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 The Night of the Agent Who Was Not There
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California gal
SS senior field agent

USA
8383 Posts

Posted - 04/28/2015 :  12:19:09  Show Profile
The Night of the Agent Who Was Not There

It is not true that a man can believe or disbelieve what he will. But it is certain that an active desire to find any proposition true will unconsciously tend to that result by dismissing importunate suggestions which run counter to the belief, and welcoming those which favor it. The psychological law, that we only see what interests us, and only assimilate what is adapted to our condition, causes the mind to select its evidence.
—George Henry Lewes (1817-1878), English philosopher, critic, dramatist and scientist

‡‡‡‡‡

'T was grief no more, or grief and rage were one within her soul; at last 't was rage alone.
—John Dryden (1631-1700), English poet and dramatist


Even if the dim light in the hallway had not been enough to read the name printed on the card attached to the door, the gold-painted star would have informed Jim West that this was Lily Fortune’s dressing room. Artemus had created that star some while ago, with a hook system on its reverse that allowed his fiancée to hang it easily on any door or wall in the multitude of theaters where she worked around the country. She was the star of Artie’s heart as well as of the theater troupe.

He rapped on the door, and almost instantly, a familiar voice called out, “Who is it?”

“It’s Jim, Lily. I’m looking for Artemus.”

For a few seconds a silence followed. Jim was about to speak again, when he heard a crash from inside, and a moment later the door jerked open. Lily stood there, her lovely face filled with rage, eyes burning.

“How dare you come here!”

Jim was startled. “What?” Behind her, he could see the stool in front of her dressing table had toppled sideways to the floor.

“Go away! I don’t want to see you or talk to you!” She started to step back to close the door—slam it probably—but Jim reached out with a hand on the surface of the door to stop its movement.

“Lily, what’s wrong? What did I do?” Lily was not a woman to behave like this over something trivial.

She stopped, still glaring, and took a deep breath. “How could you, Jim? How dare you behave as though you know nothing? I saw you. Jeremy saw you. The colonel saw you! Artie is your best friend. He loves you like a brother. And so do—did I.”

“Will you please tell me what happened? Where is Artemus?”

“In the hospital! What did you expect after what you did to him!” Tears began rolling down her cheeks. “Go away!”

With her words about the hospital, Jim’s hand had dropped from the door. In his shock, he simply stood there while she succeeded in slamming the door this time. After a moment, he tapped on the door again. He heard the lock click. “Lily, I don’t understand. What are you talking about?”

“Go away!” she cried from the other side of the door. “Please go away!”

Jim could hear the tears in her voice now. He knew she was not going to open the door again. Shaking his head in complete bafflement, he turned to make his way back down the hall, nodding briefly at the old man who guarded the door from his small desk. That man had greeted him cordially when he entered, directing him to Miss Fortune’s dressing room. He obviously did not know anything about what had the actress so upset.

He had left Blackjack in the alley, and mounted up now. Hospital. Which hospital? Washington must have a dozen! He considered going to department headquarters for the information, but instantly decided against it. He would be persona non grata there at this time, no doubt. His fellow agents would be aware of what had Lily Fortune so upset. Riding slowing down the street, he mentally reviewed the hospitals he was aware of.

The Old Naval Hospital at Pennsylvania and Ninth would be a good place to start, he mused. Both he and Artemus had been treated there in the past, as had other agents. No doubt the colonel would have thought of it instantly. He headed in that direction, and gained the site about forty-five minutes later after navigating the heavy midday traffic.

The reception area was empty but for a gray-haired man sitting behind the main desk. The man looked up, smiling. “May I help you, sir?”

“Could you tell me where I’d find Artemus Gordon? I believe he is a patient here.”

“One moment.” The man opened a large ledger book and began scanning the pages. “Here we are. Mr. Artemus Gordon was admitted yesterday. Moreover, he is allowed visitors now. Room 215, second floor, not too far from the stairway.” He pointed to a door at one side that was standing open, with lower stairs in view.

Jim thanked him with a nod and a smile and headed for that door, releasing a breath he had not realized he was holding. A chance had existed that either Artemus was not allowed visitors, indicating his situation was very serious, or that James West was to be barred; neither seemed to be the case.

He mounted the stairs two at a time, and quickly spotted room 215. He was mildly surprised to note no guard at the door. However, upon opening that door, he understood why. Artemus was in the bed, and Jeremy Pike sat in a chair alongside the bed. Pike jumped to his feet instantly, his hand going inside his jacket to emerge holding a small pistol.

“What the hell are you doing here?”

“Jeremy, Jeremy!” Artie cried at once, lifting himself up on his elbows and immediately settling back down due to the discomfort in his ribs the movement cause. “Put that away!”

Pike ignored him, glaring as Jim moved to the foot end of the bed. “How are you, pal?”

“Sore as the devil. At least you didn’t break any ribs.”

Jim was startled. “Artie, I didn’t…”

His partner waved a hand. “I know, partner. I don't know what this guy wanted, or who he was, but I know it was not you.”

“You can’t get away with that ‘all innocence’ act, West,” Pike growled. “We did see you!”

Artie rolled his eyes at Jim and was about to respond when the door abruptly burst open to admit Colonel James Richmond, also holding his pistol. “West! You’re under arrest!”

“Colonel,” Artie interjected. “I told you I am not pressing charges.”

“And I’ve told you you’re a fool,” the colonel snapped back. “This man beat you to within an inch of your life!”

“Not quite.” Artie’s voice was dry. “I’m sore, but very much alive.”

“Will someone tell me just what happened?” Jim put in.

“As if you don't know!” Pike snarled. Jim thought he had never seen Jeremy so enraged, so ugly with hatred.

“Artie?” Jim gazed at his partner.

Artemus started speaking before either of the surly men in his room had a chance to. “Yesterday I picked up Lily at the theater for a luncheon engagement. She had heard of a small café on B Street she wanted to try, so that is where we went. It was good, but not spectacular. Afterwards, she suggested a walk down to a small park nearby. Upon leaving the restaurant, we encountered the colonel and Pike, and Lily invited them to join us.

“We continued to the park, which was a very pleasant spot. We sat down on a couple of benches near a green sward to converse, when Lily pointed out into the grass and said she saw something shiny in the grass. She asked me to investigate. I did so, and while I was bending over, inspecting the grass—and seeing nothing—I was suddenly struck heavily from behind, on the back of my head. I went down, not unconscious but nearly so, and then was attacked with kicks to the rib and abdomen. I went out cold without seeing my attacker, then woke up here.”

Jim was silent a moment, looking at Pike and Richmond. “You believe I did that? Could you not see that the man wasn’t me?”

“It was you!” Richmond all but shouted. “We saw you! Lily saw you!”

“This occurred in the early afternoon?” Jim looked at Artie, who nodded. “Yesterday afternoon I was in Baltimore, where I have been for the last five days, as you all know, visiting my friend Richard Staley. At…”

“Staley has been your friend since before the war,” Richmond interrupted loudly and angrily. “He would lie for you.”

Jim held his temper. “At noon until close to three, I was having lunch with Richard and his wife Enid at their home, along with Enid’s parents, Deputy Chief of Police Martin Painter and his wife. I met Mr. and Mrs. Painter for the first time at that meal. I rather doubt they would ‘lie’ for me.”

Artie looked at his superior and fellow agent. Confusion was on their faces. He himself was perplexed. All three of them, Lily Fortune, Jeremy Pike, and Colonel James Richmond, had assured him with utmost confidence that the man who had assailed him was none other than his partner and best friend, James West. Despite what they said, he could not and did not believe it. Beyond the fact that he knew from a telegraph message received early that morning that Jim was still in Baltimore at the time, he knew Jim West would never do such a thing. Never.

“Colonel,” Artie said then, “would you and Jer leave me and Jim alone for a little while. We need to discuss some things.”

The two men named were not the only ones surprised by the request. Jim appreciated that his partner obviously trusted him implicitly, but he was unsure what Artie wanted to talk about. Richmond and Pike argued for a few minutes, but yielded, telling Gordon that they would be right outside the door.

Artie was grinning when the door shut. “So don’t start beating me up, James.”

Jim chuckled, taking the chair Pike vacated. “I’ll remember that. What did you want to talk about?”

“The obvious. What’s going on?”

“You were there. I wasn’t, remember.”

“That’s just it. I didn’t see a thing. I barely heard the man’s footsteps coming up behind me on the soft grass. Jeremy told me that ‘you’ had both fists clenched together when I was hit initially. When I went down, he kicked me half a dozen times, then took off running down the street.”

“Did Pike and the colonel attempt to stop him? Or chase after him?”

“I’m not sure. Apparently, Lily was hysterical, so they may have been helping her. The whole scene is not very clear to me yet. I just know that according to the three witnesses, someone who looked like you attacked me.”

Jim grimaced. “We’ve encountered a few people who can make duplicates.”

“I know. What is this supposed to accomplish? Surely, whoever it is would know that it would not pass muster. Even if Richmond and Pike believe…”

“And Lily.”

Artie sighed, wincing a little. “I know. I haven’t really had much of a chance to talk to her. She’s been busy rehearsing. I expect her to come by later this evening.”

“I saw her,” Jim said. He told his partner how he had arrived at the Wanderer and not finding anyone, had gone to the theater to speak to Lily Fortune. “I have to say her reaction was startling.”

“I can imagine. Lily can get a bit emotional at times. But I’m surprised, just as I’m surprised with Jeremy and the colonel, that she would believe you capable of such a thing.”

“How long are you in for?”

“I think I can get released tomorrow. As I said, nothing was broken, not even cracked. I’m sore in the ribcage and have a little headache. That’s all.”

“Give me more details on the incident. I think I’ll go take a look at the area today, maybe get an idea of what happened. I take it no other witnesses came forward.”

“None that I know of. I don't think Richmond even reported it to the police. I thought he might despite me saying I would not press charges. He decided to handle it in-house, I guess.”

“It’s bizarre,” Jim murmured. “Really bizarre.”

