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California gal
SS senior field agent

USA
8383 Posts

Posted - 06/22/2013 :  10:15:27  Show Profile
THE NIGHT OF THE MURDEROUS STORM

Mordre wol out, that see we day by day.
The Canterbury Tales (l. 15,058), The Nun's Priest's Tale, Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1340-1400), English poet

Cast of Characters

James West – early 30s – Secret Service Agent
Artemus Gordon –late 30s – Secret Service Agent
Lily Fortune – mid 30s – actress; Artemus's fiancée
Francis Ogilvy – 48 – touring troupe manager
Ruth Gwinn – 31 – actress
Jonathan Earle – 60 – actor
Carlyle Crowe – 35 – actor
Gladys Norwood – 26 – actress
Mr. Manchester – 55 – hotel owner
Mrs. Manchester – 50 – hotel owner’s wife
Isaac Hynes – 35 – local rancher
Mae Hynes – 32 – local rancher’s wife
Haidee Gaines – 50 – hotel cook & housekeeper
Alfred Gaines – 52 – hotel handyman
Raymond Gaines – 25 – hotel waiter and handyman
Clara Gaines – 22 – Raymond’s wife; maid & helper
Burl Ballou – 40 – coach driver
Harry Stack – 45 – coach driver
Etta Downs – 20 – newlywed
Gordon Downs – 25 – newlywed
Judge Walter Slayton – 70 – retired judge
Caleb Largent – 56 –rancher
Josephine Garber – 50 –rancher’s sister and housekeeper

~~~~~

Chapter 1

(Falstaff:) What wind blew you hither, Pistol?
(Pistol:) Not the ill wind which blows no man to good.
King Henry the Fourth, Part II (Falstaff & Pistol at V, iii), William Shakespeare (1564-1616), English dramatist and poet


“Jim!” Artie yelled through the howling wind and the snow pellets that were stinging his face. “Are you sure that inn is around here?”

“If we’re still on the right road it is,” Jim shouted back. There lay the problem. Since the storm started just after daybreak, it had snowed heavily while the wind blew a gale. Sometimes seeing a few feet in front of their faces had been all but impossible. Jim thought they were still on the road; it felt so under his horse’s hoofs. But he was not one hundred percent positive.

When they had made camp last night in the Colorado foothills, the stars had been shining. By morning, heavy clouds hovered over the mountaintops and a chill wind had picked up. The wind grew ever stronger as they broke camp and headed north toward Denver. Then the snow began falling, lightly at first, with big flakes that felt like cold cotton brushing their faces. However, as the morning progressed, the snow came down ever thicker, becoming uncomfortable as it struck the faces of man and beast. The ground became covered swiftly and deeply. Jim thought over six inches had fallen and nothing indicated the weather was going to improve.

He had been on this road once before, a year or so ago, riding to meet Artemus and the train in Denver, and although he had not stayed at the inn, he definitely saw it. But where the devil is it? We need to find shelter. We’re near exhaustion. So are the horses!

“Jim!” Artie called again, lifting his arm. “Over there! I think I see something.”

Jim peered in the direction Artie indicated, and indeed he saw the dull shape of a building. “Might be a barn!” he yelled back. “But it’ll be shelter!”

They steered their horses in the direction of the building and soon realized not only were they going off the main road to a side lane but also a wooden sign was visible stating that the Manchester Inn was right in front of them. Despite the temptation to head into the main building, where lights were glowing in windows and the promise of a warm fire waited, the two men rode toward another building they could see in the rear of the inn.

Two stagecoaches and a buckboard were parked outside the building. Upon entering the stable they found it was large, but nearly all the stalls were full, further attesting that they were not the only stranded travelers. Eight sturdy horses that had probably drawn the coaches occupied stalls. Nonetheless, they found two empty stalls, and took the time to make sure the black and the chestnut were bedded down with mangers filled with hay.

They then picked up their saddlebags and blanket rolls and trudged through the deepening snow toward the back of the house. A man and a woman, both black, were in the aromatic kitchen and they turned with startled expressions.

“Excuse us,” Artie smiled. “We thought it a good idea to take care of our horses first.”

The man smiled. Both were approaching middle age, with silver barely touching their dark hair. “Excellent idea, sir. If you want rooms, go on through that door. Mr. Manchester is likely at the desk.”

Artie eyed the fragrantly steaming pots on the stove. “I hope we haven’t missed lunch!”

The woman laughed. “No sir. It’ll be served in about half an hour, so you have plenty of time.”

Jim led the way through the indicated door, down a short hallway and through another door that led into the inn’s lobby. The only man visible was behind the desk and he looked at them with a bright smile.

“Ah! More orphans of the storm, eh?”

Jim smiled back. “And we feel extremely fortunate to have found this shelter.”

The man was middle aged, of a rather portly build, with a shiny pate ringed by snow-white curls. He wore gold-rimmed spectacles set low on his somewhat wide nose. “Indeed you are, sir, more fortunate than you know. I have one room remaining. It has two beds. Will that suit?”

“A blanket in front of the fireplace would suit me just fine at this moment,” Artie grinned, “but a bed sounds like heaven. It is cold out there!”

“It certainly is. Rather early for such weather in Colorado, but not rare. Any time after July seems to be fair game for Old Man Winter. Do you have horses that need tending?”

“We took the liberty of putting them in your stable,” Jim said as he signed the register.

“Excellent. I have a young man who will take good care of them while you’re here. Most of the guests are in the parlor awaiting lunch.” Mr. Manchester nodded toward closed double-doors from beyond which murmurs of conversation and occasional laughter could be heard. “We are packed full, but it’s a convivial group. Now would you like me to show you up to your room?”

The agents declined, taking the key and climbing the wide slightly curving staircase to the second floor. Turning left according to instructions, they found the door at the end of the hall.

“Interesting that so many people found this inn,” Artie commented, tossing his bags and roll on one of the beds as Jim went over to add wood to the small fire in the fireplace.

“That’s a fairly well-traveled road we were on,” Jim responded, standing up. “I guess we weren’t the only ones fooled by yesterday’s fine weather. I’m going to change my shirt. This one is wet around the collar where snow leaked in.” He shucked his coat and jacket and began to unbutton the blue shirt.

“I’m just going to wash up a bit. I’ll meet you downstairs. I am starved.”

Warm water was in the ewer on the stand, which Artie poured into the matching porcelain basin. He soaped his hands and washed his face, then rinsed and dried, exiting the room as Jim was hanging his damp shirt on a hook in the wardrobe. I’ll unpack later. I want to see who our fellow guests are, Artie decided. He could not explain the sudden desire to meet the others who had been forced off the road by the storm. He just had a sense that it was going to be interesting.

Nodding to Mr. Manchester, who was still at the desk, Artie crossed to the double doors and pushed one side open. Several of the people in the room heard or saw him enter, and looked on with interest. To his astonishment, he saw several people of his acquaintance. The ones who saw him enter smiled at his surprise. But Artemus Gordon’s eyes were fastened on a woman seated on a sofa near the large fireplace, in conversation with another woman. I don’t believe it!

He made his way across the room, approaching the sofa from behind. There he tapped on her shoulder. “Excuse me, madam. I believe that is my ring you are wearing.”

Lily Fortune’s head swiveled in astonishment as she heard the voice and even more once she saw who had touched her and spoken. “Artemus!” Jumping up she scurried around the sofa and into his arms.

Conscious of all the spectators, their kiss was modest, but the embrace was warm. Lily leaned back. “What in the world are you doing here? Where’s Jim?”

“He’ll be along in a moment. I could ask the same of you. I thought you were heading for Denver.”

“We were.” Lily stepped back slightly, taking both of his hands in hers. “Come, let’s sit down so we can exchange stories.” She led him to an unoccupied sofa against the far wall.

Artemus quickly explained how he and Jim had finished a job near Omaha, and were heading for Denver themselves where the Wanderer was undergoing some repairs. “We had no notion the weather was going to turn like this.”

“Nor had we! Most of the troupe went by train to Denver, but Mr. Ogilvie had promised a friend of his that next time the troupe was nearby we would put on a special performance in Pueblo to benefit the local church. This seemed like a propitious time, as our dates in Denver are nearly two weeks away. Six of us, including Mr. Ogilvie, hired a coach… and got caught in the terrible storm. We barely made it here and arrived just over an hour ago. The poor horses were exhausted.”

Artemus had recognized three other actors from the troupe, as well as the manager, Francis Ogilvie, all of whom he had met previously. When Jim entered the room, Lily welcomed him with a hug, and then took the two of them around to greet the other members of the acting ensemble. Like Artemus, Jim had met them before through Lily. They had spent a great deal of social time with the company so all were on a first-name basis.

One was Ruth Gwinn, an experienced actress in her thirties who generally played the older sister, or perhaps the spinster aunt, or a similar role. She was dark haired like Lily, and a fine-looking woman, though in Artie’s eyes nowhere as beautiful as his beloved. One of the two actors was silver-haired Jonathan Earle, a veteran of the stage who had begun his acting career in England on the Shakespearean circuit.

The other was Carlyle Crowe, much younger and quite handsome, with rich brown hair and golden brown eyes. He was, Artemus knew, a very good actor and always played the hero roles, although he had at least once donned prostheses and makeup to portray Falstaff, one of Artie’s favorite roles. He had had to admit that Crowe carried it off well.

Francis Ogilvie was in his late forties, a short man with a fine black beard, although his hair was quickly graying. He seemed to have a knack for hiring and casting the right actors in the right roles, and the touring company was one of the most successful in the nation.

The final introduction—and Jim thought Lily seemed reluctant to make it—was a new member of the cast. Artie knew the name from Lily’s letters, but had never met Gladys Norwood. He was also aware that Lily did not like the young woman. Although she had never pointedly stated the fact, the emotion seeped through in the letters.

Gladys was the youngest of the three women, perhaps twenty-five or so, though she was very fair, with golden hair, and often, fair people bore their age better than others so she could have been older. She had sky-blue eyes, a delightful figure enhanced by the dark blue traveling garb she was wearing, and a way of smiling at a man to make him think he was the only man in the world. Both James and Artemus felt the effect of that smile the moment they were introduced.

“My, you are much younger than I realized, Mr. Gordon,” she beamed, holding onto Artie’s hand. “I can’t say exactly why I thought you were older. But that’s our Lily! Robbing the cradle!” She laughed merrily.

With those words both Lily’s fiancé and her fiancé’s dearest friend understood. Gladys Norwood not only was a new member of the company, she was a rival for Lily’s status as lead actress! Jim glanced around and saw that others in the room, who might have no idea who any of them in the small group were, had heard the remark. Some smiled, but more looked quite shocked.

Artie was, of course, the one who recovered swiftly, carefully pulling his hand free. “I daresay it’s the opposite, Miss Norwood. I am the cradle robber. Anyone can see this will be a May-December marriage, and I am December.”

Lily clutched Artie’s nearest hand. She did not want to create a scene here, and had deliberately not invited Gladys over to greet her friends. But Gladys was not the type to be left behind. Having been unable, as far as she could detect, to annoy Lily Fortune or Mr. Gordon, Gladys turned her attention to Jim, grasping his arm and adroitly steering him toward the sofa that Lily had vacated.

“Poor Jim,” Lily murmured as she and Artemus moved back to the sofa near the windows.

“Don’t worry about Jim,” Artie grinned. “You know he can handle women.”

“Maybe. But he’s never met one like Gladys, I assure you. I am certain she is sleeping with both Francis and Carlyle.”

“Oh?” It was not like Lily to gossip thus, so Artemus knew she was very upset about this woman.

“Yes. She is a clever little minx, a real manipulator. I did some checking after she joined us. She had been dismissed from two other troupes, one in New York, and one in South Carolina, for her disruptive behavior. She sabotages others, especially any women who might be getting the better roles.”

“Odd that Francis would hire her…”

Lily’s eyes widened as she looked at him. “Really?”

Artie had to chuckle as he glanced over to where the golden head was leaning close to Jim’s shoulder and Gladys’s merry laugh rang throughout the room. “Not so odd, I guess. But it is difficult to believe such a sweet appearing young woman would be so vicious.”

“You mustn’t be deceived. You heard her.”

“I heard her, darling, and I believe you. Perhaps you should try to catch her, well, in flagrante delicto as the saying goes. Arrange for Francis and Carlyle to become aware how she is, er, playing with both of them.”

“I told Francis but he didn’t believe me.” She looked toward Francis Ogilvie, who was seated in a chair now where he could see Gladys with Jim; misery was in his eyes. “I hate feeling this way about anyone, but that women… I dread performing a scene with her. I’d rather cut her throat,” Lily muttered the last then realized what she said and looked at Artemus. “I didn’t mean that of course. It’s just… we were such a good group before she joined. We were—and still are—all friends. But it’s changed. It’s like…I can’t even explain it.”

“You’re looking over your shoulder wondering what she will do next.” Artemus glanced around to make sure no one else had heard Lily’s astonishing remark. A middle-aged woman was on a comfortable chair a half dozen feet away, her attention completely on the book she was reading. No one else was within hearing distance.

“I guess so. I’ve gone so far as to consider leaving the troupe and joining another one. But Francis has been so good to me… until now. And he hasn’t been cruel. He is just so in her thrall that he cannot believe she would do anything wrong.”

Artie took her hand. “Be patient. She’ll slip up along the way. Apparently that happened twice previously. People who spread lies and abuse usually make a mistake eventually and are discovered. Believe me, I’ve seen it happen many times.”

“I know, dear. But it’s so wearying.”

Mr. Manchester appeared at the room’s doorway. “Ladies and gentlemen, luncheon is served!”

Artie saw Jim take Miss Norwood’s arm to escort her into the dining room, which was down the hallway beyond the stairs. He walked her around the large table and held the chair for her… and then continued walking until he was on the other side, seating himself beside Lily, with Artemus on the other side of her.

Lily did not laugh, not even smile, although she certainly felt like it, especially as she viewed the complete surprise, and then wrath, on Gladys Norwood’s face. But the lovely young lady recovered quickly, turning her attention to Mr. Hynes who sat alongside her. She smiled and laughed as she talked to him, ignoring not only Jim almost directly across from her, and also Mrs. Hynes who was on the other side of her husband.

The Hynes were an interesting pair, Lily thought. Isaac Hynes was a robust man in his late thirties, who seemed to have a ready smile. His wife was a few years younger, and had a pretty face that seemed to rarely display itself because her expression was always stern and sour. She also wore her hair in a severe do, pulled back so firmly from her face that Lily wondered if it did not hurt. The pair seemed very ill matched. She had barely talked to them since her arrival this morning. The Hynes had been present at the inn when the theater people arrived. Lily understood that they had actually arrived the night before.

Jim found himself with Ruth Gwinn at his other side. She was a very good conversationalist. He had talked to her on other occasions, such as when he and Artemus went backstage to meet Lily after a performance, or at a social gathering. He always enjoyed her company and just now they had a conversation about—of course—the weather as well as the plans for the special performance in Pueblo. She was looking forward, she said, to the special readings and scenes from plays they were planning to do.

The storm still howled outside the inn, with the wind whistling under the eaves; occasionally the spatter of snow being driven against a window could be heard. The food was excellent, hot and filling as befit such a day. Mr. and Mrs. Gaines, the couple they had encountered in the kitchen, as well as their daughter-in-law, Clara, served the food. Their son, Raymond, Jim learned, also would be the one taking care of the stock.

Nineteen people were at the table, including Mr. Manchester and his wife, a plump, pleasant woman with hair as dark and thick as her husband’s was thin and snowy white. Besides the six from the acting troupe, Mr. and Mrs. Hynes, and the two agents, one other was the driver of the coach, a lean taciturn man named Burl Ballou. Another married couple, quite young, Mr. and Mrs. Downs sat close together at the end of the long oval table. By their behavior, Jim suspected they were newlyweds.

One man appeared to be traveling alone, and was introduced as Judge Walter Slayton. His white hair and aged countenance suggested he might be a retired barrister, although that was not stated. Two were a brother and sister, both middle-aged. Mrs. Josephine Garber was a widow who now kept house for her bachelor brother, Caleb Largent. Artemus realized that Mrs. Garber was the woman he had noticed when Lily blurted the appalling remark. He was very thankful she had not overheard it.

The final person was Harry Stack, the driver of the coach that had brought the Downs, Judge Slayton, Mrs. Garber and Mr. Largent. The Hynes couple, Jim learned, actually lived in the vicinity and the buckboard by the stable belonged to them. They had been visiting relatives and on their way home when the storm caught them. Having lived in the area, they recognized the signs of the oncoming weather and sought shelter overnight at the inn.

