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California gal
SS senior field agent

USA
8383 Posts

Posted - 07/29/2016 :  15:37:33  Show Profile
The Night of the Bartered Bride


Marry your daughters betimes, lest they marry themselves.
—William Henry Burleigh (1812-1871). American journalist, reformer, and poet

Chapter One

The possession of power unavoidably spoils the free use of reason.
—Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), German philosopher


Artemus made himself as conspicuous as possible when he pulled the watch from an inside pocket, snapped it open, and cleared his throat. Nonetheless, the man at the desk behind the wooden barrier did not look up from the ledger in which he was studiously writing, dipping his pen periodically into the inkwell nearby.

I should leave. In fact, I will give him fifteen minutes more, and then I am walking out. This is ridiculous and worse, insulting. Edgerton invited me to keep this appointment; he set the time.

Yesterday, a hand-delivered letter had arrived at the Wanderer where it rested in the Washington train yard, addressed to “Mr. Artemus Gordon.” Artie had been surprised to realize it came from Mr. Chandler Edgerton, the self-made millionaire who had earned his fortune providing arms to the Union Army during the late war. Some suggested he made even more money by selling to the South as well, but that was never proven.

The letter invited Mr. Gordon to Edgerton’s office on the next day at ten-thirty in the morning. Mr. Edgerton had something important to discuss with him, and him alone. He could not give details in the missive, but assured the recipient it was of vital weight to Mr. Gordon as well as to the nation.

The agents had thought the content strange, and definitely mysterious. Why would Edgerton not want to discuss the matter with both agents? Why did he not go directly to their superior, Colonel James Richmond? Jim suggested that a man of Edgerton’s wealth and power might also have an inside route to the president himself.

Although they were preparing to head west for an assignment, they decided this was important enough to delay their departure. Colonel Richmond agreed when informed, although he was as puzzled as they were over the summons. No information had been received regarding any problems as far as Edgerton Arms and Munitions was concerned.

Thus, Artemus arrived at Edgerton’s fine office a few minutes before ten-thirty, only to be asked to have a seat. Mr. Edgerton would summon him when he was ready. At the time, Artie decided Edgerton had an urgent company matter to take care of. However, that had been well over an hour ago. No one had exited or entered through the heavy, polished walnut door behind the secretary’s desk during that time.

Slipping the watch back into its pocket inside his coat, Artemus sat back and fixed his stare on the secretary, who probably had not cast a single glance in the visitor’s direction in the time he had been there. It is as though I have suddenly become invisible!

When he decided the fifteen minutes had elapsed, Artemus checked his watch again, which revealed it was within a few seconds of the time he had allotted. He got to his feet. “Excuse me.”

A bell sounded somewhere and the secretary rose at once, ignoring Artemus to go to the inner door. He tapped on it and entered, closing it behind him. Thirty seconds later he opened it again. “Mr. Gordon, you may come in now.”

Taking a deep breath in an attempt to calm his exasperation, Artemus pushed through the swinging gate in the low railing and then brushed by the secretary, who quickly stepped back and closed the door. Artie was not surprised as he noted the appearance of the inner office. The anteroom was rather Spartan, with just enough furnishings for the secretary and whoever might be waiting. This office was large and lavish.

Bookcases lined one wall, while the one behind the desk contained large windows overlooking the factory complex, not very scenic, but probably quite attractive to someone who was making money from that set of buildings. The other walls had artwork that Artemus recognized as being well known and expensive, if not—in Artemus's mind—particularly attractive.

The desk, as expected, was also large, decorated with a couple of figurines, one in ivory, another brass, again both recognizably costly. The man sitting behind the desk was about what Artemus expected: a confident-appearing, well-dressed man of above average height with a fine physical form for a man his apparent age. His dark hair was graying rapidly, and his mustache was completely pale gray.

This man did not look up as Artemus entered, continuing to study a ledger similar to the one the secretary had been working on. Artemus stood quietly and waited… and waited. After about five minutes, he cleared his throat.

Chandler Edgerton raised his head. Gold-rimmed glasses did not completely disguise the sharp brown eyes. “Oh, I am so sorry, Mr. Gordon. One does become caught up in the lovely figures of profit, does not one? Please sit down.” He waved to the leather-upholstered chair in front of the desk and beamed as his guest moved to that chair. “Now.”

Artemus waited a few seconds and when it appeared Edgerton was not going to continue, he spoke up. “What was it you wished to talk to me about, Mr. Edgerton?”

Edgerton’s smiled widened. “I am making you the offer of a lifetime, Mr. Gordon.”

Artie was flabbergasted. “What?” Employment had not even been considered as a reason for the invitation.

“I’ve done some investigating, Mr. Gordon. I know of your reputation as a government agent, as well as your scientific knowledge and acumen. I also know how poorly the government pays, even to its best men.”

Artie shook his head slowly. “I’m not sure what you’re getting at.” However, he was very sure. He was positive, and dumbfounded.

“I want to hire you, Mr. Gordon, as my personal assistant. With your insight into government dealings, your connections with government offices—very high-up offices, I know—you would be invaluable to my company. Government contracts are extremely important, as I’m sure you are aware.”

This time Artie’s head shook more firmly. “I’m not interested in changing jobs, sir.”

“Ah, but hear me out. You will not get another offer like this ever again. Of that, I am certain. I will pay you a handsome salary, plus bonuses when you direct contracts our way. I will build you a home that will be the envy of everyone in the District. And you will have my daughter as a wife.”

“Your…” Artemus stared at the man on the other side of the desk. Of all things he could have said, the last was the most astounding. He cleared his throat. “Mr. Edgerton, you may not be aware, but I am betrothed to a woman I care about very much.” These words were far from what he wanted to say.

Edgerton waved his hand dismissively. “Oh, I do know about that. Miss Lily Fortune. An actress.” The tone of his voice and expression on his face left no doubt of his opinion of that profession. “A man in the position in which you will be will need a respectable wife. A wife above reproach, as it goes. My daughter…”

Furious, Artemus jumped to his feet. “Mr. Edgerton, thank you for your offer but I am not in the least interested. Good day!” He turned toward the door.

The other man swiftly rose from his chair. “Wait a moment, Mr. Gordon. Do not be so hasty. We can come to terms. Just tell me what will make you happy? A second house? Perhaps one by the seashore? My daughter does love the ocean.”

Artie paused with his hand on the door latch. “I am not interested. That’s final.”

“You’ll be back!” Edgerton called after him. “Begging!”

W*W*W*W*W

Good nature will always supply the absence of beauty; but beauty cannot supply the absence of good nature.
—Joseph Addison (1672-1719), English essayist, poet, and statesman)


When his partner pushed through the swinging door from the galley, Jim West looked up from the boot he was polishing as he sat at the table in the varnish car. “How’d it go? Or shouldn’t I ask?” He spotted the expression on Artie’s face.

Artemus threw his hat on the back of the nearby sofa, pulled out the chair on the opposite site of the table, and sat down. Leaning his arms on the table’s top, he took a long, deep breath then exhaled it before he spoke. “The man is insane, James. Insane.”

Jim put the boot on the floor next to the other already shined one, picked up a rag to wipe off his hands. “Tell me about it.”

Slowly, in a measured cadence and even tone, Artemus related his experience at the office of Chandler Edgerton. “I was going to thank him and leave, but then he insulted Lily. Right to my face, he insulted her!”

“So you punched him and then left.”

Artie had to chuckle. Jim’s expression was so serious—other than a twinkle in his green eyes. “I wanted to. I figured the probable consequences were not worth it. He even offered me a second house by the seashore because his daughter likes the ocean.”

“I have never met Cecelia Edgerton, but I’ve heard she’s a beauty. Someone told me she’s also a spoiled brat, unmarried at twenty-five or so, probably because no one could treat her as well as her daddy does.”

“I did see her once. Someone pointed her out to me at a party. She is indeed beautiful. But beauty isn’t everything, my friend.”

“So we’ve learned over time, eh? Well, at least that is out of the way. Orrin has the tracks clear for our trip west. We leave tomorrow morning.”

“Good. I’ve had enough of Washington, D.C. for the time being.”

W*W*W*W*W


Si fortuna juvat, caveto tolli; si fortuna tonat, caveto mergi.
[If fortune favors you, do not be elated; if she frowns do not despond.]
Septem Sapientum Sententioe Septenis Versibus Explicatoe (IV, 6), Decimus Magnus Ausonius (c. 310-395), Roman (Bordeaux resident) poet and teacher


The first portion of the journey towards the west coast was uneventful. The agents spent their time on pursuits such as reading or playing cards, trying to write reports for past cases, or in Artemus's instance, working in his laboratory. At stops, they connected to the telegraph line to check in with Washington and also San Francisco, where the police were awaiting their assistance in a serious case of counterfeiting.

However, at a siding near Chicago, they were notified that the tracks ahead had been damaged by a flash flood, with a trestle severely affected. Crews were working to make the repairs. After checking the availability of other routes, the decision was reached to remain where they were, near the Indiana town of Hammond. Detouring south or north would not allow them to make better time.

Over the next two days, Jim and Artemus altered their habits. For one thing, they took their horses out of the car and exercised them by riding into town. They found a small restaurant with a very good cook, so enjoyed meals there a couple times each day. They also learned that a traveling acting company was putting on performances, so that was something else to occupy their time. Artie said the troupe was nowhere near as good as Lily’s and other larger companies, but they were adequate for their type.

On the third day, a message arrived saying that the route ahead should be ready to use the following day. On the off chance the repairs were completed earlier, they stayed in the train, awaiting that hoped for clatter of the telegraph. By noon, it had not come, but a knock sounded on the door.

Jim was at the desk near the door, and with a glance to ward his equally puzzled partner at the table, he rose to open the door. For a moment, he stared. “Lily!”

The lovely actress smiled, stepped forward to give him a quick hug. “Where’s Artie?”

“Right here, my dearest!” Artie had risen from the chair at the table and hurried toward the door, arms open. Jim smiled as he noticed the rather chaste kiss in his presence. “What in the world are you doing here, Lil? You were in Ann Arbor last I heard.”

“Our run there finished yesterday and Francis decided to give everyone some time off before our next engagement. I contacted Colonel Richmond and learned you were, um, fortuitously stranded here, less than a day’s train journey away. I have a dual purpose—other then simply seeing you, my dear—in coming. The first is this.”

She whipped an envelope out of her reticule, handed it to Artemus, and strolled to sit down on the sofa. Artie looked at her a moment, then at the envelope. It was addressed to Miss Lily Fortune in care of the theater in Ann Arbor. The postmark indicated it had come from Washington City. The return address was that of the Edgerton Arms and Munitions Company.

Baffled, he slipped the folded sheet of paper out and opened it. “Read it aloud,” Lily bade.

Artie did so. “‘Dear Miss Fortune. You will find enclosed a draft in the amount of fifty thousand dollars.’” Artie gasped. “What?”

“Keep going.”

“‘I am sure that this substantial amount will be sufficient for you to break your betrothal to one Mr. Artemus Gordon. I await that news eagerly. Sincerely yours, Chandler Edgerton.’” Artie looked in the envelope. “Where’s the check?”

Lily’s expression was smug and satisfied. “I tore it into tiny pieces and mailed it back before I left Ann Arbor.”

Both men laughed as Artemus went to join her on the sofa. “I imagine the letter rather surprised you.”

“That’s putting it mildly.”

“But you didn’t accept the check,” Jim put in, leaning against the desk, legs crossed.

She smiled. “It wasn’t enough.”

Artie laughed again and leaned in for another quick kiss. He then told her of his encounter with the arms manufacturer. “He seems to be a man who does not take no for an answer. I hope that receiving the draft back—in tiny pieces—will convince him that neither of us are interested.”

“Lily,” Jim put in, “you mentioned a dual purpose for coming here.”

“Oh yes. I want to hitch a ride with you to San Francisco. Our next performances will be in Sacramento, and I would like to spend some time in the city before that. Evelyn is going to visit her family in Omaha while I’m gone.” Evelyn was Lily’s loyal and efficient maid. Lily loved her services in seeing to her needs day in and day out, but Lily Fortune had spent several years at the beginning of her career without the funds to hire a personal maid. She could also take care of herself.

“You know we are going there for an assignment,” Artie pointed out.

“Oh yes. I know, nonetheless, that you’ll find a little time to spend with me.”

“Lily, you are always welcome on the Wanderer,” Jim smiled. “Do you need to send for your luggage?”

“Oh no. It is in the hired carriage outside. I hope you two don’t mind bringing it in.”

W*W*W*W*W


Unde ille qui semper invenitur unum substitit ad perpetrandum facinus adduxerit?
[Where have you ever found that man who stopped short after the perpetration of a single crime?]
—Juvenal (Decimus Junius Juvenal; c. 60-140), Roman satirical poet


The following morning the Wanderer resumed its trek west. The remainder of the journey again was uneventful, if made more pleasant by the presence of the actress on board. Jim did his best to give the couple some time alone, but in the rather cramped quarters of the train, that became difficult. When they pulled off to a siding to allow a regularly scheduled train to go through, he would take the horses out for some exercise, afterwards lingering in the stable area grooming the pair. Nonetheless, on the moving train, he could not do much other than sit quietly in the varnish car reading or playing solitaire at the table while Lily and Artemus billed and cooed on one of the sofas.

By the time they hit the downward slope of the Sierras, engineer Cobb reported signs of possible engine problems, and requested that he be allowed to put the locomotive into the repair shop during the sojourn in San Francisco. Because of that, the agents packed up their belongings and headed for a favorite hotel, along with Lily.

The hotel clerk was delighted to see them but apologized profusely that without advance notice their accommodations would have to be a bit different from usual. They normally asked for adjoining rooms with a connecting door, but none were available. They accepted a larger room with two beds, allowing Lily the only available suite to be had, on the floor above their room.

As soon as they stowed their bags in the room, Jim and Artemus headed for the police station and their good friend Lloyd Morris, who was in charge of the counterfeiting investigation. Numerous government bearer bonds had been appearing that were not identified as fake until long after they were cashed in. When the bank officers who accepted the bonds were questioned rather a long while after the fact, they had difficulty remembering a description of the perpetrator. About the only available information was that the person was male, well dressed and might or might not have had a mustache and worn spectacles.

