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California gal
SS senior field agent

USA
8377 Posts

Posted - 06/02/2013 :  09:36:50  Show Profile
THE NIGHT OF THE DEADLY TREACHERY

Ipsa se fraus, etiamsi initio cautior fuerit, detegit.
[Treachery, though at first very cautious, in the end betrays itself.]
Annales (XLIV, 15), Titus Livy (59 BC-17 AD), Roman historian


“I’ll wait out here, Jim, just in case he tries to bolt.”

Jim West nodded toward his partner, then stepped quietly toward the gaping, broad opening that was the entrance to the stable. I hope the information we have is correct and that Mott is in here. I’m tired of chasing this guy! A moment was needed to allow his vision to adjust to the dimmer interior of the building, but he saw nothing except the swishing tails of a couple of horses in their stalls. Moving further in, carefully so as to not make any extra noise, he heard the scraping sound of a pitchfork probably removing old hay from a stall, and it appeared to come from the left side.

Jim stepped that way. He did not draw his gun, but kept his hand near the snake-embossed pistol at his hip. Mott was not a gunman but a bookkeeper. Perhaps the fact that he was now toiling in a livery stable indicated how desperate he was, accepting such a different lifestyle in order to hide. Reaching the aisle from where the sound was emanating, Jim paused. He could see a man plying the pitchfork.

“Mr. Mott?”

The tool clattered to the floor, and a couple of nearby horses snorted, startled by the noise. Abel Mott was a thin man in his forties. He usually wore rimless glasses but they were not on his nose; Jim could see the folded shape in his shirt pocket.

“Who are you?” Mott demanded, backing up slightly.

“My name is James West. I’m an agent with the federal government. We want to help you.”

Mott stood still now, peering. He finally pulled his spectacles from his pocket and donned them. “Show me your credentials.”

Jim reached inside his coat and brought out the folder, opening it so that the badge would show. Mott leaned toward it slightly to study it then took a few steps forward. “What do you want with me?”

“I think you know, Mr. Mott.”

The other man shook his head furiously. “It’s not safe for me out there!”

“We’ll protect you. You’ll have a twenty-four hour guard. Once Royer is convicted, you’ll be free to live your own life again.”

For a long moment Mott stood still. “You sure of that?”

“We’ll do our best. You’ll have to cooperate.”

“Testify, you mean.”

“Yes. And also follow directions.”

Again seconds of stillness elapsed. Finally Mott started moving slowly toward Jim. “I am tired of all this.”

Jim breathed a sign of relief. Now it would be merely a matter of getting Mott safely to the Wanderer, then transporting him to Saint Louis where he would be taken into custody by the federal attorney’s office. I hate these kinds of jobs. But at least it’s all but over. He was confident that he and his partner could protect Mott until they handed him over to the attorney.

“Artie,” Jim called over his shoulder as Mott stepped out into the wider area that led to the door. “All clear?”

Not hearing a response, he was starting to turn toward the door when he saw his partner’s silhouette against the bright sunshine framing him in the doorway. He saw the fringe on the sleeve of the leather coat and the broad brimmed hat his partner favored. He also saw the way the right hand was holding a pistol.

“That’s not neces…”

The explosion from the gun’s barrel covered the last syllables. Jim heard the grunt of pain from behind him and whirled. Abel Mott was staggering backwards, crimson blossoming on the front of the sweat-stained shirt. Shocked, for an instant Jim simply stared at the former bookkeeper as he crumpled to the hay-strewn floor. Then he spun back.

“Artie!”

Not for one instant had he considered drawing his own gun. Now the weapon held by the man in the doorway blasted again, and the impact of the slug entering his body sent James West reeling. He grabbed for the support of one of the posts by the nearest stall, gaping. “Artie…” he whispered toward the oh-so-familiar shadow in the doorway. “Artie…” Deep blackness closed in.

W*W*W*W*W

Oh, colder than the wind that freezes
Founts, that but now in sunshine play'd,
Is that congealing pang which seizes
The trusting bosom, when betray'd.
Lalla Rookh--The Fire Worshippers, Thomas Moore (1779-1852), Irish Poet


“Jim! Jim! Can you hear me? It’s Colonel Richmond! You need to talk to me! Who did this?”

The voice came from a great distance, through the oceans of pain and weakness that engulfed him. He did not seem to have the strength to even open his eyes, and making his mouth and tongue work was momentarily impossible. Something touched his mouth, something cool, and the liquid seared then soothed his lips so that he opened them to allow more water into his mouth and throat.

He tried opening his eyes, but all was one mass of shimmering, shadowy shapes and colors, so he closed them again. Once more he attempted to operate his lips and tongue. The voice that emerged was foreign even to his ears, raspy and barely audible.

“Artie,” he whispered. A pain, sharp and nearly unbearable, unrelated to the physical agony he was experiencing, washed through his body and soul. Complete blackness closed in again as a voice spoke from somewhere and faded into the darkness.

“He’s out again.”

W*W*W*W*W

Cruelty is the highest pleasure to the cruel man; it is his love.
—Walter Savage Landor (1775-1864), English poet and author


Artemus Gordon blinked as the heavy hood was pulled off his head. The illumination in the cabin was dim, doubly shaded by the trees he knew they had traveled through and likely now surrounded this structure. The hood had been thrown over his head soon after he had been pushed into the wagon behind the livery stable, his hands bound behind his back, and then more rope around his ankles.

The wagon had traveled rapidly away from town. He had heard the gunshots inside the stable, and then the shouts that faded as the wagon put distance between itself and the scene of the crime. He had been waiting outside, as he told his partner he would be, “on guard.” Some guard I was, he realized, bitterly.

He had not heard the man approaching from behind. Noticing that the soil was very soft and sandy did not mollify him. He had been quietly ordered to go behind the stable, remove his coat and hat, as well as his gun belt, which were all donned by another man, a man of a physical build similar to his own.

Artie had been puzzled at first but realized even before he heard the shots what was going to happen. Jim would see the silhouette in the open door, unable to see the man’s features. That man, who had been called Coursey by his three companions, returned around the building mounted on Artie’s chestnut. That was when the wagon driver lashed his horses and the man sitting in the bed of the wagon put the hood over Artie’s head and pushed him flat.

Only a while later when the wagon finally slowed did Artie realize that the horseman had not accompanied the wagon initially. He had laughed about his success as he rejoined them, boasting about the false trail he had laid, certain he had covered his tracks before uniting with his companions.

That was when Artie heard the conversation that caused every fiber of his body to turn to ice. They had been highly successful, they bragged. Not only was Abel Mott dead but so was Jim West. “Got him right in the heart!” Coursey boasted.

Then why am I alive? Why am I alive? That puzzle echoed in his head repeatedly as the wagon continued. The men’s conversation did not reveal that, as they now talked about the bonus they were going to get for their success.

Earl Royer’s name was mentioned. Artie had not needed to hear it to be aware that that had been the man behind the ambush. For several years now the Secret Service as well as other state and federal agencies had been attempting to get evidence to arrest and convict Royer, a notorious criminal. Royer lived openly on his ill gotten wealth, murdered and stole to live his luxurious lifestyle, but he had been clever as well as devious. More than once one agency or another had believed they had evidence, only to have it stolen or refuted. Witnesses changed their minds, disappeared, or died in an “accident.”

Abel Mott had been Royer’s bookkeeper for years. He knew everything that occurred in Royer’s little kingdom, especially the finances. A lifelong bachelor, he had met a young widow who urged him to leave that life behind. However, when he tried to resign, the woman was attacked and beaten badly.

Mott had previously contacted a member of the Secret Service to help him escape from Royer, and a method had been devised whereby he would be swept away to a secret hideout. His new love was to come along. When she was assaulted, Mott panicked and fled, certain he would be next. For several months nearly every agent in the department—as well as Royer’s men—had been on the lookout for him. He had finally been spotted in Denver. West and Gordon had been sent to apprehend him.

Artie stared up at the man who was now standing in front of the chair into which he had been shoved and bound securely. “You bastard!”

Earl Royer laughed heartily. “Brilliant bastard, you might say, Mr. Gordon. I must thank you and the late unlamented Mr. West for leading us to Abel Mott.”

Artie gritted his teeth, glaring. Royer was a big man in his fifties. His lifestyle had affected his body, stomach protruding now from too many rich meals and good liquor. His suit was tailored perfectly to cover that expanding body. He did not seem to be vain about his physical shape, but his hair was another matter. He wore his hair slicked down with oil, parted in the middle, and Artemus would be willing to wager a good sum that Royer used a dye to keep the very dark color it now had, with not a sign of gray.

They couldn’t have followed us. We were too careful! He knew that, but he also realized that what Royer was saying had to be true. If Royer’s men had not followed them directly, they had at least received enough information to lead them to the stable, arriving there at the same time as the agents and successfully carrying out an ambush.

“What now?” Artie asked then. He did not want to give Royer the satisfaction of displaying any further anger or grief. “Why am I still alive?”

If possible, Royer’s grin grew even wider. “My original thought was to have both of you killed at the same time. You certainly have given me enough trouble over the years to warrant it. But then I thought of a more pleasurable scheme. West is dead. Witnesses will give the authorities an accurate description of the man who committed the atrocities. And you will eventually hang—or be shot down by a posse—for the murder of West and Mott.”

“Very clever,” Artie replied acidly. People had been in the vicinity of the stable, at least a few of which had likely been planted by Royer. Colonel Richmond and other authorities would have no option but to seek Artemus Gordon for the murders. “Except maybe I’ll give myself up and tell the truth.”

Royer laughed again. “No you won’t, Gordon. I know enough about you and West to realize that the first thing on your mind will be to come after me. I welcome you to try. You won’t find me, and eventually, while you are concentrating on me, others will be searching for you—and will find you.”

Again Artemus had to clench his jaw, knowing Royer was speaking truth. With the situation as it was, if he turned himself in, precious time would be lost. Royer could even head to Europe or elsewhere to hide out. He was certainly not short of funds. However, I doubt he would do that, at least not initially. He enjoys being able to outwit the authorities in this country, something he has done for years. He’s not going to give that up. Not yet.

Artie lowered his head then, as if surrendering. After a moment, he looked up again. “So you’re setting me free?”

“In a manner of speaking. My men and I will depart tomorrow. But we will leave your jacket, hat and weapon, as well as a knife which I have no doubt you will get to and use to cut your bonds. Your horse will be outside. But I expect by that time we will be far away from here. Don’t try to track us. Coursey there is an expert on laying and hiding trails. You won’t find us. You’d best be thinking of hiding yourself!”

He laughed loudly and the other men joined in as they made themselves as comfortable as was possible on the cabin’s rickety furnishings. Artie fell silent, knowing that anything he said would only draw taunts. He briefly wondered why Royer and his minions would wait until tomorrow to leave, but quickly realized that Royer was aware that any law officers in the vicinity would not only be watching for Artemus Gordon, but for Earl Royer, seeing as one of the men killed had been sought by Royer. An extra day would cause the feverish hunt to cool down a bit.

The day passed slowly. Twice Artie was untied and allowed to use the equally dilapidated outhouse behind the cabin, and he was given water to drink. In the evening, a bowl of the stew the man Coursey cooked up was handed to him, his arms untied from the chair but not his legs. When his four captors stretched out on bedrolls on the floor, Artie remained in the chair.