W*W*W*W*W

Eyes are more accurate witnesses than ears.
—Heraclitus of Ephesus (c. 540-c. 480 BC), Greek philosopher


The colonel and Pike glared anew at Jim as he exited Artie’s room, but neither spoke nor attempted to stop him. He left the hospital, mounted up, and headed toward the park that Artie had described to him. It was in a quiet, semi-residential area towards the outskirts of the city. The shops were small ones, along with a few professional offices. As he dismounted near the sward of green grass, bushes, and trees, he saw few people on the street. Yesterday had been Sunday so undoubtedly even fewer possible witnesses had been present. He had seen the café up the street but did not bother to stop there at this time; unlikely that any patrons or employees there had seen the incident.

The park was pleasant, if small, and well attended to. The grasses were lush, and several beds of flowers bloomed on the borders. Artie had also given him directions to the area where the attack had occurred. The spot was located in the interior, with the outer hedges and bushes pretty much disguising it from the street.

Even now, signs of the scuffle were visible, with some sod disturbed. Jim looked around carefully, seeing nothing that would even remotely assist in identifying the actual assailant. I wonder what Lily thought she saw in the grass, he mused, walking around and eyeing the ground. He saw a scrap of paper, and upon picking it up discovered it was a discarded cigarette paper. Nothing shiny at all.

Jim was about to give it up and depart when something caught his eye under some azalea bushes off to the side. Looked like a piece of cloth, blue in color. He strode across the lawn toward it and was startled when a man suddenly rolled out from under the bush. The fellow came to his knees, holding out his hands, beseechingly.

“I wasn’t doin’ nothin’. Just catch some winks, you know? I’ll leave!” He scrambled to his feet. He was a thin man, in his early twenties, Jim thought, with lank blond hair and a somewhat scraggly beard. His blue-gray eyes revealed his unnerved condition.

“Hold on,” Jim said, smiling, and reaching out to touch the man’s arm. “I’m not a policeman. Not a regular one anyway. Do you… er… nap here often?”

“Well, yeah. It’s a good quiet place and the, uh, cops don’t see me from the street.” The man stuffed his hands in his pockets, trying to appear belligerent but failing as his eyes could not quite pick up the bravado.

“You weren’t here yesterday at this time, were you?”

“Why d’ya wanta know?”

“Friend of mine was attacked here. I’m looking for witnesses.”

Finally, the young fellow brightened. “Yeah, I seen it. Man, it was crazy. I didn’t know what to do, so I just didn’t do nothin’.”

“Let’s go sit down,” Jim invited, leading him to a nearby wrought-iron bench. “What’s your name?”

“Al—Alvin Pitt.”

Jim extended his hand. “James West.”

Alvin took the hand but shook his head. “Naw, you ain’t James West.”

Jim cocked his head. “Why do you say that?”

“On account of I saw the newspaper this mornin’. Said that James West was the fellow what jumped that Gordon, and you don’t look nothin’ like him.”

Jim reached inside his jacket to extract his identification folder, which he handed to Pitt. “What do you think?”

Alvin Pitt studied the information inside the folder, especially the photograph. “Well, that’s crazy, ain’t it? This sure looks gen-u-een.”

“It is,” Jim nodded. “I’m James West. But you’re telling me the fellow you saw attacking my partner looked nothing like me?”

“Not a bit. He was bigger across the chest and shoulders. Black hair. I think he had a beard too. Happened so fast, you know.”

“Tell me exactly what you saw.”

Alvin Pitt explained that he worked nights as a watchman at some warehouses a few blocks away. He and a friend rented a room in a nearby boarding house, and for a while, it worked fine, because his pal worked days and Al worked nights. The room had one narrow bed in it, not suitable for two people. Then his friend lost his job and the only one he could find to replace it was also at nights. Therefore, for now, until they worked out something better, they took turns by the week sleeping in the house or sleeping wherever they could find. This was Alvin’s week outside.

“Don’t mind ‘cause it’s summer,” he grinned briefly. “Sure hope Abel finds a different job or we get another room before winter. Landlord said another guest is talkin’ about movin’ on, and we can have that room if he does. Has a double bed. Anyhow, this park is a good place on account of it’s quiet and the bulls don’t bother to come around. I always kind of hide myself like under that bush anyway.”

He had been awakened by voices and saw the three men and a lovely woman strolling along the path near him. They had paused by the lawn and although Alvin could not hear the exact words spoken, he saw the lady point to the lawn. One of the men, the one that had been holding her arm, went out onto the lawn. He bent over and seemed to be looking for something. All of a sudden another man appeared, the brawny black-haired man previously mentioned.

“He just run up behind the fellow who was lookin’ ‘round the lawn and just walloped him on the back of the head. Had his fists balled like this.” Alvin clasped his hands together, wrapping them tight in a firm knot and raised his arms above his head, bringing them down sharply. “The other guy went down like he was pole-axed. Then this big guy, he starts kickin’ him. Maybe for a minute, maybe two. Kickin’ hard in the ribs. Then he just turns and runs off.”

Jim was silent a moment. “What did the others do while this attack was occurring?”

“That was the strangest of all. They just stood there watchin’. Not doin’ nothin’.”

“The woman wasn’t… reacting?”

“Nope. Just lookin’.”

Again, Jim pondered for half a minute. That certainly did not jibe with what Pike and Richmond were saying. “What happened next?”

“Well, I was just thinkin’ maybe I should roll out and try t’help, when two other men came runnin’ up, sayin’ things like, we can get the cops, and offerin’ to help take the fellow to the hospital. But the older man tells them to vamoose, they don’t need any help. I could see the two guys were surprised, maybe even a little mad.”

“Did you know them?”

“Naw, never saw them before. I don’t hang around this area that much… except to sleep.”

For the third time Jim remained speechless, his mind racing. This is crazy! Why would Pike and Richmond not leap in to help Artie? They told Artie that Lily was hysterical… “I have to say this doesn’t make much sense,” he finally spoke aloud.

Alvin Pitt bristled. “I ain’t lyin’!”

“No, I don't think you are. You have no reason to do so. It’s just—it’s a confusing situation to me, Alvin. I was told a very different story that made no sense either. Would you mind giving me your address in case I want to talk to you further?” Jim returned the leather case to his jacket and brought out his billfold, from which he extracted a five-dollar bill.

Alvin Pitt grinned as he took the money. He gave Jim an address on a street several blocks further down, also mentioning the name of the warehouse where he worked. Jim had one more question as they stood up.

“Did you notice any other witnesses in the area at the time?”

“Oh yeah. Forgot about him. When they started to carry the beat-up man out to the street where they had waved down a hack, I rolled out on the other side and ducked behind a bush. Across the street, just by that narrow alley ‘tween the bakery and the lawyer’s office, I seen this man standin’. He seemed to be real interested, but he didn’t come across the street to see what was goin’ on. He went down that alley.”

“What did he look like?”

“Strangest lookin’ fellow I ever seen. Tall and thin. Well, he looked extra tall on account of he was wearin’ a stovepipe hat. Also had on a long black cloak, but I could tell he was thin. Here’s the funniest thing. When he turned to go into that alley, a drainpipe was hangin’ down, and he bumped his hat on it. Knocked his hat off to the ground. His head was bald as a cue-ball.” Pitt grinned with the memory.

Shaking hands again, the two men parted. Jim felt himself fortunate that he had come to the park at this specific time of day to encounter Alvin Pitt. Nevertheless, he was extremely puzzled and baffled. What was going on? Pitt said that the man who attacked Artie looked nothing like James West. So why did Lily, Pike, and Richmond, three people who knew James West well, insist that he was the one who assaulted Artemus Gordon?

Realizing he had not eaten since breakfast, Jim strode down the street to the Italian café where Artie and Lily had eaten yesterday. As Artie had informed him, the food was good. That was about all Jim could say about it as well: nothing unusual, or special. Why had Lily recommended it? Presumably, someone else told her about Paolo’s Café.

Jim engaged the waiter in conversation and learned he had been working yesterday. He remembered the pair Jim inquired about because he recognized the famous actress Lily Fortune. He had been thrilled to serve her. At first, he remembered nothing unusual that occurred during the meal. He then remembered that he had noticed a man pause and speak to the two. Jim was not overly surprised when the man the waiter described fit perfectly with the man Alvin had seen.

W*W*W*W*W

Where there is mystery, it is generally supposed that there must also be evil.
—Lord Byron (George Gordon Noel Byron; 1788-1824), English poet


Artemus looked up from the newspaper he was reading as he heard a click indicating someone was turning the door latch. A nurse no doubt. He had finally convinced Pike and Richmond to return to their duties, that he did not need constant guarding, not from assaults from Jim or anyone else. Lily was not due for a couple of hours yet.

For some reason he had not thought Jim would be returning, so was surprised and delighted when his partner appeared at the door. At least it was not a lost visitor again. That man was strange!

“What happened?” he asked as Jim closed the door behind him.

“What makes you think something happened?”

Artie grinned. “Because I know that look on your face, pal.”

Jim crossed the room and sat down on the chair beside the bed. “I found another witness to the incident, Artie!”

“What? That is terrific. I should have known you’d pull something brilliant… what?” The expression on his partner’s face was one of chagrin.

“No brilliance was needed. He rolled out from under a bush.”

“Explain. Please.”

Briskly, Jim related how he visited the site of the attack, and the young man who suddenly appeared. Artie listened raptly and silently until Jim reached the part about the attacker not looking anything like the real James West.

“Jim, that’s impossible. Lily, Jer, and the colonel all saw you—or someone that looked like you.”

“I know—which makes it even more mysterious. Artie, is it possible that while the attacker was not a doppelganger that looked like me, but that our three friends are…?”

“No, no. I’m sure that’s not probable at all. For one thing, wouldn’t I recognize my own fiancée, the woman I love? For another, while Jer and the colonel were hovering over me this morning, we talked about things that only they would know. I was attempting to convince them that the man who assaulted me was not you.”

Jim sat back in the chair and crossed his arms. “Then what’s the explanation?”

