mary! She…”
Even in the dull glow from the street lamp, one could see the loss of color from Morris’s complexion. “She’s sometimes called Shanghai Mary because her boys grab men to fill the crew of outgoing ships.”
Richmond stepped forward. “We need to find out which ships are sailing tonight. The one we just saw…”
“That ship is part of a fleet, Colonel,” Artemus stated. “They don’t need to kidnap men to fill their crew. It’s usually privately owned vessels that are running on shoestrings. No funds to hire men.” His voice was steady, but his heart was pounding.
“All right. Then we still must learn which ships are leaving the bay tonight. They won’t hang around long lest someone comes looking for missing men.”
“It can’t be true!”
The man pacing the floor in Richmond’s hotel room paused, glared at his superior. “You know it’s a hoax, sir. It has to be.”
“I hope it is,” the colonel replied quietly. “But for now, all the signs point to Jim West having been shanghaied, and could now be miles and miles out to sea. We have witnesses, Artemus.”
“Yes, and those witnesses have vanished!”
“Wharf rats who want little or nothing to do with the police. Artemus, you may have to accept the hard facts. Jim’s horse was on the docks. Men who did not need to volunteer information came forward…”
“Exactly. Colonel, you just said that those men normally avoid the police like a plague, never offering any helpful information unless paid highly. I didn’t hear any of the officers state that they were offering rewards for the information. Not only that, Jim has conveniently been shanghaied to a ship whose captain purportedly dumps his kidnapped crew members into the sea, weighted with iron, if the Navy threatens to board! Even if he was not found on that ship, no proof would exist whether he had been there or not!” Artemus Gordon’s voice was hoarse with rage and frustration, his eyes fiery. “I don’t believe it! It’s just too… too… I don't know. Jim would not have gone down there, Colonel. Not without telling me.”
“Artemus, we went through this before. Jim sometimes acts impulsively, especially if he believes rapid action is required. He might have gotten some information that…”
“But from where? He left the Condit home around two, if Mrs. Condit is to be believed. At this point, we don't know if she knows what her husband is involved in or not. Her only concern appears to be that he provides the funds to support her in lavish style. The men who claimed they saw Jim leave Blackjack in that alley said it happened around three. What did he do between two and three that sent him pell-mell for the docks, in too much of a hurry that he didn’t even stop some street urchin and send him to the hotel with a note for me?”
“Maybe he did and the kid just tossed the note.”
“No. When Jim and I use that method, we always tell the kid that a further reward will come when the note is delivered. No boy is going to neglect doubling his profit. It just doesn’t add up, Colonel. It’s a clever scheme, and she’s behind it.”
“She? Who? You just said Mrs. Condit…” Richmond’s face was momentarily blank, then his eyes widened. “Mrs. Kingston?”
“Has to be. She wants Jim. I don't know for what purpose, but I saw it in her eyes last night. She flirted with me just to make Jim jealous, and with our little act, she thought she was being successful.”
Richmond’s brows lifted. “You don't know for what purpose?”
Artie waved a hand and began his pacing again. “It’s more than that. I mean, perhaps she does see him as a potential lover. But… it’s more than that. I think we’d better pay a visit to Kingston Hall first thing in the morning.”
“Yes, sir.” Artemus halted his movements. “I want you to meet her, and for her to meet you. To put the full weight of the federal government on her mind.”
The colonel got to his feet, frowning thoughtfully. “Won’t that be dangerous for Jim, if you are correct?”
“No. Not right away. As I said, I don’t know what she has in mind where Jim is concerned, but I don’t think she’ll panic that quickly. Once you meet Beryl Kingston, I think you’ll agree.” Artemus pulled out his pocket watch. “It’s nearly four. We should try to get a few hours of sleep, but I believe we should be on the road quite early. I’ll go down and request a carriage be ready for us at eight.”
He left the room before the colonel could say anything further, concurring or not.
“Well.” James Richmond let out a long breath as Artemus guided the carriage horse out through the gate past the guard and out onto the main road. “I think I’m beginning to understand.”
“She has Jim, or knows where he is, I’m sure of it.” Artemus stared grimly ahead.
“I’ll admit that she’s a mysterious woman, Artemus, but I’m afraid I didn’t perceive the same signals you did.”
“She was surprised when we did not display any concern for Jim’s whereabouts.”
“Yes, I suppose that’s true. But she asked about him, as though she expected him to be with us.”
“Of course.” Artie had not missed how Beryl had rather belatedly looked out the door, as though seeking another party, after she herself had opened the front door to admit them. Only then had she inquired about Jim West. “She is not supposed to know he’s missing, especially because we did not let on that he is.”
Richmond glanced at his agent. “You know, Artemus, we have absolutely no proof against her, and no way of obtaining any at the moment.”
“I know, sir. But I also know I’m going to find Jim, and if he’s not in that house, he’s somewhere that she knows about. But speaking of proof, do you think the judge is going to grant the request to allow us to look at Kingston’s records at the banks?”
“I hope so. He promised to let me know by early afternoon.”
“That might go a long way towards helping us amass some evidence.”
“Unless,” Richmond warned, “Gerald Kingston or Mrs. Kingston have bank accounts we have not uncovered yet… or did not deposit their ill-gotten gains in a regular bank account.”
“I don't think that’s the case. When Miss Collingwood and I were investigating the various financial institutions, I got the distinct impression from the two banks where Kingston has accounts that he made fairly regular, substantial deposits, purportedly from his investments and speculation. But we’ve pretty well determined that those activities never occurred.”
“Very strange that Kingston would leave such a trail,” the colonel commented.
“Sir, you know as well as I do that the egos of some criminals are very large. If Gerald Kingston was the original leader of this murderous gang, it has been in business for several years, without detection. He may have thought he would never be caught.”
“I wonder what happened,” Richmond said softly.
“If your theories prove correct, it seems his lovely young wife turned on him.”
“Perhaps aided and abetted by Mr. Hazeltine.”
“There’s nothing to indicate he has anything to do with this, Artemus. He may be only an acquaintance, or at best—or worst—Mrs. Kingston’s attorney.”
“Don’t bet on it,” Artemus retorted sarcastically. “He was not happy at all when he arrived at Kingston Hall to find me and Jim there, especially when he realized that we had stayed overnight.”
“Again,” the colonel sighed, “we have nothing to go on. He’s perfectly respectable, with a fine reputation, albeit he has helped a few pretty bad characters get lighter punishment. But that’s what lawyers do.”
They drove on in silence for awhile. Artemus was deep in thought, mulling some ideas, and neglecting to watch for potholes and ruts in the road. Therefore, he grunted in discomfort when the right wheel of the buggy dropped into a hole with a jolting thud.
“How do you feel?” Richmond inquired.
“Your ribs and your bruises. How do you feel?”
“Well…” Artie drew the word out, as though reluctant to answer.
“The truth, Gordon. I heard that groan a few moments ago.”
Artemus sighed. “I’m pretty sore and pretty tired.”
“I thought so. When we get back into the city, drop me off at the hotel. I can get a hack to city hall and the judge’s office. You go on to the hospital and have Dr. Fifield check you over. That’s an order, Gordon.”
“Yes, sir. I think you are right. Yes, sir.”
The colonel did not seem too worried about the usually obstreperous agent’s easy acquiescence.
Jim West finally turned away from the window. The buggy was long gone, undoubtedly on its way back to San Francisco. Gordon and Richmond had probably spoken to Beryl Kingston, and whether they believed whatever she told them or not, they had no reason to remain. Quite possibly they had simply come to give her the bad news: James West had been shanghaied and was likely on his way to the Far East in a fast clipper, one the Navy would never catch.
“And even if they do, darling,” Beryl had gloated, “they will find no shanghaied crew, because Captain Colquist has a reputation of preferring to dispose of such captives before the Navy boards. He has never been caught with captives aboard, and thus never formally charged. It will be assumed that you are, sadly, dead.”
“Why?” Jim had asked.
She ignored the query, reaching out to run her finger along his cheek. His hands had been bound behind his back at the time or he might have slapped hers away. “Now, we’ll devise a new identity for you. You can grow a beard for now. Yes, a nice, distinguished beard.”
“Why?” he asked again.
Again, she ignored him, stepping back to wave a hand toward his surroundings. “This will be your home for the time being, James. I’m sorry, but it will be necessary for you to prove your loyalty and devotion before we… I can allow you to rove free. But you’ll be comfortable. And I will return to visit frequently. I promise.”
His “home for the time being” was a room within the cupola on the northwest corner of the house, overlooking the front driveway. A round room, originally probably twenty-five feet in diameter, its dimensions had been reduced by the bars that had been installed all around the perimeter, a foot or so inside of the walls and the windows that were all around the circumference. Jim had already tried to reach a window by extending his hand through the bars, and found he could not quite grasp the window latch.
Nothing was available to use to break a window. He had looked around frantically upon spotting the carriage departing, fruitlessly attempting to wrench a leg from the sofa. He had not seen nor heard the buggy arrive, having been laying on the sole piece of furniture in the room, the sofa provided as his bed, pondering his situation. Just by chance, he had risen to pace around his cell and had spied the buggy heading for the gate, recognized the two men within it.
Jim West looked down at the palm of his right hand, saw the small reddish spot. Damn! I was so stupid!
Yesterday afternoon, after leaving the Condit residence, he had headed for the police station, deciding it would be a good idea to check in there before returning to the hotel or trying to hook up with Artemus. When he heard his name called, he had recognized the voice immediately, but had been surprised to realize she was in the city.
She was in a fine carriage, brass trimmings polished and gleaming in the sun. When she waved a hand out the door window, he saw the jade ring glimmer. Out of both courtesy and curiosity, he had dismounted and crossed the street, leading the black horse by the reins. “Beryl, I didn’t expect to see you again today.”
Her smile was brilliant. “Aren’t surprises fun? I decided to come into town to do some shopping… and hope that a handsome gentleman would ask me to dinner.”