He dozed some during the night in his uncomfortable position, but the discomfort was not what kept him awake. Grief was the cause. Time and time again he heard those shots echoing from the stable, and saw Coursey’s wide grin as he hurried around the stable mounted on Mesa. “I got ‘em,” he chortled. “Both dead as doornails.”

I won’t be able to attend the funeral… I can’t say goodbye… Worst, he knew that the last thing Jim West saw was his partner, his best friend, pulling the trigger. The only comfort was the knowledge that he himself was going to be alive to achieve vengeance. Royer thought he was being clever leaving Artemus Gordon free to face possible hanging. That’s not going to happen, you bastard. I won’t hang until after I kill you!

He thought about Lily Fortune. What would she think when she heard the news? And she would hear, of that he was positive. Would she believe he could have done such a thing? Maybe I can manage to see her before… before it all plays out.

When morning came, Royer pretty much ignored him, as did the others. They fixed their breakfast then gathered up their possessions. Artie had to admit he was somewhat surprised that Earl Royer did not simply stand back and let his hirelings do the preparations for departure. Nor had he complained about the poor accommodations and simple food. Not much was known about Royer’s early years; perhaps he knew what it was like to live a rough life.

Just before he stepped out the door, Royer paused. “Goodbye, Gordon. I’ll be reading the newspapers avidly to learn your fate, whether it be cut down by a posse, a bounty hunter… or a hanging.”

Artie sat silently as the door closed, and then began to look around. Initially he thought that either Royer forgot to leave the knife or he had lied about it. However, he then spotted the sharp hunting knife, jammed into the wood alongside the stone fireplace—about six feet off the floor.

Closing his eyes a moment in frustration, Artie opened them and set about tipping his chair over. Securing the knife was going to take time. Tied to this chair, he could not even hop over and attempt to dislodge it with his head.

But I’ll do it. I’ll get free, and I’ll find Earl Royer. I swear, Jim. He will pay for murdering you. On my life, I swear it!

W*W*W*W*W

Choose your friend wisely,
Test your friend well;
True friends, like rarest gems,
Prove hard to tell.
Winter him, summer him,
Know your friend well.
—Unknown


He forced himself to eat everything on his tray despite the lack of an appetite. He needed the sustenance to rebuild his strength. Loss of blood, the shock of the wound and the subsequent surgery to remove the lead pellet had left him weak and drained of energy. On this second day after the shooting, he had to have help to get out of bed while the linens were changed. It would get better, but he was too frail to attempt to leave the hospital at this time.

And I have to get out of here. I have to find Artemus. I have to find him before anyone else does, talk to him, find out why…

Jim lowered the fork, his eyes unfocused on some distance spot across the room. All he had was that incredible memory of turning to see his partner, his best friend, standing in the doorway with the pistol. Of the shots being fired. Of the force of the bullet as it drove into his flesh, sending him reeling back in pain, into darkness.

It can’t be true.

He had tried to convince the colonel of that as soon as he roused to find his commanding officer seated beside the bed. Richmond had quietly told him that a nationwide manhunt was in force, seeking Artemus Gordon. “No, not Artie. He didn’t do it.”

Richmond had shaken his head, his face grim. “It’s not only your testimony, Jim. You told me it was Gordon and I could not believe it. However, two witnesses have come forward.”

“Witnesses? Who?”

“A man who was returning to pick up his horse at the stable and saw it play out. He described Gordon’s jacket, hat, and general build. A young woman who rents a room in the house across from the livery saw the same thing. Gordon fired two shots then ran out to mount his chestnut horse and ride off at a rapid pace. His trail was followed for a few miles, then lost.”

Jim had tried to argue as forcefully as his strength at the time would allow, but to no avail. Colonel James Richmond seemed to be convinced. The witnesses, although fairly new to Denver, were deemed reliable. Also, an investigation had revealed a deposit had been made into Gordon’s bank account in Washington, DC in the amount of fifty thousand dollars. The clerk who took the deposit admitted that Gordon had not made it himself, but he remembered the man who had come to his window with it. A smiling man who stated that the funds were payment for services rendered and that Mr. Gordon was expecting to see the funds recorded. The deposit had occurred the morning of the assault.

“Jim,” the colonel had spoken gently then, “I’m quite aware of what Artemus means to you. But… people change. I was there a month ago when he was complaining about the hours and low pay…”

“That was a joke, colonel! You knew that!”

“I thought it was at the time. But sometimes what people speak in jest is actually the truth. We may never know what was on his mind until we pick him up… alive.”

Aware that he was not getting anywhere, Jim did not dispute further, only asked for updates each time Richmond or one of the other agents visited him. Artemus had vanished completely. As well, Earl Royer had dropped out of sight. To Jim, that was telling, but he was unsure what it meant. He had no doubt Royer had a hand in the murder of the key witness and the attempt to kill a government agent.

The gnawing question was why they had not also shot Artemus outside the stable where he was waiting. Jim refused to believe—could not believe—that his partner had turned traitor. The only explanation was that Royer had taken Artie prisoner. Jim could not begin to guess why. Royer was a clever man, they all knew that. He could have a use for Artemus Gordon.

But what? Does he expect Artie, now an accused murderer, to actually help him somehow? Thus far, Royer’s criminal behavior did not include outright robbery of banks, trains, or any other institution. He made his money primarily by extortion and smuggling, the latter activity putting him under the purview of the federal agency when he “neglected” to pay duties and taxes. The slaying of an agent who had infiltrated Royer’s domain enhanced the federal charges. The other murders in which he was suspected were tied to the other crimes as part of the intimidation that made him so successful.

With Abel Mott dead, Royer will have a free ride for a while. Undoubtedly he will hire a new bookkeeper, if he hasn’t already, but whoever that is would be forewarned by Mott’s death.

Shifting his position slightly and wincing as he felt the pull on the wound in his upper left shoulder, Jim looked toward the window. He could not see much other than the roof of the building next door and the leaden sky, but he now saw that snow was falling lightly. Not unusual for Denver in October.

His bodily weakness was frustrating. He had been wounded before, but this one was certainly one of the most serious. Because of his own robust health, he usually recovered swiftly. Nonetheless, he knew that time was going to be needed. He would not serve himself, or Artie, well by jumping the gun. But he was not going to wait to be officially discharged. He knew himself, knew his strengths and limitations. Artie was out there somewhere and needed him. Of that he was absolutely certain.

I don't know what I saw in the doorway of the stable. At the time, I thought it was Artie. But it could not have been. Never. Artie would not shoot me, let alone commit murder. Never.

W*W*W*W*W


Artemus Gordon climbed to his feet, and realizing how shaky his legs were, grabbed the stone mantel of the fireplace next to him. Despite the coolness of the air, he was perspiring. Beads of sweat had collected on his forehead and he could also feel them streaming inside his shirt, tickling his skin.

“Six hours!” he muttered, glancing toward the window, which revealed the growing dimness of the afternoon as the sun lowered in the west. The sun had been heading for its zenith when he tipped his chair over and began the arduous task of sliding toward the side of the fireplace where the knife was jammed into the wall. Beyond needing to scoot the chair across the rough wooden floor, he had had to break the chair to free his body so as to be able to reach that knife.

The chair proved to be extremely sturdy, and not until he got up against the stone hearth where he was able to start cracking it against the hard rocks did it begin to crumble. Even that took time, precious time in which Artie knew Royer was undoubtedly traveling farther and farther away. But after breaking the chair and freeing himself from its constraints, he found he had to turn into an acrobat, scooting up against the wall to rest his body on his shoulders and neck. Only then did his boot toes touch the embedded knife and start working on loosening it.

And then came the danger that the knife might come free and fall point first toward his body. He had no other choice, however, and continued to work at it. Finally the tip of the blade started to slide out. Artemus almost somersaulted to get himself out of the way, and just made it as the blade flew to the floor and embedded itself again into the floor—just where he had been.

The easiest task was cutting his wrist ropes by rubbing them against the blade—fortuitously the sharp side was toward him—then pulling the knife to cut those on his boots. That was when he climbed wearily to his feet and experienced the weakness in his limbs, not to mention slight vertigo. When he felt able, he walked across the floor to the bucket resting on a stool in the corner, using the dipper there to drink deeply of the water.

His gun belt and jacket were in a heap near the door. Artie fastened the belt on, but did not don the jacket just yet. He found his hat hanging on a nail on the wall and placed it on his head. These are the items that will be in any description of me given to law officers, he mused as he stepped to a grimy window and peered out. Royer may have left men outside to ambush me. They would turn my body in and claim any reward…

The pain of the realization was sharp: The reward for the murderer of Abel Mott… and James West. The man who pulled the trigger had left the stable without checking on his victims, but he had assured Royer that both men were dead. “I don’t miss at that range.” Coursey’s boast echoed in Artemus's head.

We led Royer right to Mott. That was another painful awareness. They had been alert, always watching their surroundings and any people in those surroundings. Artie knew they had not seen anyone more than once. But Royer had a large organization. He could have had a dozen or more men switching places to follow the agents in their search for Mott. None needed to appear in any town where they stopped more than once.

Now Jim is dead along with the witness, and I’m the accused murderer. We were aware that Royer was a smart man, but this…!

It was almost too much to accept or comprehend.

W*W*W*W*W

Without constancy, there is neither love, friendship, nor virtue in the world.
—Joseph Addison (1672-1719), English essayist, poet, and statesman


Lily Fortune arrived on the third day of his recuperation. She entered the hospital room with her chin high, expression controlled and determined. But the moment she gazed upon Jim laying in the hospital bed, his face drawn and worn, the whiteness of the bandage showing just above the dark blanket that covered him, that composure broke down. She hurried to the bed, taking his hand and grasping it tightly.

“Jim, tell me it’s not true. Artemus didn’t… didn’t do this!” Tears flowed down her cheeks.

“He did not do it, Lily. I’m not sure what happened, but I know Artie did not shoot either Mott or me.”

“Then why did you say he did? The newspapers…”

Jim sighed, and realized that the movement did not cause as much pain as it had earlier. “They first asked me when I was barely conscious. I can’t say now whether I was naming Artie as the culprit or asking for him. The colonel took it as the former. He also has two witnesses who say they saw him—or someone who looked like him—leaving the area of the livery stable. I know that the man I saw in silhouette in the open doorway resembled Artie, but I couldn’t see his face. I can’t believe the witnesses saw him closely either. They saw the jacket and the hat.”

Releasing his hand, Lily moved the room’s lone chair close to the bed, sitting down. “Jim, where is he?”

“I don't know. I can’t even promise he’s still alive, Lily. But what I will promise is that I will find him, find out what happened.”

She saw the steely determination on his face and took his hand again. “Jim, it’s going to be weeks before you are in any condition…”

“Not weeks,” he said grimly. “I think another few days is all I need. I’m able to get out of bed now and get to the chair…”

“You need more than that, Jim!” the actress cut in. “The snow has melted and the streets are ankle deep in mud. I had a terrible time getting here, first by train, then simply from the depot to the hospital. It may snow again, or at least rain and…”

“I can’t let that stop me, Lily. If the situation were reversed…”

She sighed, leaned forward slightly, lifted his hand and pressed it against her cheek. “Oh, Jim. You are my dear friend and I know you love Artemus as I do. But he would not want you to risk your life…”

“He doesn’t have a say in the matter. As I was saying, if it was me out there with a murder charge over my head, Artie would be breaking down walls to help me.”

“I know. I know.” She lowered his hand but continued to hold it, now in both of her own as she gazed at him earnestly. “Then you must allow me to help.”