“Hanged if I know. Was there anything else you learned from this Alvin Pitt?”

“I asked him if any other witnesses appeared. He said two men came by to offer help, and Richmond sent them off with short shrift. Did not even get their names or thank them, so it seems.”

“That’s crazy.”

“I know. But that’s what he said.”

Artie chewed his lip a moment. “I’m getting the impression you believe this Pitt.”

“I do. Don’t ask me why. Maybe because he looked me straight in the eyes. He mentioned another witness, one he saw standing across the street for a few minutes before ducking down an alley. A very tall man in a black cloak and stovepipe hat, which got knocked off to reveal a bald head… what?” Artie’s eyes had opened wider with each word.

“A man of that description opened my door about an hour ago. He apologized and said he had the wrong room.”

“Really!”

“Yes, really. Not only that, I am quite certain the same man tipped his hat to us and commented about the lovely weather while we were at lunch that day. I didn’t pay that much attention to him that time. He is a very strange looking man, with a somewhat skull-like face… and a hairless head. He was wearing a black cloak and carrying a stovepipe hat today. He smiled, apologized for his mistake, said he hoped I was doing well, and departed.”

Now Jim leaned forward, elbows on knees. “Artie, what the devil is all this?”

“I haven’t a clue, Jim. Most specifically, I don't know why our friends would mistake a man with black hair and beard and a broader build as you!”

W*W*W*W*W

El miedo tiene muchos ojos.
[Fear has many eyes.]
Don Quixote (III, 6), Cervantes (Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra; 1547-1616), Spanish author


When the door to his room opened again, Artie welcomed his visitor with a smile. Lily Fortune rushed to his bedside to lean down for a kiss.

“Oh, darling! I’ve been going mad with fear. Jim came to the theater. I was so frightened. I sent a note to Colonel Richmond.”

Artie held onto her hand as she sank into the bedside chair. “Jim came here too. And so did the colonel.” So that’s how Richmond showed up at such an advantageous time! “You had nothing to worry about. Jim is not going to hurt me.”

“Darling, he already hurt you! He’s insane!”

“No. That was not Jim.”

She gazed at him a long moment, then shook her head. “How can you say that? I saw him. You know I did! So did Jeremy and the colonel.”

“Yes, dearest, I know. I have told you of the times when an evil person, such as Dr. Loveless, created a man who looked like Jim. Even like me! You certainly cannot forget the time you encountered the creature Dr. Faustina manufactured who looked like me!”

Lily winced, then shook her head. “This was Jim. I know it. He looked right at me and I saw his eyes. No one has eyes like that.”

Artie almost pointed out what Loveless did. The man known as Janus also had green eyes, so like those of James West that Artemus nearly believed that the visitor to the Wanderer was his partner, even after a close-up inspection of his eyes. Only Janus’s faux pas about dear old Aunt Maude tipped Artemus Gordon that something was amiss. He held his tongue because he could see that Lily, for whatever reason, was not going to believe anything he said at this point. Perhaps later when she calmed down and could listen rationally.

“In any case, Jim was here and made no attempt to harm me.”

“Because Pike and the colonel were present. Artie, I know how you feel about Jim. I love him too… or loved him. Something happened to him. He has gone mad.”

Artie could see the fear in her eyes. She honestly believes this, that Jim attacked me, and has lost his mind. So do Pike and Richmond. Why? He debated for a moment whether he should tell her what Jim learned today but decided against it. At this point, she would not believe him, especially because the information came from James West.

He squeezed the hand he held. “It’ll work out, my dear. We’ll find out what happened an why. I’ll be leaving this place tomorrow…”

She gasped. “You’re not going back to the Wanderer!”

“Well, yes, at least temporarily. I’ll need to pack some clothes.”

“Then ask Jeremy or someone to go with you! Please!”

Her terror was real, he saw. “I’ll be all right. I won’t be alone.” That was only a small fib. He would likely leave the hospital alone, but he would not be by himself at the train. Jim would be there.

Lily sighed. “I suppose I’m being foolish. But that assault was so brutal…”

“Don’t I know it!” Artie patted his still bandaged and aching ribs. “I’m going to find out what’s behind this, Lil, why it happened. I promise.”

“I just wish you’d have him arrested.”

“I think it’s best that he is free. I’ll find out more that way.”

“Well… perhaps. You have had more experience in these things, I guess.”

Artie lifted her hand to his lips. “I have, darling, so you mustn’t worry so much. The whole thing is going to be straightened out. Soon.”

W*W*W*W*W

Ask how to live? Write, write, write, anything;
The world's a fine believing world, write news.
Wit without Money (act II), Francis Beaumont and John Fletcher (1586-1616/1579-1625), English dramatists


Wiping the surface of the counter with the cloth, Jim glanced around. All looked well. He knew his partner might not say anything if he found his beloved galley in disarray, but he would show his dismay in some manner. I have to eat, Jim reasoned. He had considered leaving the Wanderer for breakfast, but not knowing what time Artie was going to be returning, decided against it. He wanted to be here. They had a lot to discuss…

The rap on the door of the varnish car interrupted his thoughts. That can’t be Artie this early. Artie has a key. Sticking the towel he held on the oven’s handle, he pushed through the swinging door, grabbing the jacket he had left on the back of the sofa, and pausing only to take the pistol from the gun belt hanging on the coat rack near the door. He held that weapon in his left hand, slightly behind his hip.

He opened the door to be extremely surprised—and pleased—to find a lovely young woman standing on the platform. “Mr. West?”

“Yes. How may I help you?” Her thick shiny hair was a reddish blonde shade, neatly coifed and topped with a small feather-trimmed hat that matched her stylish but practical garb, a dark maroon jacket and skirt over a white shirtwaist. The frilled jabot at the neck was really the only furbelow.

She cleared her throat, blue eyes dropping for a moment then coming up as though she was gathering courage. “My name is Margaret Doyle and I’m with the Washington Sun…

“Molly Doyle of ‘Molly’s Meandering’! What can I do for you?”

Now the blue eyes widened in amazement. “You read the society columns?”

“Indeed we do. We have gotten some very good information from such writings. Would you like to come in?”

“Thank you,” she murmured as he stepped further back.

Jim replaced the gun in the holster while her back was still to him. “Please sit down and tell me how I can help you.”

She perched on the edge of the sofa facing the rear. “I can’t believe you know who I am!”

Jim pulled a chair nearer and sat down facing her. “Early last year you wrote about Senator Avery’s son’s betrothal to Lady Emily Devonshire-Warburton.”

“Yes? It was something of a scoop, but for some reason the wedding never happened. In fact Lewis Avery is rumored to be about to become engaged to another young woman—a local girl.”

“The reason the engagement was canceled is because Lady Emily is now serving time in a woman’s prison.”

Margaret Doyle gasped. “What?”

“Mr. Gordon and I recognized ‘Lady Emily Devonshire-Warburton’ as being very similar to an alias often used by one Emma Dunn, a notorious confidence woman. She has bilked men and women all over the country, marrying a few wealthy men or getting herself hired as a companion or housekeeper by wealthy females. Once established as a fiancée, or wife in a couple of cases, or in the confidence of the woman who hired her, she makes off with as many valuables as she can carry—and usually disappears.”

“Oh, my goodness. I met Lady Emily and had no idea!”

“She’s very good. Not to mention, she’s actually closer to forty than the thirty she usually pretends to be. Forgive me. Would you like some coffee?”

“I’d love some. I got up early to come here and skipped breakfast.”

Jim paused as he got to his feet. “Why are you here?”

Roses bloomed in her cheeks. “I hoped to interview you. I want to be something more than a society columnist. I want to be a regular reporter. I was at the Old Naval Hospital last afternoon, visiting my uncle who is a doctor there, and I saw you. I had not realized you were in the city. All the reports said you were out of town.”

“I was. I presume you want to talk about the incident regarding my partner.”

“Yes.” She sighed. “I suppose you don’t want to serve me coffee now.”

“Why would I not? I’ll be right back.”

He returned minutes later with a tray holding two cups. “I don’t make coffee as fine as my partner does, but I’m learning. I forgot to ask if you use cream or sugar…”

“Neither.”

“Good.” Jim grinned, putting the tray aside and sitting down again with his own cup. “Now. What do you want to know?”

“Well… did you assault your partner?”

“No.”

She cocked her head. “Everything I read says that three very credible witnesses, including your superior, a fellow agent, and Mr. Gordon’s fiancée, swear it was you.”

“I know. We are trying to figure that out. But as I told my superior and fellow agent, I was in Baltimore at the time—with other credible witnesses to that fact.”

“Those three know you. Why would they say it was you if it wasn’t?”

“That’s a good question.”

“Ward Hammond, the reporter on the Sun who wrote the story, told me that in the past, the faces of other men have been altered so that they looked like you or Mr. Gordon.”

“Very true. However, that does not seem to be the case this time.”

“Why do you say that? I read that Mr. Gordon didn’t see his attacker, but the other three identified him as looking like you.”

Jim took a swallow of his coffee. “Miss Doyle, how far can I trust you?”

She blinked. “What do you mean?”

“If I tell you certain things and ask you not to publish them yet…”

“Oh! Certainly. I have a friend, a retired newspaperman, who is sort of tutoring me. He said that one has to gain the trust of people involved. I think this would be a good example. I’ll not write anything you ask me to hold back.”

“Good. I found another witness to the incident who described the attacker as looking nothing like me.”

“Why then did the others say it was you?”

“We’re still trying to figure that out. Mr. Gordon will be released from the hospital today, and we always work better together. Also, that fourth witness saw a man who appeared to be watching what was going on. A strange-appearing man who also stopped by Mr. Gordon’s room at the hospital yesterday.”

Molly lowered her cup. “Strange-appearing? What did he look like?”

“According to my partner and the other witness, he is very tall and thin, bald head, wearing a stovepipe hat and long black cape. His face is… cadaverous. You know him?” Jim saw the growing amazement on her expression.

“Do you know what the ‘morgue’ is at a newspaper, Mr. West?”

