SS senior field agent
Posted - 10/23/2015 : 16:40:32
| The Night of the Heinous Hirsute Horror
The brave man is not he who feels no fear,
For that were stupid and irrational;
But he, whose noble soul its fear subdues,
And bravely dares the danger nature shrinks from.
—Basil (act III, sc. 1, l. 151), Joanna Baillie (1762-1851), Scottish poet and dramatist
James West did not lift his eyes from the report he was reading over as he sat at the desk near the rear door of the varnish car. “Good morning, Artemus. You slept late. I had to make the coffee, so no complaints, please.”
“Jim… help me…” The words were spoken in a hoarse whisper.
Jim jerked his gaze up, and could not suppress the gasp. He jumped to his feet, paying no attention that the chair nearly tipped over. “Artie! What the hell? What happened?”
He could only gape at his partner, standing just inside the door from the galley. Artie wore no clothes, and in truth, needed none, for his body, from head to toe, was covered in long black hairs. Only a portion of his face was visible and recognizable.
“I don't know… Jim, it keeps... growing. I don't know what has happened… I feel so strange!”
Jim moved around the desk then, going to his partner. He grabbed one arm, feeling the silkiness of the fur that was now covering his partner. On impulse, he seized a handful with his other hand, and jerked.
Artie cried out, and in truth, the cry was more like a growl. “Stop!” He swung his free arm and struck his partner in the chest.
The strength of that blow was startling. Jim staggered back, grabbing onto the table for support. The hirsute growth was continuing rapidly, he could see, and really all that was recognizable as Artemus Gordon were the brown eyes, now filled with fury.
“I’m sorry, Artie,” Jim spoke quietly. What was this? A nightmare of some sort? No, he was sure he was awake. He had been up for nearly two hours, waiting for his partner to rouse. In a short while, he would have gone in and awakened Artie, knowing Artie would not like to sleep the day away, regardless of the night before.
The creature that had once been Artemus Gordon roared and charged at him. Jim ducked and slipped by, heading for the swinging door that allowed him to race through the galley toward the lab car and beyond, where he found Cobb and Kelly in the engine cab, polishing the various levers and dials.
“Come on! We’ve got a big problem!” Jim ordered. “Grab some ropes on the way!”
The two crewmen did not question, following their boss back through the lab where all three picked up any ropes they saw. They had just reached the door that would have taken them back into the varnish car when the door to the lab burst open and the monstrous hairy creature entered, arms waving, eyes blazing, and roaring with a sound that seemed to rattle the car’s windows.
“What the devil?” Orrin Cobb cried, stopping short so that Kelly bumped into him.
“It’s Gordon,” Jim answered quickly, backing up. “I don't know what happened, but that is Artemus Gordon. We have to subdue him and get him into the rolling cell. He’s strong. Very strong.”
The three men moved cautiously, circling the creature, holding their ropes, the two crewmen waiting for Jim’s lead. Jim could see that Cobb and Kelly were utterly stunned, and he was not too far from that himself. He would not have believed what he was seeing if he had not had that glimpse of Artie’s face, heard his voice.
Carefully he formed a lasso with the length of rope he was holding. He did not know how much language the former Artemus Gordon would be able to understand now, but he spoke to his helpers. “I’m going to rope him. Get yours ready and put as much rope around him as possible.”
The way the creature spun toward Jim answered the question of understanding. Luckily, Cobb acted fast. With the hairy monster’s back toward him, Cobb quickly performed what Jim had intended to do, throwing a lasso over the dark shiny head. The rope settled just below the broad shoulders and the engineer quickly jerked the rope tight. The monster screamed in rage.
Close to a half hour later, the roped creature was shoved into the small cell and the door slammed shut. Partially hampered by the bindings, the hairy beast shrieked and roared, trying to slam its weight against the door, but unable to put much force behind his movements.
The three men were perspiring freely as they stepped back, panting. Jim’s shirt had been ripped nearly off his body, while Kelly had a shiner beginning to grow around his left eye. Could have been worse, Jim decided, staring at the imprisoned “thing” that had once been his human partner.
“What happened, boss?” Orrin asked, wiping the remnants of his shirtsleeve over his face.
“I don't know. I just do not know. Artemus went to that congressman’s dinner last night with Miss Fortune. I was asleep when he got back. A little while ago, he came into the parlor car, covered with hair, barely able to talk. Then the… the hair covered his face and he became this… this monster.”
“How could that be?” Kelly wanted to know.
“I don't know,” Jim said again. “But I’m going to find out. You two stay on guard. Locate something to strengthen the cage—chains, ropes, belts, or whatever. If he gets out, do what you can to stop him. Try to remember it’s Mr. Gordon, but if it becomes a matter of your life… do what you have to do.”
Jim went to his quarters, washed up quickly, donning a fresh shirt. He nearly ran to the street where he hailed a cab. A half hour later, he climbed out in front of the fine Washington City hotel where Lily Fortune was staying while in the nation’s capitol. Jim had planned to attend the dinner with her and Artemus last night, but the young lady he was going to escort sent a note earlier in the day that she had sprained her ankle and thus could not go. He had not been very enthusiastic about the affair anyway, and stayed in the varnish car writing the report he had been reading over this morning. Artie had twitted him about preferring to write a dreaded report than attend a social gathering.
A query at the desk informed him Miss Fortune was in, so he took the elevator up to the fourth floor and soon rapped at her door. Lily’s maid opened it and smiled in recognition. “Come in, Mr. West. Miss Fortune is in the sitting room having coffee.” Evelyn glanced behind him, obviously looking for Artemus; not seeing him, she closed the door and led Jim through the suite to the small but comfortable room between the front parlor and the bedroom.
“Mr. West is here, Miss Fortune.”
