SS senior field agent
Posted - 04/03/2013 : 10:39:31
| THE NIGHT OF THE MASTER OF DISGUISE
The play is done; the curtain drops,
Slow falling to the prompter's bell;
A moment yet the actor stops,
And looks around, to say farewell.
It is an irksome work and task;
And, when he's laughed and said his say,
He shows, as he removes the mask,
A face that's anything but gay.
—The End of the Play, William Makepeace Thackeray (1811-1863), English novelist, satirist, and critic
Homer Benson closed the cash drawer and lifted his head to smile at the man on the opposite side of his teller’s cage. “Yes, sir? What can I do for you?”
“Is the head of this bank in? I’d like to open an account and make a rather substantial deposit.”
Behind his gold-rimmed spectacles, Homer’s eyes widened slightly. “Yes, sir. That would be Mr. Eads. I’ll see if he is available. Do you wish to give me your name, sir?”
“Gordon, Artemus Gordon.”
“Yes, sir! One moment. I’ll be right back.” Homer hurried out of his cage and toward the door at the back of the small bank’s interior, glancing back once. He had thought he recognized that face from pictures he had seen in newspapers and other periodicals. Imagine! Artemus Gordon as a client of Dayton Federal Bank!
He rapped on Mr. Eads’s door and opened it when he heard the call from inside. Knowing Mr. Eads liked directness, Homer quickly informed him of the prospective customer and, above all, his identity. Eads jumped to his feet, smoothing his vest over his ample frame. “Send him in! Send him in!”
He waited behind the desk, glancing around the office nervously to make sure everything was in place. How amazing! The famous government agent Artemus Gordon coming to Dayton to open a bank account. But of course, he must have heard about the efficient service this bank had given to the federal government over time.
Homer opened the door and stepped back to allow the new customer to precede him, wishing with all his might he could remain to witness the procedure. But he still had customers at his queue, even if Mr. Eads approved such a request—which was most unlikely.
“Mr. Gordon! This is a great honor, as well as a pleasure. Please sit down. May I take that for you?” The bank manager motioned to the black leather satchel Gordon carried. If he had the sum he wished to deposit in such a large bag…
“No, thank you. I wonder if you would answer a question or two before we proceed, Mr. Eads.”
“Certainly. Certainly. What do you wish to know?” Eads took his own chair again, leaning forward, but careful not to make the gauche move of putting his elbows on his desktop.
“I’m told you handle money being transferred by the federal government.”
“Indeed we do, and we are proud to be entrusted with such transactions. The treasury sends money to various outposts, as you undoubtedly know, and we are one of the stops along the way. As a matter of fact, in this safe behind me right now is a sum of money awaiting pickup by the military tomorrow to be taken to Cincinnati. We have never failed to protect the funds.” Eads beamed.
“Excellent, Mr. Eads, that is exactly what I wanted to know. I don’t think I have any further questions.” The customer snapped open the satchel he had put on his lap and reached inside. Eads’s eyes widened in anticipation to see the amount of cash Mr. Gordon planned to entrust with them. His eyes opened even wider when Mr. Gordon’s hand came out, not holding bundles of cash, but a pistol.
The customer stood up, pointing the weapon at the bank manager. “You will open the safe promptly, Mr. Eads. If you do not, I will step through that door and shoot everyone I see. Do you want that on your conscience?”
“N-no! No, no! I don’t believe this. Is it a joke, Mr. Gordon?”
“I am not a joking man. Open the safe, Mr. Eads. Now!”
The iciness in the brown eyes and the sharpness of the voice convinced Eads to accede to the demands. He turned and knelt by the heavy safe, twisting the dial until it clicked, wondering all the while how he managed to remember the combination at this horrible moment. As soon as he started to open the door, the pseudo-customer stepped forward and shoved him aside. Eads sprawled on the floor as the door was opened wider and the large, heavy canvas bag was pulled out.
The customer backed up then, stuffing the bag into his valise. He looked down at the man still on the floor. “Now. You will remain in the bank for two minutes. I suggest you ensure that no one else leaves the building. One hundred and twenty seconds. You should count them off. I will be doing so. If anyone emerges from the bank during that time, my waiting associates will kill that person. Do you understand?”
“I do! I do! I won’t move! I swear!”
“Artemus, all I can say is it is very fortunate you were with Jim and several other reliable witnesses at the time.”
Artemus Gordon smiled wryly. “I am extremely grateful.”
James Richmond settled back in his chair, picking up the photograph and staring at it again. “It is simply incredible that every witness looked at this picture and swore it was of the man who robbed the Dayton bank.”
Jim had been standing at a window of the colonel’s office, staring out. Now he turned around. “Has to be the same man as the others.”
“I agree,” Artie said quickly. “And I’m beginning to have a suspicion about who he might be—although I thought Seymour Fanning was dead.”
“Who was—is Seymour Fanning?” Richmond asked.
Artie sat down now, and after a moment, Jim took the other chair. Over the last six months, a series of very strange robberies had taken place, from a small military outpost in Georgia all the way west, so far, to a post office in Reno, Nevada. The thefts occurred at various times of day, always involving just one man, although he claimed to have confederates. The main aspect in common was that in every instance, the robber wore a disguise.
Not just a mask, or simply whiskers. He made himself up to look like a very well known person. The first time he was taken for General Jubal Early. The personnel at the post in Georgia thought that the former Confederate officer was calling on them—until he pulled a weapon and demanded the payroll funds that had just been delivered. Other times he looked like well-known actors, or a local politician, and once more by another military officer, this time William Tecumseh Sherman. In all cases, federal funds were involved, so that the government was involved in investigations.
The robbery in a Dayton, Ohio bank that had occurred ten days ago had not immediately been connected to the others until the claim that the culprit was one Artemus Gordon was made. The initial descriptions given by witnesses seemed to indicate that Secret Service Agent was indeed involved, so much so that the department sent an agent out with a recent photograph. Every witness verified that the man who robbed the bank looked exactly like the man in the picture.
At the time of the event, Artie and Jim had been in Arizona investigating some counterfeit bonds that had appeared in a bank there. The fact that Artemus had been hundreds of miles away from Dayton, confirmed not only by his partner but by two army officers and the bank president, prevented a great deal of confusion, not to mention embarrassment for the agent.
“Seymour Fanning was an actor, but not a very accomplished one,” Artie said, staring toward something on the wall behind the colonel’s chair. “He was a member of the first troupe I joined, and while he taught me a great deal, it was not purposeful on his part, but because the troupe manager and owner ordered him to. He was very jealous of me and any other actor in the troupe… and actually any actor anywhere. He considered himself the greatest thespian in the world. He was only fair in drama, better in comedies. However, he thought of himself as a superb Shakespearean actor, which he definitely was not. But he was a master with disguises and costumes. The troupe manager kept him on under the condition he helped other actors with their makeup and costumes.
“Fanning pushed limits in his makeup. Audiences loved it when we appeared for our bows and removed portions of our disguises to reveal our true selves. As time went on, Seymour became more and more arrogant and demanding. He changed lines in his dialogue onstage, which naturally disconcerted his co-performers, including me. I was pretty young and new at that time so it caused me to flub a line or two. That was when I came to be aware that Fanning was extremely jealous of me.
“He started going to the manager to demand that I be fired. Mr. Gates, the manager, constantly refused, pointing out that my problems were caused by Fanning’s behavior. That infuriated Fanning, and he continued to create disruptions. He had a very good contract with the troupe that prevented his dismissal. But that contract expired and he was let go.
“On the day that occurred, I happened to be standing backstage with two or three fellow actors. Fanning stormed out of the manager’s office, saw me, stomped right up and punched me in the jaw before I could react, yelling that I was to blame for his dismissal, that I was jealous of him and he was going to get even. I don't know what he would have done if the others had not grabbed him. Mr. Gates came out, hearing the commotion, and told them to usher Fanning out the door.
“I—ah—I took over most of his roles, and got excellent responses from the audiences as well as newspapers. Fanning became aware of course, and was further infuriated. He wrote letters to newspapers and tried to intimidate reviewers—all to no avail because he had treated those writers badly in the past, refusing interviews, writing to their editors complaining, etc.
“In the theater world, regardless of where you do your acting—on Broadway, in a touring troupe, or wherever—word gets around. Others were unwilling to hire Fanning after that because of the trouble he had caused. I guess because he wasn’t getting any parts, he slowly faded away. About a year later, we heard that he had been killed in a train accident.”
“Was that confirmed?” Jim asked.
“About all I know is that a number of passengers were badly burned in a subsequent fire, to the point of being unidentifiable. Fanning’s papers were found near one male victim, and when matched up as best possible, that body was identified as his.”
Richmond slid a pad of paper toward him and picked up a pen, dipping it in ink. “I’ll order a more thorough investigation. Do you know what date that was, Artemus?”
Artie frowned. “Probably around late fifty-eight or early fifty-nine. I know it was winter. The accident occurred in Maine. A landslide had taken out portion of a bridge over a gorge, apparently just before the train approached, so that they had no warning. I shouldn’t think it would be difficult to find information.”
The colonel nodded, writing. “I agree. I also think we won’t learn too much at this late date. But it would be good to get as much information as possible.”
“Artie,” Jim said, “would you recognize Fanning—without makeup?”
“Probably. He actually resembled me in certain senses. Maybe a little taller, about ten years older. His hair wasn’t as dark as mine. But in general build, we were similar. Perhaps that is why we are both successful with disguise. Kind of average one might say.”
Jim’s brows lifted. “I’m surprised to hear you say you are average, Artemus.”
Artie sighed in exasperation. “James, I’m talking about the shape of face and body that permits me to don these various disguises, becoming other personages. If I was very short or very tall, it might not be as easy. Frank has that trouble.”
“I know.” Jim nodded, smiling a little now. He always liked to get in a gibe when he could. Artie would pay him back in kind eventually.
“An even more important question,” the colonel spoke, putting down his pen and blotting the note he had just written, “is whether you have any idea where to find Fanning—if he is indeed alive.”
“I’m afraid not, sir. I’m not even certain where he originated. I’m sure that information is available somewhere. I do know the whereabouts of a couple of fellow actors from that period, and I can contact them. One is right here in Washington.”
Where the mouth is sweet and the eyes intelligent, there is always the look of beauty, with a right heart.
Leigh Hunt (James Henry Leigh Hunt; 1784-1859), English poet and writer
A maid opened the door when Artie dropped the brass knocker on the front door of the handsome, but rather modest house on the outskirts of Washington. She escorted the two agents into a parlor and departed to fetch her mistress. Artemus stepped over to the fireplace and gazed at the framed photographs on the mantel. He turned from the display of family pictures as the door opened.
The woman who entered was in her late thirties, rich brown hair done up neatly, her gown stylish but not overly expensive. She held out her hands, bluish-gray eyes gleaming. “Artemus!” She grasped his extended hands. “It’s always so wonderful to see you. How are you?”
