SS senior field agent
Posted - 02/07/2015 : 11:16:59
| The Night of the Emperor’s Walking Stick
At the peremptory request and desire of a large majority of the citizens of these United States, I, Joshua Norton, formerly of Algoa Bay, Cape of Good Hope, and now for the last 9 years and 10 months past of S. F., Cal., declare and proclaim myself Emperor of these U. S.; and in virtue of the authority thereby in me vested, do hereby order and direct the representatives of the different States of the Union to assemble in Musical Hall, of this city, on the 1st day of Feb. next, then and there to make such alterations in the existing laws of the Union as may ameliorate the evils under which the country is laboring, and thereby cause confidence to exist, both at home and abroad, in our stability and integrity.
—Issued September 17, 1859 by Norton I, Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico (1819-1880)
I am monarch of all I survey,
My right there is none to dispute,
From the centre all round to the sea,
I am lord of the fowl and the brute.
—Verses supposed to be written by Alexander Selkirk, William Cowper (1731-1800), English poet
“Jim, you’ll never guess who just entered and is heading our way.”
Jim West smiled toward his partner, putting his fork down. “I see his reflection in the mirror behind you.” He had also noted the change in the tone of the conversations being held in the restaurant as patrons recognized the famed person entering. In the mirror, Jim could see the image of some waiters near the doorway who bowed formally.
Both James and Artemus got to their feet, turning to await the approach of the man who was making his way among the tables. He was a stocky man in his fifties, wearing a slightly oversized officer’s tunic with gleaming epaulets on each shoulder, while a sword-bearing scabbard descended from the belt around his waist. A military kepi sat on his head with somewhat wild dark curls bursting out from under it. He sometimes wore a beaver hat adorned with a peacock feather and rosette, but tonight was obviously a more casual occasion. A walrus-style mustache and van dyke beard adorned his lower face. He carried a cane.
“Good evening, gentlemen,” the emperor greeted.
Artie inclined his head slightly. “Your Excellency, it is a pleasure to see you again. Won’t you join us?” He indicated an unoccupied chair.
Jim quickly stepped around to hold that chair, smiling briefly at Artemus over Norton’s head. They knew that the Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico had a motive for seeking them out. As he resumed his own seat, he asked, “Your Excellency, to what do we owe the honor of your presence?”
“First,” Artie interjected, “will you honor us further by taking a meal with us? We have just ordered.” He signaled to a hovering waiter.
The emperor smiled and nodded his pleasure then quickly rattled off his desires without checking the menu the waiter offered. Jim glanced at Artemus, biting back a grin. His Excellency was requesting the highest priced items the restaurant proffered. Oh, well. Expense account item, especially if Norton really has something for us involving a crime. He keeps a sharp eye on “his” city.
A glass of wine was placed before Norton that he sipped with genuine enjoyment before lowering the goblet to the table. “Gentleman, I need your services to correct a heinous crime.”
“Anything we can do for you will be a privilege,” Artemus said, intensely curious. “What was the crime?”
“A blackguard pilfered my walking stick.” Artemus could not help but glance at the stick His Excellency had leaned against his chair when he sat down. Norton noticed. “Not this one.” He picked up the polished cane with its brass handle in the shape of a lion’s head. “This is a perfectly serviceable walking stick, which I keep in reserve. No, the one that was stolen was a special gift from the City of Portland—in Oregon Territory, you know. I have been told that they were hoping I would be induced to relocate to their city. But I cannot desert San Francisco.”
“San Francisco is proud and delighted,” Jim assured him. “Tell us what happened, sir. Did you see the thief?”
“I did. I was resting on a bench in Portsmouth Square, as is my habit. I was alone. Ah How had family business to attend to.” The agents knew that Ah How, a Chinese man, was the Emperor’s friend and devoted companion. “In the warm sun, I’m afraid I dozed off. My stick was leaning beside me, touching my knee. I am sure movement of its removal is what roused me. I looked up to see a man walking away, quite rapidly, with it in his hand. Naturally, I leapt to my feet and called to him. He began running then. A young lad tried to stop him but was pushed to the ground for his efforts. I did not want anyone injured, so I ceased calling out.”
“Can you describe him?” Artie asked.
“Only his back, I fear. He was a rather tall, slender man, wearing a decent jacket—deep brown—over lighter trousers. He did not wear a hat, so I saw his hair was also brown, rather the color of oak bark, quite straight, and neatly trimmed.”
The agents shared another glance, aware that this description would fit dozens, if not hundreds of men. “Did you see him turn off on any street or enter a building?” Artie inquired.
“He turned down an alley. I made an attempt to follow further, but he was younger and swifter than I.”
“Quite sensible, sir,” Jim said politely. “You do not want to be mixing with brigands, Your Excellency.”
“My thought exactly. Nonetheless, I do want that walking stick recovered. It is very important to me.”
“We understand that,” Artie nodded, “and we’ll do our best, sir. Can you describe it for us?”
“Certainly. It has a mahogany handle carved in the shape of a hand holding a snake. Quite striking.”
“Yes,” Artie nodded. “I remember reading about it. Sir, you should be aware that we are in the city to testify at a rather important and lengthy trial…”
“Yes, I know. That is how I was aware of your presence in town. I read about it in the Call-Bulletin. Nevertheless, I am sure you will find time to apprehend this dastardly villain.”
Once more, the Secret Service agents exchanged a glance, both with the same thought: this was going to be like looking for that needle in a haystack. Artemus smiled. “We’ll do our best, sir.”
“I know you will. Ah, now we can move onto more pleasant topics.”
The first course arrived and the remainder of the evening was enjoyable. Times like these were when many people questioned whether Joshua Norton was indeed mad or simply a very clever confidence man. His erudition and knowledge of world affairs was remarkable. Of course, he occasionally slanted off into railing against the legislators in Washington, D.C. who had ignored his edict to disband immediately. He also talked of his wild idea of building a bridge from San Francisco to Oakland, using an island as a midway base, as well as a tunnel under the bay.
Primarily he wanted to discuss chess, a game he often indulged in at the Bohemian Club, an association frequented by male San Franciscans, mostly newspapermen and businessmen, who paid dues to be members. The emperor of course was never asked to pay those fees. Artemus had twice engaged in a match with Norton at the club, and found him to be a formidable opponent.
The meal was interrupted, as was to be expected, by the curious and by admirers, who approached the eccentric man, asking him questions and often asking him to autograph the “bank notes” he had printed up and sold to support himself. He even produced a couple from his pocket to sell this evening. Because the notes were never used as legal tender, the authorities paid them no heed.
When the evening ended, the agents hailed a hack and put the Emperor in it, paying the driver to deliver him to his boarding house on Commercial Street. They promised to report any success in their assigned task as soon as possible.
“Do you think he is?” Artemus asked as they watched the hack wend its way down the hilly street.
Jim did not need to ask to what his partner referred, shaking his head. “I honestly don't know. At times he sounds absolutely insane, such as when proposing the tunnel under the bay.”
They began walking toward their hotel, two blocks away. “I know. Or the bridge. A nearly impossible engineering feat. I’ve heard he also mentioned one from Fort Point to Marin, across the Golden Gate. Perhaps some day technology will allow such constructions, but not now. How in the devil are we going to find that walking stick?”
Jim chuckled. “I have no idea, pal. Start checking pawnshops, I guess, although I believe pictures of that cane appeared in the newspapers. You’d think pawnbrokers would be too wise to take it in.”
“Maybe we’ll get lucky,” Artie sighed.
The lucky have whole days which still they choose; the unlucky have but hours, and those they lose.
—John Dryden (1631-1700), English poet and dramatist
The following day, after finishing with the trial in mid afternoon, they spent some time visiting pawnshops in the area around the courthouse, as well as walking to City Hall and talking to people who habituated the area. A man who sold tamales from a cart had seen the theft. His description of the robber matched that of the Emperor’s closely, but he could not help much more than that.