He smiled. “I appreciate that, Lily. But I don't know what you could do…”

Her chin came up. “For one thing, I know the doctor does not plan to officially release you for at least another two weeks, perhaps longer.”

“That’s what he thinks,” Jim grumbled.

Now she smiled. “It seems to me that if you had someone who promised to look after you, he might be convinced to allow you to leave sooner.”

“And then what?”

“Then we will find Artemus.”

“Is that why Artemus shot you, Jim? Because he knew you had designs on his girl?” A voice cut into their conversation.

Both jerked their gazes toward the room’s door. Lily attempted to release Jim’s hand but he grasped hers tightly now. “Don’t be crazy, Frank!” Jim exclaimed. “We…”

“I actually heard quite a bit of what you were discussing,” Frank Harper stated, coming all the way in now and closing the door behind him, his lean face sober after a brief teasing grin. “You should have been more careful about closing the door completely, Lily.” He paused at the foot of the bed. “Think about it, nevertheless. If Lily becomes your nurse, a prosecuting attorney might look on it as a highly auspicious motive.”

Jim stared at his colleague. “You don’t believe for one minute…!”

“Of course not. As I said, I’m just saying. I admire Lily’s dedication but it seems to me that you’d be better off in my tender care.”

“Are you insane?”

Harper grinned now. “Not in the least. I have some leave coming to me. I could rent a little house here in Denver, hire a cook—you know I cannot match Artemus when it comes to the culinary arts—and as an old and dear friend, help you regain your health… while also helping you search for Artemus.”

Jim glanced at Lily. “Frank, you can’t jeopardize your career. The colonel…”

“Knows it could not have been Artemus.”

“He could have fooled me,” Jim growled.

“I think I understand,” Lily said quietly. “Officially, the colonel has to accept the obvious, especially because of the witnesses.” She looked down at Jim. “But he knows you, Jim, and he knows Artemus.”

“Exactly. The story has hit all the papers thanks to that reporter who was in the area of the shooting. If Richmond didn’t set out a search for Artemus, how would it look?” Frank said. “So, any ideas where to begin?”

“Actually, I have,” Jim responded, suddenly feeling a great deal better. “I’ve had a lot of time to think, and I remembered a few years ago reading through some information gathered on Royer that said he had constructed a large home in the mountains just south of Denver.”

Harper’s eyes narrowed. “You think he might have taken Artemus there? This time of year, they could be snowed in!”

“And unreachable from the outside as well.”

“At least by a large force,” Frank nodded thoughtfully. “If it does snow, are you thinking a sleigh…?”

“Snowshoeing. I’ve had some experience.”

“That’s very strenuous activity,” Frank pointed out. “Are you sure?”

“Another couple weeks and I’ll be fine. It’ll take us awhile to check maps and other information to make certain of the location of the house, perhaps find a guide—and also try to learn for certain if he’s there.”

“Not to mention finding the best route for us to take,” Lily said.

Both men looked at her. “You can’t make such a trek, Lily!” Jim protested.

Her chin came up. “Why not? Don’t forget, I grew up in Michigan. Have you ever endured a Michigan winter?”

W*W*W*W*W

The house of every one is to him as his castle and fortress, as well for his defence against injury and violence, as for his repose.
Reports, Semaynes' Case (vol. III, pt. V, p. 185), Lord Edward Coke (1552-1634), English judge and legal writer


Artemus Gordon sighed as he lowered the empty coffee cup and looked at the man sitting across the table from him. “Orrin, thank you. Believe me, I will exonerate you from aiding and abetting, if it comes to that. I’ll swear I held a gun on you.”

The engineer grinned. “Thanks, boss. But it won’t come to that. I have faith in both you and Mr. West. You’ll get to the bottom of this.”

Artie looked down at his empty plate for a moment, remembering the utter relief he had experienced upon entering the parlor car, finding engineer Orrin Cobb, and being told that Jim West was alive and recuperating in a Denver hospital. Until that moment he had believed Jim was indeed dead, as Royer apparently believed initially.

The snow had started coming down in earnest as he made his way toward the Wanderer, which they had left parked on a siding some forty miles outside of Denver so as not to alert anyone of their presence. He stayed off the main roads in the hopes of also avoiding anyone out searching for him—a hope that became reality. He did not encounter any other human. As the snow fell more and more heavily, piling up on the ground, his progress had been slowed, and he had taken overnight shelter in an old line camp to warm up. A can of peaches and some wrinkled apples had been in the cabin, but by the time he gained the train, he was starving as well as nearly frozen.

Orrin had been alone on the train. The fireman, Kelly, had left to visit some cousins in a nearby town, knowing their employers would not be back for at least a week. “He likely will be held up by the snow now, unless it melts,” Cobb said. “Even then the mud will be bad.”

Colonel Richmond and Frank Harper had come to the train earlier, partly to see if Gordon had fled there, but also to inform the crew of the tragic events. They were the ones who told the engineer that Jim was alive.

Artie looked up. “I’ve got to talk to Jim, to make sure he doesn’t believe I…”

Orrin was shaking his head. “He wouldn’t ever believe that of you, Mr. Gordon. It would be dangerous for you to go into Denver, let alone the hospital.”

Artie grinned then. “Orrin, you forget who you are talking to!”

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
8377 Posts

Posted - 06/02/2013 :  09:37:57  Show Profile
W*W*W*W*W

A friend is a second self.
Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle (384-322 BC), Greek philosopher


Jim was sitting on a chair in his room, attired in a hospital robe that had seen so many washings it no longer possessed a color, while a male nurse replaced the linen on his bed. He was proud of himself for being able to walk from the bed to the chair, a distance of six or seven feet, without assistance. He thought he had been successful as well in concealing the discomfort he had experienced in his shoulder as the movements disturbed the still healing wound.

But I’m better. Definitely better. The first couple of days even breathing could cause the wound to hurt. I’m going to be out of here long before the doctors believed. I have to. I have to find Artie and prove to everyone he did not shoot me or kill Mott.

The loss of Mott was something that continued to cause Jim’s blood to boil. They had spent weeks seeking him and had truly believed they were disguising their movements and intent. But somehow Royer had known where they were going, what they were doing, and set up the ambush. We’ve got to find a way to bring Royer down. The best way to do that would be to work together.

Jim sighed and bit back a wince as the stocky man tucking in the blanket under the mattress glanced back at him. “All right, Mr. West?”

“I’m fine. Just a little tired of this inactivity.”

“I expect that’s so. But it’s the best thing. You know that. Listen to the doctor, that’s what I always say. Best thing to do.”

“I know. I…” Jim halted as the room’s door opened.

The man who entered was grinning widely. He was middle-aged, slightly hunched over, with rather poorly cut dark hair that was streaked liberally with gray, and a line showed that the hat he now held in his hands, a bowler, had been sitting tightly on that hair. His beard also needed trimming, and the plaid jacket could have stood a good brushing, not to mention a tailor, as the shoulder seams hung partway down his arms.

Jim was about to speak up and suggest the man had the wrong room when the visitor spoke in a scratchy voice. “Well, there you are, Jimmy. Bet you don’t recognize me, it’s been so long. You don’t even remember your Uncle Thorbert from your mama’s side.”

For just an instant, Jim was unsettled. He had no uncle on his mother’s side and his father’s only brother had died relatively young. But the stranger approached, leaning forward slightly and walking as though his knees hurt him. The brown eyes gleamed.

“How you doing, James my boy?”

Jim threw a quick glance toward the nurse who had finished his chore and was gazing at the visitor. “I’m doing much better, uncle. I’m surprised to see you. I last heard you were living in Toronto.”

“Oh, got tired of that Canuck food. You know? Howdy, son. You a friend of my nephew?” Uncle Thorbert looked at the nurse, who grinned.

“No, just one of the folks who take care of the place. You want to get back in bed, Mr. West?”

“I’ll sit here a while, if you don’t mind. My uncle will help me, I’m sure, if I want to move.”

“Why surely I will. You listen, was a time I dandled this boy on my knee. And I changed his diapers too! I’ll tuck him in, I sure will!” The nurse chuckled, picked up the soiled linens and strolled from the room, closing the door behind him. Uncle Thorbert turned to Jim, straightening his body. “You’re all right?”

Jim held out his hand. “I am fine, Artie. What the devil are you doing here?”

Artie grasped that hand briefly and warmly, then moved to sit on the edge of the bed. “I had to see you, Jim. I had to know that you didn’t believe…”

Jim cut in. “You know I would never believe that.”

Artie smiled. “I guess I just had to hear it.”

“What happened?”

Artie knew what the question addressed, and tersely described how he was ambushed and taken prisoner. “It was the worst moment of my life, hearing those two shots in the stable and not being able to do anything about it. Then the guy who did the shooting was so damned positive you were dead…” He sighed heavily then continued his narrative while Jim listened soberly, and finished. “I made my way to the train, which is where I learned you had survived. I packed up some supplies, including items I would need for disguises. I want to go hunting for Royer but I don't know where to start.”

“You can’t go alone, Artie.”

Artie’s brows lifted. “And you expect to be able to accompany me when?”

“In a couple of days…”

“I don't think so, pal. Orrin told me how serious your wound was. You lost a lot of blood, plus had to endure surgery. Get up and move to the bed.”

Jim tried. He expected to be able to stand up easily from the chair. But his legs would not obey. He settled back. “All right, maybe a week . But I’ll say it again, you can’t go alone.”

Before Artie could respond, the doorknob clicked. Artie immediately assumed his hunched over “Uncle Thorbert” persona—and was astonished to see Lily Fortune enter the room. She paused, eyes widening slightly in surprise. “Oh, excuse me, Jim. I didn’t know you had company.”

Jim bit back a smile. “It’s all right. Come on in, Lily. Meet my Uncle Thorbert.”

“Your… uncle?” She came forward slowly, tossing back the hood of the cape she was wearing. Lily knew quite well that Jim had no surviving uncle. She stared at the man standing beside the bed. Something definitely was familiar about him…

The eyes gave it away. The chocolate brown eyes gazing at her in complete joy and filled with devotion. She gasped aloud, cried his name and ran into his arms. Jim watched, grinning. Good thing Artie never needs to try to disguise himself from Lily. He would never get away with it!

Lily pulled back then and gazed up at her fiancé. “Artemus, what are you doing here?”

He shrugged. “I had to see Jim.”

She understood immediately. He had to be sure Jim did not truly believe his best friend had shot him. “And what are you going to do next?”

“Go find Earl Royer and bring him in.”

“Alone?”

“Jim is in no condition to help. I don’t want to pull Frank into it and possibly get him into trouble.”

Lily folded her arms across her bosom and gazed at him with narrowed eyes. “Where will you look?”

Jim heard this query with alarm, but knew he could not say anything now. Lily knew about the possibility of the secret mountain lodge. Even if I try to shush her now, Artie would know something was up and gnaw at it until he learned the secret. I can’t remember whether I ever mentioned it to him at all.

Artie shook his head. “I don't know. Maybe in disguise I can find the right people to ask.”

Lily barely glanced at Jim. “You didn’t know he has a home somewhere in the mountains near here?”

Artie’s brow furrowed as he looked toward Jim. “I seem to recall… you mentioned something a long time ago.”

“Just a rumor I heard. I have no idea whether it’s true. It’s never been found.”

Now Artemus nodded thoughtfully. “It would make sense why he would be here in Denver and how he disappeared so quickly. Is there any information about how long ago he bought or built this lodge?”

“I never heard that anyone checked. The rumor was vague.”