Artie laughed, keeping one of her hands in his. “I’m fine, Vanessa. You are looking well. Lovely as ever. I’m sorry I haven’t been around. We haven’t spent much time in Washington of late.”
“Oh! You always were a flatterer.” Now she looked at Jim. “You must be an actor! You could not be so handsome and not be on the stage.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Piedmont, but no, I don’t have the talent Artemus has always possessed.”
“Vanessa, this is my partner, James West. Jim, Vanessa Brookline Piedmont, one of the finest actresses I ever knew, stolen from the stage by true love.”
“Don’t believe him, Mr. West. I was awful. Just ask Seymour Fanning. Well, if you could.” She looked at the surprised expressions on each of the agent’s faces. “What did I say?”
“An odd coincidence you should mention Fanning, Vanessa,” Artemus said, “we came here to ask you about him.”
Her eyes widened and she moved to sit on an upholstered chair, waving them to a sofa. “Whatever do you mean, Artemus? Seymour has been dead for years.”
“Do you have any information on his background, Mrs. Piedmont?” Jim inquired. “I mean, where he was born or if he had any family?”
“My goodness, I don't think so. Why do you ask?”
Tersely Artie explained the situation as the astonishment grew on her lovely face. “But it couldn’t be Seymour, Artemus! He’s dead!”
“So we were told. In our work we have encountered situations where people faked their own deaths. I honestly cannot think of any other person with the talent and expertise to create these disguises—including one that looked enough like me to fool some very intelligent people.”
“I agree with you on that, Artemus. I’ve kept contact with a number of friends from my acting days, and also attend as many productions as I can. I simply cannot think of anyone other than Seymour—and you—with such a talent.”
“I remember that he held less animosity toward women than men,” Artie said.
“Because he considered us as the weaker sex,” Vanessa said sharply. “He did not consider any female a threat to him in his profession, at least. And yes, he did talk to me quite a bit. But it was mostly about himself. You know how he was, Artemus.”
“I do indeed. Somehow he always managed to steer any conversation to himself and his imagined accomplishments.”
Mrs. Piedmont lifted a finger to her chin. “Now that I’m thinking about it, I believe I recall one day he entered a tea room where Alice Frick and I had gone for lunch, and joined us without invitation. I often thought he had a bit of a crush on Alice, despite his oft-stated opinions about females. You remember Alice, Artemus?”
“A very pretty, very sweet young lady. I have to admit I had a small crush on her myself.” A small smile played on his face with the memory.
“I think most of the males in the troupe did. Anyway, Alice got him to talk about things other than his acting skills and the adulation he usually received. She asked him about how he got into the profession. Now what did he say?” Vanessa tapped that finger against her chin, as she thought about it. “I’m pretty certain he said he and his siblings put on plays when he was a boy.”
“Do you recall if he said how many siblings, and what gender?” Jim asked.
She made a pretty moue with her rosy lips, concentrating harder. “At least one brother, I’m certain. He mentioned that their plays usually involved action—sword fighting and the like. I’m trying to remember if the girls in their dramas were his sisters or neighborhood children. I’m not being much help am I?”
“Tremendous help,” Artie assured her. “We know more than we did when we came in. I have a recollection that he was from New England.”
“Yes, I’m sure of that. Not Massachusetts, I’m certain. I remember him expressing a disdain for Boston, although I never heard why he felt that way. I think it might have been Maine, actually. I believe I was not astonished that the train wreck that killed him was in Maine. I suppose I thought he was on his way home.”
“We have men investigating his background now,” Jim said, “and we can suggest they concentrate in those New England states. Might hasten matters.”
“Why in the world would Seymour—if it is Seymour—be committing these robberies?” She looked from one man to the other.
“That’s a very good question,” Artie smiled. “When we catch him, we’ll ask.”
“And why would he pose as you, Artemus? Granted you are well known, but it still seems strange.”
“Another question to ask,” Jim responded, getting to his feet.
“Oh, I hoped you would stay for dinner!” Vanessa cried, rising as well. “Frank will be here, as well as my daughters. I know Frank would like to see you again, Artemus.”
“I wish we could,” Artie shook his head ruefully. “We have too much work to do. Two men have been killed in those robberies. We want to catch him before anyone else is harmed. Sometimes minutes count.”
“I understand. But please remember, you have a standing invitation any time you are in Washington. You too, Mr. West. I would like to know how you avoided being on stage! I’m sure women would fill the theaters to overflowing just to see you stand on the stage and read newspaper columns!”
Jim laughed, a little chagrined. “Thank you, Mrs. Piedmont. I’m sorry I missed seeing you perform in the theater. I get to see Artie put on his act almost daily.”
Vanessa Piedmont joined his laughter, and Artie could only grin. They departed the home and walked to the still waiting cab they had hired. Upon giving the driver his next instructions and climbing inside, Jim commented, “Lovely woman. Bright too.”
“Right on both counts. I don't think she was any lovelier fifteen years ago than she is now. Frank Piedmont came to every performance we gave in Baltimore that summer, and by Christmas, Vanessa had left the theater world to marry him. I and several other males in the troupe were brokenhearted.”
“So you had more than one crush.”
Artie sighed. “In those days, James, I was in love with more women then I can count. If it was not for Lily, the same might be true today!”
The Wanderer pulled out of the Washington railroad yards early the following morning. Both agents wished they had more information to go on, but also both realized that speed was of the utmost importance. They had no knowledge of the whereabouts of Seymour Fanning, or whoever was committing the robberies, other than the last two had been committed west of Washington City.
The previous robberies had taken place every four to six weeks, and thus far the total stolen came to nearly a quarter of a million dollars, some in gold coin, some in paper money, and a certain amount in government bearer bonds. Somehow the thief had gotten inside information on when and where those federal funds would be stored, temporarily or permanently.
Artie was studying a map spread out on the table in the parlor car when Jim entered. “What’s that?”
Artemus glanced up. “Oh, I was just trying to figure out if there is any pattern to the robberies. The locations I mean.”
Artie grimaced. “Nothing. Here, there and everywhere. He went from Georgia to Minnesota, back down to Mississippi, then to Oklahoma Territory. Just wherever he learned the federal funds would be held.”
“And how did he learn about that?”
“I have no idea. Only thing I can think of is he has a confederate, a spy, in the government offices. And I know Colonel Richmond has already sent word to the Secretary of the Treasury to be on the alert.”
“We might need to set up a snare,” Jim commented, settling on the sofa that faced the back of the train car.
“I thought about that.” Artemus rolled up the map and replaced it in the cupboard by the table, then came around to take a chair facing Jim. He glanced toward the window. “We’re making good time.”
“I noticed. Artie, why did Fanning pose as you?”
“Revenge is the only thing I can come up with. I’m sure he knew I replaced him in all the parts he played in the troupe. In his mind, I had something to do with his dismissal.” Artie leaned forward, elbows on knees.
Jim waited, looking at his partner’s now thoughtful face. “And?”
“And he could be the one leading us into a trap.”
“Artie, he’s been at this for six months, and the Dayton robbery has been the fifth. Quite an elaborate plan to get vengeance on you.”
“It is. But Seymour Fanning was a complicated man.”
“Was.” Now Jim turned thoughtful. “You know, Artie, he could be actually dead. This might be someone else. His brother, for instance.”
“If he has a brother. The train accident was a dozen years ago, Jim. Why would Fanning’s brother suddenly decide to revenge Seymour?”
“Why would Seymour wait that long?”
Artie sighed heavily, pushing himself to his feet. “I don't think we’re going to know any of this until we catch—whoever it is.” He headed toward the door leading to the galley then paused. “I hope this trip to Dayton is fruitful.”
They had decided to go to Dayton, Ohio themselves to meet the witnesses of the robbery. Agent George Thomas Layton, known as G.T., was meeting them there to avoid a lot of possible confusion when “Artemus Gordon” entered the bank again. Having already interviewed the people in Dayton, he could assure them that this Gordon was the genuine article.
Layton was a competent if not spectacular Secret Service agent, always willing to help when asked. He was at the railroad station in Dayton to meet them, and had a cab ready to transport them to the bank. As expected, their entrance into the financial business caused a stir. Homer Benson, behind the teller’s cage, went white in the face.
Layton hurried to him to explain, relaxing the teller somewhat, but the young man still threw several backward glances as he led the three men into Mr. Eads’ office. That man jumped to his feet as Artemus followed Layton into the room.
“Mr. Benson,” Layton said, “we’d like you to stay a moment.” He then assured Mr. Eads that this was the real Artemus Gordon, not the disguised bandit, and introduced Agent West.
“My goodness!” the banker exclaimed, gaping at Artie. “That man certainly made himself look like you!”
“Exactly like me?” Artemus asked. “I request that both of you look at me closely to see if you can discern any differences you might remember.”
Long seconds elapsed as the banker and his teller gazed at Artie. Homer was the first one to speak. “Your eyes. His eyes were not as brown! I think they had some… some green in them.”
“That’s right,” Eads confirmed. “I know I stared at his eyes, and that’s where I saw that he meant what he said. Oh! You have a little scar. Right there!” He put a finger by his left eye.
Artemus nodded. “Did the bandit?”
“No. I’m sure of that. As I said, I looked at his face quite a lot. I was so stunned that Artemus Gordon could be robbing me. I think I was watching for a sign that he was joking.”
“That’s important,” Artemus said, glancing at his partner.
Jim frowned. “Why?”
“Because I didn’t have this scar back then. You know how I got it.”
His partner nodded then. “Yeah, I do.” He would never forget finding his partner in the brush after a surprise attack by Rebs in Virginia. By the amount of blood smeared on Artemus's face, Jim had been momentarily sure his friend was dead. A minié ball had barely skimmed his face, just under the eye. Artie had jerked back in surprise, tripped and fell, hitting his head on a rock, which stunned him. Only when Jim knelt down did he realize how minimal the wound was. But it had left this scar.
He also knew why Artemus felt it was important. Seymour Fanning had not known about the scar. He would not have included it in the disguise he created. Of course, others might not be aware of it either. The scar was not that distinct and possibly not noticeable until one was fairly close to Artemus Gordon.
Si fortuna juvat, caveto tolli; si fortuna tonat, caveto mergi.
[If fortune favors you do not be elated; if she frowns do not despond.]
—Septem Sapientum Sententioe Septenis Versibus Explicatoe (IV, 6), Decimus Magnus Ausonius (c. 310-395), Roman [Bordeaux resident) poet and teacher
Luck was not in their favor over the next ten or eleven days. The Wanderer continued westward, stopping periodically for fuel or water, or because a town was near the tracks, from where they connected with the wires that paralleled the tracks to send and receive messages. Nothing new was available. Washington had sent men to Maine to try to locate Fanning’s family, but the trek was unsuccessful. No one seemed to know the Fanning name.
That caused Artemus to speculate that the actor he had known as Seymour Fanning had taken on a stage name. “Sometimes families were so averse to a member becoming an actor, that a name change was made to prevent future conflict with the family, as well as sometimes to hide from those family members. Or perhaps the given name wasn’t glamorous enough.”