“Me habría ayudado a su excelencia y chase, pero yo no podía dejar mi carro desatendido. Usted entiende, amigos. Otro ladrón habría me han robado!”
“He wanted to assist Norton,” Artie translated as they walked away, “but he was afraid to leave his cart unattended. He would have been wiped out by the time he came back.”
They continued to talk to people in the general area of where the incident took place. Few people had witnessed the crime; those that did had nothing new to offer in the way of description or anything else. Most were angered by the idea that the beloved San Francisco character had been abused that way.
“That fellow must be new in town,” one elderly man complained. “Otherwise he’d know he couldn’t sell that cane. Everyone knows about it. No honest dealer is going to pay for it.”
“He has a point,” Jim stated as they climbed into a cab that would carry them to their hotel. “I think if we get out of court in time tomorrow, we should go to the waterfront.”
“Good idea. If anyone has the guts as well as idiocy to purchase such a well-known article, it would be on the Barbary Coast. The thief also better not show up strolling downtown with it. He might be lynched!” Artie lifted an issue of the Examiner he had picked up from a newsstand and displayed the headlines that trumpeted the theft in big black letters. They did not know if Emperor Norton made the report himself, or an intrepid reporter had sniffed it out. Both men wished it had remained confidential.
The following day their session in court lasted later than usual. They had been required to be present every day, whether scheduled to testify or not. After giving their initial testimony, the possibility existed that either side might want to recall one or both. That had occurred today, as the defense tried to break Jim’s story of the evidence discovered against the defendant; unsuccessfully tried.
Leaving the courthouse, they grabbed a quick meal at a nearby café, having missed lunch due to a meeting with the prosecution, and then boarded a streetcar that would take them close to the area known as the Barbary Coast, a notorious haven for thieves, gamblers, prostitutes and all the lowest dregs of society.
Deciding that offense was the best tactic, they entered pawnshops and other establishments that were known or suspected to deal in stolen wares and immediately identified themselves as federal agents. Although the proprietors were instantly nervous, none confessed to have purchased the purloined walking stick, and more than one offered to allow the agents to search the premises.
“I ain’t that stupid,” one bald man said, chewing on a cigar that wobbled as he spoke. “Anyone found out I got the Emperor’s stick, I’d be mobbed! Look what happened to that copper who arrested the Emperor!”
Jim and Artemus knew the story. An overzealous policeman had decided to haul Norton in to be committed to involuntary treatment for his perceived insanity. The public as well as the newspapers expressed outrage. The police chief ordered Norton released with a formal apology. The Emperor then magnanimously issued an “Imperial Pardon” to the misguided officer. From that day, every police officer saluted Norton upon encountering him on the street.
The sky was darkening to twilight as they exited from the establishment of another suspected dealer in stolen goods. Artie glanced up at the sky. “What do you think? Fog isn’t in yet, but it’s going to be rolling in soon. It’s already getting chilly.”
“Yeah,” Jim sighed. “We might as well go back uptown and…”
His words halted as both men saw a fellow emerge through the doors of the saloon across the street. A rather short man with a small head and large ears protruding from his head: a man carrying a walking stick. The top of the stick was a hand gripping a snake.
“I’ll be damned,” Artie murmured, as both men stepped out into the street to stride toward the cane-bearer.
Whether he heard them coming or saw their reflection in a window, or simply had a sixth sense, the man glanced around, then took off running. The agents set out in pursuit. For owning such short legs, the man moved quite rapidly. He turned a corner and for a moment after swinging around that corner into the cross street, West and Gordon had to halt and scan the area.
“There he is!” Artie pointed to the figure rapidly turning down another cross street.
They had just reached that corner when they heard yells, the neighs of horses… and a cry of agony. Veering around into that street, the two men stopped again. A beer wagon was sitting in the middle of the street, its horses stomping and obviously quite unnerved. The driver was just climbing down, his face pale with horror. Under the wheels of the heavily laden vehicle, and bleeding badly, was the man they had been pursuing.
Racing forward, Artie quickly knelt by the man and sought a pulse. He got to his feet. “Gone.”
“Wasn’t my fault!” the driver wailed. “He come runnin’ round there, and smack dab in front of the wagon. I yelled but he was right in front of Georgie there, the lead horse. Georgie, he’s got nerves of steel, but that fellow running right up like that… well, he kicked and the fellow went down right under the wheel there. All the horses was upset and I couldn’t stop!”
Jim picked up the unharmed walking stick that had obviously flown out of the dead man’s hand. “Don’t worry. He was fleeing from the law. Go find a local policeman. We’ll look after things here.” He quickly displayed the driver his credentials as he spoke.
The driver willingly took off at a trot. A few people were on the sidewalk, but no one approached closely as Artemus carefully grasped the dead man’s feet and pulled him out from under the wagon, turning him over. “I never saw him before,” he murmured.
Jim shook his head. “No. Anything on him?”
Gingerly avoiding the blood that had spewed from the broken head, Artemus reached inside the jacket. He pulled out his hand and stared at what he held for a long moment before looking up at his partner. “What the…?”
Jim reached down and took the handful of bills, flicking through them. “Must be a couple thousand here, Artie. He doesn’t look like a man who would have this kind of money. Not honestly, anyway.”
On his feet now, Artemus retrieved the cash from his partner, doing the same thing, ruffling them. “Wait a minute, Jim. Look at this. All the serial numbers are the same. Counterfeit.”
“That’s strange,” Jim murmured. “We haven’t had any notification about counterfeit bills being passed in San Francisco. Certainly not the amount this wad would seem to indicate.”
Artie glanced at the cane his partner still held. “Another question is how this fellow got hold of the Emperor’s walking stick.”
A burly policeman came striding down the street now. Fortunately, he was a man acquainted with the agents so he did not need to ask many questions. He did not know the dead man by name, although he admitted he thought he had seen the fellow around. “You might ask the other boys who patrol this area.”
After arranging for the officer to have the corpse transported to the morgue, the agents found a cab and took it to police headquarters. They were fortunate to find their friend, Lieutenant Lloyd Morris, still in his office, on a later shift than usual for him. Quickly they told him what had transpired and showed him the counterfeit bills.
Morris nodded and pulled a folder from a pile on his desk, from which he extracted several bills that he passed over to them. “Same thing?”
“Same,” Artie confirmed, comparing the numbers. “Excellent work, except for the serial numbers.”
“Where did you get them, Lloyd?” Jim asked.
“From two banks after being deposited by a couple of stores. They were just turned in today. I haven’t had a chance to do anything other than send officers to those stores to see if the owners or clerks remembered who handed those bills over to pay for items.”
“No luck. One store is going out of business, selling off everything, and was very busy. The clerk was quite harried and had no idea where the bill came from. The other one was a café on Van Ness. They were shorthanded and several employees manned the cash register by turn. None could particularly remember a specific patron handing over a ten or twenty.”
“Sounds to me that the passer chose those establishments because they were busy,” Jim commented.
“My thoughts exactly. I was going to send a note to your hotel in the morning to tell you about them.”
“We’ve got to telegraph Washington,” Artie put in. “We haven’t had any word of fake money in this area.”
“This is the first I’ve seen in a while, especially federal notes and so well done.”
“Well,” Jim sighed, “at least we know it’s not Harry Holmes’ work.”
“Lloyd,” Artie leaned forward in his chair, “the dead man has been taken to the morgue. We hoped that you could have some officers who are familiar with the Barbary Coast area come in to take a look at him.”
“Good idea. I’ll put the word out, and let you know if any recognize him. Might be important to know who he is in order to find out where these fake bills came from.”