“We have only one slight clue which appeared yesterday,” Morris said, picking up a manila envelope and pulling some pieces of white paper out of it. “These were found in an empty warehouse on the docks, and we think they are the same paper used for the bonds. I’m hoping you’ll be able to confirm that, Artemus.”

Artie reached over to take the scraps along with one of the bogus bonds, getting to his feet and going to a window as he pulled a small magnifying glass from an inner pocket. He spent a couple of minutes inspecting both the bond and the scraps. Finally, he turned back to the other two men. “I agree, Lloyd. It’s the same paper.” Artie looked again at the fake bond he held. “I notice these were ‘issued’ five years before the war, to mature in ’63.”

“That sounds as though they were printed—or the plates were created—around fifteen years ago,” Jim offered. “Where have they been all this time?”

“Damn good question, Jim,” Lloyd stated. “Also notice they are thousand dollar bonds. At least fifteen thousand dollars have been cashed in, and that is only what we know about. How many others haven’t been discovered yet?”

“That’s a lot of money,” Artie nodded, “especially if they continue to cash them in.”

“Who owns this warehouse?” Jim asked then.

“Company called Cornelius Pickles. The reason it’s vacant at this time of year is that they do their pickling in the later summer and early fall when the cucumbers are available. They store the pickles in this warehouse until they are all shipped out, which is what happens this time of year. Being early summer, it’s empty. I’ve never tried these pickles but apparently they are in great demand and sometimes hard to find.”

“Cornelius Pickles…” Artie murmured. He shook his head. “Never heard of them, I’m afraid. But I may have to look for them.”

“Evidently they are something of a high-priced delicacy,” Morris explained. “Betty said that when she worked at the hotel, they were in demand to be served with sandwiches and in certain dishes.” Betty was Lloyd’s wife and the mother of his two children. “Not much is sold in stores, except perhaps in larger cities. The fellow I talked to said they shipped to New York and Chicago.”

“Did the warehouse show any signs of being broken into?” Jim wanted to know.

“No. In fact, it appears that the padlock was opened with a key. I have had men interviewing company employees, but so far, nothing important has shown up. No one there has criminal records, or even has friends or relatives with criminal records that we have been able to dig up. I know that does not necessarily mean anything, but it’s all we have at the moment.”

Artemus tapped the arm of his chair with his fingertips. “I know you sent a couple of the bonds to Washington for inspection and possible identification of the creator of the plates…”

“Right. Nothing back yet. I’m taking it that means they don’t immediately recognize the hand that did it.”

“Doc Keyno has not done bonds in the past,” Jim mused aloud. “He might however know something about those who have.”

“He’s in the federal pen in Colorado,” Artie put in. “Maybe someone can go talk to him. I’ll send a wire about that.”

Morris sighed. “It’s not much, is it? These bonds have been passed all up and down the central coast and east to Sacramento. The perpetrator chooses wisely when he does it and where.”

“No doubt to banks that aren’t looking for that kind of bad paper,” Jim nodded. “Small banks.”

“Exactly. The bigger banks here in the city have not been hit. Two banks in Monterey cashed them on two consecutive days recently. So the fellow is getting pretty bold.”

“Could be his downfall,” Artie suggested. “We can hope anyway. I take it you’ve alerted as many banks as possible.”

“Yeah. Which may well drive the fellow to another area altogether,” Morris replied sourly.

Jim got to his feet. “We’ll get him, Lloyd. For now, I think we’d better take a look at that warehouse.”

W*W*W*W*W


A hack carried the three men to the waterfront and the warehouse in question. As Morris had said, it was small in comparison to others in the area, and very empty. The two agents inspected the padlock and agreed that it had not been tampered with. Someone had used a key.

“It has to be someone with a connection to the company,” Jim stated as he gazed around the dim interior. “Someone with access to the key.”

Artie was nodding. “A friend or relative may have swiped the key and had a copy made without that person’s knowledge. Or…”

“Or the person is connected with Cornelius and had a copy made and passed it on.”

“You two sure are suspicious!” Morris grinned.

“Comes with practice,” Artie retorted. He knew that the policeman had the same thoughts.

Jim shook his head. “Unless we find that person with the key and make the connection, this is going to be pretty tough.”

“Well,” Artie sighed, “I guess it behooves us to interview the victims ourselves, James. I know Lloyd won’t mind.”

“Not at all,” the police lieutenant smiled. He knew from experience that the federal agents could often elicit much more information than his officers.

“Actually,” Jim said slowly, “I can do the interviews. I have a suggestion of another task for you, Artemus.”

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

California gal
SS senior field agent

USA
8383 Posts

Posted - 07/29/2016 :  15:39:18  Show Profile
Chapter Two


Gli uomini sono così semplici, e resa tanto per necessità, che colui che inganna sempre lui trovare chi presterà si lascia ingannare.
[Men are so simple, and yield so much to necessity, that he who will deceive will always find him who will lend himself to be deceived.]
—Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527), Italian philosopher, statesman, diplomatist, and writer


The secretary behind the desk was slightly plump but not unattractive, her light brown hair in neat, tight curls around her face, the rest of it in a smooth chignon. She looked up as the outer door opened, gazed frowningly at the man who entered, then spoke. “May I help you, sir?”

“I am here to see Mr. Cornelius.” He was a well-dressed man, his tailored attire fitting smoothly over his broad stomach. When he removed his porkpie hat, he revealed a head of graying brown hair that matched a full mustache covering his mouth almost entirely as it drooped on either side of his chin.

The woman glanced down at her desk, looked at him again. “Do you have an appointment?” Her left hand lifted to touch her chin, and a large diamond sparkled on the third finger.

The visitor stiffened, chin lifting. “Of course not. Major Homer Thaddeus Blackwell does not need appointments.” He pronounced the final word with some scorn.

“I’m… I’m sorry, Major Blackwell, but Mr. Cornelius does not see anyone without an appointment.”

“Does he have a visitor right now?”

She could not stop herself from looking at the closed door behind her, nor think fast enough to tell a falsehood. “Well… no… but… Sir! You can’t go in!”

Nonetheless in he went, with the secretary hastily behind him, petticoats rustling. “Mr. Cornelius! I’m sorry…”

“Do not blame the lady,” the major said, taking in the interior office. Not as plush as he thought it would be, even after viewing the rather sparsely furnished outer office; nothing like that of Chandler Edgerton. “I am a man who does not take no for a final answer. Major Homer Thaddeus Blackwell is the name. Perhaps you’ve heard of me.” Artie stuck his hand over the desk toward the man who had slowly risen while gaping at him.

“Er, I’m afraid not, sir. Are you from the local area?” Jonas Cornelius was around forty, with thinning sandy hair that tended to vanish from sight on his ruddy scalp, a round face with rather thick lips. He was clean-shaven.

“Not at all. New York is my home. The great city, you know. I’m here to talk investments.”

“Investments? That will be all, Thelma. Thank you.” The secretary backed out, closing the door behind her. “Sit down, Major. What do you mean, investments?”

The major cleared his throat, taking the leather-upholstered visitor’s chair. “Well, it’s like this. I like risks. I like to think I know when I can, as the saying goes, beat the system. You know what I mean?” He winked.

Cornelius shook his head, although his complexion reddened. “I’m afraid I do not, sir.”

“All right. Very well. Tell me about your company.”

“There is not a lot to tell. My parents started making pickles in the kitchen of our home in Santa Clara and selling them at a local store. The sales were very successful and they expanded, renting a small house and hiring a couple of people to help. It went on from there until we incorporated and began selling nationwide. As it is, we are something of a part-time business. Cucumbers, as you may know, ripen in late summer. That is when we begin pickling.

“We hire people especially for the tasks done at that time, and when the cucumbers are all gone, we let those people go until next season. We keep a small year-round staff for the distribution from our warehouse in San Francisco, and even those people are idle at this time of year, when the warehouse is empty. We are still a family business. Thelma—Miss Crawford—is my fiancée.”

“Well, congratulations.” Artie nodded thoughtfully. “You’ve never considered expanding? You know, other vegetables, and some meats, are pickled. My grandmother made a marvelous pickled beet.”

“No, we have not. We are modestly successful, and really have no desire to grow any bigger.”

Artie eyed the diamond stickpin in the ascot at the pickle maker’s neck. It was twice as large as the stone in the secretary’s ring. That is not a “modest” diamond. “Have you any other ventures ongoing?”

“Other ventures? What do you mean?”

Major Blackwell smiled. “Oh, you know. Something on the side.” He winked. “As I said, I enjoy taking risks. Big risks. Slipping one under the noses of the big boys. You know what I mean?”

Cornelius’s complexion grew even ruddier. “I am sure I do not know what you mean, sir! We are a legitimate business. I don’t believe I have anything further to say to you.”

Artie reached inside his coat and withdrew a small card. He rose to step toward the desk and help himself to the pen in the inkwell on the desk, using it to scribble on the back of the card, which he then placed on the desktop in front of the pickle man. “Here is the name of my hotel. You may leave a message at the desk and I’ll return. Don’t ask to see me. The clerk will deny that I’m registered there.” He winked again. “Good day, Mr. Cornelius. Happy pickling!”

W*W*W*W*W


Jim felt he had had a reasonably successful day as he described it to his partner while they enjoyed cold beers in the saloon down the street from the hotel. Unlike the policemen who had decided that one particular person had done the bond passing at all locations, he had managed to get more details from the victims.

“I’m all but certain that at least three men were involved in San Francisco. Who knows how many in the other towns? Same men or others? We could be dealing with a fairly substantial gang.”

Artie nodded, lowering his glass to the table. He had taken the time to get rid of his disguise in the hotel room before coming to the bar. “I hope we get an answer to the telegram I sent to Denver earlier. Be good to know what Doc has to say, if anything.” He lifted the glass again to take a swallow. “Unfortunately, I can’t be as certain of Jonas Cornelius. He appeared to be flustered at my suggestion that I was willing to go outside the law to profit, but that could be a usual behavior. After all, I burst in on him unexpectedly. For a ‘modest’ family company, he and his fiancée, the secretary, sported very large diamonds.”

Jim tapped his fingertips on the tabletop for a moment. “Sounds to me that a couple of federal agents should pay a surprise call now.”

“I agree. Tomorrow. Jim, I hope you don’t mind reporting to Lloyd without me today. I promised Lily I would get a haircut before tonight’s theater date. She threatened to not allow me in the box if I didn’t.”

His partner chuckled. “I have to agree with Lily. You will need to put a bow in your hair if it gets much longer. Go ahead. I’m fine. I’ll also check for an answer about Keyno. I’ve ordered a bath these evening at the hotel and I’m looking forward to a long soak. Which I also need!”

W*W*W*W*W


Toda la belleza no inspira amor. Algunos complacer a la vista sin cautivador los afectos.
[All beauty does not inspire love. Some please the sight without captivating the affections.]
—Cervantes (Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra; 1547-1616), Spanish author


Jim put his magazine aside when the rap sounded on the door, rising from the bed. This would be the porter with the word his bath was ready. Not bothering to grab his jacket, he went to the door to open it—and stared, not at the expected porter, but a very lovely woman with nearly perfect features and translucent ivory complexion. She was in her mid twenties, he thought, with shiny brunette hair stylishly coifed to go with the equally chic gown and hat she wore. Brown eyes were large and shining.

“May I help you?” he asked.

Her smile was wide as were her eyes. “Mr. Gordon?”

“No. He is not here. I’m his partner. Is there something I can do for you?”

The smile faltered, then returned, as she shot a quick glance to her right. “I am Cecelia Edgerton, Mr. Gordon’s fiancée. Will he be returning soon?”

Jim realized he was not entirely surprised. Although he had never seen Miss Edgerton in person or in a photograph, she fit the description he had heard of her. As well, Chandler Edgerton did not give up easily. “I’m afraid he will be late. He has escorted his other fiancée to the theater.”

That wiped the smile away completely. “His… other fiancée? Papa said…”

“Papa was wrong. Miss Fortune did not desert Mr. Gordon. You may as well go back to New York, Miss Edgerton.”

Her glance to the side was longer this time. Jim shifted his position and looked around the doorframe. Two people stood a few feet away, a man and a woman. The woman was colored, probably a year or two younger than Miss Edgerton. Her complexion was that of lightly creamed coffee, her face somewhat round. The dress she wore was last year’s style, and Jim suspected it was a hand-me-down, probably from her mistress. They were of a similar size. Her hat was a plain straw bonnet.

The man was thirty or so, on the tall side, fair-haired but dark-eyed. His jaw was square, mouth grim just now, as he stared at Miss Edgerton. Something angered him, Jim decided. He was well dressed but the cost of Miss Edgerton’s gown would have purchased five of those suits.

Cecelia Edgerton noticed Jim’s interest. “Oh. This is my bodyguard, Mr. Ethan Smith, and my maid, Etta. Papa insists at least one of them is with me all the time, so Etta stays in my suite while Mr. Smith is across the hall.” She seemed vaguely embarrassed to reveal this.

“Your father sent you here to meet Mr. Gordon,” Jim stated flatly.

“Yes. He thought we should get acquainted.” Her smile now revealed charming dimples on each cheek. No embarrassment with this situation was apparent.

“I do think that it is a good idea to know the man you are betrothed to,” Jim nodded soberly.

“Yes. Well, that’s why Papa sent me here.” The smile continued but her gaze evinced some confusion. “Will Mr. Gordon return soon?”

“I doubt it. He and Miss Fortune often like to enjoy a midnight supper after attending the theater.”

“I see. I suppose I will meet him tomorrow then. Goodnight, Mr. West.”

Only after the young woman led her companions toward the stairs did Jim realize that the porter was standing off to the other side. Alex turned and watched the trio until they began to descend the stairs. Then he headed toward Jim. He was a stocky man with a darker complexion than the maid’s, but Jim was aware that colored women who worked in the hotel kitchen considered Alex Foster quite a handsome fellow.