“Why didn’t you change your name?” Jim asked idly.
Artie’s chin came up. “There is nothing wrong with Artemus Gordon!”
His partner gazed at him a long moment, puzzlement on his face. “If you say so,” he commented finally, grinned quickly, and departed the parlor car to head for the stable car, once again leaving an exasperated Artemus.
He got me again!
Every lead turned into a dead end. Artemus had given the department all the names he could remember from his days with the troupe, and the department sent out men to try to find those people. Several were located, but could not offer any additional assistance. They remembered Fanning, but had no idea where he was now, if he was indeed alive. The manager of the troupe died some years ago; he might have been able to offer the most information.
The Wanderer arrived in San Francisco, its passengers without a single clue of where to go next or what to do to find the mysterious bandit. Jim and Artie decided to stay over a couple of days before heading east again, to enjoy the sights and entertainment available in that lively bayside city. However—and Artie commented afterwards, “It never fails”—an urgent telegram arrived at the Wanderer just minutes before they were about to wire Colonel Richmond of their plans.
Fort Laramie, Wyoming, had been robbed of a payroll by a man assuming the guise of the paymaster from Fort Steele, using a clever scheme that completely took in the officers at Fort Laramie. The two agents were to head for Wyoming immediately. No time for the theater, or dinner at a favorite restaurant.
They had, however, managed to visit a tavern on the outskirts of the Barbary Coast, now owned by the other member of the acting troupe that Artemus had been able to keep in touch with. Harvey Burton had stayed with the troupe until it finally dissolved in the midst of the late war; he had then brought his savings to San Francisco to buy the tavern, a successful venture for him.
He remembered Seymour Fanning vividly, and displayed the same distaste that Vanessa Piedmont had shown. “I’ll tell you what, Artemus. The stage was better off when he left it. I certainly didn’t grieve when I heard of his death, though I felt sorry that his talent had been so wasted. A better man would have made better use of that talent.”
But he knew very little concerning Fanning’s personal life, not where Fanning came from, nothing about his family, and definitely not whether he used his real name on the stage. He also could not come up with another actor with similar talent for makeup and disguise—other than Artemus Gordon.
The agents were grumbling about another dead end when they returned to the train and found the transmission regarding the robbery in Wyoming awaiting them. Two days later the Wanderer pulled onto a siding outside of Laramie. The remainder of the trek was made by horseback to the fort itself. The guard at the gate sent them directly to the commandant’s headquarters.
Colonel Richard Latham was a long-time regular army man. The agents had first met him in Tennessee during the battles around Chattanooga. They knew that while he was primarily a by-the-book officer, he also had a conscience and a heart. Men loved serving under him because they knew they would be treated well and fair.
A tall, thin man, his blond hair had long since turned to silver. Only a couple of shrapnel scars marred a still handsome face. He greeted Jim and Artemus warmly, served bourbon, and then sat down to explain what had happened.
“The pay for men here as well as at Fort Steele arrives here regularly. We notify the paymaster at Steele, Captain Lowell Schaffer, that the pay is here, and he either sends a patrol for it, or comes himself with a patrol. That’s what we did last week. Ordinarily Schaffer needs a couple of days to get things together so we did not expect him until, say, the next day.
“However, the day after our messenger returned, Captain Schaffer entered Fort Laramie. He had a bad cold and laryngitis, but he said he came personally because he was extremely worried. A scout had returned to Fort Steele with information that a gang of renegades planned to ambush the patrol when they returned to Steele with the payroll. He had come himself, alone, to throw things off schedule and fool the possible thieves.
“I wanted to send men back with him, but he refused. He said a lone rider was not expected. He had a duster on his saddle that he would don on the return trip to disguise his uniform. I know Schaffer to be a good man, and an honest one, as well as quite stubborn. In the end I acquiesced to his scheme and he left with the money. Two days later the real Captain Schaffer, with a patrol, arrived to collect the payroll.” Col. Latham sighed deeply. “I cannot believe I was so easily deluded!
“Don’t worry, Colonel,” Jim smiled wryly. “You aren’t the only one.”
“Yes, so I’ve heard in the communications I received from Washington. Who is this man?”
“We don't know for certain,” Artie replied. “We are trying to trace an actor I knew before the war, who seems to fit the description. However, he also supposedly died some years ago!”
“Tell me, Colonel,” Jim put in, “did this fake Schaffer sign a ledger?”
“He did. But because I knew the man, and everything was routine—so I thought—thus I did not even look at the signature until the genuine paymaster arrived. I’m sure this fellow counted on that. The signature was quite different.”
“May we see it?” Artie asked, experiencing a small thrill of excitement. I used to know Fanning’s handwriting. He wrote enough bitter notes to me, I should!
“Certainly. Let’s go to the paymaster’s office.”
The three men strode across the parade grounds to the wooden building that housed the paymaster’s office. The man at the desk inside came to his feet, saluting. He then smiled. “Mr. West, Mr. Gordon. Good to see you again, although I wish it was under different circumstances.”
“We know the feeling, Captain Mayhew.” Jim stepped forward to shake the stocky man’s hand.
Artie did the same. “Captain, we’d like to see the signature that the fake Schaffer signed.”
Mayhew immediately opened a drawer of his desk to retrieve a gray-backed book, and placed it open on the desk. Artie leaned forward to inspect the signature. “I take it this is nothing like the real Schaffer’s signature,” he commented.
“Not at all. I’m embarrassed that I did not check it immediately.”
“Nonsense, Captain,” his colonel said crisply. “We were all taken in. Don’t forget, he came to my quarters first, and I escorted him over here.” He glanced at the agents. “We really didn’t talk much because ‘Schaffer’ coughed a great deal when he attempted to speak. Otherwise, we normally have a nice chat about events at either installation.”
Artie was still peering at the signature as Jim said, “This man is extremely cunning, Colonel. No doubt the laryngitis was to prevent the chances of him betraying himself in small talk.”
“Yes, I agree. It certainly worked.”
Artemus straightened, looking first at his partner, then the two officers. “I am reasonably sure this signature was written by Seymour Fanning. I would need to compare it to something Fanning wrote—if anything could be located—but I have a recollection of his handwriting, and I would say it is his.”
Of course the colonel wanted to know more about Fanning, so the four men sat down while Artemus explained what they knew. Both officers were frowning as he finished his recitation. “But if Fanning was killed in that train wreck…” The colonel gazed at each of the agents in turn.
Jim shook his head. “We don't know. He was believed to have had a brother. It’s possible this brother knew all of Seymour Fanning’s tricks with makeup and is—after a long lapse—looking for vengeance… or something else.”
“We just don't know,” Artie reiterated. “And may not until we catch him. Which is going to be devilishly difficult, I’m afraid!”
“Colonel,” Jim spoke thoughtfully, “did you have any visitors to the fort in the last couple of weeks? I mean visitors who were strangers.”
Mayhew and Latham exchanged startled glances before the colonel spoke. “As a matter of fact, two of them. One of them was a grizzled old trapper who complained about people robbing his trap lines. We had to convince him that no one was stealing his furs, but the prey that used to be here are long gone. He seemed a little out of his head. Talked a lot and asked a lot of questions.”
“He seemed to think he was at some old fur trading post,” Mayhew said. “Kept wanting to know where he could sell his furs when he brought them in. I guess he spotted the paymaster sign on this office and came in, wanting to know if the safe was secure. I was rather amused and I guess I talked a lot.”
“Several men did,” Latham said. “The old fellow left about sundown promising to be back with his furs. Do you think…?”
“Who was the other stranger?” Artie asked.
“A businessman from Detroit, a well-dressed, well-spoken fellow. He was looking to make investments in the area and wanted to know about army protection and the like. Especially wanted information on how safe his money would be if he left it here rather than the bank. Are you saying…?”
Artie did not smile, realizing the flustered colonel had had two unfinished questions. “It’s entirely possible. Were the two men of the same height and build, maybe eye color? It’s the one thing we can’t change, eye color.”
“Same build, definitely,” the captain put in quickly. “I don't think I noticed the old trapper’s eyes. He was squinting most of the time. But I do recollect that Mr. Bates’ eyes were brownish. He had a way of staring that was rather uncomfortable.”
And to keep you from examining him too closely. Artie did not say this aloud. He had often used the same technique, along with the prattling behavior of the old trapper. “I presume Schaffer has brown eyes.”
“I’m not certain I ever really noticed,” the colonel answered. “He has dark hair, so it is likely.”
They talked to the two officers further, and decided a trip to Fort Steele would be futile, primarily because no one there had any knowledge of the robber. They had not seen him. They were, in essence, the victims of a robbery that they had not been aware of until two days after it occurred.
Bidding goodbye to Latham, they rode into the town of Laramie and entered one of the better restaurants. Jim noticed how Artie kept looking around at the other patrons. “Do you think you’d recognize him?”
Artie sighed, shaking his head, his face assuming a rueful expression. “Remember the time I told you I could spot makeup, false noses, and wigs anywhere? I did not spot ‘Miss Tyler’ of course, and I’m now wondering if I could detect Fanning if he was sitting here, with or without makeup. You realize, Jim, that we could have walked right by him any number of times.”
“I know. You’re sure about that signature?”
“It is very similar to what I remember of Seymour Fanning’s handwriting. That doesn’t mean a whole lot. Schoolchildren are taught a particular way of writing. The nuances occur later in life. I’d have to see a sample to be very certain. But it’s close enough to cause me to feel it is Fanning.”
“Then how do we explain his recorded death?”
“James, my boy, I haven’t the faintest idea at this point. What I’m wondering is where he’s going to strike next. And most of all, why? Is it some sort of revenge the troupe that cast him off, and me in particular? I can’t see any connections between any of the particular robberies and anyone I remember. Other than me, of course.”
“He’s hitting government installations, Artie, and he’s stealing government money.”
“Yeah, I thought of that. He wasn’t southern. One thing I do remember about him is that he hated slavery. One of his rare admirable qualities.”
They fell silent and Jim noticed that Artie was staring at his plate of food rather than eating. “Artie? Are you blaming yourself?”
Artemus lifted his gaze. “Not… not really. But Jim, I replaced Seymour in the troupe. He was let go because I was able to fill the roles he played—and if I must say so, fill them superiorly. One of his robberies was committed while disguised as me! Is he stealing from the federal government… because the federal government is my employer?”
“It can’t be that simple, pal. Don’t forget, over a dozen years elapsed from the time he was ousted from your acting troupe before he started these robberies. Who knows, perhaps he had some problem with taxes, or something else. He had to have been living under a different name all these years, so that would be difficult to track.”
“Yeah, of course you’re right, Jim. What really worries me is that it is just a matter of time before someone else is hurt or killed. Especially if he has henchmen as he’s hinted during a couple of the robberies.”
Jim shook his head. “They’ve never been seen, but we may not know for certain until we catch him—or them. Come on, let’s finish this meal and get back to the train. The colonel will be awaiting our report.”