Upon leaving police headquarters, they went to the boarding house at 624 Commercial Street, where the emperor resided. Entering his room, both pretended not to notice how small it was, barely six by nine feet in dimension, and that all the furnishings were well used and well worn, including an iron cot with rickety springs. Other furniture included a chair, a sagging couch with soiled upholstery, a washbasin, and a night table. No closet was available so he hung his clothes on "ten-penny" nails in the wall. However, the room was clean and neat, with Norton’s collection of canes lined up against one wall. He was delighted to have his special walking stick back, and did not ask for many details.
The emperor apologized for being unable to serve them refreshments, but invited them to meet him at the Bohemian Club anytime. He also wanted Artemus to participate in another game of chess. “You are perhaps the most formidable opponent I’ve encountered, and I truly enjoy our contests.”
The following morning, before traveling to the courthouse, they stopped at a telegraph office to send a coded message east, requesting that any reply be delivered to their hotel. Then on to the courthouse, where they were relieved when the prosecuting attorney stated that he thought this would be the last day their presence was required. Both he and the defense hoped to wrap up testimony and begin their closing statements.
“I have a feeling,” Artemus said as they took their seats in the witnesses’ waiting room, “that we are not going to be leaving San Francisco as soon as we anticipated.”
“It’s just so odd that we haven’t heard of any bills being passed anywhere. Tens and twenties; that’s actually a little unusual. Generally a counterfeiter prints up just one denomination—at least to start with.”
“I was thinking about that. Where did the plates come from? The bills don’t stand up to really close inspection, but if distributed smartly—as was done with the ones Lloyd had—they could be quite valuable. Was the unfortunate fellow with the walking stick part of the counterfeiters, or someone who bought a bundle to spend?”
“That’s a good question. One we need to answer. Two thousand dollars is a lot of money. It could mess up the economy in the region where spent.”
Artemus nodded. “Chances are a big city would be chosen so the money could be spread around swiftly. Buy a two-dollar item to get eight or eighteen dollars in change in good money for a sham ten or twenty. Nice profit.”
“Thinking of going into counterfeiting, Artemus?” Jim grinned.
“No, not as long as clever fellows like you and I are on the job!”
The prosecution’s prophecy was correct. Testimony ended after one more witness took the stand, whereupon both sides presented their summations. Ordinarily, the two agents would have remained to listen to those orations, but on this day, they decided they had better follow up on the counterfeit cash.
Two messages were awaiting them at their hotel. One was a telegram from Colonel Richmond instructing them to stay in San Francisco to investigate the appearance of the fake money. He did not have any information regarding similar bills being found anywhere else. The second was a note from Morris, tersely stating that the dead man had been identified.
At the police station, the lieutenant explained what he had learned. Not one but two officers who worked the Barbary Coast and waterfront area had identified the dead man as “Mouse” Naiman. Neither knew the man’s real name; to their knowledge he was a smalltime thief who generally managed to get very short sentences after being arrested, thus was soon back on the streets to ply his specialty. They knew nothing about him being involved with counterfeiters, and both expressed doubt that Mouse was smart enough to be doing it on his own. One officer had seen Naiman with the walking stick earlier yesterday, but had had no knowledge of the theft at that time. They did know that Naiman lived in a seedy boardinghouse near the waterfront.
The next call was to the rundown two-story house with a barely readable sign on the porch announcing rooms for rent by the day, week, or month. A knock on the unpainted door brought a slovenly woman with thinning gray hair and the odor of stale whiskey about her person. She glared at them until Artemus displayed his identification, when her attitude quickly changed. The fear she displayed made both men wonder what she had been up to recently.
However, they were not interested in her, asking to see the room of Mouse Naiman. With alacrity, she led them up creaking stairs and down an odiferous hallway, opening a door at the end. “He owes a week’s rent,” she said. “Reckon his goods is mine now, ain’t they?”
“Depends,” Jim replied, stepping inside.
“On whether we find any next of kin. I’d suggest you leave things alone until you get an official release.”
The landlady was wailing and cussing when Artie pulled the door shut, leaving her in the hallway. Jim knew as well as he did that little effort was going to be put into finding Naiman’s relatives. Nonetheless, it would do the old crone good to have to wait to hawk his possessions, as well as to rent the room again.
“My god,” Jim muttered, looking around at the clutter. A mouse skittered from under the bed, heading for safety through a crack visible where the baseboards met at a corner.
“We probably should have fumigated it with sulfur first,” Artie sighed. He stepped over and with some effort threw the lone window wide open, thinking that it probably had not been opened in years.
After about a half hour of gingerly picking through soiled clothing and rotting, moldy food, Jim found a small card in one drawer of the battered dresser. He passed it to his partner, who studied it, going to the window for better light. The writing had been done in ink, and dankness had smeared it somewhat.
“I’d venture a guess that it says Mrs. Ivy Carothers,” he finally decided. “The address might be Powell Street.”
Jim frowned. “What business would a man like Mouse have with someone living on Nob Hill?”
“Good question. We need to find out if I’m reading it correctly. Moira Sargent might know.”
Moira Sargent worked for the San Francisco Examiner as a society columnist, detailing the activities of the city’s upper crust. She had been helpful in the past, and they were glad to find her in the small office she occupied at the newspaper. She was a widow in her forties, and had started working for the paper in an effort to earn a living to support her two children.
“Good to see you two,” she smiled, blue eyes gleaming. “I heard you were in town. What’s this about finding the Emperor’s walking stick?”
“It was just the beginning,” Jim replied, unsurprised that she knew about the theft and its recovery. In many ways San Francisco was a small town, especially the way news got around.
“Moira,” Artie put in, “do you know a woman named Ivy Carothers?”
“Ivy Carothers! I surely do! The up and coming queen.”
The men exchanged glances. “Is that right?” Jim inquired. “How so? Who is she?”
“Moved to San Francisco three, maybe four months ago now, bought the former Metcalf house on Powell Street and has been entertaining up a storm. You are no one these days if you’re not invited to one of Ivy’s fetes.”
“I take it she has money,” Artie offered.
“Seems so. Tons of it. She remodeled the house. I mean, it was a nice family residence for the Metcalf family but it rivals the homes of the finest now. You should see it.”
“Maybe we will,” Jim smiled.
“Why are you asking anyway?” Moira looked from one to the other.
Artemus explained the situation, knowing from experience that the confidence would be kept. She might spill the secrets of the upper crust, but not those of the government. Moira listened with rapt attention. She shook her head as he completed his narration. “Only thing I can think of is that Ivy might have hired this Mouse to do some work. She wouldn’t have anything to do with a small-time thief, that I can assure you.”
“How would she react if we called on her to ask about Mouse?”
Moira gazed at Jim with amused speculation. “I’d say she just might welcome you with open arms, James. Both figuratively and literally.”
Artie bit back a grin. “What else can you tell us about Mrs. Carothers? I take it she’s new to the city.”
“As I said, came several months ago, had money to buy and refurbish the house, as well as entertain. She is a widow. No children. I have to admit that is about the extent of my knowledge about her. I have talked to her, tried to find out more, but she… somehow, she diverts the topic without one knowing it. Very charming and quite lovely. I can only assume she inherited a fairly large fortune from her late husband.”
Artie had to grin now. “Perhaps Jim can charm the information out of her.”
Jim cocked a brow toward his partner. “If that’s what it takes, perhaps I can!”
James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: "Thanks Artie"! Is that all you can say to me? I've just come back from the grave, risen like Lazarus, and that's what you say? "Thanks, Artie"?
James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: It's a pleasure.
- TNOT Pistoleros
SS senior field agent
Posted - 02/07/2015 : 11:17:38
| Chapter Two
Woman is at best a contradiction still.