“Well, maybe I will check, again in disguise.”

We will check, my dear.”

Artie stared at the woman he loved. “You can’t come with me!”

“Why not? I planned to go with Jim and Frank to find you. Think about it, Artemus. You are a wanted man. But they are looking for a man alone, not a man and woman. And I can don a disguise as easily as you can.”

Artie gaped, closed his mouth, opened it again, looked at his partner for help… but Jim was silent. He heaved a great sigh. “All right, Lil. You can help me do the research…”

“No! I’m going with you. I’m going to be at your side until this is over, one way or another.” Lily put her hand on his arm. “Don’t you see, my darling? I have been going out of my mind since this first happened. I could not bear to be here, or even back at the theater, not knowing what was happening. You remember when we were children, I could keep up with all the boys, whether riding or hiking or whatever.”

“Even playing base ball or dodge ball,” Artie sighed, rolling his eyes at Jim.

“Sounds to me that you don’t have a choice, pal. The lady has spoken.”

Artemus put his own hand over her slender one that still rested on his coat sleeve. “All right, Lil. I think you can be helpful to me, as you say. Jim?”

“Frank and I will follow as soon as I’m ready. Be sure you get word to me about whatever you find regarding the lodge—if anything.”

“I will. You won’t… tell Richmond?”

“No. I won’t tell him anything he doesn’t need to know immediately.”

The door opened then, and Lily stepped back quickly as the nurse entered. “I thought I should see if Mr. West is getting tired.”

“Well, I reckon I did talk a little too much,” Artie drawled, instantly returning to the pose of the old fellow. “But you know, I haven’t seen my favorite nephew in some time. And then this pretty lady come to visit too.”

“Go along, Uncle,” Jim said. “Just remember to come see me again before you leave Denver. Lily, perhaps Uncle Thorbert will see you to your hotel.”

“I’d be delighted,” Artie beamed, offering his arm to the lady. “Now you take care, nephew.”

W*W*W*W*W

Foolery… does walk about the orb like the sun; it shines everywhere.
Twelfth Night (Act III, sc. I), William Shakespeare (1564-1616), English playwright


Frank Harper arrived at the hospital just as Jim was finishing his dinner tray. “How is it?” Frank inquired, eyeing the now empty plate.

“Edible. There was a slice of apple pie that was pretty good, all things considered.”

Frank took the chair next to the bed. “And you?”

“Better all the time. I did a little walking earlier. Artie came to see me.”

For half an instant, the statement did not register in Harper’s brain. “Artie… came to see you?”

Jim smiled as he pushed the tray to the side of the bed. “In disguise, of course. Almost fooled me, as well as Lily.”

“Lily was here too?” Frank was having a little trouble comprehending.

“She arrived as Artie and I were talking. She’s going to accompany Artie in his search for Royer’s mountain hideout.”

Frank sighed. “Jim, you’d better start at the beginning.”

Jim did, relating what Artemus had told him about the incident at the stable, how he had been captured and later released. “He went to the train and collected a supply of his disguise clothes and other gear.” He continued to describe Artie’s visit. “I was not going to remind him of the rumor I heard about Royer’s lodge, but Lily brought it up. They are going to do some hunting around town to see if they can find anyone who knows anything about it.”

“Oh my god!” Frank rolled his eyes.

“What?”

Harper shook his head in mild distress. “I went to the land office before I had some supper, and as I was leaving a man and woman came in. Both nodded politely to me, and I even held the door for them. Jim, now that I think back, I’m sure it was Artemus and Lily! He’s never going to let me forget it. It never occurred to me…”

Jim was laughing. “You’re right. You’re dead meat now. But at least they are actively searching. Artie promised to return and tell me what he learned before he heads out.”

“You think he will?”

“He had better! How did it go for you at the land office?”

Frank grimaced. “Not well. I believe I made a mistake in identifying myself as a government agent. The poor clerk went white in the face. I’m sure he thought I was investigating him or the office. In any case, he was too rattled to be of much help. I would not doubt but what Artemus and Lily, portraying ordinary citizens, got much more information.”

W*W*W*W*W

"But for to assaye," he seyde, "it nought ne greveth;
For he that nought nassayeth, nought nacheveth."
["But to attempt it," he said, "should not grieve:
for he that attempts nothing will nothing achieve."
Troilus and Criseyde (bk. V, st. 112), Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1340-1400), English poet


“Well, if our map is correct, we should be within about five miles of Royer’s lodge.”

Lily lifted her gaze to the hills and trees that ascended above them. “Scary.”

Artemus laughed. “Just pretend you’re going on stage in a new play. Nothing scarier than that!”

“Don’t I know it! Darling, do you think this plan will work?”

Artie placed the satchel he had brought from his horse on a rock. “I think we stand less chance of being caught out if at least one of us is our real self. We just have to buy time, sweetheart. Jim and Frank will be along behind us.”

“But how soon? Jim…”

“Nothing was going to keep him in that hospital for long. I imagine he and Frank started after us within three days. With us taking that extra night of camping, they are two days behind us. So we just need to stall for that long.”

Learning the location of Royer’s hidden lodge had not been easy. As a middle-aged couple seeking to buy land and build a home in the mountains, they had spent well over an hour with the clerk in the land office, first commiserating with him over his shock of talking to a government agent. He was certain he had done nothing wrong, nor had anyone in the office. Why was the government investigating them?

Finally he relaxed and showed his gratitude for their kind understanding by digging through books to find possible locations of previously built homes in the local hills. Mr. and Mrs. Van de Water wanted to talk to people who had gone through the experience before even considering purchasing a plot. The clerk also pointed them to local people who might have helped in constructing those homes.

Artemus had had a bad feeling upon hearing about those men, and it played out partially. As they met with the builders, they did find two who had worked on several houses who mentioned that three other men who had helped with one mountain lodge had disappeared soon after its completion. The pair did not seem overly concerned, suggesting that their fellow carpenters had simply moved on. One did say, nonetheless, that he had been glad he had been called back to Illinois by family concerns before the project was completed, learning about the missing men upon his return.

“Kind of makes me uneasy. We never met the owner of the house. Some rich fella from back east. I always had the feelin’ that he might have been someone who wanted a place to hide out from time to time. We only ever saw a fella representing him, named Coursey.”

The fact that the owner’s representative was Coursey solidified it for Artemus. This would be Royer’s secret lodge. They obtained pretty specific directions to the property as well as other information, including the fact that the main road leading down the mountain could be seen from the house “so that any visitors could be spotted,” the carpenter asserted, another reason why he was suspicious of the builder.

So he and Lily had approached the property in a roundabout manner, and Artemus had also warned Jim and Frank to do the same thing.

Information they had on Earl Royer indicated he was a huge aficionado of the theater and attended plays often. He also appeared to be a major fan of Miss Lily Fortune, attending numerous of her presentations, even traveling from Saint Louis to Chicago to do so.

Therefore the plan devised was that Lily would be herself, the famous stage actress, and Artemus would disguise himself as Lily’s manager and agent. He had traveled with her to Denver when Lily learned about her fiancé’s heinous crime. The hope was that Royer’s attention would be directed toward her, and perhaps not notice her companion as much.

More time was necessary for Artemus to change his appearance than for Lily. However, she did switch from the woolen riding outfit she had purchased in Denver to a gown that was much more suitable for an afternoon tea party than a ride in the Rocky Mountains. She also used Artie’s makeup case to create dark circles under her eyes, as well as spread some of the mud they had been riding through the last several days on her dress, cloak, and chin.

Much of the mud that had been produced up when the early autumn snow melted had solidified under the warmer sun, but spots that were in the shade could still be soft, something they learned when horses occasionally slipped. To have mud on her attire seemed quite logical, considering they were going to pose as lost souls with no experience in such terrain.

Before leaving Denver, Artemus had visited a livery stable on the opposite side of the town from where the shooting had taken place. He knew the owner of this livery very well from previous visits, and took the chance of revealing his identity to the man. His trust proved true. Jed Parker was very willing to help, stating he had not believed anything he read in the papers regarding the recent incident.

Thus he was very willing to take Artie’s chestnut in—and keep it somewhat hidden as much as possible—and to allow Artemus to borrow not only a handsome roan gelding but also a smallish gray mare that was accustomed to a lady’s sidesaddle, plus the sidesaddle itself. Artemus knew that someone in Royer’s retinue would likely recognize the distinctive blaze on his chestnut, so this was a needed precaution.

“Ready?”

Lily nodded, smiling when she saw his completed disguise. Maybe some day I’ll ask him to grow a beard or mustache… or both. The graying short beard and brushy mustache lent something to his handsome countenance. He wore a dark blue suit, and would put a cloak over it when they set out. Like herself, he was somewhat soiled and rumpled, as would have happened to a rider over several days in these environs. He had decided against a fake nose, but did darken and thicken his eyebrows, and put two small scars on his left cheek. Those would be easy to duplicate with items in the small case he planned to take along.

The remainder of their gear, except for what travelers such as they would present themselves as would need, were placed in a canvas bag and pushed under a heavy stand of brush. Artie then helped Lily into her saddle and mounted his roan. They had already extensively discussed their roles and what they might expect, so this ride was silent.

Artemus glanced at his fiancée a time or two as they made their way back down the trail that would lead them to the graded road to the Royer property. Lily had been involved in their cases previously, and she always displayed great courage and ingenuity. Nonetheless, Artie realized, even he was a bit keyed up with the prospect of walking right into the lion’s den. Royer was a ruthless man. He would have them both killed without a moment’s hesitation if he realized the ruse.

Upon reaching the road that led up the mountain to the Royer lodge, they paused for several minutes, listening and watching, not wishing to be caught entering the road from the side. Finally, Artemus took the reins of Lily’s horse from her, leading it to the road as Lily slumped in the saddle as though extremely fatigued. They had no idea how far down the slope the road could be watched, or if there were guards posted away from the house, so they went into their act immediately.

The structure loomed after they had ascended the road for about ten minutes. The lodge was pretty much what Artemus expected, two stories, rather on the large size, with a broad porch. He had seen no signs of an outpost guard. Royer must feel pretty secure up here. That’s a plus for us.

The broad front door opened as they neared, and the man Artemus knew as Coursey stepped out, a glower on his round, homely face. “What are you doing here?”

“Oh sir!” Artemus cried, dismounting quickly and pulling his hat off. “Sir, we are lost! Totally lost! What a blessing to find this haven. We need help. Miss Fortune is exhausted and ill. Dare we ask you for sustenance and a refuge for a short while?”

Earl Royer shouldered his way past Coursey. He was attired in a velvet smoking jacket, the material of which would have been enough for three such jackets for ordinary men. “Miss Fortune? Did I hear you correctly?”

“Oh, yes, sir. Miss Lily Fortune. We have been seeking the home of friends of hers, but the directions we received were entirely wrong. Between the snow and the mud… we have not eaten in two days!”

“Well, don’t just stand there! Bring Miss Fortune inside. Coursey! Go tell Myrtle to bring some tea and sandwiches to the living room.”

Artie helped Lily down, and she collapsed against him, seeming to need to be almost carried into the house. “Our horses…” Artie said as they stepped inside.

“They’ll be taken care of,” Royer assured them. “In here. I have a nice fire going.”

The room was large, as befitted the massive stone fireplace at one side. The furnishings were also heavy, but comfortable. Artie lowered Lily into a chair near the fireplace. “It’ll be all right now, my dear. We’ll rest up a while, and perhaps this gentleman can direct us to the Van de Water home.” He straightened then and extended his hand to Royer. “Sir, I am Felix Golding, Miss Fortune’s agent and manager.”