Lily got to her feet, putting her magazine aside. “Jim! How good to see you.” Her glance also went beyond him, and she was not one to remain silent. “Where’s Artemus?”
“That’s what I need to talk to you about, Lily. I want to know what happened last night.”
“Last night? Why? Is Artie ill? What’s going on?” Her smooth brow creased as worry clouded her eyes. She reached out a hand.
Jim took that hand and led her back to the small settee where she had been, sitting down beside her. On the way over he had tried to think of ways he could get information without telling her the truth of the matter, coming to the conclusion that with Lily, that was not possible. He continued to hold her hand tightly, watching her face pale with horror as he succinctly related what had occurred this morning.
“Oh my God! Oh my God! How is that possible, Jim? I must go to him!” She started to rise, but Jim retained a firm grip on her hand, holding her down.
“No, Lily. You can’t do anything. Neither can I. Not until we figure out what happened. Tell me exactly what occurred at the dinner last night. Who did you see? Who did Artie talk to or interact with?”
Lily rubbed her forehead with her free hand, obviously trying to gather her thoughts after receiving this unfathomable information. “Let me see… Of course, we spoke to Congressman Ellison and his wife. At dinner, I was seated next to Harold Proctor, the newspaperman. A doctor I never met before was on the other side of Artie. What was his name? Oh. Nemeth. I’m afraid I didn’t catch his first name. Come to think of it, Artemus spent a great deal of time with Dr. Nemeth, especially after dinner when sherry and port was served. They seemed to have something in common to discuss.”
“Nemeth. I don't think I’ve heard of him. Medical doctor?”
“I don't know. Artemus had a headache on the way home and we did not talk much. Do you think he had something to do with…?”
Jim shook his head with a sigh. “I don't know. Did you notice Artie drinking with this doctor?”
“I’m afraid I did not. I gathered with the ladies. Jim, what kind of… of drug could have caused this thing that happened?”
“I have no idea, Lily. We have witnessed the types of incredible drugs and mechanisms Dr. Loveless can come up with. I guess it is not impossible that another such man with a similar mind exists. Do you happen to know where Nemeth lives or has offices?”
“No…” Lily’s face revealed her doubt. Then she brightened. “Wait! Senator Avery was across from us and he participated in some of the conversation with Artemus and this doctor. The senator asked him where he practiced, and I heard Nemeth say something about Massachusetts and Rhode Island Avenues. You know where the two of them cross at a diagonal? He mentioned the ‘point’ there, but I don't know which one.”
Jim nodded thoughtfully. “I don't know the area well, but I do not believe many professional offices are located there. If he is practicing out of his home, neighbors may be aware. Can you describe him?”
Again, Lily’s pretty face screwed slightly as she considered the question. “Middle-aged. Somewhere around fifty, I would say. Not overly tall and a bit on the pudgy side. He is mostly bald and combed the remnants of his hair over his pate. You’ve seen men do that. Some kind of vanity, I suppose. Looks ridiculous. Oh, he wore pince-nez. Rimless. He also had a very slight accent of some kind. German or Polish or… something like that. Not French or Spanish, I’m sure. He also did not appear to be Spanish. Rather fair. Blue eyes. Very bright blue eyes, rather disconcertingly so. Even the spectacles did not dim them.”
Jim smiled. He was not surprised she was able to be so detailed. As an actress, she often had to portray people of different eras and nationalities. She paid close attention to her makeup and costumes. “Thank you, Lily dear.” He stood up then releasing her hand. “I’ll send word when…”
Lily Fortune popped up to her feet. “Oh no! I am not staying here waiting. If I cannot go help and comfort Artemus, I am going to be with you. You know very well that I can be of assistance.”
Jim sighed. He also knew that Lily was a stubborn woman. If he did not take her with him, she would find a way to follow him. “Very well. But you must promise to obey me, especially if I say stay back.”
“Of course, James. Go find a hack while I change clothes. And do not try to leave without me!”
“I’ll be waiting.”
To live is not to live for one's self alone; let us help one another.
—Menander (341-293 BC), Greek dramatic poet
Finding the intersection was not difficult. Jim had asked the hack driver if he had ever heard of a Doctor Nemeth and received a negative reply. The driver was familiar with the area is question, but had never had a fare ask to be taken to such a doctor in that part of the city. Both Jim and Lily peered out the windows as the coach moved through the street taking them to the intersection of Massachusetts and Rhode Island. They saw homes and a few stores interspersed, none that bore a sign identifying it as also being a physician’s location.
Jim had the cabbie halt his vehicle on a side street, then left Lily in it while he went to the businesses to ask questions. No one had heard of a Dr. Nemeth, but the fourth store he entered, a pharmacy, the druggist recognized the description. The gentleman in question had purchased a few items from him, always paid in cash, so never opened a line of credit as other physicians did. The pharmacist had no idea where the doctor resided or practiced, but was certain it was nearby because he always came on foot.
A bit frustrated, Jim continued. The sixth store was a grocery story, and here he hit pay dirt, because items had been delivered to Dr. Nemeth’s home. The storeowner was a bit reluctant to give out information until Jim showed him his identification. The man was impressed to be helping the famous James West.
Returning to the cab, Jim gave the drive instructions and climbed inside. “Lily, I want you to continue to wait…”
“No! Jim, I insist on being part of this. You know I have been of assistance in the past. We have to find out what happened to Artemus and if…” She swallowed hard. “If this condition is reversible. I have to know I have done my part.”
He nodded, once again tasting defeat where this courageous woman was concerned. “Very well. Did you bring a weapon?”
Lily smiled. “Of course I did. The charming silver pistol Artie gave me and taught me to use. Quite well, I may add.”
Jim had to chuckle. “I know all about that.” Artemus had been both proud and befuddled when his fiancée was able to outshoot him a time or two at a practice range. Lily had a steady hand and a sharp eye. She had already displayed her courage during incidents where she helped the two agents.
