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Double Take
SS novice field agent

USA
2087 Posts

Posted - 12/12/2011 :  10:39:18  Show Profile
The Night of the Silenced Thief



The orange tabby cat crouched close to the outside wall of a small dry goods shop; its body tense as it stared intently at a hole gnawed in the wood siding a few feet away. The twitching tail was the only movement in the deserted alley. A cloud drifted across the moon cutting off the sole source of light. Suddenly the cat turned and hissed, its back arching and fur standing on end. The offended feline scuttled out of sight. The deep shadow of a crate provided refuge and the cat froze as two furtive forms crept around the corner into the alley. The cat watched their progress until the figures stopped at the rear door of the general store.

The taller of the two, a youth in his mid-teens with curly black hair, handed his smaller companion a metal picklock. He scanned the deserted alley intently as his cousin, five years his junior, crouched by the door and inserted the pick into the lock. The slender brown-haired boy bit his lower lip as he carefully probed the inner workings, feeling for the pins as his older cousin had taught him. He felt them fall into place and he slowly turned the handle to open the door.

Derrick clapped the younger boy on the shoulder in approval, but when Jim did not step forward into the darkness of the storeroom, Derrick gave his cousin a gentle push.

“You not going to chicken out on me now are you, Jim?” Derrick whispered in the dark.

“Course not,” came the terse reply. “It’s just…well, it just don’t feel right.”

“We ain’t stealin’ nothin’. Besides it’s your dad’s shop, so we ain’t even trespassin’. Not really.”

The brown-haired boy frowned as he looked up at his 15-year-old cousin. He liked Derrick; liked the fact that he would let his 10-year-old cousin hang around him. Derrick knew so much more about the world than Jim. He had traveled to big cities and had all sorts of exciting adventures. Jim knew his father disapproved of the way Uncle JD had raised Derrick, but Jim was in awe of his cousin. So when Derrick offered to teach him how to pick a lock, Jim jumped at the opportunity. Part of him knew that it was wrong, but the eager youth craved excitement that didn’t exist in the small town where he had spent his entire life.

***

The lanky dark-haired teen had come to live with Andrew West and his family several weeks earlier. Derrick’s father, James Derrick West, or JD as everyone called him, had been shot and killed breaking into a museum just over a month ago.

Always the black sheep of the family, JD West had married into a family who had for generations lived on the wrong side of the law. His wife, Lizzie, was the youngest daughter of the infamous Roger Whitmore, well known for his skills in opening even the most sophisticated safes.

Since childhood, JD had never liked to be shut out of anything. An empty store begged to be explored, a locked door opened and a hidden compartment found. Not traits generally appreciated by society, JD found acceptance within the Whitmore family where his natural talents were honed and his disregard for authority nurtured.

Andrew West had hoped that when Derrick was born his older brother would give up his criminal lifestyle and settle down as a family man, but that never happened. Several years later Lizzie West died from complications during her second pregnancy, leaving JD to raise Derrick on his own. As he grew, Derrick learned from his father, uncles and cousins all the skills that a young thief would need.

Upon the death of JD, Andrew managed to gain custody of his nephew. He hoped that with the right influence, the teenager could still be diverted from the path laid out by his father. Knowing it would be a hard transition, he warned the teen that he would be watched closely. No criminal activity would be tolerated and, under no circumstances, was he to teach Andrew West’s two children, James, 10, and Amelia, 13, any of his nefarious skills.

***

Jim took a small nub of a candle from a shelf by the door and lit it as his cousin closed the door behind them. The two boys threaded their way through the storeroom to the door leading into the main part of the store. Derrick took the candle from his cousin, shielding the flame with his hand as he slowly opened the door. He could just barely make out the contents of the store in the dim moonlight coming through the windows. Nothing moved in the street so he slipped through the door and down a short hall which led to Mr. West’s office. He could hear Jim following in his footsteps, barely breathing for fear of making any noise.

Derrick grinned over his shoulder at his cousin. Jim was fun to have hanging around. Like a puppy, the 10-year-old hung on every word the older boy said. Jim badgered him with questions, but Derrick liked being the center of attention and didn’t mind entertaining his cousin with stories. He had made the young boy promise not to tell his father as most of his tales revolved around heists Derrick’s father and grandfather had pulled.

As soon as they were in the cramped office, Derrick set the candle down on the small free-standing metal safe and crouched beside it. He motioned for Jim to come close and, in a hushed whisper, explained what he was doing as he slowly, carefully turned the dial of the combination lock. Jim held his breath, watching in fascination as his cousin worked out the combination to the safe. The concentration on the teen’s face was intense as he listened for the tumblers to fall into place. After nearly five minutes, Derrick gave a gentle pull and the heavy metal door swung silently open.

“You did it,” Jim gasped in astonishment. Part of him had doubted his cousin’s claim that he could actually open the safe. All the tales of Derrick’s exploits must be true!

Derrick grinned with pride, “Yeah! You thought I was joshin’ didn’t you? My dad said I got my granddad’s hands and ears, and his smarts.” Derrick was silent for a moment. “Wish he was here,” he said softly.

“Think I could do that?” the brown headed youngster asked tentatively.

The teen’s somber mood brightened immediately, “Bet you could. But you probably would never be as fast as me.”

Derrick shut the safe door and spun the dial, “Okay, now’s your turn.”

Under Derrick’s whispered guidance Jim West turned the dial of the safe. His face was tight with concentration. Right, then left, now back to the right. Click. The safe swung open after nearly fifteen minutes and several aborted tries. Jim stared at the open safe, sweat trickling down his face. He reached in and picked up a short stack of bills, the sales from the previous day. Before he could return it to the safe, Derrick snatched the stack from his hand and peeled off a bill from the bottom.

“I think we earned this,” he grinned as he slipped the bill into his pants pocket. The rest he tossed back into the safe.

“Give me that,” Jim demanded angrily. “That’s my dad’s. You said we wouldn’t take nothin’.”

“If it’s your dad’s then it’s yours as well. Consider it payment for teaching you how to open a safe,” Derrick responded. He swung the safe door closed and spun the dial.

Before Jim could protest further, Derrick grabbed the candle and headed back toward the office door. Jim hesitated a minute then chased after his cousin. He was so angry that he never paused to make sure the road in front of the shop was empty. Derrick was already at the backdoor of the storeroom and had snuffed out the candle when Jim came through the door.

“You’ve got to put it back,” Jim pleaded. He started to make his way through the cluttered room. In the darkness, his foot caught on a bag of flour. He pitched forward into a crate of china. By the time he had picked himself up, Derrick was gone and Sheriff Beau Drawdy was standing at the backdoor with his gun drawn. The sheriff had been passing by and seen the movement inside the closed shop.

“Who’s there? Show yourself!” the sheriff demanded.

Jim bit his lower lip. He could feel the heat rise in his face. There would be no escaping his father’s wrath. He swallowed hard and slowly pushed himself to his feet.

“It’s…it’s me, Sheriff Drawdy. Jim West. I, uh…I, uh…well, I, uh…” his voice trailed off. There was no sense in fabricating a story, Jim was not a liar. Andrew West had tried to instill high values in his children.

***

The young boy stood staring at his feet. His face burned with the heat of his shame. He had known it was wrong from the start. How had he let his cousin talk him into it? Now he stood before his father, his idol, facing the man’s quiet anger, far worse than any switch.

“Tell me why you did it.”

Jim looked up and met his father’s blue eyes, “Derrick told me he could open a safe and I wanted to see him do it. Wanted to see if I could learn, too.” The boy dropped his eyes again, “He showed me how to pick a lock and said I could be good at it like him one day. Derrick said it wasn’t really wrong ‘cause we weren’t taking anythin’.”

The brown haired boy raised his green eyes and met blue ones, “I’m sorry, sir. I won’t ever do it again!”

“No, you won’t,” Andrew replied firmly. “Where is Derrick now? Did you see him, Sheriff?” Andrew glanced around the sheriff’s office half expecting to see his nephew ensconced in a cell.

“Never saw him. Just young James here in a pile of shattered china,” Drawdy nodded at Jim.

The torn pants and cut hand were nothing compared to how Jim felt inside. He knew he had disappointed his father, and now he would have to explain it all over again to his mother. His adventuresome spirit had got him into trouble before, but nothing like this. Even as he promised his father he would not do anything like this again, part of him still felt the thrill of excitement when he had opened the safe. That part of him understood why his uncle and cousin led a life of crime. But the sense of honor, duty and justice instilled by his father was much stronger.

Later that evening Jim ventured to ask his father about his cousin.

“What about Derrick, sir? What’ll happen to him?”

Andrew West gazed out the window into the dim evening light. “I expect Derrick will return to his mother’s family,” he said with a sigh. “I sent a telegraph to let them know what happened, but I don’t honestly expect to hear back from them.”

The elder West was silent for a minute. “Your Uncle JD and I were very close as children. That’s why I named you after him. Now he’s gone. I had hoped to have a part of him here in Derrick. I guess it wasn’t meant to be.”

Andrew let his hand rest on his son’s shoulder. “In some ways, son, you are very like JD. You have his spirit and love of adventure, but I hope you have my values and sense of what is right and wrong.”

***

“Jim?” Artie threw a puzzled look at his partner. James West was one of the most focused, attentive men he knew. It was very unlike him, to let his mind wander during a briefing with their superior, Colonel Richmond, head of the Secret Service. “So you do know this Peter West Colonel Richmond has in lock-up?”

Jim shook his head, “No, not directly, but he could well be my cousin’s son. Derrick West lived with my family briefly when I was growing up. He followed in his father’s footsteps. My uncle was a pretty successful thief, until he got himself shot breaking into a museum.”

“Ah! This would be the cousin who tried to lead you astray as a youth?” Artemus smiled widely, remembering the tale his partner had told him several years ago of breaking into his father’s store.

“One of those nasty skeletons we try to keep hidden. At least those skills have served your country well, West,” Colonel Richmond said glancing from one agent to the other, his lips pursed.

“I’ll have someone bring the prisoner to my office,” he continued as he headed toward the door. “He’s refused to speak to anyone but you, Jim. I hope what he has to say was worth bringing you both all the way back to Washington.”

A few minutes later two agents escorted a young man in his late teens into Richmond’s office. His resemblance to his father was striking with his tall frame, curly dark hair and blue eyes. There was a cocky surliness to the youth’s demeanor. Jim noticed bruises on his face and a split lip that was just beginning to heal. As soon as they entered the office Peter pulled loose of the escort’s grip, casting a sharp glance over his shoulder at the two men.

“Gentlemen,” Richmond said dismissing the escorting agents with a nod. “This had better be worth it,” he added giving the young thief a hard look as he followed his men out of the office, closing the door behind him.

Alone in the room with the two Secret Service agents, Peter West’s shoulders slumped and the angry frown softened. Grief filled his eyes and he turned away from West and Gordon.

Artemus leaned back against the ornate mahogany desk that was the centerpiece of the wood paneled office. He would leave the questioning to his partner, but he listened attentively and, more importantly, watched the young man’s behavior. Neither man knew for sure whether the prisoner would talk in front of Gordon, but whatever the young man was up to, if it involved Jim then it would involve his partner as well.

“You’re Derrick’s son?” Jim said breaking the silence. The telegram from Colonel Richmond had instructed the agents to return to Washington as fast as possible. That meant leaving some loose ends from their last assignment, riding hard to reach their private train, the Wanderer, twenty miles away, and a race across three states. If it was so urgent for them to be there, then he saw no point in waiting until the boy was ready to talk.

Turning back around, Peter faced the two government agents. He took a deep breath and nodded.