—Alexander Pope (1688-1744), English poet and critic
Aware that late morning was the time when society paid visits, the agents took themselves to a nearby restaurant for a midday meal before hiring a cab to transport them to Powell Street. All the houses in this elevated neighborhood, with views overlooking the city and the bay, were large and ornate. Although not all in the range of the mansions constructed by the so-called robber barons, most were very exceptional residences indeed, with grand landscaping surrounding each one. Some apparently had large side and back yards where entertainment might be done on fine days, i.e., when the fog left early enough to warm the temperatures.
The Carothers, formerly Metcalf, home was not as large as some others, Artie observed as he climbed out and stood back while Jim paid the driver, asking him to wait for them. Nonetheless, it was indeed a top quality house, freshly painted, with formal landscaping all around. He judged that the house contained four to six bedrooms, along with the requisite parlors, dining room, breakfast room, and all the various spaces people with money appeared to believe they needed in order to live a civilized existence.
The building was two-story, with turrets on the front corners, more than enough “gingerbread” on the windows, eaves, and broad porch. “Much too busy,” he murmured.
“What?” Jim glanced at him as they started up the stone walkway from the street to the house; a walk that took them a good fifty feet from the street.
“The house. I prefer something much simpler.”
“Yes, but Artie, you have no need to display your wealth.”
“Sad but true,” Artie sighed.
A slightly plump and rosy-cheeked maid, attired in dark gray with white collar and cuffs, a snowy starched hat perched on her auburn hair, opened the door, which surprised Artie a little. Most of these houses had a butler to do this chore. She stared at them, her gaze lingering overlong on Jim West, before she spoke.
“We would like to speak to Mrs. Carothers,” Jim said.
“I’m afraid she’s not in,” the maid replied dutifully.
Jim extended the leather folder displaying his official credentials. “It’s very important.”
“Oh!” Now the blue eyes widened as she stepped back, allowing them into a broad foyer with marble tiling on the floor. “Wait here!”
Whirling so violently that her skirts and petticoats rustled, the maid hastened down the hall, where she tapped on a door and entered. Moments later she emerged and nodded to them. Artie knew from experience that they were being invited to a “second” parlor, not the finest room, but after studying the art hanging on the walls of the hallway, along with crystal and porcelain displayed on small tables and etageres, he was prepared to see that this second parlor would be much finer than the first parlor in many homes.
It was not overly large, but French doors looked out onto a lovely garden with a small patio and extensive rosebushes, along with other flowers affording an airy, bright atmosphere. A Mexican man was out there tending the plants. The room contained very lovely but comfortable furnishings. A woman, who had been seated on a small sofa apparently reading, came to her feet.
“Gentlemen? Doreen tells me you are from the government. How may I help you?”
She was as lovely a woman as either man had ever observed, certainly in her forties, but age had served her well. Tall and slender, her eyes were pale blue and her face perfectly formed, if a bit on the long side. She’s going to be beautiful for a long while yet, Jim decided. Her figure, under a stylish afternoon gown in a pale aqua, displayed well. Her waist had not yet begun to thicken.
“My name is Artemus Gordon, and this is my partner, James West. We are sorry to disturb you, Mrs. Carothers, but we need to ask you about a man you may be acquainted with.”
“Of course. Let me ring for some refreshments. What is the man’s name?” She crossed to a velvet rope suspended near the door and tugged on it. “Please sit down.”
They did so, taking a larger divan directly across from hers. Jim answered her question. “We know him as Mouse Naiman.”
Her brows lifted slightly. “Well, yes, I recognize the name. I hired him to do some work on the recommendation of my butler. Is he in trouble? I haven’t seen him in… oh three or four weeks now.”
The door opened before either could reply to her questions. The maid did a small curtsy. “Yes’m?”
“Doreen, bring some tea and cakes. And tell Roche I wish to speak to him.”
Doreen’s rosy cheeks suddenly became rosier. “Oh, ma’am!”
Mrs. Carothers looked at her. “Yes? Is there a problem?”
Plainly the young woman was nonplussed, her hands coming together tightly at her waist. “Oh, ma’am,” she said again. “Mr. Roche ain’t… isn’t here.”
“Where did he go?”
“Well, I don't know, ma’am. I just—I mean we…”
“Yes’m. Mr. Roche didn’t come down for breakfast. Cook sent Jasper up to call him, and when Jasper came down, he said Mr. Roche wasn’t in his room, and all his stuff was gone.”
“Gone? What do you mean?”
“Well, Jasper said it looked like he just packed up all his belongings and left.”
For a long moment, the maid’s employer stared at her with a very unrefined open mouth. “Why didn’t someone tell me?”
The servant was even more disconcerted. “Well, you see, Cook said it wasn’t her place. Then Jasper said it wasn’t his. And me…”
Ivy Carothers sighed. “All right, all right. Please fetch the tea.” The girl disappeared, closing the door, and her mistress turned to the agents. “I’m sorry. I realized I did not see Roche earlier, but I did not think that much of it. I’m having a dinner for some friends tonight and I suppose I thought he was busy preparing for it. I cannot imagine why he would have walked out on me like that!”
“How long have you known him?” Jim asked.
“I hired him about three and a half months ago when I took residence here. I had moved to San Francisco to escape sad memories, a new start. I hired a completely new staff.”
“What did you know about Roche?”
She looked at Artemus. “Not very much, I’m afraid. He had one letter of reference from a previous employer in Seattle. I have to admit that I did not have many applying for the position, and the majority of them were patently unsuitable. Roche at least gave the appearance of a trained butler. And he has been a good one… until now. This is so confusing. You asked about this Mr. Naiman, who was Roche’s friend. Why are you asking about Mr. Naiman?”
“Because he’s dead,” Jim replied. “He was killed in an accident, but possessed some illegal goods that we are now investigating.”
“Oh dear.” A delicate hand lifted to her throat. “Do you mean that Roche’s friends are criminals?”
“We don't know,” Artie said. “Mrs. Carothers, can you give us a description of Roche? What is his first name?”
“Oh. Let me think. I am afraid I addressed him as Roche all this time… oh, Bradley I believe. Yes, Bradley Roche. I thought it was a dignified sounding name at least. A description? He is tall and slender. He looked very fine in a butler’s regalia. His hair is rather a light brown, and he was always well groomed. Does that help?”
Artie prevented himself from looking at his partner. The description sounded exactly like the one Norton gave for the man who swiped his walking stick! The door opened then after a light tap, and Doreen entered with a teacart, resplendent with bone china pot and cups, and plates of several kinds of cookies and small cakes.
To be polite, they remained to enjoy the refreshments, asking Mrs. Carothers further questions. She did not know any of her butler’s friends or acquaintances, aside from Mouse, nor how long he had been in the city. He had answered an advertisement she placed in one of the city newspapers. That was the same way she had hired all her staff.
As they were preparing to depart, she suddenly seemed to realize that her dinner that evening was going to be short a servant. “Oh, dear,” she sighed. “I suppose we’ll manage. Jasper has filled in to help previously.”
“Jasper is another servant?” Jim inquired.
“I suppose he’s a jack-of-all-trades,” she smiled. “He does handy work and cleaning in the house, helps the cook when necessary and serves when I have guests, if it is—was—a little too much for Roche and Doreen. I have just the four—cook, maid, butler,… and Jasper. Oh, that reminds me. I would like to extend an invitation for the two of you to come to dinner this evening. I know it is short notice, but I believe you would enjoy it.”
“Thank you,” Jim replied with a slight smile, “but I’m afraid we’re going to be too busy.”
She put a hand on his coat sleeve. “I’m so sorry. Perhaps another time. Please don’t hesitate to visit if you are in the neighborhood.”
“That was interesting,” Artemus murmured as they settled into the coach and it began its journey back to the hotel. “She didn’t seem the least bit interested in having us find this Roche, nor bothered enough to check to see whether he might have pilfered anything before departing.”