Jim and Artemus were introduced to the other hotel guests during the meal and afterwards when everyone retreated to the parlor again. Burt Ballou sought Jim out to state that they had a mutual acquaintance in Cheyenne, a man who happened to be Ballou’s cousin. Because Jim talked to the coach driver for a lengthy period, Gladys quit lingering nearby and went to join Francis Ogilvie, who had also been close at hand, watching her with some jealousy on his face.

Artemus of course remained near his beloved and tried to distract her from watching Gladys Norwood’s every move. Her letters had assuredly not conveyed how deep the abhorrence Lily felt was. Ruth Gwinn, he noticed, also watched Gladys, but not with Lily’s intensity.

I’ve got to talk to her about this, but not here. We need to be in some private place. It’s not like Lily to allow something like this to upset her. She had had rivals before, both during the time she was rising in stature and since reaching the pinnacle. Lily could have resided in New York City and starred on the Broadway stage, lived a stationary life. But she preferred to tour, liked the excitement of new theaters and new audiences.

Gladys must have done something in particular, something more than seducing the leading man and the troupe’s manager. Something more than the offhanded insults such as she offered earlier. Artemus knew he was not going to find out until he was able to talk to his betrothed, and was not positive he would learn the whole story even then. At times, Lily could be as close-mouthed at James West—and often way too independent to suit her old-fashioned but slowly learning sweetheart.

Jim was sitting with Ballou talking about their mutual acquaintance and some events that affected that man’s life. He absently glanced around the room as they chatted, habit causing him to notice the behavior of others. Mr. and Mrs. Downs were chatting with Mrs. Hynes, whose somber face seemed to soften as she conversed with the happy newlyweds. Ruth Gwinn was sitting in a chair close to Mrs. Garber, who leaned near to tell her something. Both looked quite serious. Judge Slayton and Jonathan Earle were in a lively conversation near the fireplace. Hynes, Stack, Crowe, and Largent were together, laughing over something. Gladys was with Ogilvie, and appeared to be cajoling him about something.

Through the open double doors, Jim saw young Raymond Gaines heading toward the kitchen, wearing a heavy jacket and knit hat. He suggested to Ballou that they go help Gaines with the horses. “There are probably quite a few more than he is accustomed to handling.”

Ballou concurred and they both went to their rooms to don their cold weather gear. They met in the kitchen where Mr. Gaines smiled warmly when he realized what they were doing. His wife and daughter-in-law were busy washing up the dishes used for the midday meal, while Gaines was filling lamps with coal oil.

The wind had not let up one iota, nor had the snow, which was not only a good foot deep now, but also was forming high drifts against any structure or tree that blocked its path.

“Wonder how long this is going to go on?” Ballou called.

“Hard to say. And even when it stops we’re going to have a devil of a time getting out of here!”

Raymond was even more delighted than his father when he realized he was going to have help with the horses crowded into the stable. “We usually have maybe six or eight, not this many!”

Jim was not all that surprised when Artemus joined them a short while later. Artie had noticed his partner leaving along with Ballou, and eventually decided to find out what was going on. But for Carlyle Crowe to accompany Artie was startling. The actor grinned at their astonished expressions.

“I grew up on a farm, gents. I know all about shoveling manure and forking hay.”

With five men at the task, it was finished quickly. As they trudged back toward the house through the deepening snow and strong winds, Jim told Raymond that he and Artie would be glad to help anytime, to just let them know when he was going out to tend to the stock. Ballou and Crowe quickly agreed.

“I sat around all morning,” Crowe said. “I found I am not accustomed to inactivity!”

In the house, Haidee Gaines had hot coffee waiting, as well as pitchers of hot water for them to take to their rooms to clean up. It was while they were washing up that Artemus told his friend how disturbed Lily was about Gladys Norwood. “I’ve never seen her like this, Jim. Back home, I remember another girl who was very jealous of Lily’s ability to memorize poems and other assignments, and often tried to sabotage Lily’s recitations. Lily always laughed it off. But Gladys has really gotten under her skin.”

“Did she give you any details?”

“Not really. Other than Gladys wants the starring roles and is apparently seducing Crowe and Ogilvie to get them.”

Jim shook his head as he dried his hands. “We had a mild sample of her behavior this morning.”

“Here’s the thing,” Artie said, shrugging into his corduroy jacket. “I could hardly believe it when I heard what Lily said.”

“What?” Jim urged as Artemus paused, frowning deeply.

Artie released a noisy sigh. “She said she would like to cut Gladys’s throat!”

“Good Lord. She is disturbed about this. Do you plan to do anything?”

“I don't know what. Lily wouldn’t like me interfering. I considered speaking to Ogilvie but that may only make it worse. I guess I’ll just observe closely while we are here among them. Perhaps I’ll talk to Jonathan Earle. I’ve become pretty good friends with him, especially because we knew and worked with some of the same people prior to the war. He’s a savvy fellow. Sees a lot and keeps his mouth shut for the most part. And of course I’ll give Lily a lot of sympathy.”

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

California gal
SS senior field agent

USA
8383 Posts

Posted - 06/22/2013 :  10:16:45  Show Profile
Chapter 2

But, oh! what mighty magician can assuage
A woman's envy?
Progress of Beauty, George Granville, Lord Landsdowne (1667-1735), English statesman and poet


Artemus was surprised that Lily was not in the parlor. He paused inside the door and looked around, but she was not visible. But Jonathan Earle was, seated near the fireplace in a comfortable chair and reading a book, ignoring the chatter and laughter occurring around him. Artie started toward him, only to be cut off by Gladys Norwood, who had been seated with young Mrs. Downs and the older Mrs. Garber.

“Mr. Gordon! I’m sure you are looking for poor Lily. She went to her room to lie down. So sad that age is catching up to her, isn’t it?” Gladys slipped her arm through his.

Artie gently but firmly disengaged her. “Thank you, Miss Norwood, for the information. I would be careful of being so envious of Miss Fortune. You may be in the same boat one day.”

Gladys stared at him, obviously not immediately comprehending his meaning. He continued toward Earle, glancing back once to see Miss Norwood’s pretty face momentarily ugly with anger, as she finally understood.

“Jonathan, I’m sorry to disturb you, but I’d like to talk to you.”

The older man looked up. “Fine, Artemus. The book is very dull anyway. Find a chair.”

“I think I’d like a little privacy. Can we go up to your room?”

Earle put his book aside and rose to follow Artemus from the parlor. As they climbed the stairs, he asked, “Have you heard anything from old Hume of late?”

“No, I’m afraid not. Last I heard he was living with his son in Vermont.” They were speaking of a retired actor both had had experience with on the stage.

“Hmph. Could have chosen a warmer place. Me, I’m retiring to California.”

“Soon?”

Earle chuckled as they reached the second floor and turned left for the same area where the agents’ room was located. “You know me, Artemus. They’ll likely have to cart my corpse off the stage so the play can continue.”

Artie knew which room was Lily’s and he was tempted to go tap on it before following Earle, but he did not. Perhaps after he talked to Jonathan and had a better grasp of the situation. In the room, Earle sat in a chair while Artemus took the bed. Quickly he explained his purpose, and saw that the older man quite comprehended.

“Artemus, when Ogilvie brought Gladys Norwood out to introduce to us as the newest member of the company, I was appalled. As you know, the theater business is like an extended family. Word gets around. Several of us knew of her reputation, how stronger managers than Ogilvie kicked her out for improprieties. I could see right then she had her hooks in him. I know she’s tried to get Carlyle too, but I’m not sure how successful she’s been.”

“When did she start to try to undermine Lily?”

“Oh, almost immediately. She targeted every other woman in the company initially. You remember Grace Ross? She was second to Lily in getting the best roles. A couple of weeks ago, Gladys accused Grace of stealing a gold necklace. Of course no one believed such a thing, even when the necklace was found in Grace’s trunk. We all know that Grace has a reaction to gold. If she wears a necklace, say, she gets a rash on her neck.”

“You said she was second…”

“Grace quit after that. Lily was very upset, as Grace was a close friend. Of course there are others in the troupe that are envious of the stars, but most of them realize their own limitations and live with it. But Gladys seems to have sought them out, spreading other malicious lies about Grace, and she finally had enough. You know, she did not need to work at anything, with the situation in her family. She went back home. I expect her to show up in another troupe any day. She’s too talented and lovely to remain idle.”

“I presume Gladys is spreading rumors about Lily.”

“She certainly has tried. Lily’s reputation is such that it is difficult for the most jealous to believe what Gladys told them. However, those people, being so helpful, repeated the tales to Lily. I know she went to Ogilvie, but he is so besotted he wouldn’t do anything. I tried to tell him he’s going to lose the finest actress in the country if he doesn’t take steps. I can see how it’s wearing on Lily, as well. It’s very difficult to exchange lines with someone you fear is going to undermine you on stage.”

“Has Gladys done anything on stage?”

“Nothing very overt. But I am sure that Lily is constantly looking over her shoulder, especially with the awareness that she will not get any support from Ogilvie.”

Artie was silent a long moment, staring at the floor. He lifted his gaze. “Lily and I have talked of marriage when we both feel as though we can put our careers on the back burner, cut back on our time out on the road. Perhaps it should be sooner than later.”

“Artemus, my lad, you know quite well that Lily Fortune is not going to run away from this. Not immediately anyway.”

Artie laughed softly. “Yes, I know. Are there others in the troupe offering her support?” He knew innately that now was not the time to speak of the marriage to Lily; she would not retreat from anything or anyone.

“Oh yes. I try to, and so does Ruth and a few more, ones who did not accompany this special trek. She is not alone, partially because she is so well liked and respected, but also because others have been the target of Gladys Norwood’s maliciousness.”

Artemus got to his feet. “Thank you, Jonathan. It was difficult to convince Lily to tell me exactly what had happened. I’m sure she thinks I would believe she was whining. She also likes to think she can manage on her own.”

Jonathan rose as well, a smile on his lips. “You had better convince her you are partners, at least, before marriage.”

“I agree, absolutely. This might be a good time to do it.”

W*W*W*W*W

Or light or dark, or short or tall,
She sets a springe to snare them all:
All's one to her—above her fan
She'd make sweet eyes at Caliban.
Quatrains–Coquette, Thomas Bailey Aldrich (1836-1907), American poet, novelist, and essayist


When Jim entered the parlor, he immediately noticed that neither Artie nor Lily were present. Perhaps Artie took her off somewhere to have a long talk. He also saw Gladys Norwood sitting close to Francis Ogilvie on the settee. However, as soon as Gladys spotted the agent entering she jumped up and hurried toward him.

“Oh, Mr. West! Where have you been? I’ve been so lonely!” Gladys caught his hand in both of hers, gazing warmly with those incredibly blue eyes.

“Have you? In all this company?”

“You know what I mean, Mr. West, you silly man, you!” She simpered prettily and moved closer to him.

At that moment a hand touched Jim’s other arm, and he looked at Ruth Gwinn. “Oh, Jim,” she said, emphasizing the familiarity of using his given name. “I’m ready to hear that tale now. Lily has told us something about Dr. Loveless, but I’m sure you can provide much more.”

“My pleasure, Ruth,” he said, disentangling his hand from Gladys, whom he looked toward. “You understand, Miss Norwood. A promise is a promise. And I told Ruth I’d give her the unvarnished truth.”

He offered Ruth his arm and they made their way to a sofa near the parlor door. “Thank you,” he said. “I was not of a mood to humor the little lady.” Gladys had gone back to Ogilvie, who welcomed her gladly.

“Being such a good friend of Lily’s, I can see why you would feel that way. Gladys Norwood is a cancer growing in our troupe, and no one can convince Francis to see the truth.”

“Usually the truth will out… someday. Ogilvie was not particularly happy that Gladys deserted him to join me.”

“True. But that has happened so many times, and he always welcomes her back.”

Jim felt a little uncomfortable discussing Lily’s problems with the actress. That was Artie’s place. “Do you know where Artemus and Lily are now?”

“I saw Artemus go out with Jonathan. Lily went up to lie down earlier. Do you think this storm is going to last long?”

Jim could only shake his head and repeat what he said earlier outside. “I haven’t any idea. I’ve known storms in this part of the country to last for days. Beyond that, we are going to have trouble getting out of here once it stops.”

“Yes, I thought of that. We could be here for days.” Ruth laughed. “I hope the kitchen is well stocked!”

W*W*W*W*W

Nor jealousy
Was understood, the injur'd lover's hell.
Paradise Lost (bk. V, l. 449), John Milton (1608-1674), English poet, scholar, writer, and patriot


The afternoon dragged on slowly. Gordon Downs, Ballou, Stack, Crowe, Judge Slayton, and Largent started a poker game in the dining room, Largent under the annoyed eyes of his sister. But the stakes were kept very low, so she seemed satisfied and left the men to their entertainment. Young Mrs. Downs was persuaded to play the piano in the corner of the parlor, and soon several, including Artemus and Lily, who had come downstairs, along with, rather surprisingly, Mrs. Hynes, were joining her in song.

Gladys disappeared for a while, and after a bit, Jim realized that Isaac Hynes was also absent. About twenty minutes later, Hynes returned, pausing to tell Ruth, whom Jim had noticed conversing with the couple earlier, that he had gone into the kitchen to talk to Mr. Gaines about a loose window in their room. Mae Hynes had been afraid it would keep her awake.

“Mr. Gaines said he would go put some putty on it.” He said it loud enough that anyone near would be likely to hear, though Jim saw Mrs. Hynes gazed toward her husband from the piano as if wondering what he was saying, and perhaps where he had been.

So where is Miss Norwood? Jim looked around and mentally accounted for the males in the party. No one was missing. Perhaps she decided she needed a rest in her room too, he surmised. The mystery was solved about ten minutes later when the lady in question reentered the parlor. She had changed her garb from her rather conservative traveling costume to a gown in the color of her eyes, one that also emphasized not only her small waist but also her fine bosom, with décolletage that was better suited to an evening at the opera or a fancy soiree.

At the piano, Lily touched Artie’s arm and used her eyes to direct his gaze. He mentally rolled his own eyes when he saw the young actress. Can she be more obvious? She paused in the doorway, both for effect, it seemed, and also to look around. Jim was in a chair in the corner near the door and he was her immediate target.

“My feelings are hurt,” Artie whispered, leaning toward Lily. “I thought she would come straight to me in another attempt to insult you.”

“Oh, don’t fret, darling. She’ll get to you—as soon as Jim rebuffs her advances.”

“You think he will?”

Lily smiled, perhaps for the first time since Artemus appeared unexpectedly. “You know Jim as well as I do. He won’t be taken in by that…. No, I will remain a lady. Let’s sing.”

Artemus kept his eye on the pair in the corner as he sang I Dream of Jeanie with the others. He saw Jim get to his feet and smile, but when Gladys seemed to indicate they should leave the parlor, he declined, indicating the book he was holding, gleaned from a shelf in the room. Gladys leaned toward him, in an overt attempt to be more persuasive, and appeared to whisper something. Artie could only guess the whisper’s content, for Jim’s face became sober as he shook his head and sat down, opening his book.

Miss Norwood stood a moment longer, then whirled with a swish of her skirts and crossed the room to join her faithful lapdog, Ogilvie, who had also been watching the encounter. No other eligible man was sitting alone. What kind of man allows a woman to treat him like that? Artemus had known Francis Ogilvie since Lily joined his troupe, and had always respected him for his theatrical knowledge and intuition. But I guess I’ve never seen him in this kind of situation.

He was aware that Ogilvie had married young and lost his wife in childbirth. In his late forties now, he had never remarried. Lily had told Artemus once that Francis visited and sometimes escorted women in the various towns the troupe played, but he never seemed serious about any. And now this little minx had her claws into him deeply.

Artie watched as Ogilvie plucked at the fabric of Gladys’s fancy dress and said something that brought a sour expression to the actress’s pretty face. It appeared that the two of them exchanged a few sharp, if quiet, words. Then Gladys stood up, spoke more a bit more loudly, something on the order of “I’ll wear what I want to wear,” and flounced out of the room. Ogilvie made as if to follow her but settled back, his expression now a mixture of anger and sadness.

Trouble in paradise. Could it be that Francis is finally seeing through her? Artie knew that would certainly make things better for Lily. Perhaps he could cheer her up by describing the scene to her. Lily’s back had been to it the entire time. Jim, and everyone else in the room that was facing that direction, had observed the scene. Jonathan Earle looked in Artie’s direction and nodded.

The poker players returned, citing that Mrs. Gaines had shooed them away so she could prepare the table for supper. Burl Ballou went to the window and peered out. “It is still coming down as hard as ever. Must be more than three feet out there, not to mention the drifts. We may never get out of here.”

Gordon Downs chuckled. “This may well be one of the stranger honeymoons a bridal couple ever spent!”