“Where the archives of old newspapers are stored, right?”

“Yes. For the Sun, they are in the basement of our building. I grew up in Harrisburg and therefore am not completely conversant in the history of society in Washington. I spend a great deal of my spare time reading old issues in the morgue so as to be aware of what has occurred among families here. Recently, within the last two months or so, I have seen a man in the morgue that I know is not an employee of the paper. The archives are open to the public, as I am sure you know. One need only sign in with the clerk there, and the clerk will help find what you are seeking.

“This man fits the description you have. Not only that, because I was so curious about his frequent visits and… his odd appearance, I asked the clerk, Harry, who he was and what he was researching. Harry told me his name is Seren Belgarath, and that every time he came in, he asked to see articles that mentioned your name, Mr. West. Yours and Mr. Gordon.”

Jim was stunned. “Seren Belgarath?” He shook his head. “The name means nothing to me. Have you any idea who he is or where he came from?”

“I peeked at the ledger one day. He wrote ‘City’ as his location. Do you think he could be behind the beating of Mr. Gordon?”

“I don't know what to think. I have to believe he is involved somehow, merely because he was present at the scene and then ‘accidentally’ looked in on Artemus.”

“He was apparently learning as much as he could about you.”

“So it seems. I have to thank you, Miss Doyle. You have certainly given us…”

Hearing the sound of a carriage outside, Jim halted his words to get up and go to the door. He saw a cab sitting alongside the track. Artie had climbed out and was paying the driver. He turned to see Jim in the doorway, grinned, and climbed up onto the platform.

“Howdy, partner. I hope you have some coffee ready. I need something other than that slop the hospital serves.”

“I believe some is left in the pot. Come on in, pal. We have a visitor.”

“Oh?”

Curious now, Artemus climbed the steps and followed Jim inside. He stopped short when he saw the lovely young woman on the sofa, pulling off his hat. Jim quickly made the introductions, brought his partner a cup of coffee, and they sat down, Jim taking his chair and Artie the spot alongside Molly Doyle.

“Miss Doyle,” Jim said then, “would you mind repeating what you told me about the visitor to the morgue?”

She did so, and Artemus listened raptly, his eyes widening when she mentioned that Seren Belgarath was concentrating on newspaper stories about the two agents. He remained silent, however, until she finished her narration. Then he leaned back, started to cross his arms over his ribs and then thought better of it.

“That is very interesting.”

“Does that name mean anything to you, Artie?” Jim asked.

“Nothing whatsoever. I think this requires a visit to headquarters.”

“For you,” Jim commented wryly. “I think I’d better stay away from there for the moment.”

“Which reminds me, I checked myself out of the hospital as early as possible because I was afraid Jerry or the colonel or both might arrive to escort me. They could still show up here.”

“So we’d better make some plans.”

Molly Doyle looked at each man. “Do you want me to leave?”

“Not at all, Miss Doyle,” Jim smiled. “You are one of us now.”

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 - 04/28/2015 :  12:20:46  Show Profile
W*W*W*W*W

Imagine for a moment Napoleon I, to have borne the name of Jenkins, or Washington to have sustained the appellation of John Smith!
Artemus Ward (pseudonym of Charles Farrar Browne), American humorist (1834-1867)


“It’s a very unusual name,” Jim mentioned.

“That it is, sir,” Harry, the clerk in the Sun’s archives, responded. “When he first wrote it down here… you can see, this is the first time… I had to have him spell it out for me. He wrote a little more clearly the next visits.”

Jim studied the nearly indecipherable signature on the page Harry was displaying. “And you never saw him before this visit?”

“Nope. Matter of fact, I was kind of startled when he came down the stairs there. I thought it was a ghost coming through the door. Miss Molly can tell you, strangest looking fellow ever.”

Margaret Doyle nodded. “The first couple of times he was in here, at another table, I was very apprehensive. When I realized he meant no harm, I was able to relax. But I still felt more at ease on the days I came down here and he was not present.”

“I don’t suppose you know anything beyond his name and the fact that he wanted to read articles about me and my partner, Mr. Gordon.”

“Nope, afraid not. My job is to file the day’s newspapers and make a cross reference to the articles for the cards there, and to make sure that when people come in to read the papers, they get put back in the right places. Sometimes visitors talk, but mostly they just ask for certain items and when I pull them out of the stacks, they take ‘em to a table to read.”

“Does he still come around?”

Harry shook his head. “I haven’t seen him in probably three, maybe four weeks now.”

“I agree with that,” Molly put in. “I think I last saw him about a month ago.”

“I expect that’s because he got all up to date,” the clerk said. “He read last month’s story about you and Mr. Gordon solving that counterfeiting case in Maryland. I reckon for any other stories he might-a bought a paper himself the last few weeks.”

Jim nodded, thoughtfully. “After which we were awarded some time off,” he murmured. He was fairly certain that that information was not provided to any newspaper reporter who might or might not be interested. Colonel Richmond generally kept personal information out of any interviews he might give to members of the press.

Still, it appears that someone knew I was taking a few days to visit a friend in Baltimore, and Artemus was staying in Washington to be with his fiancée as much as possible. It keeps coming back to: why did those three see the man attacking Artie as me?

He turned to the young woman. “Molly, will you carry out that favor I asked earlier?”

“Of course. I can keep a confidence.” She winked. “As long as the return favor is paid off.”

Jim smiled and winked back. “I am a man of my word, Molly Doyle.” He dug inside his pocket and came up with a five dollar gold piece that he put on the counter. “I’m sure Harry will forget what I was asking about.”

Harry grinned, picking up the coin. “Were you asking about something, sir?”

Molly laughed. “Harry can be trusted. We all know that at the Sun.”

On the cab ride to the newspaper building, Jim had told Molly Doyle more about the incident in the park. He had had a brief word with Artie in the galley while Artie made a fresh pot of coffee, and both agreed that Miss Doyle could be trusted. They knew specifically of two instances where a person in high society, and in one case high government, had asked her for confidentiality and she honored it. Although they had not met her prior today, they both had followed her column and articles on Washington social life since she began writing at the Sun.

Artie had remained at the Wanderer to send some telegraph messages inquiring about Belgarath, as well as to be there if Pike and Richmond showed up, which he fully expected. He wanted to call on Lily but would hold off until early afternoon. He hoped to catch her prior the rehearsals that usually took place in mid afternoon.

When they climbed the stairs to the main floor of the paper and stood in the lobby, Jim took Molly’s hand briefly and thanked her for her assistance. “I promise you will get the final story before anyone else—presuming we live through this.” He grinned but her eyes opened wide.

“Do you think you are in danger?”

“We are always in danger, Molly. It goes with the job. We likely will not know how much danger until we meet up with this Seren Belgarath and find out what he’s up to.”

“Please be careful.” Molly squeezed the fingers that still held hers.

“We are also always careful. Don’t worry about us. But if you do see Belgarath again, can you get word to us?”

“Certainly. I actually hope he does not come back to the archives. I still have a dread of entering the morgue and finding him there. The most frightening man I’ve ever encountered.”

“Just give him one of your smiles. He’ll melt.”

W*W*W*W*W


“No.”

Artemus folded his arms across his chest and gazed sternly, even a little angrily, at his commanding officer. James Richmond stared back, displaying even more wrath.

“Gordon, he committed a crime. He assaulted you. You have to have him arrested.”

“The colonel is right, Artemus,” Jeremy Pike added by way of support. “You can’t trust Jim anymore.”

“Of course I can. I know Jim West better than either of you. I know he would not behave like that. Above all, he would not assault me.”

“But he did!” Pike returned. “We saw him. Lily saw him.”

So why did you take a black-bearded man to be James West? Artie wanted to ask that aloud, but now was not the time. He did not know why his friends were behaving like this. He did know that at this point they would not believe anything he said regarding another witness, a man with no axe to grind, who did not even know James West and Artemus Gordon were involved until he read it in a newspaper.

“I know what you think you saw,” Artie said quietly. “An explanation for that is out there, and I’m going of find it.” He wanted to say we would find it, but bringing Jim into it would only fan the flames. Above all he did not want the colonel to take matters into his own hands and have Jim arrested.

Richmond and Pike were still trying to convince Artie to press charges when Jim entered the varnish car about fifteen minutes later. Under the glare of his two former friends, Jim smiled and greeted them affably—which of course only caused them to be angrier. However, his presence seemed to deflate their purpose for being there, and they departed soon after, warning Artemus to be on his guard.

Artie sighed deeply as the door closed behind them. “Jim, those two are greatly changed.”

Jim nodded. “I was going to mention that. I have seen Richmond angry before, but this is different. It’s almost… almost as though he is forcing himself to be angry. Same with Jer.”

“My thoughts exactly. I wonder if it is possible they have been threatened. Perhaps someone is menacing the colonel’s family.”

“Maybe,” Jim nodded, frowning as he dropped onto the sofa, swinging his feet up. “How would that explain Pike’s behavior? He has no close family to threaten.”

Artie shook his head as he went to the desk and sat down behind it. Jim listened as his partner tapped out a message to the department directed to Ned Brown, asking for information on Seren Belgarath. Artie looked up as he finished. “I started to do that just before our friends arrived. I didn’t want them to hear so I canceled it. Bosley and Ned came to the hospital that first night after the others had gone. They did not believe that you could have been responsible.”

“Good to know that I have some friends left.”

Both men fell silent, Jim staring at the ceiling of the car, Artie tapping a pencil he had picked up from the surface of the desk. After a couple of minutes, Jim abruptly sat up on the sofa.

“Artie, something’s not right.”

“You’re telling me?”

“I mean, neither Richmond nor Pike behave as though they are worried, frightened for some loved one. Why did Richmond send away two potential witnesses from the scene?”

Artie frowned, the pencil stilling. “Because they were told to? That still indicates they were under duress.”

“Maybe. What if they were told to… while in a hypnotic trance?”

Artemus's mouth dropped open and he jumped to his feet. “Of course! Why didn’t I think of that? Loveless?”