“My father told me about you. The time he spent with your family. I think he was kind of proud that you joined the Secret Service. Put to use what he taught you. He always said you could have been a good thief, if you didn’t have a conscience.”

Peter glanced toward the somewhat older dark haired agent leaning against the desk. He met the calm brown eyes, studied the man’s confident, relaxed demeanor. Jim noticed his gaze and introduced his partner.

“Has something happened to Derrick? Is that why you’re here?” Jim pressed the young man.

“He’s dead,” Peter answered swallowing hard and struggling to contain his emotions. “He was killed a couple of nights ago by Burchard Guillory’s men. They caught up with him not far from the hotel. They beat him; nearly killed him outright. They left him for dead then they came looking for me. They figured we were working together. I convinced them that I knew nothing. That Dad had been working alone.”

Peter rubbed his bruised jaw and stared down at the floor, “For a little while now I’ve been trying to convince Dad it’s time to quit this racket before one of us…before one of us got killed. I tried to talk him out of this job, but he had heard Guillory had something big going down. Something in his safe that was worth protecting. Dad thought it was jewels or something, but it wasn’t. It was a list of names. Dad died for a blasted list of names!”

Jim glanced over at his partner. Burchard Guillory was well known to the law enforcement agencies all along the east coast. Guillory was a wealthy and powerful man, and that power had protected him thus far. No one dared go after him without positive proof of criminal entanglement. The agents’ interest was aroused. What could be so important about a list of names?

“Did your father take the list?” Artemus asked.

The teen looked up and shook his head, “When he realized that there was nothing of value he decided to high-tail it out of there. That’s when he was spotted. He nearly got away; he thought he had got away. But Guillory’s men were able to follow him and caught up with him not far from the hotel where we were staying.”

Peter was silent for a moment, “After they beat him, they came after me. I guess they believed me when I told them I wasn’t involved because they let me go with just a warning. Dad staggered in a few minutes later. He practically crawled back to the room. He told me about the list before he died.”

“Did he tell you any of the names on the list or what it was for?” Jim asked.

“Big men...important men. He recognized some of the names, but he only was able to tell me a couple. Jerry Matthews, Todd Abrams and Harcourt Winslow were at the top. He thought the men were on Guillory’s payroll. There were other papers in the safe as well. Plans for taking over the government. He said it looked like they were going to attack and take over the government from the inside. That’s why I’m here. I may be a thief, but I’m not an anarchist. I don’t want to see this country destroyed by scum like that!”

Peter paused for a moment waiting for a reaction from the agents. When none came, he shrugged and continued. ”Anyway, that’s why I’m here. No one else’ll believe me. I figured you’d be my best chance of getting someone to listen.”

Outside the second story window, the streets of Washington bustled with life. Here, as in many areas, there was a sharp division between those with money and those with none. The ones with money always seemed to be looking to increase the chasm by acquiring more money and more power.

Jim stared out of the window at the people passing below. Somewhere out there, men were plotting to overthrow the government. A government he had fought for and now helped with the struggle to preserve it against outside forces determined to exploit any weaknesses they perceived. He and Artemus had foiled many such anarchist plots, but most of them had been threats from without. Based on the limited information from Peter West, this one was a threat from within.

During the exchange, Artemus had, for the most part, remained silent, but now he questioned the young man about the safe, “Can you tell us anything about Guillory’s setup? The layout of the building or the location of the safe.”

“You’re not seriously thinking you can break in there and get your hands on that list?” Peter asked incredulously. “My father was one of the best thieves in the world and he didn’t make it out without being spotted. Burchard Guillory has one of the most advanced safes in the world in addition to a pot load of guards. No amateur safecracker is going to get into his house and open that safe.”

Jim turned back from the window, “Getting the list isn’t enough. We need to get our hands on it without Guillory knowing we’ve got it.”

“You’d be committing suicide, and for nothing! You’re not getting into that safe, at least not without help,” Peter stated decisively. He looked from one agent to the other, but neither seemed perturbed by his outburst.

“And you can,” Jim said calmly. He held Peter’s gaze.

“I can. I was there when he got the safe. Mr. Guillory asked for my father’s advice when he wanted to upgrade his security. He's had ties with crime for years, but has always managed to keep his outward appearance clean. At least clean enough to avoid the law.”

“So much for honor among thieves,” Artemus said with a grin.

Peter shot him a dark glance then continued, “We stayed with Mr. Guillory for several days. I was able to get my hands on the safe and check out its locking mechanism. It is one of the most sophisticated I’ve ever seen; not your run of the mill three tumblers you see on most safes. It took me longer than normal, but I was able to get it open.

When Dad told me about this job, I tried to talk him out of it. Told him I was out. I thought if I refused to help him, he wouldn’t try to pull the job. Guillory’s security’s too tight; one man can’t do the job alone. Dad tried anyway,” Peter shook his head sadly.

James West walked past the young man and opened the door. Colonel Richmond was leaning against his assistant’s desk with his arms crossed, waiting impatiently for a report. Close by, the two guards hovered, ready to escort the prisoner back to his cell.

“I think we need to talk, Colonel,” Jim said to his superior.

Richmond motioned for the guards and Jim stepped out of the way to let them into the office.

“Cooperate with them, Peter, and you’ll be fine,” Jim said softly to his young cousin.

After the agents and Peter had left, Richmond resumed his seat at his desk. He looked from West to Gordon. Jim was standing with his back to the door, his right hand clasping his left wrist. Artemus had taken Jim’s place by the window. Both men wore thoughtful expressions as they considered the dangers that lay ahead.

Colonel Richmond listened intently as Jim outlined what Peter West had told them. Richmond’s eyes blazed with fire when Jim told him about the list of names in Guillory’s safe.

“The department has long suspected Burchard Guillory was involved in some sort of plot against the government, but we have never had enough proof to pursue the man. To accuse Guillory of something like that would be political suicide for the man making the accusation. But if we can get that list…” Richmond’s voice trailed off. He knew the risks such an endeavor would entail.

“Do you trust him?” the colonel asked his agents indicating the door through which Peter West had just disappeared.

“No, sir,” was Jim’s immediate response, “at least not entirely.”

“He’s probably telling the truth about the list and being able to get into the safe, but revenge is a dangerous motivator,” Artemus said, finishing his partner’s thought. “It is his judgment that is likely to cause us problems.”

“Nevertheless, Colonel, we need to try. And I think the boy is sincere in his desire to help. We’ll just need to keep a tight rein on him so he doesn’t get any other ideas,” Jim concluded.

“Very well, gentlemen, I’ll leave the details of the plan to you. Remember, Burchard Guillory is worse than a rattlesnake; he will strike without warning. He has a lot of political clout. Don’t get caught or it will be the end of your careers as well as mine…It could even mean the end of the agency. Guillory is that powerful.”

Artemus smiled grimly, “I think if we get caught it will be more than our careers in danger!”

**********************************************************************************************

Double Take
SS novice field agent

USA
2087 Posts

Posted - 12/12/2011 :  10:40:45  Show Profile
The “rattlesnake” stood in the office of Bartholomew James, a prominent politician, looking out on to the same bustling Washington street that James West had viewed from his superior’s office. He preferred to have his “partners” come out to his estate, but every so often, he made the trip into Washington to make sure those men already in place knew what to do and would not back out when the time came for the plan to be put into motion.

Burchard Guillory was a handsome, lean man. He always appeared polished and suave, but he exuded a subdued menace that kept his fellow conspirators on edge whenever he was around. Although he never claimed the title of being the ring leader, none of the others involved questioned his position or authority.

“Now that George Williams has had such an unfortunate accident we need to get the few remaining pieces in place,” he said to the occupant of the somberly decorated office. “You need to convince Grant to appoint Benjamin Donover to the Treasury Advisory Board. That will cement our position when the plan goes into motion. You’ve got two weeks.”

Bartholomew James nervously dabbed the beads of sweat from his upper lip. It was too late to back out now. Whether he liked it or not he was deeply indebted to Guillory. The anonymous donor who had contributed so heavily to his campaign funds turned out to be Burchard Guillory. Guillory kept him on a tight leash as he did the other politicians, judges and advisors around Washington and beyond who were involved with his plan.

“Two weeks?” James squeaked swallowing hard. “It may take me that long to get an appointment to see the President!”

Guillory handed him a sheaf of papers in a folder, “Here is Donover’s dossier. Make sure that it gets into Grant’s hands. That and some subtle persuasion over a drink should convince our President that Donover is perfect for the job George Williams so recently vacated.”

With his hand on the doorknob, Guillory hesitated and looked back at the sweating politician clutching the folder. He dropped all pretense of respect, “Work on building some backbone. Once the plan is set in motion I’ll need you issuing orders, not sniveling like a schoolgirl.”

***

Late that afternoon Burchard Guillory sat in his study. Smoke coiled up from a cherry pipe resting in an ashtray next to a nearly empty snifter of brandy. He deliberately ignored the man standing just inside the door waiting to making his report.

Merrill Steiner fidgeted, but did nothing to interrupt his employer. Dressed in dark pants and dark navy blue jacket with a peaked cap, he was the chief of Guillory’s security force. He tolerated Mr. Guillory’s tactics designed to make his employees feel inferior. Steiner had seen his boss do the same thing to important guests, even the state’s governor when he visited the estate a few months ago. Steiner felt certain that his boss would one day wield control over more than just his personal business ventures. And when Burchard Guillory established himself as the man in charge, Steiner wanted to be there.

Across from Burchard, a large picture frame stood out from the wall hinged like a cupboard door. The wall safe, normally concealed by the lithograph, also stood open. The entrepreneur rose and returned the papers to the safe, closing the thick steel door and spinning the dial. A small packet with protruding wires was affixed to the wall just within the demarcation line where the picture frame protected the wallpaper from the dimming effects of time and smoke. Guillory examined the explosive device then finally looked up at Steiner waiting by the door and acknowledged his presence.

“Mr. Steiner, see to it that the charge is doubled. If someone opens this safe I want them - not dead mind you, that pleasure I reserve for myself - but incapacitated.” He pulled a small revolver from his inside jacket pocket and checked it over lovingly before breaking it open to ensure that it was fully loaded.

Steiner nodded and waited for his employer to continue, “Yes, sir, Mr. Guillory.”

“Do you have anything to report on Derrick West’s son? You may regret letting him live, Steiner. From what I hear he is almost as good a thief as his father. No one but Derrick could have gotten inside this house. Shame really. West was a talented thief and I profited from those talents. I can’t figure out what he was after. Nothing taken, nothing disturbed here or upstairs,” Guillory frowned as he walked back to his stuffed leather chair.

Steiner cleared his throat; he knew his boss was not going to like his report.

“The boy headed west after we left him in Buckeystown. I had a man following him. He got on a train headed to St. Louis, but my man never saw him get off. He must have jumped at some point. There’s been no sight of him since then. That was a couple of days ago.”

Guillory smiled, unperturbed by the news, “He’s gone off to lick his wounds. Probably thinks it’s healthier to stay away from this area for a bit.” He paused then continued, “It may have worked to our advantage you leaving West's body where it could be found and serve as a warning to anyone else who might try to break in here.”

His employer’s good mood bolstered Merrill to broach the subject that had really brought him to the study.

“Mr. Guillory, it may be a good idea if we hire on a few extra men for security if you are going to continue having important guests staying at the house. We don’t really know whether West was going or coming when he was spotted, but I don’t like how he got past my patrols. They’re too spread out. A few more men will make it much tougher to get anywhere near the buildings,” Steiner said.