“My report, you mean,” Artie said sarcastically as he picked up his fork.
Jim grinned. “How many times have I told you what a great writer you are, Artemus?”
James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: "Thanks Artie"! Is that all you can say to me? I've just come back from the grave, risen like Lazarus, and that's what you say? "Thanks, Artie"?
James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: It's a pleasure.
- TNOT Pistoleros
SS senior field agent
Posted - 04/03/2013 : 10:40:21
To him that waits all things reveal themselves, provided that he has the courage not to deny, in the darkness, what he has seen in the light.
—Coventry Kersey Dighton Patmore (1823-1896), English poet
As expected, an impatient message awaited them on the desk in the parlor car, taken by one of the crew in their absence. With a sigh, Artie quickly tapped out a note that they had just returned and a full report would be transmitted post haste. Then he and Jim stripped off their jackets and gun belts, and sat down to compose the report. Artemus wrote most of it, while Jim added bits that he thought relevant. Both read the entire missive over before it was sent.
Neither was surprised when, about a half hour later, the telegraph key clattered, ordering them to return to Washington immediately. “Plans have to be made,” the colonel asserted.
“I wonder if they’ve had any luck ferreting out a confederate in the Treasury office,” Artie wondered aloud.
“Might be why the colonel wants us back there.”
Six days later the two agents were sitting in the office of Colonel James Richmond, giving their report verbally. Also present was Major Lamont Busch from the Department of the Treasury. After being introduced, he sat in silence, listening carefully to the conversations among the Secret Service men.
“I have to tell you, Colonel,” Artemus Gordon said as they finished the narration regarding the Fort Laramie theft, “this has to be one of the most frustrating cases we’ve ever been on. The man is a will o’ the wisp. He might as well be invisible. Even if he’s not wearing makeup or any type of disguise regularly, it has been a long time since I saw him last. He may have changed a great deal.”
“Every criminal makes a mistake eventually,” Richmond said firmly. “And we might be able to lead him into one. Major?”
“Thank you, Colonel Richmond. Mr. Gordon, Mr. West, we believe we have identified the spy in our offices. We may be completely off target, but this man is the only one who seems to have motive and opportunity. Beyond that, he has amassed a rather large sum in his bank account over the last six months.”
“Who is he, Major?” Jim inquired.
“His name is Elmore Mosley. He has been a department employee for about five years, and is an older man, in his late forties. He did not serve in the war but had two brothers who did. One was killed, the other badly maimed. Mosley supports that brother who lives with him and his wife. That is noble, indeed.”
“Is the additional money the only evidence?” Artie asked. “Could he have inherited it?”
“Not as far as we have been able to ascertain. Of course we have not talked to Mosley, not wishing to alert him, and Fanning if they are indeed partners in this crime wave. Another item of interest is that until about six months ago, Mosley constantly complained about his job to whoever might listen. He always felt he was being passed over for promotion—even though he received deserved promotions during his tenure—and of course, the salary was not enough. As I mentioned, his bank account has swelled during these last six months, and approximately at the time of the first deposit, Mosley ceased complaining.”
“Perhaps the cushion of this money, wherever it came from, caused that,” Richmond suggested.
“Yes, possibly. I should tell you that the sum in the bank now is well over fifty thousand dollars. Most men would have resigned to live on that money rather than stay in employment he always seemed to detest.”
“Unless,” Jim offered slowly, “he had prospects of growing that bank account even more by staying.”
“Exactly. Mosley has access to all the records of cash and bonds being forwarded to various government installations, although he does not handle those sums himself. Others do as well, but we’ve tried to check all of them very thoroughly. No one else fits the bill as well as Mosley.”
“So now we have to devise a trap,” Richmond stated.
Taking into their confidence only the most trusted Treasury employees, and bringing in several Secret Service agents, a plan was concocted over the next week to lure Fanning, or whoever the bandit was, to a small outpost in Virginia where funds were usually dispersed to occupation troops over the eastern seaboard of the former Confederacy. The date was slightly ahead of the usual schedule, but that was explained in the records as being needed because certain troops were due to be mustered out and should receive their pay before that occurrence. Such an action was unusual, but not rare.
Three weeks after the meeting in Richmond’s office, West and Gordon, along with several other agents, traveled to the site and displaced the usual employees. Artemus put on a uniform and a facial disguise with beard and mustache, along with a fake nose. Three other agents also donned uniforms and occupied the desks in the main building. Jim and others stationed themselves on the perimeter of the area. They waited. And waited. And waited.
Four full days passed after the bogus delivery was made. Elmore Mosley had been watched closely, and he had seen the revised schedule of the delivery of the funds. He had not sent any telegrams, nor mailed a letter, but because no one knew of the method he might be transmitting information, that was not taken as evidence the report had not gone out.
Finally the stakeout was called off and the federal men returned to Washington. The local men were warned to be on the alert for strangers—and even question the arrival of someone known, especially a well-known personage such as an officer or political figure.
The agents and Major Busch met again in Colonel Richmond’s office. Busch was crestfallen. He had been so certain Mosley was the man.
“And he may well be,” Jim reassured him. “It’s possible that something interfered with Fanning being able to conduct this particular robbery. He could be on the other side of the country.”
“Or Mosley may be aware that Jim and I have returned to Washington, and reported so to Fanning,” Artie added. “He may be laying low.”
“I suggest we try again, Major,” Richmond said. “And a third time, if necessary. I cannot see any other way we are going to catch this bastard. Even with all outposts warned, he could still pull it off, as he did at Fort Laramie, using a familiar local personage as his disguise. We know that as more time goes by, personnel are likely to become more lax when nothing occurs at their location.”
Busch brightened. “Thank you for your confidence, gentlemen. As you said previously, Colonel, every criminal makes a mistake sooner or later. We just have to encourage this one to do so—sooner!”
The next snare was set up in eastern Kentucky, at a post office. And while it was being arranged, a robbery occurred in Missouri, when an elderly man asked for assistance because he was feeling faint in the lobby of a post office in Sedalia. Upon being taken behind the usually locked doors, he produced a gun, displayed much more vigor than his apparent age and condition would warrant, and demanded a bag containing the payroll destined for a survey crew in the vicinity—a crew in the pay of the United States government. Although employees dashed outside within minutes, as in every other instance, the man had vanished.
Artie shook his head when he heard the report in Richmond’s office. “I have no doubt he ducks into the nearest alley, pulls off the wigs and facial hair, wipes away the makeup, and perhaps even has a reversible coat. We used those on stage when a quick change was required. He then walks down the street with impunity. I’ve done that a time or two myself.”
“How in the devil are we supposed to catch him?” the colonel demanded, displaying real frustration for the first time. “He’s even closer to a quarter million dollars from these thefts!”
“For one thing,” Jim said, “Mosley’s bank account should be checked to see if he’s made another deposit. Has there been any luck in determining whether he has sent telegrams?”
“None. We’ve been checking every telegraph office within a day’s ride of the city, and thus far no luck.”
“Colonel,” Jim chewed on his lip for a moment, “do you know if Mosley has any history as a telegrapher?”
“Of course!” Artie cried, snapping his fingers. “If he knows Morse code and has the ability to tap into wires…”
“I’ll send a query to Major Busch immediately. We already know Mosley has no military service, but I don't think his previous employment has been mentioned. I’ll ask Major Busch to meet with us tomorrow morning.”
After an evening with friends enjoying a good dinner at a fine restaurant, Jim and Artie went to their hotel for a solid night’s sleep. At midmorning they returned to Colonel Richmond’s office to find the colonel and the major already in discussion. Richmond quickly summarized it.
“Mosley was a telegrapher as a youth, so he not only knows the code and how to use an instrument, but undoubtedly can tap into wires.”
“We have not watched him overnight before now,” Busch admitted ruefully, “and presumed he went home and stayed there. But it’s entirely possible he went out during the night to find a telegraph wire."
“So did he notify Fanning about the Virginia delivery?” Artie wondered. “If so, why was it ignored? Because he was too far away at the time as we speculated? Or something else?”
Richmond leaned forward on his desktop. “Then for the next one, we’d better give him plenty of time to get there!”
“Might I suggest we use a regularly scheduled delivery this time?” Jim inserted. “The fact that the Virginia payment was irregular may have tipped him off.”
Busch was nodding. “Very good, Mr. West. I think that can be arranged. I’ll go back to the office and look at the schedules. I’ll get word to the colonel regarding the best options.”
Saepe intereunt aliis meditantes necem.
[Those who plot the destruction of others often fall themselves.]
—Fables—Appendix (VI, 11), Phaedrus (Thrace of Macedonia; 15 BC-50 AD), Roman poet and short story writer
Two days later the Wanderer departed from the Washington terminal and headed south and west into Texas, where they spent a week looking into the appearance of some counterfeit government bonds. Two men were arrested and delivered into the hands of federal marshals. When they reported the successful conclusion of the mission, the agents received instructions to head for a small town south of Carson City, Nevada, where a transfer of funds to the bank there was scheduled.
Because they were in Texas at the time, the trek to Nevada was a fairly swift one. Leaving the Wanderer on a siding some forty miles away, Jim and Artemus saddled up and rode the remaining distance, arriving in town in the early afternoon after a dawn start, a day ahead of the expected money transfer. They took rooms at a hotel in town then called on the manager of the bank in question.
Melrose Foxx was a sturdily built man with a weathered face that gave him the appearance of a ranch hand or farmer rather than a bank president. He had been advised of their coming so greeted them cordially, if with a bit of edginess. “I surely don’t like the idea of someone trying to rob us here,” he commented as he led them to the corner of the bank where his desk and some chairs awaited.
Artemus was a little surprised to realize that Foxx did not have a separate room for his office. The bank was not large, nor was the town. Remains to be seen if this arrangement is a positive or negative in our plans. “We hope to prevent such a robbery,” he said as he took one of the chairs. “Have you handled these payroll transfers before?”
“Oh yes.” He motioned to the corner behind him where a large black steel safe rested. “We have one of the best safes ever manufactured. When the colonel from Fort McDermitt saw it, he quickly agreed that we should handle the transfer. He figured keeping it in a small town bank might be safer, attract less attention. When the money arrives, we send a telegraph message to the fort, and they send a patrol to pick it up, so it’s a good idea to have it stored safely. Depending on the weather and other circumstances, it can take more than a week before the army arrives, although most of the time it is within a few days.”
Jim looked over toward the teller’s cage, where one man was helping a customer, although two windows were available. “Do you have just the one employee?”
“Yes. That’s all we need most of the time. On the occasion when lines form, such as if on a payday at a local ranch, I take care of the other window.”
“I will be a second teller tomorrow,” Artie informed him. “I’ll be in disguise, but don’t open the door early to anyone you don’t recognize. I will show you my credentials through the door window.”
“No doubt you were informed, Mr. Foxx,” Jim added, “that the shipment you receive will be a bogus one.”