“You can tell your grandchildren about it,” Mrs. Garber returned, revealing perhaps the first bit of softness during the day. Artie had gained the impression that she had to keep a firm hand on her bachelor brother, and acted as much a mother as housekeeper for him.

Before the meal was served, Artemus had an opportunity to pass on to Lily what he had observed between Ogilvie and Gladys. Although Lily seemed somewhat amused, she was not certain it would make a change in the situation. “Gladys will win him over again. It’s happened before, my dear. No, it’s going to take something much more than that to get rid of her, I’m afraid.”

W*W*W*W*W


Gladys reappeared when the signal was sounded for the evening meal. She had changed her clothes again, and while not back into her traveling outfit, the dress was much more demure. True to Lily’s prediction, she sat alongside of Francis Ogilvie and obviously cajoled him into forgiveness over whatever had precipitated the brief spat.

Upon conclusion of the meal, some returned to the parlor but it seemed quite a few of the stranded guests were ready to retire to their rooms. Although Largent wanted to resume the poker game, he could not find enough takers. He finally joined the group of men who trudged out to the outbuildings to attend to the stock. They had found the snow so deep that it was necessary to do some shoveling to reach the structures, and then to clear space to open the doors.

An hour or so later, the band of weary men returned to the house. As before, Mrs. Gaines had hot coffee for them, and also offered extra slices of the apple pie that had been served at the end of supper. Several took her up on it, Jim among them, sitting down at the kitchen table in a convivial group.

Although the coffee was excellent and the pie was tempting, Artie drank about half the hot liquid in his cup then went to find his ladylove. He found her sitting in the parlor on the sofa near the fireplace, staring into the flames. When Artemus joined her, disturbing her reverie, she gave him a wan smile.

“Some adventure, huh?”

“Could be worse. We asked Raymond how the food supplies were and he assured us the larders are filled. Mr. Manchester stocks up for winter especially, never knowing what would happen. Although this is the worst storm and the most stranded travelers ever at the inn, it has happened before.”

“Well, that’s good to know. We won’t have to turn into cannibals.”

Artie laughed, primarily because of the twinkle in her eyes. This was the woman he knew and loved. He glanced around. The only other three people in the room were engaged in other activities, talking or reading, so he leaned over and nibbled at her ear. “Yum. You taste good.”

“Silly!” Lily pushed him away, and suddenly her gayer mood was gone, the darkness closing over her expression. “If only…”

“Lily, you’ve got to stop obsessing about Gladys Norwood.”

“I know. I know. It’s not like me to let someone like her bother me so much. I can’t seem to stop. I’m constantly looking over my shoulder, even here, wondering what she will do next. Artemus, she even tried to flirt with you!”

“Yes. And I brushed her off, if you noticed. As I said before, be patient. She will stumble. People like her do, eventually. Her lies and manipulations will catch up to her. I’m sure everyone in your company is aware of her exploitation of Ogilvie’s weaknesses. I have no doubt that even Crowe is aware.”

Lily sighed. “That could well be. But I don't know if it has stopped him from… enjoying her company.” She frowned.

“Francis was certainly unhappy this afternoon when Gladys changed into a more alluring dress—apparently for Jim’s benefit.”

“Hmph. I’m surprised she hasn’t gone after young Mr. Downs.”

“Give her time, dearest. We’ve only been here a day!”

Lily had to laugh at his words and wide-eyed expression. She placed her head against his shoulder for a while then said she thought she would like to go to her room. “I’m not sure I’ll sleep right away, but I am fatigued.”

Artie walked her to her door where they were able to exchange a much more satisfying kiss than earlier in the presence of others. When he returned downstairs, Jim was in the parlor. “How’s Lily?”

“Better I think, but still upset about Gladys. Ready to hit the hay?”

“Just about. Might as well. Nothing to do down here.”

They went up to their room, and talked while preparing for bed. Artie told his partner about the brief conversation he had had with Lily. “I have a notion that being closed up here, with no real way to get away from Gladys, is exacerbating things. I’m wondering if I ought to have a word with Francis.”

Jim shook his head. “You know as well as I do that’s not a good idea.”

Artie grimaced. “Yeah. Well, maybe we’ll awaken to bright sunny skies and be able to start thinking about getting out of here!”

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
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California gal
SS senior field agent

USA
8383 Posts

Posted - 06/22/2013 :  10:18:06  Show Profile
Chapter 3

There is no rule more invariable than that we are paid for our suspicions by finding what we suspect.
—Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), American author and naturalist


However, the snow was still coming down when the sky began to lighten in the morning. Jim rose first, got the pitcher of hot water that was waiting outside the door, and was shaving when his partner roused. Artie sat up, running his fingers through his tousled dark hair.

“Man, I thought maybe the wind would keep me awake. But I hardly remember putting my head on the pillow.” He threw the blankets off.

“Same here. I guess between fighting the storm to get here, helping Raymond with the stock, and perhaps the tension, we were tired.”

“Seems so. But I feel good. Still snowing.”

“I noticed.”

When they descended the stairs, Raymond’s mother told them that he and Mr. Crowe and Mr. Largent had already gone out to the stable. Artie was surprised to learn that the actor had arisen so early. Largent, being a rancher, was accustomed to early mornings. The two agents trudged out to the buildings and were soon involved in the work there.

By the time that chore was completed and the men returned, several guests were at the dining room table, eating the breakfast that was served buffet style. Lily was among them. She smiled as Artie told her she would have to wait for a morning kiss. Catching a whiff reminiscent of the stables, she assured him she could wait.

After cleaning up, all the men came back down to fill their plates from the servers. Clara Gaines brought a big coffeepot to fill their cups. Artie sat alongside his fiancée and was delighted to notice that she seemed much more chipper.

“I guess I was very tired yesterday,” she said when he asked how she felt. “I feel so much better this morning. I slept very well. It’s as though a big load has been lifted from my shoulders.”

One by one or two by two, in the case of couples like Mr. and Mrs. Downs, the other guests arrived for the morning meal. Everyone seemed to have benefited from a night of slumber, though each one commented mournfully on the weather. Each had hoped the snow would have finished its onslaught.

“I grew up in Maine,” Ruth moaned, “and I thought I could tolerate snow. But this is ridiculous!”

It seemed to Jim that the only person who did not appear to have profited from a good night was Francis Ogilvie, who seemed to be drinking his breakfast in the form of coffee, ignoring the food he himself had put on his plate. Nor did he have anything to say about the weather, or any other topic that came up around the table.

Several people had finished and departed from the table, when Carlyle Crowe commented, “Where is Gladys? If she misses breakfast—especially her coffee—she will be more impossible than usual to live with today. I’d better…”

He started to push his chair back, but Ruth was faster. “I’m finished with my breakfast, Carlyle. Don’t let yours get cold. I’ll go wake Gladys.” She turned and headed out of the room for the stairs.

“Unusual for Gladys to sleep in,” Lily said in a low voice. “That is one thing I can say for her, she is always punctual for rehearsals and meetings.” She looked toward the company manager, who was staring at his plate with a somber expression. What in the world was wrong with Francis this morning?

She had just looked up at Clara to nod that she did indeed want more coffee, when the screams echoed through the house. For just a fraction of an instant, everyone froze, Clara with the coffeepot hovered over Lily’s cup, not yet pouring. Then the two agents jumped from their chairs simultaneously, headed for the dining room door and the stairway.

Taking the stairs two and three at a time, they gained the second level just as the screams subsided into frantic sobs. The sound was coming from the hallway opposite from their room, where Lily’s room was located. In the dimness, they espied Ruth Gwinn backed up against the wall staring at an open door on the other side. She was ashen, one hand pressed against her mouth, the other extended, pointing to that open door.

Not knowing what to expect, West and Gordon approached cautiously. Jim slipped his hand inside his jacket for the comforting feeling of the small pistol secreted there, knowing Artie was likely doing the same. He paused just briefly at the edge of the doorway; hearing nothing, he stepped inside. He took two steps and halted, for a moment unable to breathe. Artie followed, and he too stopped alongside his partner. Their gazes were riveted on the bed.

Gladys Norwood lay there, still covered by the patchwork quilt similar to one in every room, her head on the white pillow, eyes opened wide… and a gash of scarlet across her lily white throat.

“Oh my god,” Artie murmured. He was the first to move nearer to the bed. No use checking for a pulse. The ugly gash, the amount of blood soaked into the pillow and other bed garments, plus the frozen stare of the blue eyes were all the proof needed.

“What happened? What happened?”

Voices were coming from the hallway, frantically calling out. Jim acted quickly, going to the door and shutting it firmly. The key was in the lock. Most likely the room had not been locked, or else Ruth would not have been able to open it and view the atrocity.

He went back to the bed, where Artie had picked up one of the cold pale arms. “What do you think?”

Artie shook his head slightly. “I’m not an expert but I’m guessing sometime between now and midnight. My god, Jim! Who would do such a thing?”

Jim was looking around. “No weapon evident. Must have been a very sharp blade. Someone crept in and… made the cut swiftly. She might have heard him, or her, at the last moment, thus the opened eyes.”

“She and Ogilvie had a spat yesterday.”

“But they seemed to have made up by supper, and Lily told you it happened all the time.”

A tap on the door precluded a response from Artemus, and he turned and went to the door, opening it slightly, then pulling it further to admit Judge Slayton. “I got a few words out of Miss Gwinn,” the barrister said grimly. “I thought I might be needed.”

“Thank you, sir,” Jim nodded. “You can see…”

“Yes. I see. Poor woman. I know she was not much liked but to do this. Dreadful!”

“Thing is,” Artie mused, “it’s going to be difficult to secure alibis. Only the people who shared a room, or bed, might have something approaching proof they had not left their beds.” He looked down at the bed in front of him, and noticed some spots on a dark patch of the quilt. Reaching down, he ran a finger over it.

“What’s that?” Jim asked from across the bed.

Artie held the substance to his nose then rubbed it between thumb and forefinger. “Powder, I guess. Maybe talcum, or even face powder, which wouldn’t be all that surprising, considering Gladys is… was an actress. She must have spilled some.”

“Perhaps someone saw or heard something,” Judge Slayton offered then.

“I guess we’re going to have to face the crowd,” Jim muttered. And as before, a rap on the door interrupted. This time Jim went to open it and was surprised to find Mrs. Garber.

“Mr. West, my husband was a doctor. I was his nurse, and I worked in hospitals during the war. He was also a police surgeon, so I know some procedures. May I help?”

After a moment of hesitation, Jim stepped back. A brisk nod to the judge and Artemus, and Mrs. Garber strode to the bed, her expression unchanged as she viewed the bloody scene. As Artemus had, she picked up one arm, placed her palm on the ashen forehead, then studied the eyes a moment and looked at the bloodstains. “I would say she has been dead five to six hours, which would make the time of death between three and four this morning. As you no doubt discerned, the weapon was a sharp instrument. Was it found?”

“No,” Artie replied, a bit stunned. “Death was instantaneous, I presume.”

“Within seconds. She could not have lived with the jugular severed that way. Ghastly. Who did it?”

“That’s what we want to know,” the judge replied tersely. He turned to the agents. “How do you want to handle the questioning, gentlemen?”

“I think as a group initially,” Jim said. “Perhaps you can take everyone down to the parlor. We’ll finish up here.”

They found another blanket in the wardrobe to place over the corpse, wondering what they would do with the body. It could not be left in this room, especially when they did not know how much longer they would be stranded in the inn.

With Mrs. Garber, the agents descended the stairs. As soon as they entered the parlor, Francis Ogilvie rushed up, grabbing Artemus by the arm. His eyes were already red. “Is it true? It can’t be true! Tell me! Tell me it’s not so!”

Artie took the trembling man by the shoulders. “I’m sorry, Francis, but Miss Norwood is dead. Do you know anything about it?” Sometimes shock was the best way to question.

“What? No, no, no! I would never hurt Gladys! I loved her! She was my life! My life!”

Jonathan Earle came then to take Ogilvie to a chair. Artemus told everyone to be seated, and briskly informed the guests of the nature of the tragedy. “Naturally, we want all the information we can get. Did anyone leave their room last night?”

A moment of silence, and then Mae Hynes spoke up. “I saw Miss Fortune returning to her room when I was visiting the… the water closet.”

Lily looked at the other woman. “Which is where I had just come from!”

“What time was that?” Jim asked, drawing a sharp glance from his partner.

“About three,” Mrs. Hynes replied.

“Did anyone else hear or see anything?”

Mrs. Garber, who had taken a seat at one side, stood up. “I heard Miss Fortune threaten to cut Miss Norwood’s throat.”

Any warm feelings Artie had been feeling toward the woman after her assistance upstairs vanished. So she did overhear! “That was nothing,” he said sharply. “She was upset!”

“We all saw how she looked daggers at the poor girl,” Mr. Hynes stated.

Lily had paled with Mrs. Garber’s first assertion. Now she sat like a statue, her expression stony, looking at nothing. Artemus wanted to go to her, take her in his arms and reassure her, but now was not the time. He was shocked however by his partner’s next words.

“We are going to want to interview each of you separately, and search your rooms. Judge Slayton will be present at all times. Lily, we’ll start with you. Will you…?”

Before he could finish, Artie had whirled toward him. “Jim!”

Jim saw the horror, astonishment, and anger on his partner’s face. “Artie, it’s procedure…”

Artemus clamped his jaws shut. He knew Jim was right, but to start with Lily appeared to indicate Jim’s doubt of her innocence. Nonetheless, Lily was on her feet and ready to go upstairs. Jim instructed everyone to stay on the lower floor. He didn’t need to warn them to not leave the house. Anyone who did would not only advertise his or her own guilt, but also going out in this weather would be madness.

Jim led the way up the stairs again, with Judge Slayton behind him, and Artemus with Lily. He held her hand to try to imbue his own strength into her. She did not react, her face without expression, though still somewhat pale. How can Jim do this to her? How can he do it to me? Artie kept attempting to persuade himself that Jim was right, that Lily had to be interrogated, her room searched. They could not make exceptions, even for dear friends. But he knows as well as I do that she didn’t do it.

Maybe Jim was just carrying out a charade for the benefit of the other guests. That thought crossed Artie’s mind briefly, and was wiped away almost immediately. He would not ask Judge Slayton to be present if all he intended to do was make small talk for a while. The judge was not going to be swayed by the fact Miss Fortune was the fiancée of a Secret Service agent. Nor that she was a very famous and much loved actress.

They entered Lily’s room. She sat down on the lone chair near the dressing table, hands folded stiffly on her lap. Jim stood in front of her.

“Lily, did you kill Gladys Norwood?”

Artie grabbed his partner’s arm and spun him around. “Are you out of your mind?”

“Mr. Gordon,” the judge spoke quietly behind him. “This is a murder investigation. I’m sure you have been involved in such before. You know as well as Mr. West that everyone who has a possible motive and opportunity has to be questioned.”

Artemus closed his eyes for a moment, but the implacable expression on his partner’s face was burned against his lids. He doesn’t care. He doesn’t give a damn! Releasing Jim’s arm, Artemus stepped over behind Lily and put his hands firmly on her shoulders. “Ask away!”

“Lily, will you answer my question?” Jim hated what he was doing, hated the painful knot in his chest caused by doing it. He hated most the anger in his best friend’s brown eyes.

“I did not kill her, Jim. I swear.”

“But you spoke a threat against her.”

“Jim…” Artie’s voice had a warning in it. Lily reached up and clasped his left hand with hers.

“Yes, I did,” Lily said quietly. “Yesterday was a very bad day. In the coach, before we got stranded, Gladys was… was very abusive. Nothing overt. Similar to what she said when I introduced her to Artemus. Little barbs and insults. Francis laughed. Ruth, Jonathan, and I could only bear it. None of us wanted to start a row in such close quarters. By the time the two of you arrived, I was exhausted. I should have gone to my room earlier, but… I was being stubborn. I didn’t want Gladys to think she had driven me away. And then you and Artemus appeared.”

“You saw Gladys make a play for Artemus.”

She smiled wanly. “I also saw him reject her.”

“When you left your room last night, you went only to the water closet?”

“Yes.”

“Did you see Mrs. Hynes?”

“No. I did hear someone open a door just as I reached mine, but I just wanted to get back in bed, so I didn’t look around.” She was sounding stronger, her color returning as the interview proceeded. Now her chin lifted. “Jim, I did not kill Gladys. I couldn’t do anything like that.”

Jim just nodded and turned away. “Judge, will you assist in conducting the search?”

“I certainly will. Mr. Gordon?”