Leaving the hack, they climbed the steps of the rather large house identified by the grocer as the residence of Dr. Nemeth. No placard was posted indicating the practice was located in the same house. Jim knew it was possible that Nemeth was not a physician but a researcher, a scientist of some type. A brilliant one, if what was done to Artemus was any indication.
Jim lifted the brass knocker and let it fall twice. He was just about to do it again when he heard the latch click. A husky man in butler’s livery stood there, eying them with some wariness. “Yes?”
“My name is James West. I want to speak to Dr. Nemeth.”
The butler’s eyes flicked to the woman but he did not ask her identity or purpose. At first, Jim thought they were going to be refused entrance, for the servant hesitated for several seconds before he stepped back. “This way.”
Lily clutched Jim’s arm as they followed the man down the hallway past the stairs. She glanced at Jim’s hard face, and knew he was thinking the same thing she was. Jim had been expected! What was going on? She saw Jim lift his other arm to slip his hand quickly in and out from under his jacket. He had palmed the derringer he sometimes carried in an inside pocket. She felt the heaviness of her reticule due to the pistol she carried, and experienced a thrill of fear. Would they need these weapons?
The butler paused at an unpolished, very heavy appearing wooden door under the staircase and, again after a slight hesitation, tapped on it. Obviously hearing a response, he opened it and stepped inside, closing it again to leave them standing in the dim hallway. Lily could hear no other sounds in the house. Does that mean no other servants? She swallowed hard, nerves tightening even more. She steeled herself. After all, she had insisted on coming.
The door opened again and the butler nodded to them, stepping to one side. Jim was not surprised to find they entered a well-equipped laboratory. The windows on the far side were whitewashed so that they allowed some light to enter, but one would not be able to see inside from the outside. A very sturdy-appearing barred cage stood in one corner; it was empty at this time.
The man Lily had described stood behind a table covered with glass and metal apparatus, as well as flasks and beakers of chemicals and liquids. He wore a white lab coat and bulky rubber gloves, but had his hands folded at his waist just now. “Mr. West! How good of you to accept my invitation! And Miss Fortune—not expected but delightful nonetheless.” As Lily had said, the accent was light and indeterminable.
“Dr. Nemeth,” Jim nodded. “I want to know what you did to Artemus Gordon and obtain the antidote.”
“As you are so straightforward, I shall reciprocate. There is no antidote.” He pulled off his gloves and dropped them on the table.
Jim shook his head. “No. I’ve dealt with people like you. You would not concoct such a horrendous… potion… without a remedy. You would be aware of the possibility of an accident. You would create the antidote prior to or at least concurrent with the condition you are creating.”
Nemeth chuckled now, moving his hands to behind his back. “I have heard that you are not only a marvelous physical specimen, but more than a little intelligent as well. Let me tell you my story.” He did not wait for Jim to acquiesce or dissent, continuing on. “Researching simians has been my life’s work. I have lived in Africa and South America, investigating the blood, the serums, even the saliva for apes and chimpanzees, monkeys and orangutans. All for one simple purpose, a purpose I have succeeded in reaching.
“You see I intend to become very wealthy and very powerful with my serum, in one or both of two different ways. One is by infecting a wealthy person and demanding a ‘ransom’ from his family to bring him back to normal. The other is by creating a force of super-strong creatures who will do my bidding to kill those in my way while also bringing me the spoils of war, so to speak.”
“That’s insane!” Lily interjected, unable to remain quiet.
Nemeth’s smile was broad. “It sounds so, does it not? Nonetheless, I have thought about it for a very long time, and planned meticulously, all the while I conducted my experiments. I have, er, converted numerous types of men to observe their behavior and willingness to obey commands. I have come to the conclusion that while intelligence is important, so is physical agility. What good is being able to understand my commands if they cannot be carried out?
“For instance, suppose I want something taken from a well-built, strongly guarded bank? Crashing in through doors and windows might work, but being able to pick a lock quietly would be much more efficient, and certainly less alarming to anyone in the vicinity. That brings me to you, Mr. West. Research has convinced me that you are the perfect subject. The only reason I accepted the Congressman’s invitation to last night’s dinner was due to my understanding that you were to attend.
“Imagine my disappointment to learn that you had changed your plans. I had the great fortune to be seated next to your erudite partner, however, and I soon realized not all was lost. Slipping the serum into a glass of port wine was simple enough. I was quite confident that once you viewed Mr. Gordon’s condition you would seek me and do so successfully. And here you are!”
Jim could hear Lily’s indrawn breath, but he did not turn toward her, and neither spoke. Nemeth continued to beam confidently at both of them, rising up on his toes and settling back, reminding Jim of another scientist who persisted in coming up with evil plans and having the scientific knowledge and intellect to carry them out.
“Where is the antidote?” Jim asked finally, realizing that Nemeth had finished his narrative. He drew only slight satisfaction to notice that the sudden query surprised Nemeth.
“Oh, it is here,” the scientist said, reaching over to a rack of test tubes on the desk in front of him. He withdrew one that held about a half inch of a dark liquid, as well as a cork in the opening.
Jim flicked his hand and the derringer gleamed. “Hand it over.”
Nemeth’s smile widened. “Ah, not so fast, Mr. West. A cost is involved.”
“How much do you want?” Lily asked quickly.
The pince-nez glittered in her direction. “Oh, nothing from you, Miss Fortune. Not at the moment. At some time in the future I plan to use the serum on females, with the hope that I may be able to breed members of my army.” Lily could not but gasp in horror as Nemeth turned his gaze back to Jim. “Mr. West, notice the bricks on the floor over here. That was a hearth at one point. I had the fireplace itself boarded up.” Now he extended out the hand holding the tube. “If I should drop this, it would shatter. The serum it contains would be lost. Need I mention that this is the last of the antidote in existence at this time?”