“Maybe. What about this Seren Belgarath?”

Moving around the desk, Artie paused a couple of feet in front of his partner. “We need to find out who he is, Jim, and fast. He might just be an innocent party, his presence coincidental.”

“You don’t believe that.”

Artie chuckled. “No, I don’t, especially the part about him accidentally coming into my room not to mention being in the same restaurant where Lily and I were eating. I’m going to ask Brown to expedite his search for information, maybe bring in Bosley.” He returned behind the desk to sit down and transmit the brief note, asking for all speed in researching Belgarath. Then he looked up at Jim.

“Something just occurred to me. I have not really had an opportunity to talk to Lily at length. The first day the others were in the room. When she came yesterday, she was still very upset and I didn’t want to make it any worse. She doesn’t have rehearsals today—Francis gave them a day off—and is probably at her hotel. I think I’ll go talk to her now, maybe take her for a buggy ride.”

“Good thought,” Jim said, getting to his feet. “For me, I believe I’ll do a little research of my own on Seren Belgarath. A man with his appearance has to be noticed. I’m going to look up a few contacts to see if any information can be garnered. I should be back in time to receive anything Ned sends us.”

“Excellent. I’ll see you back here later and we can exchange notes.”

W*W*W*W*W

There are four kinds of people, three of which are to be avoided and the fourth cultivated: those who don't know that they don't know; those who know that they don't know; those who don't know that they know; and those who know that they know.
—Rendering of an Arab proverb, Unattributed Author


Jim did not have much success as he tracked down several people who usually knew everything that was occurring among the lower denizens of Washington and were willing to divulge it for a few coins or sometimes just a couple of drinks. While a couple admitted having seen a man who fit the description of Seren Belgarath, they had not heard the name and knew nothing about him.

After a fruitless couple of hours, Jim decided he had better return to the Wanderer. Ned Brown was an efficient researcher and might have some information by now. He left the seedier section of the city in which he had been prowling, walking toward a street where he knew he could wave down a cab. During this walk, he noticed the man trailing him. A stocky man with a black beard!

Jim slowed his pace slightly, pausing at one point to light a cigarillo, unobtrusively watching the man in a plate glass window. His trailer halted as well, pretending to need to retie his shoes. Although on the street where he planned to look for a hack, Jim now quickened his pace and abruptly turned down a side street, where he ducked into a doorway. A moment later the man hurried around the corner, halting and gazing around.

“Looking for someone?” Jim asked, behind him, moving out of the recessed doorway.

The man spun. “What?”

“You looked lost.”

The black-bearded fellow shrugged, smiling a little. “I guess I am. I thought I was going to find a restaurant here. I’m supposed to meet a friend. Are you familiar with this area?”

“Not very. What’s the name of the restaurant?”

“See, that’s the problem. I forgot. Should have written it down, huh? Well, I’ll keep looking. Thanks anyway. See ya.”

Jim waited while the man returned to the main street and strolled away. Jim then also stepped out onto that street and walking in the opposite direction. Within a very short time, he saw Black Beard on his trail again. Several hacks drove by but Jim ignored them. He waited until a sole carriage appeared, with none in either direction for a couple of blocks. Quickly he hailed the cab, gave his destination, and climbed in. As it rolled by Black Beard, Jim waved jauntily. Looking out the rear window he smiled as the man looked around frantically for a hack that was not there.

W*W*W*W*W

“Persuasion is often more effectual than force.”
—Aesop (c. 620-c. 560 B.C.), Greek fabulist and author


Lily Fortune’s surprise was evident on her face when she opened the hotel room door. “Artemus! Darling, what are you doing here?”

Artie smiled and caught the hand she extended. “I’m here to see you, my dear. Remember? This was to be our day together. The entire day.”

“But shouldn’t you be resting?”

“Lil, I’m fine. The doctor gave me a clean bill of health. My bruises don’t even hurt—as long as you don’t hug me too hard.” She laughed a little, but Artemus noticed she now seemed a bit nervous. “I have rented a buggy and thought we could take a drive out of the city. How about it?”

She hesitated, then smiled and squeezed his hand. “Lovely. Give me time to change clothes.”

“I’ll wait for you in the lobby.”

About a half hour later Artemus jumped to his feet from the lobby sofa to greet her at the bottom of the stairs. She had changed from the rather plain gown she was wearing in the room to a lovely rose embossed jacket over a white silk blouse and deep charcoal skirt, a wide-brimmed hat sporting a pink bow rested on her thick dark hair.

“You look like a bouquet, darling,” Artie said as he held out his arm for her to clasp.

He escorted her out to the waiting buggy, retrieved the weight that was securing the horse, and climbed in beside her to start out. On the journey through town, the conversation was light. He asked her about rehearsals which led into a discussion of the new drama they were debuting this month in Washington. It had been written by a man they both knew and while Lily was fairly certain it was a good play, one never knew until the audience and critics viewed it.

Once out of the city itself, the carriage transported them to a grassy bank somewhat above the flowing Potomac River. Artie then surprised his fiancée further by producing a blanket and a basket. He spread the blanket on the grass and drew a bottle of wine and glasses, a loaf of crusty bread, and two hunks of rustic cheese from the basket.

“I stopped at Locatelli’s,” he smiled. “We haven’t done this for a long, long while.”

“My favorite red wine and my favorite cheese! Darling, have I told you recently how wonderful you are?”

“Not enough,” he grinned, beginning to work on the cork in the bottle.

Again, for the next hour or so, conversation was light as they enjoyed the refreshments as well as the view. A barge rolled slowly by and the occupants, including two women and several children along with the men working with the poles, waved to them. They waved back.

Finally Lily took off her hat and lay back on the blanket, sighing. “I think I could take a nap.”

“It is that kind of day,” Artie nodded, putting the leftovers back in the basket. “Lil,” he said then, “I hate to do this, but we need to talk.”

“I know.” She opened her eyes. “Has Jim told you why he went mad and attacked you?”

“It was not Jim, my dear. You know that.”

She sat up abruptly. “Artemus, I saw him!”

“I know you think you did. We believe it was some kind of… trick. Lily, does the name Seren Belgarath mean anything to you?”

“What?” Her eyes opened wide and Artemus was sure he saw both alarm and confusion in their brown depths.

“Seren Belgarath,” he said again. “Have you ever heard that name?”

“No! Of course not! Why do you ask?”

“It’s been mentioned,” he replied quietly. “Darling, will you tell me again what you saw that day after we left the restaurant?”

“Again?”

“Yes. We have noticed in talking to witnesses that occasionally when they repeat their stories, they remember something forgotten previously. Please?”

She sighed. “All right, dear. We walked down the street to that small park, and as we strolled alongside a grassy plot I noticed something in the grass…”

“Something shiny.”

“Yes. I guess—I guess I thought it might be a lost piece of jewelry. I asked you to go look for it, and when you did, Jim West suddenly appeared out of nowhere, ran up and hit you from behind. When you fell… he kicked you. Then he turned and ran.”

“I assume the colonel and Jeremy tried to help me.”

Lily blinked. “Well, yes, I assume so.”

“But you didn’t see them do that?”

She shook her head slowly. “It all occurred so fast… maybe they didn’t have time.”

“I see. What then?”

“Well, I hurried to you of course. You were unconscious. We managed to hail a cab and take you to the hospital…”

“Did any other witnesses appear, offer to help?”

“No. None.”

“You’re sure?”

“I’m sure. Why?”

“Just checking. I wondered if someone else saw the attack that we could talk to.”

“Artemus, why won’t you have him arrested?”

“I told you, he didn’t do it. Jim West did not attack me. Beyond the fact that I simply know he would not do such a thing, Jim was in Baltimore at the time—with reputable witnesses.”

“It has to have been him!”

“But why would he, Lil? Jim is my best friend. You know that!”

“I don't know. He must have—he must have lost his mind.”

Artie sighed and turned away. He could see how distraught she was becoming. She did not like to be questioned about the incident. However, he had to find the underlying cause of it and find out why she mistook a black-bearded man for James West. He turned to her again.

“Lil, I know you are telling me the truth as you saw it, and as you remember seeing it. It’s possible the… the trauma of the incident is causing you to forget something.”

She blinked. “What do you mean?”

“I’m not really sure. I need to ask you a great favor, my dear.”

“Anything within my power, darling.”

“Will you allow me to hypnotize you?”

Lily gasped. “Hypnotize! Why?”

“Because often a mesmerized person will remember something while in a trance that was forgotten while fully awake.”

She frowned deeply, staring toward the river for a long moment. Finally, she looked back. “If I cannot trust you, the man I love and who loves me, who can I trust? All right. Do you want to do it now?”

“It’s as good a time as any. I promise I will not put any suggestions in your head to cause you to do anything foolish, like love me more than you do now.”

Lily laughed. “That’s not possible.”

They moved the blanket over to under an oak tree, where she could lean back against the trunk. When Lily said she was ready, Artemus took her hands and began to speak gently in a soft voice. “Let your entire body relax, Lily. Think of pleasant, warm thoughts. Hear the river flowing below, and flow along with it…” He continued in that manner as her eyelids began to droop and her breathing became slower. Finally, Artemus felt she was deeply under hypnotism.

“Lily, I want you to answer my questions truthfully. Do not worry if someone else told you to keep it secret. You know you can trust me. I will not tell anyone else unless you say it is all right. Do you understand?”

“Yes,” she murmured. “I understand.”

“You can open your eyes now. How do you feel?”

“I’m fine.”

“Good. Remember, I wanted to ask you more about the incident where I was attacked in the park two days ago. Tell me what you recall about that.”

She spoke in a soft monotone. “We walked to the park as instructed. I told Artemus that I saw something shiny in the grass and when he went to search for it, that man attacked him. As instructed, we remained motionless and watched. Colonel Richmond sent away two men who wanted to help, as we were instructed. We took Artemus to the hospital and told everyone that Jim West was the attacker.”

Artemus let out his breath. He asked his next question carefully. “Did Seren Belgarath instruct you in this matter?”