He had smiled back, still a little puzzled, but not especially concerned being that it was the middle of the day and in the middle of a somewhat busy street. “I’m not sure what a handsome gentleman would do, but I wish I had time and opportunity to extend that invitation. I’m afraid I have other plans that will prevent me from enjoying your company.”
The lavender eyes had widened, the lovely mouth drooped in a pout. “Oh, James! Truly? I am so terribly disappointed.”
Beryl had extended her hand through the window, the one with the ring. He had automatically taken it. Her fingers squeezed his, and he had felt the tiny pin prick on his palm. Instantly aware, he had jerked his hand away, but it was too late. The numbness spread over his body. He had not blacked out immediately, had not collapsed, and had been conscious that a man had come up behind him to grasp his upper arms. Even with blurred vision, Jim knew he was being forced up into the now opened door of the carriage. He was helpless to resist, his body unresponsive to the commands from his own brain.
“Get the horse,” Beryl said, and that was pretty much the last he remembered until he awakened in the darkness of this tower room, on the divan, bound hand and foot. He had been alone until dawn began to break, when she came, along with Hazeltine and two of the guards. One thing was immediately apparent, and that was that the lawyer was very unhappy with whatever plans Beryl Kingston had. He had not spoken a word, only stood aside and glowered.
She had instructed one of her men to remove the ropes from around Jim’s ankles so that he could stand up, and apologized profusely for this treatment. “You’ll come to understand, James, and I know you’ll forgive me.” Beryl had then gone on to explain how his friends were going to be led to believe he had been shanghaied on the San Francisco wharves. She had no doubt that they would accept his fate and stop seeking him, or at least direct their search toward the sea.
Beryl Kingston refused to explain any further regarding her reason for kidnapping him, and after then ordering her guard to remove the ropes from Jim’s wrists, he had been left alone. He soon realized why she had been willing to have him untied. The bars that enclosed the room were extremely sturdy, embedded deeply in floor and ceiling. When he asked if the room had been prepared specifically for his comfort, Beryl had laughed. “No, darling, I’m afraid not. The previous owners had a son who was subject to very violent fits, and he was locked in here when the spasms assailed him. Gerald and I just never did anything further with the room, fortunately as it now seems.”
He had obviously been searched thoroughly while unconscious, for both the knife he usually kept at the back of his jacket and the one in his boot toe were gone, along with his sleeve gun. As usual, he had wads of the explosive putty in the boot heels as well as a short fuse in his coat collar, but they had also removed his matches. This room did not have any lanterns or candles that might afford an opportunity to light the fuse.
Even if I had some acid, I don’t think I could have carried enough to burn through these heavy bars to provide an opening sufficiently large for me to get through. Need some of Artie’s tape…
Jim went to the area of the tower door, a set of the bars that were not embedded, but were securely attached to those that were. When he shook it, nothing moved. He could reach around to the keyhole, but had nothing to use to try to open it. The picklock had been removed from his lapel as well.
With a sigh he returned to the front windows and gazed down at the now empty driveway towards the closed gates. Artemus and Colonel Richmond had been here. Why? To tell Beryl Kingston that James West was missing, hoping that she would admit that said agent had come back to her home late last night and was now enjoying a leisurely breakfast with her? Or to try to trap her into revealing something?
In any case, they had come and gone and he had no way of knowing, other than his awareness of how his partner operated. The latter idea was probably on Artie’s mind, unless he and others bought the shanghaiing story. Jim knew, as did all law agencies, that such kidnappings occurred here and in other seacoast cities. If a vessel was due to sail and had not yet hired on a full complement, the captain might get desperate. Some did it as a rule, because they saved money by not having to pay wages to the captives, who were either killed and dumped at sea or perhaps left stranded in some foreign port.
But I know Artie. He’s not going to take anything at face value. He won’t give up looking for me.
In the meanwhile, Jim knew he had to try to help himself. No food or water had been brought to him yet, so that might be an opportunity; depending on how many men accompanied the provisions, he might have a chance to make a move.
What in the world does Beryl Kingston have in mind for me? The talk about me growing a beard and taking another identity… sounds as though she expects me to join her gang. Why would she believe that I would do such a thing?
Artemus took the buggy to police headquarters first, and sought Lloyd Morris. The weary sergeant reported nothing new. He had tracked down Red Mary, the suspected leader of a gang well-known for kidnapping unwary men to be put on ships sailing within hours, such as the one they learned would have sailed on the tide around the same time Jim’s horse was discovered.
“Mary denied shanghaiing anyone, of course, and claimed she didn’t recognize anyone of Jim’s description. But here’s the odd thing, Artemus. I’ve known Mary for years, since I was a patrolman on the Barbary Coast, and I know her pretty well. When I mentioned the Carmela, which sailed last night, Hiram Colquist, captain, she growled—and I mean growled— ‘I never deal with that double-crossing SOB.’ She had some choice words for Colquist.
“When I got back here, I looked up some records, and about three years ago, a brawl occurred in a dive that’s since burned down, between Colquist’s crew and Mary’s boys. Several were killed, and about all we could get out of it for a reason was that Colquist had reneged on payment. I checked some sources, and they pretty much confirm that Mary never deals with Colquist now.”
“The supposed witness to the abduction identified Red Mary’s men.”
“Exactly. And that witness has vanished from the face of the earth. Or at least from the docks and the Barbary Coast, along with the men who said they saw Jim leave Blackjack in that alley.”
Artie nodded grimly. “Probably either dead by now or well paid to move to another town. Lloyd, I’m positive Jim would not have gone down to the waterfront. He had no reason to.”
Lloyd leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms. “So what do you want to do?”
For a long moment Artemus was quiet. Then he gazed directly at the young sergeant. “I have an idea. It has to be between you and me at the moment.”
Morris did not hesitate. “Go ahead.”
Beryl Kingston showed up close to noon with a tray of food and a cup of coffee, as well as three armed guards. One of the trio stood in the open doorway with a shotgun, the other two behind him, as she carried the silvery tray laden with fine china over to the divan where Jim was laying, his arms behind head. He did not make a move to rise.
“I’m so sorry to have neglected you, James,” she smiled. “I know you must be quite put out with me. But I’ve brought you a delightful meal. I’m sure you’ll love it.”
He still did not stir, gazing at her with an impassive expression. After a few seconds, Beryl stooped to put the tray on the floor, as no other furniture was in the room. She straightened and looked down at him.
“Are you punishing me, James?”
“Do you deserve punishment?”
She sat down on the edge of the sofa, placing her hand on his chest. “James, I am truly sorry for the need to keep you imprisoned here. It won’t be for long, I assure you.”
“And then what? Your boys shoot me?”
The aghast expression on her face appeared genuine. “Oh, no! How can you think that? My dear, we have a wonderful future together.”
Now he lifted up on one elbow, keeping his green eyes fastened on her face. “I’m getting the idea I don’t have a choice in the matter.”
“Mother knows best,” she cooed, now touching his cheek with the back of her fingers. “James, the moment I saw you, I knew we were destined to be together. I had heard of you, your reputation, but of course had never seen you, let alone met you. Had that occurred earlier… well, things would have been very different.”
“Would they? How?”
“Well, depending on when we met, perhaps I would never have married Gerald. But in retrospect, it’s probably best that things happened this way. Now we will have a wonderful life together.”
“What about Hazeltine?”
For just one instant her eyes became hard amethyst stones. Then she laughed lightly. “Harry is not part of the plan, my dear.”
“Just as Gerald became no longer part of the plan?”
“I’m afraid so. He wanted to retire, to pass the leadership on to someone else. Even to Harry. But I wasn’t ready for that. We have a successful enterprise and a very profitable one. No need to close up shop yet.”
“So things backfired for Gerald.”
“Yes. I’m told he was extremely surprised when Rusty entered the office that evening, and even more surprised when Rusty pulled out a gun. I’m afraid Gerald trained us all too well. The solution to the problem was easy. He became just another unsolved murder.”
Now Jim sat up all the way, leaning back against the arm of the couch. Beryl’s position beside him would make it very difficult to swing his legs to the floor. “How long has this been going on? The business I mean.”
“Oh, goodness. Long before I met Gerald. Perhaps ten years. I’m proud to say that I had a great hand in expanding the firm. Previously, his men worked only in northern California. I encouraged Gerald to advertise in southern California, as well as neighboring states.”
“By word of mouth, of course. You’d be surprised—or perhaps not—how many people have friends, relatives, partners, even enemies, they would like to dispose of but cannot because the trail would point right back to them, especially because of motive. Take Irving Condit for instance. He needed his partner’s money in order to have a fresh start, but if he had killed Abel himself, the police would have come after him immediately. By employing our firm, he was able to be far, far away, and the officials have nothing on him.”
“Except Theo Gaskin.”
Beryl winced visibly. “Theo was a long-term mistake. Gerald devised the idea when he first started the enterprise. Actually, another man was originally in the position, but he did not work out very well. Theo was found about… I suppose it must have been five or six years ago. Before I met Gerald. His job was to report the habits and schedules of the intended… target. Because the various subjects were unconnected, Theo was not connected by the police until… How did you connect him?”
“Gaskin was found in the alley after your friends beat him up,” Jim lied smoothly. “I happened to be at police headquarters when the police officer who talked to Gaskin at the hospital came in to report. The detective to whom I was speaking recognized the name… and from there you might say it snowballed. My partner and I became fully involved when it became known that Gaskin had been in the employ of a federal attorney who was murdered.” He was unsure why keeping silent about Artie’s disguise would be of any avail at this point, but he also could not think of any reason to give her too much information. “I got the idea that Gaskin is now persona non grata in your organization. What happened?”
“Theo got too big for his britches. Wanted more money. Also made a very big mistake and threatened to leak some information to the police. So we sent him away.”
“Why not kill him?”
“Because we feared that regardless of how he was disposed of, the police might get involved, and the same thing happen as you described. Someone might remember the name. I suppose that was a big mistake too, allowing Theo to use his real name in all his posts. Perhaps we got a bit complacent, everything was working so well, and actually, I became rather fond of him. He was a fine storyteller and very entertaining.