Royer grasped the hand. “Earl Rowley. I am stunned and delighted to have Miss Fortune in my home. I’ve seen many of her performances.” He caught Artie’s arm them and moved away from where Lily was sitting. “Tell me… I had heard Miss Fortune was betrothed to a government agent. The same agent who is now wanted for murder?”

Artie sighed loudly. “Yes, I am afraid so. The engagement is off, of course. Miss Fortune insisted on coming west to support her fiancé, but soon learned all the details. Even Mr. West, who was seriously injured when the other man was murdered, cannot deny that Gordon was the culprit. That’s why she decided to visit these friends who are said to have constructed a home here in the mountains. A place to regain her bearings.”

“Of course, of course. Ah, here is Myrtle.”

A stocky, sour-faced woman with graying hair pulled tightly back and a large nose entered pushing a cart on which a pot of steaming tea and a platter of sandwiches rested. Royer waved her off and poured a cup of tea that he gently presented to Lily. She smiled wanly as she accepted it.

“Miss Fortune, rest assured, you may remain here as long as need be to recuperate. I am honored to have you in my home.”

“Mr. Rowley, you are an angel,” she sighed, accepting the cup with one hand as she pushed back the hood of her cloak with the other. “I was certain we were going to perish in these terrible mountains.”

Royer chuckled, a rattling noise from deep in his massive chest. “I am the lucky one, Miss Fortune. I’ve longed to meet you, and here you are on my doorstep. We’ll have so much to talk about when you feel better.”

Lily sipped the tea and smiled sweetly. “I’m sure we will, Mr. Rowley.”

W*W*W*W*W

So he with difficulty and labor hard
Mov'd on, with difficulty and labor be.
Paradise Lost (bk. II, l. 1,021), John Milton (1608-1674), English poet, scholar, writer, and patriot


“How do you feel, Jim?”

Jim sighed inwardly. “I’m fine, Frank. You’re worse than Artie in being a worrywart!”

Frank Harper glanced across at the man riding alongside him up the mountain trail. “Don’t forget, Jim. I aided and abetted you in escaping from the hospital. I’m not sure if that’s a felony in the eyes of the law, but it definitely would be in the eyes of Colonel Richmond, especially if you are injured further. I aim to keep my job!”

“You should have told me earlier. I could have left a letter absolving you of all blame.” Jim flashed a grin at his companion.

Frank had halfheartedly tried to delay Jim’s departure from the hospital, less than three days after Artemus's last visit to pass on the information he had gathered. Jim had been insistent and Frank had given in, quite familiar with the top agent’s stubbornness. He had already brought Jim fresh clothes from the Wanderer and they had been hanging on the wall in Jim’s room.

Harper smuggled in a long hooded cloak, hidden under his own cloak, worn against the renewed autumn chill in Colorado. Jim was very familiar with the hospital schedule by now, and being aware that after he finished his midday meal he was expected to rest, even sleep, he had told Frank to come at that time, and to try to avoid being noticed by any personnel.

Frank managed that task, and he stood with his back against the door while Jim changed from his hospital nightgown into his clothing, with the hope that if anyone attempted to enter, Frank could delay them long enough for Jim to slide back into bed, hiding his garb. However, they were not interrupted.

Frank had watched his friend closely, and he saw the wincing as Jim had to stretch his arm to don the shirt and then the jacket, and the difficulty he had pulling his boots on. Once again he tried to talk Jim out of leaving at this time, but West shook his head.

“Artie is expecting us to be right behind them, Frank. We can’t change the plans. I’ll be all right.”

With the hood pulled as far as possible over his face, Jim walked alongside Frank through the hospital and out into the fresh air for the first time in over two weeks. Frank had a hack waiting which took them to a stable where Jim’s black horse had been kept for the duration. That had been another worry of Frank’s, and he tried to convince Jim to take a different, quieter horse. Blackjack had been in the stable and its rather small corral for a long while. He would be raring to go.

That was indeed the case. Blackjack recognized his master immediately, bugled a call, and was dancing around as the hostler brought him out. But Jim spoke quietly to the horse, touched him on the muzzle and neck, and almost instantly Blackjack was quiet. Frank just shook his head. Artemus had told him that often it seemed as though the steed understood everything Jim said, and now he appeared to comprehend that his master needed a gentle, smooth ride.

They saddled up, packing their supplies on the backs of the saddles, and then headed out, using the directions Artemus had given them from the information he and Lily had gathered. Artie had not known with one hundred percent certainty that the information was correct, but as he told Jim and Frank, it was all they had to go on. Coursey’s name was involved, even if the workmen had never seen Earl Royer or even heard his name mentioned.

“Artie and Lily should be in Royer’s lodge, providing things went on schedule,” Frank had commented as they reached the outskirts of Denver.

“If it went as planned,” Jim added, “they spent last night at Royer’s.” He did not add, “we hope,” because it was unnecessary. The agents knew all too well how plans could go awry. Royer may have seen through Artie’s disguise; he may not have been so infatuated with the idea of having the famous actress Lily Fortune in his home that he overlooked everything else.

It felt good to be out of that hospital bed and into the saddle, Jim reflected, even with the stiffness in his left shoulder, stiffness caused only partially by the heavy bandaging there. He was sore still, and had to be cautious with his movements. He had been glad that Frank had been busy with something else when he climbed into Blackjack’s saddle. He knew he had not been able to disguise the wince of pain as he hoisted himself up.

He had to be there for Artie and Lily. They were expecting assistance. Above all, he had to help rope in Earl Royer, the man who had orchestrated this entire scheme. If he had been successful, Jim West would also be dead and Artemus Gordon would be wanted for murder. At this moment, according to the newspapers, Artie was still wanted, but those in the know were aware of the truth. Jim had written a letter detailing their plans to Colonel Richmond, and Frank had hired a young man to take it to the Wanderer with instructions for Orrin to transmit it east. By the time Richmond received it, he would not be able to stop them.

W*W*W*W*W


Both Artemus and Lily had been somewhat surprised when Coursey and the other three henchmen joined Royer and his guests at the dinner table that first evening. Royer had seemed slightly chagrinned, but explained it by saying Myrtle was the only servant. She had the housekeeping to do as well as cook, and to ask her to cook separate meals did not seem right. Artemus felt this thoughtfulness was an odd quirk in the normally ruthless Royer.

Miss Fortune and her manager understood, however. They were just so grateful for the haven Mr. Rowley was providing for them, how could they feel otherwise? Royer, as Mr. Rowley, had been solicitous all afternoon, providing first the sandwiches and tea and then escorting the pair upstairs to rooms, where Lily rested until Mr. Golding tapped on her door to notify her dinner would be served within the hour. That allowed her time to wash up and redo her hair, as well as change into a gown that was not mud-spattered. Royer had told her that Myrtle would “be delighted” to freshen her wardrobe. Lily was unsure of that, considering the sour expression on the woman’s face each time she appeared.

But Myrtle was a good cook. Artemus was glad of that, particularly because he wanted to truthfully compliment her, which he did when she brought fresh coffee as the meal ended. She barely nodded to acknowledge the praise, but Artie thought he caught a glint of pleasure in her eyes. He did not know yet the status of this woman in the household, but he had always found it wise to make friends with the “little people” in situations like this.

When the meal ended, Coursey and the other three headed for the kitchen door, presumably to go to their quarters, which Artie came to believe was not in the main house. He had gotten glimpses through windows of other buildings and one might have been a bunkhouse of sorts, though not as large as what might be on a ranch.

Royer graciously offered Lily his arm to escort her to the front parlor, and Artie followed, where he apologized and said he was going to step outside for a cigar. “Miss Fortune does not normally dislike cigar smoke, but she finds my particular brand odious. And I order them specially from Havana!” With a chuckle he nodded and slipped out the front door before Royer could say anything.

Outside in the cooling evening, Artie strolled around, pausing to admire the scrollwork on a fence at the side of the front area, then gazing at trees and the rising moon. He finally moved farther from the house, continuing to look about. He then paused just at the edge of the cleared area, where he lit his cigar.

He remained outside for about fifteen minutes, moving in each direction as though inspecting the grounds, listening to the wildlife. He did not expect to have any contact tonight. If Jim and Frank left Denver as planned, they would not arrive close to the lodge until sometime tomorrow, at the earliest. He had established this habit of smoking outside so that he could do it again and, he hoped, meet Jim at the outskirts.

Upon returning to the parlor, Artie found Lily seated in the same chair near the fireplace that she had occupied when they first arrived, holding a glass of what Artie assumed was sherry, while Royer was nearby on the sofa, with a tumbler of whiskey, leaning forward, his fervent gaze on the beautiful actress. So much so, he did not immediately realize that her manager had entered.

“Oh, Mr. Golding. Would you like a whiskey?”

“No thank you, Mr. Rowley. You have beautiful grounds here. Have you owned this place long?” Artie sat down on the chair that faced Lily’s.

“I had it built two years ago. It’s nice to get away from… from the hectic business world.”

“I can imagine. There are times when we are on tour with the theater company when I long for a quiet haven like this. I imagine one could get snowed in here.”

Royer chuckled, a sound from deep in his massive chest. He had leaned back now, but continually glanced Lily’s way. “That happened to me the first winter. Nearly three weeks being unable to even get to Denver. I’ve been more cautious since then.”

“So you won’t be staying here long?” Lily put in. “I have experience with Denver weather and I know that last storm was just a prelude. It can happen anytime between September and April!”

Royer glanced toward Felix, then gazed at Lily again. “I will remain here as long as you need shelter, Miss Fortune.”

Lily’s smile was sweet. “Thank you so much, Mr. Rowley. But remember, we are looking for our friends to visit.”

“Yes, of course. I will send one of my men out tomorrow to attempt to locate your friends. What were their names?”

“Van de Water,” Artie put in quickly. “Mr. and Mrs. Fredrik Van de Water. Great friends to Miss Fortune as well as patrons of the theater in their home city of New York.” He hoped that was a safe city to mention, as Royer was not known to spend any time in the Empire State.

“Yes, of course.”

“I am certain Gretchen told me their home was south and east of Denver.” Lily’s smile was amused now. “Of course, sometimes Gretchen does get her facts mixed up, or she states them in such a way to confuse the listener.”

“She does that,” Artie chuckled. “Lily, my dear, it has been a long day. I wonder if Mr. Rowley will excuse us if we go to our rooms early.”

Royer lumbered to his feet. “Of course! How stupid of me not to think of that. I have been so entranced by Miss Fortune’s company that time has just slipped away. By all means, get a good night’s rest. Don’t worry about missing breakfast. Myrtle will fix yours when you get up. And if either of you want a hot bath, just let Myrtle know.”

Lily touched Royer’s arm. “I cannot believe how fortunate we were to stumble into your home, Mr. Rowley. Thank you so very much for all your kindness. I will see you in the morning. Good night.”

Royer was positively beaming. “Sleep well, my dear!”

Artie took Lily’s arm to escort her up the stairs, and to provide an opportunity to lean closer and whisper to each other. “He seems to have bought it,” Artie murmured.

“Worst afternoon I ever spent in my life! What a… a lout!”

They paused in front of Lily’s door. “A very smart lout. He has amassed a fine fortune and controls a wide criminal empire in the Midwest.”

She made a face. “Not for long!”