“What is it you want?” Jim asked then, his voice as tense as his body. He was certain he knew the answer.
“Very simply, Mr. West, I will pour the proper dose of the transforming serum. You will drink it. I will then give you this tube with the antidote, so that you may take it to your dear friend and restore him to his human form. Then you will return to me and become the general of my army.”
“Jim! No!” Lily’s voice was nearly a scream as she grasped his arm. “You mustn’t! Artemus would not want you to do that!”
Nemeth ignored her outburst. “Six to eight hours are required for the activating serum to work fully. That will give you sufficient time to return to Mr. Gordon, administer the dose, ensure that it works properly, and come back. Do not threaten to refuse to return. I know you, Mr. West, even though I never met you prior just now. I know the man you are. You have seen what your friend became. You would not wish to inflict that uncontrolled creature you will have become on the innocent world. Nor force your friend to kill you.”
Never removing his gaze from Nemeth, Jim slowly returned his weapon into the pocket inside his jacket. “Where is the potion I’m to drink?”
He knew Lily was crying, but he refused to look at her. He could not allow her to weaken his resolve.
Smiling broadly in triumph now, blue eyes gleaming behind the pince-nez, and continuing to hold the test tube over the brick floor, Nemeth picked up a larger flask from the desktop, this one containing an almost clear liquid. He removed the cap and poured some into a measuring flask, leaning down slightly to apparently ensure he was pouring the correct amount. Then he stepped back slightly as he straightened.
“There you are, Mr. West. I think you will find the flavor not too unpleasant.”
Without a word, Jim picked up the cup and drank it down. “Now what?” he asked.
“You will have a headache for a while. I am sorry for that. It is something I have been unsuccessful in eliminating. After that, you will feel quite normal for some time. The first sign of its effect will be the excess of hairs on your body, the backs of your hands, your neck. The extra hirsuteness will be the most visible sign. I assume you will have returned to this room by then, at which time I will place you in that cage, for my safety and yours. No doubt, you noted how uncontrollable Mr. Gordon became, as well as superhumanly strong. I have not asked, but I presume you were able to control him in some manner.”
“The antidote,” Jim said, holding out his hand.
“Of course. Have no fear, it will work. Because you would find it difficult, if not impossible, to persuade Mr. Gordon to consume it in his present condition, I suggest you spread it on a piece of raw meat. That seems to be the favorite sustenance of the creatures. While, as I said, six hours or more are required for the initial transformation to complete its cycle, the antidote works much faster. Mr. Gordon will be ‘cured’ within an hour. He will first seem mildly sedated and eventually fall asleep, to rouse another hour or so later. He will be confused and suffer a minor form of amnesia. That will pass rather quickly. By that time, as we have agreed, you will be here. Understood?”
“I understand.” Accepting the vial, Jim turned, took Lily’s arm, and guided the weeping woman out the door.
“Jim, you shouldn’t have! Artie would not…”
“It will be all right, Lily. Please don’t worry. Artie would do the same for me.”
The butler was standing down the hall at the front door. He opened it for them, and seemed to be searching their faces. Jim guided Lily out and down the steps to the waiting hack. He told the driver to take them to the nearest butcher’s. That shop happened to be about two blocks away. Lily had composed herself by then, so Jim entrusted the tube of serum to her as he hurried inside, returning with a paper-wrapped small package.
As the coach started out again, this time toward the rail yards, Lily put her hand on Jim’s arm. “Perhaps there is enough antidote for both of you.”
Jim held up the vial, which she had given back to him. “No. We can’t risk that, Lil. I’ll put the full dose on the steak for Artie. I have to. You understand that, don’t you?”
She sighed. “Yes, I think I do. It’s just so… so unbelievable and horrible. I know Artemus will do what he can to stop Nemeth from proceeding any further but… oh Jim! At the cost of your life?”
“It’s something we’ve faced during our entire careers. We each knew it could happen any day. We have both been fortunate so far. I will be happy knowing that Artemus is alive and you will be with him.”
This time Lily’s sigh was heavier, and she leaned her head against his shoulder. She knew better than to argue further, and tried to not feel guilty at the joy she experienced deep inside with the knowledge that the love of her life would be hers again. She also knew that Jim West was speaking the truth. He would gladly give his life for the man he considered a true brother.
For what I will, I will, and there an end.
—Two Gentlemen of Verona, Act I, Sc. 3), William Shakespeare (1564-1616), English dramatist and poet
Upon reaching the train yard, Jim dismissed the cab driver, but while he paid the man, he instructed him to return in approximately two hours. Lily had already started walking rapidly toward the area where she knew the Wanderer was waiting, so she did not hear these words. He caught up with her, taking her arm as they made their way over train tracks and ties as well as stony ground.
Just before they reached the steps up to the platform at the rear door, Jim halted, stopping Lily with him. “Lily, are you sure you want to see Artie as he is now? He…”
She was nodding vigorously. “Yes. Yes, I do. I want to see what that ogre is doing, so my will to stop him will grow even stronger.”
Jim smiled slightly. She was going to be a great wife for a man like Artemus. They went up the stairs and in through the parlor car. Jim put the butcher’s package and the corked tube in the galley, making sure the latter was secure. They then proceeded back to the lab car.
Orrin Cobb was sprawled on a blanket on the floor with a pillow from his bunk, a rifle at his side. He jumped to his feet as soon as they entered. The hairy creature in the cage roared loudly. Jim almost laughed aloud when he saw all the ropes, chains, and straps that had been used to strengthen the cage. At least it worked!
“Oh my lord,” Lily murmured, taking a few steps toward the cage. “Artemus! Artemus, do you know me?”
The monster roared again.