“I cannot imagine what possessed Theo to return to San Francisco now. I had heard he was happily ensconced as an innkeeper up in British Columbia. However, I’m sure he’ll return there post haste. We now use a much better method to set up the appointments. Several men, rather than just one, are used alternately.” She got to her feet. “Your food is getting cold. Ollie will wait at the door to collect your tray… and utensils.. when you are finished.”
Now Jim rose as well. “You don’t trust me, yet you expect me to join your organization.”
Beryl patted his cheek. “You will earn my trust, darling. I’ll come see you later.” She headed for the door, paused and turned back. “By the way, your partner and a Colonel Richmond called this morning. I’m not entirely sure what they hoped to accomplish, for they did not mention you had disappeared. However, Mr. Gordon was quite tense. I know men well, James. In just the short time of our acquaintance, I have come to know Artemus completely, just as I know you. He was tense and upset. He knows you are lost forever, and believes you are either dead or will be on Colquitt’s vessel.”
Jim did not reply, hoping she did not know him as well as she thought, and that she now believed he was feeling distraught and helpless.
Beryl exited through the barred door, and vanished. The cell’s door was closed, and the man with the shotgun stood outside it, eyes fastened on the prisoner. He was one of the men Artie had sketched. Jim picked up his tray and put it on the couch, sitting alongside it as he lifted the domed covers from the dishes. Roast chicken, herbed potatoes and small peas were on the plate. Another dish held a slice of apple pie, and in the cup was steaming coffee. The aromas caused him to realize he had not eaten since the midday meal at the extremely flirtatious Mrs. Condit’s yesterday.
Jim picked up the cup and saluted his impassive guard before taking a welcome swallow. He did not worry about the victuals being drugged. Beryl had no reason to drug him now. She had him. But why did she think he would join her murderous activities?
Because she’s insane. Maybe that’s what bothered me from the very beginning, though I did not entirely realize it. This porcelain doll beauty, perfection on the exterior, flawed inside. I was drawn to her, yet repulsed at the same time.
The sentry’s gaze never left him, and the man hardly seemed to blink. Jim knew he was watching to make sure the prisoner did not attempt to secrete any of the silverware in particular. The tines of the fork might work very well as a lock pick. A knife could be sharpened into a deadly weapon. This fellow probably spent time in a penitentiary and knows all these tricks!
He and Artie had speculated that Harry Hazeltine took advantage of the gratitude of criminals that he defended, saving them from long prison terms or even the gallows. Beryl had freely stated that “Rusty”—obviously the redheaded man who led the attack on Artemus—had murdered her husband. No doubt every man in her employ was a murderer. Using different men to commit the crimes was clever. Possible witness descriptions from area to area would be varied, and was probably why no connection had been made until now.
How many murders? The thought was unimaginable. Beryl said that her late husband had masterminded the operation for at least ten years. The police had uncovered a dozen possibly connected deaths in the last four or five years. How many had been committed by Kingston’s thugs, paid for by relatives or acquaintances who for one reason or another wanted a person dead? Thus far, the scheme had been perfect, undetectable.
Jim wondered if Beryl realized that that was not going to be the case from now on. Regardless of what happened to him, or even to Artemus, the authorities were aware, even if they did not yet have all the information needed. In her madness, her overweening confidence in herself might be her undoing in the end. Like many criminals, insane or not, she certainly believed she was smarter than mere mortals who wore badges.
James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: "Thanks Artie"! Is that all you can say to me? I've just come back from the grave, risen like Lazarus, and that's what you say? "Thanks, Artie"?
James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: It's a pleasure.
- TNOT Pistoleros
SS senior field agent
Posted - 03/16/2009 : 09:27:04
| Chapter Six
Appearances are deceptive.
The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing – Aesop [Floruit 550 B.C.]
After leaving the police station, Artemus went to the hospital, primarily because he knew his superior would be checking up on him. Dr. Fifield was not in, but by complaining about the physician’s absence, then petulantly allowing another doctor to change the swathing bandage around his chest, Artie made sure that several nurses and a couple of doctors would remember that he himself had checked in. That doctor commented only to say that things “looked all right” especially as far as the bruises on Mr. Gordon’s body were concerned. When Richmond called on them, those hospital personnel would assure him that Artemus Gordon had gotten the checkup as instructed.
When he returned to the hotel and met the colonel for a late lunch, Artie was able to tell the truth when he said he was looked at by a doctor and that the doctor pronounced all was well. Richmond had the news that the judge had signed the order to permit inspection of the Kingston bank records, past and present. He was going to go take care of that chore himself, after first stopping at the police station to get the dates of the known murders. Did Agent Gordon want to accompany him?
Artemus thanked Richmond but said he was tired and thought he might lay down for awhile. They had not gotten much sleep last night, and perhaps his injuries were wearing him down. Artie could see by his sympathetic expression that the colonel might be thinking the fatigue was enhanced by grief; that perhaps Artemus Gordon was beginning to accept the possibility of the loss of his partner.
With a final grim word that he was also going to stop by the Navy office to learn whether they had had any luck chasing the Carmela or in searching other ships that were still at the docks, the colonel left the table. Artemus merely nodded, quite certain that even if the Navy was able to apprehend the Carmela, Jim West would not be aboard, and not because the beastly captain had tossed his captives overboard. Jim was never on any ship. He was never shanghaied. Beryl Kingston has him, and I’m going to find him.
Completing his meal, Artemus went up to his room and carefully checked his supplies. He had brought the “Theo Gaskin” costume home from the hospital with him, but he realized that he did not have the right makeup on hand. Theo had taken a bad beating a few days ago. Some bruises should still be evident, particularly if he had not had the care that Artemus Gordon had actually had, especially the ice to put on those bruises, bringing down the swelling and discoloration.
Jim’s idea to not tell anyone beyond the police about the mistaken identity might just turn out to be one of the best he ever had, Artie decided, taking the elevator down to the lobby again. He was certain his partner had never considered the fact that the disguise might be used, even needed, again. Jim undoubtedly felt, as Artemus did at the time, that not broadcasting that information might help to run the assailants to earth, if only by keeping them unaware of how much the authorities knew.
It had not. The quartet who had attacked him had pretty much vanished from San Francisco. At least no one had acknowledged seeing any of them when shown the sketches. Artemus had a strong suspicion they were at Kingston Hall, laying low for the time being, or at least were not using their usual haunts, like the bar where they had accosted him. He hoped the latter was the correct possibility.
Artemus knew that Colonel Richmond was right, that they had nothing remotely resembling proof right now that Beryl Kingston was involved in the murder-for-hire plot. Even if the inspection of the bank records revealed large deposits coinciding with the dates of murders, that might not be considered “proof” without further information. Someone like Harry Hazeltine would rip such evidence to shreds in court, and undoubtedly would provide “reliable witnesses” to testify regarding Gerald Kingston’s prowess as an investor and speculator. Even if the deposits continued after Kingston’s death, no doubt a canny attorney could discredit the prosecution’s case on such flimsy testimony.
Finding a captive Jim West on her premises would be rather strong proof. Not for one moment did Artemus believe that Beryl had ordered Jim killed. Not yet anyway. As well, he was confident that his partner would keep himself alive, even if that meant playing along with whatever grand plans Beryl had for him. I just need to find him.
He went to a favorite shop to purchase the correct tubes and sticks of makeup, then took a hack to the bar he had been in that night when he was attacked. At this time of day the clientele was sparse, but Artemus was glad to see the same bartender who had served him that night. The barkeep did not recognize him, of course, but he did recognize the description of the redheaded man, whom Artie identified as an old and valued friend he was hoping to find.
“Another acquaintance said he comes in here ever so often.”
That was true, the barkeep affirmed, but not the last few nights. “It’s not like Rusty. Him and his pals are usually here for a few beers and a card game, unless they have business out of town.”
“And does Rusty tell you when he’s going away?”
“Yeah, he does. See, I get a special keg of beer for him. He likes this one that comes from up north. Don’t favor it myself, but he pays extra to have it shipped in. So he tells me if he’s going to be gone a week, and maybe either I won’t order a fresh keg, or if there’s some left in the one we have, I’ll take it downstairs and put it on ice ‘til he comes back.”
“You’re one heck of a fine bartender,” Artemus beamed.
The man blushed. “Well, I gotta admit Rusty slips me a few bucks to take care of him like that.”
“Since I’m Rusty’s friend, I’m gonna do the same thing.” Artie pulled a bill from his wallet. “And do me a favor. If Rusty does come back today, say, don’t mention I was asking. I want to surprise him.”
Seeing the size of the bill, the bartender happily and speedily agreed. Upon returning to the hotel, Artie handed another bribe to the desk clerk, admonishing him to tell no one, and he meant no one that Mr. Gordon had returned to the hotel. Not even Colonel Richmond. The clerk was someone baffled, but agreed. Artie winked at him. “What the colonel doesn’t know won’t hurt him, eh?”
“Oh. Oh yes, sir.” He was no more enlightened than he had been before.
As Artemus headed for the elevator, he smothered a grin, knowing he had confused the poor clerk even more. He was also certain that the desk clerk would heed his request. James West and Artemus Gordon had stayed in this hotel on previous occasions, so this clerk was aware of other strange goings-on.
Upon reaching his room, Artemus locked the door. He stripped off his jacket, opened his collar, and moved the room’s two oil lamps to the dressing table with the mirror. Placing his tubes and sticks in a strategic order, he pulled other items out of his makeup kit. Lastly, he placed a photograph against the mirror.
Lloyd Morris had produced that photograph out of a file which contained other information about Theo Gaskin. The picture was several years old, but Artemus could easily see how his disguise the other night had caused those four men to believe that Gaskin had returned to San Francisco, especially in the smoky light of the barroom. The darkness of the alley had not helped either.
I need to look even more like Gaskin than I did that night. The photograph showed him a mole on Gaskin’s cheek, and that the man’s right eyelid drooped slightly. Because of the age of the photo, chances were the eyelid sagged even more now, or had when he had last been in this area. Artemus Gordon worked slowly and carefully, leaning close to the mirror. This may be the most important disguise I’ve ever created, he told himself. Jim’s life—perhaps even my life—may depend on it.