“Yes.” Her shoulders moved a little and her face registered some concern.

“It’s all right, Lily,” he reassured her gently. “You are simply telling the truth. No one else will know unless you give permission. Are you all right?”

“I’m fine.”

“Where did you meet Seren Belgarath?”

“At his house. A man took me there.”

“Were you kidnapped?”

“Yes.”

Artie caught his breath to still the sudden burst of anger he experienced. “Tell me about it. Remember, no one can hurt you now.”

Lily continued in the same monotone. “He came into my room while I slept and awakened me with a hand over my mouth. He made me get up and put on my robe and slippers. Then he took me down the hall to the back of the hotel, where a carriage awaited. The windows were covered over. We drove for about half an hour then turned into a narrow curving dirt road that climbed a hill. Upon parking, the man ordered me to get out.”

“What did this man look like?” Artie marveled at her ability to be able to try to identify where she was being taken even with the windows covered.

“A black beard. Black hair. He was the same man that attacked Artemus in the park.”

“Very well. Go ahead. What did the house look like?”

“Large, two stories. Two old oak trees grew at the top of the access road. I saw some flowers. I think they were white roses.”

“He took you inside?”

“Yes. That is where Seren Belgarath waited. What an awful man. I thought at first he had some kind of stage makeup on, but I realized he just naturally resembled a skeleton! Colonel Richmond and Jeremy Pike were in the room with him. They did not look at me.”

Already hypnotized, no doubt. “What happened next?”

“Mr. Belgarath hypnotized me. I tried to resist as Artemus and Jim have told me, but he is so… powerful. I could not. That is when he told me I must bring Artemus to that restaurant and then to the park. When Artemus was attacked, I was to see the attacker as Jim West. I had to. I had no choice. He said I would not remember meeting him. I don’t remember going back to the hotel, but I awakened there with no memory of the kidnapping.”

Once more she displayed some agitation. Artie took her hands again. “You did right, Lily, then and now. I am going to let you awaken now, and I want you to remember everything we’ve talked about here. You will feel rested and unafraid. You did the right thing in telling the truth. You will remember everything. When I count to five, you will awaken and feel wonderful. Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

He counted and at five, she looked at him with slight surprise. “That was easy. Oh my! Oh, Artie, he told me I would forget everything. But I remember it all.”

“That’s because I told you to. It’s all right, Lil. You did well.”

She put a hand to her cheek. “Oh, Jim is going to despise me!”

“No, dearest. As I did, Jim knows you were saying the things you said against your will. We did not know exactly why, but we knew you and the other two were being coerced somehow. Obviously, the colonel and Jer were hypnotized too.”

“Yes. Belgarath told us we must work together.”

“You gave me some clues to where you were taken that night. Can you remember any more now?”

Lily shook her head slowly. “I’m afraid I was too frightened to notice much.”

Artie smiled, climbing to his feet and extending his hand. “That’s all right. I’m sure the colonel and Jeremy will have more information on that part. Biggest problem will be convincing them to let me hypnotize them!”

He was very correct. Only Colonel Richmond was at Secret Service headquarters when Artemus and Lily arrived. They entered his office and spent nearly half an hour explaining what had transpired when Lily was hypnotized. The colonel was skeptical. After all, Artemus was Jim’s best friend. For some inexplicable reason, he was trying to prove his friend innocent of what was obvious to everyone else.

“We were witnesses!” he cried angrily. “Lily, I suppose you can be excused because…”

“I did it because I trust Artemus,” she interrupted. “And perhaps because deep down inside, I could not understand why Jim would do such a thing. It was not Jim West, Colonel. The man we saw did not resemble Jim in the slightest. We were mesmerized into thinking he did, or at least saying he did. What do you have to lose by allowing Artemus to hypnotize you? I will remain present, and you can call in any other witnesses to make sure he does not mislead you while you are under.”

Artie did not smile, but he felt his chest swell with pride. I should have thought of that! Witnesses would be even better. Not to mention, she had made it impossible for Richmond to refuse now. He did not, grudgingly agreeing. He asked for Bosley Cranston and Tom Layton to come into his office, briefly explaining to them what was going to be done.

“Just make sure Gordon doesn’t put words in my mouth!”

Richmond was relatively easy to put under. Once Artemus was certain he was completely in a trance, he began to ask questions similar to those he had posed to Lily. The colonel’s story paralleled that of the actress. He had been accosted upon leaving his office in the evening, forced into a waiting carriage, where his hands were tied behind his back. As with Lily, the curtains of the coach were tightly drawn.

He was taken to what was obviously the same house, met the grotesque man who hypnotized him. As Lily had, Richmond said he tried to resist but could not. He had received the same instructions. He had come to again sitting on a box in an alley next to this building. Artemus instructed him to remember everything, and awakened him.

Richmond sat still for a long moment, staring at his agent. He looked toward Cranston and Layton. “Was it fair and balanced?”

“Very, sir,” Layton replied.

“I agree,” Bosley nodded.

Richmond sent those two out. “Well, I owe Jim a huge apology.” He sighed heavily.

“He’ll probably settle for a raise,” Artie grinned. He then sobered. “Colonel, can you remember anything about the route to the house?”

“Not a lot. I couldn’t see anything, of course. I do know we went over a wooden bridge. I think the whole journey consumed well over forty-five minutes. What about this Belgarath fellow? Know anything about him?”

“Nothing other than the fact that he spent a great deal of time reading old newspaper articles about us. That’s how we originally got his name. Margaret Doyle from the Sun came to interview Jim.”

“Oh, she’s a lovely young woman,” Lily smiled.

“I think Jim noticed that.” Artie looked out the glass window that was one wall of the colonel’s office. “There’s Pike.”

Even under the persuasion of Lily Fortune and Colonel Richmond, Jeremy Pike was a hard sell. For over an hour he refused to undergo hypnosis, seeming to believe the request was part of some kind of conspiracy. Finally, an exasperated Richmond ordered him to allow Gordon to hypnotize him. Pike sullenly concurred and was a difficult subject. Artemus succeeded, nonetheless, while ruing that he and Jim had spent time training other agents how to resist mesmerism!

Again, Pike’s story was similar. He had been accosted in his room at the boarding house where he resided when in the city, awakened in the night with a gun to his head. Like Richmond, he had had his wrists bound behind his back when in the carriage. He was more helpful regarding the route taken, his training and years of being an agent coming into play.

They were leaning over a map spread on the colonel’s desk when Ned Brown came to the door. “Excuse me, sir, but something odd—and perhaps troubling—just happened.”

“What is it, Ned?”

“Artemus sent me a wire earlier asking me to find information about Seren Belgarath. I didn’t know he was here, but I sent an invitation to the Wanderer’s telegraph. Jim answered and I transmitted the message. Upon finishing, I waited for his acknowledgment but it never came. I’ve tried several times to raise him.”

“Are you sure it was Jim?” Pike asked.

“Absolutely. I know his fist. Only thing I can figure is he somehow got interrupted.”

Artemus grabbed the hat he had hung on the hat stand in the colonel’s office. “Something happened. Jim wouldn’t leave it without finishing.”

All of them, including Brown, climbed into a taxi they caught in front of the building. The driver was urged to speed toward the railway yards with the promise of a generous tip. The interior was crowded, but with Lily and Ned sharing a seat, the comfort was decent. Artemus asked Ned what he had learned about Seren Belgarath.

“Not a lot. Not under that specific name, anyway. I found a Stanislas Belgarath who was a magician in New York City. Performed in revues, it appeared, and in not very high-class theaters. He did magic tricks and mesmerism.”

“Ah,” Artie nodded. “Sounds like that could be our boy. Anything further?”

“One police report that indicated he was arrested for theft. Seems he managed to hypnotize people on stage and secretly instruct them to allow him into their homes, where he would help himself to anything valuable. He was nabbed when one smart fellow only pretended to be put under and he was caught in the act. However, it also appears that Belgarath used his talent to hypnotize a jail guard into letting him out. He was never seen again.”

“How long ago was that?” Jeremy inquired.

“Close to twenty years ago.”

“Where has he been all this time?” Artie mused. “And what the devil is he up to now?”

“Artemus,” the colonel spoke up, “I just remembered something. Belgarath was talking to his black-bearded henchman, who he called Kegan, saying that once Jim West was discredited, possibly arrested and even imprisoned for assault, he would be easy prey to bring into his—Belgarath’s—plans.”

“I wonder what plans those are,” Lily said. “Not anything very nice, I’ll wager.”

“Jim wasn’t arrested,” Artie considered. “I suppose one could say his reputation was damaged, but he certainly wasn’t put in jail. So what next?”

“I’d say he might try to hypnotize Jim,” Pike stated.

Artie nodded. “Jim knows how to combat that.”

“You are an excellent mesmerist,” Jeremy went on, “but I have to tell you, Belgarath is ten times stronger. I simply could not resist him, despite all the time I trained with you and Jim.”

“Something else occurs to me,” Richmond said. “This Kegan was the one who kidnapped each of us, but yet another man was driving the coach.”

“You are right,” Artie nodded. “He has at least two henchmen.”

Upon reaching the rail yards, they left the cab and hurried to the Wanderer. To Artie the train looked odd because the engine was not attached. It was in the shop here in the yards being overhauled. The crew, Kelly and Cobb, were off on their own time while the agents were on leave as well. While I don’t begrudge them their time off, he thought as they slowed to approach the cars, I wish they were here right now. Jim had been alone at the time, and Artie had a bad feeling about all this.

Artie waved for Lily to stay back as the men entered the car, but as soon as the last one was inside, she climbed up the step to follow them. Artemus immediately headed through the galley to check Jim’s quarters, then back to the stable and laboratory car. He returned to the varnish car with a grim expression.

“He’s not here.”

Ned had picked up the pad of paper from the desk. “He wrote about half of my transmission down. Must be when he was interrupted.”

“We need to ask witnesses,” Lily stated. “Someone must have seen him.”