Artie had no choice. He knew nothing would be found. He hated that Lily’s personal domain was going to be invaded, but it had to be done, and would be completed faster if all three of them participated. He took the dressing table, Judge Slayton the trunk and other bags that were in the corner, while Jim went to the wardrobe. Lily remained on the chair, sitting stiffly, not watching any of the three men directly, although Artemus knew she could see them in her peripheral vision.

For several minutes the only sound was the opening and closing of drawers, the click of the luggage fasteners, and clothing being moved around in the wardrobe. Jim paused, took a deep breath then spoke in a low voice. “Lily, would you come over here, please?”

Of course Artemus and the judge followed the actress around the bed. Jim was still facing the wardrobe and Artie puzzled over what he could have found. Then Jim stepped aside. He was holding a blue silk dressing gown, still on its padded hanger. Precious embroidery decorated the bodice and sleeves in ivory tone. The front was splashed with rusty red gore.

Lily’s gasp was audible, and she even took a step back. Artie was right behind her and caught her, as her legs seemed to weaken. “No,” she whispered. “No!” Artemus simply stared.

“When did you wear this last?” Jim asked in that even voice, his face displaying no emotion.

“Th-this morning. It was not… it was not stained! I swear! Oh God!” She turned then, into Artie’s arms, and sobbed against his shoulder.

“Jim, someone planted that,” Artie insisted.

Jim glanced at Judge Slayton’s stern face. He wanted to agree with his partner. “Regardless, it is damning evidence at this moment. Lily?”

Drawing strength from her beloved’s embrace, Lily lifted her head, stepped away slightly, and turned. “I put the dressing gown on this morning when I arose. It was necessary to open the door to get the water for washing. It was not stained at that time, Jim. I swear to you.”

“Did anyone see you when you opened the door?”

She shook her head. “I don't think so. I didn’t see anyone either.”

“Then someone sneaked in here after she went downstairs and smeared blood on the gown,” Artie insisted. “Judge…” He looked at the older man.

Slayton’s face was grimmer than usual. “It is evidence, as Mr. West infers. I suggest it be put somewhere safe.”

Lily spoke sharply. “Why would I put a bloody gown back in my closet? Why wouldn’t I toss it out the window where it would be covered with snow in no time?”

“That remains to be seen,” Jim replied, carefully folding the garment up. The blood was still damp, and he kept that part inside. He wanted to reassure both Lily and his partner that he was quite aware that this was a plant. But at this moment, he did not feel he could. Especially with Judge Slayton present. He had invited the judge to join them to have a witness that everything was aboveboard, especially when they questioned and searched the rooms of people with whom they were acquainted. This sure blew up in my face!

When asked, Lily chose to remain in her room while the investigation continued. Jim took the gown to his and Artie’s room and secured it in his saddlebag. He didn’t bother to try to lock it up or hide it. Whoever planted the evidence would not steal it back now. He then went downstairs and asked Francis Ogilvie to be the next.

The company manager was visibly trembling as he climbed the stairs, and apparently had wept again for his lost love. Jim did not say anything further until they entered Ogilvie’s room, on the same side of the upstairs hallway as the agents’ room, but several rooms towards Gladys Norwood’s. Judge Slayton was standing outside of Lily’s room, and he rapped on it sharply before following Jim. Artemus emerged a moment later to go to Ogilvie’s room.

Jim was somewhat surprised to find his partner still glaring at him. I thought Artie would understand. Explanations could come later. As Lily had, Ogilvie took the chair. Artemus waited to one side and was startled when Jim’s glance indicated he should do the interrogation. He welcomed the opportunity to show that another could easily have been the murderer.

“Francis, you were seen arguing with Gladys yesterday.”

Ogilvie sniffled, reached inside his coat for a very damp handkerchief. “Yes. Everyone saw that. I… I did not appreciate that she had changed her attire. Gladys is… was…” he swallowed hard, “a coquette. Everyone knows that. I loved her despite that side of her, but sometimes it did irritate me. You and Mr. West were ignoring her. That… that was hard for her to understand and accept.”

“So you quarreled over the dress.”

“Yes. But we made up. You must have noticed at supper. She… apologized. I knew she meant nothing by it at all. That was just the way she was. I loved her notwithstanding that peccadillo on her part.”

“When did you see her last?”

Now Ogilvie’s face reddened. “I went to her room… late… to… to say goodnight.”

“What time was that?”

“Around eleven, I think. I waited until the hotel was quiet.”

“And what time did you return to your own room?”

The manager looked off to one side, found Judge Slayton in his view, glanced the other way to see James West, and lowered his gaze. “About two I think.”

A long goodnight! “I presume Miss Norwood was alive when you left her.”

Ogilvie’s head shot up. “Of course she was. Alive… and happy. She had promised to marry me.” New tears welled up in his bloodshot eyes.

“Tell me about how you came to hire Gladys Norwood.”

A large swallow. “I… I knew about her beforehand. I knew she was considered a fine actress but… but a troublemaker. I saw her perform and I fell in love with her. As soon as I heard she had left the other company, I contacted her, invited her to join mine.”

“Even though you knew she had caused problems wherever she went?”

“I thought I could change her.” Ogilvie’s voice was very soft, his gaze downcast. “She was young and headstrong. I thought with the experienced actors in our company, she would learn better.”

“But you were wrong, and still you kept her on even though she was making others very unhappy.”

“Yes.”

“Francis, did you kills Gladys last night?”

Once more the head shot up, this time the face contorted in horror. “No, no, no, no!” His voice rose in crescendo with each “no,” and he came to his feet, hands in fists. “I loved her! I’ll kill the person who harmed her if I’m able.”

Artie gently suggested he sit down again, and the three men began the search of the room. Artie desperately wanted to find a clue of some sort, but nothing came up. Possibly the closest to a clue was that Jim found another dressing gown in the wardrobe, one in pink ruffles, something Artemus knew Lily would never wear. The style was more suited to Gladys Norwood.

Like Lily, Ogilvie chose to remain in his room when the search was completed. He wanted to lie down, he said, and be alone a while. Again Jim went downstairs but before he reached the parlor door, Mrs. Haidee Gaines, who was waiting by the lobby desk, called his name. He followed her into the kitchen, where she turned. Alfred Gaines, as well as his son and daughter-in-law were present, faces somber.

“Mr. West, one of my knives is missing.”

“Are you certain?”

“Yes, sir. Come see.”

She led him to a drawer in one of the cabinets, which she opened to display a layout of a number of sharp knives inserted into a wooden framework. “Alfred made that for me long time ago so I could keep track of my knives, and keep them sharp. You can see the empty spot. The blade was thin, about seven or eight inches long—and very sharp.”

“I don’t suppose the kitchen is locked up at night.”

“No sir. Never been necessary. Our rooms are back through there.” Haidee pointed toward a door toward one side. “Likely we would hear anyone in here looking for food.”

“Did any of the guests come in here yesterday, perhaps asking for something special?”

“Well, Miss Fortune came in yesterday morning, wasn’t long after their coach arrived, and asked if they could have hot coffee and tea. Then later that coach driver, Mr. Stack, he said he hadn’t eaten since the night before so I made him a sandwich. Let’s see. Who else?” She looked toward her husband and the younger pair.

“Miss Norwood wanted some sugar for her coffee,” Clara supplied. “And Miss Gwinn was nice enough to bring some of the used cups back in. I remember ‘cause she said we had a nice kitchen.”

“I guess that’s all,” Mrs. Gaines said.

Jim summoned Jonathan Earle from the parlor, and upon reaching the upper floor, quickly informed Artemus and the judge of this latest development. The judge grimaced. “A knife like that would be easy to hide!”

Earle didn’t have much to add. He confirmed that Gladys had caused a great deal of trouble in the troupe once she arrived. He had not known of Ogilvie’s previous acquaintance with the actress. “I presumed she came to us because we were also in town. Just like Francis, though.”

“What do you mean?” Jim asked.

“Not the first time he brought in a troublemaker. Five-six years ago—before Lily joined us—he hired a prima donna of an actress. At least that one he fired after a couple of months. I think that’s why it surprised me he kept Gladys on, even though I was aware he was infatuated with her.”

Nothing was found in the room. Jonathan returned to the parlor with Jim, as Carlyle Crowe was summoned. He was very grim, but not nearly as distressed as his manager. He had not, he assured Artemus, seen Gladys after she left for her room. He went to his own room, went to bed, and fell asleep almost instantly, not awakening until the morning.

Artemus folded his arms across his chest. “Were you jealous of the fact Gladys seems to have chosen Francis over you?”

“Not at all! I warned him she was big trouble, but he was too far gone.”

“Were you ever her lover?”

Now pink spots appeared in Carlyle’s handsome cheeks. “Once. Only once. The first time we were in a hotel together overnight, she came to my room. I didn’t turn her away. However, she thought she owned me after that, and wanted me to help her move up in the company’s hierarchy.”

“How?”

“By sabotaging Lily, Grace, and Ruth, and anyone else she perceived in her way.”

“Did you?”

“I did not! She threatened to tell Francis that we were lovers, assuming I guess that he would kick me out. I don't know if she ever told him when I refused to bend to her threats, but nothing ever happened. I avoided her after that.”

“Have you ever been in the kitchen downstairs?”

The question clearly surprised the actor. “The kitchen? No. Why? Other than walking through it to get outside, I’ve never found a need to go in there.”

Knowing about the missing kitchen knife, they searched ever more carefully, and found nothing. Artemus was afraid Jim was going to suggest returning to Lily’s room for a more thorough search, but he did not. Artie kept waiting for Jim to make some sort of explanation as to why he apparently considered Lily the prime suspect, but nothing was forthcoming. He’s going to explain, sooner or later. I’ll see to that! He was not looking forward to the encounter, but the air had to be cleared. If we’re going to continue to work together, Jim has to have a damn good explanation!

Ruth Gwinn was next. She had recovered her aplomb for the most part, but kept her eyes averted from the door of the room where the dead woman still lay as they passed by. She repeated some of what she had told Artemus and Jim earlier, before the murder, how Gladys had caused problems in the troupe from the moment of her arrival, especially for Lily Fortune.

“I am so surprised to think that Lily could have done such a thing, but I can’t say I blame her.”

“The culprit is still unknown,” Jim said firmly.

“Oh. I thought… I mean after what Mrs. Garber said…”

Jim could feel Artie’s eyes boring into his back. “We still have a lot of questioning and investigating to do.”

“Of course! I do hope it wasn’t Lily. But she certainly had motive. I would probably feel the same were I in her shoes!”

Ruth had heard nothing during the night. The wind in the eaves had kept her from falling asleep immediately. Although she admitted waking up a couple of times due to the same noises, but she had not noticed any movement outside her door, right across from Gladys’s. “Of course, the storm could have covered any sounds.”

A search of the room revealed nothing. The same scenario was repeated as one after another, the guests were brought upstairs for questioning and a search of their room. The only aberration to the system was that Mr. and Mrs. Downs came together. Mrs. Downs seemed so overwhelmed that Jim decided it would be best to have her husband with her. They were able to provide nothing substantial, other than they had heard what Mrs. Garber said about Miss Fortune’s threat.

Mrs. Hynes was the most difficult to question. She answered in monosyllables, and had to be pressed to expand on her responses. The gist was she and her husband went to bed and as far as she knew, neither of them awakened until morning once they fell asleep under the din the storm was causing. She was certain her husband had not left the bed.

“We have been married for fifteen years. I would notice.”

Her husband was more garrulous, but still provided no helpful information, other than he would have figured a pretty dolly like Miss Norwood would come to a sad end along the way. “A woman can’t behave like that with men. Someone’s going to get pretty mad.”

They interviewed Mr. and Mrs. Manchester and the Gaines family as a matter of course, but did not search their rooms. When asked, Mr. Manchester said he had a room in the cellar where the corpse could be stored. “It’s generally cool, even in the summer, and right now darn cold down there.”

Realizing no one was going to be very hungry, a buffet had been laid out again, providing a rich soup, some bread, and a light custard dessert. Noontime had come and gone by the time the interrogations and searches were finished. Artemus said he was not hungry and went upstairs, to Lily, Jim was certain, as he ladled soup in to a bowl and sat down at the table.

He was puzzled by Artie’s reaction to the situation. Surely he realizes that we be accused of preferential treatment if we did not regard Lily the same as others. The fact that Lily Fortune was not only known to despise the victim but also threatened her made questioning her first imperative. I sure didn’t expect to find the bloody gown! To Jim that bespoke of an amateur, someone who perhaps had acted on impulse, then clumsily sought to throw suspicion elsewhere.

The other reason he had acted professionally toward Lily was more important to Jim, and apparently had not yet occurred to his partner. Regardless of the outcome of this incident, Lily was going to recall how she was treated. If Artie had been the one insisting she be questioned and her room searched, Lily would remember it. Their relationship might be damaged. It won’t matter so much if she resents me in the future; Artie is her future.

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
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California gal
SS senior field agent

USA
8383 Posts

Posted - 06/22/2013 :  10:19:37  Show Profile
Chapter 4

There is nothing but death
Our affections can sever,
And till life's latest breath
Love shall bind us for ever.
—James Gates Percival (1795-1856), American poet, linguist, and scholar


Lily appeared to be sleeping when Artemus entered her room. He had tapped on her door, and when she did not answer, he opened it, a little concerned. Carefully he moved the chair alongside the bed and sat there, waiting and watching. Perhaps the intensity of his gaze disturbed her, for after a few minutes, she opened her eyes.

“Oh. Artemus, my dear.”

Lily extended her hand and he took it. “I’m sorry for all that has happened, dearest.”

Her smile was faint. “It’s not your fault by any means. Someone murdered Gladys and wants me to bear the blame. It probably would have occurred whether or not you happened upon this inn at the same time as we did.”

“Perhaps. But I was speaking of Jim’s behavior. I don’t understand it.”

“He’s doing his job.”

“I know that. But… he should have showed more kindness, more understanding. He has to know you are innocent of this heinous murder. I need to talk to him about it, but… I can’t.”

“Can’t?”

Artie sighed. “I’m afraid of what I would say. Lil, he’s been my friend, my partner—almost my brother—for all these years.”

Lily sat up and pushed the pillows up behind her before she took his hand again. “It will be all right. I’m sure of it. It’s just a matter of finding out who had opportunity to stain my robe.”

“Yes, that is puzzling. You came down fairly early, didn’t you?”

“Yes,” she sighed. “I was feeling so good. I think only Mr. and Mrs. Hynes, Harry Stack and Mr. Largent were there ahead of me. Everyone else came down later, one by one or two by two.”

“Which means any but the five you mentioned might have had opportunity to slip in here. I presume you didn’t lock the door.”

“No. I don’t think many do. After all, a thief could not go far.”

“Nor can a murderer. Someone took a knife from the kitchen downstairs. That was probably the weapon used. We searched every room thoroughly but did not find it.”

She looked around. “Perhaps we should search in here again.”

He was pleased that she suggested it. “However, maybe I should fetch Judge Slayton again.”

“Good idea. I won’t budge from the bed until you return.”

W*W*W*W*W

On the stage he was natural, simple, affecting.
'Twas only that when he was off, he was acting.
Retaliation (l. 101), Oliver Goldsmith (1728-1774), Irish poet, dramatist, and novelist


Artemus entered the parlor and departed a few minutes later with the judge behind him. Not once did his partner look Jim’s way, where he sat at one side, enjoying extra coffee. Blast it, Artie, what’s the matter with you? Am I going to have to draw you a map? Of course, Artie was engulfed and devastated by the suspicion that had fallen on the woman he loved. He was not thinking clearly, of that Jim was certain. Otherwise the rationale Jim was using would have occurred to him.

Chances are, if this incident had occurred elsewhere, at a site where more freedom was available, Colonel Richmond would have removed us both from the case due to our personal interests. Nonetheless, they were stranded here in this inn, prevented by the storm outside from leaving, or getting any assistance. Working in their official capacity was important, while everything was fresh. The judge seemed aware of that. But Artie was being blinded by his affections for the prime suspect, Jim was quite aware. I care about her too, but we have to do our jobs!

Burl Ballou entered the parlor, also with a cup of coffee, and sat down near Jim. “Getting to be like a funeral parlor in there. Or else a lynch mob.”

“They’re all sure Lily Fortune did it.”

“Seems like it. Funny thing, Mrs. Garber, who started it all by repeating what she heard has been pretty quiet about it. It’s like she’s regretting she opened her mouth.”

“It would have been better if she came to me first. As a matter of fact, my partner told me of Lily’s words last night. We agreed she was upset and exhausted. Lily doesn’t usually talk that way. I doubt if she even thinks that way.”

“You’re known her a while?”