The problem was going to be Gaskin’s voice and mannerisms. Rusty and his friends had not given him an opportunity to speak, let alone reveal his disguise. If this ploy worked, Artemus knew he was going to have to talk as well as try to be convincing with his movements and stance. The beating would help to some extent; no one should be surprised if he was hunched and hobbled.
The knock on the door was not surprising. Hearing the firm footsteps in the hallway Artie had turned down the lamps. He waited quietly, ignoring the call of “Artemus, are you in there?” and after a second knock the footsteps moved away. Good thing the colonel’s room is on another floor. Be easier to sneak out. I’m probably going to catch hell after this, if I live through it; and maybe even if I don’t!
His next visitor was a surprise to Jim, though as he thought about it later, he knew he should not have been astonished that Harry Hazeltine came to see him. The lawyer instructed the guard who let him in to wait outside, and when the man hesitated, barked a command which the guard obeyed, though still obviously reluctant. Jim suspected the men had received specific orders from Beryl Kingston, and perhaps were unsure of Hazeltine’s status.
Jim had been standing at the window, staring down at the gate and the lane, willing his partner or the police or anyone to arrive. He refused to believe that Artemus was accepting the shanghaiing story, but he also was uncertain what Artie could do. He might have difficulty convincing other officials to help him. Jim had to admit he was unsure about the colonel, who at times could be very flexible, yet on other occasions was a strict military man.
It might be up to Artie alone… and of course whatever I can manage to do.
Hearing the click of the door lock, he had turned, expecting the lavender-eyed woman, or perhaps a guard bringing more food. It was close to dinnertime. Instead, the bearded, nattily attired attorney entered, followed by the sentry, whom he summarily dismissed. Jim stood still and waited as Hazeltine took a few steps toward him.
“Mr. West, I trust you are comfortable.”
Jim merely gazed at him, hoping to impart his opinion of such an inane comment. The ploy worked, for after a few moments, Hazeltine’s complexion darkened, and he cleared his throat.
“I wanted to tell you that your capture and imprisonment were carried out against my advice. Mrs. Kingston can be a headstrong woman.”
Now Jim spoke in a quiet, almost unemotional tone. “I expect she’d have to be to run a gang of cutthroat murderers.”
The remark did not appear to faze Hazeltine. “I also want to mention that I am completely unarmed. I took care to remove everything from my person that might be used as a weapon or as a means of escaping.”
Jim shook his head slightly. “You expected me to attack you?”
“I know your reputation, Mr. West. You are not usually a man who simply sits back and awaits whatever might come.”
“What do you want, Mr. Hazeltine?”
“I came—without Mrs. Kingston’s awareness—to recommend that you surrender and yield to her wishes.”
“To save your life, of course. Beryl will have you killed if you continue to reject her demands.”
“No, I mean why did you come here, against her wishes and knowledge?”
“Because I think it’s in all of our best interests to move on rapidly.”
“By moving on, you mean leaving this area?”
“Possibly even the country. Beryl is headstrong, she’s also very stubborn at times. I’ve been trying to convince her that even if the authorities accept the ruse that you have been shanghaied, they are not necessarily going to drop the investigation that you initiated. I’m aware of the loyalty—as well as the brilliance—of your partner, Mr. Gordon. My recommendation is that we move our operations to another country, at least for awhile.”
“You’re worried about yourself, Mr. Hazeltine? I could tell you that thus far, no evidence has been found to link you to the ring, other than your close friendship with Mrs. Kingston, and the fact that you were Gerald Kingston’s lawyer.”
The attorney’s smile was tight. “There you have it, Mr. West. I am a lawyer. I am quite aware how loose ends can be tied up, roping in all parties. Occasionally some escape, but not often enough to suit me. No, I’m ready and willing to leave.”
Jim folded his arms across his chest. “Taking me with you?”
He did not have to explain what he inferred. “I’m also aware, Mr. West, that Beryl is infatuated—fascinated—by you. It began some time ago when you and Mr. Gordon participated in another case in this area and stories were printed in the newspaper. Sight unseen, Beryl started fantasizing having you in our midst. Now that she’s met you…. But I think I can hold my own, primarily because I’m of the opinion that you have little interest in her, especially now that you are aware of the truth about Beryl Kingston.”
Which won’t stop me from playing up to her if it aids my escape! “Surely you know she’s insane.”
Hazeltine merely nodded. “It runs in her family. Her grandfather was hanged for murdering three men. Her mother killed two of her own children and herself. Beryl escaped merely because she had disobeyed her father and gone to play with some friends. Her father knew of the possibility of madness in her, but he doted on her, his only surviving child.” Here the lawyer paused, shook his head slightly.
“What happened?” Jim asked despite himself. He knew more remained of the story.
“Beryl’s father objected to her marrying Gerald, despite that Gerald was a wealthy man. He was more than twice Beryl’s age, of course. So… Beryl killed her father. Poisoned his whiskey with a drug that simulates a heart attack. As you may be aware, Beryl knows quite a bit about drugs. She studied the subject intensively. She knew that the one she used on you yesterday would paralyze your limbs but you would remain conscious long enough to get you into the carriage, so as to make it look like you were entering willingly and avoid any semblance of a scene in a public place.”
Jim was quiet a long moment, absorbing what he had just heard. “And you’re willing to chance she might use some of her expertise on you?”
The lawyer smiled. “Beryl is headstrong, and insane, but she’s also very smart. She knows how important I am to her organization.”
“I presume you recruited the gang of killers.”
“Many of them, yes. Started some years ago after I became Gerald’s attorney. It began when I became aware that something in his financial situation wasn’t quite right, and when I confronted him, he told me the truth, intending, I’m sure, to kill me if I objected. I’m rather smart myself, Mr. West. I am a good lawyer, a successful one, but I’d never accrue the kind of money being an attorney that I could working along with Gerald, and later Beryl.”
“Mr. Hazeltine, you have not yet explained the reason for your visit.”
“Haven’t I? I suppose it’s this. I suggest you yield and join Beryl’s… company. You’ll be killed if you don’t. By participating willingly, you will become a rich man. But I also suggest you rebuff any advances Beryl makes toward you. Because I will kill you if you don’t.”
Jim chuckled, and seeing the startled expression on his visitor’s face, explained. “Looks to me as though I would have been better off had I actually been shanghaied. The way you explain it, Beryl will kill me if I reject her, and you’ll kill me if I don’t!”
Hazeltine’s stare turned into a glare. “It’s up to you, Mr. West. I know you to be a clever man. I suggest you use that cleverness to remain alive. But I also suggest you do not attempt to escape. Beryl detests disloyalty. She thought that Gerald was being disloyal by attempting to disband the company.”
“I see what you mean. Then I suppose I should offer you my gratitude, Mr. Hazeltine.”
“Don’t bother. I agree with Beryl on one aspect. Your talents, as well as your knowledge, will be great assets. However, you have far to go to prove yourself.”
Jim did not respond as Hazeltine spun to go back to the barred door, reaching through to pound on the wooden door. It was opened immediately and without a backwards glance, Hazeltine departed.
I think he’s a bit off his rocker himself! Not in the same way Beryl was mad, Jim decided, but in the manner in which numerous criminals appeared to be mentally unbalanced, unable to live an honest life, and certain that they were smarter and in some ways more morally correct that those who did follow the straight and narrow. Miguelito Loveless came to mind. Jim had to smile slightly. Suppose Beryl Kingston met Loveless. What a pair that would be!
He returned to the window and his vigil, watching the road and gate down below. He was quite aware that if Artie did come, he might not arrive by the front door. In fact, chances were he would try to find a different way in. Of course, Artemus might try one of his famous disguises, but which one would get him through the gate to gain access into the house…
Jim West’s heart seemed to momentarily stop beating as the realization hit him like a sledgehammer. Oh, no, Artie! You can’t do that! The orders are to kill Theo Gaskin if he reappears!
Artemus allowed himself to loudly express the jolt of pain as the wagon bounced in and out of a rut and continued on at a rapid pace. He was, after all, Theo Gaskin, and so far as his captors knew, Theo was still recovering from the beating of a few days ago. In truth, so am I! He planned to use the discomfort of his injuries to help his disguise along once they reached Kingston Hall.
He had no doubt that was where they were headed, even though he could not see much in the darkness beyond the high sides of the wagon. So far the ruse was working. In disguise, he had again visited the bar where he had encountered Rusty and his friends the first time. A different bartender was on duty than on either previous visit and that worked out well, because Artemus was able to ask his questions without arousing undue suspicion.
That bartender also said that Rusty had not been in the last few nights, but he had heard that the man was seen at a bar a few blocks down the street. The barkeep seemed a bit put out that a regular had deserted. Artemus purchased a shot of whiskey and drank it so as to have alcohol on his breath, then headed for the other establishment.
Luck was with him, for Rusty was there with two of his friends. Artemus, as Theo, pretended not to see them, going to the bar to purchase a bottle of cheap whiskey, then carrying it to a table. He had barely poured a drink when he was joined by the trio, who pulled out chairs and sat down uninvited.
“Never knew you was so stupid, Theo,” Rusty growled. “Always heard you was a pretty sharp tack.” He still wore the knit cap and his wild red hair still poked out from underneath it.
Artie kept his chin down on his chest. “Go ‘way. I don’t want no more trouble. I just wancha tuh take me to see th’ boss.” He allowed his words to slur, hoping that none of these men had known Gaskin well enough to recognize his voice. Rusty’s words had indicated he had not been well acquainted.
“The boss don’t wanna see you,” another of the men snapped. “We got orders…”
“I gotta big deal,” Artie interrupted. “Big, big deal. She wants to talk to me. Big money. Politician type, y’know.”
“In Canada?” Rusty inquired, sounding somewhat incredulous. Also, the use of the feminine pronoun had not fazed him.
Glad you told me. “Yeah. Canada. Big mucky-muck. Big deal. Big money. I gotta see the boss.”