Several workers in the rail yard had witnessed Jim West’s departure from the train. The gist of their testimony was that he had been seen leaving with three men, one very tall wearing a stovepipe hat. A second man had a black beard. Not much was noticed about the third man except that he was wearing a hooded cape. Another consensus was that West appeared to be leaving with the others willingly. No weapons were seen, nor did Jim seem uneasy, according to one man who saw them at fairly close range.

“Mr. West nodded to me,” that man said.

“That does not make any sense,” Richmond commented as they re-entered the varnish car.

Artie stepped over to ignite a couple of lamps, as the sun was falling low on the horizon. “Unless Jim was hypnotized… or threatened.”

For a long moment, no one spoke. Lily was the one who broke the silence. “Artemus, do you think that’s possible? Jim has always been so strong and able to resist hypnotism.”

“Lily,” Jeremy spoke up, “you know how powerful Belgarath is.”

“Yes, but I’m also not as strong minded as Jim where this is concerned. I felt I had no chance.”

“Talking and speculating isn’t going to do any good,” Ned Brown interjected. “We have to find Jim.”

“Right you are,” Artie nodded, grabbing his hat. “Let’s go back to the office and those maps.”


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 - 04/28/2015 :  12:21:41  Show Profile
W*W*W*W*W

Of lunacy,
Innumerous were the causes; humbled pride,
Ambition disappointed, riches lost,
And bodily disease, and sorrow, oft
By man inflicted on his brother man;
Sorrow, that, made the reason drunk, and yet
Left much untasted. So the cup was fill'd.
The Course of Time, Robert Pollok (1798-1827), Scottish religious poet


“Mr. West. Wake up.”

He lifted his head slowly, blinking once or twice as his vision focused. The man who spoke was sitting in a wooden armed chair about ten feet in front of him across a bare floor. Other than a small table alongside that chair, no other furniture was in the room. A large stone fireplace, unused, was against one wall, and the opposite wall held three large windows. The two outer windows were darkly shaded, while the middle one allowed bright sunshine to gleam through.

“What is this place?” Jim asked, staring at the grotesque man. He was thin to the point of being skeletal, his eyes sunken into his head, which like his body appeared to have no flesh on it. His skull was completely bare. “Who are you?”

The man smiled, an ugly version of a smile that revealed yellowed teeth. “I think you know my name, Mr. West.”

“Belgarath,” Jim said. “Seren Belgarath.”

“Bravo! Nevertheless, you have never seen me prior this moment. Is that correct?”

Jim shook his head. “Never. Where are we?” He glanced around the barren room. He could not see much out the sole window other than the leaves of a tree that apparently was nearby.

“That matters little. What do you say if I tell you we met and spoke a dozen or so hours ago?”

“No. I would remember.”

“Would you stand up, Mr. West?”

“What?”

“Stand up. Get to your feet. A simple request.” Belgarath watched him. “What is the difficulty?”

“I… I don't know. My legs… I can’t move them…” Jim gripped the arms of the chair tightly, white gleaming at his knuckles.

“Why? What’s wrong?”

“I don't know.” Jim shook his head, desperation on his face. “They… my legs seem paralyzed.”

“Nonsense. Stand up now.”

Amazement washed over Jim’s face as he easily rose to his feet. “I don’t understand.”

This time Belgarath laughed. It sounded like the rustling of dry leaves. “Because I told you earlier that your legs would not function when I told you to stand up, but that they would be fine the second time I gave you that instruction.”

Jim was shaking his head. “No. That sounds as though you hypnotized me.”

“I did, Mr. West.”

“No. No, I can’t be hypnotized.”

“So I heard. Miguelito told me you possessed a very strong mind.”

“Miguelito… you know Loveless?”

“I have met him. However, back to the mesmerism: I did hypnotize you, Mr. West. You fought against me. I have never met anyone with your strength of mind, but I conquered. I am the greatest mesmerist in the world, Mr. West. Perhaps the universe. No one can resist me, as your friends at the Secret Service learned, along with Miss Fortune.”

“So that’s why they lied about me!”

“Exactly. I erred somewhat with that plan. I should have managed to hypnotize Mr. Gordon as well. I did not account for his loyalty to you. Dr. Loveless argued on that point. Nonetheless, I was certain you would be arrested, ousted from the Secret Service and be in total disgrace.”

“For what reason?”

“In order to invite you to join me in my efforts. I counted on your anger and bitterness after having been betrayed by your comrades. Nonetheless, that did not happen, so I have changed my plans.”

“It would not have happened.”

That strange laugh again. “Perhaps. We will never know, will we? But now you are here with me, and you are completely under my sway.”

“No.”

“You must also be aware that you have a weapon in the holster under your coat.”

“I… noticed.”

“You are not consciously aware, however, that you cannot and will not use that weapon unless I instruct you to do so.”

Jim swiftly reached inside his coat and withdrew the weapon, smiling slightly as he gazed at the other man. “Are you sure?”

Belgarath’s smile was wide and as ugly as his entire form. “You can point it at me but you cannot pull the trigger. Try.”

West’s expression changed to astonishment. He switched the pistol to his left hand, pointed it at his tormentor, then slowly lowered it. “You… hypnotized me.” His voice was low, strained.

“So now you believe me? I knew you were a stubborn man, Mr. West. Your immobile legs did not convince you, but now the inability to shoot me has. Yes. I mesmerized you and gave you a host of instructions. I will be giving you more. I can snap my fingers and you will be in a trance again, ready to receive those instructions. For now…”

The opening of the door on the far side of the room halted his words. A figure in a dark red hooded cloak entered, the hood shadowing the person’s features. Belgarath came to his feet, and the newcomer threw back the hood—to reveal a beautiful woman with luminous black hair that streamed over the shoulders of her white shirt like so much gleaming oil.

“Come in, my dear. Sárka, may I present Mr. James West? Mr. West, my daughter, Sárka.”

Jim had stood up when he realized the figure was a woman. He could not disguise his amazement. “Your daughter!” Except perhaps for the dark eyes, she bore no resemblance to Belgarath.

The tall thin man put his arm over her shoulders. “You think it is impossible that not only could I not have sired such a beautiful woman, but what woman would marry a man who looked like I do? Mr. West, I was not always thus. I once had the appearance of a normal man. I was even considered handsome. My height was always the same, and served me well in my career on the stage, offering a commanding appearance.

“However, at a point when Sárka was nearly five years old, leaving this country seemed a wise choice to me. I took my wife and child and went to South America. The country does not matter at this point. We lived in a small village in the midst of a jungle. I was honored due to my skills as a mesmerist and a wizard, and we lived well. Then disaster struck. Both my wife and I were felled by a strange illness, one unknown to doctors in Europe and America. Even the native shamans could do little. My dear wife succumbed. I lived, but it left me as you see me. I cannot eat enough to put flesh on my bones.

“As I am sure you would concur, my appearance now is not a pleasant sight. I returned to this country, realizing I would not be recognized as my former self, but I was unable to procure employment. Not in my former trade which was hypnotism and magic on stage. Not even in the kitchen of a restaurant. So I have decided the gain revenge on the world by conquering it.”

Jim looked at the young woman. Her expression had not changed as she listened to her father’s embittered words. Nonetheless, when she realized his gaze was on her, her dark brown eyes met his, and she smiled. As ugly as her father was, Sárka was extremely beautiful. Jim could not see a flaw in her appearance.

Seren Belgarath saw the exchange of glances, and he smiled. “Extraordinary, isn’t she, Mr. West? I was going to hold that back as a surprise, but I will tell you now, as encouragement. Sárka will be your bride.”

“What?”

“My daughter is willing,” Belgarath beamed. “And no doubt you are now that you have met her.”

Jim could only shake his head slowly. “I am not subject to such a bribe.”

“You don’t understand, Mr. West. You have no choice. You are subject to my will. You will do anything I ask of you.”

Sárka Belgarath spoke for the first time, moving away from her father, closer to Jim. She let the cloak fall off her shoulders to the floor, revealing that she was attired in male clothing… that did nothing to disguise her lush figure. “Am I so abhorrent, James?”

“Not at all, Miss Belgarath. I have no inclination to marry, but if I were to, I would want to choose my own bride. Are you willing to marry a man who was forced to wed you?”

She smiled. “If the man is you, James.”

“That can be for later,” her father said now. “I want to tell Mr. West more about our plans, and how he will play a part in it. Eventually, I will be able to release you from my thrall, Mr. West. You will learn the joy of power.”

“I expect you mean ‘instruct’ and ‘command’ rather than ‘tell,’ don’t you?”

That dry chuckle emanated from within the bony chest. “I suppose that would be a better definition. I hypnotized you earlier today, causing you to forget our invasion of your rail car and the trip to my, er, ‘chateau’ at the same time as I instructed you about the paralyzed legs. I have much more work to do with you before you are completely ready to join my plans. Sárka, my dear, where is Kegan?”

“Taking care of the horses, Father. Should I fetch him?”

“Yes. I want him here while I give Mr. West his next lesson.”

The young woman grabbed her cloak from the floor and donned it as she exited, throwing a smile Jim’s way. Jim turned to Belgarath.

“Are you worried about being in here alone with me?”

“Not at all, Mr. West. I am quite aware of your physical prowess. I know a great deal about you, as well as Mr. Gordon. I did a tremendous amount of research in planning for this. However, to answer your question, should you attempt violence, I can stop you with a word. Do not forget your paralyzed legs. You will sit quietly in your chair.”

“Yes.” Jim turned and sat down in his chair again.

Belgarath settled into his, crossing his long thin legs at the knees, and tenting his fingers together. “I mentioned you were difficult to hypnotize. I will say the most difficult I ever encountered. I was warned about that. Miguelito suggested I should drug you first. I declined, however. I have a sense that drugs weaken the control and connection. I persevered, and succeeded. No one can hold out against my abilities. Not even James West.”

Jim did not reply, lowering his gaze to the floor in defeat. After a moment, he looked up at Belgarath’s triumphant expression. “You said something about being a wizard. Do you mean a warlock?”