She turned her back quickly, wishing she had not been so stubborn. That creature could not be Artemus Gordon. It could not be! “Please, Jim. Give him the antidote!”
“Come on,” Jim replied, leading the way back into the galley. He opened the package to spread out the piece of red meat then pulled the cork out of the vial to carefully pour the contents over the bait. He used a spoon to smooth it around evenly, causing it to be absorbed somewhat, then found a long fork to hoist it with.
Lily started for the door again, pausing when Jim spoke her name. “Yes?”
“Lily, I just remembered. Artie… was not wearing any clothes when he first appeared to me this morning.”
“Wait in the varnish car. Someone will come for you when it’s all right.” Jim lifted his free hand to massage his temples.
“You have a headache.” She did not pose it as a question.
“A little. I’ll go give Artie his dinner.”
James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: "Thanks Artie"! Is that all you can say to me? I've just come back from the grave, risen like Lazarus, and that's what you say? "Thanks, Artie"?
James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: It's a pleasure.
- TNOT Pistoleros
SS senior field agent
Posted - 10/23/2015 : 16:41:45
Scilicet ut fulvum spectatur in ignibus aurum
Tempore in duro est inspicienda fides.
[As the yellow gold is tried in fire, so the faith of friendship must be seen in adversity.]
—Tristium (I, 5, 25) Ovid (Publius Ovidius Naso; 43 BC-c. 17 AD), Roman poet
The last thing Artemus Gordon expected to see as the first thing when he opened his eyes was his lovely fiancée at his bedside. He blinked and looked again. “Lily?” His voice was dry and raspy.
Lily picked up the tumbler of water she had brought in and kept on the bedside stand, lifting his head with the other hand as she held the glass to his mouth. He took several swallows and she lowered his head to the pillow again. “How do you feel, darling?”
“I… I don't know. I can’t… how did I get here? Why are you here? Was I ill?”
She smoothed back the hair from his brow. Normal hair. “In a sense. What is the last thing you remember?”
Artie’s forehead wrinkled. He closed his eyes for a moment then looked at her. “The dinner party? I… I don’t remember leaving. What’s wrong with me?”
“It’s going to be all right, dearest.” She knew she should not tell him the full story until he was fully alert with all his senses. Time was of the essence, but she could not rush matters. “Would you like some coffee?”
“I would. Where’s Jim?”
“I’ll tell you in a short while. Just relax. I’ll be right back.”
The coffee seemed to speed his recovery. After a draining a cup, he started remembering leaving the party as well as the time he spent conversing with the interesting Dr. Nemeth, and his headache on the cab ride home. That was all until he awakened in his bed. Again, he asked about the whereabouts of his partner.
This time Lily told him as much as she knew, from Jim’s narration to her about what occurred in the Wanderer early in the morning, to hers and Jim’s visit to Dr. Nemeth, and finally, hesitatingly, how Jim had taken the dose of the evil doctor’s serum in order to gain the antidote for his partner.
Artie closed his eyes for a moment, shaking his head. He looked at her then. “Well, he rescued me. I have to go rescue him.”
“But that was the last of the antidote! Nemeth said so.”
Artie’s smile was grim. “We long ago learned to not believe everything we are told, my love. Now scoot so I can get dressed. Ask Orrin or Kelly to go find me a cab.”
“Us a cab! I went with Jim and I’m going with you!”
Like his partner, Artemus knew better than to argue. He just nodded his head and waved her out of the room. A short while later he entered the varnish car, checking the loads in his pistol before inserting it into the holster under his coat. “Ready?”
Lily rose from the sofa. “I am. I realize that you need to stop Nemeth. Artemus… are you ready to… to kill Jim also?”
“I haven’t given that much thought at all. Let’s go.” He held open the rear door for her.
They made their way back across the rail yard to the street, where a cab was waiting for them. Artie spoke briefly to the driver, giving him the address, but also telling him to stop at the first butcher shop he saw on the way.
“Why did you do that?” Lily asked after Artie settled in beside her and the coach started.
“Ask to stop at a butcher shop. We don’t have…”
“I like to be prepared,” Artie smiled, patting her arm.
Lily did not reply. She had known the two agents long enough, and worked with them several times, to not question his methods. She felt, however, he was being too optimistic. She had heard Nemeth say that the bit in the test tube was the last of the antidote. Why would he have had it in the corked tube if more were available? He had had to pour out the dose of the other potion for Jim to drink, which he certainly had a plan to do before she and Jim had arrived.
When they arrived at the house, Artie had the butcher’s package secured in his jacket pocket. He told the hack driver to wait for them, even if they were gone a couple of hours, promising a generous gratuity. At the door, Artie knocked, and then lifted the rapper again before the same man who had greeted Jim and Lily opened it.
That butler gaped at them, obviously recognizing Lily, and perhaps realizing the gentleman’s identity. “Yes?” He spoke after clearing his throat. One hand clutched the edge of the door, knuckles white.
“We wish to see Dr. Nemeth.”
Again, the butler cleared his throat. “Who is calling, please?”
“Artemus Gordon and Miss Lily Fortune.”
“I’m… I’m not sure the doctor is accepting visitors.”
“He’ll see us.”
Without waiting further, Artie pushed the butler back with a firm hand on his shoulder, so that he and Lily could enter. “Which door?” he asked her.
Lily led the way, or started to, as the butler hurried by them and gained the door first. With another rather worried glance toward the visitors, he knocked on the door and entered. A moment later, he returned, stepping into the hall and closing the door.
“Sir, are you certain…?”
Artie nodded decisively. “We are certain. Please admit us.”
With obvious great reluctance, the butler opened the door again and stepped back. Lily glanced behind her to see that he closed it behind them, her last glimpse revealed his face registering great concern. Lily could not help but recall how he displayed similar behavior when she and Jim arrived earlier. It would seem that he did not completely agree with his employer’s business.