“A few years. My partner has known her since they were children together. They reconnected and became engaged.”

“I saw her on stage once. She was Lady Macbeth. She sure was convincing.”

Jim knew what Ballou meant. He himself had seen Lily in the role, and the actress had mastered the madness of Lady Macbeth as well as any other he had ever witnessed. Out damned spot! Out I say! “She was acting,” Jim smiled.

“I know. That’s the scary part about all these theater folks being here. How much are they putting on and how much is real? Do they know the difference?”

The conversation moved on to other matters, including the weather and how restless their horses must be getting, confined to the stables. Burl suggested shoveling out the corral enough so the beasts could expend some energy. He did not want four “wild” horses in the harnesses when they finally got out of here.

Jim looked toward the window. “Hey! Looks like it’s easing up.”

They both went to the window and indeed the wind appeared to have died down, and the flakes were not falling anywhere near the volume as earlier.

“If it’ll just stop altogether and give us some blue skies, we can start shoveling the road,” the driver averred.

Others noticed the way they were looking out the windows and came to see. All expressed hope. Upon seeing Jim, Mrs. Garber quickly approached him. “Are we going to get out of here finally, Mr. West?”

“I don't know. Depends on whether the snow really stops, and then for how long. We’ll have to dig ourselves out.”

“I’m ready,” her brother chimed in. “Just hope there are enough shovels!”

An hour later it started snowing again, heavier than before.

W*W*W*W*W


Artemus escorted Lily down to the supper table, and chose chairs as far away from Jim West as possible. He knew he could not speak civilly to his partner just now, and was unsure what he was going to do when it came time to go to their room for the night. He did not want to argue with Jim, and kept trying to understand his partner’s behavior. The business of Jim conducting himself like a law officer made sense; but why did he display absolutely no compassion toward Lily? Why did he not apologize to her in private?

The atmosphere at the table was desultory. Lily knew her presence was at least partially responsible. But I’m not going to hide in my room forever! She was particularly conscious of Mrs. Garber’s glances toward her, and puzzled over it. The older woman almost seemed apologetic, with sorrow in her face. Sorry she had spoken out this morning? Why should she be? She doesn’t really know me. She was only speaking the truth.

Jim noticed that Francis Ogilvie seemed to be regaining some composure. His appetite was not great, but at least he was eating a good portion of the food on his plate. Oddly, Mrs. Garber was the one picking at her food. She kept looking toward Lily. Frightened that a murderess was at the table?

Ruth Gwinn was beside Jim again and she leaned toward him slightly. “I feel as though we are at a funeral feast. Or worse, one prior to a hanging. Do they hang women in Colorado?”

“Lily hasn’t been found guilty yet, Ruth.”

“Oh. That was very gruesome of me, wasn’t it? This has been a most horrible day. I just cannot get the image out of my head, when I walked into that room and…”

“I understand. Probably better if you try not to think of it.”

“I suppose so. Oh, if only it would stop snowing and we could leave! All this might not have happened but for this terrible storm!”

Isaac Hynes was on Jim’s other side and he leaned forward to be able to see Ruth. “Like I told Mr. West this morning, that girl was heading for a bad end. Woman can’t behave like that without gettin’ some man all jealous and everything. And maybe a woman too, way it seems.”

Jim did not respond, although he saw Ruth’s quick glance his way from the corner of his eye. Isaac Hynes was giving him more to think about. Draining his coffee, he stood up with a brief “excuse me,” and started toward the dining room’s exit. Before he reached the door Mrs. Garber intercepted him.

“Mr. West. Could I have a few words with you?” She seemed very unsettled.

“Of course. We can…”

Before he was able to suggest they enter the parlor together, seeing as that room would be empty right now, Ruth came up alongside the older woman. “Josephine, I’m so anxious to hear more about your experiences during the war? Let’s go into the parlor and talk, shall we? Something to take our minds off this horrible business.” She took Mrs. Garber’s arm.

Mrs. Garber smiled weakly at Jim. “Perhaps later then.”

“Certainly.” Jim watched them enter the parlor then glanced toward Artemus, who had his head bent toward Lily’s in conversation. He had not witnessed the odd moment. Not so odd as… I don't know. What in the world is on Mrs. Garber’s mind?

W*W*W*W*W

My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical,
Shakes so my single state of man that function
Is smothered in surmise and nothing is
But what is not.
Macbeth (Macbeth at I, iii), William Shakespeare (1564-1616), English dramatist and poet


Jim went into the kitchen briefly to tell Raymond Gaines to come find him when he was going to tend the stocks. He had missed the midday trek out to the stables, and right now, getting out of this house and doing some physical activity sounded very good; even if it meant mucking out the stalls.

In the parlor, people were sitting alone or in small groups, talking quietly. Lily and Artemus were on the sofa near the fireplace, and everyone was giving them wide berth. Jim took a chair against the wall and picked up an old newspaper to read. Doing so allowed him to peer over the top of the page to observe others.

Ruth Gwinn was sitting with Mrs. Garber to one side, and the young Downs couple had joined them, obviously interested in what the former nurse had to say about her wartime experiences. Jim remembered what Ruth had said about the stories being a way to forget about the dreadful tragedy here, and wondered at that. Perhaps if Ruth had actually participated in the war, as a nurse maybe, she would not think that talking about it was an escape. Sometimes all Jim had to do was close his eyes for a moment and the pictures of the carnage on the battlefields were almost overwhelming.

Isaac Hynes was in a group with Burt Ballou, Caleb Largent, Carlyle Crowe, and Harry Stack. They were too far away to hear what they were discussing, but Jim had a notion it was horses, judging from the motions of the men’s hands. He would not mind being in such a conversation, but chances were if he joined the men would mostly feel uncomfortable. Judge Slayton was not present; he might have gone up early. It had to be a trying day for a man his age.

Hynes’ comments to Ruth at the table came back to Jim. That was the second time he had said something similar, blaming a woman for a man’s wrath and perhaps violence. Was that why Mrs. Hynes was so silent? Hynes had claimed his wife was a different person at home, much more warm and lively. She certainly had been willing to give him an alibi.

Jim suddenly realized something. Yesterday, when Hynes was absent from the parlor for a while, he told Ruth that he had gone to the kitchen. But this morning, Haidee and Alfred Gaines had not mentioned Isaac Hynes as a specific visitor. Putting the newspaper aside, Jim rose and left the parlor, going across to the kitchen.

Only Clara was there, finishing cleaning up after supper, but when Jim asked, she fetched her in-laws from their private quarters. Haidee did not recognize Isaac Hynes by name, but when Jim gave a brief description, she realized who he was. “I have only seen him when he’s gone through here out the back to help Raymond in the stable. Never talked to him.” Alfred’s response was the same. He definitely did not talk to anyone about a rattling window.

Mr. Manchester was at the desk when Jim passed through again, and he paused when the inn owner spoke his name. “Any progress on settling this awful thing, Mr. West? Surely it could not have been Miss Fortune, despite what she said.”

“I agree with you there, sir. But so far, no one else has been incriminated. Whoever it was, he—or she—was very clever.” Jim looked toward the darkened front doorway and the glass windows at either side. “I don’t suppose it has stopped snowing.”

“Not the last I looked. I’ve owned this inn for nearly seven years now. Worst snow I’ve ever seen. We can’t open the front door because of the snow that has drifted onto the porch. But I learned from other experiences, not quite as bad, and have stocked up on supplies. We’re a long way from starving.”

“Young Raymond mentioned that. Good to know. You have a beautiful place here. Too bad such a thing had to happen.”

Manchester sighed. “We had one other death here, three years ago now, I think it was. Elderly lady on her way to visit kin stopped over and never woke up in the morning. Sad thing. Do you know if Miss Norwood had kin?”

“No, I don’t, actually. Never thought to ask. Didn’t seem relevant at the moment. I’m sure Mr. Ogilvie knows.”

“Poor fellow. Never saw a man so broken up. At least you know he couldn’t have done it, eh?”

“It would seem so,” Jim smiled. Nodding, he headed for the parlor again, considering the landlord’s remark. Did I hear that Ogilvie was once an actor himself? Is it possible that all this grief is a sham? Something to talk to Artemus about. If he could get Artie aside and away from Lily. Maybe when they went up to bed. Artie has to realize by now what I’ve been doing!

W*W*W*W*W

Many a dangerous temptation comes to us in fine gay colours, that are but skin-deep.
Commentaries (Genesis, III), Matthew (Mathew) Henry (1662-1774), English eminent divine and Bible commentator


Artemus saw Jim leave the parlor and his first inclination was to follow. However, he remained with Lily, who surely needed him more. She was putting on a false front, he was quite aware, and likely for his benefit. She smiled and talked about happier things. He saw the fear and dread lurking deep in her brown eyes, but joined her in the playacting. Worse could be coming if they did not find the real culprit.

Perhaps I should be working with Jim, regardless of how I feel about his attitude toward Lily. No, not yet. Our relationship has been damaged, and I don’t want to damage it further. I have to be on a more even keel to talk about it with him. Everything is too fresh.

About ten minutes later, Jim returned to the parlor and went to the group of men, speaking quietly to Isaac Hynes. The rancher looked startled, but got up and followed him out of the room. Lily saw how Artemus was looking around.

“What is it, dear?”

“Oh, nothing. How about if we go to the piano? I’d like to sweeten up the place with some good music.”

Jim led Hynes into the dining room and closed the door. Hynes was starting to perspire already, despite the coolness of the room where the fire was being allowed to die when the space was not in use.

“What’s this about, Mr. West?”

“Yesterday afternoon, you left the parlor for a while. When you returned, I heard you tell Miss Gwinn that you had been speaking to Mr. Gaines about a window in your room.”

“Yeah. What of it?”

“I just spoke to Mr. Gaines. He says you never spoke to him.”

“Well, he’s lying. Folks like that do.” Hynes started to move toward the door.

Jim caught his arm, and ducked as the rancher took a swing at him. Jim grabbed him again, shoved him up against the wall. “I don’t want to have to hit you, leaving a mark you’d have to explain to your wife. Are you going to behave?”

“Okay.” All the fire was gone as quickly as it arose.

“Did you have a meeting with Gladys Norwood yesterday? She left the room just after you did.”

Hynes sighed noisily. “I was going to find Mr. Manchester and tell him about the window. Then she came out. She looked so damned pretty, and she was so angry at the same time. I asked her what happened. She looked at me a minute, and then she says, ‘come with me,’ and we came in here. I figured she was going to tell me what was going on, and instead she starts asking if I think she’s pretty, would I like to kiss her. Well, hell, I didn’t have a chance to say no! She was on me and I pretty much lost my senses for a minute or two.”

“And then?”

Another sigh. “Then she asks if I want to come up to her room. I was so close—that close—to saying yes, let’s go. But then I got hold of myself. I’m a married man, Mr. West. I got three boys at home. I wouldn’t be setting much of an example if I let a woman like that lead me astray. I love my wife. She’s a good wife and a good mother. I know she’s kinda stiff out in public like this, but if you got to know her, you’d see.

“Anyway, I said no thanks. She got angry again and cussed me out, but I skedaddled and went back to the parlor. Only then did I realize I’d forgotten what I went to do, but I had to have an excuse for being gone so long. I told Mae that Mr. Gaines was going to fix the window today, figuring I’d have another chance to talk to him. But then… then all this happened.”

Jim studied the man for a long moment. “All right. I believe you.” From what little he knew about Gladys Norwood, he could see her turning her attentions to another man after a spat with her lover. Then when that man also spurned her, her fury blossomed again.

They returned to the parlor together, but Jim had barely regained his chair when Raymond appeared in the doorway to announce he was going out to tend to the horses. Jim and four other men, including Hynes, rose. Artemus did not move from the piano where he was quietly playing some Chopin. He had not even looked around.

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
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California gal
SS senior field agent

USA
8383 Posts

Posted - 06/22/2013 :  10:21:15  Show Profile
Chapter 5

No man is angry that feels not himself hurt.
—Francis Bacon (1561-1626), English philosopher, statesman, and writer


Artie saw Lily to her room as the evening grew late. He kissed her at her door, ignoring the curious and almost hostile gazes of others as they went by toward their own rooms. “Sleep well, my dear. Put all this out of your mind. It will be cleared up soon, I promise.”

“But Jim…”

“Don’t worry about him. He’s just being officious, maybe because Judge Slayton is present.”

“I suppose it would bad if he showed me favoritism.”

Artemus kissed her forehead. “You leave the favoritism to me. I’m going to lock your door, as we discussed. Is that all right?”

She smiled. “I do have the chamber pot under the bed. It’s just not as… convenient. Good night, dear.”

He closed the door and pulled the key she had given him earlier from his pocket, securely locking the door. He didn’t like to do that, but he knew that the other guests would feel more secure—and less contentious—knowing that the main suspect was secured.

Main suspect. That’s Lily! That’s my fiancée, going to be my wife! She is no murderer!

Pocketing the key again, Artemus strode down the hallway to the room he shared with Jim West. When he entered, Jim had his back to him, unbuttoning his shirt, and spoke to him over his shoulder.

“Artie, do you think…” Jim turned as he spoke, and his words stopped. “What are you doing?”

Artie was pulling the blankets off his bed. He picked up his pillow and turned. “I’m going to sleep on one of the sofas downstairs.”

“What?”

“I’ll sleep better. Good night, Jim.”

Speechless, Jim watched his partner exit the room and close the door. He took a step toward the door, then halted, shaking his head. With the mood Artie was in just now, a confrontation could explode into something neither would be able to forget. But why doesn’t Artie understand what I’m doing?

W*W*W*W*W


Artemus rose from the sofa and flexed his back, stretched his arms. I’ve slept worse places, but right now I don't know where. He had actually not slept much, and not because of the discomfort of the sofa. The events of the last twenty-four hours kept his brain working as he considered events and people over and over. He tried to remember what each person said, what their faces looked like, how their voices sounded. Someone was guilty. Who was it?

He knew he was making a mistake in not talking to his partner, but he could not bring himself to do it at this point. I know my feelings are hurt, and so are Lily’s, with his attitude. I’m afraid I might say something damaging. We’ll sort it out later. Besides, Lily needs me more than Jim does.

Folding his blankets, he picked them up and carried them up the stairs. The big inn was quiet except for movement and voices emanating from the kitchen. The breakfast buffet would soon be laid out. The aroma of coffee drifted toward him and caused his stomach to contract. I’m hungry! He had not really eaten much of last night’s supper, delicious as it was.

Reaching the upper floor he put the bundle down next to Lily’s room door, tapped on it while he dug into his pocket for the key. To his utter astonishment, the door opened. Lily stood there, fully dressed, a stark expression on her face.

“Artemus, the door was unlocked!” She kept her voice low.

He blinked. “No. I locked it last night. I tested it. It was locked.”

She stepped back to allow him to enter and closed the door. “I did too, shortly after you left. Then this morning, without really thinking, I went to the door to get the hot water—and it opened in my hand. I don’t understand.”

Artie could only shake his head, realizing he had not noticed that the jug of water was missing outside the door. “I don’t either.” Did someone else have a master key? Surely Mr. Manchester would not have done this.

Lily folded her arms across her bosom, her hands in fists. “Artie, several people in the company know I can pick locks.”

He frowned. “But what would be the purpose of making it look like you opened your door when…”

A yell of grief and terror from out in the hall interrupted his words: a man’s voice. Artie jerked the door open and stepped out. Other doors were opening, but two doors down, Caleb Largent was standing in an open doorway, clutching the jamb for support, moaning and calling out his sister’s name.

Jim was racing from the far end of the hall and reached Josephine Garber’s door at almost the same moment Artie did. Moving the sobbing man aside, they stepped into the room. As they had yesterday morning, both halted a moment to absorb what they were seeing. Other than it was a different woman on the bed, the scene was the same. The bloody gashed throat, still seeping gore. Mrs. Garber’s eyes were closed. She had not heard the intruder.

“My God,” Jim muttered, going to the bedside. “What the hell?”

“Why would anyone kill Mrs. Garber?” Artie whispered hoarsely.

One voice rose above the clamor of voices out in the hall. “Murderer! Murderer! You killed my sister! I’ll kill you!”

Jim moved swiftly and tackled Largent before he reached Lily, who was standing just outside her room. Artie and Carlyle Crowe helped Jim pull Largent to his feet. Crowe and Judge Slayton then eased the grieving man toward his room, down the hall on the other side of the stairs. It seemed that mostly the women and couples were on this side of the building, whether Manchester planned it that way or not.

“Is… is Mrs. Garber dead, Mr. West?” Mrs. Hynes asked, clutching her robe at her throat.