Artie chuckled. “Hope you are right.” He glanced right and left and then leaned in to kiss her lips quickly.

“I’ve changed my mind,” she said, lifting a finger to her tingling lips.

Artie blinked. “What?”

“I was thinking earlier how distinguished you look with whiskers. But not if I’m going to kiss you!”

He laughed, kissed her again before retreating across the hallway to his own room.

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
8377 Posts

Posted - 06/02/2013 :  09:38:42  Show Profile
W*W*W*W*W


Jim was aware that Frank kept glancing his way as they set up camp. He felt like saying something, but knew that his friend was simply worried. If Artie had been here, he would be fussing like a mother hen. It’s nice to know they care. But I’m fine. I really am. And then he wondered whom he was trying to convince.

He was very tired after the daylong ride into the mountains, especially because they tried to stay off the beaten path to avoid an encounter with any of Royer’s men. They had also deliberately chosen an area to camp a good half mile from where the house was supposed to be located, again away from trails that might be heavily traveled.

“Sit down and relax, Jim,” Frank said finally. “I’ll heat up the beans.”

Jim almost argued. The horses were cared for, the fire was built, and water had been brought from a nearby spring. I guess there really is nothing more to do. “Thanks.”

Frank used his knife to open the can of beans, which he dumped into a cast iron pan to place over the coals next to the already brewing coffee. He used the same knife to slice off a couple of chunks of the bread they had brought along. At least today the bread was still relatively fresh. If they had to be out here too long, it would get stale and moldy.

“With any luck,” Harper said, “we’ll wrap this up in a couple of days.”

“Just so Royer bit on Artie’s ruse.”

“The idea of Lily going as herself was a good one,” Frank said, stirring the beans with a spoon. “If all we’ve learned about Royer is true, he will be dazzled by having the lovely Lily Fortune in his home.”

“It’s going to be tricky,” Jim nodded. “We need to find out how many men Royer has there.”

“Yeah,” Frank chuckled. “If he has a dozen men on premises we might be in a spot of trouble.”

He lifted the pan off the fire and scraped the beans into two tin plates, one of which he handed to Jim along with a chunk of the bread. He then filled two tin cups with coffee before he settled back with his own victuals. Both men ate in silence and then Frank protested mildly when Jim insisted on taking the tin utensils to the spring to wash them. He gave up quickly, knowing Jim West did not like to be treated as an invalid, even when he was one.

W*W*W*W*W

Thus doth the ever-changing course of things
Run a perpetual circle, ever turning;
And that same day, that highest glory brings,
Brings us unto the point of back-returning.
Cleopatra, Samuel Daniel (1562-1619), English poet


As well as his after-dinner cheroot, Artemus also established that he liked one after breakfast as well. Royer merely nodded absently when Mr. Golding said he was going out, his gaze and attention on the lovely actress enjoying a second cup of coffee while sitting next to him at the table. Artie had not missed Myrtle’s continuing glare as she served breakfast. He wondered if she was infatuated with her employer, and jealous of the actress.

Again he meandered about the grounds, pausing to inspect or seemingly admire a plant or tree. The air was brisk, the sky overcast, but not leaden enough, he decided, to be thinking about snowing. Not yet anyway, he fervently hoped. They did not want to get stranded here with Royer and his men.

And as before, he wandered to the edge of the clearing, peering into the depths of the forest, darker now than it had been last evening due to the clouded sky. “Anyone here?” he murmured.

“About five feet to your left, behind the bush.”

“How are you doing, Jim?”

“I’m fine.”

The sharpness of his partner’s tone suggested to Artemus that he had best not pursue the matter. “Where’s Frank?”

“Reconnoitering the grounds. How many are in Royer’s party?”

“Himself, Coursey, and three other men. Oh, and an older woman who is the cook and housekeeper.”

“Good. We were a little concerned he would have a whole regiment.”

“Just the men who participated in the shooting. Royer is besotted with Lily. I don't think he’s looked at me twice since we’ve been here. He bought the story—or decided to because of her presence.”

“All right. We’re going to linger in the vicinity today and then see what we can do tonight. Be ready.”

“Right-o. Take care, James.”

Artemus strolled back toward the house at the same pace, pausing here and there until he tossed his spent cigar aside and entered the house. When he stepped into the parlor, he found Lily and Royer seated on the sofa together. Lily looked up with a bright-eyed expression that Artie read well. She was delighted to have him back and very tired of entertaining Earl Royer.

“Oh, Felix! We’ve been having such a lovely chat. Mr. Rowley, I mean Earl…” She fluttered her lashes toward the large man. “Earl has promised that the next time my theater company plays in Saint Louis, he will host a party for me. Isn’t that lovely?”

“Very generous,” Artie replied, taking a nearby chair. He smoothed his beard with his left hand, which was a signal he and Lily had agreed upon to let her know he had contacted Jim.

“Not only that, he has invited me to stay in his home while we are there. I am overcome with his kindness.”

Royer looked toward Artie now. “Of course, Mr. Golding, if you are in the city at the same time, you are also welcome.”

“Thank you, sir. I still cannot believe how fortunate we were to stumble upon your home and hospitality. Some people might have made us feel we were intruders, but I sense nothing of that here.”

“Of course not,” Royer grinned. “I am the lucky one. My admiration for Lily Fortune is boundless. I never once dreamed she would be here in my home, talking to me, having meals with me. It’s something I’ll never forget.”

They conversed for another hour or so, primarily about Lily’s career and her various performances on which Royer was well informed and familiar. Artie could see that Lily was very tired of being with Earl Royer and was trying to think of some way to rescue her, when a commotion was heard out in the hallway.

“What in the world?” Royer murmured, heaving his bulk up off the sofa. He went to the closed parlor door, and after exchanging glances, Artemus and Lily followed. They remained in the opened doorway as Royer stepped out.

Two of Royer’s men were in the foyer, standing over the body of a man. The body of Frank Harper! Lily smothered a gasp and her hand sought Artie’s momentarily.

“What is this?” Royer demanded. “Who is he? Why did you bring him here? Is he dead?”

“He ain’t dead,” the taller of the two men said. Artie knew his name was Del Fawcett. “We caught him sneaking around outside. He tried to get away, and Joel hit him with his gun butt.”

“Who is he?” Royer asked again, staring down at the unconscious form.

“Don’t know,” Joel said. “Nothing on him except a deck of cards and a few bucks.”

Royer became aware of the pair behind him and glanced toward them before speaking again. “Put him in the storeroom in the cellar. I’ll talk to him when he wakes up and find out what he was doing here. If he’s a sneak thief, we’ll send for the law.”

Now Royer turned back. “Lily, Mr. Golding, I’m sorry this interrupted our lovely morning. Perhaps we can resume…”

Lily put a hand to her throat. “I believe I need to go lie down a while, Earl. I hope you understand. This is so… startling.”

“Of course, my dear. Of course. Rest as long as you need. And don’t worry about this fellow. He can’t harm you.”

Artie touched Lily’s arm. “I’ll bring you some tea, Lily. I’m sure it will calm your nerves.”

When Artemus entered Lily’s room, she was standing at the window, peering out. She turned around. “I don’t see Jim.”

“He’s out there.”

“Why didn’t he stop them from capturing Frank?”

Artie put the tray on her bedside stand. “He might not have seen it happening. I know they were separated when I spoke to Jim. And if he had attempted to stop them, our whole plan might be exposed.”

“Oh yes, of course.” She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “It always amazes me that you and Jim do this kind of thing almost daily. It’s so difficult to retain the pose!”

“I know, dearest. But you are doing splendidly. I’m glad you are on first name terms with Royer now. You’ll be less likely to make an error.”

“I know, and that’s the only reason I suggested it! Really, Artemus, he is a… I cannot even think of the word. Flirting with him is the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. Will Frank be all right?”

“For the time being. At least he had the foresight to remove his official identification before prowling around. I’m sure when he awakens he’ll have a good story for Royer. Jim is still out there, so we have hope.”

W*W*W*W*W

O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!
Hamlet Prince of Denmark (Horatio at I, v), William Shakespeare (1564-1616), English dramatist and poet


Jim was heading for a rendezvous with Frank Harper when he saw the two men half carrying, half dragging his fellow agent out of the surrounding forest. His first instinct was to pull his gun and attempt to rescue Frank, but common sense took over immediately. He crouched in the brush and watched. They would not be taking a dead man into the house. That realization was of some relief. However, plans were going to have to change.

They had talked after Jim conversed with Artie and settled that tonight they would attempt to put Royer’s henchmen out of commission. The men had been seen coming and going into a small building at the rear of the property and he and Frank decided that was their quarters. By entering late at night, the agents figured they could surprise the sleeping men, take them prisoner and leave them tied to their beds. Capturing Earl Royer would be a cinch after that; he would be alone in the big house.

I might be able to accomplish the coup alone, Jim mused as he headed back toward the camp they had set up. Nonetheless, it would be very risky, not knowing the setup in the bunkhouse. With two men they would be able to watch their prisoners, one holding a weapon while the other tied them up. But one alone…

Just before he reached the camp, Jim realized something else he had noticed. The men went to the stable, usually alone, apparently to take care of the animals there. If it could be timed right, he might be able to accost the men one at a time. Something to think about… and maybe discuss with Artemus later.

W*W*W*W*W

The surest way of making a dupe is to let your victim suppose you are his.
—Edward George Early Lytton Bulwer-Lytton, 1st Baron Lytton (1803-1873), English novelist and politician


Frank Harper awakened with a bad headache. At first he could not remember what happened or how he could suddenly be in a dim and musty room, obviously a cellar, with its dirt and rock walls and floor. The only light came from a small dirty window at ground level, and it was not much illumination at all.

He pulled himself erect to lean against the wall, and slowly remembrance returned. I blew it, he groaned silently. He had decided that if he moved to a certain spot he might get a view inside the front window, where he occasionally saw movement and had decided it was a parlor. But he had not been cautious enough; two men spotted him. He was not aware of that until one stepped out of the brush in front of him, gun in hand, as he tried to position himself. Believing that man was alone, Frank had made a move for the gun, only to have pain and darkness explode in his head.

Two of them. I just really made a mess of things. Just hope no one recognizes me and might think to look for others. He had left his identification back at the camp as a precautionary move, never thinking that its absence might come in handy. Unless one of the men in the house was someone he encountered earlier, they would not know he was a government agent and might not have come alone.

He had previously spotted two of the men and did not recognize them, but Artemus had told Jim four were in the vicinity, including Royer’s top man, Coursey. I know Coursey from his pictures, but I don't know if he knows me! He was pondering this dilemma when the latch on the wooden door rattled. Frank sat still and waited.

“Well, you’re awake, eh?” The bulk of Earl Royer all but hid his companion, Coursey, who followed him, holding a pistol.

“I’m awake,” Frank replied weakly. “Where am I? Who are you?”

“I will ask the questions. Who are you and why were you prowling around my home? Looking to steal something?”

Frank gingerly touched the tender bump on the back of his head. “Not exactly.”

“What does that mean?”

“I was looking to see if anyone was home. I’ve been wandering around for nearly three days since my horse was frightened by a bear and threw me. The horse ran off, and thankfully, so did the bear. I’m hungry and tired. I thought that if I saw someone was in residence, I’d go knock on the door and ask for a meal. And if the place were deserted, well, I’d go in and help myself. And leave some money. That man who accosted me didn’t give me a chance to explain.”

For a long moment, Royer gazed at him. “What’s your name?”