Nemeth rose from a chair behind the same table where he had been previously, both surprise and pleasure on his face. “Why, Mr. Gordon! I certainly did not expect you. You and the lovely Miss Fortune are welcome!”
Neither looked at him, their attention drawn to the cage in the corner, where a hairy beast had also risen, this time from the floor of the cage. It was now seizing the bars and trying to shake them. They seemed to be sturdy. A howl of frustration arose from its throat as saliva drizzled from its jaws.
Artemus reached into his coat and withdrew the pistol. “Dr. Nemeth, I want a dose of antidote for my friend, James West.”
Nemeth created an overly sorrowful expression on his face. “I am so sorry, Mr. Gordon, but as Miss Fortune well knows, I gave the last of my supply to Mr. West to dose you. I see it was successful.”
Artie shook his head. “I don’t believe you. Lily, look in those cupboards.”
She did as bade but soon found that the bottles of liquids and powders in the cupboards were either not labeled, labeled with a known chemical name, or with some number that was apparently a code. “Artemus, I can’t tell,” she said, turning back.
“Which one, doctor?” Artie lifted the pistol menacingly. The creature in the cage roared loudly, its green eyes wide and filled with fury.
“I am sorry you do not believe me.” Nemeth’s expression now was indeed sorrowful and even hurt. “I can make a new batch but it will consume the best part of a week. Unless the antidote is administered within seventy-two hours of the original transformation, it is not effective… and sometimes fatal.” Nemeth sat down in his chair again. “I hope you are not considering threatening me with death. Who would create the antidote in that case? All the formulas are in my head. I never write things down.”
“Lil,” Artie said. “I saw a coil of rubber tubing when you opened that dark brown cabinet. Would you fetch it, please?”
Nemeth evinced alarm now. “What are you doing?”
Artie took the coil of laboratory tubing from Lily and walked around the desk. “My dear, would you please produce your weapon and keep pointed at the doctor?”
Lily did so, stepping a bit closer to the desk. She noticed that the madman was astonished to see the weapon in her hand, and perhaps more so when it did not waver in her grip. She watched as Artemus holstered his own weapon and quickly used the tubing to secure Nemeth to the chair, wondering what his plan was. The hairy brute in the cage was watching too. Does he recognize us? The hair color of this one was lighter than Artie’s had been. Was that because Jim’s hair had a touch of auburn in it? I hope that’s Jim and not some other poor soul the doctor afflicted. She immediately realized it had to be Jim West. The eyes were a giveaway.
“Now,” Artie said, stepping back and gazing down at the bewildered and now thoroughly frightened doctor. “Lil, can you recognize the serum he gave Jim to cause the transformation?”
“Oh yes. It’s that bottle right there on the desk. He poured that beaker about a third full.”
“No, no!” Nemeth screeched. “You cannot! You must not!”
“Of course I can, and I will,” Artie replied coolly. He picked up the bottle to remove its stopper then took the small beaker in his other hand. Holding the latter high, he poured the clear liquid into it. “I suppose it won’t matter if the amount isn’t exact, does it, Doctor? Might act a little faster. And some might spill.”
“Please, no! No!”
Ignoring the pleas, Artemus stepped behind the chair. Wrapping one arm around the prisoner’s neck, he tipped the head back, using his thumb to force the mouth open, then brought the beaker to the lips. As he figured, some did spill, primarily because of Nemeth’s struggling movements, but also because he attempted to spit some out. The major portion was swallowed, however. Swallow or choke, Artie figured. The creature in the cage roared and howled, still shaking at the bars.
Moving away, Artie put the beaker on the table next to the bottle of serum and went to a sink against the wall to wash his hands. Nemeth was coughing and gagging. His pince-nez had fallen off, hanging by the ribbon fastened to his lapel. Lily watched, puzzled and concerned. She did not understand what good this action would do, other than be severe vengeance for what the doctor did. She also worried about the fierceness she had seen on her fiancé’s face as he administered the liquid. Artemus was consumed with rage. She understood, but she still worried.
“Now, Doctor,” Artie said calmly as he returned, “where is the antidote?”
“There… there is none. I swear!”
“All right. In a little while, when your transformation begins, I will put you in the cage with your creation. Do you think it is aware of what you did to him? You indicated to Miss Fortune and Mr. West that the human strength and intelligence of a man had great bearing on the similar attributes of the transformed monster. Mr. West was very strong. Are you strong, doctor? Can you match him?”
Nemeth’s complexion grew more ashen as he listened to Artie’s words. He swallowed hard. “I… I cannot do anything…”
“Very well. Then we’ll wait. Lily, perhaps you want to find the butler and ask for coffee…”
“In the white cupboard!” Nemeth screeched. “The blue bottle with the white label.”
Lily quickly hurried to the cupboard mentioned to open it. Right on the top shelf was a single blue bottle, a white label pasted on it. She could not immediately decipher the writing on the label but it did not matter. I have a brilliant fiancée, she marveled, bringing the bottle back to Artie.
“How much?” Artie asked, looking at the bound man.
“Three millimeters,” Nemeth replied. “Clean flasks are over there. Hurry!”
Artie located the glassware on a nearby shelf and brought two small flasks back to the table. He poured the brown liquid into one of them, checking the measurements. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Nemeth lick his lips eagerly. Instead, Artie reached into his pocket and pulled out the butcher’s package. Opening it, as Jim had, he poured the liquid on the meat as Nemeth gaped.
“You do not expect me to eat that! I can drink it!”
“I expect you to wait until I’m certain this is the antidote.” Artie used a glass rod to spread the serum over the meat. He then found a pair of tongs to pick it up and carry to the cage. The brute roared shrilly and reached toward him. Lily followed a few paces behind.