“Yes. Major Busch’s telegram explained that. Just blank paper cut into currency size, with real bills only on the outside of the packets.”
“Whatever you do,” Jim went on, “do nothing to antagonize the robber. Follow his orders. Mr. Gordon and I will take care of him. I’ll be observing the front of the bank all day from various vantage points, including my hotel room, which is the front window right across the street.”
Foxx heaved a big sigh. “Well, I used to be a cowhand, and I drove a stagecoach for a spell. I craved excitement when I was younger. Now I’m not so sure!” He grinned to show he was not entirely serious.
“We hope this will go off without incident,” Artie put in. “But it’s impossible to say. Please warn your clerk that as soon as he becomes aware—and I may be able to tip him off—that he should duck down behind the walls of the cage, and not do anything foolish.”
“William is my nephew. He’s a bright young man. I think he’ll have sense enough to follow such instructions. Unlike me, he does not crave excitement!”
The agents left the bank after a brief inspection of the clerk’s cage, and walked down the street to the city marshal’s office. Floyd Bream had also been notified of the situation by a telegraph message from Washington, and he was willing to cooperate. His was generally a quiet town, he said.
“We don’t even get any cowhands whooping it up very often. Occasionally one or two will have too much to drink, but they don’t do any damage to speak of.”
“I’m sure you’re notified when the army payroll comes through.” Artie looked at the middle-aged man.
“Oh, yeah. And I keep an eye on things, but nothing has ever happened. How in the world did this fellow pick us this time?”
Now Jim grinned. “With our help. We’re hoping he’ll walk right into the snare.” His smile faded. “One thing we are not absolutely certain of is whether Fanning has accomplices. He has mentioned them in previous robberies, but they have never been definitely spotted. So keep an eye out for strangers in town.”
“That was good advice for us too,” Artie commented as they left the lawman’s office to cross the street to the only café in town. “I’m still watching to see if I can spot any disguise-wearing character.”
“His henchmen, if they exist, wouldn’t need any.”
“I know, but Fanning may not realize they have never been seen and try to change their appearances a little.”
Jim nodded as they entered the small eatery. “Good point.”
A slightly plump but very pretty young woman with big brown eyes and a charming smile took their order—the stew of the day. Artie forbore from making a face because he realized in such a small town and small restaurant a variety would not be available. And when the stew came, with fluffy dumplings, he soon realized he might have to change his mind about the dish. Not everyone made it the same, and this one was very tasty. Plus the dried apple pie served later was as good as any he had ever eaten, with perfect, flaky crust.
A query to the waitress revealed that her parents were the cooks. Her mother made the stew, her father the pie. Artie sent his compliments and promised he would return… and he might just request the recipe for the stew!
They would have liked to relax in the saloon that evening; however, they realized it was not a good idea. Although they had not noticed anyone suspicious, and another visit to Marshal Bream revealed he had not spotted any strangers in town, they did not want to flaunt their presence. So they sat in Artie’s room playing gin rummy until both started yawning.
One drawback to this not-too-luxurious hotel was that they were unable to get rooms with a connecting door, something they usually requested so as to make communication easier. So it was always necessary for one to go into the dim hallway to reach the next room. The following morning, Jim was shaving when a tap sounded on his door.
He opened it to reveal a man in a business suit and high collar with a string tie, a rather large nose, and gold-rimmed glasses, with his hair slicked down and parted in the middle. For only an instant he was baffled. “Well, you look just like a bank clerk.”
Artemus grinned. “So I pass inspection?”
“You came close to fooling me. It all looks natural.”
His partner grimaced. “I hope it looks natural to Fanning. What are your plans?”
“I’ll go get some breakfast and then come back here. Chances are I’ll spend most of the day at the window—except if I get hungry.”
“Maybe the desk clerk will bring you a sandwich from the café.”
“Thought about that. But we’ll see. Good luck, Artie. Keep that pistol handy.”
“I noticed a shelf where it will fit perfectly in the cage. I just hope Seymour shows up today so we can wrap this up.”
Closing the door Jim went back to the mirror, inspected his jaw a moment, and then rinsed off the lather. He was just about to don his gun belt when a tap sounded on the door again. He strode to it and opened it. “Did you forget…?”
His words and movements froze as he stared at a man he had never seen before, a man holding a small pistol pointed at Jim West’s chest. “Mr. Fanning, I presume.”
“Move back carefully, Mr. West. Place your gun belt on the bed, and raise your hands.”
Jim did so, not liking the deadly gleam in his visitor’s eyes. As Artie had mentioned, Seymour Fanning bore a superficial resemblance to himself. His hair was dark and thick, though showing silver threads now. He had brown eyes that were not quite as brown as Artie’s, with some traces of green. But his physique was quite similar, somewhat heftier now as Fanning aged.
“What’s this about?” Jim inquired calmly. Inside he was boiling. Somehow Fanning had discovered their ruse!
“Simply a change in plans. I have been following your activities for some time now, often in the same town as you. I knew you were going to attempt entrapment sooner or later.”
“You’re very clever.”
“Thank you. Now here is what we are going to do, Mr. West. We are leaving this room, and taking the back stairs down to the stable area. I have a buggy waiting there. You will walk quietly in front of me. I will put my pistol in my pocket for the nonce, but believe me, if we encounter anyone, and if you attempt to communicate with that person, the gun will come out. I won’t shoot you. At the moment you are too valuable to me. But I’ll shoot the person we meet. Do you understand?”
“However,” Fanning went on, eyes glittering, “should you attempt to disarm me, or to escape, be assured, I will shoot you. It would mean a change in plans, but I am willing to risk that. I will not be stopped.”
Fanning stepped to one side, motioning with the gun. Jim lowered his hands and went to the door, opening it. The desk clerk was just passing in the hallway. He smiled and nodded to Jim, who nodded back. He waited a moment until the clerk started down the stairs then stepped into the hall.
Jim watched for his opportunity as he walked down the hallway to the door that led to the rear stairway, and then while descending. Fanning was wary. He stayed two risers back, and kept the pistol pointed at Jim’s head as long as no one was in sight. Jim knew that if he made a single threatening move, Fanning would pull the trigger.
Fortunately, they did not encounter anyone else in the stairwell or in the rear. No stableman was employed by the hotel; guests had to tend their own horses, which is what Jim and Artie did after registering. A black hooded buggy drawn by one horse waited near the door. At Fanning’s order, Jim climbed in and the gun-bearing man followed him.
Fanning then picked up a length of rawhide with a loop on one end, which he slipped around Jim’s right wrist and then tied securely to a bent nail in the wooden dashboard. He ordered Jim to pick up the reins and to head out across a field behind the buildings. Jim saw the marks in the dry grass that indicated this was how Fanning had approached the hotel.
Across the field a road was eventually encountered, and Jim guided the buggy up onto it, then followed Fanning’s instructions to drive east. “We thought you were dead,” he commented as he urged the horse to a brisk trot.
Fanning chuckled. “That worked out amazingly well. A complete coincidence, as it happened. You see I had a brother—a twin brother. He chose to remain on the family farm in Maine while I preferred to see the world. Unfortunately, my world turned out to consist only of the towns visited by the acting troupe I joined. I found I had an amazing knack for creating disguises and thus was able to portray myriad characters on stage. And did it well, I assure you. Until your friend Gordon arrived and sabotaged me!”
“I heard it differently,” Jim said quietly.
“Of course you did. Gordon joined the troupe—a young upstart. He told lies about me and gained the favor of our manager. Before long, he was taking my roles! He also stole my makeup techniques. I was fired, my career ruined, because of Artemus Gordon, and now I’m going to ruin his life.”
Jim glanced at him. “By killing me?”
“Not necessarily. That may depend a great deal on Mr. Gordon.”
“You started to tell me how you were presumed dead.”
“Oh yes. As I said, my twin brother remained in Maine. We owned the farm jointly after our parents passed, but I rarely went there. The profits were small but Morton sent me my share faithfully. That was his name, Morton. Morton and Merton Martin. Our parents were not very imaginative, as you can see.
“In any case, I was working in Hartford, having gained a position as a theater manager under my birth name. I wrote to Morton to invite him to join me for a few days, and he did. While he was there, I gave him a packet of my theater memorabilia I wanted him to store for me. When he departed, that packet was in his coat pocket.
“When I read in the paper that the ‘former actor’ Seymour Fanning had died in the wreck, I was initially horrified, and almost notified the authorities of their mistake. They had found some of my papers near his body, of course. However, I realized I could turn the error into a real boon. I traveled to the family farm in the guise of Morton, sold the property, and traveled to Europe, a dream fulfilled.”
“But you came back.” Jim eyed a rider coming toward them, but Fanning saw him too and pressed the muzzle of the pistol into Jim’s side. When the man rode by them he looked at them with some curiosity, as they were both strangers to him, but merely touched his hat and moved on.
“I came back, yes,” Fanning continued. “I found that the paltry sum I received for the farm did not go far, even in Europe, especially in the style I wanted to live. So I came back, and for several years attempted to build my fortune in various ways, including blockade running during the late war. I had foul luck with weather and everything else. I worked in ‘honest labor,’ attempting to save, but again Dame Fortune was constantly against me. I saw others virtually snap their fingers and fortune fell into their laps. Not for me.”
Fanning paused, his lips tight as the memories apparently flooded his mind. After a moment, he continued. “Finally, a year or so ago, I realized I was not going to accomplish my dream by regular means. I had made a friend along the way who now was employed in the Treasury office. He and I worked out this plan. I knew I could disguise myself well enough so that I would never be identified. The faces of well-known persons that I managed to duplicate threw people off at the sites I wished to withdraw funds from. Almost all was a snap.”
“Except for the ones where you killed two employees.”
“That was unfortunate, but it was their faults. In both instances, I warned them to not move. I don’t regret ridding the world of stupidity like that.”
Jim caught the words that almost exploded from his mouth, and bit his lip a second before speaking again. “Why did you choose to disguise yourself as Artemus Gordon?”
Fanning chuckled as he pointed to a rutted side road barely visible between two old oak trees. “That way. I should think my choice of disguise was obvious. A secondary, nonetheless strong, motive for these robberies was to draw federal law into it, and you and Mr. Gordon are Secret Service. Nothing is more federal than that! I knew that using his face and name would mean the two of you would be assigned. Artemus is a bright man. He would remember me. I’m sure he puzzled over the fact that I was reported dead.”
Fanning smirked. “He always thought he was the more clever one. I told him that day when I was fired that I would get even some day, somehow. And now I’m doing it.”
Jim glanced at him. “How?”
“That remains for you to learn, Mr. West. There, we are here.”
“Here” was an old cabin that appeared as though it was barely standing. Brush and trees surrounded it closely, increasing the indication that no one had lived there for a long, long while. Fanning untied the leather strip from the dashboard but then ordered Jim to put his hands behind his back, and lashed his wrists together with the cord. He then climbed down and walked around the horse, and ordered Jim down.