“Security is your responsibility, Mr. Steiner. Do what you think is necessary. But make sure this booby trap is effective against the next man who attempts to open the safe. That is, if he gets this far.”

****************************************************************************************************

While the train rumbled along to the northwest on the Metropolitan Line that led out of the capital, the three men sat around the table and made plans for the break-in that night. In front of them was a diagram on a large sheet of paper showing the layout of Guillory’s home. Having an excellent memory was a necessity for a thief. Peter had no difficulty drawing the building layout and grounds even though it had been well over a year since he was last in the grand home built with funds from both his legal and illegal enterprises.

Also on the table lay a list of names the agents would leave as a substitute for the real list. Peter had little information about what the original list looked like or how many names were on it beyond those told to him by his dying father. Artemus made sure the first names on the list he fabricated matched those given by Peter, but from there he made up some names. The agents hoped the fake list would never be seen by Burchard Guillory, which meant the Secret Service would have to act quickly once the switch was made.

Peter tapped the diagram showing the downstairs rooms of the mansion. He pointed to an inside wall of the study that Guillory used as his office.

“The main safe is in here. Guillory keeps some money and gold in it. Also important papers from his legitimate businesses. It’s a standard safe and shouldn’t be a problem to open.”

“Which even a lowly government agent like Jim or I can handle,” Artie joked, needling Peter about his remark from the previous day.

Peter ignored the comment and continued, “Burchard Guillory is paranoid. Most of his guards are outside. One or two maybe inside, but they’ll be watching the outside doors. Once we get inside one of you will go for the downstairs safe then take off to distract the guards.”

“But that’s not where the list is, right?” Artemus asked. “I’ve got a feeling we aren’t going to like the rest of the plan.”

Jim studied the layout silently. He met his partner’s gaze, but gave no indication of concern.

“The list’s in a safe upstairs in Guillory’s chambers. I’ll need at least ten minutes to get the safe open and switch out the lists, then make a run for it.”

“I hate to point out a flaw in your plan, but won’t Mr. Guillory be asleep in his room?” Artemus asked.

Peter shrugged off the question and continued detailing the plan, “When you make your escape after opening the downstairs safe you’ll pull the guards away from the house. That’s when I will make my move.”

“What makes you so sure Guillory will leave his room during the ruckus?” Artie queried.

“Burchard Guillory can’t keep out of the fray. He’ll come down. He’ll want to be the one to get his hands on the thief…or at least put a bullet in his back. It’ll be the first person’s job to provide a distraction long enough for me to open the bedroom safe.”

“No problem. He’ll just have to avoid being shot for ten minutes while he leads the guards on a merry chase around the grounds,” Artemus commented with a hint of sarcasm in his voice.

“We make our getaway in two different directions. One down the main road, whoever’s with me will go this way,” Peter continued as he traced a line out of the building to a point several hundred yards away where he had penciled in a mountain range. “The house backs up to a canyon. That way Guillory only has to worry about people approaching from the front. The back of the house is guarded by a cliff face too steep to climb without a rope.”

Artemus sighed, “You’re the better climber, James. I’ll take the downstairs safe and the direct road out.”

Jim nodded without taking his eyes off the map. “We can leave the horses here,” he said indicating a spot halfway between the house and the road where Peter had drawn in a line of trees shielding the house, “and circle around the rear of the house, leave the equipment and supplies at the base of the cliff and then make our way to the underground tunnel entrance.” He looked up at the dark haired youth across the table from him, “You’re sure about this entrance?”

“I’m sure. Guillory had this secret entrance built so if he or a visitor needed to arrive or leave unobserved he could.”

“It’s guarded I presume,” Gordon said frowning as he traced a line from the tunnel entrance to the main road over a quarter of a mile away.

Peter nodded, “There is plenty of cover around the tunnel entrance. That’ll work in our favor. We should be able to get close enough to take the guard out without raising any alarm.”

“We should be in Buckeystown by mid-afternoon. It’s a two hour ride from there to Guillory’s house,” Jim said.

Artemus opened a pair of cupboard doors to reveal a map on the wall above the credenza. The map showed the railroads in the northeastern part of the country. He pointed to a small dot indicating Buckeystown, which was situated on a branch line, then traced his finger along the Metropolitan Line west to a point where another line branched off to the north running parallel to the Buckeystown line. This second branch passed within a few miles of Burchard Guillory’s place, but was separated by a narrow mountain range.

“This line continues north through this valley. There is a siding just a few miles southwest of Guillory’s place. After I get back to the train, I’ll wait for you there, Jim. It could take you the better part of a day to get through those hills.”

Satisfied that they had a reasonably solid plan in place the two agents headed in different directions to prepare for the evening’s adventure. Peter remained at the table studying the maps. There was little he could do to prepare. All he really needed was his talented hands and a healthy dose of luck.

His fists tightened into a knot and he clenched his jaw. “Burchard Guillory will pay for what he did to you, Dad. We’ll get the evidence to bring him down. I just wish hanging would be as painful a death as what you suffered,” he said in soft whisper.

***

The ride from the train station in Buckeystown, where they left the Wander idling on a siding, to Guillory’s home was uneventful. Peter rode double behind Gordon since there was no reason to be burdened with an extra horse. As it was, Artemus would have to lead Jim’s black when he made his escape. Jim and Peter would be making their departure up the cliff face and through the low mountains. Artemus mentally went through the arsenal that he had packed in his saddlebags...smoke bombs, sleeping gas and a nice variety of exploding devices. His lot was to provide a distraction allowing Jim and Peter to access Guillory’s bedroom safe. Distracting the guards won’t be a problem, thought Artemus. Getting away in one piece will be the real challenge. But Jim will be the one with the list. He’s the one that’s got to make it out of there! Still, he felt confident that with his array of bombs and gadgets his chances were pretty good. I just hope that young hotshot doesn’t do something stupid that gets them into trouble.

Dusk had fallen by the time they left the road a couple of miles from Guillory’s estate. They carefully picked their way through the patchwork of fields and woods until they came to a denser line of trees that shielded the house and its formal gardens from the road. The terrain was hilly as it rose on their right into low mountains.

The stand of trees was several hundred yards wide and dense with shrubby undergrowth. It stretched from the road back toward the mountains that rose behind the house. It was a perfect spot to leave the horses out of sight of the house, but close enough for Artemus to make it back to them for his escape. Artemus Gordon’s chestnut gelding was tethered by his reins to a tree; Jim’s black was tied to Gordon’s saddle horn so when he made his escape he would not have to worry about releasing two horses.

The two agents rummaged through their saddlebags and stowed various pieces of equipment in pockets. Jim handed a rucksack to Peter that contained food and other supplies they would need to make it through the mountains. He detached a rifle scabbard from his saddle then slung it and a long coil of rope over his shoulder.

As quietly as possible the three men slipped through the length of the woods toward the mountains. Twice they froze and crouched down when they heard guards patrolling nearby. Despite the break-in earlier in the week, the guards were lax, being overly comfortable with their job guarding the nearly impregnable house, making it easy for the trespassers to avoid detection.

Under some dense, scrubby bushes close to the base of the cliff, Jim left the climbing supplies. They used some rope to hang the food from a slender branch of a nearby birch tree to avoid unnecessary activity that a curious bear might create if it were attracted to the food. From there the darkness provided all the cover they needed as they made their way unobserved toward the small grove of trees that shielded the hidden tunnel entrance from prying eyes.

Their luck held and they did not encounter any patrols until they were amongst the trees surrounding the secret entrance. Like wraiths, the three men crept through the underbrush. A little way ahead of them, but still a fair distance back from the tunnel entrance, Jim heard branches snapping and the swish of footsteps in fallen leaves. He dropped to the ground, motioning his companions to do the same. Slithering forward on his stomach, Jim came within sight of a guard who had decided to take a break from his rounds while he was out of sight of the house. His lantern, resting on the ground, cast a circle of light around him. The guard was dressed in the standard uniform for Guillory’s men, dark blue pants and jacket; a navy peaked cap perched on his head. A pistol was holstered at his side and a rifle with a bayonet was leaning against the trunk of an oak tree. The guard gave a cursory look around, and then pulled a flask from inside his jacket. After taking a deep swallow he leaned back against the tree then rolled and lit a cigarette. While his hand cupped the flickering match, Jim moved in from behind. He stepped up by the guard’s shoulder. A quick chop with his closed fist on the exposed neck sent the guard to his knees. The cigarette fell from his hand as he pitched forward to the ground.

Jim removed the guard’s navy coat and pitched his revolver deep into the underbrush. He handed the coat and peaked cap to his partner and proceeded to bind and gag the prisoner. Artemus Gordon removed his own coat and donned the guard’s outfit; his dark pants matched the guard’s closely enough not to be noticeable. Before he discarded his coat, he removed some items which he tucked in the inside pocket of the purloined navy coat. In the dark with the hat, he could easily pass as one of the guards. The test would come if he could get close enough to the guard at the hidden entrance to knock him out without rousing his suspicion.

Now Artemus led the way while Jim and Peter followed behind, moving from cover to cover. Artemus strode boldly through the wooded dell. The rising moon combined with the lantern provided enough light for the agent to follow a faint path that led to the hidden entrance to the tunnel. The path wound through the trees then terminated at a narrow opening in the hillside. He paused when he heard a cough ahead of him on the trail. Glancing back over his shoulder, he saw Jim and his cousin melt into the darkness. He knew that Jim would be making his way stealthily through the brush in case there was trouble.

Gordon pulled a cigar from his pocket and stuck it in his mouth. With his head bent forward as if struggling to light the cigar he moved into view of the guard. He grumbled as he lit a second match and s*cked on the cigar.

“That you, Jerry? What’re you doing? I’m not due to be relieved for another hour,” the guard called as he approached Gordon.

Artemus mumbled a reply just as his cigar lit and suddenly started to splutter and smoke.

“You’re not…” was as far as the guard got. The smoke from the cigar suddenly enveloped him and he took two stumbling steps before he collapsed. Artemus covered his nose with his handkerchief and wafted the fumes away with his free hand. Peter came running up and helped the agent hogtie his victim.

Just as they looked around for Jim, the secret agent came crashing through the woods with another guard’s head gripped under his arm. The two men tumbled to the ground, but Jim was back on his feet within seconds. Even as the guard struggled upright, Jim’s uppercut slammed into his chin. The guard’s head snapped back and he landed in a heap at Gordon’s feet. He soon joined his fellow guard bound and gagged outside the tunnel entrance.

The door creaked as Artemus opened it, holding the lantern high as he peered inside. The light penetrated the damp tunnel for thirty feet before the darkness closed in again. For the first ten feet the walls were lined with timbers to support the entrance, after that they were bare rock or hard packed earth. Every fifteen feet or so sturdy timbers supported the roof.

Artemus handed the lantern to Peter while he helped Jim drag their trussed prisoners just inside the tunnel entrance and left them leaning against the wood lined wall. Artemus closed the heavy door, cutting off the sounds of the night woods. Darkness closed in on him as Peter and Jim started up the tunnel bearing the only source of light.

“I hope you gentlemen aren’t afraid of the dark,” Artemus said with a smile as he turned and trotted after the disappearing light.

The tunnel ran straight back into the hillside for fifty yards then made a curve as it started to ascend gently until it reached a set of stairs descending from the house. The three men quietly climbed the stairs. At the top they were blocked by a wooden wall nearly six feet high and over four feet wide set in a stone frame. No hinges or door knob were evident, but to the right of the wooden wall a pull cord hung from a metal bracket protruding from a small opening in the stonework well above shoulder height.