He did not lift his head as a long silence ensued. He knew the men were looking at each other, trying to make up their minds whether to believe him or not, and what to do about it. Rusty finally asked, “Where you been the last couple days, Theo?”
“Hosh… hos… hoshpital. You boys hurt me pretty bad. Di’n’t give no time to talk. Big deal. Lotsa money. Maybe reward.”
“Reward?” one of the men echoed.
Artie barely glanced up. “You take me to the boss. She’ll be happy. Lotsa money.”
The silence was a little different this time. Although Artemus still did not raise his gaze, he could picture the men exchanging glances, this time considering the bonus they might receive. Finally Rusty spoke.
“Guess it won’t hurt to take him out there. He can be killed there just as easy.”
When “Theo” protested that he did not have a horse, and could not ride anyway, the men had “found” a wagon at a livery stable, or so they said. One man stayed with him while the other two went off and returned with the wagon. Their horses were tied behind it as they headed out of the city.
A full moon was coming up over the horizon, and Artie knew the landscape would soon be well lit. No fog again tonight, at least not in this area. Might come in handy later, if plans went as he hoped. None of these men had mentioned Jim yet. They may or may not even know that he was at Kingston Hall… if he was at Kingston Hall. Think positive, Artemus. Think positive. He has to be there.
Because the wagon was slow, the trip to Kingston Hall consumed nearly twice as long as on horseback. Artie did not dare pull out his watch, but he suspected the hour was close to midnight. Yet, as the wagon pulled in through the gate, after being cleared by the ever-present guard, he saw that lights were blazing inside.
When Rusty pulled him out of the wagon bed, Artemus again did not need to feign the pain he experienced. Not as bad as when he had first awakened in the hospital a couple of days ago, but still sharp. The doctor today told him that although the rib seemed to be knitting well, he should still be careful.
The butler, Chase, opened the door, apparently hearing the commotion outside. He stared openmouthed for a moment as Artie stumbled up the stairs, Rusty and another man on either side, grasping his arms. Then the butler stepped back to allow them to enter.
“Mrs. Kingston is in the first parlor,” he said briskly. He recognizes Theo too, Artie decided.
Artie allowed the two men to drag him along, mumbling drunkenly and trying to resist. Chase hurried ahead to open the door to the room, and apparently give advance warning, for when they entered. Artemus glanced up for just a moment. Beryl Kingston was on her feet, beautiful face a mask of rage, eyes like glittering stones.
“Gaskin! What the devil are you doing here? You were warned!”
Rusty released Artie’s arm and stepped aside slightly, pulling off the knit cap. His wiry hair sprang out like a porcupine’s quills. “Miz Kingston, he says he came back on account of he has a job for us… you.”
“Job?” She came closer. Artie kept his head down, continuing to sway slightly on his feet. He was aware that someone else was in the room, but he did not look up to see who it was. “What kind of job, Theo?” Artie mumbled something. “What?” She grabbed his hair with her hand, jerking his head up. “This isn’t Theo Gaskin!”
The three men who had accompanied Artie all exclaimed at the same time.
A new voice entered the conversation, coming closer. Artemus recognized Harry Hazeltine. “What do you mean, Beryl? Looks like Gaskin to me.”
She was staring at Artie’s face, still holding onto his thick hair. “Look at his eyes! Theo’s eyes are gray. Who…?” A satisfied smile flattened her lovely mouth. “Of course. I have heard of your famous disguises, Mr. Gordon. I certainly can see why my men mistook you for Theo.” Now she released his hair, but grabbed hold of one of the bushy sideburns, yanking it off.
Artie smiled in return. “That stings.” He straightened his body, and carefully removed the other sideburn. “Good evening, Mrs. Kingston. Nice to see you again.”
For a long moment, Beryl Kingston was silent, just gazing at him. Then she shook her head slightly. “I never heard that Artemus Gordon was insane. So there must be a reason for this.”
“A man needs a reason to visit a beautiful woman?”
Hazeltine was alongside Beryl now. “Don’t mess with him, Beryl. Let the boys take him out and get rid of him. They can dump his body in the bay…”
Beryl was waving a hand. “No, no. I know of a better use for Mr. Gordon. Obviously he’s looking for his late partner. Do you believe in ghosts, Artemus?”
“Indeed I do,” Artie replied enthusiastically.
“Search him,” Beryl ordered.
He had had some problem falling asleep, partly due to the brightness of the moon shining through all the unshaded windows, or so it seemed, and also due to the fact that he had been so sedentary all day long. Jim had just started to doze off when he heard the lock on the outer door rattle. He did not move other than to turn his head slightly so as to see the door.
Beryl Kingston entered first, followed by Artemus Gordon, attired in the same ragtag outfit he had been wearing the night he had been assaulted in San Francisco. Jim slowly sat up and rolled his legs off the divan, but did not stand up.
“Hello, Artie,” he said casually.
“James, good to see you again. Seems the sea air agreed with you.”
“Nothing like an ocean voyage to rejuvenate one,” Jim remarked, now getting lazily to his feet. Rusty and two other men had followed Beryl into the room, all three holding weapons.
Beryl left Artie’s side and crossed the moonlit room to Jim, taking his arm. “Isn’t it lovely that your dear friend came to join you, James? Now I know you’ll want to accept my proposition, to keep Artemus happy… and healthy.”
“You have a point there,” Jim murmured. He wondered about the complacent expression on his partner’s face. What in the world was Artemus up to?
“For now,” Beryl said happily, “Artemus will have to share your quarters. I’m sure after you two discuss your situation, you’ll be ready to move to your own room downstairs, James, and leave the penthouse to Artemus.”
“Say,” Artie cried, “that’s not very fair!”
“I’m sorry, Artemus. Once James explains the situation to you, I’m sure you’ll understand. Good night to the both of you. I’ll see you at breakfast.”
The barred door and the wooden one were both closed and locked. Jim sank down on the sofa, drawing one leg up. “Artemus, I think you’ve got things a little mixed up. You are supposed to rescue me, not join me!”
With an exaggerated motion of his arm, Artemus snapped his finger while he strolled toward the front windows. “I knew I was forgetting something. Quite a luxurious penthouse view, James.” He turned from the window. “A little sparse on furnishings, though.”
“And the sofa is mine, pal. I got first dibs.”
“Hmm, floor looks nice and soft. I take it dear Beryl is pressuring you to join their little corporation.”
“Yep. And now she has you to hold over my head. You disguised yourself as Gaskin again? Are you crazy?”
“Crazy, I hope, like a fox, partner. What’s the situation here. Bars look pretty solid.”
“They are. Nice cozy little prison cell.”
“You haven’t made an escape attempt? I’m surprised at you. Getting soft in your old age?” Artie sat down on the other end of the couch.
“My teeth aren’t up to chewing through steel bars. That’s about the only weapon I have left. I have some explosive clay, but no fuse and no match anyway.”
“Tsk, tsk. Didn’t I teach you better than that?” Artie looked toward the barred door. “Any chance we’ll have a surprise visit?”
“I can’t promise it, but it seems unlikely. Why? What do you have in mind? They searched you, didn’t they?”
“Quite thoroughly… almost.”
Jim grinned. “What did they miss?”
“I have some tape in my jacket collar and matches in my boot heels.”
“Enough to cut through those bars?”
Artie’s face took on some doubt. “I don't know, Jim. They are pretty thick. Maybe in conjunction with your clay. Next question is… which way do we go?”
“Pretty much has to be out the door, Artie. I’m pretty sure we’d have a long jump if we went out the window. No trees near enough to grab, and I don’t remember seeing any vines or handholds of any sort.”
“That’s my impression as well. How many men are here?”
Jim shook his head. “I don’t know. I’ve seen three or four different ones bringing my meals… and the three who escorted you up here tonight were not among those.”
“So we can count on at least a half dozen and probably more. Seems to me we need to tiptoe out of here and hope that Lloyd was able to talk Richmond into following me.”
“You came out here without the colonel’s knowledge?”
“You know he wouldn’t have gone for it, Jim. I’m pretty sure he thinks you are long gone, or even dead, buying the shanghaiing story. I talked it over with Lloyd. He couldn’t follow me to the bar where I met Rusty and his friends, but I was certain where I’d be taken…”
“If you weren’t murdered in the city.”
“Well, there was that possibility. But I arranged for Lloyd to go see Richmond and tell him this evening… too late for the colonel to do anything about it. The plan is to get some help from the army and come on out here. But…”
“But you don’t know, first, if Richmond will go along with it, or be too angry to be reasoned with, whether the army will cooperate, whether…”
“Yeah, little things like that.”
Jim West sighed noisily. “Artemus, one day you are going to be the death of me. And probably yourself.”
Artie grinned. “But we sure have a lot of fun, don’t we?”
Jim could only chuckle. “Yeah, there’s that. What’s the layout outside the door there? Stairs?”
His partner looked at him in some surprise. “You don't know?”
“I was unconscious when they brought me up here.” Jim realized Artemus had no idea how that had happened, so he explained briefly. “I know I might have been naïve, but it never occurred to me that she would do anything so bold in broad daylight, in the middle of a city street.”
“Beryl Kingston is very clever, Jim.”
“She’s also insane. I think that’s what bothered me from the very beginning. I was… struck by her beauty, yet something seemed to be amiss. She sees nothing wrong with murdering people she never met just to gain money.”
“She must have pretty high overhead with all the people on her payroll.”
“Yeah. She had Gerald Kingston killed because he wanted to quit the business and enjoy his ill-gotten gain.”
“And now,” Artie said, nodding, “she wants you to replace Gerald.”
“Seems so. Now that you’re here, I’m pretty sure she thinks she has a hammer to hold over my head.”
“Ah,” Artemus grinned, “but she doesn’t know you as well as I do, huh?” He laughed, drawing a grin and a shake of the head from his partner. Then both sobered as Artie said, “We need to figure out what we’re going to do, Jim. Morning is going to come all too soon.”