Doing so was not particularly easy without his hands and arms available for balance, but Jim jumped down and kept his feet. As he did so, the door of the cabin opened and a man stepped out. A burly man with a deep brown beard down to the middle of his chest and similarly tinted hair that fell to his shoulders. He was holding a rifle.
“This him, Mr. Martin?”
“This is Mr. James West, Crabtree. Where’s Molnar?”
“Inside, sleepin’. He’s wakin’ up. I told ‘im you was here.”
The interior of the cabin was no surprise. It was as run down as the exterior. A wooden floor had holes in it, which Fanning had tried to cover with a table and a couple of chairs. Off to one side was a cot, on which another man was sitting, scrubbing his thinning blond hair with his hands. He appeared younger, and was definitely much more slender than Crabtree.
The one surprising feature in the cabin was a large, and apparently very well constructed fireplace on the back wall. Maybe the fireplace is holding the place up, Jim mused silently as he was ordered to sit in one of the chairs, the sturdiest-appearing one in the room. When Fanning barked orders, Crabtree procured a coil of heavy rope from a pile of supplies in one corner, and used it to wrap a couple of times around Jim’s chest to secure him to the back of the wooden chair.
Molnar had risen to his feet and sauntered over to look down at the bound man. “Yeah, that’s West all right. I seen him once down in Texas. Damn Yankee!” He spat on the floor at Jim’s feet.
“Enough of that!” Fanning rapped. “Expectorate outside, please.”
For a moment it appeared Molnar was going to respond rebelliously to the order, but seemed to think better of it. “Now what, Mr. Martin?”
“Now I’m going back into town. I should return before dusk. Keep a close eye on our friend here. He has a reputation for being very cunning and able to escape situations such as this. And Molnar, no extracurricular activity.”
Molnar frowned. “Huh?”
“I want to see Mr. West in pristine condition when I return. It is important for our plans. Understand?”
The frown turned into a scowl as he glanced at the prisoner. “Yeah, I understand.”
Jim smiled as the door closed behind Fanning. “Sorry your fun is to be spoiled.”
Molnar glared. “You damn Yankee! I know all about you! My brother was in the Ninth Texas Cavalry.”
Jim nodded. “Formidable regiment.”
“You’re damn right! And you killed him.”
Molnar simmered down slightly. “Well, one of you Yankees. I hold you all to account.”
“I see. So how did you come to join Mr. Martin in his lucrative venture.”
“What’s that mean, lou-cur-tive?”
Crabtree had stepped up alongside his companion. “Means lots of money, stupid. It ain’t so lucrative, West. Mr. Martin ain’t in it for the money.”
Jim’s brows lifted. “I would consider quarter of a million dollars pretty lucrative.”
The two men looked at each other. “Where’d you get that notion?” Crabtree demanded. “He ain’t took no more than fifty thousand, tops.”
“That’s what he told you?”
Crabtree and Molnar stared at him for a long moment, then Molnar jabbed his cohort in the arm. “He’s just trying to bother us, Crab. We seen the take, West. We’re gonna to split maybe sixty thousand after this heist.”
“Okay. If you say so. Only I have seen the Treasury Department’s reports.”
Again the pair exchanged glances. Crabtree’s dark brows lowered over his equally dark eyes. Jim didn’t think he was Mexican or Indian, but he certainly had dark coloring. “I think Molly is right. You’re just tryin’ to mess with us. Well, just go on. We ain’t believin’ a word you say, West. And you ain’t goin’ to trick us into untyin’ you.”
“Did I say anything about untying me? I’m just sorry that you two are being duped.”
Molnar turned and grabbed a wooden bucket from a small table near the door. “I’m going down to the spring to fill this.” He stalked out the door, slamming it behind him, causing the structure to creak.
“You sure this place is going to hold up?” Jim inquired. “Sounds like it’ll be down on our heads before long.”
“It’ll hold up as long as we need it. And the wood is old and dry. It’ll burn good.” Crabtree snickered as he strolled to the cot and threw himself down on it.
Jim experienced a chill in his spine. He did not like the sound of that at all!
[Conquered, we conquer.]
—Casina (act I, 1), Plautus (Titus Maccius Plautus; 254-184 BC), Roman dramatist
Two or three hours after being tied to the chair, Crabtree stepped over and removed the ropes that were around Jim’s chest. “I reckon you wouldn’t mind stretching your legs, huh? We’ll go out back. You behave yourself.” He patted the gun at his side.
“I appreciate that,” Jim murmured.
Crabtree followed him out the door, and around the cabin where an outhouse, in worse shape than the cabin itself, existed. But it was serviceable, Jim found, when Crabtree untied his wrists and let him go inside. “What are you going to do with your share of the loot?” Jim asked through the partially open door.
“Buy me a little spread down in the Oklahoma Territory.”
“Little? Seems to me you could get hold of a pretty grand ranch with your share.” Jim emerged from the little structure.
“There you go again. Ain’t no reason for Mr. Martin to be cheatin’ us.”
“Did you ever hear of greed?” Jim turned back after Crabtree bound his wrists again. “I’m not lying to you, Crabtree. The total take in all the robberies is just under two hundred and fifty thousand dollars. If he manages to get the money in the town’s bank, it’ll be over that. Seems to me you deserve more than a few thousand for your loyal service.”
The big man shoved Jim’s shoulder with his hand, and they started back for the front door. “Mr. Martin promised us five to ten thousand bucks each. I figure you’re tellin’ us these stories to get us upset with Mr. Martin.”
“Only one way you’ll ever find out.”
“Yeah. Well, when he brings the bag of money this time, we’ll get a look at it. I promise you that.”
Entering the cabin, Jim was placed in the chair again and secured to it. Immediately Crabtree jerked his head. “Molly, come on outside.”
Quem metuont oderunt, quem quisque odit periisse expetit.
[Whom men fear they hate, and whom they hate, they wish dead.]
—Thyestes, (Atreus log.), Quintus Ennius (c. 239-169 BC), Calabrian Roman epic poet
Artemus was puzzled, but not overly concerned. He had not seen Jim all day, and had expected to do so. However, the whole point was for Jim to stay out of sight, and he may have taken it to extremes, remaining in the hotel room for the full day. No doubt the clerk could have brought him some food if requested.
He himself had been in the bank all day, except for a half hour lunch break, which he took at the café. He was pleased that the smiling waitress did not recognize him. The army payroll arrived on the stagecoach that pulled up just around noon. The marshal escorted Mr. Foxx to and from the general store where the coach stopped, although Mr. Foxx was well armed with a shotgun. No trouble occurred.
And nothing happened throughout the afternoon either. Artie looked sharply at every customer who entered the bank, relaxing only when his fellow clerk or Mr. Foxx addressed the person by name. Handling the transactions was easy for Artemus. This was not the first time he had posed as a bank clerk. But as he had on other instances, he was required to stay alert at all times.
Leaving the bank he crossed the street to the hotel. Because no one was watching, instead of going to the extra room he had reserved just in case someone snooped, Artemus went straight to the pair of rooms he and his partner rented. He stepped to Jim’s first and rapped on the door. Receiving no response, he put his hand on the knob and turned it, a little surprised to find it unlocked.
The room was empty. Jim’s gun belt lay on the bed. That sight caused Artie’s stomach to tighten. He left the room and went to the door next door, inserting the key in the door, and opening it. He stopped short.
The man lounging on the bed laughed. “I’m flattered you remember me, Gordon. And to be honest, I’m glad you spoke first, because that’s a fine disguise. I might have worried I was in the wrong room.” He rolled over and stood up. “I’m not going to say it is good to see you again.”
“What are you doing here? Where’s my partner?”
“Patience, my friend. I’ve come to take you to James West.”
Fanning was not holding a gun. Artie was tempted to draw the small pistol tucked inside his coat, but did not. “Where is he?”
“Again, you must have patience. I presume you want to remove your makeup before we depart.”
“Depart? Where are we going?”
“You want to see Mr. West, don’t you?”
Artemus knew he had to see this through. Somehow, Fanning had captured Jim. Artie couldn’t begin to guess why, other than it was more of Fanning’s vengeance.If he’s in town, and obviously knows the payroll is here, why didn’t he try to take it? Going to the dressing table in the room, Artie began removing his disguise, keeping an eye on Fanning behind him.
Fanning’s smug expression was particularly worrisome. He feels he has the upper hand, and maybe he does at the moment. But why does he feel so sure of himself? I’ve got to go along with whatever he has planned, to find Jim, and discover what else Fanning has in mind!
When Artie removed the “bank teller” coat he had been wearing, Fanning saw the pistol and seized it. No other option, Artie decided. He had to find out what was going on, even if it meant being Fanning’s prisoner. Although Artie didn’t know it at the time, he was given the same instructions as Jim: to descend the back stairway to the stable yard, that anyone encountered would be shot first. The difference was that Artie was instructed to saddle his chestnut mare and tie it behind the buggy. In the buggy, Artie’s wrist was secured to the nail in the dashboard with the rawhide cord.
As Jim had, Artemus queried his captor about the report that Seymour Fanning had died in a train wreck. Fanning gave him the same explanation, and Artie could only shake his head. “I guess we never knew you had a twin brother.”
“I saw no reason to talk about him at the time. My past had nothing to do with my work as an actor. The work you destroyed.”
Artie kept silent, aware that nothing he would say about the past would change Fanning’s view of it. Seymour Fanning had had an inflated opinion of himself as an actor, and anyone who believed, or suggested otherwise was an enemy. He had had arguments with others, including newspaper writers, about his talents. He especially would never listen to the warnings of the troupe manager, which had led to his dismissal. Artemus Gordon and others in the troupe had had little to do with it, despite Seymour Fanning’s egoistic beliefs.
Yet he blames me, and I suppose my youth and talent were threatening to him. Now, after all this time, he is seeking revenge. I hate that Jim has been drawn into this. I’m sure I cannot convince Fanning…or Merton Martin… that I should bear whatever blame he is casting about.
The sun was just settling on the top of a nearby hill when the buggy pulled up in front of the ramshackle cabin. “What is this place?” Artie asked.
“Sanctuary,” Fanning smiled as he loosened the rawhide cord, and as he had with Jim West, tied Artemus's hands behind his back. He then led his captive inside the cabin.
Artie spotted his partner at once, bound to a chair that was sitting near the surprisingly large stone fireplace. “Jim? Are you all right?”
“I’m fine.” Jim’s voice was tight with anger. The last thing he had expected was to see his partner enter the cabin as a prisoner of Fanning-Martin. He has asked his guards during the afternoon, but both claimed to be ignorant of their boss’s activities. “What’s going on, Fanning?”
Crabtree and Molnar had been staring at the newcomer as well, and Crabtree finally spoke. “Does Gordon have the money, Mr. Martin?”
“Not yet,” the man addressed replied smoothly. “But he will deliver it to us.”
Artie twisted around. “What do you mean?”
Fanning’s expression was benign. “I mean that in order to save your life, and your partner’s, you will go back to town and tomorrow morning and you will bring me the payroll pouch.”