“Did I hear that correctly, Mr. West? Did she say she is Mr. Gordon’s fiancée? I thought…”

“It’s a big mix up, Alex. The young lady is misled.”

“I should say so. Your bath is ready, sir.”

“Thank you. I need some quiet time!”

W*W*W*W*W


Dum in dubio est animus, paulo momento huc illuc impellitur.
[When the mind is in a state of uncertainty the smallest impulse directs it to either side.]
Andria (I, 5, 32), Terence (Publius Terentius Afer; c. 185-159 BC), Roman (Carthaginian-born) comic poet


“What are your plans today, Lily?”

Lily Fortune lowered her fork to the plate of pancakes before her. “A friend of mine from our early days on the stage now lives here in San Francisco, Jim. I have not seen her in a couple of years. I sent her a note by messenger yesterday and she invited me to her home today. We may go out for lunch and do some shopping.”

Jim grinned. “Sounds like a perfect day. Sorry we can’t join you.”

Artie shook his head. “Sadly we have to work, Lil.”

Lily smiled at the pair, knowing they were twitting her. “You will be greatly missed.”

Jim was facing the door that opened from the hotel lobby. “Artemus, your other fiancée has just entered.”

Artie swung his head around. When he returned to the hotel room last night, Jim had awakened to tell him about Cecelia Edgerton’s arrival. She paused inside the restaurant door, speaking briefly to her bodyguard, who was just behind her. The maid Jim mentioned was not with them; no doubt, she had gone to have breakfast with the colored and Mexican hotel staff in a room off the kitchen.

“Why, she’s lovely, Artemus,” Lily cooed, putting her hand on her swain’s arm. “You are so lucky.”

Artie grimaced at her as Cecelia then headed for their table, while Smith veered off to a small table along the far wall. Miss Edgerton was smiling brightly. Jim and Artemus got to their feet.

“Good morning, Miss Edgerton,” Jim greeted.

“Good morning, Mr. West,” she responded, but her eyes were on Artemus, barely touching on Lily.

“Miss Edgerton,” Jim went on, “may I present your fiancé, Mr. Artemus Gordon.”

Cecelia extended her gloved hand. “I am so pleased to finally meet you, Mr. Gordon.”

Artie accepted the hand briefly then glanced down at the still seated actress. “And my I present my fiancée, Miss Lily Fortune.”

Cecelia did not react. She must have prepared herself, Jim decided. The young woman merely continued to smile. “I’m very pleased to meet you, Miss Fortune.”

Lily only nodded. Jim proffered an invitation to Cecelia to join them that she accepted with alacrity, suggesting she had expected that to be the case. Artemus stepped around to hold her chair, then signaled a nearby waiter, who quickly came over to take the newcomer’s order.

When the waiter departed, Artemus gazed at Cecelia. “Miss Edgerton, I’m sure you are aware that I turned down your father’s… business offer.”

“Yes, so he told me. But Papa is certain you will reconsider once you come to know me.” She pointedly continued to steer her gaze away from Lily.

“You are a very lovely young lady,” Artie said. “Many men would be thrilled to know and court you. Nevertheless, I have no interest. I’m betrothed to Miss Fortune, and it’s going to stay that way.”

She continued to appear unperturbed. “Papa’s lawyer will send his lawyer here with a new offer. Papa is certain you will not refuse.”

Lily could not remain quiet. “Doesn’t it bother you, Miss Edgerton?”

Cecelia blinked. “What?” Her gaze shifted involuntarily.

“Well, it’s obvious your father is ‘selling’ you in order to increase his fortune.”

“Oh. I can see why you would think that.” Cecelia smiled sweetly. “However, that is not the case. Not at all. I agreed a long time ago that my duty is to help Papa’s business. After all, he doesn’t have a son.”

Lily and the two agents exchanged glances as the waiter returned with a cup of coffee and the toast Miss Edgerton had requested. Her father is a convincing man, it seems, Artie mused, remembering his time in Edgerton’s office. The businessman was certainly confident that he would win in the end. This time he is wrong. Very wrong.

Cecelia looked toward Artemus. “I thought that perhaps we could spend some time today getting acquainted.”

Artie shook his head. “No. Mr. West and I have business to attend to. I’m afraid you will need to find something else to occupy your time.”

Her disappointment was evident. “Papa said…”

“Miss Edgerton,” Artie went on. “You are going to have to accept the fact that this time your father is very wrong. I am not going to marry you. I am not going to go to work for your father. Getting acquainted is not necessary.”

As she had last night, Cecelia turned to look toward the table where her bodyguard was devouring his breakfast. He did not return the glance at this moment. She sighed. “I’m sure you’ll change your mind, Mr. Gordon. You have to!”

Jim put his napkin aside and got to his feet. “Speaking of work, we’d better get at it, Artie. I’m sure Miss Fortune and Miss Edgerton have things they can talk about.”

Artie rose, leaning over to kiss Lily’s cheek. “I hope you have a fine day with your old friend, dearest. I will perhaps see you this evening. Miss Edgerton.” He nodded shortly to the newcomer then followed Jim out toward the lobby, glancing toward Ethan Smith who was now staring at the table where the two women remained.

Cecelia watched the agents depart then turned back. “Papa sent you some money…”

“And I sent it back,” Lily replied tartly. “In shreds. Like Mr. Gordon, I cannot be bought.”

“I’m really very sorry. Papa has a terrible opinion of actresses. Actors too, I suppose. He does not know that I attend the theater in Washington. I go with friends who fib for me. I saw you perform more than once. You are very good.”

“Thank you.” Lily started to lift the last bite of her eggs to her mouth, but lowered the fork. “How did you elude your bodyguard in order to attend the theater?”

“Oh.” Cecelia shot another quick look at the man seated along the wall, who was now engrossed in a newspaper he had acquired. “Mr. Smith was hired solely for this journey. He will be dismissed when I return to Washington.” Her tone was stiff.

“Miss Edgerton, would you really have married Mr. Gordon simply because your father told you to?”

“I guess so.”

“Doesn’t love mean anything to you?”

“Well, I’m sure that Mr. Gordon and I could have become very fond of each other. I’ve heard that happens.”

Lily cocked her head. “Did your parents have such a marriage? Arranged for profit, I mean.”

Cecelia’s cheeks flamed. “Oh, no, of course not. They were childhood sweethearts. Mama died when I was twelve. Papa loved her dearly and misses her so much. We now live in a big beautiful house and sometimes it makes Papa sad because Mama did not live to enjoy it.”

“But he does not wish the same happiness for you.”

The younger woman’s lips tightened. “Things have changed.”

“You mean money and profit is more important to your father than your bliss.”

“Papa cares a great deal about my future. He feels I would be more secure…”

“Security isn’t everything, Miss Edgerton. When Mr. Gordon and I marry, we both expect to continue our careers. We don't know at this time what that will mean to our lives together, but we hope that our love will sustain us.”

“What about children?”

Lily smiled. “We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.” She folded her napkin and picked up the beaded bag that she had placed near her plate. “I’ve enjoyed talking to you, Miss Edgerton. I find you a most interesting young woman. It will be fascinating to see how far you will go to assure your father’s happiness instead of your own. For now, I have an engagement I must prepare for. Good morning.”

Lily did not look back as she departed the restaurant, but she suspected that Cecelia Edgerton was gaping after her.

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 - 07/29/2016 :  15:40:01  Show Profile
Chapter Three


Speechless with wonder and half dead with fear.
—Joseph Addison (1672-1719), English essayist, poet, and statesman


Thelma looked up when the two men entered the anteroom. “May I help you?” she inquired politely, recognizing neither man.

Artemus pulled out his identification folder and held it in front of her. “I’m Gordon. This is Mr. West. We are with the United States Secret Service. We want to talk to Mr. Cornelius.”

“Oh.” Clearly she was torn, presumably because she had orders from her boss—her fiancé—to not admit anyone without an appointment, and for the second consecutive day she was faced with a decision. As well, unmistakably, she did not recognize Mr. Gordon.

Odd that Cornelius is such a busy man, Artie mused. The anteroom had been empty yesterday, and it was empty today. This was the offseason for the company, after all.

“Just a moment,” the secretary finally said before scurrying to the inner door. She went through and closed it behind her.

“I noticed the ring,” Jim said in a low voice. “That’s not something one can pick up at the corner drugstore.”

“Maybe a family heirloom,” Artie murmured.

“Maybe.”

The secretary emerged from the inner office, a smile pasted on her face. “You may go in, gentlemen.”

They thanked her politely and walked by her into Cornelius’s office. That man got to his feet, beaming as he extended his hand over the desk. “Mr. West, Mr. Gordon. What an honor. I know of your reputations. What brings you to Cornelius Pickles today?”

“We want to talk to you about your vacant warehouse,” Jim replied, taking one of the chairs.

“Oh? I already talked to the San Francisco police about that.” He continued to smile although the expression was patently forced. Cornelius was wearing an emerald stickpin today. The stone was yet larger than the diamond Artie had spotted yesterday. “I have no knowledge of what happened there. Someone broke in.”

“However, no signs of a break-in were apparent,” Artie pointed out.

“Yes, I know. That is what I was told. Nonetheless, it could not have been anything else. No one here has any connection to counterfeit money.”

“The paper was found in your warehouse,” Jim spoke with deliberate sternness. “Because no signs of break-in were found, the obvious conclusion is that someone associated with Cornelius Pickles used a key to enter.”

“No, no, no!” Cornelius came to his feet shaking his head vigorously. “If someone had a key, it was stolen!”

“That’s entirely possible,” Artemus nodded somberly. “Have you any suspects?”

Cornelius blinked, sinking back into his chair. “Suspects?”

“Someone who would have access to the keys,” Jim explained. “Someone with a grudge against the company?”

The company owner stared at him, then at Artie, and back to Jim again. Unmistakably, he was thinking hard, trying to come up with an answer. “I… I don't think so. Perhaps… maybe someone broke in here.”

Artie nodded, his face continuing to display soberness. “That’s possible. Have you noticed any signs of a robbery?”

“No…. No. I don't know. I mean, certainly someone got the warehouse keys. However, I do not know who or how. Gentlemen, you cannot seriously believe that I would have anything to do with counterfeiting. I’m a respectable businessman!”

“That’s why we are hoping you can help us,” Jim smiled. “You want to protect your reputation, I’m sure.”

“Of course. Yes. Of course.” Cornelius swallowed hard and stared down at his hands that he now had folded on his desktop. He seemed to come to a mental conclusion as he lifted his gaze to speak firmly. “I’m afraid I have nothing more to tell you. Someone knew that the warehouse was empty at this time of year and managed to acquire a key. That’s what I told the police.”

“You did at that,” Artie nodded. “We were hoping you had thought it over and had other ideas.” With a glance at Jim, he pushed himself to his feet. “We thank you for your time. If you should think of anything else, you can contact us through the San Francisco Police Department.”

Jim rose as well. “We appreciate your time, Mr. Cornelius. This is a very serious matter, as you are no doubt aware. All the resources of the United States Secret Service are being devoted to stopping these counterfeiters. We have a habit of being successful in such matters.”

“Yes. I know. I know.” Although he plainly would have preferred to duck under his desk just now, Cornelius came around to shake each of their hands and then open the door for them. “I’m sorry I could not be of more assistance, but rest assured that should I think of any possible solution, I will contact you.”

“We know you will,” Artie smiled.

Both men nodded to Thelma on their way out but did not speak until they reached the hack still waiting on the street. After giving the driver the address of the San Francisco Police Department, they climbed aboard and settled in.

“He’s a nervous man,” Jim commented.

“However, is it merely the presence of law enforcement figures in his office, or does he have something more to be nervous about??

Jim could only shake his head. “Time will tell. But in the meantime, we are hitting that same brick wall that Lloyd did.”

“I hope someone in Denver has managed to talk to Doc Keyno and that the Doc has some information for us. Even though we’ve sent notices to all the banks in the California area, that does not mean that the counterfeiters won’t simply move on to another region or state.”

Jim nodded but did not comment. He stared out the isinglass window behind Artie’s seat, his mind wandering. Artemus was likewise quiet, a frown deepening on his face. After a few minutes, Jim asked, “What are you going to do about Cecelia?”

Artie made a mild snorting sound. “Well, I’m not going to marry her, that’s for certain! With any luck, she’s intelligent enough to realize that and will go back home.”

“That might depend on just how determined ‘Papa’ is. He must be pretty damned resolute to send his daughter across the country like this.”

“Not to mention worried enough about her safety to hire a bodyguard to accompany her,” Artie nodded. “If I had had time, it probably would have been a good idea to look into the Edgerton Arms Company’s financial situation. If he’s desperate to have someone on the inside to help him get government contracts…”

“It sounds as though he might not be getting many these days after building up his company during the war.” Jim’s gaze remained on that rear window. “We’re being followed.”

“Oh?” Artie twisted slightly in the rear seat and peered back. “The carriage with the dapple gray?”

“Uh-huh. Seems like they could have picked a less conspicuous horse.” Now Jim reached over his head to open the slot that allowed communication with the driver. “Speed up a little, take the next left turn and then pull over.”

The driver merely nodded and shook the reins. He was a man they had hired before, as he kept a station in front of the hotel and had been involved in “out of the ordinary” instructions from the agents. The carriage swayed as he steered the horse into the next street, where it came to a halt, pulled to the curb.

As soon as the hack stopped, both agents jumped out to the street. As they did, the other carriage drawn by the gray horse came around the corner. Almost at the same moment, the passenger in that vehicle leapt out to sprint back toward the street from which it had just turned. Jim took off after him. The driver of that cab halted his vehicle, stood up and began yelling, accusing his fleeing passenger of stiffing him, using words that caused two women who were on the far sidewalk to flinch.

“Hey!” Artie strode up to the man. “Who is that guy?”

The driver glared down at him. “How the hell should I know? He promised me double fare if I kept up with you. Hey, Barney! What’s going on?”

Artie replied for the driver of their hack. “We are government agents and we have reason to believe your passenger is a wanted criminal.”

“Ha! He said he was a copper and you are crooks!”