“Frank Halliwell.”

The name meant nothing to Royer, but Coursey reacted. “Halliwell! The cards! Are you the fellow what cleaned out the house at the Silver Cup Saloon in Reno a couple years back?”

Frank looked at him with narrowed eyes. “Don’t tell me you were one of the owners.”

“Naw, naw. I wasn’t even there. But I heard about it. Pal of mine said it was the slickest card playing he’d ever seen.”

“Well, a fellow has to do something to get along when he can’t get employment in his regular work.”

“And what is your regular work?” Royer inquired.

“Oh, I like to play with numbers.”

“Numbers?”

“Yeah. You know. I guess the fancy name is a bookkeeper. I reckon it doesn’t matter if I tell you, but I don’t want a job where a fellow just writes numbers down and adds and subtracts them. I like something more exciting and interesting.”

Royer cocked his head slightly, clearly intrigued. “What do you mean?”

“I’m pretty good at preparing an extra set of books. Know what I mean?” Frank grinned, as he pushed himself to his feet, using the rock wall for support until the slight vertigo passed.

“Maybe. Explain yourself.”

Frank shrugged. “Well, take my last employer. He was getting government contracts and also paying out some sop to get those contracts. I ran one set of books that showed everything nice and legal, with no mention of the bribes. The other ones kept track of what he paid and to whom, along with the incoming funds. We were getting along just fine till a competitor got wind and tipped off the feds. I managed to get away, but it’s not been easy to find a cushy job like that.”

“And you’re good at it?”

“The best. Sorry I can’t refer you to any of my previous employers, but they are either dead or in prison.”

“Frank Halliwell you said your name is?”

“That’s right.”

“Well, Mr. Halliwell, why don’t you come upstairs for some refreshment, and perhaps a wash up. Then we can talk some more.”

W*W*W*W*W


To say that Artemus Gordon was surprised to find Frank Harper at the dinner table would be an understatement. He knew he had been unable to conceal his shock, but fortunately, having seen this same man carried into the house unconscious and been told he was probably a thief was a good excuse for astonishment.

Royer enjoyed the startled expressions on the faces of his other guests as he introduced them. “It turns out that Mr. Halliwell was another lost soul like the two of you. This has been a week for wanderers in these hills, it seems, and as with my joy at fortuitously playing host to the great and beautiful Lily Fortune, it appears that Mr. Halliwell may be another unexpected but welcome find.”

“Whatever do you mean, Earl?” Lily inquired as the dour Myrtle served the meal.

“Due to circumstances I won’t go into now, I lost my company’s top bookkeeper recently and have been on the lookout for another. Turns out that Mr. Halliwell’s occupation is exactly that, bookkeeper, and he comes with excellent references.”

“How wonderful for you, Mr. Rowley,” Felix Golding smiled. “And you as well, Mr. Halliwell. Mr. Rowley’s home is a veritable crossroads these days!”

“Indeed, Mr. Golding, indeed. To be honest, I had felt of late that things were on a downturn for me,” Royer beamed, “but now I feel as though I’m on top of the world. Nothing can stop me.”

Lily lifted her just-poured glass of wine. “Then shall we offer a toast to our generous and wonderful benefactor, Mr. Earl Rowley?”

Royer’s smile widened as those at the table, including his four men, raised their glasses to him. “Thank you, thank you. I’m just glad I was in the right place at the right time for things to happen, either planned or unplanned. Ah, Myrtle has cooked her best roast chicken. Let’s enjoy!”

W*W*W*W*W


“How’s Frank?” was the first question Jim asked as Artie paused at the edge of the clearing to light his cigar.

“Just fine. In fact, he was at the dinner table, and it seems Royer has hired him as his new bookkeeper.”

“What?”

“I know. I don’t have the details yet, but you know Frank. He can be pretty glib and fast thinking. He somehow convinced Royer that he is a bookkeeper, and probably that he’s not averse to scrambling the numbers.”

“Well, good for him. That’s better than him languishing in a storeroom or worse while we try to finish this up.”

“What are you going to do?”

“Try to cut down the odds.” Briefly Jim told his partner his plans. “Originally we thought we could get rid of all four men, but if I can get at least a couple, that will help.”

“Yeah. But it may mean we’ll be here a day or two longer than planned. I hope we can continue to fool Royer that long.”

“You can, Artie. And now you have Frank there to distract Royer as well.”

“True. Very true. Jim, how’s your shoulder?”

“No problem.”

Jim’s tone was more weary than sharp. Artie pretended that his cigar had gone out and leaned over to snip off the end into the brush. “The truth, James.”

Jim sighed. “It’s sore. I’m tired. But I’ll be fine. I’m going back to our camp and will get several hours of sleep before coming back here.”

“All right. I’ll try to apprise Frank of your plans. And Lily, of course. Take care, Jim.”

“See you later, Artie.”

W*W*W*W*W


Dawn was just a faint glow over the mountaintops when Jim approached the Royer grounds again. He had slept well, but sleeping on the hard ground did little for his wounded shoulder. It was stiff and seemed even more sore, but as far as he could tell the wound had not broken open to bleed. When he saw a doctor again, that man would probably read him the riot act for allowing the bandage to become so soiled. Tramping around these mountains, even while fully clothed and often wearing a heavier jacket against the chill as he was now, dirt seemed to get inside his garments. Jim knew he had occasionally absently reached a hand inside his shirt to massage the aching area as well.

He crept toward the rear of the stables, cautious not to startle the several horses that were in the small corral. A small door on this side was easy to open. Jim then found a comfortable hiding place behind some hay bales. Artie had told him that the three men other than Coursey took turns caring for the livestock, one coming in the early morning, one around noon, and one in the evening; they shifted their rotation every couple of days. And as dawn brightened the eastern sky, he heard cheerful whistling approaching the front door.

Jim moved further back as the door pulled open, briefly allowing more light. He was glad to note that the newcomer closed the door almost all the way as he stepped inside. He paused to light a lantern that he hung on a hook near the stalls. Jim waited as the man took care of the horses, emptying oats into troughs and then forking hay out into the corral. Fortunately, an already broken-open bale of hay was near the door that was opened to accomplish this task, so the worker did not come near Jim’s hiding place.

Only when the pitchfork was slammed back into the hay bales did Jim stand up. “Don’t move,” he warned quietly, his gun held steady.

The man gaped at him. “What the hell? West!”

“That’s right. Don’t think I won’t shoot for fear of alerting the others. I will. I can be long gone before anyone gets here.”

“What do you want?”

“I want you to leave.”

“Huh?”

Jim stepped out more into the open. “I’m going to give you two choices, friend. One is that you saddle your horse, mount up, and start riding. Ride until you are out of Colorado Territory, maybe up into Canada or elsewhere, because if I ever see you again, I’ll arrest you for complicity in the murder of Mott.”

The man was silent a moment. “What’s the other choice?”

“I’ll take you out into the woods, tie you to a tree and gag you. If you are lucky, you’ll still be alive when we finish this business and luckier still if I remember where I left you.”

More silence ensued as the prisoner gaped at Jim and seemed to be trying to decide the seriousness of his words. Jim’s face was grim, his eyes icy as he gazed back. “Well?”

A long sigh. “Well, given those choices, I reckon I’ll saddle up. What’s to keep me from coming back?”

“Like I said, you’ll be arrested. Or killed. Depends on how things fall out here. Royer is at the end of the trail.”

“You can’t take him alone! There’s more men here.”

Now Jim’s smile was tight. “Who said I was alone?”

The horse was saddled. Jim had the man lead the mount out the back door and into the woods. They walked for nearly half a mile before Jim ordered him to climb aboard and keep moving. He pointed the pistol and kept it pointed until the rider was well out of sight.

With a relieved sigh, Jim holstered his gun and started toward the camp. He was fairly certain this man would not come back. The captive had asked a few questions as they walked, and Jim had convincing responses, if the worry on his prisoner’s countenance meant anything. He began to realize how easy he was getting off. Anyone captured in the house would likely hang.

W*W*W*W*W

When a building is about to fall down, all mice desert it.
Natural History, Book VIII, Sec. 103, Pliny the Elder (Caius Plinius Secundus; 23-79 AD), Roman Naturalist


Frank Halliwell lowered his coffee cup. “I wonder what’s going on?”

“Don’t reckon it’s any of our business,” Joel replied, keeping his head down.

A few moments ago, just as they had all settled down for breakfast, Myrtle had come to the dining room door to call “Mr. Rowley” to the kitchen. Someone wanted to talk to him. That someone, Artie surmised, was either Coursey or Del Fawcett, neither of which had come to the table yet. When Royer returned, followed by Coursey, Artie knew Fawcett was the missing man.

Jim struck! Artie ducked his own head to avoid allowing his delight to be witnessed.

Lily did a better job of retaining her composure. “Earl, is something wrong?”

Royer cleared his throat and drank some of the water from the glass by his plate. “Er, nothing, my dear. As promised, I’ve sent a man out to look for the friends you were seeking to visit. I’m afraid he was a bit recalcitrant to leave without breakfast.” His chuckle was forced.

“Oh, goodness! It isn’t that urgent now that we are safe and comfortable here with you! Unless you are anxious for us to leave…” She put a pretty moue on her lips.

“Of course not, of course not! I stand by what I said earlier. You are welcome to remain with me forever.” Now his smile was more real.

Lily forced herself to smile back. “Thank you, Earl. You are a dear man.”

Frank caught Artie’s eye as this exchange occurred. I’ve seen Lily on the stage, he reflected, but I believe this performance is the best ever. He could see by Artie’s glance that he might be thinking the same thing. To play the coquette with a man like Royer took all the skills she possessed, he was certain.

Nothing more was said about the empty chair at the table during the meal, but Artie saw both Coursey and Royer cast glowering looks toward it more than once. As far as they knew, Del Fawcett had left, deserted. Perhaps by good fortune Jim accosted a man who had expressed unhappiness with his situation here. It sure does not appear that either Royer or Coursey are terribly surprised by his disappearance; only angry, Artie decided.

Royer did appear to be still happy with the new bookkeeper that had appeared on the scene. He spoke to Frank about traveling to Saint Louis, offering him lodgings until he was able to find his own place. To Artemus, that seemed to mean that Royer had been missing the skills of his longtime bookkeeper, Abel Mott. Finding a man who could and would keep ledgers to suit the needs of his employer, even if illegal, was not easy to do. And here one had plopped into his lap, so to speak.

Frank had been able to sneak into Artie’s room last night, so that they were able to discuss the events of the day and changes in plans. He said that the idea to be a bookkeeper occurred to him rather on the spur of the moment, aided by the knowledge that Royer’s organization was probably without one, or at least without a suitable one.

“I’m just glad Royer didn’t ask for names and places of my previous employers!”

When Artemus passed on Jim’s ideas, Harper was pleased. Cutting down the odds was always a good idea. If Jim could get rid of one more, he figured, they would be in very good shape, considering that Royer was probably not much of a threat in a fight, with either fists or weapons. When Frank asked about the cook, Artie just shook his head.

“She seems to stay in the kitchen or her room all the time. I suspect Royer brought her with him. Maybe she works in his home in Saint Louis. In any case, I don't think we need to worry much about her.”

W*W*W*W*W


The second man was not quite as easy to convince, Jim found. He waited until dusk, and as before, crept into the stables. The man who entered and lit the lantern was the third man, not one of the two who had ambushed Frank and carried him into the house. His reason for not taking Jim up on the offer to flee was that Royer owed him money. Jim just shrugged.