Jim pushed himself off the sofa and walked to the front window, leaning as closely to the bars as he could. “Earlier, I could see some light on the ground below, which I figured came from the lamps in the front parlor. It’s gone now. Which may indicate everyone has turned in.”
“Or it may not,” Artie countered, getting to his feet. “However, we have to take some chances, the way I look at it.”
“Exactly.” Gripping a bar with one hand, Jim lifted his foot to push the heel of his boot aside and extract a lump of claylike material. He did the same with the other heel, as Artemus pulled off his jacket to begin slipping long and slender strips from under the collar and lapel. He also produced several short matches from his boot heels.
“How much fuse do you have?” Jim inquired.
Artemus stretched out a coil that he had brought out along with the chemical tape. “Probably a half hour total here. What do you have in mind?”
Jim explained his ideas and his partner concurred. They would use the chemical tape to burn through the bars—Artemus stating frankly that they might need to double the tape because of the thickness of the iron and thus the exit space could be pretty narrow—then a small portion of the clay to burst the lock on the outer wooden door. The remainder of the clay would be left on the floor of the room, with what was left of the fuse burning. The subsequent explosion would serve as a distraction in one form or another.
The biggest problem turned out to be detaching a portion of the fuse to use on the door, because neither had a knife. Bending it back and forth innumerable times then standing on it while pulling finally separated a short piece. Artemus laid it and a small chunk of clay aside while he carefully placed the chemical tape over the bars.
They had estimated the need to remove a section of at least three bars in order for them to squeeze through. The bars were three or four inches apart. Jim tried to convince Artie to go for four because the wrapping around his chest and midriff was going to add to his girth, and it could be difficult as well as painful for him to squeeze through. Artemus adamantly refused.
“Not until we see how much we need to burn through these bars. I wonder what the devil this room was constructed to hold. A gorilla?”
“That was in Kansas,” Jim reminded him dryly, and quickly informed him of what Beryl had told him of the history of this house.
“Nothing like a handy little tower jail,” Artie returned. “You never know when you're going to have to imprison a guest.”
He stepped back from the bars, producing a match from his shirt pocket. “Ready?”
“As much as I’ll ever be,” Jim nodded.
Artemus ignited the match, then quickly held it to ends of the tape stretched across the bars in two areas. Both men stepped back, turning their heads slightly so as to not gaze directly at the garish illumination caused by the burning chemicals. The room filled with the acrid odor as the flame crossed the tape and died.
Jim quickly stepped forward and rammed his forearm across the bars. “Damn! Artie, they aren’t giving!” He slammed the bars again and they didn’t budge.
“Ah, Mr. West,” Artemus said, using his best Scots burr, “ne’er let it be said that a Gordon is not parsimonious!” He produced more of the tape from inside his shirt. “Got enough here for one more try, though single not double.”
“Think it’ll be enough?” He thought about chewing his partner out for causing the moment of despair, but decided it would be futile. Artie would be Artie.
The process was repeated and this time when Jim shoved the bars, they gave, though not without some resistance. They had not burned all the way through. However, the space was wide enough for Jim to slide through. He turned to help his partner. Artie first lit the fuse of the ball of explosive clay on the floor and then wriggled through, trying to hide the discomfort it caused. Jim’s expression revealed he was not entirely successful, but neither said anything.
The next step was to carefully arrange the smaller ball of clay around the door lock, then light it and step to the side. The explosion was a mere “poof!” but was enough to fracture the mechanism, especially when Jim slammed against the door with his foot. They stepped cautiously out onto the landing ahead of the darkened stairwell, and listened. The house was very quiet.
“We’ve got about twenty minutes before the second explosion goes off,” Artie whispered.
“Then let’s go.”
Once they started down the stairs they left the moonlight behind, and the darkness became complete, making it necessary to grasp the narrow handrail tightly while carefully taking one stair at a time. Jim was in front, and he bumped into the door. A moment later, Artemus bumped into him.
Grasping the doorknob, Jim held his breath, hoping it was not locked, knowing they would have to make quite a bit of noise to break it open if it was. But the latch turned easily, and quietly. It opened into a broader hallway lit by lamps in wall sconces.
“Stairs are to the left,” Artie said softly.
They entered a wide hallway, with a thick, plush carpet. Lamps in wall sconces were turned low, but provided enough illumination to view a number of closed doors. The two men did not speak as they slowly walked toward the stairs. Having no knowledge of who was sleeping behind those closed doors, they did not want arouse anyone. They were unarmed, and if Beryl’s men slept here in the house, those men would definitely have weapons.
Reaching the main floor without incident, they carefully and quietly unlocked and opened the front door, peeking out through a crack. Down the lane, a light was glowing in the guard’s little shack.
“I was hoping they just locked the place up at night,” Artie muttered.
“No sign of the cavalry,” Jim said. The opposite side of the road was a thick stand of trees. “If we can get by that guard, we can go through the woods, maybe find some help on the other side.”
“Unless the other side opens onto a sheer cliff over the ocean, or an impassable creek,” his partner groused.
Jim just laughed softly. They stepped out onto the porch, each ducking behind a pillar on either side. “One of us needs to try to scale the fence and get around the guard,” he said, then grinned as Artie made a “be my guest” gesture.
Using some of the overgrown shrubbery as shelter, the two men made their way from point to point across the broad yard, occasionally looking back toward the house, seeing no sign of activity there. If we can overpower the guard, Jim mused, we should be able to get a weapon or two. He knew they had to do it without any noise. The explosion should be going off within about ten minutes, and with any luck, the ensuing confusion would give them a good head start.
Reaching a point behind a large bush about ten feet and to the right of the locked gate, Jim nodded to Artemus, and then made a quick and quiet dash for the iron fence. His momentum allowed him to leap for the top rail and hoist himself up, avoiding the few “spear-like” ornaments at the top of the railing. The moonlight permitted him to see that he inadvertently had chosen a spot where the ground on the other side was filled with loose rock.
That meant slowing down, lowering himself over the other side cautiously so as not to disturb the rocks and make no sound that would alert the guard. Chances were good that the guard was dozing, but in the silence of this rural area, the noise a rolling rock might make could easily arouse him.
Artemus watched from behind the bush and briefly wondered why his partner hesitated once he was atop the iron fence. He quickly figured it out though, as he saw Jim grasp the top rail and vertical bars to lower himself slowly and carefully. Something on the ground on the other side was causing the slowdown.
Maybe we would have been smarter to try to find Beryl’s room and take her hostage. Then again, we could have opened a couple of wrong doors and gotten ourselves in deep trouble. No, getting away from here as soon as possible was the best strategy right now. We’re unarmed, and could be facing ten or a dozen men if detected. He glanced back toward the darkened house. Only a pale glow showed in the second floor window that opened off the hallway lit by sconces. That bomb is going to detonate very soon!
Reaching the ground, Jim immediately dropped into a crouch and waited a few moments, listening. No sound came from the kiosk about ten feet from him. Still moving cautiously, he stepped out onto the grass that was growing between the rocky area and the road, and moved slowly toward the guardhouse.
The one thing that had not occurred to either of them was that the guard might change during the night. Hearing a sound, Artemus looked around and saw a man carrying a rifle emerge from around the side of the house, striding toward the lane that would lead him to the gate and the guardhouse.
Too late to warn Jim. Knowing calling out might alert others, Artemus moved around the bush, keeping himself out of view as the replacement guard neared. As soon as the man passed by him, he stepped out, grabbed the fellow’s arm to jerk him around, and slammed a fist into his chin. With a grunt, the man stumbled backwards, the rifle falling from his hands as he dropped to the ground, unconscious.
His motions were not silent, however. In stumbling, he had not only kicked a rock but then fell through a small dried bush which crackled. Artie ducked back behind his original bush as he heard a sound from the guardhouse.
“Who’s there?” the man who stepped out of the small building called, though he did not yell loudly. “That you, Jed?”
Maybe he’s been chastised before for waking the house needlessly. Jim had heard the commotion himself, and he froze for a moment, waiting to hear who responded to the sentry’s call. When no one did and the man walked toward the gate, holding a rifle and peering toward the house, Jim moved. Unwittingly his actions duplicated those of his partner, as he seized the guard’s arm to spin him, and hit him with a hard right. This man was of a burly build, however, and though staggered, he did not immediately go down, trying to bring his gun about.
Jim grabbed the barrel of the gun and jerked it. The rifle went off, firing harmlessly into the trees beyond. Harmless in that it did not hit human flesh. But not so harmless because the noise would arouse the house. A second blow to the middle and another to the chin brought the man down. Jim quickly picked up the rifle and searched the guard for the keys. Finding them, he dashed to the gate, calling to his partner. Only then did he see the man sprawled in the dirt alongside the wide path.
As soon as the gate was open, Artie dashed through. They locked it behind them, aware that other keys were undoubtedly available, but also realizing that having to unlock the portal again would slow down pursuit. The two men ran across the dirt road and plunged into the woods there. They had gone perhaps a hundred feet when the explosion rocked the house behind them. The shouts they heard revealed that the blast had added to the confusion caused by the gunshot, as anticipated.
“Let’s go, let’s go,” Artie urged, as they had paused to look back upon hearing the sound.
“Wish to hell we knew where this leads,” Jim panted.
“Away from Beryl and her men,” Artie replied. “That’s all that counts right now.”
They kept running, conscious now of the different tone to the sounds back at the house. Someone was barking commands, apparently raising a posse to pursue them. However, when Artemus stumbled on a root and tumbled to the ground with a sharp groan of pain, they had to stop a moment as an anxious Jim helped him to his feet.
“I’m okay, I’m okay,” Artie insisted, steeling himself against the sharp pain in his chest. Have I damaged that rib?
“Artie, look!” Jim was facing back towards the house and road, and Artemus turned that way. The moon was filtering through the thick trees and brush to some extent, but it was very dark. Through that darkness, they could now see an orange glow.
“The explosion set the house afire,” Artie muttered. “I wondered if that would happen. Well, that should bring company. I assume there’s a volunteer fire department out here somewhere.”