Peter put his hand on Jim’s arm and shook his head as the agent reached for the cord. Evidently a signal sounds when that door is opened from the tunnel, Jim surmised. He bent forward and cupped his hands forming a step. Peter stepped up and reached into the narrow opening. He felt around in the dark hole until he found the pin that attached to a bell and removed it, effectively silencing the alarm system.

He nodded and dropped to the ground. With a mock bow he indicated that Jim could safely open the hidden door that led into Burchard Guillory’s study.

As they stepped into the study Artemus took the lantern from Peter and looked around the dark room until he spotted a couple of candles. Once they were lit he dimmed the lantern and hung it from a bracket inside the tunnel mouth. As he stepped back, the display cabinet automatically grumbled and grated back into its rightful place covering the tunnel entrance. Peter tapped a wall sconce just to the right of the heavy walnut piece indicating it was the indoor trigger to open the secret passageway.

Jim eased open the door to the study. He peered into the darkness listening for any sound of movement in the hallway that ran from the foyer to the rear of the two story stone house. He glanced over his shoulder at his partner who stood by a large lithograph print depicting a pack of foxhounds along with a dozen horses and riders clearing a low stone wall in pursuit of their quarry. The print hid Guillory’s safe. Artie met his partner’s eyes and gave him a jaunty wave. A faint smile played across Jim’s lips and he touched the brim of his hat in a salute to his partner before he slipped into the quiet hall followed by Peter. Jim knew in many ways Artie’s role was much more dangerous in this assignment than his own. Jim and Peter had to avoid being seen, but Artemus had to play the fox and draw the occupants of the house out for the hunt. A fox, Jim thought, appropriate for Artie…clever and ingenious with a sense of humor. Good luck my friend!

The kitchen door creaked slightly as Peter eased it open barely wide enough for him to slip through. Jim followed close behind in a low crouch. To their right they could make out the shape of a man sitting on stool by a large fireplace. He was leaning back against the bricks with his hat tilted down over his eyes, snoring softly. His hands loosely clasped his rifle which rested against his chest.

Jim took a small wind-up mouse from his jacket pocket. He gave the key a couple of quick turns and then released the motorized rodent toward the guard. The mouse zipped across the wood floor until it bumped against the leg of the stool where it burst into a cloud of red smoke. The guard stirred slightly then his body went entirely limp as his light doze changed to a deeper sleep. The rifle clattered to the floor as his hands slipped off of it.

The servant’s staircase that led up to the second floor from the kitchen was narrow and dark. An equally narrow door led into the hall that ran the length of the upstairs. Jim peered out through the cracked door, but nothing moved; no guards patrolled the second story. The two men settled down to await their opportunity which Artie’s distraction would provide.

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Double Take
SS novice field agent

USA
2087 Posts

Posted - 12/12/2011 :  10:42:12  Show Profile
Artemus quickly checked the outside of the picture frame for a hidden catch, mindful that a man like Burchard Guillory would likely booby trap his safe. His sensitive fingers found the catch then he carefully swung the hinged picture to one side revealing a wall safe. Just as he had suspected, a powder charge was attached to wall, wired so that if the lithograph was forcibly pulled from the wall it would detonate. Although it may not kill the intruder, at shoulder height it could blind the person and alert the guards, who could then, very efficiently, render the would-be thief lifeless.

The manufacturer’s name on the thick metal door told Artemus that the safe was designed more as protection against fire rather than theft. It would be no problem for the talented agent to open. He leaned in close as he deftly spun the dial and then worked it slowly searching for the correct combination.

A passerby would think he was seeing a statue of a man so still did Artemus hold himself as he worked. The crease in his brow revealed his intense concentration. After several minutes he straightened up and grasped the enameled brass handle firmly. He took a breath before pulling the safe door open.

Inside were several compartments separated by wooden partitions. From a large cubbyhole Artemus removed a bag of gold coins. He riffled through the papers to make sure that the list had not been moved to this safe. It took him less than a minute to confirm what Peter had told them on the train, the downstairs safe only held legitimate papers, the gold coins and a few odds and ends that were important to Guillory.

Satisfied, Artemus Gordon closed the safe and swung the picture back into place. From his pocket he took a small cylindrical device with a key on one side. He turned the key until the device was fully wound and then wedge it behind the fox hunt’s picture frame. Shame to ruin such a nice piece, Gordon thought as he admired the print. Nathaniel Currier, 1840s I’d say.

As soon as Artemus flipped a tiny switch on the cylinder it started to expand slowly, pushing against the picture frame with ever increasing pressure. Artemus reckoned he had about four minutes before the picture frame was pushed far enough out from the wall to trigger the explosion. It would give him just about enough time to make it to the end of the tunnel. After that he would have to draw attention to himself to give his partner and the young thief adequate time to open the other safe and get away safely.

Artemus didn’t hear the explosion inside of the house as he crept through the woods concealing the tunnel entrance. When he reached the edge of the woods closest to the house, he saw that lights had been lit in rooms on both floors. He crossed the open area between the woods and the house without being seen. Before he could come up with a plan to draw attention to himself, a shout went up advising him that he had been spotted.

Glancing up toward the house, Artemus glimpsed a man leaning out of a second floor window. The figure ducked back inside long enough to grab a pistol and start firing at the intruder. Fortunately for Artemus Gordon, the distance was too great for accuracy and all the shots went wide. Shouts and slamming doors announced the onslaught of guards racing across the grounds in his direction.

Gordon threw one last glance toward the room where he knew his partner and Peter West would soon be engaged in opening the safe. He drew a deep breath and then took off running across the manicured lawn toward the trees where the horses were tethered.

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Burchard Guillory awoke from a deep sleep when he heard a loud thump that rattled the house. Only one thing could cause an explosion like that…the beefed up powder charge rigged to the downstairs safe!

He immediately lit an oil lamp on a small table by the window. He didn’t feel the need to rush as he was confident the explosion would have disabled the thief. He took the time to pull on a dressing gown before heading out of his room. As soon as he opened the door shouts from the first floor told him that, beyond all reason, whoever had set off the explosion had made it out of the house.

Guillory flew back to the bedroom window, opening it and leaning out. At first he saw nothing, but then as his eyes adjusted to the darkness, he spotted a furtive figure moving across the lawn. He grabbed a pistol from the nightstand drawer and fired at the fleeing form. Unfazed the figure disappeared into the night. The distance was too great for accuracy for a short barreled revolver, but the gunshot alerted the patrolling guards to the presence of the intruder.

Fuming, Guillory spun away from the window. He paused long enough to slip on some shoes then thundered down the stairs and out into the night. Around him he could hear the yells of guards as they pursued their quarry.

Steiner ran up to his employer, breathing hard, “I have sent men after the intruder and a couple more are saddling up to ride out and cover the road in both directions. He won’t get away, sir.”

“Did you see him, Steiner?” Burchard asked his chief of security. “I got off a shot at him, but it was too dark and he was too far away to get a good look at. Was it West’s boy? How did he get out of the house without being seen?”

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A bullet whined past his head, causing the fleeing agent to duck behind a large beech tree for cover. Artemus Gordon pulled several smoke bombs from his pocket and lobbed them in the direction of the pursuing guards. As he continued his flight, he could hear the guards behind coughing and swearing as the smoke enveloped them.

He almost ran into a young guard who suddenly appeared from behind a tree. Artemus skidded to a halt just a few feet from the guard whose revolver was leveled at his chest.

“Hold it!” the guard barked. Catching the intruder would be a real feather in his cap thought the young guard, and might even result in a reward from Mr. Guillory.

The government agent didn’t try to go for his gun; instead he kept his hands away from his body so as to give the guard no cause to shoot. The guard grabbed the gun from Gordon’s holster and stuck it in his own belt.

“I’m guessing your boss is going to want his gold back,” Artemus said nonchalantly as though getting caught was part of the game. “Mr. Guillory will surely reward you for your quick thinking and recovering his money.”

“Hand it over,” the guard responded extending his free hand.

Slowly, Artemus reached into his inside jacket pocket and pulled out a drawstring pouch. He fingered the contents through the fabric and then reluctantly handed it to his captor.

“It would’ve been a nice haul. But I should’ve known Guillory’s guards were too good for me to get past.”

“You got it, buddy. Don’t try nothin’. I wouldn’t want to deprive Mr. Guillory of his fun by shootin’ you first,” the guard responded taking the pouch.

“Why’s it getting ho….,” was all the young man managed to say before his head disappeared in a cloud of red smoke.

As the guard sank to his knees, Artemus covered his nose and mouth with a handkerchief and retrieved his revolver from the guard’s belt. He then took off running towards the woods.

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Jim and his young cousin, Peter, heard footsteps thundering down the hall and Burchard Guillory calling for the guards to find the intruder. As soon as the upstairs hall was quiet, Jim eased the door open, and after a quick check, started down the hallway to Guillory’s bedroom. He wasn’t surprised to find the door locked, but it was a standard variety easily opened by the experienced agent.

Peter slipped past Jim West as soon as the door opened. He moved confidently to a large mahogany wardrobe. He opened the glass door and parted the clothes hanging inside. The back of the wardrobe appeared to be plain wood, but it slid open as soon as Peter pulled down on a hook attached to the paneling. Jim followed the young thief through to a small antechamber that contained a collection of paintings and other works of art, many of which had been stolen from museums and private collections around the world. In a corner a large, solid floor safe looked out-of-place in the room filled with artistic splendor. Anywhere else, it might have been considered a work of art in itself; the black enameled exterior was inlaid with brass filigreed designs, as was the dial and handle. Here, amidst the art treasures, it hunkered down in a corner like a boulder in a gem shop.

“My dad and granddad are responsible for about a third of this room,” Peter said with a grim smile. He pointed to a small bronze statue of a rearing horse, “That’s one of mine. I stole it from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York about a year after they opened. It’s worth over $100,000.”

Jim barely glanced at the masterpieces surrounding him, “Get to work on the safe. My partner’s great with distractions, but he can only keep them entertained for so long.”

Peter glanced at the agent; although Jim’s face was impassive he could hear the concern in the man’s voice. No doubt, Gordon’s part in this venture was the most dangerous.

“This safe is designed so you can change the combination at will. You can even change the directions of the turns. If you miss one number, you have to start over again,” Peter explained as he spun the dial to clear it.

Jim moved back toward the door in the back of the wardrobe, listening and watching for the return of Guillory or his men. Through the bedroom’s open window, he could hear shouts and gunfire as his partner led the men on a merry chase around the estate. He had to fight the urge to run to the window to see what was happening. Artemus Gordon was a master at distractions, but that didn’t stop Jim from worrying about his partner.

Behind the agent, Peter leaned into the safe, eyes closed as he concentrated on listening and feeling for the tumblers to fall into place. He remembered the combination from nearly a year ago, but Guillory would have changed it since then, probably multiple times. The first couple of numbers came quickly; Peter struggled to find the next number. He was beginning to feel James West’s tension rub off on him. He spun the dial and started over, taking a deep breath to calm himself before he turned the dial to the first number.

The yelling and gunfire quieted outside. Jim’s body tensed as he tried to discern what was happening. Had his partner led the guards beyond his hearing, or had they been successful and no longer had a reason to fire? His body still and tense, he waited, dreading to hear returning voices indicating that his partner had been captured, or worse, shot.

Then he heard a distant shout, “Horses! Get the horses! He’s getting away!”

Jim felt himself relax slightly. Artie must have made it as far as the woods, perhaps even to the horses. From there, Gordon’s chances of escaping were very good. But time was growing short for the two men still working to open the safe. He looked back over his shoulder, Peter’s face was tense, his brow furrowed and he bit down on his bottom lip.