“No, a wizard. You will be treated to demonstrations later. I realized I owned some special talents before traveling to South America, but with the help of certain people there, I was able to hone and improve them.” Belgarath’s thin lips widened in a smile. “You doubt me. I promise you, Mr. West, you will be a believer. With my abilities and your famed ingenuity and knowledge, we will amass a fortune, and with that fortune, power! I have been able to instruct Sárka in a few bits of wizardry. Who knows, perhaps you will be an apt pupil as well. You…”

“Father!”

Seren Belgarath’s head jerked toward the closed door, through whence the woman’s scream had echoed. His lanky frame unfolded as he stood up, took a step toward that door, then paused and looked back at his captive. “You will remain here, seated, unless you ‘hear’ me call you. If I do summon you, come with your pistol drawn. Do you understand?”

“Yes.” The door closed behind Belgarath and Jim West sat quietly in his chair, looking pensively toward the door.

W*W*W*W*W


In the yard behind the house, near the stables, Artemus Gordon, Jeremy Pike, Ned Brown, and Colonel James Richmond held their guns pointed at the tall, skeletal man, the beautiful young woman, and the man with the black beard.

“I have no idea what you are talking about,” the tall man insisted. “You have made a grave mistake. My daughter and I are renting this house while we live in Washington City. My name is Elton Bellingham. This gentleman is Mr. Kelly, my employee.” Belgarath gazed hard at the four men then turned his eyes for a long moment toward the house.

~~~~~


Jim West rose from the chair, reached inside his jacket, withdrawing the pistol. Walking to the door, he paused there for a few seconds then opened it.

~~~~


“No,” the colonel spoke firmly. “We recognize you. Your name is Belgarath. We have not seen the young lady previously, but we certainly recognize that man as the man who kidnapped each of us to bring us to this house.”

“I’m telling you, Colonel Richmond, you do not know me.”

“That’s not going to do any good,” Artie smiled, shaking his head. “They are free from your hypnotic spell. Where’s James West?”

Belgarath glared at him. “Mr. West is my guest. He does not want to see you.”

At that moment, the back door of the house, the one through which Belgarath had emerged minutes ago in response to his daughter’s fearful cry, opened. Jim West stepped out. He was holding his small pistol in his right hand. He paused on the stoop, looking at the group.

“Jim!” Artie cried. “Are you all right?”

Belgarath did not give Jim an opportunity to respond. “Mr. West, use your gun and kill those four men. Now!”

Jim’s gaze fastened on Belgarath for a moment, then turned toward the four Secret Service agents, his gun lifting. Artie caught his breath, grip tightening on the pistol he held. I can’t shoot him! But…

The decision was made for him as Jim smiled slightly, turning with the gun toward Belgarath, his daughter, and Kegan. “Why would I want to do that, Belgarath?”

Sárka grabbed her father’s arm, and like her father, opened her dark eyes wide. “Father! He’s not hypnotized!”

“He is!” Belgarath insisted. “Obey me, West! You must! Shoot those men. Now!”

“I think it’s a losing proposition for you,” Jeremy Pike stated. “We are all free from your control.”

“It cannot be,” the emaciated man muttered, staring at Jim. “I have never failed!”

“You did this time.” Artie motioned with his weapon. “We have a pair of coaches waiting out front to take you to jail for kidnapping.”

Seren Belgarath took a few steps backward, his daughter moving with him, Kegan stepping over to stand with them. “No. I think not. We will meet again. All of us. But now, we must depart.”

The sudden flash of light was blinding, even in the glow of the sun. The Secret Service agents and their supervisor fell back, gasping or crying out in the sharp pain triggered by the brilliance of the illumination. For several minutes, those men wiped their watering eyes. Artie made his way into the kitchen of the house to the pump at the rusted sink, filling a small pan he found with water. He brought it out and they were able to moisten their handkerchiefs with the cool water and wash their eyes.

“What happened?” Ned Brown asked, blinking his still red eyes.

Jim expelled a breath. “He told me he was a wizard…”

Artemus shook his head quickly. “It could easily have been some kind of phosphorus flare…”

“I don’t smell anything,” Pike put in. “No chemical smell, and the breeze isn’t strong enough to clear it away quickly.”

“But they are gone,” Richmond stated, gazing at the spot where the three had been standing.

Jim pointed to the nearby fenced area. “So are their horses—not to mention the coach!”

“But that is impossible!” the colonel insisted, his mouth in a stubborn line.

“Colonel,” Artie spoke steadily, “in the instant of that flash, probably less than a second, Belgarath, his daughter, and his employee could not have hitched up that coach and driven it away from here without us seeing them, regardless of how long it took us to clear our vision.”

“I agree,” Brown nodded. “We would have heard them, or at least seen shadows, while cleaning our eyes. I could see the four of you, albeit very blurry.”

“Well,” Jim sighed, “Belgarath said he’d be back. We have that to look forward to.”

“Jim,” Pike turned to his fellow agent, “how did you not become hypnotized?”

“How did Belgarath get you?” Artie asked before his partner could speak.

“I was transcribing Ned’s message about Belgarath when I heard the door behind me open. I thought it was you, Artie, and didn’t even turn around. It was Belgarath, Kegan, and a hooded person who I later learned was his daughter Sárka. Belgarath told me that I was to walk with them out to their coach, and if I tried to escape, Kegan would not shoot me, but would shoot anyone in the vicinity. As bad luck would have it, a number of railroad workers were nearby.

“I was brought here, as I assume Jer, Colonel Richmond, and Lily were, where Belgarath attempted to hypnotize me. To answer your question, Jer, I very nearly succumbed. I have never been subjected to such power. I held out as long as I could, and then pretended that I had lost the battle. I think Belgarath was so pleased with his conquest he didn’t check too closely.

“He told me I was to forget everything from the moment before they entered the varnish car until the moment he called my name. He also told me things like my legs would be paralyzed when I awakened, or anytime he willed it, that I was to obey only him, and so on. It was fairly easy to continue to pretend to be under his control, especially because he instructed me to behave normally otherwise.”

They searched the house and grounds, finding nothing. Ned went to a couple of nearby houses to ask the residents what they had seen or heard, but only one had anything helpful. He said he was working in his garden, which was probably two hundred yards from the house where Jim had been held, when he suddenly heard the hoof beats of horses, looked up and saw a coach traveling at a rapid rate of speed. He could not understand why he did not hear them approach. Ned did not try to explain.

Epilog


As a way of displaying their gratitude for her assistance in the case, Jim and Artemus took Margaret Doyle to the very successful opening of Lily Fortune’s new play. After many curtain calls and numerous bouquets delivered to the star, Lily retreated to her dressing room to change clothes before accompanying them to a late supper at one of Washington’s finest restaurants.

As had James Richmond and Jeremy Pike, Lily had apologized profusely for her behavior toward Jim while under Belgarath’s mesmeric spell. Jim had laughed it off, kissing her cheek to show her he understood completely. She still felt a little embarrassed in his company, remembering all too well the words she had said to him that day he came to her dressing room. Jim, as she knew he would, soon made her feel at ease.

During the meal, Jim and Artemus told Molly Doyle details about the incident. Lily had remained at the department office while the colonel and two agents went seeking Jim after using their memories to determine the route to the house. She had been told most of it previously, but she still listened avidly.

“I wish I had thought to pretend to be hypnotized,” she sighed as they waited for dessert. “I was so frightened I just did everything he told me to do!”

“I like to think I could have resisted,” her fiancé put in, “but none of us are as hardheaded as James.”

“Thanks,” Jim responded drily. “I like to think it’s my strong willpower.”

“At least Belgarath is not likely to be free long,” Molly spoke firmly. “With his appearance, he will certainly stand out.”

The two agents exchanged glances, and Artie spoke. “That’s not necessarily true, Molly. We happen to know another evil mastermind with an unusual appearance who manages to stay out of the public’s sight almost miraculously.”

“One who has an assistant who is almost more visible,” Jim nodded.

“You mean Loveless and Voltaire of course,” Lily provided with a little shudder.

“Oh, I have heard of Dr. Loveless,” Molly said. “I’d love to hear more about him.”

“Another time,” Jim smiled at her.

“Artemus,” Lily turned to her fiancé, “what do you think caused that mysterious flash that allowed them to escape?”

Artie sighed, shaking his head. “I have no explanation for it, beyond what he told Jim: that he is a wizard.”

“That’s impossible!” Molly cried, looking at the serious faces on each man. “Isn’t it?”

“All I can say,” Jim stated, “is that things are not always what they appear to be.”

“You have to come to the newspaper tomorrow,” Molly insisted, “and give me all the details again so I can write them down. I don’t want to forget a thing—and I definitely don’t want to get them wrong.”

“There is a postscript, Molly,” Jim said, putting his hand on hers as it rested on the table near him. “Belgarath may already be aware of your participation in this affair. If you write it for publication, he will know definitely.”

With a smile, she slipped her hand out and patted the top of his. “Don’t worry about me. I come from a long line of newspaper people. I know the risks that are possible in getting a great story. I’m not afraid.”

“I don’t think you are,” Artie smiled, gazing at her.

“I do have one request, however, beyond you two giving me the story.”

“What’s that?” Jim asked.

“I want you to teach me how to resist being mesmerized. Just in case.”

“Any time,” Jim grinned at her, and she smiled back.

Lily leaned back slightly as the waiter placed her dessert before her, keeping her eyes on Molly Doyle. She saw the glowing admiration in the pretty newspaperwoman’s eyes. I bet she doesn’t want to learn how to resist Jim’s mesmerism! She then looked at Jim.

“I do want to compliment you, Jim, on your acting ability. You obviously convinced Belgarath that you were indeed under his control.”

“Seems so. I never saw a hint of doubt.”

“Well,” Artemus picked up his fork to tackle the apple pie a la mode now on the table before him, “look at all the time James has spent with one of the world’s greatest actors. Some of it was bound to rub off.”

Jim sighed, shaking his head, while both women rolled their eyes. Artie just grinned.

~The End (maybe)~


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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