Artie pulled out his identification and held it up for the irate driver to see. “Where did you pick him up?”

“Huh? Oh, about a block from that pickle factory.”

“Did he come out of the factory?”

“I dunno. He just hailed me down. I was coming back from taking a fare to a spot about a quarter mile away. I wasn’t looking for a new customer, just heading downtown.”

“What did he look like?”

The driver shrugged. “I didn’t pay no attention. All I know is he stiffed me!”

Replacing the identification folder, Artie pulled out his wallet, from which he obtained a couple of bills of paper money, handing it up toward the driver who grabbed it eagerly. “Does that jog your memory any?”

“Naw, afraid not. I was tellin’ the truth. He jumped in fast, yelling at me to follow Barney’s hack. I didn’t get a good look at him.”

Jim spotted his quarry veering into a narrow alley about two blocks from where they had entered the street. He speeded up, then halted just before the aperture to that passageway, peering around the corner cautiously. He could see that the alley continued all the way to the street that paralleled this one on the other side of the block, between the two large building, one facing each street. Several doors open off.

Pulling the pistol from the holster under his jacket, Jim carefully stepped into the opening, staying as close as possible to the near wall. The alley was about ten feet wide, probably barely enough room for a wagon to pass through. These were office buildings, he thought. They did not get deliveries from beer wagons or any other extra large vehicle.

All seemed quiet as he made his way through the alleyway. He heard nothing and saw nothing move. Chances were good the guy had sprinted all the way through to the other street and was long gone by now, possibly finding other transportation. Still, Jim determined he needed to go the distance to the other side, in the hopes that the man might still be in view, or at least someone saw him.

The blow that knocked the gun from his hand was a complete surprise, as well as painful. The stick or whatever was used struck his arm just above the wrist, and struck it hard, paralyzing his fingers for a few seconds so that the gun slipped away and clattered on the ground. He was instantly ready, however, grabbing with his other hand to seize the fist with the club. He gripped it and jerked hard.

The fellow that flew out of the deep doorway alcove came out with a yell, hitting the ground hard. Jim went after him, but was hampered slightly by his still throbbing right wrist. When his assailant jumped up quickly, Jim was able to catch his jaw with a quick left, but was unable to follow through, giving the other man an opportunity to get in a couple of blows himself.

Jim ducked the first, but made a mistake in reflexively throwing up his right arm ward off the second. The pain was like an electric shock in his body and he stumbled back against the wall of the alley. His opponent waded in, catching Jim with a blow to the midriff and another to the jaw. Jim quickly recovered somewhat and threw up a knee to catch his foe in a sensitive spot.

The man howled, bending over for a few seconds before he turned and scrambled for the far exit of the alley. Jim took a few steps after him, but was foiled when he stepped on his own fallen weapon, which slipped under his boot, causing him to grab for the wall to keep his balance—and trigger more pain in his wrist. Picking up the wayward gun, Jim hurried to the opening. Looking both ways, he saw nothing, thus headed back to the waiting hack and his partner.

Seeing Jim coming back around the corner—alone—Artie stepped back to motion to the very annoyed but still waiting hack driver. “All right, go along. I’m sure we will find you if we need you.”

Jim shook his head as he neared, seeing the question in his partner’s face. “Got away. I suspect he ducked into a store or some other building. I couldn’t get close enough to get a good look at him, either.”

“The driver wasn’t any help. He said he picked up the fare about a block from the factory, which doesn’t mean much.” Artie eyed the way in which Jim was flexing his right hand. “All right?”

“Not exactly, but it’s nothing permanent. Let’s get going and I’ll tell you what happened.”

They climbed back into the hack, instructing their driver to continue on to their destination. Jim described his encounter. “A lot of bad luck came my way,” he concluded.

W*W*W*W*W


Lieutenant Morris had some information for them when they arrived at the police station. Two more counterfeit bonds had been passed. One had been brought to a bank in Oakland, across the bay. “It might have been the very first one,” the policeman informed them. “A clerk doing some overdue filing came across it and remembering our warning, checked it. The bond had been cashed almost two months ago.”

“I don’t suppose anyone remembers a description of the person who brought it in,” Jim frowned.

“As a matter of fact, yes. The teller who cashed it remembers quite well because it was a woman.”

The two agents shared a surprised glance. “A woman?” Artie exclaimed. “Any description?”

“Not a good one. It was during that late season rainstorm in early April, and she was bundled up in a hooded cloak. He thinks she was ‘older,’ although he could not see her face well and her hair not at all. She might have been quite plump but the cloak hid that possibility. He does recall specifically that she was very nervous. She explained it away by needing the money to pay for her husband’s funeral.”

“I’m sure the name she used isn’t helpful.” Jim shook his head slightly.

Morris consulted a sheet of paper on his desk. “Mrs. Jane Brown. Just like all the others, very ordinary, untraceable names. The address was fake, some place in Martinez that turned out to be a livery stable where no one ever heard of Mrs. Jane Brown.”

“They certainly planned well,” Artie mused. “It is interesting that this woman was sent to cash in the first one. Because they thought that if the fake was immediately noticed, they would never suspect of female of anything untoward?”

Jim nodded. “She could claim it was with her husband’s papers and she didn’t know anything about it.”

“With a successful beginning, they went on to send men in with the bonds.”

“Where did the second one turn up?” Artie asked.

“Down in Monterey County, the farthest south yet, at a bank in Salinas. Usual method was followed. A man came in with some story about needing money for an emergency; otherwise, he would not think of cashing in his ‘nest egg’ bonds. Although the bank had received the warning notice, apparently the manager did not see fit to educate his employees about it. The bond was noticed and identified two days after the fact.”

Jim shook his head. “These people aren’t helping much.”

“I think we need to visit both places,” Artie stated.

Morris nodded. “I agree. Somehow your badges seem to make people more nervous that an ordinary police badge.” He grinned.

Artie chuckled. “We have noticed that.”

Jim consulted his watch. “It’s getting late in the day. I think tomorrow morning we should take the ferry over to Oakland, talk to the bank people there, then the train down to Salinas.”

“Sounds good to me,” Artemus nodded. “You know, however, that we missed lunch and my stomach is complaining.”

“Your stomach is always complaining,” Jim twitted. “Lloyd, do you want to go with us tomorrow?”

The policeman grimaced. “I would like to, but I have a meeting tomorrow with the chief and some other bigwigs that I’d better not miss. So you’ll be on your own.”

“We’ll do our best to struggle through,” Artie grinned. “James, let’s go eat.”

The meal at one of San Francisco’s finer restaurants took longer than anticipated because of encountering two military friends stationed at the local Presidio. A lot of catching up was required, along with a few beers that accompanied the excellent food. By the time Jim and Artemus caught a hack to take them back to the hotel, the shadows were long and the street lamps were being ignited.

As they entered the hotel lobby, Cecelia Edgerton was descending the stairs on the arm of Ethan Smith. She was attired in a fine sateen gown with a fur wrap over her shoulders. Both were laughing at something—until Cecelia turned to see the two agents, stopping abruptly. As Smith realized his companion had halted, he turned to also see the pair; he scowled.

Both Jim and Artemus paused in the middle of the lobby, removing their hats, causing Cecelia to begin moving again toward them. She looked very nervous, and her smile was tentative. “Mr. Gordon. I hope you don’t mind. Mr. Smith has invited me to dinner and the theater. Etta is spending the evening with Alex, the porter, and his family.”

Artemus smiled warmly. “You do not need my permission, Miss Edgerton. I have no say in how you spend your time. I’m sure you will have a lovely evening.” With a nod, he put his hat back on his head and headed for the desk. Jim nodded as well, and followed his partner.

Jim glanced back once he reached the desk where Artie was talking to the clerk. The pair was standing in the lobby yet and he thought that Smith was now convincing Cecelia that they should continue on with their intended evening. She glanced toward the desk a couple of times, then finally nodded, took his arm again, whereupon they strolled toward the outer door.

“At last,” Artie said, “a telegram from Denver.” He opened the envelope as he strolled away from the desk, Jim alongside him. “Okay, it’s from Pike. ‘Sorry for delay. Keyno is ill. He remembers a man specializing in bond plates some 20 years ago, cannot remember name. Will contact me if he does. Regards, Pike.’ I guess that’s a little bit of help.”

“Not without the name of the guy,” Jim groused. “It doesn’t help that Washington doesn’t have any information on a possible suspect.”

Artemus did not speak until they were inside their room. He tossed the envelope containing the telegraph message onto a small stand beside his bed. “I have a feeling our trek tomorrow isn’t going to help much either.”

“These are clever people we’re up against, Artie. By scattering their activity around the countryside, they are still collecting their money but making it hellish for us to try to pin them down.” Jim sat down on his bed.

“The fellow who tried to follow us seems to indicate to me we might be making them a little nervous.”

“True.” Now Jim lay back, putting his left arm under his head on the pillow, resting the injured right one on his chest as he crossed his stretched out legs. “However, does that indicate Cornelius is involved?” His wrist was no longer throbbing but it was slightly swollen and the flesh was livid. Although Artemus had shown concern and suggested a doctor, Jim had refused. He knew nothing was broken.

Artemus now sat on his own bed, leaning his elbows on his knees. “That is a very good question. The fellow in the hack may have been following us previously without us noticing. However, that then begs another question: how would this fellow and his confederates know we were on the case? Cornelius is the only person we’ve talked to beyond the employees of the banks.”

Jim winced. “Please don’t suggest that one of those employees is complicit. That would take forever to check them out.”

Artie chuckled. “I’ll try not to. That brick wall is just getting thicker and higher. We have to hope that Doc regains his memory and has a name for us in the near future.” He got to his feet. “I neglected to ask Raymond at the desk if Lily had returned. I’m going to go check.”

Jim closed his eyes as his partner exited the room, but those eyes popped open again as the door quickly reopened. “What’s wrong?”

Artie leaned out the partially open door then backed up. “Someone was down at the end of the hall, at the back stairwell. He appeared to be wearing a wide-brimmed planter’s hat. He ducked into the stairwell as soon as I appeared.”

Jim swung his legs over and got to his feet. “You go that way, I’ll go down to the lobby and to the back entrance.”

“Maybe we can pin him between us,” Artie nodded, heading out.

That did not happen. When the two agents met at the base of the rear stairs, neither had encountered anyone else. Artie grimaced. “He might have headed upstairs instead of down. Who knows where he might be now?”

“Let’s go back to the lobby and ask anyone there who might have come through.”

Again, the search and query were fruitless. The clerk was at the desk. The only persons he had seen were a couple from Phoenix who just passed through the lobby on their way to dinner.

Artie cocked his head. “Have you seen a man at any time wearing a wide-brimmed hat?”

The clerk nodded immediately. “Earlier this afternoon he was in the lobby. I thought he was waiting to register while I was engaged with Miss Edgerton. She was asking about you, Mr. Gordon, wanting to know where you were. When I told her I had no idea, she didn’t believe me for some reason. She said that she was your betrothed and had a right to know your whereabouts.” Now the clerk appeared embarrassed; he was quite aware that Miss Lily Fortune was Mr. Gordon’s fiancée.

Artie sighed. “She is a very complex young lady, seemingly weak-willed where her father’s wishes are concerned, yet strong-willed in other matters. Pay her no mind, Fred. She will be heading home any day now, I’m sure.”

“What became of the man in the hat?” Jim inquired.

“Oh. He suddenly turned around and left. I called out to him, thinking I had lost a customer. But I don't know.”

Returning to their room, the two agents sat in silence for long minutes, each considering the odd occurrence. Jim spoke first. “If he is the same man from earlier today, he knows where we are staying.”

Artie nodded. “I’m thinking we have been followed without us being aware. Someone seems to be quite concerned about our presence in San Francisco.”

“That’s flattering, I guess. Now we know about the man in the hat, we can watch for him. Others have to be involved… and we have no idea what they look like other than the vague descriptions obtained at the banks.”

“None of those people have mentioned a man in a planter’s hat, have they?”

“No. For whatever that is worth.”

Artie got to his feet once more. “Well, again I forgot to ask the clerk if Lily returned. I am going to her room to see.”

Jim grinned. “Then you had better take advantage of having Lily to yourself without a duenna present.” Usually the maid, Evelyn, would be nearby.

His partner made a face at him as he exited. Jim smiled then grew thoughtful, sitting on his bed and staring at the floor. They were pretty well flummoxed thus far. Of course, it was early in the situation. In their experience, eventually the perpetrators made a mistake of some sort, often from overconfidence or ignorance. These bond passers seemed to have things well in hand.

The police could not be at every bank checking every person who came in to transact business. The managers and clerks could be warned, but so often those people took their customers at face value: a well-dressed man, or a woman in mourning, would be less suspected than a ragged, unkempt person. If the customer portrayed confidence, they would also be less wary of what that customer wanted to transact.

Deep in his thoughts, Jim absently reached inside his jacket for the flat metal box that held his black cigarillos, the thin, tightly wrapped tobacco he preferred to smoke. Flicking the container open brought his attention to his actions, for the box was empty. Grimacing, he remembered smoking the last one on the trip to the pickle factory earlier in the day.

He got to his feet and glanced at the window. The sky was darkening, but the tobacco shop a block away often stayed open later to accommodate customers who had long days at their place of employment. Grabbing his hat, Jim left the room and descended the stairs. He had just stepped outside when he saw the man across the street: the man wearing a planter’s hat.

Unfortunately, that man happened to turn his head to spot the agent at the same moment, and instantly started running down the hill. Jim raced across the street, held up for a few seconds by a passing taxi, but he saw the man in the hat turn into an alley about a block away. Jim followed, pausing briefly before he stepped out into the alley mouth, as he had earlier in the day, the pistol that had been inside his jacket now in his hand.

The alley was darker than the street and littered with all manner of debris, although a wider thoroughfare than the previous one. Jim moved carefully, listening hard, but hearing only the sounds from the street behind him. Finally reaching the other end of the alley, which opened into another street, he sighed and holstered the gun. This was a less traveled street, not much more than an alley itself, onto which the back doors of the buildings opened. He saw only two signs indicating businesses with doors off of it, one for a trash hauler, the other too faded to make out in the dim distance. The man in the planter’s hat was nowhere in view.