In the still room there was an audible click as the final part of the combination was entered. Peter stepped back and grasped the inlaid handle and opened the safe. He moved aside to allow Jim West access to its contents. Jim pulled out a thick sheaf of papers. A quick check told him the list was not amongst them. Tucked against the back wall of the safe was a leather folder containing the list of names. Jim handed the folder to Peter along with the forged list. While Peter switched the two, Jim scanned the other documents detailing Guillory’s plans to take over the government. It was obvious that the plan had been in the works for some time. It was not the shoddy work of your typical crackpot anarchist, but a methodically laid out timeline of infiltration and attack.

There was no way to copy the information in the few minutes remaining before Guillory and his men returned. Jim West committed as much of it to memory as possible then placed the papers and the forged list back into the safe. He took the original list from his young cousin and gave it a cursory glance. He rolled it up tightly, slipped it into a protective oilskin pouch and then into an inside pocket of his blue bolero jacket.

“Let’s get out of here,” he whispered ushering the young thief ahead of him through the armoire.

“They must still be searching for Mr. Gordon,” Peter commented when he eased open the bedroom door to find the corridor still deserted.

“Artie will buy us every second he can. Get moving,” Jim replied.

In the kitchen, the guard continued to sleep soundly, unmissed by his compatriots. Just as Jim and Peter slipped past him, the kitchen door leading to the garden rattled as someone opened it from the outside. The two intruders froze, then Jim spotted a door leading to the root cellar and they disappeared out of sight just as the sentry entered the kitchen.

He was one of the oldest of Guillory’s guards. Graying, with a stomach that hung over his belt by a couple of inches, the guard couldn’t keep up with the younger members of the security force, but what he lacked in physical ability he made up for with wisdom of experience. This astuteness was why he remained in Burchard Guillory’s employ, and now led him back to the house while most of the younger guards charged around the grounds looking for the burglar…at least the known burglar. Old Herman’s instincts warned him that something else was afoot. The fellow they were chasing through the dark had made it all the way into the building without being seen. Why had he been so clumsy as to get spotted as he was fleeing the grounds? Unless it was a ruse…a distraction for something else. Mr. Guillory had plenty of valuables throughout the house. He was well known for collecting works of art and rare antiquities, all potential fodder for a crafty thief.

Upon seeing the guard slumped against the fireplace, Herman knew that his hunch was right. He did not bother checking to see if the guard was drugged or dead. A quick glance told him the intruder was not in the kitchen, but obviously had come through the cooking area on the way to his destination. What destination? Mr. Guillory’s upstairs safe by way of the servant’s staircase?

As the rotund guard climbed the narrow staircase his labored breathing covered the sound of a door creaking open. Jim and Peter emerged from the root cellar and slipped out into the hall that led to the study.

Burchard Guillory’s once immaculate study now smelled of gunpowder, and the battered lithograph hung askew from its hinges. The safe was securely closed, but no guards were stationed in the room. Apparently it had not yet occurred to Guillory or his men that the thief could have used the secret tunnel to enter the building.

Peter ran to the wall sconce beside the cabinet and twisted the lower section in a counter clockwise direction. The glass fronted cabinet grated aside revealing the hidden stairs leading to the tunnel. As soon as the two men were through, Peter pulled the cord that closed off the entrance. Jim grabbed one of the remaining lanterns and lit it, but kept the flame to a minimum to reduce the likelihood of being spotted from the entrance in the dell.

Before they came within sight of the tunnel entrance, Jim passed the lantern to Peter and signaled him to stay where he was. Jim crept forward keeping a hand on the tunnel wall for guidance. He paused every so often listening for the sound of a guard posted at the entrance. The two guards that they had left bound just inside the door were gone. That meant Guillory’s men now knew how the intruder had gotten into the house and, no doubt, would have doubled the guard outside the door.

Jim returned to where he had left his young cousin holding the lantern. After a quick whispered conversation, they crept to the entrance. Jim positioned himself just to the side of the door so he would be out of sight when it opened. Peter stood several yards back from the door and hurled the lantern against the wall with a crash of breaking glass.

The door flew open and two guards charged in with guns drawn. Jim grabbed the one nearest him by the arm, pivoted sharply around and flung him head first into the timber-lined wall. The second man started firing immediately, not waiting to find a target in the crazily dancing light cast by his swinging lantern. Peter dropped to the ground and rolled to the side to keep clear of the gunfire. Jim came up behind the guard and brought his doubled fists down on the base of the man’s neck. The guard staggered, but did not go down. He towered over six feet and was built like an ox. He shook off the blow and swung his pistol like a club at his assailant.

The blow caught Jim on his shoulder, knocking him into the tunnel wall. The ox fired at the spot where James West’s head had been a second before, but the agile agent had already dropped into a crouch and charged at the bigger man, ramming his shoulder into the man’s midsection.

Peter saw his opportunity as the guard stumbled toward him. He grabbed a beam lying nearby and swung it at the man’s leg. It collided with the teetering guard, catching him behind the knee. Brute strength could not keep the man on his feet. His height worked against him and he crashed to the ground. As he struggled back to his feet, the stout wood beam collided with his head. The big man went down and did not get up.

The two men did not take the time to tie up the guards. They did not know if a third man had been sent to the house for reinforcements, or if the gunshots had been heard by guards searching for Artemus Gordon. Either way, it was likely that more guards would be on the way shortly. As soon as they determined there were no guards in the immediate vicinity, Jim and Peter headed for the canyon were they had left the supplies for their escape over the mountain.

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Artemus Gordon could still hear the sound of men searching for him. They had fanned out, trying to surround him and cut of his avenue of escape. Speed was now essential; he had to make it to the horses before Guillory’s men were able to get between him and the road.

From the direction of the house he heard someone shout, “Horses! Get the horses! He’s getting away!”

“Now for it, Artemus, old boy. The final sprint,” he muttered to himself as he bolted across the open area that separated the formal gardens from his destination. The line of trees that hid the horses was very close. He could make out their shapes in the light of the moon. A large beech with silvery bark stood out from the rest, the landmark for which Artemus was making. Just fifty yards beyond that the horses were tethered.

So far no shots had rung out. Though they knew he was no longer in the vicinity of the house, they had not yet spotted his fleeing form. The darkness was his only cover until he made the tree line. The darkness was his friend, it hid him from his pursuers, but it also masked dangers lurking in the grass.

Artie’s sprint to safety ended abruptly when his foot caught in a groundhog hole. The agent crashed to the ground with a muffled thud. His muttered curse was drowned out by the crack of a rifle.

A sharp stab of pain in his ankle caused Artemus to hiss as he scrambled to his feet. He ignored it and continued his dash for the safety of the trees. He kept low as he limped away as fast as he could. He heard several more gunshots, but his lurching gait, darkness and distance threw off the shooter’s aim. He finally reached the tree line where he paused momentarily, leaning against the smooth, gray bark of the beech tree. He glanced back trying to see the shooter. The flash of the muzzle revealed the man’s position and a chunk of bark exploded just a few inches away from Artemus’s hand.

He was winded and his ankle throbbed, but he was only a few short yards from the horses. It was slower going through the trees, but he took advantage of their trunks for support as he limped along. He heard the soft rustle of the horses before he saw them, standing exactly where they had been left several hours before.

It was a relief to pull himself up into the saddle of his patient chestnut gelding. Jim’s horse, Blackjack, pinned its ears and pranced in place, restless to get moving. Artie let his horse pick its way through the trees in the general direction of the road. Once they cleared the woods and came to open pasture, he kicked the horse into a gallop, urging it on with his voice.

The horse skidded to a stop tossing its head as Artemus hauled back on the reins just short of the road. He paused briefly, listening for sounds of pursuit coming from the direction of the house.

Sure enough, he could hear voices yelling to each other and the pounding of hooves on the dirt road. He caught sight of lanterns swinging wildly and torches bobbing up and down as their bearers charged in his direction. He reached into his saddle bag and pulled out several innocuous looking, silver balls. He twisted the two halves, activating the internal timer, and tossed them onto the road.

Gordon urged his horse into a gallop, slapping the reins against the horse’s sides. Blackjack tossed his head, pulling against the reins that still tethered him to Artie’s saddle horn. Always ready to run, the black tried to pull ahead, but had to settle for galloping next to Artie’s horse. The final race to safety was on.

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Herman slowly turned the knob of the door to his employer’s bedroom. It was unlocked! The old guard knew Mr. Guillory never left his bedroom door unlocked. Even the maid had to get the key from the chamberlain. Gun drawn, he threw the door open conscious that his loud breathing would already have alerted the intruders to his presence. He charged through the door hunkered down a low as he could and then threw himself into the corner closest to the wardrobe.

There was no movement in the room and the door to the wardrobe remained closed. Though privy to the hidden room’s existence, he did not know how to access it beyond the fact that it had something to do with the wardrobe. Keeping an eye on the large piece of furniture, he crossed to the open window and saw Burchard Guillory and Merrill Steiner on the grounds below him.

“Mr. Guillory, Mr. Steiner, I think there may have been more ‘n one intruder. I think another might have made it upstairs,” he called down to the men.

“Get up there and see what he’s going on about, Steiner,” Burchard snapped at his security chief. “I’m going to check the downstairs safe.”

Just as the two men were about to enter the house, a guard ran up, out of breath from his dash across the grounds.

He nodded nervously to Burchard Guillory, but addressed himself to Steiner. “Mr. Steiner, sir, we found two guards at the tunnel entrance unconscious. The intruder must have come in that way. Ben and Big Mike stayed back to make sure no one else comes back out through the tunnel.”

“You,” Guillory addressed the anxious guard, “get some men and keep searching the grounds.” He watched the guard race away to do as he was told. “The one I took a shot at must have been a decoy.”

Steiner nodded his agreement, “My men’ll get him before he reaches the road. As for the other guy, if he tries to sneak out through the tunnel, well, nobody’s gets past Big Mike.”

In Guillory’s room, Steiner opened the entrance to the secret chamber. He entered cautiously, with gun drawn even though he did not really expect the intruder to still be in there. He knew the contents of the room as well as his employer. An empty spot on a wooden display caught his attention immediately. A small bronze sculpture of a rearing horse was missing…the sculpture that had originally been stolen from the Metropolitan Museum by Peter West.

“Search the entire house. I don’t think you’ll find him, but I want to make sure,” Steiner ordered Herman. Herman may have been slower than the other guards, but he was sharp and Steiner knew he would do a thorough job.

Steiner gave the ornate safe a quick inspection. There was nothing to indicate it had been touched. Even the dial was still set at 25, exactly as Mr. Guillory would have left it.

“Guess he didn’t even bother taking a crack at the safe,” Steiner muttered to himself.

He left the older guard to carry on his search and headed back downstairs to report to his employer. He found Guillory riffling through the contents of the safe. The lithograph drooped sadly from its battered frame.

“Anything missing down here, sir?”

“No, nothing,” Burchard replied. “What about in the display chamber?”

Steiner sighed, “You ain’t gonna like this, but the little horse is missing. Nothing else, just the horse statue.”

“Then it was the West boy!” Guillory snarled. “I will cut his heart out when I catch him. Don’t disappoint me, Steiner. And make sure they bring him in alive!”

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Double Take
SS novice field agent

USA
2087 Posts

Posted - 12/12/2011 :  10:43:23  Show Profile
Jim and Peter moved cautiously through the trees as they left the densely wooded area that surrounded the tunnel entrance, listening as they went for approaching guards. The trees ended abruptly, allowing the two prowlers a clear view of the cliff face that formed their escape route. Moonlight glinted off its pale grey surface beckoning them to safety. But first they had nearly a quarter of a mile of open field to cross. Here and there bushes, and the occasional tree, dotted the landscape. While these had been adequate to hide their approach from the bored guards, they now seemed woefully inadequate.