“I noticed. Artie, did she seem familiar to you?”
“I have to admit she did. When we first entered the parlor, I had this distinct sensation that we were meeting an old acquaintance. But after a moment or two, I realized that was not the case.”
“She must resemble someone we met previously.”
“I guess.” Artie glanced out the window at the passing scenery. “I wonder if Roche’s sudden departure had anything to do with Mouse dying and being found with counterfeit bills in his pocket.”
“I imagine we might find out once we locate Mr. Roche.”
A later visit to police headquarters was fruitless. Morris did not have any further information about Mouse Naiman nor the bundle of fake money. He also had nothing on Bradley Roche. He had put an officer to work digging through old files looking for Naiman’s name, but thus far that search proved to be equally in vain. He would now ask that officer to look for a second name.
“He might have come here from elsewhere,” the lieutenant concluded. “Maybe changed his name. Who knows?” He agreed to alert his officers to be on the watch for a man fitting the description the agents offered.
“We don't even know if his sudden departure had anything to do with anything,” Artie complained. “Maybe he wasn’t happy in Mrs. Carothers’s employ. Jim, one thing we neglected to ask was whether Roche ever received any mail.”
“True. If he did, he might have gotten some information that caused his abrupt exit. If so, it must have been something urgent. Chances are, he was due some salary which he apparently left behind.”
Morris leaned back in his chair. “Which makes it all the more likely it could have something to do with Naiman. Somehow he got word of Mouse’s death, knew about the counterfeit bills, and decided he’d best skedaddle.”
“My thoughts too,” Artie nodded. “But until we find Roche, we won’t know. Not to mention we haven’t the slightest idea of where to look for him. San Francisco is a big enough city now that people can disappear quite easily.”
Plerumque est non ipsum. Sit usquequaque mittere hamum; quo minime credas gurgite, piscis erit.
[Chance is always powerful. Let your hook always be cast; in the pool where you least expect it, there will be a fish.]
—Ovid (Publius Ovidius Naso; 43 BC-c. 17 AD), Roman poet
However, locating Bradley Roche turned out to be not difficult at all. One might even say, Roche found them. West and Gordon spent the remainder of that day, well into the evening, visiting saloons and boarding houses in the seedier sections of the city, describing Roche to various people, all to no avail. They also admitted to each other that they noticed no indications that any of the people they spoke to were being dishonest. All seemed genuinely ignorant of such a person, by name or description.
The following morning, however, just as they finished breakfast in the hotel’s dining room, a uniformed officer brought them a note from Morris: a body had been pulled out of the bay; a body that fit the description of Bradley Roche perfectly. They hurried to the headquarters, met Morris, and went with him to the morgue as Morris told them what had happened.
“Early this morning an officer on patrol at the piers heard a large splash, as though someone might have fallen or jumped into the water. He hurried to investigate, and saw the body floating just off the pier. He was able to use a gaff he found nearby to pull it in, so it hadn’t been in the water long. Finding the man dead of a gunshot wound, he looked around for who might have tossed it in, but it was too late by then. Of course his original intention was to save a possibly drowning person.”
Upon viewing the corpse, both agents had to admit that the dead man did indeed match the descriptions given by both the emperor and Mrs. Carothers. He had no identification on him, but his clothing also fit what Norton had described. They were not expensive, but still better than most men on the docks wore, even as their “Sunday best.”
“I don’t suppose we could get Mrs. Carothers to come identify him,” Jim grumbled as they stepped out into the gray morning, which seemed bright and cheerful after the dank darkness of the interior.
“Not likely,” Artemus concurred. “But perhaps Jasper.”
“Ah! Good thought!”
Morris wanted to know who was Jasper, so Artie explained. “We didn’t see him, but I got the idea he’s no kid. Jim, I think we should go speak to Mrs. Carothers again right away.”
“I agree. Her reaction could be interesting.”
As they said goodbye to Morris and walked out to find a cab, Jim glanced at his partner. “Artie, did…?”
“Roche looks familiar. I’m sure I’ve seen him before but I have no idea where or when.”
Jim smiled. “Artie, I think we spend too much time together.”
His partner chuckled. “Think so? I saw your expression when we first viewed the corpse and realized you were probably having exactly the same thoughts. Any ideas?”
“None. I wonder if it’s important.”
“We might know that if and when we remember where we encountered Bradley Roche.”
“It’s so strange,” Jim mused as they climbed into the hailed cab. “We both think Mrs. Carothers is someone we’ve met, and now the same with a man who worked for her.”
Jim saw the twinkle in his partner’s eyes. “Perhaps. Perhaps it might be a good idea to learn more about Mrs. Ivy Carothers.”
Once more, they asked the hack driver to wait for them in front of the Carothers home. Mansion, rather, Artie had decided, after having viewed both the exterior and interior. Perhaps not as large as those others built by the likes of Stanford and Crocker, but certainly lavish. This time, although Doreen was surprised to see them, she invited them into the foyer at once then hurried to find her mistress.
Ivy Carothers had been upstairs, and she descended slowly, smiling. However, her eyes revealed she was puzzled. This morning she wore a simple gown in mauve, the only decoration an amethyst brooch at her throat.
“Good morning, gentlemen. I honestly did not expect to see you so soon, but I am pleased. Let’s go into the parlor. Doreen, coffee, please.” She did not bother to ask her visitors if they wanted the refreshments, similar to the previous day. She led them into a larger parlor, the primary room for entertaining, more richly decorated than the smaller room. A beautiful grand piano was situated in one corner.
When they were seated, Artemus tersely told her of the discovery of the dead man in the bay, and watched her reaction closely. The shock appeared genuine, as her blue eyes widened and she placed both palms against either side of her face.
“Dead? Shot? Oh my heavens. Oh, dear. Poor Roche. Was it a robbery?”
“We’re not even positive it is your butler, Mrs. Carothers. He will need to be identified.” Jim also watched her intently.
“Oh… oh, I couldn’t!” The horror that shone in her eyes also seemed real.
“We wouldn’t ask it of you,” Artie said gently. “We hoped that perhaps your other manservant, Jasper, could help.”
The request obviously surprised her. “Jasper? Yes. Yes, I suppose he could. I will—I’ll ask him.” She rose to go to the bell rope, but the door opened before she could. This time Darleen bore a tray with a silver coffee pot, similar fragile cups as previously, a pitcher of cream, and a bowl of sugar. Darleen seemed startled when her mistress told her to send Jasper in, but she nodded and hurried away.
“Was Roche… or the man… whoever he was… robbed?” she asked again as she poured the coffee.
“That would seem to be the case,” Jim replied. “He had nothing on him.”
“Oh dear. He had a lovely pocket watch that he said was handed down for two or three generations. How sad. He never had an opportunity to pass it to his son. If indeed it is poor Roche.”
Artie cocked his head. “Was he married?”
“Oh, no. Not to my knowledge. However, he certainly wasn’t an old man. Thirty-five at most, I’d say.” She handed them the cups of steaming coffee and smiled when they refused additives. “Good. I prefer it strong and plain myself.”
“How did your dinner progress last night, Mrs. Carothers?” Artie inquired. “If you don’t mind me asking.”
“A little hectic, but on the whole, it went off quite well. All of my guests have suffered servant problems of one kind or another. I do wish you could have been here.”
“I’m sorry we had to miss it,” Jim smiled. “Working men, you know.”
The rap on the door halted whatever she was going to say next. The door opened to admit a man in work clothes. He was probably around fifty, with a scarred face, and graying hair that had not been cut in a while. I’ll bet her guests were more than startled to be served by this fellow, no matter how well he was dressed last night, Artie mused.
He was introduced to them as Jasper Parrott, and when Mrs. Carothers informed him of the agents’ request, Parrott immediately agreed. Both men could not help but notice that the man evinced no surprise, grief, or anything else. He was ready to accompany them to the morgue. “Just let me get my hat, gents.”