As Jim reentered the hotel, the clerk called to him to hand him a telegram that had just been delivered. Jim opened it quickly and grimaced as he read the brief message. When he got to the room, Artie was there, changing his clothes.

“What happened to you?”

Jim shook his head. “I ran out of cigars and went out to get some—and didn’t. Saw the planter’s hat man across the street and chased him. He got through an alley and vanished.”

“Another alley, another disappearance. I presume you were uninjured this time.” Artie’s frown deepened as he fastened the buttons of his white shirt. “What in the world is going on, James? Who is this guy? Connected to the counterfeiting? Or something else?”

“You’ve got me. Oh, just got a wire from Jeremy. Doc is still sick and in quarantine at the moment.”

“Quarantine! What for?”

“Jer says it’s a precaution because the prison doctors haven’t identified what he has. But he can’t be talked to.”

“Great. I’m going out…”

The tap on the door halted Artie’s words. Jim went to the door to open it, not entirely surprised to find Cecelia Edgerton, her scowling bodyguard waiting half a dozen feet away.

“Miss Edgerton? What can we do for you this evening?”

She smiled, but the way her gloved hands were clutched together belied her uneasiness. “I know it’s very bold of me, but I wish to invite Mr. Gordon to have dinner with me. We need to get acquainted.”

Artie had tucked in his shirt and grabbed his maroon jacket to don. He stepped closer. “That’s very kind, Miss Edgerton, but I have an engagement with my fiancée. However, you may join us if you wish. I’m sure Miss Fortune would not mind.”

Cecelia’s face fell. She flicked a glance toward Jim, who had been watching Smith. The bodyguard’s expression lightened considerably with Artie’s negative response. “Mr. West, perhaps you…”

Jim smiled and shook his head. “Not this evening, Miss Edgerton. I too have plans. I’m sure Mr. Smith will be happy to escort you.”

She looked back at the other man, and Jim could see she was very nearly smiling now. A smile she quickly smothered. “Very well. Mr. Gordon, perhaps we can make an appointment for tomorrow?”

“You’re very thoughtful,” Artie said gently, “but tomorrow Mr. West and I have plans involving our work. It’s very difficult for us to plan ahead when we are on assignment.”

“Yes. I suppose so.” Cecelia sighed, plainly torn between relief and concern. “Good evening.”

Jim closed the door. “Persistent little lady. Bound and determined to do her duty to her father.”

“So it seems. What are your plans for the evening? You’re welcome to join Lily and me.”

“Thanks, but no. I think I’m going to go talk to Lloyd. He is probably home, but I’ll check at the station first. I want him to have men looking for this guy in the hat. Did Lily have a good day?”

“Apparently so. She wants to tell me about it. I’m not hungry after our late lunch, but I’ll have some soup. I can’t bypass a chance to be with her.”

“Would she really have enjoyed having Miss Edgerton join you?”

“I think she would. She told me she had a conversation with Cecelia after we left the table this morning, and is fascinated by Cecelia’s determination to abide by her father’s wishes. After all, look how Lil has defied her mother’s plans for her! Lily thinks Cecelia is attracted to Mr. Smith.”

“I think so too. And vice-versa. You couldn’t see him out there but if he had bullets in his eyes, you might be dead now.”

Artie laughed. “I hope if I continue to refuse her overtures, he might even come to like me.”

Jim nodded, then gazed at his partner thoughtfully. “You know, proffering the invitation to you for dinner took some courage on her part.”

“I don't think she’s a coward, Jim. For some reason, she thinks she owes a great deal to her father. Perhaps she is trying to make up for the death of her mother. Lily said Cecelia thinks her father is still grieving after nearly a dozen years.” Artie picked up his hat. “I’ll see you later. I am not sure what we will do after dinner. Perhaps take a walk. Perhaps just sit somewhere quiet and talk.”

“Have a good evening, pal. Don’t forget we need to get up earlier than usual to be able to catch that first ferry to Oakland.”

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 - 07/29/2016 :  15:40:36  Show Profile
Chapter Four


Calamity is man's true touch-stone.
Four Plays in One--The Triumph of Honour (sc. 1, l. 67), Francis Beaumont (1586-1616) and John Fletcher (1579-1625), English dramatists


The day did not progress as planned. In fact, as the hours went on, disaster piled on disaster. The agents made it to the ferry on time, and the boat transported them across the bay to Oakland without incident. They also found the people they needed and wanted to talk to in the bank, people who had been greatly chagrinned to realize they had accepted a fake certificate and did not know it for weeks.

Artemus assured them that they were not entirely at fault. For one thing, the counterfeits were very good and for another, the Oakland bank was probably the first place the shams were presented, so they had no reason to suspect foul play. The teller who had accepted the bond had nothing further to add to what had already been related to the San Francisco police.

Leaving the bank, Jim and Artie headed for the railway station to catch a train south to Salinas. That’s where the first “disaster” occurred, when they were informed that a rock slide south of the city had blocked tracks in both directions. No trains would be going to Monterey County until tomorrow at least. The only thing left to do was to send a telegraph to the bank in Salinas and then take a ferry back across the bay. They grabbed some lunch at a café near the wharf before hiring a taxi to transport them to the police station to report the problems to Morris.

“It was probably going to be a futile trip anyway,” Artie grumbled. “We are getting absolutely nowhere on this.”

“Anything on the man in the planter’s hat?” Jim asked.

Morris shook his head. “I put the word out for every patrolman to watch for him, but nothing so far. Of course, it’s still early in the day. I guess you haven’t heard further from Pike.”

“Not yet,” Jim replied. “It doesn’t help a bit that Doc Keyno is now in quarantine so that no one can talk to him. This whole business seems to be jinxed.”

“Meanwhile, more certificates are probably being cashed in.” Artie shook his head. “Maybe they’ve moved on to Oregon or Washington, or who knows, Indiana.”

“Just keep printing them out and cashing them in,” the policeman sighed. “Over twenty thousand so far.”

“I wonder if they’ll get to a point where they feel they have enough and just vanish with their money,” Jim pondered.

“Until they run out of that money and start all over.” Artie sighed. “Well, what shall we do with the remainder of the day, James?”

His partner shrugged. “Go back to the hotel and see if we have heard from Pike, I guess. Perhaps the man in the hat will make another appearance. Lloyd, let us know if anyone does spot him.”

“I sure will. We can hope that he will even get picked up. Finding out who he is would help a lot! Have you thought any more about Cornelius?”

Jim shook his head. “He’s the only suspect we have, but due only to the use of his company’s warehouse—apparently—by the counterfeiters.”

“And that could have happened merely because the opportunity presented itself to use a vacant building,” Artie inserted.

“Cornelius certainly has a sterling reputation,” Morris sighed.

“It would be interesting to find out where the money to buy those jewels he and his betrothed are sporting came from.” Artie got to his feet. “Nevertheless, for now we have nothing to go on.”

Jim rose as well. “Perhaps Major Blackwell should make another visit.”

Artie nodded. “I was thinking about that. Tomorrow, perhaps. I have an idea for a little twist to put on that character.”

A hack took them back to the hotel. The lobby was empty as they entered and headed for the desk, where Fred was now on duty. He greeted them with a smile but shook his head when Jim asked if any telegrams had been delivered. “However,” he said, turning back toward the wall of small pigeonholes where keys and mail were stored, “I found this on the counter a while ago. It’s for Mr. Gordon. I had stepped back into the office for a moment, and it was here when I returned. I didn’t see who left it.”

With a bemused glance at Jim, Artie took the envelope, which he studied a few seconds. The paper was cheap, and his name was crudely printed on it with a blunt pencil. Opening the flap, he pulled out the folded sheet of paper inside. Jim had been accepting the room key from Fred when he heard his partner’s gasp. Turning, he caught a glimpse of Artie’s ashen complexion just before his partner whirled and sprinted for the staircase, where he ascended, taking the steps two or three at a time.

Baffled, Jim watched him briefly before taking a step to follow. Just then the street door crashed open and Ethan Smith raced across the carpeted floor, shouting. “Is she here? Did Miss Edgerton and her maid come back here?”

Fred shook his head. “No sir. I haven’t…”

Smith grabbed the counter with one hand and pounded on its surface with his other. “Where are they?”

“I’m afraid I don’t know, sir.”

Jim caught the bodyguard’s arm. “Smith, settle down. What’s going on?”

Smith’s eyes were wide, his expression frantic. “She disappeared! They both disappeared! I was watching, but they both disappeared.”

“Jim!”

Jim looked toward the stairs, where Artie was now descending, his demeanor quite a bit calmer although tense. He was holding Lily Fortune’s hand as she was at his side. “Artie, what the devil happened?”

“You have to help me find Cecelia!” Smith grabbed Jim’s shoulder.

“Just a moment,” Jim replied grimly. “I have a feeling these are connected.” Whatever “these” are!

Artemus did not speak as he approached Jim and the bodyguard, extending his hand to give Jim the piece of paper that had set him off in terror. Jim glanced at the paper, looked at Artie with startled eyes, then turned and gave it to Smith.

“Oh my God!” Ethan Smith’s facial expression was one of horror. “Cecelia!”

“What do you mean?” Lily asked urgently. “Has something happened to Miss Edgerton?”

Jim turned to the clerk. “Fred, do you mind if we use your office for a few minutes?” Several other guests had arrived in the lobby, either through the front door or down the stairs, and had paused to observe the agitated group at the desk.

Although Fred had no idea what was going on, he recognized the seriousness of it by the expressions of the faces of the three men and the woman. He waved them around the counter, and closed the door securely behind them. Artie motioned Lily to the only chair by the small desk and then turned to the bodyguard.

“Smith, what happened?”

Ethan Smith took a deep breath. “After lunch, Cecelia wanted to go to a dressmaker that she said Miss Fortune told her about.”

Lily quickly nodded. “Yes. She said she felt she had not brought a complete wardrobe and wanted to enhance it. I told her about Mrs. Francis, who has a shop about two blocks from here.”

“I walked down there with her and Etta, and then I went across the street to the billiards parlor, positioning myself where I could see the front door of the shop constantly. I also made Cecelia promise that she would not leave the shop without me. She promised!

“She left without telling you?” Jim wanted to know.

“No. I mean, I don't know. After an hour, close to an hour and a half, I began to wonder. Cecelia had said that she did not expect to be much more than hour today. She was going to only look through pattern books and, er, have her measurements taken. Anyway, I decided to go check to see what was taking so long.

“When I entered the shop, Mrs. Francis was at her front desk. I saw the surprise on her face, which told me something was wrong. She said she thought that Cecelia and Etta had departed some thirty minutes ago. They had been in a dressing room, and Mrs. Francis left them there for a few minutes when another customer came in. I actually had seen that woman enter the shop and leave with a package after about ten minutes.

“Mrs. Francis said the back door to the shop was ajar, and she thought they had gone out that way, perhaps not wanting to disturb the conversation she was having with the other client. I looked out the back door, which opens into an alley leading to a connecting street, and saw nothing. I also checked other establishments in the area. Neither woman was in one, nor had any clerk I questioned seen them!”

Smith still held the piece of paper. He looked down at it again, reading quietly aloud. “‘We have your fiancée. Drop the case and leave Frisco and she will be safe.’ Someone took Miss Edgerton.” His face registered his grief and concern, as the knuckles on the hand holding the paper whitened.

“Remember what Raymond told us about the man in the hat?” Jim asked grimly, looking at Artie, who nodded as Jim continued for the benefit of Lily and Ethan Smith. “Miss Edgerton came to the desk insisting that the clerk tell her where she could find Artemus—because she was his fiancée. The man we have seen in the vicinity wearing a planter’s hat was in the lobby behind her, but left without talking to the clerk or anyone else.”

“Oh, no!” Lily was horrified. “So they think she really is Artemus's fiancée!”

“Someone must have been watching the hotel,” Artie stated. “They saw their chance when the two women were alone in the dressmaker’s shop.”

“You have to do something!” Smith cried. “Tell them the truth!”

“I think it’s too late for that,” Artie spoke quietly. “Not only is it likely we wouldn’t be believed, but we have no way of contacting them. They aren’t asking for a ransom, only that we leave town.”

“Will you?” Lily looked from one agent to another.

The two men’s eyes met. “We don’t have a choice,” Jim said.

“At least for appearances,” Artie nodded.

Lily reached out and touched his arm. “Dearest, I want to help!”

He smiled down at her. “And you shall, my love. You shall indeed.”

“First,” Jim said, “we need to go look around and ask possible witnesses.”

W*W*W*W*W

Crimes lead one into another; they who are capable of being forgers are capable of being incendiaries.
—Edmund Burke (1729-1797), Irish orator and statesman


Artemus instructed Lily to remain in her hotel room and not open the door to anyone except himself and Jim. She nodded, but smilingly reminded him of the “lovely little pistol” she owned, and that he had trained her to use it well. She would keep it nearby.

The next hour or so was mostly a fruitless one. The dressmaker could not tell them any more than she had related to Ethan Smith. No other nearby storekeepers or their employees recognized the description of Cecelia and Etta nor had they seen a man in a planter’s hat. A shoeshine boy at a stand further down the street had seen nothing.

The only bit of luck they had was another patron of the billiards parlor where Ethan had spent his time. This man had departed the establishment perhaps twenty minutes before the bodyguard had decided to go check on his charge; he had noticed a coach pulled up to the curb on the next cross street. That coach had started out suddenly as the man stepped off the sidewalk, causing him to jump back.

“I yelled and cussed the driver, but he never even looked back.” The most important piece of information he could give, however, was that he was certain he saw a colored woman among the several passengers. “She grabbed at the door window and tried to stick her head out and someone seemed to pull her back.”

The coach itself was rather nondescript. He could not think of a distinguishing feature of it or the two horses that were pulling it. Just a couple of bays, he said. With this scrap of information, and aware that someone among the passersby and onlookers was likely observing their activities, the three men returned to the hotel, with Jim and Artemus rather loudly proclaiming that they would be pulling out the following morning.