Crouching low, Jim headed straight for the first clump of vegetation. Behind him Peter hesitated then followed his cousin as far as the first clump of bushes. Jim has the list and a clear escape route, Peter reasoned to himself. Now is my chance to get Burchard Guillory. I’ll make him pay for what he did to Dad. Peter pulled a pistol from the haversack he still carried. He had stowed it away hoping to get the opportunity to use it. As Jim continued to make his way stealthily toward the cliff, Peter changed direction and headed back toward the house where he was sure Guillory would be directing the search. All he had to do was get close enough for a killing shot.

Jim had moved from cover to cover crossing nearly half the distance when he realized that Peter was no longer behind him. Thudding hoof beats caught his attention and he realized that mounted guards must have spotted the boy. The fool kid’s heading back toward the house. I should have realized he would try that, Jim thought as he peered out from behind a bush. From his position he could see two riders bearing down on Peter who was running full tilt back toward the house.

“What the…” Jim growled as the guards caught up with the young thief.

Peter realized he had been spotted and put on a burst of speed, but it was not nearly enough to reach any kind of cover before the riders were upon him. One of them kicked the fleeing boy in the back slamming him to the ground. Both riders were so focused on their target that they were unaware of Jim hidden just several hundred yards away.

The two guards dismounted and roughly searched their prisoner. Jim frowned when he saw the moonlight reflect off a bronze statue that the guard pulled from Peter’s satchel. They were in the process of tying their prisoner’s hands when the secret agent came up silently behind them. He tapped the shoulder of the guard holding the horse statue then drove his fist into the man’s jaw as he turned around. The rearing horse hit the ground a second before the guard did.

The second guard reached for his revolver, but Jim’s booted foot slammed into his hand just as the gun cleared the holster. It was followed up by a left jab to the man’s midriff. The guard stumbled back and fell over Peter’s prone form. Jim was about to yank him to his feet when the first guard leapt back into the fray, tackling Jim from behind. Jim landed on top of the second guard, already flat on his back from tripping over his prisoner. The quick thinking guard saw Jim falling toward him and flung a well-timed fist into Jim’s jaw just as the agent landed on top of him.

Blackness darker than the night filled Jim’s head when his momentum combined with the punch snapped his head to the side, nearly breaking his jaw. With a satisfied grunt the first guard pulled Jim’s limp form off his partner, who scrambled to his feet.

The darkness that gripped Jim was brief, and he shook off the fuzzy feeling in his head. His arms were being gripped from behind as he was pulled upright. He took advantage of his captor’s awkward position and twisted around, freeing his arms from his assailant’s grasp. He landed on his back, but now he had a hold of the guard’s arms. With his foot planted in the guard’s stomach, he jerked the off-balance man forward and threw him over his head. Jim was on his feet in a flash. The second guard, now back on his feet, made the mistake of glancing around for his gun, and Jim’s fist slammed into the side of his head just below the ear. Even as the one guard fell to the ground at Jim’s feet, the agent switched his attention to the other guard who was struggling back to his feet. A well timed kick caught the guard under the chin, knocking the fight out of him for good.

Jim pulled his knife from its hidden pocket in the back of his jacket and cut the thongs that bound Peter’s wrists. He pulled the young man to his feet.

“What kind of a stupid stunt was that?” he hissed barely containing his anger. “You want your revenge. Well, I want to see Burchard Guillory stopped as well, but the law will handle his punishment not you. Now get moving,” he said giving the young man a non-too-gentle shove toward the distant cliff.

The remaining distance was covered without any further encounters with Guillory’s security force. Jim knew that as soon as the two guards they had tangled with made it back to the house the hunt would be renewed. For now he hoped that they would be lost within the rough hills that guarded the rear of Guillory’s home before then.

Their supplies were hanging from the small tree just as they had left them. Jim fitted the grappling hook into the special launcher that attached to his rifle. He had used a similar setup in the past to scale an almost vertical cliff to get to the top of a mesa in Texas when he and Artie had been on an expedition to find the fabled treasure of Montezuma. This climb would not be as arduous. The cliff face was a little more inclined and broken than the one that led to the Aztec’s hidden treasure.

With their bags strapped securely to their backs they started their ascent. The moon continued to provide some light, but the going was slow nevertheless. Jim went in the lead scouting out a path. Fifteen minutes later he peered over the edge and softly called directions to Peter, guiding him up the rock face by the easiest route.

Jim pulled the rope up while Peter searched for a clear route that would lead them deeper into the hills. He was just coming back to the cliff edge when Jim grabbed him and pulled him down into a crouch. The two men froze, listening to the distant voices below them.

“Jeffers, you and Markley follow the cliff back toward the road. Markowitz, you and I will head north. My gut tells me they came in this direction, but our chances of finding them in the dark are lousy. But there ain’t no way I’m going to report back to Guillory that we lost them without even attempting a search,” Steiner growled.

For Merrill Steiner the night just kept getting worse. He had never really been afraid of his employer until now. But then he had never seen Burchard Guillory so livid. If he did not produce the young West boy, Guillory would take his anger out on him, of that he was sure.

***

“Why grab that horse statue,” Jim asked when they stopped to rest for a few minutes. “Not sentimental reasons, I’m sure.”

Peter did not answer right away, “If I didn’t get my shot at killing Guillory and we got away with the list, I still wanted Burchard Guillory to know who got past him. If I couldn’t kill him, at least I could rub his nose in the fact that I beat him in the end. He’d figure I did it to avenge my father and that would stick in his gullet worse than just losing the bronze.”

“And he may not realize the real target was the list,” Jim commented.

A slight smile played over the youth’s lips, “Yeah, that too.”

****************************************************************************************************

Timing was everything when planning a distraction. Artemus Gordon had no way to know exactly how long it would take his pursuers to reach the bombs he left in the road. But he had been born with more than his fair share of luck, and his luck held. Inside the silver spheres a timing mechanism counted down the seconds until they detonated with a dull “thwump” just as the first rider galloped up.

Almost invisible in the dark, the lead horse’s hoof nearly crushed the device before it went off. A cloud of red smoke suddenly engulfed the horse and its rider. Terrified, the horse reared back and tried to twist away from the smoke. The rider’s weight threw the animal off-balance, causing them both to crash to the ground.

The remaining riders fared no better. Thwump…thwump…thwump… followed the initial explosion as the remaining bombs went off. The moonlight was cut off by the dense smoke now covering the entire road. Those horses that did not shy or bolt at the explosions fought their rider’s desperate urgings to go through the smoke. More than five minutes passed before two of the guards managed to get their horses under control and ride around the heavy clinging cloud that obscured the road.

****************************************************************************************************

Artemus slowed the horses to a walk as he scanned the edge of road looking for the trail he had laid earlier in the day. He could feel his horse’s sides heaving from exertion after galloping hard for nearly ten minutes. Even Blackjack was content to walk next to them, his nostrils extended and sweat bathing his neck.

A faint glow on a tree trunk caught Artie’s attention. He peeled the sticky material off the tree and tossed it deep into the brush. A new compound he had developed had some unexpected side benefits. It absorbed sunlight and glowed faintly after dark for several hours. One use was all it seemed to manage, but he hoped with some further refinement it could be made to glow brighter or for a longer time. Even as he concentrated on evading Guillory’s men, his agile mind explored other possible uses for the compound and ways to improve it.

He paused at the river and allowed the horses a brief drink before urging them into the waist deep water. The road from Guillory’s home to the Buckeystown followed the river for several miles until it reached a ford shallow enough for wagons. Artemus hoped that any guards who got past his bombs would follow that longer path, giving the agent enough time to get to the train and under way before they arrived.

Orrin Cobb was sitting, leaning against the wall dozing in the engine’s cab when Artemus rode up. At a shout from the government agent, the engineer and his fireman hastily prepared the train for departure. A sharp wolf whistle let him know that the secret agent was aboard, and he eased the train forward slowly into the darkness.

After bedding the horses down, Artie retired to the parlor car with a brandy in hand. It had been a long night, his ankle throbbed and there was nothing for him to do now except worry about his partner’s escape.

****************************************************************************************************

It was nearly 3:00 AM when Merrill Steiner returned to the main house. Clearly the thieves were well organized and had planned their get-away carefully. Steiner took a deep breath before rapping on the door to Mr. Guillory’s study. He didn’t wait for an invitation, but opened the door and stepped into the well lit room. The wall sconces burned brightly casting crisscrossing shadows as Burchard Guillory angrily paced the floor. The flames of a candelabrum danced in the breeze of his restless movement.

He glared at Steiner as he entered the study.

“Where are the bodies, Steiner? I want the men responsible for this!” Guillory snarled at his chief of security.

Steiner kept his face impassive as he faced his incensed employer. “The one that took off down the road. The men haven’t caught up with him yet, but we’ll find him. He was well armed; explosives and the like. We tracked the other two up into the hills. Don’t know who the one guy was, but the other was definitely Derrick West’s boy. He had to be out for revenge.”

“He’s rubbing my nose in it, the little wretch. I want him, Steiner! I don’t care about the other thief. Have your men shoot him when they find him. But bring me the West boy alive!” Burchard Guillory shrieked, his face red with rage at the Steiner’s news.

“They must be heading over the hills toward Lander. We’re too far behind to catch them, but Bert Fisch has plenty of connections around Lander and can get some men together and cut them off. If they are making for the main rail line they will have to come down out of the mountains and cross Catoctin River at the trestle or go several miles out of their way to get to the ford. Fisch can have men at both places,” Steiner said outlining the plan he had already formulated in his mind.

His breathing slowly returning to normal as he saw the promise of success, Guillory nodded.

“Send a message to Fisch as soon as it’s light. A pigeon can reach him in plenty of time for him to set up an ambush.” An unpleasant smile spread across his face as he anticipated a final meeting with Peter West.

***************************************************************************************************

Dawn was still several hours away and, until daylight returned, the train crept forward slowly. By his reckoning they would reach the main Metropolitan Line that headed northwest along the Potomac River around daybreak and be in position to intercept Jim and Peter by mid-morning. Artemus knew that realistically his partner and young companion would not make it to the train until the afternoon or even the next day if they had trouble finding a path through the hills.

Artemus woke with a jerk and looked around the car, perplexed for a moment. A rap on the rear door preceded its opening and Gordon realized it was the train coming to a stop that had awakened him. He got stiffly to his feet, gingerly testing his weight on his ankle as Colonel Richmond entered the car.

James Richmond took in the agent’s rumpled appearance, “I see you made it out in one piece. Any idea if Jim got his hands on the list?”

Artie shook his head, “As far as I know they made it out of the house. It sounded like the guards knew that I wasn’t alone and were looking for an accomplice. I don’t know for sure that he and the kid made it up into the mountains. Guillory’s guards were everywhere, but Jim’s got a knack for getting out of a tight spot. He may even be waiting for us when we reach the siding where we agreed to meet.”

Artemus pulled out his pocket watch and checked the time as the train lurched into motion again.

“Colonel, if you will excuse me I will get cleaned up and get some coffee on.”

Richmond smiled, “You don’t look any worse than some of your more colorful disguises.”

****************************************************************************************************

After scrabbling through the darkness for several more miles, Peter and Jim found a small hollow with a spring running through it. They dropped to the ground and after drinking their fill and grabbing a bite to eat fell asleep without any real fear of being discovered by Guillory’s guards.