Jim saw the quick glance Artie threw his way, and knew exactly what his partner was thinking about: the fake packets of money. “How can I do that?” Artie demanded. “The banker…”
“I’ll leave it to you to devise a reason, Gordon. I’m simply going to say that you will ride your horse back to town now, and tomorrow morning, before ten o’clock, you will be here with that pouch. I know the bank does not open until nine, so that will be time for you to inform Mr. Foxx of the change in plans and return here. If you are not here by ten, Mr. Molnar here will be delighted to put a bullet in Mr. West’s head.”
Artie stared at him a long moment, as if thinking over his options. “And if I do bring it?”
The former actor’s lips spread in a wide grin. “Then I’ll free both of you, of course.”
Artie looked at Jim for a long moment, and Jim met his gaze. They both knew Fanning was lying. He could not allow either of them to go free now. Then Artemus heaved a loud sigh. “I guess I don’t have a choice. I’ll accept your word of honor, Fanning.”
“Excellent!” Fanning chortled. “Crabtree, take Mr. Gordon to his horse. Untie his hands of course. It would be awkward for him to have to explain to the townspeople why his hands are tied.”
Merton Martin, alias Seymour Fanning, continued to beam as the door closed behind Crabtree and Gordon. But Molnar was scowling. “What’s going on, Mr. Martin? I thought you was gonna go ahead and rob the bank like always.”
“Mr. Molnar, why do things the hard way? It became obvious that this was a snare set by the intrepid agents. I have been expecting such a trap. With the past successes Mr. Gordon and Mr. West have had, it appears they let their guard down.”
“You may be right,” Jim said. “But don’t think you’re going to continue to get away with these robberies.”
Fanning laughed out loud. “You don’t understand, Mr. West. This is the final one… the last hurrah. My two friends and I will divide the spoils and go our separate ways.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Jim saw Molnar’s expression. He was remembering the agent’s information about the actual amount of the take from the robberies. “Back to the high life in Europe for you?” Jim directed his question to Fanning.
“Eventually I will probably visit Europe,” Fanning replied smoothly. “But I would not call it the ‘high life.’ My little forays against the government were for revenge, not wealth.”
Now Molnar spoke. “West said the robberies pulled in a lot more than you told us.”
“Really, Molnar. I’m sure you are intelligent enough to recognize a ploy when you see it—or hear it. If that’s what West told you, you can be assured he was trying to drive a knife through our excellent partnership. I did not lie to you.”
Jim gazed at Molnar. “When he shows you the contents of the bag my partner will bring, you will know the truth.”
Molnar looked at Jim a long moment then turned his eyes to his boss. “You never did show us what you got.”
“There was no need to.” Fanning’s voice had an edge to it now, and he glared at Jim. “As you know, it was necessary to secrete the funds immediately—after extracting a small bit for expenses of course. When I come to you with the entire take, you will see that I have been truthful.”
“Why can’t we come with you when you get it?”
Fanning sighed. “Because it is in a site where I will need to go in disguise to reacquire it. I deliberately placed it in a spot the brilliant government agents would never think of. But I can walk in with impunity. So don’t worry about your share, Mr. Molnar. You will get it. And you will have the bonus of being the one to kill the hated Yankees. I hope that mollifies you.”
“Yeah. Yeah. I guess so.”
Jim could see that the henchman was still not quite satisfied. Too bad Crabtree isn’t here. After our conversation earlier, I think he would have had more pointed questions for Fanning.
“Now,” Fanning rubbed his hands together. “I haven’t had my dinner. I hope some of those delicious beans remain.”
James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: "Thanks Artie"! Is that all you can say to me? I've just come back from the grave, risen like Lazarus, and that's what you say? "Thanks, Artie"?
James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: It's a pleasure.
- TNOT Pistoleros
SS senior field agent
Posted - 04/03/2013 : 10:41:53
Never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake.
—Napoleon Bonaparte (Napoleon I; 1760-1821), French soldier and emperor of France
As soon as he was certain the three men were asleep, Jim started working on his bonds. He had delayed the attempt when he realized he was going to be freed long enough to visit the outhouse twice during the day. He had not been fed nor given a drink. He was hungry, but the thirst was not too severe yet. Fanning was on the cot, currently on his side with his back toward the interior of the cabin. The other two men were on bedrolls spread on the floor. Crabtree was snoring noisily. Molnar was not snoring, but his mouth was slack and his breathing deep and even.
Jim knew that if he could work on it long enough, the leather cord fastening his wrists would stretch and loosen. The question was whether he had enough time. So he worked hard, pulling and twisting. He could not initially notice any loosening, but he kept at it, always watching the three sleeping many for any sign one was rousing.
Nothing more had been said about the seed he had planted regarding the actual amount of money that had been stolen and accumulated. Very obviously, Fanning had been able to convince his two less bright cohorts that the payrolls were not nearly the amount they actually had been. At one point in the evening, Fanning went outside, and immediately the two other men held a whispered conversation. Jim could only assume—and hope—the money was the topic. They did not say anything when Fanning returned.
Jim did not know what time it was when he heard the first sounds outside. His wrists were sore, his arms aching, and perspiration was dampening his forehead and under his coat. He did not immediately realize what he was hearing, but did grasp that it was coming closer. Then he heard the voice singing loudly:
Oh, do you remember sweet Betsy from Pike,
Who went ‘cross the plains with her lover Ike,
With one yoke of oxen and an one spotted hog,
A tall Shanghai rooster, and a big yellow dog?
Out on the prairie, one bright starry night
They opened some barrels and Betsy got tight.
She sang and she screamed and she danced o’er the plain,
And showed her bare legs to the whole wagon train.
Jim West almost laughed aloud. He stopped twisting his wrists, however, as one by one the three sleeping men stirred, roused by the bellowing that was coming nearer and nearer the front door. Fanning had just sat up on the bed, when the singing stopped and querulous words emanated from beyond the door.
“Look at that, Charlie! Would you look at that? That’s a lantern glowin’ there! Some scally-wag done moved into our house! Squatters!”
Then the door opened and a ragged, dusty, half bent-over old prospector tromped in… followed by a large mule bearing a pack from which both a pick and a shovel protruded. Both Crabtree and Molnar were scrambling to their feet now, guns in hand.
“Who the hell are you?” Crabtree demanded.
“Now, sonny, it seems to me I’m the one who should be asking that. You’re the trespassers! What’s a-goin’ on here?”
Fanning went to the lantern on the stone mantel and turned up the wick, shedding more light on the newcomer. Gray, straggly hair and beard adorned the face, along with a crooked nose and shaggy eyebrows. The man brought in a distinct odor of the unwashed.
“What do you mean, trespassers? Do you own this shack? Who are you?”
“Wail, I don’t zactly own it. But I knowed the fella what built it and I allays stopped here when I mosey down outta the See-air-ees or the desert for a spell. When he was sick ’n’ dyin’, he tells me the place is mine long as I need it. So I still come by when me ’n’ Charlie’s ready for a sit-down. Now who the devil are you fellas? You ain’t got no right to squat here. Why’s that fella hogtied like that?”
“That’s none of your concern. Get out of here!”
The old man took umbrage. “Get out of here? Din’t you just hear what I said, mister? This here is my place. Now I don’t mind if you sack out on the floor, but that bed is mine. Me ‘n’ Charlie are gonna stay the night.”
“You are not staying here,” Fanning announced sternly. He had not displayed his own weapon, but now he drew it from inside his coat. “Get out of here and take that… that beast with you!”
While the attention of Fanning and his men were on the newcomer, Jim resumed stretching the rawhide. With great relief, he was able to slip one hand through its loop, and from there it was just a matter of loosening the ties to remove the leather from his other wrist. He kept his hands behind him, and held onto the rawhide, not wishing the noise of its fall to the floor to possibly catch Fanning’s attention. He sat still for a long moment, watching the tableau of the old prospector arguing with the “squatters” in his abode.
Fanning doesn’t suspect a thing. Again Jim had to bite back a smile of satisfaction. Carefully he brought his hands around to the front of him and began working on the heavier rope that secured him to the chair. It was bound tightly, but by drawing in his breath he was able to get it to start slipping upward. He lifted it over his head.
“Crabtree, Molnar, throw this stupid fellow out. And make sure he keeps moving!”
Both men holstered their guns and started toward the prospector. Artie saw Jim now rising from the chair from which he had just freed himself. Jim took two long strides, came up behind Molnar, grabbed his arm to spin him around, slammed one fist into his midriff, the other into his chin. Molnar dropped like a lead weight.
Crabtree yelled and started to pull his gun, but Jim launched himself in the air, the force of his moving body shoving the bigger man against the wall. Jim instantly regained his feet, stepped back, and began punching Crabtree in the body and face. Crabtree flailed, trying to regain the momentum.
Fanning had whirled to see what was happening and now was lifting his pistol to aim at Jim. Artie straightened his body, stepped forward and imitated Jim’s tactic with Molnar. Fanning, however, perhaps because his body was heavier, did not go down. He staggered back, the pistol clattering to the floor. The wall supported him and for a moment he stared at the no longer hunched over man with the beard and straggly hair.
“Gordon!” he bellowed, and charged forward. Artemus deftly avoided the thrashing arms, stuck his foot out, and Fanning again staggered, this time falling face forward. Artie quickly picked up the gun Fanning had dropped.
Jim saw Artie’s actions in his peripheral vision, and after delivering a blow to the side of the head that at least stunned Crabtree for a moment, he too seized a gun, this one from Molnar’s holster. Molnar was moving, showing signs of waking up as Jim stepped back alongside his partner.
“Nice going, Artie,” he said.
Artie flashed him a grin. “Of course.” He looked toward Fanning who was regaining his feet. “Don’t try anything, Seymour. It’s over.”
However, just at that moment, the mule Charlie, who had been moving around restlessly during the commotion, took a couple of nervous sidesteps towards Artemus, the large pack slamming into Artie’s shoulder. Caught completely off guard, Artie stumbled sideways into his partner. Fanning and Molnar, now on his feet, acted. Within seconds they were the ones holding the guns.
“Now what were you saying, Mr. Gordon?” Fanning sneered. “Drop your pistol, Mr. West, or I shall be forced to shoot Mr. Gordon.”
Jim hesitated only a moment. Molnar pointed his weapon at him. He dropped the gun.
Crabtree was up now, rubbing his jaw and shaking his head. “That’s Gordon?”
Fanning reached out and grabbed the whiskers, giving them a jerk and revealing Artie’s smooth-shaven jaw. “That’s Gordon. Quite a good job, I’ll give you that. But of course you stole all your methods from me.”
“I learned from you,” Artie corrected. “It’s too bad you weren’t satisfied to take Mr. Gate’s advice. You might have become famous for your ability with makeup and prostheses. You were never going to be an actor.”
“I was a great actor!” Fanning roared, his gun lifting and pointing toward Artie’s head.
“Mr. Martin,” Molnar said at his shoulder. “What are we going to do now? He didn’t bring the money, did he?”