Ivy Carothers was on her feet, as were they. “I hope Jasper helps. I really don’t want the poor dead man to be Roche, but I have a dreadful feeling it is. Will you find out what happened?”
“We plan to try,” Artie assured her.
“Good. Please keep me informed. Roche was a good employee, a valued member of this household. Oh, before I forget, I am holding a garden party Saturday afternoon—if the weather cooperates. I want to invite both of you to attend. I do hope you don’t work on Saturday!”
“I’m afraid we never know,” Jim said with a smile. “But if we are free, we will do our best to attend. Thank you.”
She took Jim’s arm as they left the room and went to the front door. Jasper was waiting on the porch. Mrs. Carothers repeated the invitation and urged them to attend. “Many pretty young ladies will be here,” she teased, her blue eyes on Jim.
Artemus was not surprised. Despite she was ten or perhaps even fifteen years older than Jim, that usually did not stop women from admiring him. Jim had told him how Emma Valentine behaved when she had him as her prisoner. Not only older men sought younger women; older women often had eyes for younger men. He also remembered what Moira said, that Mrs. Carothers would be likely to welcome Jim with more than normal cordiality.
Thinking of that as the hack started back toward town, he had to wonder about Mrs. Carothers and her butler. The man they had seen at the morgue had been a handsome man in life. Although she did not seem overly distressed either by his flight from her house, or his death, who knew what their relationship had been?
With Jasper Parrott in the coach, they could not discuss their thoughts, but they did question the man. He had been hired shortly after Roche came to the house, he said, and recommended by Roche. They had been friends. Where was that? Oh, here and there, Parrott replied evasively. Parrott said he worked as a handyman around the city, but had not had a permanent position for a long time. He had some experience as household staff as well. “When I was younger and more presentable,” he chuckled.
Still he did not mind helping when the Mrs. gave a party. “She don’t like to keep a big staff, I reckon. Not that she don’t have the money. You seen that place. All the money she put into it? There’s plenty left over, no doubt.”
“Do you know where Mrs. Carothers lived before coming to San Francisco?” Jim asked.
Parrott shrugged. “Never asked. Ain’t my business. She pays well. That’s all I care about.”
At the morgue, Parrott started nodding as soon as the attendant pulled the shroud back. “Yep, that’s ol’ Roche. Too bad. Nice fellow.”
They gave him money for cab fare back to the Carothers’ house, but did not miss that he strolled past several waiting hacks in the vicinity, no doubt heading for the nearest purveyor of alcohol. He was going to take advantage of his time off and the jingle in his pocket.
Jim and Artemus walked to the police building and were soon with Lloyd Morris, telling him of the latest revelations. “Not that it gets us much further,” Jim complained. “We have no idea if Roche had anything to do with the counterfeit money Naiman had on him.”
“Well, I can tell you that at least sixty more dollars were passed. All of it was deposited at one bank, but it came from two different merchants.” Morris picked up a piece of paper on his desk and read from it, naming a busy restaurant that served workers on a construction project and another store going out of business that was crowded with bargain-seeking customers.
“Someone is very clever,” Jim observed. “In and out before being noticed, and definitely before the money is recognized as fake.”
“Most merchants don’t know how to identify counterfeit money anyway,” Artie said. “That’s why it’s the banks that are reporting.”
“The chief is having a paper printed up to distribute to the merchants to have them watch for these particular bills,” Morris told them. “But in a busy store, I’m not sure it’s going to do any good.”
“Where was Naiman taking the money?” Jim wondered. “I’m speculating it had been sold to someone and he was delivering it.”
“I agree,” his partner nodded. “Then there’s the other question. Why the devil did Roche steal Emperor Norton’s stick, and how did Naiman happen to have it?”
“They were friends,” Jim pondered. “But that still doesn’t answer the question. Mrs. Carothers indicated that Roche was relatively new in town. Perhaps he hadn’t really learned about Norton’s status in this city. Even so, while that walking stick has great sentimental value to Norton, no one in San Francisco would pay a cent for it. At least none who recognized it.”
“We didn’t find anyone to whom it had been offered.”
“But it led you to the counterfeiting,” Lloyd noted.
“True enough,” Artie nodded. “Pure happenstance. I’m guessing that whoever gave those bogus bills to Mouse to deliver is not happy about that. Oh, say, Lloyd. We have another name for you to check. Jasper Parrott. He also works for Mrs. Carothers.”
The policeman shook his head doubtfully. “You can’t think that a woman like Mrs. Carothers would be involved in bogus money!”
“It is hard to believe,” Jim agreed. “We’re certainly not going to charge in and arrest her unless we come up with more information.”
“I think you can find quite a few better suspects down on the Coast,” Morris smiled.
“I think you are right.” Artemus looked at his partner. “Maybe it’s time we did a little hunting and hinting, Jim?”
“Sounds good to me.”
“I’ll see what I can find on this Parrott,” Morris said. “You two take it easy on the Barbary Coast. You’re known down there.”
Jim grinned. “Always nice to see old friends.”
James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: "Thanks Artie"! Is that all you can say to me? I've just come back from the grave, risen like Lazarus, and that's what you say? "Thanks, Artie"?
James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: It's a pleasure.
- TNOT Pistoleros
SS senior field agent
Posted - 02/07/2015 : 11:18:29
| Chapter Three
When malice is joined to envy, there is given forth poisonous and feculent matter, as ink from the cuttle-fish.
—Plutarch (c. 46-120), Greek philosopher and biographer
Upon leaving the police building, the agents parted ways. Artemus caught a streetcar that would take him to the railroad station, while Jim waved down a cab to carry him to the Barbary Coast. As usual, he had to promise the driver an extra tip to enter that hellish area. The hack stopped on Montgomery Street, Jim hopped out and paid the promised fare, then strolled toward the first of the many saloons that populated this area.
A woman, Ruth Deaver, owned this particular establishment on the outer edge of the area known as the Barbary Coast. She had arrived from the east as a rather naïve young woman after inheriting the establishment from an uncle. In the last ten years, nonetheless, she learned swiftly and promoted her place into one of the best and certainly the most honest bar in the area. Her bouncers, constantly on duty, kept the fights down, and the bartenders were quick to notify the musclemen if a patron seemed to have had enough or might be inclined to be rowdy after having a few. The games had to be played straight.
Although certain Ruth would have had nothing to do with the counterfeiting, Jim called on her. Ruth was known to keep up on the gossip along the Coast. He found her at her favorite table, in a corner where she could keep an eye on everything. She was in her mid thirties now, nowhere near as innocent as she had been upon arrival, but still a fine looking woman with dark shiny hair piled atop a somewhat square face and brown eyes that smiled a lot.
She was smiling as she saw the agent approach. “James! It’s been too long!”
He leaned down to kiss her cheek before taking the chair opposite her. “I know, Ruthie. We’ve been in and out of San Francisco over the last few months, but always seem to be rushing hither and yon, with little time to visit friends.”
Ruth grinned. “Or else you didn’t need any information from me.”
“Uh-oh. You know me too well. I’m afraid that is my mission today.” Quickly he explained about the counterfeit money.
She was frowning and shaking her head before he finished. “I haven’t heard a thing, James. That doesn’t mean it’s not happening in this part of town, but I think makes it less likely.”
“I agree. It’s pretty baffling. Usually the department gets hints of such goings on, or else the moneymakers will start testing it in different areas of the country, and we hear about it that way. But until we found that money on Mouse Naiman, we had no clue, although a few bills had been turned into the police here that same day.”
“My people here are pretty savvy about bogus bills,” she said, glancing toward the bar where the barman was busily filling drink orders. “They look at the bills carefully, especially the tens and twenties.”
“Yeah, that’s a popular denomination for fake money.”