Once at the hotel, they went up to Lily’s suite. Per instructions, and her own common sense, Lily did not open the door until she heard Artemus's voice replying to her query. Even then, she had the small weapon in her right hand as she opened the door with her left. “Anything?” she asked.

Artie shook his head, telling her briefly of the little they had learned. “That had to have been Etta,” he sighed. “We have no idea who is behind this… other than very likely the man in the planter’s hat.”

“What are you going to do?” Ethan Smith asked, his face frozen into a mask of concern.

“To all appearances, we will leave San Francisco tomorrow morning,” Jim replied, going to the liquor cabinet provided in this luxury suite. Without asking, he poured three shots of whiskey, handing two to his male companions, after a glance at Lily received a negative shake of her head.

Smith held his glass. “What will you be doing actually?”

Artie opened his mouth to respond, but a tap on the door halted him. With a glance at Jim, he put his glass on a small table, inserted his right hand inside his jacket to grasp the pistol holstered there, and stepped to the door. “Who is it?”

“It’s Alex, sir.”

Relaxing only slightly, Artie opened the door to see the hotel porter. He was still in his regular clothes, having not yet changed into his hotel uniform and apparently just arrived to report to his duties. He spoke before Artemus could.

“Is what Mr. Fred told me true, Mr. Gordon? Is Etta kidnapped? And Miss Edgerton? Are they all right?”

“Come in, Alex,” Artie invited, stepping back. Once the porter was inside, Artemus quietly confirmed that the information was correct. “But we will get them back safely. I promise.”

“I want to help.”

Artie nodded, with another glance toward his partner. “I think you can be of great assistance. Sit down. Would you like a glass of whisky?”

Alex evinced a little surprise at the offer. “Thank you, sir, but no. I’ve got to work this evening.” He smiled slightly. “What can I do?”

Jim stepped forward, extending his hand. “You could offer that telegram if it’s for us.”

The porter’s surprise was greater as he looked down at his own right hand, which held a yellow envelope. The surprise changed to chagrin. “Oh! I’m sorry, Mr. West. I forgot I had it, I was so worried.” He extended the envelope to Jim. “Mr. Fred told me to bring it up. It just came as I walked in the door.”

Jim took the envelope, placing his own whisky glass on a small table. He lifted the flap and pulled out the folded paper. His eyes scanned it. “Well, Jer finally got some information for us. Turns out Doc had measles, which Jeremy had as a boy, so he was allowed in. Let’s see. ‘Doc says he remembers an expert on bond plates, name of Crawford. I wired HQ. They found an Adrian Crawford who died in prison in 1870 after being arrested for counterfeiting bonds. His plates were never found. Had no known close family or associates.’ Not sure if that helps much.”

Artie was frowning. “Crawford. I’ve heard that name somewhere… Thelma!”

“Who’s Thelma?” Lily inquired.

“Cornelius the pickle man. She’s his secretary and fiancée. Thelma Crawford.” Artie looked at Jim. “Coincidence?”

“A big one, if so. Crawford isn’t exactly a rare name.”

“But the telegram says this Adrian Crawford didn’t have any family,” Ethan Smith pointed out.

“No ‘close’ family,” Jim reminded. He grimaced. “How do we find out if she’s kin to the Crawford who died in prison?”

“I don't think we have time,” Artie stated. “The evidence is circumstantial, but it’s all we have, Jim.”

“I don’t see how you can do anything if you’re going to follow instructions and leave San Francisco,” Smith complained.

Jim grinned at him. “Don’t worry. We have learned how to be in two places at the same time.”

“We need to inform Lloyd Morris of what is happening,” Artie put in. “Alex, that will be your first task. Don’t worry about your job here. We’ll make sure that Fred and the others understand.”

“Don’t forget the Wanderer is in the repair shed,” Jim said. “We also need to get word to Orrin.”

“Lily, do you have some paper and a pen?” her fiancé inquired.

W*W*W*W*W


Il y a des mensonges qui représentent la vérité si bien que ce serait juger mal de ne pas être trompés par eux.
[There are falsehoods which represent truth so well that it would be judging ill not to be deceived by them.]
—François Duc de la Rochefoucauld (1613-1680), French philanthropist and social reformer


Early the following morning the two agents left the hotel, carrying their luggage, to enter a waiting hack that they had engaged the evening before. The driver immediately headed for the railroad depot, where his passengers debarked and entered through the building. Although they appeared casual, both Jim and Artie were quite watchful, with the intent of attempting to identify who, if anyone, was following them.

Orrin Cobb was awaiting them on the platform, where he told them in a rather loud voice that the Wanderer was not yet ready to move. They would have to take public transportation and their personal train would catch up to them. Displaying annoyance, the pair bought their tickets for the next eastbound train, which would leave toward Sacramento in about an hour.

“My only possible is the heavy set fellow who needs a shave,” Artie murmured as they sat down on the bench on the platform. Probably a dozen people were on the platform, two or three women and the remainder men whose garb identified them as businessmen or workers of some type.

“Noticed him. However, that woman down there got off the hack that pulled up right behind ours.”

“Ah.” Artemus stole a glance toward the woman in question. She was seated on another bench, a book in her hand seeming to claim her entire attention. She was thirty or so, he thought, plainly garbed, her dark hair in a tight bun topped by a ribbon trimmed straw hat. Quite unremarkable. “Did she buy a ticket on our train?”

“I don't know. If she is part of the gang, her job may be to report that we got on an outgoing train. By the way, I presume you haven’t recognized the unshaven chap. Take another look.”

Artie did, and then chuckled. “I guess I’ve never seen Sean Dooley out of uniform. Or unshaven. I presume he’s our contact.”

“One of them. I’m pretty sure I saw Henry Fisher inside the ticket office. I’m going to go over and let Dooley know that the lady is our target, especially if she does not get on the train.”

Jim got to his feet, searching his jacket pockets. “Artie, do you have a match?”

Catching on quickly, his partner shook his head. “Sorry, no. I forgot to pick some up.”

Jim nodded and strolled over to where the unshaven man was leaning against a post. He spoke in a conversational tone, asking whether the “stranger” had any matches. The policeman genially provided a small box of lucifers, telling Jim to “keep them,” as he had another. Jim took the time to light his cigarillo, thankful that he had taken time to buy a new supply earlier, and while cupping the match close to his mouth, quickly told Dooley that the woman could be someone to watch, but that he should be alert.

Dooley laughed aloud. “Ah, that’s a good one, pal! I’ll have to remember that!”

“Thanks again,” Jim called as he wandered back to the bench. “Lloyd chose well. Dooley is a good cop and an intelligent man. He’ll follow her if she doesn’t get on the train, and get on the train with her if she does.”

Artie consulted his pocket watch. “Hope our train is on time.”

“Yeah.”

The hour crawled by as the pair behaved pretty much as any anxious prospective passengers would, sitting, getting up and wandering around, sitting again, peering down the tracks, asking the ticket agent if the incoming train was on time, and sitting again. All the while they watched the people who entered and departed from the station platform. Finally, the train did arrive. After waiting for its passengers to exit the cars, Jim and Artemus boarded.

They chose seats facing each other and thus facing in opposite directions in order to be able to watch as much territory as possible. Artie could see the woman on the platform. She was still seated and reading, barely glancing up. Dooley had gone to the ticket agent’s window and while he could not be heard, Artie was pretty sure he was asking the agent about the time of the next incoming train, as though that was the one he was awaiting.

Then the train chugged out of the station, heading east. Jim waved down the conductor, and quietly gave him some instructions, displaying his identification.

W*W*W*W*W

Dissimulation was his masterpiece; in which he so much excelled that men were not ashamed of being deceived but twice by him.
—Lord Clarendon, Edward Hyde (1608-1674), English historian and statesman


Thelma Crawford looked up when the door to the anteroom opened and her mouth popped open. Two visitors entered, one of whom was Major Blackwell. Jonas had told her that that odd man might well return. “Treat him courteously, my dear. I’m not sure what his game is, but he might be useful in the future.” She smiled and tried not to stare at the major’s companion.

While not surprised that a man as handsome as the major would attract a female, Thelma could not help but question why such a man would bother with a tart like this. The woman clung to his arm as if she was glued there. A silver fox stole was wrapped around her nearly bare shoulders; indeed, the satiny red dress she wore was far better suited to an evening out rather than an early afternoon visit to a business office.

The hair was brassy blonde and frizzy. To Thelma’s mind, the woman likely treated her darker hair too often and now it was completely unmanageable. The combs and clips nestled in the wild mop did little to tame it. Makeup was almost caked on her face, causing Thelma to wonder at the woman’s age. She did not look that old but perhaps the makeup assisted in that matter. Black eyebrows were painted on, as were bright red lips.

Worst of all was the décolletage of the gown, revealing far, far too much of the collarbones and dipping toward the admirably small waist the woman possessed. At least she had kept her figure, whatever her age. Jewels glittered on several fingers, her wrists, and around her neck. Thelma could not help but glance at her own ring and wonder whether those jewels were real. If so, they certainly were worth a lot more than her engagement bauble.

The pair ambled up to the desk, where the major removed his hat and dipped his head. “Good afternoon, Thelma. I hope Mr. Cornelius is available.”

She cleared her throat, remembering once more what her fiancé had told her after the last visit. Thus, she pasted a smile on her face and kept her eyes on the major. “Please have a seat and I’ll see.”

Quickly she rose and hurried through the inner door. Jonas looked up. “What is it, my dear?”

“That major is here again. He brought a… a woman with him. Do you want me to send him away?”

Cornelius got to his feet quickly. “No, no. I mentioned this man to Horace and he agrees that the major might be of great help if we play it right. We might be able to dump the whole lot on him.”

Thelma’s eyes widened. “And leave?”

“And leave, my dear. Paris, Rome… everything we’ve always wanted. Show the major and his companion in.”

Jonas Cornelius was grinning widely and holding out his hand as the major and his “lady” entered. As Thelma had done, he had to prevent himself from staring at the female. “Major Blackwell! Good to see you again. I am sorry I haven’t been in touch. Things have been a little busy around here. This time of year we start to gear up for the later summer canning season.”

“Not a problem, sir. None at all. May I present my friend, Miss Sally Waters? She’s interested in, er, investments as well.”

“How do you do, Miss Waters,” Cornelius beamed and strove to keep his eyes from the shadowy canyon where the gown’s fabric dipped low. “Please sit down. Now, what can I do for you today?”

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 - 07/29/2016 :  15:41:07  Show Profile
Chapter Five


Un doux, triste secret, tient mon cœur sous l'emprise;
Un puissant amour dans ma poitrine a augmenté,
Inaperçu, non-dit, et personne ne sait;
Et ma douce, qui lui a donné, et surtout.

[One sweet, sad secret holds my heart in thrall;
A mighty love within my breast has grown,
Unseen, unspoken, and of no one known;
And of my sweet, who gave it, least of all.]
Sonnet, Alexis Felix Arvers (1806-1851), French author, poet, and dramatist
(translated by Joseph Knight in "The Athenoeum,” Jan. 13, 1906)


“Do you think they’re in there, Mr. West?”

Jim glanced at the worried dark face of the young man crouched beside him. “It is the most logical place—if indeed Cornelius is somehow involved. The hope is that Mr. Gordon and Miss Fortune can get a clue. That’s where you come in.”

Alex nodded, pulling out a nickel-plated pocket watch. “Fifteen more minutes to go.”

Ethan Smith was slightly behind them, also crouched among the thick brush that lined the perimeter of the Cornelius Pickle Factory. “I wish we would just barge in there and surprise them.”

“That’s not a bad idea in some circumstances,” Jim nodded. “Nonetheless, we need more information. I’m hoping we see someone, or something, that will help give us an idea of if and where they might be being held.”

“There’s a man,” Alex whispered, ducking lower as he pointed off to his right.

Jim looked that direction. A thin man in worn clothing had just come around the corner of one of the smaller buildings. They had decided that the largest building was probably where the cucumbers were stored in brine to “pickle.” Vats of substantial size would be required to create the quantity of marinated vegetables that the Cornelius company was known to ship to various areas of the country.

“I’d guess he’s a worker,” Jim said after a moment. “As far as I can see, he is not armed.” As they watched, the man continued to stroll by all the buildings until he finally went through a gate that they knew would take him off the company property.

“Looks like you’re right,” Smith murmured. “So where are they all?”

The trio fell silent, watching and waiting. Jim was tense. He would prefer to be active, perhaps searching the buildings. Nonetheless, he knew that that could be foolish and dangerous. No death threats were included in the note left for Artie at the hotel, but they were implied. The people involved were passing counterfeit bonds, with no violence involved thus far. That did not mean they were incapable of violence; desperate people often were very capable.

He saw the tension as well on the faces and in the bodies of his companions. “Alex, it seems to me you’ve become sweet on Etta.”

Alex could not hide his grin. “I sure am, Mr. West. She’s the prettiest girl I ever met. My heart just pounds every time I see her.”

“Does she return your feelings?”

“Oh yeah. When I took her to spend the evening with my parents and sisters, she told me it was the nicest time she ever had in her life. She was sold away from her family down in South Carolina just before the war started. She never saw them again. Knowing that my family has been free for three generations—well, she said it makes her happy to be with them, and ‘specially with me.”

“What happens if she goes back to Washington with Miss Edgerton?” Smith asked, teasingly.

“Well, I suppose I’ll follow her. But… well, I don't know if that’s going to happen.” Alex’s grin was wide now.

“What about you, Smith? When did you fall in love with Miss Edgerton?”

Ethan Smith stared at Jim. “How…?”

Jim had to chuckle. “I spotted it that first night when she came to my hotel room door.”

Smith sighed and settled back on his haunches. “She hit me between the eyes the first time I saw her. Kind of like Alex here. Her father took me to meet her to see if she thought I was acceptable as her bodyguard and companion. I was terrified she was going to say no—and almost equally scared she would say yes. I mean, I know I don’t have a chance with a millionaire’s daughter.”

“But she likes you, Mr. Smith. Etta told me so.”