“I doubt it, but he will go fetch it now.”
Artie shook his head, reaching up to pull off the battered hat and wig. “No. I don't think so, Seymour. You wouldn’t want it, anyway.”
“And why not?”
Jim took it up. “Because it’s not the thirty thousand dollars you expected to get. More like two hundred bucks.”
“Thirty thousand!” Molnar erupted, turning his gaze towards Crabtree’s.
“Thirty thousand,” Jim confirmed. “What would that have brought your total to, Fanning? Close to three hundred thousand, I estimate.” He did not look directly at the two henchmen, but he could feel their confusion and astonishment.
“He’s lying,” Fanning snapped. “This payroll more like three thousand dollars.”
“Now why would you say that?” Artie asked innocently. He had instantly grasped what was going on. “We know the totals you have stolen. The Fort McDermitt payroll is thirty thousand.”
Fanning was furious. He glanced at his two men. “Don’t you see what they are doing? They are trying to cause trouble among us! Why would I lie to you? I told you at the outset that my mission is vengeance, not the money. That’s why I’m giving most of it to you two! Army payrolls are not large. You should know that!”
Molnar and Crabtree were obviously befuddled. Jim glanced at Artie, who made a slight motion with his head. Jim in turn barely nodded. He agreed they should not push it much further at this moment. Not while the three of them are holding the guns. We can bring it up again if needed.
“Now,” Fanning said sternly, his gaze fastened on Artie’s face, “you are going to go back to town and complete our earlier plans. No foolishness. Bring that money here by ten, or Mr. West dies.”
Artie shrugged. “I can bring you the bag, but you will not find thirty thousand dollars in it. Just packets of paper, covered with a few real bills. And by the way…” Artie glanced toward one of the grimy windows. “By now this place is surrounded by City Marshal Bream and a posse.”
Fanning’s mouth dropped open and he shook his head. “You never give up, do you?”
“No, I don’t. If the marshal hears one single shot in here, he and his men are going to charge, guns blazing, because he will know that one or both of us have been killed.”
Molnar turned and hurried toward a window, scrubbing a small spot with his fist and peering out. “I don’t see no one!”
Jim laughed. “Well, you don’t think they are standing out there waving flags, do you? Besides, it’s dark.”
“What are we goin’ to do, Mr. Martin?” Crabtree asked worriedly.
“There is no posse out there!” Fanning insisted.
Artie looked beyond Fanning to the two henchmen. “I would think you’d be just as worried about getting your fair share against whether or not I’m lying about the posse.” Time to bring that up again, to add to the uncertainty.
“He’s right,” Jim chimed in. “You said he was generously giving you each five to ten thousand dollars. That doesn’t sound like a generous share of more than a quarter of a million dollars!”
“Shut up!” Fanning raged.
But the other two men looked at each other. “I’m thinkin’ you oughta let us see that money,” Crabtree said.
Fanning glanced back at him, scowling. “I’ve told you time and time again, the money is in a safe place. I can’t get my hands on it at this moment.”
“Buried where only he knows,” Artie murmured with a significant glance toward Jim, who nodded.
Molnar took a step toward Fanning, pistol in hand. “Where is that money buried, Martin? I want to see it!”
Exasperated, Fanning swung around. “Stop it! Don’t you see what these two are doing? Let me get on with our plans. Gordon will bring the army payroll from town, we’ll kill the two of them, and go collect the entire amount to be shared equally among us!”
Artemus laughed out loud. “Well, do you really think I’m going to do that now, Fanning, knowing you’re going to kill me when I return? Might as well kill me now.”
“Tell us where that money is stored!” Crabtree demanded, also moving closer to his boss. “I wanta see it!”
“For God’s sake, Crabtree! It’s two thousand miles from here! You’ll get your share. In fact, I’ll raise it to fifteen thousand…”
“How generous.” Jim’s voice crackled with sarcasm. He took a step to the side away from Artemus. “You boys sure have yourself an honest partner here. Haven’t you been reading the newspapers?”
Molnar glowered Martin alias Fanning. “He said they’d lie about the amount taken.”
“I’m going to kill both of you now!” Fanning screeched, starting to turn around again.
Jim moved first but Artemus was only an instant behind. Jim slammed into Fanning, sending him flying toward the fireplace where he stumbled on the stone hearth and fell flat, his pistol clattering and sliding into the pile of still warm ashes. Artemus emulated his partner, ramming his shoulder into the much bigger Crabtree, who did not go down or lose his gun, but staggered back toward the wall.
Jim once again took on Molnar next. “Molly” saw him coming and tried to bring his gun to bear, but Jim flung up his arm, hitting Molnar’s wrist with his forearm. Molly cried out in pain and the gun flew out of his hand. Jim followed up with a blow to the chin, remembering with satisfaction that Molnar appeared to have a glass jaw. As before, the man staggered and collapsed.
Jim grabbed the pistol from the floor and yelled, just as Crabtree was starting to charge Artie, and Fanning had gingerly pulled his warm and grimy gun from the ashes. “That’s enough! Hold it there! Fanning, drop it! Artie, watch Charlie!”
As before, when a ruckus occurred, the seemingly placid mule began to move around. Artie jumped aside just before that pack hit him again. He grabbed the pistol from Crabtree’s hand and backed up alongside Jim. “What say we call a halt to these proceedings?”
Cursing, Fanning left the gun on the hearth as he climbed to his feet. “Well, Gordon, it seems as though you have defeated me again.”
Artie shook his head. “You defeated yourself the first time, Seymour, with your delusions. If you had simply accepted Gate’s offer as assistant manager and attended to the makeup and costumes, you would have won acclaim for your talent. Who knows where it might have led you?”
Fanning glared, but did not respond. Jim found some rope in the same pile where the heavy rope to bind him to the chair had been, and the three prisoners were soon secure. The dawn was breaking as they herded the trio outside. Crabtree and Molnar were secured onto their horses, procured from the makeshift corral. Artie whistled and his chestnut emerged from nearby trees.
Artie saw Jim’s surprise. “You didn’t think I walked all the way out here from town!”
Jim chuckled. “Where the devil did you get the mule and those… aromatic clothes?”
“Livery stable. That was the only place I had time to visit. I didn’t bother with a posse, feeling it would take too long to bring together that time of night. The man at the stable built the ‘prospector’s pack’ on Charlie. It’s mostly straw except for the tools you see.”
Molnar looked down from his horse. “You mean there ain’t no posse?”
“Just the two of us.”
“Is there really a quarter of a million bucks?” Crabtree wanted to know.
“There is,” Jim affirmed as he climbed into the buggy. Artie tied the two prisoners’ horses and the mule to the back of the rig and mounted. “Let’s get to town. I haven’t eaten in more than twenty-four hours!”
At the agents’ suggestion, Fanning-Martin was placed in one cell and his two men in another in the marshal’s jail. They had hurled insults and curses at each other all the way into town, despite warnings from their captors to quiet down. The anger of the two underlings was too great, and Fanning of course considered the pair well below his mental capacity and social standing.
After washing up, changing clothes, and getting some breakfast at the café, Jim and Artie rode back out to the cabin, where they searched Fanning’s belongings and came up with a passbook for a bank in Richmond, Virginia: A passbook showing a balance of over two hundred thousand dollars. The name on the account was Merton Martin. They would turn it over to the Attorney General, who would use legal means to have the funds released to its rightful owner, the United States government.
Because the crimes were against the federal government, the three men would stand trial in Washington. Colonel Richmond had a new assignment for his two crack agents, so United States marshals were summoned to pick up and escort the trio east. A telegram was also sent to Major Busch, so that the accomplice in the Treasury Department, Mosley, could be arrested.
When Jim and Artemus called on Mr. Fogg at the bank to relate what had occurred, they were both somewhat surprised—and amused—that Fogg displayed disappointment. He sheepishly admitted he had been looking forward to the expected robbery and the agents’ plans to capture Fanning. He not only wanted to witness it, he had hoped to participate!
“I suppose I’d better be careful what I wish for,” the manager admitted with a rueful smile.
The agents packed up their belongings and made the long trek back to their waiting train, which was soon steaming northward toward Idaho. Both welcomed the two-day trip as an opportunity to relax as well as write their reports.
On the second afternoon, just miles from their destination, Jim entered the parlor car to find his partner sitting at the desk, pen in hand, but staring moodily toward one of the windows. “What’s on your mind?” Jim asked.
Artie jerked his head around, somewhat surprised. “Nothing, I guess.”
“Come on, pal. I know that look. Something is troubling you.”
Artie sighed, put the pen in its holder, and leaned back in the chair. “I was just thinking. I didn’t get to see Fanning in disguise. I was sort of looking forward to that. I wanted to be able to recognize him, no matter how he changed his appearance.”
Jim lay down on the nearest sofa, his head on one of the arms. “I guess that’s true. But consider this: he did not recognize you as the old sourdough.”
Artie brightened a little. “That’s so, isn’t it?”
“And you may get another opportunity to see through his makeup and paraphernalia.”
“Remember his last words to you when we left the marshal’s office?”
“Oh yeah. I remember. But even if he doesn’t hang—which is probable—he’s going to be in jail for a long time.” He stared down at the paper on the desk but his mind was elsewhere, in town as they made their farewells with the city marshal. Fanning had come to the bars in his cell, eyes filled with hate for the men who had ruined his dream of a luxurious life in Europe.
He had finally spoken just as the agents turned to leave. “Gordon. You’ll see me again. But you won’t know me… not until the moment I administer your death!”
Jim saw the even deeper frown on Artie’s face and spoke quickly. “He’s going to be in jail for a long time, pal. And he isn’t the first man we’ve arrested to make such threats. Dang few have carried them out.”
Artemus sighed, looking up. “I know that. But so many times—as in this one—I think of a life wasted. Like Loveless and a few others, if only Fanning had applied his talents honestly… well who knows?”
Jim sat up then. “Yeah. Who knows? Guess we’ll never know. Look, when we get to Pocatello, let’s not forget to visit that tavern with the great steaks.”
Artemus was already devising a way to avenge himself on his partner after the gibes he had endured. Next time they were in Washington, possibly to testify at Fanning’s trial, he would let Vanessa Piedmont know they were available to accept that dinner invitation. He would also urge Vanessa to continue to effusively praise Jim’s physical appearance. He had seen how uncomfortable that had made his partner during the brief visit earlier. I’ve never seen Jim actually blush, but I suspect, knowing Vanessa, she might be the one to accomplish that feat!
Eo sunt [ultionem] dulcius est multo quam fluentem melle.
[It [revenge] is sweeter far than flowing honey.]
—The Iliad ((XVIII, 109), Homer (“Smyrna of Chios”; fl. 750 BC or earlier), Greek poet
James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: "Thanks Artie"! Is that all you can say to me? I've just come back from the grave, risen like Lazarus, and that's what you say? "Thanks, Artie"?
James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: It's a pleasure.
- TNOT Pistoleros