“I’m afraid so, ma’am.” Jim raised his voice. “I suggest everyone finish getting dressed and go downstairs. Breakfast will likely be ready and I’m sure many of us can use coffee.”

“I thought she was locked in for the night.” Gordon Downs nodded toward Lily.

“She was,” Artie replied grimly, knowing he was going to have to make the revelation. It would come out sooner or later. “Someone unlocked the door overnight.”

“Someone?” Etta Downs gasped, hanging onto her husband’s arm.

“Someone had a master key, or picked the lock,” Artie said, aware of Jim’s gaze on him. Jim knew of Lily’s talent with locks.

The revelation of that information was taken out of their hands as Ruth Gwinn touched Jim’s arm. “Lily knows how to pick locks.”

That caused another uproar and it was several minutes before the guests could be persuaded to comply with Jim’s request to go to their rooms. Once the hall was cleared, Jim went to Lily’s door and knelt down by it, lighting a match to provide better illumination.

“I can see some scratches, but I’m not sure if they were caused by a picklock or just from people using the key over the years.” He stepped inside and found the same thing on the inner side of the lock.

“Jim, I didn’t…”

“I suggest you remain in your room for the time being, Lily. Artie can bring you breakfast. We’re going to have to search your room again.”

Her voice was harsh. “You think I would not have learned my lesson and disposed of anything incriminating?”

“Lil!” Artie was dismayed by her outburst, but he saw the Jim was apparently unmoved. Or else it’s Jim just being his usual ironclad self.

“Artie, we’d better look in Mrs. Garber’s room again.”

“You go ahead. I want to stay with Lily a moment.” Artie could not keep the hard tone from his own voice.

Jim heard that acidity, but simply nodded and left the room. At Mrs. Garber’s room, he again checked the door lock. Josephine Garber was likely the type who locked her door all the time, when she was inside and when she left it. He could see similar scratches, but could only admit to himself that the possibility of the lock being picked existed. When Largent calmed down, perhaps he would know whether his sister locked her room.

Obviously it was not the case that the victim allowed a visitor into her room. She would not have gone back to bed, and probably to sleep, if that was the case. No, someone had been able to open the door, slip in, and cut the woman’s throat without disturbing her or anyone else.

Who?

Lily ostensibly had a motive to murder Gladys Norwood. But Mrs. Garber? Because she repeated what she overheard Lily say? That would likely be what others would point out. But the cat was out of the bag, so to speak. Everyone knew about the “threat,” had heard Mrs. Garber’s words. They’re going to be saying Lily Fortune is a madwoman, a murderess.

Judge Slayton entered the room. “What’s going on, Mr. West?”

“I have no idea, judge. I only know that Lily Fortune did not do this.”

“The evidence…”

“I know. I know what it looks like. What someone wants it to look like. I have to find out who that someone is, and why.”

Slayton sighed as he gazed at the dead woman. “At least it has stopped snowing.”

“Has it?” Jim was startled. He had not even looked out of a window, he realized, almost from the time he got up. He had just finished shaving when he heard Largent’s cries, and was still in his shirtsleeves.

He went to the window. Indeed, not only had the snow stopped falling, but the sky was starting to clear. So maybe that portion of the ordeal was ending. The men could start shoveling paths and roadways.

“Where’s Mr. Gordon?” the judge asked.

“With Miss Fortune. She is understandably very upset.”

“Even her friend seems to have turned against her.”

Jim nodded. He was more than a little annoyed that Ruth had made that statement aloud for everyone to hear. She could have been a little more thoughtful and come to him privately. Which reminded him of how Mrs. Garber had wanted to speak to him yesterday evening. She had not approached him again. I guess it wasn’t that important to her. Or was it? Jim looked back at the bed. Had someone killed Josephine Garber because of what he—or she—thought the woman might impart to the agent? That would be something else to ask Largent when he was calmed down.

As near as Jim could discern, the death occurred in the early morning hours again, perhaps a bit later than Gladys’s death, because the blood was still oozing. It had all but coagulated around Gladys’s throat, as well as on the pillow under her head. Again, he knew asking for alibis would be futile. What he needed was motive. Unfortunately, so far, Lily Fortune appeared to be the only person who possessed one.

Although Artemus participated reluctantly, the three men conducted another search of Lily Fortune’s room, this time fruitlessly. Jim had been terrorized by the thought they might find the knife in here, and knew Artie probably felt the same, but nothing turned up. They then repeated yesterday’s process of searching every room while questioning the occupants of those rooms. This time they shortened it slightly by bringing husband and wife together in the two instances. But nothing turned up.

James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: "Thanks Artie"! Is that all you can say to me? I've just come back from the grave, risen like Lazarus, and that's what you say? "Thanks, Artie"?
James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: It's a pleasure.
- TNOT Pistoleros
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California gal
SS senior field agent

USA
8383 Posts

Posted - 06/22/2013 :  10:22:38  Show Profile
Chapter 6

Flesh of flesh,
Bone of my bone, thou art, and from thy state
Mine never shall be parted, bliss or woe.
Paradise Lost (Book IX), John Milton (1608-1674), English poet, scholar, writer, and patriot


By midday, the only sustenance the two men had been able to ingest was coffee; Lily had also insisted she wanted nothing more than a cup of coffee. She could not swallow any real food, she said. But Artie took her a tray of lunch, along with some food for himself so that he could sit with her a while. He was sorry to have to tell her nothing new had appeared.

Lily sat on the side of the bed and picked at her food and Artie longed for something say to lift her spirits. She had not even dressed her hair, and it flowed down her back in all its shining glory. He had not really talked to Jim, but he knew, as Jim knew, that all evidence still pointed to Lily Fortune as the guilty party. Someone is very, very clever. Too clever. He’s got to make a mistake somewhere. Or she.

They did not talk, primarily because neither knew what to say. He had assured her over and over that they would get to the bottom of the mystery and relieve her from the suspicion. But now with this second murder, combined with Lily’s door being unlocked and Ruth’s imprudent comment, things were worse than ever.

Abruptly aware that tears were creeping down his beloved’s cheek, Artie put is plate aside and moved to sit alongside her, putting his arms around her. “Lily, darling, please! Please believe that this is going to be all right. I know it’s awful for you now. It’s awful for me. But we’ll come through it, I swear.”

She swallowed hard and used her napkin to blot the moisture on her face. “I’m trying, Artemus. I’m trying. It all looks so hopeless. Even Jim believes I’m guilty.”

“No, he doesn’t. I don’t quite understand his behavior, but I’m pretty certain he knows you too well to believe you could do something like this. The bloody gown was somehow created and planted here. Jim knows as well as I do that you would not have simply hung that robe back in your wardrobe.”

Her sigh shuddered through her body and he held her tighter. “The snow has stopped. That means we’ll be able to get out of here… and I can be delivered to the nearest jail.”

“No! Dearest, don’t think like that. It’s not like you to be so pessimistic.” Lily knew as well as he did how swiftly justice could move; she could be on trial within days, and if found guilty, sentenced to prison or even to hang in a very short time every that.

She lifted her face to look at him. “I’ve never faced something like this.”

“I know.” Artie kissed her damp cheek. “I know. But you have to trust me. You always have. I’m not going to desert you, ever. No matter what. I’ll break you out of jail, if necessary. We can go to Chile or Argentina. Or France.”

She had to smile now. “France, please. I can practice the French you taught me.”

He was delighted to see her cheering up, even if so little. “Mon chouchou, je t'aime maintenant, je vous aimerai pour toute l'éternité.”

“Et je t'aime, mon plus cher. Je te fais confiance, chouchou. Nous sortirons de ceci. Je sais que nous allons le faire.”


All he could do was hold her and rest his cheek against her soft hair.

W*W*W*W*W

It is exercise alone that supports the spirits, and keeps the mind in vigor.
—Cicero (Marcus Tulllus Cicero; often called “Tully” for short; 106-43 BC), Roman philosopher, statesman and orator


Once again the physical exercise of shoveling the snow helped Jim to calm his thoughts. He listened to the talk of the other men assisting in the endeavor. The drifts were the worse, a few higher than a man’s head against a building or tree, or even a slight lift in the terrain. On the side of the barn where the wind had been driving the snow, it was almost roof high.

He thought it strange that the men were not talking about the murders. They seemed to be avoiding such conversation, preferring to discuss what they planned to do once they got home or wherever their destination was. That is, if we ever get the road cleared; it’s likely even worse than this area around the inn.

He had spent about half an hour with Caleb Largent discussing his sister. A calmer though still grieving Largent admitted he had not really talked to Josie much since they arrived here. “She was not too happy with me playing poker, even for pennies. Few years ago, I nearly lost my ranch on account of a gambling debt. That was when she came to live with me, after her husband died. She had some money and she put me back on my feet. Gambling is a sickness with me, Mr. West. Has been since I was a kid. Josie hated it. Now… now I hope I can call up her memory when I get an urge to join a big game. Mr. West, who killed her? Why?”

“That’s what we’re trying to find out, Mr. Largent. Think back to your last conversation with your sister. What did she say?”

“It was at supper last night. She said she needed to talk to you.”

“Did she say why? She approached me, but Miss Gwinn interrupted us. I thought Mrs. Garber would come to me later, but she did not.”

“No. I asked her why. She just said it was important. Do you think she knew something about Miss Fortune? Something worse than what Miss Fortune said about cutting Miss Norwood’s throat?”

“I don't know. Have you any inkling at all about what it could have been? Something she said in an earlier conversation?”

Largent was silent a long moment, staring toward the window where the bright sun was even brighter, glaring off the snow. “Well, she did say she thought she shouldn’t have said what she did. Not out loud to everyone, anyway. Funny, she said, ‘I’ve been talking too much.’ Josie liked to tell stories of her and Herm—that was her husband—and how they worked together during the war to help soldiers. But other than that, she wasn’t one to sit and gossip and repeat rumors. When we were kids, an aunt hanged herself because of some false rumors that were spread around. Josephine always swore she would never do that.”

Jim thought about that as he leaned on his shovel, glancing around at the other men, noting the lack of progress. It’s going to take more than one day to clear the road enough for the coaches and the buckboard to get to the main road. And then that road might not be passable. But what did Mrs. Garber mean when she said she had been talking too much? The time she spent relating her experiences to Ruth and the others? No, her brother said she enjoyed doing that.

I’m missing something. I’m forgetting something. Deep in his mind he felt he had seen or heard something relevant to the situation. What was it? Damn, I need Artie to talk this over with! Do I have to go explain the facts of life to him? Why doesn’t he see that I’m deflecting future problems between him and Lily by taking the brunt of her anger? And his.

He called over to Crowe that he was going into the house for a while. He would come back later to help more. The actor nodded, knowing that the agent had other things on his mind. At least getting back to the house was a bit easier after the path through the snow had been cleared.

He gratefully accepted the cup of coffee Clara Gaines extended to him, and then left his coat and gloves along with his hat in the reception area, knowing he would need them again, before entering the parlor. Jonathan Earle and Judge Slayton were sitting on a sofa together near the window, while the three remaining women were seated near the fireplace.

Ruth Gwinn saw him enter and quickly rose to come to him. “Is there anything new, Jim?”

“No, I’m afraid not. Has Caleb Largent come down?”

“No. At least he didn’t come in here. Poor man. Josephine told me they had been devoted to each other since they were children. I just don’t understand why Lily would kill poor Josephine.”

“It’s not certain she did.” How many times had Ruth made a similar statement? Of course, like the others, she was seeing the obvious, despite Lily was her longtime friend.

“Oh. I’m sorry. I guess I’m just… it’s all so horrible, Jim. Sometimes I’m not thinking straight.”

“Yeah. Excuse me, I want to talk to Judge Slayton.”

He did not really know how it would help to talk to the judge, and in the end, the session did not assist much. Slayton saw it all as an outsider, of course, as well as a barrister. He had to agree that if such evidence that existed were presented to a jury, Lily Fortune would likely be convicted. “The fact that she is a famous actress would only make it sensational, Mr. West. I don’t think it would sway a panel of jurors.”

After about half an hour, Jim thanked Slayton and left him, intending to head outside again. Jonathan Earle was in the lobby, staring at the massive snowdrift that currently prevented opening the front doors. “Must be a record-setting snow, Jim.”

“I’d say so,” Jim agreed, shrugging into his heavy coat. “All I can say is that it came at the very worst time possible, all things considered.”

Earle shook his head. “Lily didn’t kill those women. You know that.”

“I know it. I’ve got to prove it. I have to find the real killer.”

“I’m thinking Artemus isn’t much help at the moment.”

“No,” Jim sighed, “and I can’t really blame him. Lily needs him more than I do.”

The actor cocked his head. “I get the impression Artemus isn’t very happy with you.”

Now Jim chuckled drily. “Same here. By the way, I wanted to ask you something. Do you know if Ogilvie was ever an actor?”

Jonathan showed surprised. “Why, yes, he was. He was very young, and from what I’ve heard, pretty good at it. But he preferred being behind the scenes. Why do—oh. You are wondering if his excessive grief is an act.”

“It occurred to me.”

“He would have to be very, very good to produce those tears. Same with Ruth. I saw her yesterday morning in the hallway. She was as pale as the ghost of Hamlet’s father! I was surprised she didn’t faint dead away. Of course, she had just walked in on something completely unexpected and ghastly.”

“Even if it was Ogilvie, it still doesn’t produce a motive for Mrs. Garber’s murder. That has me stuck.”

“I agree. I can’t see why Francis would want her dead, unless he went completely mad.”

W*W*W*W*W


At Lily’s urging, Artemus joined the snow-shoveling brigade that afternoon. They had watched the efforts from her window, and she sensed he was feeling guilty for not participating is the grueling chore. So she told him to go. She was going to take a nap. And she would lock her door from the inside and put a chair against it!

He went down the hallway to get his heavy coat and gloves from the room, and as he was heading back toward the stairs, was surprised to see Caleb Largent emerge from his room, wearing his own winter garb. “Mr. Largent. Are you all right?”

“As good as I could be. I can’t stay in my room forever. I need to get out and do something other than just brood over… it. Thought I’d go out and wear myself out shoveling snow.”

“Good idea.”

“How… how is Miss Fortune?” Largent asked as they descended the stairs.

“Bearing up. She didn’t kill your sister, you know.”

The other man’s smile was wan and somewhat sheepish. “I think I know that. Lady like Miss Lily Fortune, she doesn’t go out and commit murders like that. I was pretty upset this morning.”

“With good reason. Problem is, so far we have no idea who the killer is. It would really be a good thing to close this out before we all start going our separate ways. Have you any insights?”

“No. I talked to Mr. West this morning, and he pretty much asked the same thing. But I couldn’t help. I couldn’t think of any reason anyone would hurt my sister. She was as good a person as there was. And now I have to tell her children… what happened.”

“I’m very sorry, Mr. Largent.”

They went through the kitchen, where Mrs. Gaines and Clara were working, and who offered sorrowful smiles toward Largent. Outside, the cold air hit like a shock. But the sun was great to see. The sky was brilliant azure with not a cloud to be seen. The storm was over. At least the weather part of it.

Largent paused as they went down the back stairs. “Mr. West asked me if I could remember anything Josephine said to me that might be important. I’ve been thinking and thinking. Other than saying ‘I’ve been talking too much,’ I can’t think of anything.”

“What did she mean by that?”

“I don't know. I’ve been trying to figure it out. She wasn’t a gossip, Mr. Gordon. She hated gossip. I told Mr. West about that too. Just don't know what she meant.”

Jim saw the two men approaching and hoped Artie would come to work near him so they could talk, but instead he went into the corral where Raymond had been working alone to clear out space for the horses to get some air and exercise.

Damn, Artie! Am I going to have to hit you over the head? The only excuse Jim could come up with was that Artie’s mind was so filled with Lily’s predicament he was not able to think about anything else. I just hope I don’t have to explain. It could come out sounding self-serving.

However, the most important matter at hand was to find the true murderer and lift suspicion completely from the head of Lily Fortune. Jim went over and over everything he could remember from the moment they stepped into the Manchester Inn, and still could not find that “blank spot” he felt he was missing. Something he noticed but did not think much about at the time, as if it was unimportant.

By nightfall, the area around the barn and walkways to and from the house were pretty clear of deep snow. A problem arose with what to do with the snow they were shoveling, which was creating high mounds all around. All they could do was shove it to one side or another. When Jim and Crowe went to clear the front porch the best they could do was remove the accumulation right in front of the door so that it could be opened.

A group of tired and hungry men entered through the kitchen to go to their rooms to clean up. As they mounted the stairs, Ballou was alongside Jim. “Mr. West, Harry and I are thinking that in the morning, the two of us can each take one of the coach horses—which you know are bigger and stronger than others—and try to get to town. We can ask for some help, maybe a sledge to help clear the road.”