The bodyguard looked at the young porter. “How does she know?”

Alex chuckled. “That’s what I asked her. She just said, ‘a woman knows.’ And she told me that Miss Edgerton was crying once and wouldn’t tell Etta why, but she sure was unhappy. I don't know how Etta figures it was all on account of Miss Edgerton liking Mr. Smith better, but that’s what she said.”

Smith still appeared doubtful, except for the glow in his eyes. Before anyone could speak further, a coach appeared, coming around the corner of the factory buildings. All three ducked further, watching. Smith whispered. “That looks like the coach the fellow from the billiards parlor described.”

“It sure does,” Jim murmured back. “Alex, get ready. You’ll need…” He halted his words as the driver of the coach jumped down to open a door… and the man in the planter’s hat climbed out, followed by three other men who looked more like ruffians. “All right. As soon as they go inside, you get going, Alex. Artie needs to know.”

W*W*W*W*W


To beguile many and be beguil'd by one.
Othello, Act 4, Sc. 1, William Shakespeare (1564-1616), English dramatist and poet


“You see, Mr. Cornelius,” the major said after clearing his throat for probably the tenth time since he entered the office, “I am not an extra wealthy man, but I want to be. I know methods exist that may not be… usual methods. I’m hoping you can help me.”

Cornelius gazed at him blandly, after once more tearing his eyes away from the major’s companion and her display of flesh. “I can only say what I said during your first visit, and what I told you a few minutes ago. Cornelius Pickles is a family business. We do not want outside investors. I’m sorry.”

“Homer,” Miss Waters spoke in that sweet voice, putting her hand on the major’s arm, “perhaps you should be a little more unambiguous.”

Harumph! The major reacted with the loudest throat clear yet. “I don't think I could be any more clear, dear lady. I believe Mr. Cornelius is being obdurate. Perhaps he thinks to up the ante.”

“Not at all!” Cornelius protested. “I’m telling the truth. We do not need or want outside investors in this pickle business.”

Artie opened his mouth to further remonstrate, but a tap on the door forestalled his words. “Yes?” Cornelius called out.

Thelma quickly stepped inside, appearing somewhat flustered. “Jonas, I mean, Mr. Cornelius, excuse me. A fellow—a colored boy—is here looking for Major Blackwell.”

Artie leapt to his feet. “Ah! I told Alex to let me know if my prized pony is displaying any problems. Bad fetlock joint, you know. I should have left him in the stable, but he is so splendid drawing my carriage. I had better go take a look. Sally, dearest, stay here and chat with Mr. Cornelius. Promote my cause!” He winked at Lily and hurried from the office before anyone could protest or say anything further.

“Oh, dear,” Lily sighed, leaning forward slightly. “Are you a man who puts his horses above everyone and everything, Mr. Cornelius?”

“What?” Jonas Cornelius dragged his gaze from the newly revealed scenery, aware that Thelma was still standing in the doorway. “Oh. Thank you, Thelma. You may go.” The secretary and fiancée stared at him for a moment, lifted her chin and departed, slamming the door ever so lightly. “What did you say, Miss Waters?”

Sally Waters smiled and shifted her position again making the canyon above her deep neckline even more visible. “Never mind. Mr. Cornelius, I must apologize for Homer—the major. He has a terrible habit of never getting to the point. I’m still waiting for him to propose although he hints at it so many times. It’s as though he expects me to ask him!” She tittered a charming giggle.

“Foolish man,” Jonas beamed. He did not mind at all being left alone with this fascinating creature.

“So I will come to the point, especially because I’ve come to suspect that one of the reasons Homer beats around the bush where marriage is concerned is financial. He doesn’t think he can support me in the manner in which I wish to become accustomed.”

“Oh. I see.” Although he clearly did not see.

“Homer wants to make money rapidly. He knows that that is not usually possible by… normal means. Well, there I go beating around the bush. Let me say it right out. Homer has numerous contacts in all levels of society. He learned that you are probably taking in a small fortune in a not very legal manner. He wants in.”

Cornelius’s complexion went crimson. “Miss Waters! I don’t…!”

Lily got to her feet and moved swiftly around the desk to stand very close to his chair, her skirt brushing his hand where it rested on the chair arm. “Mr. Cornelius… Jonas, is it? You see, I want to marry Homer, but I cannot bear the thought of living in near poverty. I would also like to be… friends… with you. I find you so very attractive. I am sure there is a way in which all that can be managed. Isn’t there?” Now she put her hand on his shoulder. She had not believed his face could grow more cherry red, but it did.

Deciding she had rattled Cornelius enough, Lily retreated to her chair. “Jonas, please forgive me if I’m wrong—if Homer is wrong—but he learned that you are in contact with some counterfeit money, from which you are profiting. Is that true?”

Cornelius coughed, choked, his eyes watering. He pulled out a monogrammed handkerchief to mop his eyes and face. “Counterfeit money? Oh, no, no, no. No. No. Not money.”

“Oh?” Lily widened her eyes and leaned forward again. “Then… bonds? Government bonds? That is even more thrilling. Homer will be so pleased.”

“Miss Waters, I can’t… I mustn’t… you see… it’s not just… I am not in… oh dear.”

“But wouldn’t it be safer to… how is it said? Pass off? Would it not be safer to pass off the bonds to another party to pull attention away from you and whoever else is involved? Jonas, I’m sure you wouldn’t believe it possible, but I once worked in a rather unsavory place before I met Homer.” Lily fluttered her eyelashes enticingly. “I know about the things that go on away from the safe, ordinary world. Homer will be returning soon, I am sure. I would be so happy and grateful if you were able to make an offer to him. I want us all to be friends. Very good friends!

Cornelius did not quite choke, but he came close, swallowing hard. “Miss Waters, I will… I will talk to my partner. I can’t make any promises.”

“Oh, that’s so wonderful! Thank you, Jonas. Do you think it would be worthwhile, and perhaps, er, more effective if I met your partner?”

He shot a quick glance toward the closed office door. “No. No, I don't think so. He’s on the property though and will be coming to this office before long.”

“Excellent,” Sally Waters beamed. “Excellent, Jonas.”

W*W*W*W*W

Oh, the gladness of their gladness when they're glad,
And the sadness of their sadness when they're sad;
But the gladness of their gladness, and the sadness of their sadness,
Are as nothing to their badness when they're bad.
—Anonymous


Jim West and Ethan Smith remained crouched in the bushes while the driver of the coach mounted onto the box again to drive the vehicle further down the road that led by the factory buildings. There he gave the horses some water but did not unhitch them. When he returned and entered through the same door the other men had, Jim jerked his head as a signal before dashing out of the brush, not looking back to see if Smith was behind him. He knew he was.

They had conversed a little more after Alex’s departure. Jim learned, as he had suspected, that Smith was a veteran, having served in the Army of the Potomac during the entire war and participated in the major battles like Antietam, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg. He had not been in the cavalry, but had done a great deal of reconnaissance duty as well as had served with the provost guard. Both ventures required courage along with great intelligence. Jim had no qualms about having Ethan Smith behind him or alongside him, one reason why he had readily accepted Artemus's plan.

Upon gaining the closed door, Jim leaned against it, listening. He could hear Smith’s even breathing behind him as the bodyguard stood very still as well. After a moment, Jim looked back. “I can hear voices, but they don’t appear to be near the door. Ready?”

Smith nodded, pulling the pistol from inside his jacket; Jim did the same. He grasped the latch and squeezed it slowly, gratified that it did not make a loud ‘click’ when the mechanism disconnected. Well oiled, he reflected. No squeaks emitted from the door hinges as he pushed it slowly open.

The voices became somewhat clearer, but still not near the door. He saw no one as he slipped in through the door and stepped to one side to allow Smith room to follow him. The inside of the building was not overly large, but it was filled with shiny metal vats. A faint but noticeable acetic scent pervaded the entire interior, residue from the vinegary brine that created the pickles in the vats.

Jim nodded his head to the left and Smith immediately headed that way, leaning forward in order to keep his head below the level of the vats. Jim went right, doing the same. The building was not well lighted, with the only illumination coming in through the windows at the sides where the glass was painted white. Shadows were deep.

However, he used the voices as his target and kept moving toward them. As he neared, the words being spoken became clearer, hearing one man ask rather nervously, “Well, what the hell are we going to do with them now?”

Another man cleared his throat. “I have to admit I made a mistake by not blindfolding them…”

“We sure can’t kill women!” another voice wailed.

“Would you rather go to jail or have the money spend?” This came from the previous voice. Jim guessed this was the man in the hat. The responses to this query were unintelligible mutterings.

What this brief exchange appeared to indicate was that Cecelia and Etta were in the vicinity. He could see closed doors on the rear wall, probably where supplies were kept. The prisoners could be in one of those. Apparently, they are still alive, at least. However, the tenor of the boss’s words suggested that might not be the case for much longer.

“Craw,” another man’s voice spoke up with a pleading tone, “those agents are gone. We saw them get on the train.”

“Yes, but these women have seen us. They could recognize us. Don’t you understand that?”

“Well, we just keep them here until we’re ready to move on!” The other man was not appeased.

“Oh, shut up. I’m running this show. If you don’t like it, get out. Hell, let me know if any of you have a better idea!”

A silence ensued, then the man who had protested about killing women spoke up. “You said something about moving them away from here, Craw.”

“After dark.”

“I think you’d all better just stay where you are,” Jim stated, holding his gun at the ready as he stepped out from behind the vat that had been hiding him. Ethan Smith had circled around to appear from behind the five men at almost the same moment.

The mouth of the man in the hat dropped open. He was a stocky man, and Jim instantly saw a resemblance to the secretary in Cornelius’s office, including curly hair that protruded from under the crown of the hat. “You’re West!” he exclaimed.

“Correct.”

“Where’s Miss Edgerton?” Smith demanded. One of the men pointed to a closed door behind him, and before Jim could say anything further, Smith hurried toward it. A key was in the lock and he used it, throwing the door open. The room was dark, but the door allowed dim light to reveal the two women sitting on an overturned box, closely holding onto each other.

“Ethan!” Cecelia Edgerton cried, jumping up to run toward him and into his arms.

“Etta! Stop!” Jim barked. He was too late, however. The colored maid was on the heels of her mistress. She burst out through the door, where the man who had indicated their prison grabbed her arm to draw her close to him, quickly bringing the pistol he had not yet disposed of close to her head.

“Drop your weapons, West,” the man addressed as Craw ordered. “My friend there won’t hesitate to blow the little gal’s brains out.”

Jim hesitated just an instant; he had heard them speak of their reluctance to kill. Nonetheless, he could not take a chance; he nodded to Smith. Both men put their guns on the floor, although Ethan Smith kept his grip on Cecelia Edgerton’s hand. “I guess you are Crawford,” Jim said then.

The man in the hat opened his eyes a little wider. “Thomas Crawford. How’d you know that?”

“How are you and Thelma related to Adrian Crawford?”

Crawford’s astonishment grew. “Well, I heard things about you, West. Reckon what I heard is mostly true. Thelma is my sister and Adrian was our uncle.”

“And you got the plates from him.”

“Yeah. He hid them before he got taken and told me where they were when he was sick in prison. I was pretty young at the time, but I held onto them, figuring they’d come in handy one day soon.”

“And now you are becoming wealthy—with Cornelius’s help.”

Crawford grinned. “Shows you what love can do. Of course, Jonas doesn’t mind the idea of becoming rich, either.”

“I don't think that’s going to happen,” Artemus said, stepping out from behind one of the vats. Alex was right behind him. Artie held his pistol steady. “Drop your weapons, gentlemen. And you, let Miss Wilson go.” Artie was still garbed in the major’s clothes, but had cleaned the hair and makeup from his face as he had made his way to the building.

As Jim had done, Crawford considered a second, then decided that the gun the agent held was pointed much too steadily in his direction. He let his gun drop to the floor, his men following suit. The one holding Etta let her go—and she dashed straight for Alex who emulated Smith in taking the woman he loved into protective custody.

“I don’t get it!” one of the henchmen cried out. He was, Artie realized, a man they had seen at the railroad station.

“How can I help you, my man?” Artie replied genially as Jim and Ethan began to pick up their own and other weapons.

“I seen both of you get on that train headin’ for Reno. No stops ‘til Sacramento. How the hell did you get back here so quick like?”

Jim grinned as he glanced at his partner. “It pays to have friends in high places.”

“We arranged beforehand for the train to stop about ten miles out of the city, where our own train was waiting to bring us back.” The man stared at Artie, his expression plainly indicating he did not believe any of it.

“Now,” Jim said, “who’s going to tell us where the plates and the already printed bonds are? A judge might look favorably…” Hearing a slight sound, almost like a gasp from his partner, Jim looked that way. “Artie?” Artie’s expression was one of surprise and befuddlement. Alex, still standing alongside Artemus with Etta, was staring, it seemed, at Artie’s back.

Jim was just about to speak further when the entire question was answered for him. Thelma Crawford stepped out from behind Gordon, holding a very large pistol with both her hands. She had apparently jammed it against Artie’s spine.

“Now,” she said, “you put your weapons down or I will use this one.” She altered the direction of the barrel so that it pointed directly at Etta. Alex pulled the young maid toward him, but the weapon altered its direction to stay with Etta.

Artie sighed and stooped to put his gun on the floor. Jim and Ethan did the same; those weapons as well as the ones previously confiscated were quickly gathered by Thomas Crawford and his men. Jim, Artemus, Ethan and Alex, along with the two women, were pushed into a middle spot, with all of the guns of the counterfeiters’—and Thelma—pointed at them.

“Good job, sis!” Thomas crowed. “Where’s Jonas?”

“I left him in the office with that floozy. Who is she, Gordon?”

Artie’s chin came up. “Not a floozy, I assure you.”

“Never mind,” her brother went on. “We’ll lock this bunch up and clear out of this part of the country. We have lots of other places we can cash in those bonds.”

“Thomas!” Thelma took a step toward her brother. “We can’t leave them alive. They’ll come after us, alert the law all over the country.”