“Where’s Artemus?” Ruth asked then.
“Oh, he’ll be around,” Jim smiled and winked. “Please don’t give him away if you spot him.”
“Ha! That’s not likely. Last time I was almost ready to call the boys in blue to come get him, he was so convincing as that boisterous Texas cattleman! I didn’t know until it was over.”
“He’s pretty good, all right. I’ve got to keep moving. Got a lot of ground to cover. But I’ll try to stop in later.” Jim got to his feet.
“You’d better. I haven’t told you about Willie!” William was Ruth’s younger brother whom she was putting through college to become a doctor.
“I won’t want to miss that!” With a wave, Jim headed out the door.
He skipped the next two pleasure palaces, knowing their owners were not likely to cooperate at all. His next stop was in a large saloon full of glittering crystal chandeliers and sparkling mirrors owned by Clay Murrell, a transplanted Alabaman. The Southern Rose was one of the most successful on the Barbary Coast, partially because despite all the splendor, the bartenders had a habit of watering the drinks once a patron became inebriated enough to not be able to tell the difference. Plus, the men who ran his gambling tables were suspected—but never proven—to be pretty slick with marked cards and loaded dice. All in complete opposition to Ruth’s establishment; yet, both were successful.
Clay welcomed him with a smile that did not quite reach his gray eyes, and immediately disclaimed any knowledge of counterfeiting, becoming a bit defensive, as he was wont to do when the honesty of his employees was questions. Jim shook his head.
“You’re not a counterfeiter, Clay. I know that.” He could see by the expression on Murrell’s face that the saloonkeeper did not quite know if that was a compliment or an insult. “I’m just wondering if you’ve seen any of the fake bills, or heard any talk.”
Murrell shook his graying head. “Not a bit. Not lately anyway. Last bogus bill we took in was maybe six months ago… and I took care of the passer.”
“I’m sure you did.” Murrell would not want to involve the authorities. “If you hear of anything, get word to me or Artemus at the Metro Hotel.”
Jim stopped in at three more taverns before arriving at the one that was his target, as well as one where he knew he would not receive anything resembling a warm welcome. The Gold Eagle was owned by Rance Ricks, now in his late twenties, having inherited the place from his father—whom Rance was rumored to have had murdered in order to take over his parent’s lucrative business.
His father had been one of the “Sydney Ducks,” immigrants from the British penal colonies of Australia, New South Wales, and Tasmania, who had originally established what had once been known as “Sydney-Town,” now the Barbary Coast. Ed Ricks had tried his hand in the goldfields, soon realized he was not going to make it there, and set up a tent in the city selling cheap whiskey and providing the services of a couple of women, eventually constructing this permanent site. He had been known to be reasonably honest, if always looking for a fast buck. His son had not inherited the honest streak.
Jim made his way through the always-crowded tables, conscious of eyes on his back—not very friendly eyes. He strolled by the long bar and headed for a door in the back area, where a beefy man was sitting in a chair tipped back against the wall.
“Hello, Muff. I want to talk to the boss.”
Jim had no idea why a man built like “Muff” would have acquired such a name, but that’s what he was called. The scarred face with the crooked nose, broken several times, and yellowed teeth was certainly not a soft muffin, or a hand muff.
“He don’t want to see you.”
“Why don’t you ask? It’s kind of important.”
Jim’s expression grew hard. “I can have two dozen coppers here within the hour.”
Several seconds elapsed as the green eyes met the dark brown ones of the man in the chair. Finally, the brown ones dropped and Muff lowered his chair, shoving himself to his feet. Without a word, he pushed through the door, closing it tightly behind him. Jim waited perhaps two minutes before it opened again. Muff jerked his head and stepped aside for him to enter.
While the saloon itself was rather ordinary, Ricks’s office was not. He had spared no expense to decorate it with gleaming wood paneled walls, Turkish carpets and gold sconces, along with a huge polished walnut desk. Jim knew that Ricks’s living quarters led off this office, but he had never seen them. He suspected, however, they were just as lavish, if not more so.
Rance Ricks did not stand up or offer his hand as Jim entered. He was a thin, rather good-looking man with thinning dark hair and neat, narrow mustache over a wide mouth. His eyes were blue, and always seemed to be narrowed, as though looking for something untoward. Just now, they were glaring at Jim West with overt dislike.
“What do you want?”
Uninvited, Jim took one of the chairs. “Just a social call, Rance.” He sometimes wondered why he and Ricks had had an instant dislike for each other upon meeting several years ago. They had not had any official confrontations; despite the probability that Ricks was involved in some criminal activities, nothing had ever been proven. Just one of those unexplainable things.
“I doubt that. State your business and beat it so I can air out the place.”
Jim chuckled. “Sorry to cause you so much trouble.” He sobered. “I was just wondering if you have heard anything about some new bogus bills being passed around town.”
“No? That’s all?”
Ricks scowled. “What do you want me to say?”
“I actually thought you would get your back up and be insulted that I appeared to be accusing you.”
“I just want you to get the hell out of here, West.”
“I don’t suppose it would do any good to ask you to get word to me if you hear anything.”
“Not one damn bit of good. I’ll more likely give the fellow a medal and a free drink.”
“Thought so.” Jim rose easily. “In that case, I guess we’ll be keeping an eye on the Gold Eagle. Thanks, Rance.” He turned toward the door, then paused and looked back. “By the way, I don’t suppose you know a woman named Ivy Carothers.”
Jim did not smile as he saw the flicker in the blue eyes. The query had taken him off guard. “Never heard of her,” Ricks snarled.
Jim stepped through the door and was not completely surprised to notice that Muff was not in his usual chair. Instead, the big man was near the bar with two other men. Jim knew the pair as well, a whip-thin man called Deuce, who was said to be as good with a knife as he was with cards, and a stocky, younger man with a crop of carrot red curls, tagged, unsurprisingly, Red.
“Hey, West,” Muff called as Jim started to make his way toward the front exit, “we wanna talk to you.”
“Another time,” Jim replied pleasantly. “I’m busy.” The conversation in the room had lowered in tone. Every person here knew what was coming.
Deuce stepped out directly into Jim’s path. “Not too busy to talk to a couple old friends, are you?”
Jim halted, a smile on his lips. “Never too busy for that.”
Deuce may have thought his move was going to surprise the agent, but he was the one who was caught unawares. As Deuce’s right fist started toward Jim’s chin, Jim’s forearm came up to block it, while his other arm drove a hard fist into the thin man’s abdomen. With an “oofff!” Deuce staggered back, catching himself on the back of a chair that was quickly vacated by the man in it.
Now the other two moved in. Muff grabbed Jim’s arm and his intention was clear. He was going to twist it behind Jim’s back, rendering him painfully helpless so that the others could have their turn at him. Instead, Jim spun toward Muff and kicked him hard in the shin. Muff yowled and loosed his grip, allowing Jim to pull free and turn toward Red, who had hesitated just an instant when Jim made his move.
Being next to the bar now, Jim put his left hand on it, pushed against the solid wood to lift his body, giving him a chance to forcefully jam his boots into Red’s chest. That man, like Deuce, staggered, but he did not find a chair to break his fall. He went on his back and lay there, gasping for breath.
Muff was yelling some curses now, as Deuce came up beside him, both ready to charge at Jim, pinned against the bar. Again, Jim grabbed the edge of the wood, and this time hoisted himself up onto the top. In one fluid motion, he turned and leapt toward the two men, arms wide. His head went in between Muff and Deuce while his arms caught them around the neck, his momentum throwing them back.
He was on his feet instantly, and was not astonished to see Deuce also regain his feet quickly. Deuce’s hand moved and he came out with a long-bladed gleaming knife, lunging forward with it. Jim jumped back agilely, and found his old friend the bar one more time, giving himself purchase to kick hard. The knife flew out of Deuce’s hand.