“Not a bad idea,” Jim nodded. “Most likely they are very busy cleaning up the town themselves and perhaps not thinking of the roads yet. Just so it doesn’t start snowing again by morning.”

“Bite your tongue!” Isaac Hynes said behind him, drawing some chuckles.

Good to hear some laughter, Jim mused. He saw Artemus go straight to Lily’s room. Probably to check on her. As he strode down toward their room, he looked back to see Artie tap on the door and a moment later it opened. Apparently Lily had locked the door. Wise strategy.

Once more a meal was a dreary affair. Artemus took a tray to Lily’s room again and did not return to the table. Jim was glad to see Caleb Largent eating. If nothing else, the physical activity would have built up an appetite. It certainly did for me! He found himself, however, gazing around the table at the different people and wondering which of them was the murderer.

He felt he could rule out a few, such as Mr. and Mrs. Downs, the two stage drivers, Jonathan Earle, and of course, Judge Slayton. Jim hoped he was not wrong in these judgments but narrowing the list down helped. Carlyle Crowe and Francis Ogilvie had to be on the list because of their relationships with Gladys. Again, the problem came when trying to figure out why Mrs. Garber was murdered. How was it connected to Gladys’s death?

Isaac Hynes was on the cusp of the list of suspects. Jim tended to believe his story about his encounter with Gladys. He certainly had not seen Hynes ogling any of the women present, nor responding to Gladys’s flirtations otherwise. But he had had an admitted encounter with her, and might fear she would tell his wife. And Mrs. Garber? Jim could only mentally shake his head.

Unless Caleb Largent was a magnificent actor, he did not kill his sister. His emotions this morning appeared genuine, as did his later apology for his behavior. Nevertheless, Jim kept him on the list. The possibility existed that someone else killed Gladys, and Largent took advantage of the situation to do away with his sister, although no known motive existed as to why he should have done so.

Besides Crowe and Ogilvie, that left Ruth Gwinn. While Ruth appeared to have been bothered by Gladys’s behavior, she had not been targeted as had Lily Fortune and Grace Ross. Ruth was not a “star” in the company. Gladys likely did not feel threatened by her, or want to surpass her, as she apparently had for the two other actresses.

Was it possible that Francis Ogilvie’s excessive grief had been an act? Jonathan had said Ogilvie had acted when “young” so that could have been twenty or thirty years ago. If he had not practiced the craft in all that time, would he still be able to carry off such a performance?

That was something he needed to talk to his partner about. I’m going to have to tackle Artie and tie him down if necessary to discuss this with. By putting our ideas together and comparing notes, we might come up with something. He might even remind me of what it is I’m forgetting.

W*W*W*W*W


Unknowingly, Artemus was having similar thoughts as he sat in Lily’s room, pleased to see her eat more of the dinner than she did the lunch. He had asked her more about Ogilvie and Crowe, and their relationship with Gladys Norwood. Lily was not able to add much to it, although she said she had not been aware that Francis was as besotted with Gladys as his portrayal of grief seemed to indicate.

“I suppose he controlled his feelings in our presence, knowing how the rest of us felt about Gladys. We knew he favored her—and was her lover—but I’m sure I did not realize he felt so deeply. I guess I rather thought it was an older man being flattered by the attentions of a younger, very lovely woman.”

“And Carlyle Crowe?”

“Oh, I know Gladys chased him, and I would not doubt caught him a time or two. But I tend to believe the story he told you and Jim, that it was just a fling. He is not a man to take an extortion attempt lightly, especially when he really has nothing to hide. It’s not as though he had a wife, or even a fiancée somewhere. Like Ogilvie, he’s single.”

“I think we can eliminate Jonathan. What about Ruth?”

“Ruth is my friend, Artemus! I know she spoke out of turn earlier when she mentioned my lock picking abilities and I’m sure she regrets it. I actually taught her the trick a couple of years ago when we were stranded in a small Kansas hotel due to a prairie fire that our train could not pass through. So she knew all about my ability.”

“It just doesn’t make sense that Mrs. Garber was murdered. Why?”

“I have no idea. I barely spoke to her actually. Of course, everyone will say it’s because she repeated my unfortunate remark.”

Both fell silent, for a long moment until Artie sighed. “I guess I’m going to have to speak to Jim.”

“Of course you should speak to him. I really have not understood why you are so angry with him.”

“I’ve told you, dear. I don’t like the way he seems to be accepting your guilt.”

“There must be an explanation for that. Please talk to him.”

“Tomorrow. After I’ve had a good night’s sleep.” He had not told her of his plans for the night, any more than he had mentioned sleeping downstairs on a sofa last night. He knew she would have scolded him, and he felt rather childish about last night anyway. But tonight was different.

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
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California gal
SS senior field agent

USA
8383 Posts

Posted - 06/22/2013 :  10:24:24  Show Profile
Chapter 7

Quarrels would not last long if the fault was only on one side.
—François Duc de la Rochefoucauld (1613-1680), French philanthropist and social reformer


Jim was already in bed when Artie entered the room. When Jim spoke a greeting, his partner just nodded, and went to gather up his blankets again. Jim sat up. “You’re not going to go sleep on the sofa again! Artie, that’s…”

“No. I’m sleeping on the floor outside Lily’s room.”

“You’re what?”

Now Artemus turned. “It occurs to me that the two women who have been killed were single women, sleeping alone in their room. Lily and Ruth are also alone in their rooms. I don’t want to take a chance that we have a madman who is targeting lone women, that it has nothing to do with Gladys’s behavior or anything else.”

“I never thought of that,” Jim said slowly.

“Neither did I, until this evening. I don’t want to take any chances. Good night.”

“Artie, wait. We need to…”

“Tomorrow, Jim.” He went out the door and closed it firmly behind him.

Jim stared at the door a long moment, considered going after Artie, then lay back down. It’s my fault. I should have made him listen to me, told him why I was doing what I’ve been doing. I shouldn’t have expected him to read my mind, not when he has Lily to worry about. Tomorrow we’ll clear the air before it goes any further. I hope it’s not too late.

He thought about Artie’s rather extreme reaction to the situation, and other times came to mind. Lyle Peters had told him how Artie reacted when told that his partner, whom they believed dead, was likely to be labeled a traitor. “He went off like a firecracker,” Peters said. “He was going to prove your innocence in any way possible… even if it cost him his life.”

And then there’s me. I was ready to kill Sanchos because I believed he had murdered Artie. Jim had often reflected on that moment, and realized that had he actually killed the man, shot him down in cold blood, he would have been haunted later, because Sanchos had not killed Artie. He had believed he had due to Galiano’s scheming. Instead Sanchos had been killed by the knife he intended to use on the agent.

But it shows we are both liable to go off half-cocked, lose our bearings, so to speak, if someone we care about is harmed, or is in danger of being harmed.

W*W*W*W*W

Secundas res splendidiores facit amicitia, et adversas partiens communicansque leviores.
[Friendship makes prosperity brighter, while it lightens adversity by sharing its griefs and anxieties.]
De Amicitia (VI) Cicero (Marcus Tullius Cicero; often called “Tully” for short; 106-43 BC), Roman philosopher, statesman, and orator


Artie was unsure which was the more uncomfortable, the too short and lumpy sofa or this hard floor. Probably just as well if I don’t sleep soundly. I hope my theory is very wrong. It would require us to change all of our tactics in this investigation. No longer would the motive be Gladys’s malicious behavior with regard to the other members of the acting company, but that someone simply wanted to kill women!

He knew that tomorrow was an important day. He had been told that the two stagecoach drivers were going to try to ride into the nearest town tomorrow. They would undoubtedly bring the local law back with them, and the case would be out of the agents’ hands. Artie also knew that he needed to talk to Jim, and should have been talking to him all along.

It’s like my head was somewhere else, and I guess it was. My head, and my heart, were with Lily. I don't think I have been thinking of anyone else. That’s why I’ve been so irked with James and his supercilious behavior, acting like a police detective with no connections to anyone involved. Well, at least, in the end, Lily can be angry with Jim, not me…

Artemus Gordon sat up, his mouth open with the astonishment of the revelation that just smacked him in the forehead. He threw the blanket aside, did not bother pulling his boots on, but hurried down the hall where he opened the door to the room he shared with Jim West. Quickly he crossed the room and grabbed Jim’s shoulder.

“Jim, wake up!”

Jim roused instantly, sitting up and reaching for the small pistol resting on the bedside stand. “What’s happened?”

“Nothing except I suddenly came to my senses and realize I owe you a huge apology.”

“An apology? What for?” Jim did not want to jump the gun, just in case Artie was not talking about the same thing he was thinking about.

Artie made a circle in the darkened room. “All I could see was that you were making Lily look guilty to everyone else despite what you believed. That you were following procedures, without considering the people involved.”

“I was.”

“Yes, and you were right to do so. I was of little help there, and I guess you understand that. But James, it just occurred to me that quite probably the main reason you were behaving so was to deflect Lily’s potential anger from me to you.”

Jim bit back a smile. “You really think I’d do something like that?”

“Yes, I do, pal. And I’m grateful. Very grateful. Lily will be too when she’s aware. And so I’m apologizing for thinking all sorts of bad things about you.”

“Such as?”

“We won’t go into that. We have to work together, Jim. We have to talk and compare notes.”

“I agree. Now?”

“No. Tomorrow will be time enough. I don’t want to leave my post too long.”

“So you’re sticking to your madman theory?”

“It’s only that, Jim, a theory, and we both would feel like hell if I was right and we didn’t do anything about it.”

“Want to take shifts?”

“No, I’ll be fine. See you in the morning. Good night, pal.”

W*W*W*W*W

Mais l'innocence enfin n'a rien a redouter.
[But innocence has nothing to dread.]
Phedre (III, 6), Jean Baptiste Racine (1639-1699), French tragic poet and dramatis


Jim awakened just as the sky was showing a glow on the horizon. Although he had lain awake a long while after Artie’s visit, pleased that his partner had finally grasped what was occurring, he now felt he would not sleep any more, so climbed out of bed. He shaved and dressed, making sure he put the small pistol inside his jacket.

Stepping out into the dim hallway, the pile of blankets that was his partner’s bed was quite visible. He walked up quietly. Artie was sound asleep. Noticing some light emanating from under the door, Jim leaned over and tapped on it. After a few seconds the key turned and the door opened a crack. Jim quickly put a finger to his mouth then pointed downward.

Lily opened the door wider. She was fully dressed and obviously had been awake a while. For whatever reason, she had not retrieved the pitcher of water, which was now sitting by Artie’s head. “What in the world?” she whispered.

“Your night watchman, ma’am,” Jim returned with a grin. “Shall we wake sleeping beauty?”

“I’m awake,” Artie grumbled. “How can anyone sleep with all this yelling going on?” He sat up and pulled on his boots, then let Jim grasp his hand to pull him to his feet.

Lily watched in wonder. Gone was the tension she sensed between the two men earlier. She was eager to learn what happened, but did not ask. Jim suggested they sit in Lily’s room and talk awhile. But he decided to go get some coffee for them first. He knew the Gaines would be busy in the kitchen.

“Artemus…” she said as soon as the door closed behind Jim.

“Lil, I was a stupid fool. I didn’t take time to think. It suddenly occurred to me last night that Jim was deflecting your anger. He was willing to take the brunt of it instead of allowing you to be angry with me.”

“Oh. Oh! My dear! I would never have been angry with you, or Jim. I knew you were both doing your job, and I understand the situation. But how lovely of him. I will thank him… when the time comes.”

Artie knew what she meant. When the real killer was identified. “You know that Ballou and Stack are going to try to make it to town today,” he said then. “I have a notion they won’t be back until at least tomorrow. Tonight at the earliest.”

“And they might bring the local law officer.”

“Exactly. Which means we had better get this straightened up as soon as we can. I think that’s Jim’s idea. We need to sit down and go over every thing we know and see if something jumps up that no one has realized yet.”

Lily sat down on the edge of the bed. “Even if… if I’m taken to the local jail…”

“Jim and I won’t stop working on it. That’s a given. But it’ll be much easier if we are still all together, rather than scattered to Denver and beyond.” He sat alongside and put his arm over her shoulder. “And we will, my dear. The answer is there, staring us in the face. We just have to pull our blinders off.”

Hearing the murmur of voices, including Jim’s, out in the hall, Artie rose to go open the door. Jim was in conversation with the two stagecoach drivers. He wished them well then turned toward the open door as Ballou and Stack headed for the stairs. Jim was carrying a tray with three steaming cups of coffee, a small coffeepot, and a plate of buttered toasted bread.

“Mrs. Gaines wanted to add jam, but there just wasn’t enough room on the tray,” Jim said as he placed the tray on a small table Lily quickly cleared. “I think this will do until we can get down to breakfast.”

Lily mostly listened as the two men started reviewing everything they could recall noticing from the moment they arrived at the inn. She winced when Artie repeated her ill-chosen comment about Gladys Norwood’s throat. Artemus pointed out that he had thought Mrs. Garber was too far away to have heard it, when she actually did.

“I wonder if she repeated it to someone else,” Artie mused.

Jim lowered his coffee cup. “That’s it! That must be what she wanted to tell me and didn’t have opportunity.”

“What do you mean, Jim?” Lily asked.

“Mrs. Garber told someone else about your comment. That someone else could have seized on it as the perfect opportunity to kill Gladys using that very method.”

“And then killed Mrs. Garber before she could reveal who she told,” Artie concluded.

“Any of the people at the table last night could have heard her speak to me. If only Ruth had not interrupted, or Mrs. Garber brushed her off. I suppose she was afraid even then to make too much of a scene.”

Artemus sighed. “So close yet so far. To whom did Mrs. Garber talk after overhearing the remark?”

Jim suddenly stood up, so swiftly as to almost slosh his coffee out. “Ruth!”

Lily looked up at him. “Ruth?”

“That first evening—that’s what I’ve been trying to remember! I saw her sitting with Mrs. Garber and they seemed to be in a serious conversation. I didn’t think anything of it, figuring they were discussing our current situation, being snowed in.”

“Oh, Jim, it couldn’t be Ruth. She couldn’t kill anyone. She wouldn’t try to make me look like a murderer. She’s my friend!”

Artie had been thinking hard and now he stood up as well, though not quite as swiftly. “The powder.”

Now Jim was puzzled. “What?”

“The powder on Gladys’s bed. We assumed it was hers, but what if it was on the murderer.”

“Oh, god,” Lily moaned. “Ruth was so pale that morning. In the dim hallway, I just thought she was near fainting because of discovering the body. But she could have whitened her face with powder!”

The two agents looked at each other. “We will need more proof than speculation that Mrs. Garber told her about Lily’s words, and the powder,” Jim said. “We need the knife.”

“I think we should search Ruth’s room again.”

“And we’d better have Judge Slayton present again. We can let him in on it.”

Artemus left to fetch the judge. Jim turned to Lily, who now had tears in her eyes. “We could be wrong, Lily.”

She shook her head. “I don't think so. It all adds up. That morning Gladys was killed, remember? Ruth wanted to be the one to leave the breakfast table and go ‘wake’ her. I think she entered my room, took my robe to Gladys’s room to smear it with blood, brought it back, and then started screaming. She must have put the face powder on first so that some spilled on the bed while she… did that.”

Jim smiled slightly. “You make a good detective.”

“I just don't know why she would do such a thing!”

“Perhaps we can persuade her to tell us. We’ll search her room. If we find the knife, that will be evidence enough.”

“How could she have done the… the murders without getting blood all over herself?”

“Good question. We didn’t find any bloody garments during the first search. She hid them well.”

When Artemus and the judge arrived, the three men went to Ruth’s room. Artie had paused downstairs to ask Mr. Manchester for the passkey, so he used it on the door. Although they felt they had done a thorough search the previous two times, today they literally sifted through everything. Taking garments from the wardrobe and dressing table piece by piece, lifting the mattress, looking under furniture.

Nothing was found. No knife. No bloody garments.

They returned to Lily’s room where Judge Slayton had a suggestion. “From what you say the murder weapon is like, if it is the knife stolen from the kitchen, it might easily be secreted on a person. Under Miss Gwinn’s skirts, for instance.”

“I could search her,” Lily offered, then shook her head. “No, I guess that’s not a good idea.”

Her fiancé smiled. “Thanks for the offer, but you are right. Not a good idea. Judge, I suggest you go down to the parlor and bring up Miss Gwinn and Mrs. Hynes. I’ll fetch Mrs. Gaines.”