“Might work to our advantage,” Jim concurred, “but we’d better keep moving.” From the yells and some other sounds, the posse was obviously taking up the pursuit. “You sure you’re okay?” In the faint light, Jim saw the shiny perspiration on his partner’s face and wondered if his complexion was not more pallid.
“I’m fine,” Artemus assured him. “Come on.” No more falls, Artemus. You might do it for good and all. He knew he would have a difficult time convincing Jim to leave him if indeed he became incapacitated.
Clutching their rifles, the pair continued onward, trying to keep to a steady course that would take them directly through the woods, but with the darkness and the need for haste, Jim was unsure if that was what they were doing. He remembered Artemus’s remark about coming to a sheer cliff or an unfordable waterway. We don’t know this area at all. Could be a creek ahead. But I doubt there’s any cliffs… though the ocean is somewhere out there… I hope not! These woods were extremely thick, apparently untended and unused. In this portion, no evidence revealed that any trees had been downed for firewood or lumber or anything else.
At least their pursuers were running into the same difficulties as they were, dealing with the thick brush and lack of light. The two agents could hear shouts and occasional angry curses or questions. Someone appeared to be giving orders, but it also sounded as though those orders were being disputed.
That’s good, Artie decided. Might slow them down. A couple of times he glanced backwards and saw that the glow from the burning house was brighter and brighter. The whole place was going, it seemed. An unintended consequence, but Artemus did not feel any remorse. With her residence in flames, Beryl Kingston might have other things to think of. Odd that she sent her men after us instead of keeping them to fight the fire. Then again, Beryl would be a difficult woman to predict.
Both men were panting heavily when they came upon a small stream, with a bed about four feet wide although the width of the water flowing through it was probably only a foot or so. Jim estimated they had gone at least a half a mile, but then again, distance was difficult to judge when traveling through the thick copse. They took turns getting water, and while Artie was kneeling down to drink, Jim checked his rifle.
“Looks like I have about six shells in here,” he commented.
Artemus ejected the bullets from his. “Four. Great. Would have thought they’d keep their rifles fully loaded.” He looked around as he automatically reloaded. “Jim, I’m getting the impression these woods are a lot deeper than we anticipated.”
“Yeah. I know. How about we follow the stream awhile? But first…” He stepped across the water, up onto the opposite bank, and crashed through some brush there, creating some very visible broken twigs and branches, as well as some footprints in the soft soil. Then he carefully arced back, stepping on piles of leaves and needles, or a fallen branch, so as not to leave any returning signs. When he got back to the other side, the two men wordlessly headed upstream, north, toward the town of Daly City.
“Richmond must have been difficult to convince,” Jim said as they slowed to skirt around some brambles growing alongside the stream.
“He’ll be here,” Artie spoke firmly. “Might be taking awhile to get the army out of the Presidio. At least the colonel still has his rank.”
“But the Presidio has a general,” Jim reminded him.
“When did that ever stop James Richmond?” Artie cracked.
“Wait a minute,” Jim said, halting his steps and reaching out to grab his partner’s arm to stop his movements. “Listen.”
They could hear a low rumbling sound. Horses. “The army or the fire department?” Artemus wondered softly.
“Artie,” Jim said briskly, “let’s head back toward the house. Circle around.”
For a moment Artemus was astounded by the suggestion. Then he realized what his partner meant. Whether the sound they heard was the approach of the cavalry from the Presidio in San Francisco, with Richmond at their head, or the local volunteer fire department, they would at least have allies. “Let’s go.”
Although they slowed their pace compared to what they had used escaping from the house, the going was no less difficult, requiring pushing through brush and thickets, sometimes with thorns grabbing at their clothing and skin. The only relief was the awareness that the sounds of the shouting pursuers were farther away. With any luck, that group of men had crossed the stream and were still going.
When they finally neared the road, they slowed even more, remaining hidden from the view of anyone at or near the blazing building. The trees and other growth around the house and yard made it difficult to see just what was going on inside the fencing. Lights were illuminated in neighboring homes, with the residents aroused probably first by the explosion, and then the fire and commotion. A few people, mostly men in dressing gowns, were out on the road peering through the fence.
“I think it was the fire brigade,” Artie muttered. “Doesn’t look like they are going to be able to do much to save the house.” The flames were shooting skyward and in all directions. Every time a wall or a beam fell, sparks emanated like fireworks.
“It doesn’t matter. I have the money.”
Both men whirled to see the woman standing a half dozen feet behind them. She was attired in a velvet robe over her nightclothes. The robe appeared black in the moonlight. And she held a double-barreled shotgun pointed right at them.
“I thought you might be coming back,” Beryl Kingston said pleasantly. Her dark hair flowed over her shoulders like a glowing silken river. “Drop your weapons.”
“Beryl,” Jim said quietly, “it’s all over. You should surrender. It’ll go easier on you.”
“Surrender! Why? I haven’t lost anything except that stupid house. I told you, I have the money. Thousands and thousands of dollars and everything else I need. The three of us can set up headquarters elsewhere, just as I was explaining to you earlier, James.”
“The three of us?” Artemus echoed. “You’re including me in your plans now?”
“Why certainly. You proved your brilliance and courage tonight. I had heard of both of you, and now I’m suitably impressed. We can set up a worldwide organization.”
“If we’re going to be working together,” Jim spoke pleasantly, “why do you want to disarm us?”
She sighed in exasperation. “Because I don't know if I can trust you yet. But that will be taken care of. That little drug I used on you was not the only pharmaceutical knowledge I possess. I will administer a poison to each of you, a poison that must be treated at regular intervals, or you’ll die. If either of you betray me, the other will not get the antidote. Simple, don’t you see? I know about your close friendship, and Mr. Gordon’s derring-do tonight proved that as well.”
Artemus exchanged a glance with his partner, remembering their discussion earlier about her sanity. Clearly she was mad. She was standing in a dark woods in the middle of the night, clad in her nightclothes while her home was burning to the ground, but confidently planning her future criminal life with two men she could not trust unless she threatened them. The expression on her face was one of complete confidence.
“That might work,” Jim said slowly. He wondered about a faint sound he was now hearing, but a louder noise was that of the Beryl’s men, who had apparently realized they had been tricked and were now circling back. They might well arrive to assist Beryl, which presented a quandary. Did they stall for time to allow the Army a chance to arrive—if that was the sound he was hearing—or work quickly to overcome Beryl before her men got there.
“What next?” Artemus asked.
“Put your weapons on the ground,” Beryl stated. “This scattergun has a very wide range. I can get both of you easily.” She lifted her weapon slightly to emphasize her point.
They had no choice at the moment. Both men leaned over to place their rifles at their feet. Beryl was pleased.
“Now, when the fire burns out and people have dispersed, we’ll begin our journey. We’ll go back into the city, charter a boat and… what’s the matter, Artemus?”
Artie had clutched at his midriff, leaning forward slightly, gasping in pain. “My chest—I think the broken rib has pierced my lung…” He was speaking in a very hoarse tone, and as though unable to take a full breath.
Jim grabbed his arm. “Artie!” I hope to hell this is an act, pal! “Here, lay down. Come on.” He eased Artemus to the ground, quite conscious that Artemus positioned himself parallel to one of the rifles laying there, his arm partially covering the weapon. Jim experienced a mild sense of relief, yet wondered just what Artie had in mind. That shotgun was dangerous.
Beryl came a little closer, looking down at him. “What’s wrong with him?”
“That beating your men gave him when they thought he was Gaskin broke a rib. The doctor warned that undue exertion might cause a problem. Now it seems it has. He’ll die if we don’t get him some help!”
Beryl’s lovely face was thoughtful. “Well, we don’t really need him…”
“You need him if you expect my cooperation,” Jim shot back. She came a couple steps nearer, very close to Artie’s boots.
“Is that true, James?” she asked, her gaze fastened on his face. “I thought you cared for me.”
“Regardless,” he returned, keeping her attention on him, “you can’t expect me to care for you if you let my friend die.”
“Jim, help me,” Artie moaned.
Jim leaned over his friend, and at the corner of his eye, saw Beryl take another step. He jerked back as Artemus whipped his legs around, catching Beryl Kingston at the ankles. She shrieked, tried to regain her balance, the shotgun flailing wildly. Jim West grabbed at the gun, caught the barrel, and yanked it from her grip.
Artie leaped to his feet to grab Beryl around the waist from behind, pinning her arms as she screamed curses and struggled. Jim was able to kick the rifles out of the way, then he pointed the shotgun. “Remember, Beryl, this scattergun does a lot of damage.”
“You won’t shoot me with Artemus right behind me!” she challenged.
Artie released her and stepped to one side. “Fire away, ,James.”
Beryl’s eyes widened. “You wouldn’t…!”
“Misbehave and find out. Come on, out to the road. I think we have company coming.”
“Now that has to be the colonel,” Artie stated, pushing through the brush.
Beryl reluctantly followed, Jim right behind her with the shotgun. The flames from the house were still towering, and between the fire and the moon, visibility was high. The approaching Army men saw them, and Colonel Richmond, on the lead horse alongside Sergeant Lloyd Morris of the San Francisco Police Department, called a halt.
“Colonel,” Artemus hurried up to him, “there’s a bunch of men coming through the woods. Armed men. Hers.”
Richmond turned to the officer behind him. “I suggest you prepare to receive prisoners, Lieutenant Case.” As Case began to give orders to his men, Richmond dismounted. “Mr. Gordon. I thought you said you were checking in at the hospital.”
“I did, sir.” Artemus held himself erect, trying to ignore the throbbing pain in chest and midriff, exacerbated not only by the run through the woods but his recent close encounter with the beautiful woman who rammed a couple of sharp elbows into him while struggling. “The doctor looked me over and changed the wrappings.”
“And then you took it upon yourself to be a one man posse to rescue James. Did you think I would forbid you?”
“You’re right, I would have. But I could have also told you that virtually every deposit in the Kingston bank account coincides with a murder over the last several years. That information persuaded the judge to issue a search warrant for these premises, presuming some sort of records could have been found.” Richmond looked toward the blazing structure. “Not much chance now.”