The expression on Thomas Crawford’s face was stark. “Thel, we can’t just…” While he had coolly discussed killing the two women earlier, suddenly the thought of six deaths seemed too much for him.

She waved the big pistol in a motion of dismissal. “We’ll lock them in that storeroom and set fire to the building. We’ll be long gone.”

“Hey, boss,” one of the men protested. “That wasn’t nothin’ we bargained for.”

Thomas stared at his sister a long moment then swallowed hard. “She’s right. If we’re going to have a chance to really make a haul, we have to.”

Jim glanced at Artemus. Something needed to be done immediately, something desperate. Artie nodded almost indiscernibly, then both agents moved at the same time. Jim grabbed Thomas Crawford’s arm to hurl him toward another man, while Artie spun to knock the weapon out of Thelma’s hand. She shrieked in startled rage. Alex jumped for that gun, pushing Thelma aside as she attempted to do the same.

Two of the other men had reacted by jumping on Jim, knocking him to the floor. He was on his feet in an instant, swinging a hard right—and ignoring the tinge of pain from the still-healing bruise—into the nearest man’s chin before whirling to slam a boot into the stomach of the other man.

Crawford in the meanwhile was on his hands and knees scrambling for the gun he had dropped. Artie stepped forward to kick it out of the way. At the same time, his strong left fist connected with the jaw of the third man. Thelma was wrestling with Alex, each trying to gain control of the big pistol. Both Cecelia and Etta backed away from the melee. Smith pushed a man toward Crawford, causing both men to yell as the impetus of the push caused that shoved man to fall backwards over the crawling man to the floor.

Jim then saw that Thomas Crawford was trying to reach the weapon that had slid under a vat, but he was too involved with the pair he was battling to do anything about it just now. Using his right arm for a couple more blows had exacerbated the injury so that his wrist was throbbing, thus he was trying to do more with his left, which was handicapping him slightly. Nonetheless he was holding his own against the pair, and in his peripheral vision he saw that his partner was handling his foe as well. Jim was further aided when Smith waded in to take on one of the agent’s sparring partners.

In fact, with one smooth left-right combination to the midriff and jaw, Artemus downed his foe. Artie then strode quickly toward where Crawford was sprawled on the floor, grabbing the back of his coat and one arm to pull him to his feet and shove him aside. Artie quickly grabbed a nearby iron rod—perhaps used to stir the vats—and used it to scoot the wayward weapon out from under the vat.

He had just picked up the gun and was straightening to point the weapon at the combatants when a loud report echoed throughout the room. A woman screamed. Artie immediately realized it was Etta, who broke away from Cecelia to speed across the floor while at the same time all the men ceased their battling to stare towards the source of the gunshot.

Artie spun, and was horrified to see Alex on his knees, clutching his bleeding arm. Etta immediately knelt beside him, sobbing even as she tried to help him stop the effusion of gore by grabbing his arm as well. Above them, a triumphant Thelma again held the pistol—once more in two hands—pointing it toward West, Gordon, and Smith. Crawford and his henchmen scrambled to pick up guns, except for the one man who was still unconscious due to Artie’s solid right fist.

“Move back, gentleman. Go in through that door. It’s time for us to be warming this place up with a lovely fire.”

“I don't think so,” Lily Fortune stated, coming out from behind the popular hiding place of the pickle vat. She held her own pistol comfortably in her right hand. Like Artie, she had removed some of her disguise, in particular the blonde wig and the fox fur stole, but still was attired in the most revealing gown.

Thelma spun around. “Well, I guess this isn’t much of a surprise. Whatever your name is, you can’t shoot all of us.”

Lily smiled. “No. But they might.” She waved her left hand lightly toward the shadows behind her.

Lieutenant Lloyd Morris and a half dozen uniformed officers, all bearing weapons, emerged into view. “Drop your guns, folks.”

“We can shoot it out!” the man who had protested the killing of the prisoners cried.

“You could try,” Morris rejoined calmly. “Consider this, however. At this time, none of you are wanted for a hanging offense. Anyone who survives a shootout, however, would not escape the gallows.”

“Oh damn it!” Thomas moaned, letting his gun fall from his hand. As it clattered onto the floor, the others followed suit, Thelma being the final one to dispose of her weapon.

Jim, Artie, and Ethan once again collected their own pistols. Artie crossed to his fiancé and kissed her cheek. “Nothing like the cavalry coming to the rescue. Where’s Jonas Cornelius?”

“In the company of a pair of officers,” Lily smiled. “Lloyd and his cavalry arrived on cue.”

“We also found the plates and the bonds that were already printed up,” Lloyd told them as his men proceed to cuff the prisoners. “Mr. Cornelius is singing like a bird.”

“That’s not very ladylike,” Jim commented as he heard Thelma cursing under her breath while an officer placed manacles on her wrists. Her brother simply stood with his head down in a most disconsolate manner. The four henchmen were also quiet and dejected, the one having roused but was still sitting on the floor, holding his jaw in his hands. Their dreams of acquiring a fortune had disappeared in an instant.

“All right,” Morris said as the last of the counterfeiting gang was handcuffed. “Let’s get this lovely group to the Black Maria.”

“If you don’t mind, Lloyd,” Artie spoke up, “We’ll take these ladies back to the hotel. I’m sure Miss Edgerton and her maid would like to freshen up and rest, and I know Lily wants to change clothes… although I find her garb quite attractive.” He grinned devilishly.

Lily wrinkled her nose at him. “You would!”

“Go ahead,” Morris smiled. “I doubt you need to come back to the station until tomorrow. It will take us that long to get these boys—and the lady—signed in. We will take good care of them, and their equipment.”

Lily went to Etta, who was sitting next to Alex, having produced some cloth—from her petticoats Lily suspected—to wrap around Alex’s arm. Her mistress. Cecelia, was back in the bodyguard’s strong arms. “Etta, are you all right?” Lily asked.

The maid’s smile was weak. “I’m still shaky, but I’ll be fine now, Miss Fortune. I think Alex’s wound is worse than it looks.”

“It’s really just a scratch,” Alex proclaimed. “Just needs a little bandage.”

“I’m so grateful you all came to save us,” Etta proclaimed.

“Me too,” Cecelia cried, huddling closer to Smith. “It was a terrifying experience. Thank you so much for coming. Mr. Crawford said that Mr. Gordon and Mr. West left San Francisco!”

“We did,” Jim smiled. “But as Artemus mentioned, we were able to have the train stop outside of the city, where our own train was waiting to bring us right back. Fortunately, the final people to walk in here with weapons were the right ones.” He winked at Lily.

“Well, when I realized that Thelma had left the office—after coming into whisper something to Cornelius—something that made him very nervous—I knew I had to follow her. Thankfully, Lloyd arrived just as I was trying to figure out what to do with Mr. Cornelius.”

“Everyone right on cue, just like a stage play,” Artie nodded. “If the situation wasn’t so dire, I would compare it to a comic presentation.” He looked at Thomas Crawford, who scowled back at him; to him the circumstances were nowhere near humorous.

Epilog


I symvoulí mou pros esás eínai na pantrefteí : an vreíte mia kalí sýzygos tha eíste efcharistiménoi ? an óchi, tha gíneis filósofos.
[My advice to you is get married: if you find a good wife you'll be happy; if not, you'll become a philosopher.]
—Socrates (470-399 BC), Greek philosopher


Lloyd Morris sent an officer to bring back a pair of cabs for the party to return to the hotel. Smith had some quiet words with Jim, who then ushered Artie, Lily, Alex, and Etta into one coach while the bodyguard and the heiress mounted into the other. When Lily raised her brows in a query, Jim smiled.

“Ethan said he and Cecelia had something to discuss in private.”

Etta clasped her hands at her bosom. “I do hope she doesn’t continue to be so foolish. I know her Papa wants her to marry Mr. Gordon, but she adores Mr. Smith.”

“Not to mention I have no intention of wedding her,” Artie stated firmly.

Lily patted his arm. “I should hope not.”

Artemus had directed the driver to stop by the nearest hospital, where Alex and Etta left the coach in order to get his arm attended to. Etta said she would see Alex to his home afterwards.

At the hotel, a telegram was awaiting Miss Edgerton. She read it quickly, evincing some dismay that shortly overcame the exuberant joy she had been displaying since emerging from the cab with the beaming Ethan Smith. An expression of determination quickly replaced the consternation.

“Papa wants to know if the betrothal has been secured.” She cast a sly smile toward the man beside her. “I will respond with an affirmative. First, I really must have a bath and a good meal.
I know that Alex’s family will take care of Etta. She was so brave throughout. I could not have survived without her.”

The hotel staff was soon very busy preparing hot baths for the young woman. Lily went to her room to change her garb, as did Artemus to his. Jim walked down the street to the telegraph office to inform his superiors that the counterfeiting ring was in custody, along with the plates. When the women returned, the entire group retired to the dining room.

The following morning they traveled to the police station, after a detour to pick up Etta and Alex at his family’s home, to give their statements about the kidnapping and knowledge of the counterfeiting. The federal agents would, of course, report their findings officially to Washington, but the abduction of the two women was a San Francisco crime.

Ethan had accompanied Cecelia to the telegraph office after dinner so that she could inform her father of her engagement and plans. Because of the time differential, he obviously did not get the message until this morning, whereupon he fired back a terse demand that she not do anything until he arrived. He was boarding a train today.

Cecelia shook her head as she read this missive upon their return to the hotel. “I suppose we can wait until Papa arrives to have the ceremony,” she sighed. “Is that all right, Ethan?”

Smith’s smile was strained, but he nodded. “I want to get off on the right foot with your father, sweetheart. If that’s possible at this point.”

They were all in Lily’s suite enjoying coffee and sweets after the midday meal they had partaken of after they had returned from the police station. Lily had risen to pick up the coffee carafe and refill cups. “You could use the time to find yourself a place to live.” The couple had already announced they were going to stay in California, possibly in San Francisco if Ethan was able to find work.

Jim already had ideas about that and had spoken to Lloyd Morris. Smith’s participation in his regiment’s provost guard during the war meant he had law enforcement experience, which he had mentioned to Morris. Lloyd already had a good impression of Ethan Smith, thought that the young man would fit in his department, and would move up the ranks quickly.

“As well,” Cecelia smiled toward her former employee who was sitting demurely alongside her now betrothed, Alex Foster, “we can help plan Etta’s wedding.” Alex already owned a small cottage inherited from his grandfather. Although he expected to continue his employment at the hotel for now, his future plans included opening a restaurant with his family, all members of which had been saving money toward that end.

Artie lifted his coffee cup. “A toast to two wonderful couples, along with my heartfelt wish for success and happiness.” He looked at Jim. “Two more entries into our resume for the matrimonial bureau!”

“Artie…!” Jim began, but was interrupted when the others wanted to know what he was talking about.

Artemus was happy to explain how so many couples came together in the course of the career of the two agents. “We seem to be a magnet for romance,” he said, then looked hard at his partner. “Except in one case.”

Jim sighed. “Artie, how many times do I have to tell you that we had nothing to do with these couples coming together? In most cases, it would have happened whether we were there or not.”

Artie waggled a finger at him. “We don't know that. We do know, however, that it happened when we were present.”

Cecelia giggled. “After all, Jim, if I had not followed Artemus across country, Papa would not have hired Ethan to watch over me. Etta and Alex might never have met.”

“Don’t encourage him!” Lily cried. “You have no idea how many times I’ve had to listen to the list of couples Artemus believes happened only because he was there.”

“And Jim, don’t forget about New Orleans.” Artie beamed. “Lily, my dearest, you should be the last one to belittle our accomplishments. After all, we were on a case in New Orleans when I encountered you and our romance was rekindled.”

The actress opened her mouth, closed it, and looked across at Jim, who merely shook his head and sighed dramatically. She sighed herself and put the carafe back on its warmer. “Very well. I suppose my only solace is that this so called matrimonial agency is not going to occur until the two of you retire from the Secret Service. Perhaps during that time, I can dissuade you from this foolish endeavor.”

Artie’s grin widened. “Or else we will rope you in to join us in the agency. A woman’s touch is always welcome.”

Etta spoke up for the first time. “Perhaps, Miss Cecelia, it is time we express our deep gratitude to Mr. Gordon for refusing your father’s initial offer.”

“I should too,” Ethan Smith quickly chimed in. “Mr. Gordon, thank you for holding out for more money.” He gazed toward Artemus soberly.

Artie blinked. “Oh! That wasn’t the reason! I didn’t want…”

Smith laughed aloud then. “I am teasing you, Artemus.”

“All right,” Artie said then. “Laugh. But I am sure I will have the last laugh when I become quite wealthy with my matrimonial agency.”

“Artie,” Jim cocked his head, “has it ever occurred to you that when you retire you will not have the opportunities that have arisen these last few years, when it happened that certain couples met and married?”

“What?”

“Presumably you’ll be sitting in an office,” Lily took up the theme. “How will you meet the men and women that you want to match up?”

Artie looked at his partner and fiancée, noting that the two couples were also gazing at him with great interest. “Well… I suppose I could interview people singly. Yes. That’s it. I will interview them, learn about them, their likes and dislikes, and then match men and women who are similar.”

“That sounds like a lot of work,” Alex commented. “What about people who are not alike but who fall in love anyway? You haven’t met my parents. You’ve never met two people who were so different in personality and the things they like and don’t like. Isn’t that true, Etta?”

“Oh, very true. They are so different from each other I did not immediately realize they were married to each other. But they are so in love after all these years.”

Although realizing they were still twitting him, Artie determined they were not going to get the best of him. “I am sure I can figure out a formula for that. I have time, after all. I don’t plan to retire for a number of years yet.”

“A formula for love?” Lily challenged.

“I am a scientist, after all,” Artie sniffed. He got to his feet. “But enough of this. I propose another toast. Simply, to love.” He raised his cup, gazing adoringly at the lovely actress who wore his ring.

“I don't think we can argue with that,” Jim smiled, lifting his coffee cup. “To love.”

“And to marriage, James?” Lily inquired, one brow lifting.

Jim eyed her. “To love, Lily.”

Laughter filled the room.

~END~


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