The sun had barely poked its head above the horizon when Jim tapped his young partner-in-crime with his foot to wake him up, “On your feet, cousin. We need to get moving before Guillory’s men figure out where we’ve gone.”

Peter blinked at the agent sleepily, “Most people in my profession aren’t early risers, that’s why we like to work at night.”

“Well, you better make an exception because we’ve got to meet the train before Guillory figures out what actually happened last night.”

They had crested the mountain during the night, so now their path in the early morning sunlight was primarily downhill. They needed to travel a few miles southwest of Guillory’s place to meet up with the train on the siding. Rather than travel along the rail bed, which would be easier, but risky if Guillory’s men guessed their escape route, the two followed the undulating shoulder of the low mountain, keeping to the woods to avoid detection.

By late morning they found their way cut off by a cliff to the south where the Catoctin River, which meandered through the valley, curved sharply toward the mountains and reached right up to the cliff. From there it snaked back out across the wide, fertile valley in undulating loops as it made its way south, eventually emptying into the Potomac River.

The two men were forced to backtrack and descend to the valley floor, following the curve of the river until it intersected with the railroad. For many miles now the railroad had held a fairly straight line as it paralleled the gently curving waterway. A low trestle bridge crossed the river at a point where it made a ninety-degree bend and cut directly across the path of the rails. Except for a ford several miles to the west, the railroad’s trestle bridge was the only way across the river.

Before entering the cleared area that comprised most of the gently rolling hills of the valley floor, Jim climbed a sturdy oak, pulled a spyglass from his jacket pocket and scanned the area. Little was moving in the region. The valley was a checkerboard of small farms separated by groves of woods. Cattle grazed in a nearby meadow, and in the distance a farmer worked a field with a team of draft horses. Jim’s gaze panned left across the river. To the south the railroad tracks were cut off from view by a stand of trees, but a haze of dark smoke partially obscured their crowns marking the position of the Wanderer.

Jim led the way out from the cover of the trees and vaulted over a low stone wall that had been built from rocks and small boulders cleared from the nearby fields. He started toward the railroad tracks at a brisk walk with Peter behind him. He scanned the area, constantly alert for any movement that might indicate Guillory’s men were waiting to intercept them.

“We’ll make for the trestle. As long as there is no train approaching we’ll have plenty of time to make it across,” Jim called back over his shoulder.

It took them less than half an hour to cross the field and reach the railroad tracks a couple hundred yards back from the trestle bridge. Jim remained vigilant, expecting any attack would come while they were crossing the bridge where they would be exposed and vulnerable. He was not disappointed. They were nearly halfway across the eighty foot span when a shot rang out. Both men dropped to their bellies and lay flat against the railroad ties. Jim quickly loaded a flare in the barrel of his pistol, rolled onto his back and fired into the air. Red sparks exploded high overhead. I hope Artie or one of the train crew is looking this way, otherwise we may be in trouble, he thought.

The drumming of hoof beats alerted the pinned men to the approach of half a dozen horsemen from the north. The agent carefully raised his head high enough to see the approaching riders. He heard the crack of a gunshot and a bullet whizzed past his head. Not from the riders, their galloping mounts and distance were too great for accuracy. It was hard for Jim to be sure, but he guessed the sniper was stationed on the south side of the river high enough to have a clear view of the bridge.

Through his small telescope Jim spotted a figure with a rifle up in a tree on the south bank about three hundred yards distant. The man’s pale blue shirt stood out against the green foliage.

Jim pulled his rifle from its scabbard and tucked the stock underneath his arm.

“Take these and be ready to move,” he said tersely as he handed Peter the list of names in its protective oilskin pouch and his pistol.

Peter frowned slightly, but did not question the agent’s actions. He tucked the list inside his shirt and cocked the hammer back on the revolver.

In one swift, smooth movement Jim rolled to his feet, aimed and fired at the distant figure in the tree. He didn’t take the time to see if he had hit his target, he turned and fired at the approaching riders.

That first hurried shot flew with deadly accuracy. The rifle fell from the sniper’s fingers as a red stain quickly spread across the front of his blue shirt. A puzzled expression briefly crossed the man’s face before he pitched forward and fell to the ground fifteen feet below, landing on his rifle.

The six riders were almost at the bridge when Jim turned and opened fire on them. One went down immediately, the others reined their horses to an abrupt stop and leapt from their saddles, simultaneously drawing their guns and returning fire. The milling horses provided some cover, but they also blocked the men from having a clear shot at the exposed figure standing on the bridge for a few seconds.

Under the cover of West’s gunfire, Peter ran in a low crouch across the remainder of the bridge. As soon as his feet hit solid ground, Peter ducked behind a large maple tree and prepared to return fire. With only six shots, he had to make sure each would count.

Before he was able to find a target, he saw Jim jerk back and spin to the left as one of the gunmen’s bullets found its target. The agent disappeared from sight over the edge of the bridge.

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Double Take
SS novice field agent

USA
2087 Posts

Posted - 12/12/2011 :  10:44:13  Show Profile
Artemus Gordon had just finished saddling his horse when Orrin Cobb, the train’s engineer, burst into the baggage car.

“Someone just shot off a flare, not more ’n a mile or two north of here. Might be Mr. West in trouble!” he said as he lowered the ramp that permitted the horses to exit the baggage car.

“We’re on our way, Orrin. Keep her hot in case we need to make a hasty departure!” Artemus said as headed toward the ramp. He glanced back over his shoulder, “Colonel?”

Colonel Richmond dropped the saddle’s fender and stirrup back into place after tightening the cinch.

“Behind you, Gordon. Let’s go!”

It wasn’t until they came around the curve in the tracks that they were able to see the gunfight taking place at the trestle bridge. Peter had just reached the protection of a tree and was searching for a target, when Artemus spotted his partner standing fully exposed in the center of the bridge. He saw the puffs of smoke from the rifle’s barrel a second before he heard the report.

To his horror he saw James West suddenly spin to the left and fall from the bridge. Jim! Artie’s soul cried. He felt his heart catch in his throat and he slapped the trailing ends of his reins down on the horse’s sides urging it faster. He didn’t know if he would be able to do anything to help his partner, but he had to try. He would have ridden the horse straight across the bridge if he had thought it would help his friend.

***

Peter drew a sharp breath and scanned the river searching the tell-tale blue of Jim’s suit. He tried to change positions to get a better view of the bridge, but now with Jim West out of the way, the riders concentrated their fire on the young thief. They kept him pinned down with a barrage of gunfire while three of their number advanced across the trestle bridge on foot.

Peter stood with his back pressed against the tree’s thick trunk, thankful for its protection as he heard bullets thunking into the bark, sending splinters of wood flying. He was startled to spot two horsemen approaching from the south, just a few hundred feet away. Their approaching hoof beats had been drowned out by the gunfire.

He brought his pistol up preparing to fire then recognized the riders as Artemus Gordon and the head of the Secret Service, Colonel Richmond. Gordon raised his rifle to his shoulder and fired at the gunmen on the far side of the river even before his horse had come to a full stop.

Peter peered around the side of the tree. Only one gunman remained on the other side of the river thanks to the deadly accuracy of Artemus Gordon. But three men continued across the bridge, firing as they came.

It was then that Artemus Gordon saw one of the men on the bridge inexplicably topple over the side. Only one thing could cause that! James West, you’ve got more lives than all the cats in Siam combined, Artemus thought to himself as a smile of relief creased his face.

***

The bullet barely creased Jim’s shoulder leaving a bloody furrow, but doing no real damage. It was, however, sufficient on the uneven footing of the trestle ties to cause the agent to lose his balance and fall from the low bridge. He hit the water and immediately grabbed on to the trestle supports before the current could carry him away.
Pulling himself out of the water, he perched on a support brace just below the rail bed. Through the gaps between the ties he could see the men advancing across the bridge intent on capturing his young cousin. He reached up between the ties and grabbed the trailing man by the ankle. The splash of the body hitting the water was a satisfying sound.

Out of the corner of his eye, Jim spotted Artemus Gordon raise his rifle and fire, providing the cover that Jim needed to get himself back up onto the bridge and take out the remaining two henchmen.

Jim’s right fist slammed into the rearmost man’s side directly over his kidney. As the man bent over in pain, Jim’s doubled fist came down on the back of his neck. He too fell from the trestle into the water below. Luckily, his cohort was close by and grabbed the stunned man and pulled him toward the far bank while keeping his head out of the water.

Realizing that he was trapped, the remaining gunman hesitated, glancing between the agents on the bank ahead of him and the one behind him. Jim West’s face was tight-lipped with anger as he stalked toward the leader.

***

Bert Fisch’s orders had been to catch the two thieves that had broken into Mr. Guillory’s place the night before. He did not question why the orders specified that the younger thief was to be brought back alive while the other killed. Nor did he ask why he was told not to report the break-in to the local sheriff. The orders relayed by the carrier pigeon were clear and succinct. Mr. Guillory paid well and did not tolerate men who questioned his orders.

A job he had thought would be easy money now was turning sour on him. Over half his men were dead, the others were out of commission. Catching two thieves should not have posed any problem for a man like Fisch who had specialized in capturing deserters during the war. He thought he had arrived with enough manpower to easily overwhelm his quarry. The sniper in the tree on the south side of the river had been his insurance policy in case the two men made it past the bridge. Seldom had he been so wrong about an assignment.

The two riders who had galloped up from the south didn’t look like typical thieves; they looked more like respectable businessmen, though they were clearly in league with the thieves and had already killed two of his men. Just as he would have been quick to kill if he had the upper hand, he expected no mercy from them. Now, trapped alone on the bridge, he considered his options. In Bert’s mind it was better to go down fighting than let them shoot him like a horse with a broken leg.

Bert Fisch assessed his situation. He glanced at his men struggling to climb out of the river; they would be of no help to him. He focused his attention on the unarmed thief behind him hoping that the crack shot in the fringed brown jacket on the south bank would hesitate to shoot for fear of hitting his accomplice. If he could get past that man, he might be able to retreat back to the northern bank and make a break for it. Telling Burchard Guillory that he failed may be fatal, but he would cross that bridge when he came to it.

Fisch sent a couple of hasty, poorly aimed shots at the three men on the southern bank hoping to send them scurrying for cover long enough for him to deal with the man on bridge.

***

Guessing the other man’s mind, James West was ready when Fisch turned back to face him. Jim kicked the gun from Fisch’s hand, sending it in a high arc over the river. Bert Fisch was an experienced fighter and, although now unarmed, he took advantage of Jim being momentarily off balance and darted past the agent throwing a punch to Jim’s midsection as he did so.

The blow was glancing, but was enough to cause Jim to pull back and allowed Fisch to slip past him. Jim spun around and tackled the man before he could take more than a couple of strides. The two men fell hard against the ungiving timbers that supported the rails. Jim was on top, but as he fell his elbow struck the steel rail temporarily numbing his arm and making him lose his grip. Bert Fisch felt the grip on his left shoulder loosen and twisted in that direction, managing to get out from under the agent. His fist slammed into Jim’s jaw, knocking him sideways far enough that Fisch was able to scramble to his feet and bolt across the bridge before Jim regained his feet.

Without further consideration of his men struggling to get out of the river, Bert Fisch clambered onto the closest horse and kicked it into a gallop.

“Bring him down, Gordon! He must not get word back to Guillory!” Colonel Richmond ordered his agent.

Artemus only hesitated for a second. He didn’t like the idea of shooting a fleeing man in the back, but he also understood the need to prevent any word getting back to Burchard Guillory that would make him suspect there was more to the break-in than a simple burglary. He grimaced as he raised the rifle to his shoulder and took aim on the rider. He squeezed the trigger. The kick of the rifle against his shoulder echoed the wrenching he felt in his gut.