“All right. You can spend the next day or two—and nights—tied to a tree. Should be a point of interest for the bears and cougars that roam this area.” He reached over and took a coil of rope off a nail on the wall.

The man at the point of his gun took a step back. “You ain’t serious!”

“I’m dead serious, mister. Earl Royer is going to pay for what he ordered done in Denver, along with numerous other crimes. Anyone picked up with him will be charged accordingly. Chances are very good they will all hang. Maybe you need to decide whether hanging is preferable to being bait for the wild animals… or maybe you do want to saddle that pony.”

As before, Jim walked the man and his horse deep into the dark woods and saw him on his way. He was not quite as sure that this fellow would keep going, but he had to take the chance. He returned to his camp and made a quick supper—beans again. He thought briefly of his three comrades, dining in comfort in the lodge. Well, this would be over soon.

He knew it had to be. Carrying out the plans was taking a toll on his body. He wanted nothing more than to be able to crawl into his blankets and sleep. Even the hard ground would not deter slumber in his weariness. His shoulder only ached if he forgot and moved his left arm suddenly, but his body was not fully recovered from the shock of the wound and the loss of blood.

So let’s get this over with tonight!

W*W*W*W*W

Il n'est pas être trompé, mais il se détrompe, qui nous rend misérable.
[It is not being deceived, but undeceived, that renders us miserable.
—Sophie Arnould (1744-1808), French singer and actress


Artemus had had another conversation with Jim after dinner and was aware that if Jim were able to drive off a second man, the final act would occur this evening. When Coursey came in with a sour face, calling Royer out of the parlor, Artie knew that Jim had succeeded. So they had to be prepared to work with him.

When Royer returned to the parlor, Lily spoke up brightly. “Why, Earl! You look so unhappy. Has something happened?”

“Oh no, dear. Nothing at all.” He regained his spot on the sofa at her side and patted her hand. Artie had no doubt Earl Royer was dreaming of the lovely Lily Fortune not only visiting his home in Saint Louis but also residing there permanently. Such were Lily’s skills that she was able to subtly suggest that to him in such a short time. Had she behaved too overtly, he might have been suspicious.

Artie had told Lily what could happen tonight, and asked her to find an excuse to go to her room as early as possible. She had objected, but finally agreed. They simply did not know what was going to happen when Jim appeared, and he wanted her in a relatively safe place. If matters went against them, she should grab her cloak and leave by the back door, take a horse and head for Denver.

As the evening progressed, Royer led the conversation by once more talking about Lily’s appearances on stage, describing the ones he had seen and critiquing them, always giving Lily the highest praise, of course. Artie had to act like a proud manager and agent, while Frank listened with interest, claiming he had never had opportunity to see her perform.

The clock in the hallway had just struck nine when Lily came up with an excuse to leave. She wanted, she said, to “powder her nose.” Royer smiled, rose and graciously offered his hand. She smiled back, and with a quick glance toward Felix Golding, exited the parlor, closing the door behind her.

Royer settled back down with a sigh. “Gentlemen, I believe that for the first time in my life, I am in love.”

Artemus wondered later how he prevented himself from bursting out laughing. Instead he merely smiled. “Miss Fortune is a beautiful woman. Many men are in love with her.”

“No doubt. But few men can offer what I can. I’m confident I can…”

His words halted as the door opened again. Royer turned his head with a smile, apparently expecting the beautiful woman was returning. Instead, James West stepped inside, his gun in his hand. As Royer stared with an open mouth, Artemus and Frank got to their feet.

“Where are the other two?” Jim asked.

“They went to the bunkhouse already,” Frank replied. “I think it would not be unexpected if I went out and told them their boss wanted to see them in the house.”

“Go,” Jim nodded and Frank headed out the door.

Artie had pulled his hidden gun from inside his coat. “Earl Royer, you are under arrest.”

Slowly Royer got to his feet. “What? Who are you? What’s going on?”

With great satisfaction, Artemus reached up and pulled the extra hair from his face, drawing an even more astounded stare from Royer—until he exploded with curses and imprecations. “Gordon! I should have killed you too! And Halliwell? He’s an agent too?”

“He is. Quiet down,” Jim ordered. “You’re going to sit here while we wait for Coursey and the other man.”

“You won’t get away with this!” Royer raged as he sat down again.

“So far so good,” Artemus murmured. He looked at Jim again. He had never seen his partner look so gaunt and strained. He was exhausted, Artie could see. Going on nerve and willpower alone, that’s easy to tell. Not much longer, James. Hang in there.

Royer’s eyes suddenly opened wide. “Lily… is she… did she…?” He stared from Jim to Artemus in horror.

“Part and parcel,” Artie replied with satisfaction. “One hundred percent.”

For just one moment, he thought Royer was going to weep. The big man’s face crumpled, and his eyes squeezed shut. Sorry, Royer, but I can’t feel any sympathy for you. A dream about to be realized, and now crushed. How many dreams did you smash? Abel Mott was looking for a new life with the woman he loved.

Hearing voices and footsteps out in the hallway, Jim stepped over alongside the door, his pistol held ready. The door pushed open and Coursey and Joel entered, Frank right behind them. Coursey looked at Royer and opened his mouth to speak, but then saw “Felix” without his beard, and holding a weapon.

“What the hell?”

“Stand quiet, gentlemen,” Jim said softly, stepping out slightly. Frank reached and pulled the guns from the holsters of the two men and used the muzzles to urge them further into the room.

“What’s going on, boss?” Coursey asked.

Royer shook his head in misery. Artie had to wonder which was hurting most, the arrest for his crimes or the realization that Lily’s flirtation was all a sham.

“What are we going to do with these fellows for the night?” Jim asked.

Frank smiled. “There’s a nice cozy storeroom down in the cellar that will keep them very well.”

“Sounds good,” Jim said. “Let’s…”

“Throw your guns down, boys! This is a scattergun with both barrels loaded!”

The three agents spun toward the door. Myrtle the cook and housekeeper stood there, her face as sour as ever, and perhaps even more so as her eyes were narrowed. She indeed held a shotgun. Royer shoved to his feet and grabbed the weapon from Jim’s hand.

“Myrtle, I should have known you’d be here for me. Gentleman, meet my sister. My older sister. She has always looked after me.”

Myrtle remained in the doorway with the nasty-looking weapon ready, as the three agents were disarmed. “I saw that Halliwell go out and bring the boys in. Thought something was funny.”

Royer stepped over and patted her on the shoulder. “For that, you’ll get the extra maid you requested at home. Now… seems as though that cellar room is going to have a better use until we decide what to do with the three of you.”

Artie could see that Jim was seething. Under ordinary circumstances they might try to wrest the weapons back, but Jim was in no condition for such a tussle, and he appeared to know it. Especially with that shotgun still pointed their way. The blast might not kill, but it certainly would do damage.

Coursey shoved Jim, intentionally or not, on the left shoulder. Jim could not suppress the grunt of pain with the unexpected blow. “Get moving!”

The three agents started for the door and Myrtle began to back away. She halted suddenly, however, pure surprise on her grim countenance as she reversed her movements and stepped further into the room.

“Myrtle, what…?” Royer began, and stopped as Lily appeared behind Myrtle. At first her weapon was not evident, but as Myrtle proceeded a few steps further, all of them saw it.

Artie laughed out loud and seized his weapon back from Joel. “All right. A significant turn of events! Good going, Lily.”

This time Royer and his two men were escorted downstairs while Lily held Myrtle at gunpoint in the kitchen. When the three agents returned, they discovered that Myrtle’s single room could be locked from the outside, and the window had bars on it. When asked, the woman grumbled something about she was afraid of bears coming through the window. In any case, they were secure, and she was locked in her room.

Artie hugged Lily, kissed her soundly, after which the other two men duplicated his actions, without the kiss. “Here I was worrying about what would happen to you if we got locked up in the cellar,” Artie chortled as they reentered the parlor.

“I was upstairs on the landing, trying to listen to what was going on, when I saw Myrtle coming with the shotgun. So I went into my room to get the lovely little gun that you gave me last year. I always keep it with me. Sentimental reasons, of course.”

Jim sank into a soft chair. “I don't know about you three, but I’m ready to make it a night.”

“I bet you are, James,” Artie said. “I bet you are also glad this didn’t turn into a brawl.”

“More or less.”

“Quite a bit more, I’ll wager,” Frank laughed.

“I wonder if I ought to check your shoulder,” Artie said, taking a step towards Jim’s chair.

His partner held up a hand. “Not tonight. Tomorrow morning I’ll subject myself to whatever ministrations you desire, but tonight I want to sleep in a bed.” He pushed himself out of the chair. “The horses are okay at the camp for now. I built a big fire that should last the night and deter wild creatures. We can go get them in the morning. Someone show me to the guest room.”

Epilog

Friendship is the wine of life.
—Edward Young (1683-1765) English poet and dramatist


As Jim expected, the doctor at the hospital had some harsh words for the stupidity his patient had displayed by leaving the care of the physician and staff ahead of time. Yet he also admitted that no harm had been done. The wound was still healing well; because of the fresh bandage Artemus applied, the doctor never knew just how soiled the shoulder had been. The doctor recommended that Jim remain in the hospital a few days to rest and recuperate, but agreed that a leisurely five-day trip back to Washington in the private train under the care of his partner and Miss Fortune would suffice.

Frank remained in Denver to attend to the incarceration and later transportation of Royer and his two men, as well as his sister, back to Saint Louis where they would stand trial. They didn’t know if they could hold Myrtle Royer for anything other than interfering with an arrest along with aiding and abetting a criminal in an escape attempt, but felt it better to keep her in custody until that was determined.

Under the watchful eyes of his nurses, Jim was feeling much better by the second day of the eastward trip, and insisted on doing chores like caring for the horses. He smiled inwardly as both Lily and Artemus entered the car on several pretexts to check on him.

Later at dinner, he apologized to Artemus for making it appear to Colonel Richmond that Artemus Gordon had been indeed the antagonist in the stable that day.

Artie just shook his head. “It was what they wanted you to think, Jim. I’m sure at the moment of the shooting, you did believe it was me with the gun.”

Jim sighed. “I’m afraid I did. The hat, the coat… the sun was behind him…”

“Earl Royer was very clever,” Lily said, putting her wine glass down. “If Coursey had actually killed you…”

“Then the witnesses’ statements would have been taken as fact,” Jim continued. “However, I have to wonder if a good lawyer could not have broken them on the witness stand.”

“I’m glad we didn’t have to find out,” Artemus added. He glanced at his beloved. “You did such a splendid job, Lil. Poor Royer didn’t have a chance.”

“Just a turn of fate that he was one of my admirers. I’m not sure it would have been so easy otherwise.”

“Oh, I think so,” Jim said as he lifted his glass. “To Miss Lily Fortune, the finest actress in our universe.”

Artie quickly picked up his glass. “I will second that and add the most beautiful actress as well. No, the most beautiful woman.”

“Gentlemen, you are going to make me blush!”

Artie leaned over to kiss her cheek. “Go ahead and blush. I’m thankful that another quirk of fate brought you to Jim’s room that day at the moment I was visiting. Otherwise I might have gone alone, and who knows what might have happened.”

“You would have done very well. Wouldn’t he, Jim?”

“He usually does. All right, let’s drink to the close of another successful case. And hope that the next one isn’t quite as strenuous.”

“Don’t count on it, James. Don’t count on it.”

THE END


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