Jim had kept his eyes on Beryl and now he spoke up. “Mrs. Kingston told us she saved her money from the fire, colonel. I suspect she saved more than that. Ask the soldiers to search this area… as soon as they have Beryl’s boys in hand.”
James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: "Thanks Artie"! Is that all you can say to me? I've just come back from the grave, risen like Lazarus, and that's what you say? "Thanks, Artie"?
James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: It's a pleasure.
- TNOT Pistoleros
SS senior field agent
Posted - 03/16/2009 : 09:27:44
“Artemus, how are you feeling?”
“Much, much better, colonel. Thank you.” Artemus stepped back from the door to allow Colonel Richmond to enter the train car. “Any news?”
“Quite a bit. Where’s Jim?”
“Back taking care of the horses. He’ll be here in a few minutes. Care for a drink?”
Artemus saw his commanding officer eye the oval table on which a bottle and a couple of glasses rested. “No, thanks,” Richmond said then.
Artie did not smile. He knew that the colonel still had not figured out the trick, and he was not about to reveal it. “I have the wrappings off my chest finally,” he said, waving the colonel to a seat on the sofa and taking a chair at the small table. “The bruises are all but gone, though I must admit that if I take too deep a breath, I feel it.”
“You were extremely lucky that you did not damage yourself further,” Richmond said.
Artemus knew the man well enough to realize that the colonel was still unhappy about the way his agent behaved that day in San Francisco, especially not revealing his plans. The fact that Richmond likely would have vetoed those plans vehemently did not figure into it. Nor did the ultimate successful conclusion.
Jim pushed through the door from the kitchen area just then, wiping his hands with a towel. He was in a white shirt, sleeves rolled up, open at the collar, and his hair was damp, probably from splashing water on his face after his exertions with the animals. He stopped. “Colonel! Didn’t know you had arrived, sir.” He quickly dropped the towel and began to roll down his sleeves, silently wishing he had not left his jacket in his quarters.
Richmond waved a hand. “Sit down, Jim. I just came to give you an update on Mrs. Kingston and her cohorts. And to tell you that you will be suspended two days without pay. Artemus, your suspension will be twice that.”
Both agents froze, then exchanged a glance. “What did Jim do?” Artie asked before his partner could speak.
Jim sank into a chair, wracking his brain to remember what he might have done that could have been considered insubordinate or against any rules. This was the first they had spoken to Richmond since that night at Kingston Hall over a week ago. And the first hint that they were up for punishment. Artie I can understand. But why me?
“Just on general principles,” Richmond said. Clearly he was enjoying this. Both men knew that they had gotten away with quite a lot over the years since James Richmond became head of the service. “You countenanced Artemus’s behavior.”
“Colonel,” Jim said, bewildered, “I didn’t even know…”
“Yes, and that’s why your punishment is only half of Artemus’s. Now, to other business. First, you may be interested to know that when the Navy set out to overtake the clipper that we believed Jim had been shanghaied to, they were unable to catch up to it. So it’s a damn good thing that the shanghaiing was a sham. However, they did come across a schooner running without lights that night, and when they summoned her to heave-to, she tried to flee. That one they did run down, and found it full of bootleg whiskey. So in a roundabout way, you helped solve that problem, Jim. For that reason, you’ll receive a small bonus in your next pay envelope.”
“Th… thank you, sir.” James West was more baffled than before. His pay was being docked, but he was receiving a bonus! And he really had nothing to do with either situation!
Artemus looked at Jim, then back at the colonel, half waiting for Richmond to come up with some reason to reward him. After all, I did rescue Jim and help him round up Beryl Kingston’s gang!
The colonel continued briskly. “You already know that Beryl Kingston shot Harrison Hazeltine before she escaped from the burning building. Happily, one or two of the volunteer firemen were aware of the value of some of the contents of the house, and rescued a number of valuable art objects. But of course the huge bonus is that with the records that Mrs. Kingston so helpfully stashed along with the money she was rescuing from the fire, we are tracking down the people who paid to have relatives or acquaintances murdered for one reason or another, including the man in Seattle who arranged to have Alex Byram murdered because Byram was instrumental in prosecuting his son and having him hanged. “
“Good,” Jim said. “I presume Irving Condit is on that list.”
“Yes, and perhaps surprisingly, also Lydia. She wasn’t married to Condit at the time, but chances are she not only persuaded him to go through with the murder for hire, but put him in touch with the Kingston gang. She was working in a dive on the Barbary Coast when she met him. In any case, warrants have been issued and arrests are being made. Going to be a massive operation, bringing all these folks to trial—including Theo Gaskin once we have him extradited from Canada. Beryl’s papers also implicated Harrison quite fully. His part went far beyond simply recruiting killers from among his grateful clients.”
“Have you spoken to Beryl since her arrest?” Artemus asked.
“As a matter of fact, I have. I sat in on an interrogation with the federal attorney. Because several states are involved, the case comes under the federal purview. Police departments are cooperating, of course. But Beryl continues to espouse her innocence, trying to blame Hazeltine, saying that he forced her to cooperate.”
Jim shook his head slightly. “I don’t buy that for one minute.” He knew he would never forget the woman with the amethyst eyes, especially not the gleam of madness he had seen in those eyes.
“No, and neither is the prosecuting attorney. She seems to have forgotten the extensive records, dating back to when Gerald Kingston was in charge, and which plainly indicate her involvement—her willing involvement—right from the beginning when she met him. Always amazes me when criminals keep these sorts of records. And that reminds me. Getting back to that night when you disobeyed orders, Mr. Gordon.”
Artie stiffened in his chair. “I didn’t disobey, colonel. I went to the hospital…”
“Perhaps not strict disobedience, but certainly a bending of them. What I was going to say was I returned to the hotel, expecting to find you there to tell you I had discerned positive evidence that bank deposits coincided with dates of the murders, and that the judge was drawing up a search warrant.” The colonel cleared his throat. “We would have found and rescued Jim without your… er…heroics.”
“That’s not necessarily true, colonel,” Jim said quickly. “Chances are very good that if you and other officers showed up at the front door with warrants, someone would have been dispatched to the tower to… dispatch me.”
“Possibly,” Richmond replied, displaying no inclination to let the other agent off so easily.
Artemus sat silently, his expression glum. He did not mind so much the four-day suspension. He could always find things with which to occupy himself, perhaps in the lab, or writing overdue reports. Even the docked pay could be borne. In fact, he was unsure why he was feeling so down about the business. He had twisted the rules a bit. Richmond had every right to discipline him, despite the successful conclusion of the case. Still…
“Colonel,” Jim spoke quietly, “I think it is unfair that you are punishing Artemus twice as hard as me.”
Artie’s head twisted around to look at his partner, then quickly back to the colonel, expecting to see grim anger on Richmond’s countenance. Instead, the colonel was gazing at Jim thoughtfully. “Perhaps you are right. Perhaps I should double your suspension.”
“No!” Artemus cried, standing up. “Colonel, Jim did nothing wrong. He was in great peril, in Beryl Kingston’s clutches. She’s a crazy woman, and who knows what she would have done to him!”
“Maybe. But it was very careless of him to get kidnapped in the first place.”
Artie stared at his supervisor. Why was Richmond being so unreasonable? Slowly he sat down again. Did he have a fight with his wife and is taking it out on us? Mrs. Richmond is a lovely lady, but she is a bit headstrong at times.
“Colonel Richmond,” Jim said then, “I want to officially request that the penalties be reversed. After all, if I had not gotten myself captured, Artie would not have felt it necessary to… to bend the rules and rescue me.”
“No, Jim!” Artie protested. He was about to say more when he abruptly noticed that their commander was grinning from ear to ear. “Colonel?” Jim was gaping as well.
Richmond got to his feet. “There are no suspensions, gentlemen. No docking of pay. I just wanted to see how you would react… and allow it to stand as something of a warning for the next time.” He sighed noisily, shaking his head. “Although I suspect the moral of the lesson will be completely lost on you two.”
Both agents were on their feet, again looking at each other. “Colonel,” Jim said, “I don’t get it.”
“No, James, I’m sure you don’t. You wouldn’t be James West if you did listen to me, nor would Artemus be Artemus.” He exhaled a long sigh. “And I’m not so sure we would want it any other way.”
“No suspensions?” Artie repeated, still incredulous. “No fines?”
“None. I expect there may be a commendation of some sort before this is all over. A huge murder ring has been stopped, gentlemen, thanks greatly to your efforts. And to think it all started due to one huge coincidence. Artemus, do you think you could come up with any more disguises that would fool wanted criminals into revealing themselves?”
“That’s what he does regularly, sir,” Jim put in.
Richmond nodded. “So he does. So he does. Well, I’d better be going. You two are heading east, I’m going north. I expect I’ll see you again soon, and probably before the Kingston trials begin.”
“No doubt, sir.” Artemus grinned as he followed Richmond toward the door at the rear of the car. “No doubt, indeed.”
“Colonel,” Jim called. Richmond paused and looked back. “The bonus… was that also a… a hoax?”
“No, indeed. The only untrue part was that the bonus also applies to Mr. Gordon. When it arrives, take a couple days off and enjoy yourselves… with pay. Good day.”
The two agents stood silently for a long moment after the door closed. Finally Artemus turned to look at his partner. “Jim? What just happened? Were we censured or blessed?”
Jim West stood with his arms akimbo, shaking his head. “I suspect a little of both.”
“You don’t suppose that the colonel was trying to change our wild, wild ways.”
“No. Certainly not. At least… I don't think so.”
“I agree. Wholeheartedly. He wouldn’t want us to change… would he?”
Both men began to laugh. After a minute or so, both needed to find chairs and handkerchiefs to mop their eyes. Not often did Colonel James Richmond get the best of them, and if he had been after retribution for the times the two agents had pulled the wool over his eyes, he most assuredly had gained it today!
James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: "Thanks Artie"! Is that all you can say to me? I've just come back from the grave, risen like Lazarus, and that's what you say? "Thanks, Artie"?
James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: It's a pleasure.
- TNOT Pistoleros