Artie extended the tongs into the cage. The creature grabbed the meat and immediately backed away to devour it, sinking to its haunches, blood now mixing with the drooling saliva. Artie glanced back at Lily. “You weren’t there to see how quickly it worked on me.”
“No,” she admitted. “I also suspect I should not be here to…”
The sound behind her caused her to look around quickly. “Artemus!” She cried out.
The doctor had apparently taken advantage of the elasticity of the tubing and had managed to slip loose from the chair. He got to his feet rapidly, throwing a look at the other two and obviously certain they were going to try to stop him. He grabbed the bottle of antidote and started to turn and back away.
He had not cleared the tubing away when it fell and now his feet became tangled in the mass. Conscious of it, he attempted to move faster, more anxious to open the flask and take a dose of the antidote rather than be cautious of his situation. The tubing ensnarled his feet even more, and he started to fall forward. The bottle fell out of his grip onto the brick surface there, the same one on which he had threatened to smash the “sole” bottle of antidote earlier. Glass shattered. Nemeth threw his hands out in front of him but the impetus of tripping in the tubing hurled him onto the hard surface and the broken glass. He screamed briefly.
Artemus had started toward the doctor as soon as Lily called his attention to the escape attempt, but he was still several feet away when the doctor slammed into the floor. He saw at once the blood pouring from the area of Nemeth’s throat, and the immediate stillness of the man. “Stay back,” he warned Lily, and knelt down.
“Is he dead?”
Artie stood up, his face grim. “He fell on the glass and a large piece cut right into his throat. He hadn’t a chance.”
“Perhaps it’s just as well,” Lily murmured.
“I suppose so.” Artie looked back toward the cage, where the brute had finished the steak but was still on the floor, head drooping. “Something is taking effect. I hope to heaven it was the right serum.”
“It must have been,” Lily assured him. “Nemeth wanted it.”
“True.” He looked at the table. Apparently in his reaction to being ensnarled in the rubber, Nemeth had either bumped the table or swung his arms out. Several bottles, including the one containing the original serum, were tipped over, their contents spilling onto the table surface and combining.
Lily had gone closer to the cage. “Artie, I think the hair is starting to vanish.”
Artie joined her. “I think you are right. Which means…”
“Which means I’d better leave. That box there appears to contain Jim’s clothes and possessions.”
“I saw it. Lily, be careful of that butler.”
She patted the reticule still hanging from her wrist. “I have my weapon. I’ll see if I can persuade him to make some coffee. I know Jim will need it.”
“Also have him bring a blanket in. I will want to take Jim upstairs to a bed. I’d better search Nemeth for the keys to this cage.” The creature was on its side now, and seemed to be thoroughly unconscious, or asleep. “Oh, you’d better go out and ask the cab driver to go to the nearest police station. Tell him to use my name and send the top officer here.”
Lily left the room and Artie gingerly searched the clothing of the dead man. A great deal of blood had initially been spewed out, but was slowing and beginning to clot and dry now. Not finding any keys, he turned his attention to the table that had some drawers under the top. In the center one, he found a ring with five keys.
Watching the still comatose creature in the cage, he tried the keys in the padlock that secured the door. The second one worked. He locked the door again. Although reasonably certain that the antidote was working—he could see thinning of the hair around the face and shoulders—he wanted to be certain. Lily had told him that Jim and the crew had done the same with him.
The door to the laboratory opened and the butler entered, carrying a blanket. “Miss Fortune said you would need this, sir.” The butler’s eyes barely skimmed toward the bloody dead man.
“Thank you. What’s your name?”
“Eugene. Eugene Plummer. I put a fresh pot of coffee on. It should be ready well before the time the gentleman arouses.”
“How long have you worked here, Eugene?”
“About six months. I answered a notice in the newspaper and Dr. Nemeth hired me. I thought he was a proper gentleman. Then… then he started doing these strange things. He… he did it to me.”
Artie’s eyes widened. “He changed you into one of these… creatures?”
“Yes, sir. He asked me to join him for a glass of wine one afternoon. Burgundy. I thought he was being nice. The next thing I knew I woke up in that cage, stark naked, with the doctor standing out here and laughing at me. He told me what had happened but I did not believe him. So a couple nights later, he called me in and a monster was in this cage. He administered the other medicine and I watched that monster turn back into a man. He had me dress the fellow and take him to leave in the park a few blocks away. Then the doctor told me that if I ever disobeyed or betrayed him, he had a way of making the serum active again without me drinking it. Then he would leave me as a monster. I… I wasn’t sure if that was true, but I couldn’t take the chance.”
“I think he was lying, Eugene. He didn’t use that threat on my friend and me. But I understand your fear.”
Eugene glanced at the body again. “Will I have to go to jail?”
“I doubt it. Sounds like you were just as much a victim as my friend and I were. Luckily, the secret of these formulas apparently died with the doctor.”
With Eugene’s help, a blanket-wrapped Jim was carried upstairs to a room where he was placed on a bed. The fur was disappearing rapidly, but Jim gave no sign of awakening yet. Artie brought Jim’s clothes up to the room, and shortly after that, the police arrived. To Artie’s delight, the lead officer was one he and Jim had dealt with successfully in the past.
He had had an opportunity to speak to both Lily and Eugene about the situation, and had his story all ready. The doctor had kidnapped and drugged James West and brought him here, keeping him in a cage for some experiment he had planned; partly true, at least. Gordon and Miss Fortune had tracked him down.
When the sergeant showed some amazement that the lady had been involved, Artie explained he had used her as a distraction, keeping the doctor busy at the front door while Artie entered from the back. The butler, he added, had been a great help. He was an unwilling participant in the crime.
He was able to use the truth to explain the dead man as well, that Nemeth had tried to escape, tripped and cut his own throat. After a look at the still unconscious but now normal appearing Jim upstairs, the police accepted the story and hauled the body away. Artie promised that as soon as Jim was on his feet, they would come and make an official statement. By that time, he would have had opportunity to fill Jim in on the story.