Two drenched and bedraggled gunmen struggled to climb out of the river and were met by James West holding a rifle he had acquired from one of the dead. Of the seven man assault team assembled by Fisch on Guillory’s orders, they were the only survivors. West marched them back across the trestle bridge where they were met by Colonel Richmond, Artemus Gordon and Peter West.

The young thief stood wide-eyed and pale, shell-shocked from the gunfight. Although he had had the occasional pot shot taken at him by a zealous but inept guard, never before had he been in an all-out battle for his life. He felt a heightened level of respect for his cousin’s courage and skill.

“We need to get this mess cleaned up before the local law gets wind of it. We don’t know who is on Guillory’s payroll and we can’t risk him getting suspicious of us before we are ready to arrest him and his conspirators,” Richmond said surveying the carnage.

****************************************************************************************************

A few hours later the Wanderer chugged southeast along the Metropolitan Line toward Washington, DC. Colonel Richmond had already telegraphed headquarters to set up a meeting of his top agents for early the next morning.

In the Washington headquarters’ conference room the head of the Secret Service briefed a group of his most experienced agents who would be assigned the task of rounding up and arresting Guillory and his fellow anarchists incriminated by the list West and Gordon had retrieved. The arrests had to be made within minutes, or at the most a few hours, of each other so none of the men could alert another and escape or destroy any evidence they may have in their possession. Fortunately all of the men were on the east coast, and most were within a few miles of the country’s capital.

Peter West sat outside of the office and waited for the agents to emerge. As far as Colonel Richmond was concerned the young thief had done his job and would not be a part of the final phase of the operation. Peter had other plans. He wanted to be there when Guillory was arrested to make sure the man who had ordered his father’s death knew who was to blame for his downfall.

When the solemn group of agents emerged from the office, Peter fell in behind Artemus Gordon and James West who were quietly discussing tactics with a tall, slender agent with curly, dark hair and calm, hound dog eyes.

Artemus pulled the young man aside and spoke to him loudly enough for Richmond to hear, “You’ve fulfilled your part of this operation, Peter. We’ll handle it from here.” Then whispered, “Meet us at the train in twenty minutes. Don’t let anyone see you!”

The Secret Service agents left the building and separated into their assigned groups. Each group was tasked with arresting a conspirator as quietly as possible. President Grant had been briefed on the contents of Guillory’s list and the papers hidden in the safe. Concerned with how the public would view such prominent and respected individuals being involved in a plot to overthrow the government, especially at a time when many people lacked faith in the government, he wanted everything kept under wraps until he could publicly announce that the anarchists plot had been successfully thwarted.

***

Jim and Artemus retraced their route back to Guillory’s house, but this time they were accompanied by their fellow agent, Jeremy Pike. Peter slipped inside the parlor car just as the train was pulling out.

As they traveled northwest to Buckeystown, they discussed their plans, which were much the same as they had been on their previous outing with the exception of Jim West taking the frontal approach along with Artemus Gordon. Jeremy Pike and Peter West would take the back way in and lay in wait by the secret entrance. If Guillory got spooked, and they suspected he would, they wanted to be in position to catch him.

It was early afternoon when they arrived in Buckeystown. The four men finished their last minute preparations and got ready to part company.

“Guillory’s men will be much more alert this time, Jeremy,” Jim commented before they separated. “He might even have increased the number of guards.”

“Twice bitten, thrice shy,” Jeremy said with a smile. “Lucky for you he hadn’t already learned his lesson the last time.”

“Fortunate also that he never saw any of us well enough to identify. Peter is the only face he is likely to recognize,” Artemus added.

Jeremy pulled a pocket watch from his vest, “Three hours until show time; come on kid, you and I had better get moving!”

The two men mounted their horses, rented from the local livery stable, and headed south on the main road. Having traveled the route before, Peter led the way turning off the road to head across country at the same place they had a little less than forty-eight hours previously. Artie and Jim waited an hour to give the other two a chance to get into position then rode out themselves, following the road until they reached the main entrance to the Guillory estate.

A uniformed guard stepped out of a small shed a couple of hundred feet before they reached the house. He touched the brim of his hat courteously as he watched them ride past. Clearly he was under orders not to interfere with Guillory’s guests, but wanted his presence known to anyone entering the property.

“We might be walking into a viper nest,” observed Gordon as they approached Guillory’s home. “Who knows how Burchard Guillory will react to the presence of two government agents knocking at his door.”

“Well, we do have to give him the opportunity to surrender peaceably even if he is not likely to,” Jim said. His face was impassive, but Artie could see the gleam in his partner’s eyes that gave away his preference for something other than a peaceful arrest. Artemus suspected that, like young Peter West, James would like to see Guillory pay for the death of Derrick West, a crime for which the perpetrator would never be charged.

A neatly attired butler opened the door on the first knock. Clearly their approach had been reported to the main house.

“I’m James West and this is my partner Artemus Gordon. We’re from...”

“The United States Secret Service, yes, sir. I will see if Mr. Guillory is available to meet with you,” the butler gave them a stiff little bow as he motioned for them to follow him.

He led them down the hall past the study, to a drawing room where he offered them a drink and then left, closing the door behind him.

“I’d give odds that he won’t be available. Suddenly called away to visit a sick relative,” Artie said with a smile as he dropped his hat on a small table just inside of the door.

Jim placed his hat next to Artie’s then made a circuit of the finely furnished room. He paused by a tall window; through the sheer curtains he could see the butler talking to a cluster of uniformed men. The butler quickly left the group and headed back toward the rear of the house. The guards headed for the front door. It did not appear that they were armed, but their stony expressions led the agent to believe they had not been asked in for tea.

“Looks like we may be getting some company any second, Artie,” Jim observed.

Just then they heard a door off the main hall click as someone gently closed it, at almost the same time the butler returned.

“I’m sorry gentlemen...” was as far as the butler got before James West yanked him out of the doorway and barreled past him into the hall.

Not surprisingly, three of Guillory’s men were blocking the hall. One of them, a powerfully built man, Jim recognized from his encounter while escaping through the secret entrance. Big Mike was as imposing in the light of day as he had been in the narrow tunnel. Big Mike and another man, Bruce Markley, stood on either side of the door to the study. They did not initially take any aggressive action, but held their ground with unsmiling faces. The third man’s uniform was more ornately decorated. Merrill Steiner was clearly in charge and acting as a backup for the timid butler.

“If you would be good enough to leave...” stammered the butler clearly not relishing the thought of an out and out brawl in the meticulously maintained house.

Jim ignored his pleading and headed straight for the study door. Immediately Steiner moved to intercept him.

“My orders are to escort you off the property,” Steiner growled.

“While Guillory disappears out the back way?” Jim responded.

He grabbed Steiner by his arm and yanked him forward as he brought his knee up into the man’s stomach with enough force to knock the wind out of him. Artemus grabbed the man as Jim jerked him past and flattened Steiner with a quick punch to the jaw.

Now the two men guarding the study door stepped forward eager to take on the government agents. Jim took a step back to draw them out from the wall. Big Mike came at him with his arms out wide, trying to envelope the agent in an unbreakable bear hug. Obviously not a particularly skilled fighter, he was used to relying on brute strength to overpower his opponent.

Jim easily ducked under his outstretched arms and rammed an elbow into his kidney as he dodged past the brute. Just as he was turning to finish off Big Mike, Markley moved in and landed a solid blow to Jim’s jaw.

Rattled by the blow, Jim staggered backward into Mike’s waiting arms. Sporting a bruised kidney and an ugly temper, the big man wrapped his powerful arms around the agent’s chest and squeezed.

Bruce Markley came forward, confident that the agent was helpless. He grinned as he leisurely pulled back his arm to land a second and more devastating blow on West’s chin. Pinned, but far from helpless, Jim used Big Mike’s bear hug for leverage and slammed the soles of his boots into Markley’s chest with enough force to drive him through the study door. Markley landed in a heap on top of the splintered door on the rug in front of Burchard Guillory’s favorite chair.

Jim could barely draw enough breath to keep from blacking out. He was beginning to feel light-headed and knew he had to break free of the bear hug quickly before the blackness over took him. He tried to reach back and box the man’s ears, but to no effect. Getting desperate, he slammed his head back in an attempt to break his assailant’s nose. He was rewarded with a crunch and a roar of pain. Big Mike’s grip loosened enough for Jim to twist around and box him in the ears a second time. The big man stumbled backward releasing the agent. Jim West pressed his advantage and followed up with a kick to the jaw that took Big Mike out of the fight.

Jim turned his attention to his partner who was wrapping a long drape around the butler’s legs and torso with a satisfied smile on his face. A light shove and the butler toppled over to land on Steiner’s inert form.

“I see you got things neatly wrapped up,” quipped Jim.

“Such a nice house deserves to be left neat and orderly,” Artemus replied. Then glancing in the study, he shook his head and said, “I don’t think the butler will ever invite you in again!”

Stepping over the unconscious bodies, the two agents headed for the secret door behind the display cabinet. They each lit a lantern then quietly descended the stairs, listening as they went for any indication of Burchard Guillory’s location.

As they reached the main tunnel they could see daylight streaming in through the open door. All was quiet. For a minute, Jim thought that Burchard Guillory had escaped, but when they reached the exit they found Jeremy Pike leaning over a man sprawled in the dirt fifty feet from the exit. He was shackling the man’s wrists. Nearby stood Peter West, his face tight, breathing hard. He was rubbing his knuckles while he stared intently at the prostrate form.

Jeremy finished his task and looked up when Jim and Artemus emerged from the tunnel. He stood up and grinned at the approaching agents. Guillory was just beginning to regain consciousness amid piteous moans.

“The kid’s a West alright! He’s got a powerful left hook. Guillory tried to bolt. Bowled right over me and straight into Peter’s fist,” he said gesturing toward the man at his feet.

Jim gave an approving nod to the young thief, but Artemus grinned widely and said, “Those sore knuckles feel good, don’t they?”

Peter just grinned in response.

****************************************************************************************************

Several days later West and Gordon stood before their supervisor’s desk in the Secret Service’s Washington headquarters. Colonel Richmond’s face was impassive, but both men knew their boss was pleased with the outcome of the operation.

“I spoke with President Grant this morning,” Richmond said. “He is relieved the operation went smoothly. Of the twenty-six men we picked up, most have been released with a stiff warning and a slap on the wrist.”

“I’m not sure I agree with not pressing charges against the whole group of them,” Jim grumbled.

“The President was afraid that so many arrests would throw the public into a panic and they would lose all faith in the government.” Colonel Richmond’s expression indicated that he privately agreed with James West’s sentiments.

Jim nodded in agreement, “We will have to watch the ones that were released closely.”

“I expect most of them will be too scared to get involved in another plot, but a few may feel enough resentment to cause a problem down the road,” Artemus Gordon added.

“Not exactly the type of job security I wanted, but at least we know who to be watching in the future,” Richmond said with a sigh. “That was good work getting the list out of Guillory’s safe without him realizing it.”

“Thank you, sir,” the two agents responded simultaneously. Sensing the briefing was over they turned to leave.

Richmond stopped them with a question, “West, what about your young cousin?”

“Taken care of, sir,” he responded. “I wired my parents and they are willing to take him in. My father could use some help, and I think Peter is sincere in his desire to get away from crime.”

“He has some useful talents. Maybe in a few years…” Richmond let his thought trail off.

“Yes, sir, maybe,” Jim acknowledged with slight smile. “Good-bye, colonel.”



*** END ***


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