“Mrs. Gaines?” The judge repeated the name.

Jim nodded. “I think that’s a good idea. Mrs. Hynes is not likely to become hysterical, nor will Mrs. Gaines. And they are both strong and healthy women in case Ruth becomes… unnerved.”

“What shall I tell Miss Gwinn?” the judge inquired. “Mightn’t she get suspicious?”

“How about that I’m feeling ill and I asked for them?” Lily suggested.

“Good idea. Mr. Gordon, you’d best go first so that they don’t see you downstairs when we emerge from the parlor.”

“Yes. I’ll stay back until I see you and the two women well up the stairway.”

W*W*W*W*W

Neque enim lex est aequior ulla, quam necis artifices arte perire sua.
[Nor is there any law more just, than that he who has plotted death shall perish by his own plot.]
Ars Amatoria (I, 655), Ovid (Publius Ovidius Naso; 43 BC-c. 17 AD), Roman poet


Haidee Gaines was surprised but willing. “That nice Miss Gwinn? Are you sure, Mr. Gordon?”

“No, we’re not absolutely sure. But some things seem to add up. We need to search Miss Gwinn’s person, and are asking you and Mrs. Hynes to do it.”

She looked toward her husband, who just shrugged, then peeled off her apron. “Well, if this helps prove she didn’t do those awful things, then I’ll help.”

As they reached the base of the stairs, Artemus saw Judge Slayton, Ruth Gwinn, and Mae Hynes just at the top of the stairs, turning toward Lily’s room. Artemus took the cook’s arm as they ascended. “All you’ll need to do is ask Miss Gwinn to raise her skirt to make sure the knife is not hidden there, and then perhaps pat around the area of her midriff and… elsewhere. However, experience tells me that if she has it on her person, it’s attached to her leg somewhere.”

“Oh my,” Mrs. Gaines muttered. “I’ve been cook here since the inn opened, and never has anything like this happened.”

“I know. Let us hope and pray it never happens again.”

By the time they entered the room, Jim and the judge had informed Ruth of the true reason she had been asked to come upstairs. She must have believed the story of Lily feeling ill. However, now her face was livid, eyes burning.

“How dare you! I know what you’re doing! That Secret Service agent…” she pointed to Artemus as he entered, “… wants to frame me to protect his sweetheart!”

“Nothing of the kind,” the judge replied firmly. “Mr. West and Mr. Gordon have pointed out several items to me that indicate you could be implicated. We searched your room again. Now we wish these ladies to inspect your person. If you are not hiding anything, you have nothing to fear.”

Now Ruth spun toward Lily, who had positioned herself some distance from the group, not wanting to give the impression she was going to be involved in the search. “You! You always have your own way! You took my place in the company! I should have been the next star!”

“Ruth, I have no idea what you are talking about. Nothing was mentioned about replacing you when I was hired. I was under the impression I was replacing Isabel Lowery.”

“First it was Isabel!” Ruth ranted, waving her arms. “Then Grace. Then you. That stupid Grace didn’t even know you displaced her. But I should have been the one. I have given my all to this company. Twelve years! Twelve years!” She had lost all control now, and perhaps any vestige of sanity.

Jim glanced at Artemus. So the motive was envy. “Ruth,” he said quietly, “please allow Mrs. Gaines and Mrs. Hynes to search you, and this will all be over with.”

Ruth whirled toward him. “I’m not going to allow them to touch me! I don’t have to. You can’t make me!”

“Actually they can,” the judge spoke firmly. “They have evidence enough to show cause.”

Artemus thought the barrister was overstating it somewhat, but Ruth stared at Slayton for a long moment. Then she shook her head. Her voice was quieter, but the fury continued to glow in her eyes. “You’re lying. They couldn’t have found anything. It was perfect.”

“Not perfect, Ruth,” Artie returned. “You made mistakes. Every criminal does.”

She stiffened. “I am not a criminal! I’m just taking what is rightfully mine, the star of the company.”

“So you murdered Gladys, using Lily’s unfortunate remark against her,” Jim suggested.

Ruth’s smile was ugly. “It was perfect. Perfect! You couldn’t have found anything to incriminate me. Lily is going to hang for it and I will be the lead actress of the company. It’s my due!”

“You killed Mrs. Garber because she was going to tell me she repeated Lily’s comment to you.”

“You can’t prove that either. Mrs. Garber is dead.”

“So if we cannot prove anything,” Artie said with a shrug of his shoulders, “you will have no objection to being searched.”

Ruth Gwinn appeared to have momentarily forgotten the reason she had been brought upstairs. She stepped back, and found the wardrobe behind her. Jim saw the desperation start to grow in her eyes.

“Ruth, just allow Mrs. Hynes and Mrs. Gaines to search you and it will all be over.”

“No!”

Her screamed word filled the room as Ruth abruptly lifted her skirt, displaying well-formed stocking clad legs. But no one noticed that. She swiftly reached down and seized the thin-bladed knife that was held against her calf by elastic garters. As her skirt fell and the knife lifted, she waved it menacingly.

“Stay back! I’ll kill anyone who tries to stop me.”

“You have nowhere to go, Ruth,” Artie said gently, moving so that he was in front of the two women who had come to perform a civic duty. “You can’t get far in this snow.”

“Oh yes I can! I’ll lock all of you in here, and get Francis to help me. We’ll take horses and be long gone by the time you are free to pursue me.”

“Francis won’t help you,” Jim reminded. “You killed the woman he loved.”

“Bah! He loved me. He still loves me, now that she’s gone. Tell them, Lily!”

Lily was startled. “I know he was always fond of you, Ruth. We all were. You were friends with everyone. You are my friend.”

“Francis loves me! I know it! And he’ll help me. We’ll join the company in Denver and you and Gladys won’t even be missed.” She giggled a little. “Dear Gladys didn’t know how much she was helping me when she drove Grace away. One less to deal with. And then this wonderful snowstorm…” Ruth seemed to shake herself mentally. “Don’t anyone move!”

Jim was closest to the door as she began to edge toward it. He watched her closely, waiting for that moment when her attention might be diverted just enough that he could move. She held the knife out threateningly, and Jim was aware that he could get cut when he grabbed for it. He also knew he had to try. If she got down to the parlor and confronted Francis Ogilvie, bad things could happen.

“Ruth, think this over,” Artemus said, eyeing his partner out of the corner of his vision. Jim was going to make a move, he knew, and getting Ruth’s attention his way might help. “You don’t want to hurt anyone else.”

She glared at him. “I’ll hurt anyone who tries to stop me from getting what I want… what I deserve!”

With that she turned and moved swiftly toward the door. Jim acted, and as she pulled the door open, he grabbed at her arm. She shrieked and brought the knife around. Blood spurted from Jim’s right arm and his hand loosened.

“I’m okay, I’m okay,” Jim gritted, grabbing the cut with his left hand. “Get her!”

“Ruth! Ruth! Stop!” Artie yelled as he dashed out into the hallway. He saw her running toward the stairs, trying to lift her skirts out of the way. She did not succeed.

With a scream, she fell forward at the head of the stairs, her feet tangled in her long skirt. Artie could not get there in time to help, only to watch her tumble head over heels down the staircase. He raced down, and pretty much knew he was too late as soon as he reached her. She lay very still.

As curious guests piled out of the parlor, the Gaines and Mr. Manchester came from the lobby and kitchen, and Jim and the others descended the stairs, Artemus knelt and carefully turned the unmoving woman over. Etta Downs cried out and turned into her husband’s arms. The knife Ruth had stolen from the kitchen, the one she had used to cut the throats of two women she considered threatening, was now projecting from just under her breasts.

Artie felt for the pulse as Jim reached him then looked up, shaking his head. Francis Ogilvie and Jonathan Earle were there, leaning over.

“What happened? What happened?” Francis demanded. “Ruth…!”

Artie got to his feet. “She’s dead, Francis. Ruth killed Gladys and Mrs. Garber. When we confronted her, she panicked and fell down the stairs. You can see…”

“‘Justitia suum cuique distribuit,’” Jonathan said softly. He glanced around to see the confusion on some faces. “Cicero. ‘Justice renders to every one his due.’”

“It would seem so,” Mr. Manchester muttered. “My Lord. I never would have thought…” His words trailed off.

“Are you sure, Mr. West?” Caleb Largent asked.

“We’re sure. We were fairly certain when we took her upstairs. Confronted with being found with the weapon on her person, she…”

Artie took it up as Jim seemed to lose his train of thought, staring down at the dead woman. Artemus knew Jim had liked Ruth, had often chosen to spend time with her when the two agents joined any social event where the acting company attended. “She broke. That’s the only way to describe it. She killed Gladys and framed Lily to get them out of the troupe, believing she would then be moved up into the star role.”

Ogilvie’s eyes widened. “Why would she think that? She did not have star quality. She knew that.”

“She didn’t believe she couldn’t be a star,” Lily said, holding onto Artie’s arm. “Somehow, over the years, she felt cheated. I’m so sorry I didn’t realize.”

Judge Slayton spoke firmly. “Don’t anyone start blaming themselves. I’ve seen enough criminals of all sorts—and I’m sure Mr. Gordon and Mr. West have as well—to realize that the majority of them have only themselves to blame. It’s easier for them to say that others caused their problems, were the reasons they resorted to drastic measures. They can lie and manipulate all they want. In the end, it is on their heads only. ‘Justice renders to every one his due,’ as Mr. Earle so rightly quoted.”

W*W*W*W*W

Envy lurks at the bottom of the human heart, like a viper in its hole.
—Honore de Balzac (1799-1850), French novelist


When Ballou and Stack returned with the local sheriff the following morning, they as well as the lawman were surprised to learn that three bodies were now in the cellar room, not two. The sheriff had come on a large heavy sledge drawn by two draft horses. He reported that a snowplow was coming out from town, but he was unsure if it would reach the inn before the next day.

“I never saw so much snow!” he complained.

But he listened to the two agents and the judge as they explained the occurrences in the inn, talked to other witnesses, and came to the conclusion that Ruth Gwinn was indeed the murderess. “Kind of fitting that she caused her own end. It’ll save a nasty trial, or even worse, hanging of a woman.” With assistance from others, the three corpses were placed on the sledge to be taken to town right away.

Francis Ogilvie told the sheriff that he would arrange for the burials of both Gladys Norwood and Ruth Gwinn. Artemus could see that the company director was still experiencing guilt where both women were concerned. He and Jonathan talked about it and the older actor said he was going to attempt to convince Francis to take some time off, go visit his brother in Florida, as far away from the cold-driven memories as possible.

“I can handle the troupe. I have before when Francis went off for one reason or another.”

Earle also said he would assure that Ogilvie knew he had to take more care in hiring replacements for the two deceased actresses. “Talent and personality. Both are important. We have a fine family in this company, and Gladys came close to ruining it because of Francis’s infatuation.”

Matters became more relaxed in the inn once the sledge started back toward town. Caleb accompanied his sister, to arrange for her burial in the churchyard in town. He would then go back to Denver to inform his niece and nephew of their mother’s tragic end. “I’m going to invite both of them, and their families, to come live on the ranch, now or anytime. It’s going to be theirs one day anyway,” he informed Jim and Artemus.

More work was needed to clear the snow in the area, and it was while clearing a path around the house that Jim and Isaac Hynes found two bloodstained petticoats covered by snow almost directly under the window of Ruth Gwinn’s room. Another puzzle solved. Lily, Mrs. Hynes and Mrs. Downs had spent time packing up the rooms of Gladys, Ruth, and Mrs. Garber, and had not found anything that indicated having been used as a shield against the blood of the victims.

“She threw them out the window,” Artie said, shaking his head when told. “Of course. So simple. She assumed they wouldn’t likely be found until the thaw, and by then their grisly purpose might not even be recognizable.”

“And if we hadn’t had this extra time to fill waiting for the plow,” Hynes offered, “we might not have gone so far as to clear that area.”

By the time the snowplow lumbered by the inn the following early afternoon, all the guests had packed their belongings and had them stored in the stagecoach in which they would be riding, one going north, the other south. Because space was now available in the actors’ hired coach, Jim and Artemus were invited to ride with the four remaining members. They tied their horses at the back and willingly accepted.

Stopping in town was necessary to finish the legal business, as well as to use the telegraph there to inform Washington what the devil had happened to the two agents who disappeared off the map. A short wire also was sent to the train. As well, Ogilvie needed to contact his other company members who had preceded them to Denver, plus talk to his friend for whom he had promised the special performance, assuring him that the next time the troupe was in the area, they would fulfill the pledge. While Jim and Ogilvie went to the telegraph office, Artemus and Lily sat with the sheriff to write out a report of the incidents at the inn. When Jim returned he signed the report as well.

The trip to Denver consumed longer time than it might have on a clear summer day. Some stretches of the road had not been cleared by local residents, or only partially so. Because the drive was so stressful and fatiguing, both Jim and Artemus took turns up on the box to relieve Burl Ballou, who gratefully rested in the coach.

The slow journey allowed for some talking. At first the recent tragedy was not discussed, but eventually it had to come up. Surprisingly, Francis was the one to open the conversation. He told them that he had not realized it until lying awake that last night in the inn, reviewing the events in his head, but he now knew he had not truly been in love with Gladys Norwood.

“I believe now that my infatuation was due to her remarkable resemblance to my late wife, Anna. It was a physical resemblance only, however. Gladys was nothing like Anna in personality. But I guess I hung onto her, perhaps believing that somehow I would remake her over into Anna. When Gladys was killed it was… it was as though I had lost Anna again. The pain was unbearable.”

He agreed with Jonathan that he should take much more care in hiring actors from now on. “I think I did not do too badly prior to Gladys.” He smiled toward Lily, who smiled back and patted his hand.

All four members of the company admitted that they had seen nothing in Ruth’s behavior over the years to indicate her envy and unhappiness. “Somehow she just expected that when an actress left the troupe,” Carlyle mused, “she would be next in line for the lead position, when she should have spoken to Francis about it.”

“So much would have been avoided,” Lily sighed.

Epilog

Neque est ullum certius amicitiae vinculum, quam consensus et societas consiliorum et voluntatum.
There is no more sure tie between friends than when they are united in their objects and wishes.
Oratio Pro Cnoeo Plancio (II), Cicero (Marcus Tullius Cicero; often called “Tully” for short; 106-43 BC), Roman philosopher, statesman, and orator


Upon finally reaching Denver, the actors went to their hotel to meet their fellow troupe members, who were filled with curiosity regarding what had happened, having only been told that two of their group were dead. Jim West and Artemus Gordon went out to the rail yards where the Wanderer was waiting, where their crew greeted them warmly.

“Until the day you sent us the telegram,” Orrin Cobb said, “that wire was clicking constantly, with Colonel Richmond asking where the devil you were!”

Cobb also told them that not all the tracks east were cleared yet from the snow. “Seems it snowed even more in Nebraska than here, if you can believe that. So we’re going to have to layover another day or two.”

That news suited Artemus just fine, and he suggested that they invite Lily for dinner the following evening. Jim agreed to that. They still had a lot to talk about, things that were not necessarily relevant to the case.

Lily was delighted to accept the invitation, and Artie took a hack to her hotel to bring her back to the train. Jim immediately assured his partner that he had watched the chicken in the oven carefully and it had not begun to char. “Only a little singed,” he teased.

While Artemus was finishing dinner preparation, Jim and Lily sat on the sofa with glasses of wine. She took his free hand.

“Jim, I want to thank you again for what you did at the inn.”

He looked at her blandly. “Solve the murders you mean?”

“Well, you helped with that, certainly.” She smiled teasingly. “But taking on the investigation, especially when I was the main suspect, lest I experience any anger toward Artemus.”

Jim looked down at his glass. He did not like to talk about such things, normally. “It just… seemed the right thing to do.”

“I cannot honestly say one way or another how I would have felt if Artie had seemed to believe my guilt, at least officially, as you did. And I don't know how it would have affected our relationship. Most of all, I am delighted I did not have to worry about that… because of you. James, you are a wonderful friend to both of us.”

He looked up now. “I think you and Artie have done me a favor a time or two.”

Lily did not pursue it further, knowing the reticent James West did not like displays of emotion. However, when they were all seated at the table, she lifted her freshly filled glass.

“To Artemus, the sweetest sweetheart a woman could have, and to James, the best friend any man or woman could have.”

Jim grinned. “You left out one, Lily.” He lifted his glass. “To the bravest woman I know.”

“Here, here!” Artemus cried. “Now eat before the feast gets cold. Or it starts snowing again.”

“Bite your tongue!” Lily and Jim said in chorus.

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 Thackery (1811-1863), English novelist, satirist, and critic

THE END


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
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