As it had for Artie, coffee brought Jim back to his senses rather quickly. Artie explained what had occurred while Jim dressed. When they went downstairs, Lily hurried up to hug her future husband’s best friend.
“I am so glad you are all right, Jim.”
Jim kissed her cheek and let her go. “I’m fine now.”
“I hate to say this,” Lily said as they started for the back of the house and the kitchen, “but I’m glad that Nemeth is dead. Can you imagine trying to explain the truth to the authorities?”
“Don’t feel badly, love,” Artie smiled, taking her hand. “I’ve had the same thoughts. A simple kidnapping story is much easier and suits the purpose. Nemeth will never carry out his vicious scheme, and we can hope that no one else will ever come up with the same idea, and certainly not his formula.”
“Next time you go to a party,” Jim suggested as they entered the kitchen, “don’t accept a glass of wine from a stranger.”
“Good idea, pal. Eugene?”
The butler was at the big stove, stirring something in a pot. A wonderful aroma permeated the kitchen. Eugene turned around, beaming. “I thought we should have a celebration, sirs. Madam. The doctor has tons of food stored here. We might as well use some of it. I suggest the remainder be donated to an orphanage or some place like that.”
“I didn’t realize how hungry I am until I caught that aroma,” Lily said. “You two have had steak. I haven’t had anything since breakfast!”
“Steak!” Jim exclaimed. “What steak?” He winked at Artie.
“Let’s not discuss that right now,” Lily returned. “I don’t want to spoil my appetite. Eugene, do you need any assistance.”
“No, ma’am. Please go to the dining room. I will serve shortly.”
“Eugene,” Artie said, “you will be joining us, won’t you?”
Pleasure lighted the former butler’s face. “I will be delighted to, sir.”
A good dinner sharpens wit, while it softens the heart.
—John Doran (1807-1878), English author
The dinner was excellent. Artie kept exclaiming over it, marveling that Eugene had pulled it together in such a short time. The now-former butler blushed under the praise, explaining that his mother had been a cook in a home (and his father the butler) for a long time. “While I helped in other matters as I grew up, I gravitated toward the kitchen.”
Jim asked him what he was going to do once the matters here were finished, and Eugene shook his head. “I don't know. Of course, I won’t have a recommendation from my employer.” He made a rueful face. “I did have a letter from a previous employer, but I gave it to the doctor. I don't know where it is.”
“We plan to look through his effects,” Lily put in. “Perhaps we’ll find it.”
“You won’t need it,” Artie said flatly. “I will be your endorser, and I believe I may have the perfect position for you.”
The butler’s eyes widened. “You do, sir?”
Artie nodded. “An acquaintance, an attorney with a rather large family, told me recently that his current cook is retiring at the end of the year. He is rather distressed about it. He prefers good hearty food like this above fancy dishes. I think you would suit him fine. I will contact him as soon as possible and arrange a meeting.”
“Oh, Mr. Gordon! That is… how can I thank you?”
“Continue to cook well,” Artie grinned. “I often am invited to Mr. Sloane’s home for dinner!”
When the meal was finished, Artemus went with Eugene to the laboratory to clean up the disarray there, especially the bloodstains. Eugene had told them that Nemeth leased the house from a university professor who was spending a year in Europe. Lily and Jim began to search for personal and any other papers Nemeth might have left.
A safe was found in the wall in the master bedroom. Jim opened it easily, and came across a few surprises. One was an envelope containing various papers and correspondence that indicated Nemeth had gone by over a dozen names in the past twenty to thirty years. Jim shook his head. Likely discerning which was the legal birth identity would be nearly impossible, let alone finding any kin.
“And probably not necessary,” he concluded. He also found the lease, which contained information regarding the current location of the owner, as well as the name and address of his agent here in Washington. They could contact the latter about the house.
Lily opened a small but sturdy strongbox. “Jim! Oh my goodness! Look!”
Jim turned away from the safe to see. She was seated on the bed with the box beside her. The box contained stacks of United States currency. “How much?”
Lily leafed through them. “Several thousand at least. What will we do with it?”
Jim winked. “No doubt Eugene is due back pay.”
Lily closed the box and looked at him. “Jim, you knew exactly what Artie would do when he learned of your situation, didn’t you?”
“I had hopes,” Jim shrugged. “I didn’t share my thoughts with you because although I hoped more of the antidote existed, or could be made, I was not absolutely certain.”
“But Artemus knew exactly what to do to cause Nemeth to reveal the truth.”
“Artie is pretty clever that way.”
Si finis bonus est, totum bonum erit.
[If the end be well, all will be well.]
—Unattributed Author, Gestoe Romanorum (tale LXVII)
Once again, the beleaguered butler was overwhelmed by the generosity of the agents. He accepted the funds gratefully, saying he would remit half of it to his war-widowed sister in eastern Maryland, and deposit the remainder in a bank. He had learned how quickly life could change. He wanted to be ready for the next step. “And if nothing untoward occurs in the next twenty-five years or so, it will be there for me to retire with.”
Finally, the four of them went into Nemeth’s study to partake of the late scientist’s wine collection, which Artemus judged uncommonly fine. “A suitable way to end this horrendous day,” he said, holding his glass high. “Who would have believed?”
“Not I,” Jim nodded. “Not after seeing you convert into a monster this morning. Does anyone know what day this is?” His green eyes glinted.
Lily frowned briefly. “October 30. Oh!”
“The day before Halloween!” Artie exclaimed. “How appropriate. The real monster is dead and will not trouble this earth again.”
“I’ll drink to that,” Eugene grinned.
“We all will,” Artie chimed in. “An incredible day with an equally incredible ending.”
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