While Deuce was adjusting to this sudden change, Jim waded in with forceful blows, and within moments, Deuce was on the floor, out cold. By now, both Muff and Red were climbing to their feet. Jim took on the bigger man first, slamming his fists into Muff’s stomach and countering with blows to the chin. When Red tried to interfere, Jim was able to kick him in the side, putting him out of commission until Muff finally plopped on his behind, his bleeding face blank as his eyes rolled in his head and he fell backwards.
Jim turned toward Red, but that man apparently had enough. He crawled to his feet and headed toward the back door of the establishment. Glancing around to ensure that no one else was going to take up the fray, Jim picked up his hat, dusted it off, and looked toward the door of the office, where Rance Ricks was standing, gaping with an open mouth.
Jim waved the hat. “Thanks for the entertainment, Rance!” A path toward the front door opened wide as the men and women, like Ricks, simply stared at him. He saw the old salt standing just inside the front exit but barely glanced at him as he pushed out to the open air.
Artemus had entered the Gold Eagle just as the melee started. He remained put, waiting to make sure that more were not going to pile onto Jim. I kinda think no one wants any part of it, he decided, biting back a grin as he watched Red vamoose out the back, while everyone else remained frozen where they were.
Artie had donned the guise of a half crippled old sailor, complete with whiskers and a scar that disfigured his left eye. It was uncomfortable but a nice touch, he thought. His clothes were old and faded—and smelly. He had kept them in a burlap bag with a dead fish for a while to gain that particular ambience. Jim insisted that the bag be buried in the feed bin for some reason.
Now he limped forward to the bar and waved to the bartender. “Cold one! Say who the de’el was that fellow? Fought like a whirlwind, he did.”
The bartender scowled as he slammed a mug of beer in front of the old sailor. “Name’s West. Don’t ever tangle with him. It’s a losin’ proposition.”
“So I noticed. Nice place here. Is there action like that all the time?”
“Naw. This is a nice quiet place.” The sarcasm in his voice caused Artie to chuckle.
“Yeah, I’ll bet. Say I was just in a café over on Folsom and they was complainin’ about getting some phony money. You ever see any of that here?”
“I got work to do,” the bartender said, and moved to the far end of the bar.
Artie enjoyed his beer and watched the mirror behind the bar. The barkeeper had gone straight to Rance Ricks who was still at that far end, having not returned to his office. Well, well. I might have stirred up a little something with that question. He tipped up the glass and drank most of it, wiped his mouth with the grimy jacket sleeve, and hobbled toward the door.
Hearing a stir behind him, Artie walked a little faster. He got out the front door and turned to the left, ducking into the alley alongside the bar. Continuing down the alley, he circled around behind the next building and by the time he emerged on the street again, he was a new man, this time beardless, but with a heavy mustache, and longish curly graying hair. The heavy coat had disappeared, as had the limp. He walked straight toward Ricks and the several men who were on the porch of the Golden Eagle, barely looking at them as he passed by.
Just so no one notices the odor!
Apparently no one did. Artemus continued until he reached a street where he caught a hack—having to show the cabbie he had the money first—and rode back to the hotel. The hotel clerk, Ennis, laughed when he saw Artemus pulling off the fake mustache as he crossed the lobby. “I take it you’ve been working, Mr. Gordon.” This was not the first time he had seen Artemus Gordon in disguise.
“Yep. Is Mr. West upstairs?”
“He came in about half an hour ago.”
Taking his key from the clerk, Artemus climbed the stairs to the second floor and entered his room. He removed the disguise and clothes and washed up before rapping on the connecting door that led to Jim’s room. Hearing his partner call out, he opened it.
“Well, you had fun with Muff and his friends, eh?”
Jim was in his shirtsleeves, stretched out on the bed, hands behind his head. “Nice of them to throw me a party. I figured something was up when Muff spent a couple of minutes in the office with Ricks before coming back to tell me to go in. I guess Rance told them to show me a good time.”
Artie grabbed the lone chair, swinging it around to straddle it. “Learn anything interesting?”
“Only that Rance probably knows Ivy Carothers somehow.”
“I know. I just cannot imagine a woman like her being acquainted with a man like Ricks, let alone being involved in the counterfeiting.”
“Well… when I was at the train, I sent a message back to Washington asking for any information they could find on her.”
Jim sat up, swinging his legs over the side. “Good. It will be better to get her out of our heads. It’s all a coincidence, no doubt.”
Both men fell silent for a moment, Jim staring at the window. Then he turned to his partner. “Last night, while I was drifting off to sleep, I had this… this half dream about Ivy. I could see her, it seemed, smiling, talking. But it wasn’t quite right.”
“What do you mean?”
“That’s just it, I don't know. Something didn’t fit but I couldn’t figure out what it was.”
“What about the butler?”
“Are we going to go to her party Saturday?”
“I’ve been wondering about that myself. I suppose we’d better see how things are going by then. When are you supposed to meet His Highness for the chess game?”
Artie snapped his fingers. “Thanks for reminding me. That’s tonight. Want to come along?”
“And watch you play chess? I might as well watch paint dry!”
Artie laughed, getting to his feet. “I don't know about you, but I’m getting hungry. How about dinner?”
They chose a restaurant they could walk to from the hotel, and it turned out to be a fortuitous selection, for they encountered a federal attorney of their acquaintance with his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Alonzo Overton. The Overtons were planning to attend an opera that evening, and had two extra tickets. Artie was dismayed that he had made the date with the Emperor, but both the Overtons understood: one did not break an engagement with His Excellency! However, Jim was happy to accept, and arranged to meet them at the Tivoli.
James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: "Thanks Artie"! Is that all you can say to me? I've just come back from the grave, risen like Lazarus, and that's what you say? "Thanks, Artie"?
James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: It's a pleasure.
- TNOT Pistoleros
SS senior field agent
Posted - 02/07/2015 : 11:19:11
| Chapter Four
Man in society is like a flow'r,
Blown in its native bed. 'Tis there alone
His faculties expanded in full bloom
Shine out, there only reach their proper use.
—William Cowper (1731-1800), English poet
Artemus regretted having to miss the operatic performance; nevertheless, he knew he would enjoy himself at the Bohemian Club. Although not members, both he and Jim had spent time there as guests of friends who were members. The club recently had been founded by a group of newspapermen, but had expanded to include businessmen, professionals, even some scholars as well as entrepreneurs. The primary rule was “no women.”
The building on Taylor Street was aglow with lights when he arrived, and he found quite a few friends and acquaintances already in attendance. When he inquired, Artie learned that the emperor was on the second floor in one of the game rooms. That Emperor Norton was welcome in the club, although not a dues paying member, was no surprise. He was welcome wherever he went in San Francisco, and rarely had to pay a cent for his meals, or even clothing. Perhaps the only expense he had was his daily rent at the flophouse where he kept a room, and that he managed with “donations” from friends as well as peddling his “bonds” and scrip.
Norton had the board all set up and ready to play. He greeted Artemus warmly and asked about Mr. West. “Jim had an unexpected invitation to attend the opera, something he felt he could not turn down.”
“Ah, yes! I was at the performance Saturday evening. Excellent. Truly excellent. You should make a point to attend, Mr. Gordon.”
Artie smiled. “I will.” No need to tell him that if it wasn’t for this date, I’d be there tonight!
The first game concluded rather rapidly, and Artie realized that his opponent’s attention was not completely on the match. “Is something bothering you, sir?” he asked as the board was being reset.
Norton did not answer for a moment; then he fastened a steely gaze on Artie’s face. “I have heard a rumor that you have become acquainted with Mrs. Ivy Carothers.”
The mention of the name surprised Artie. They had not told the emperor any of the details regarding the recovery of his walking stick. “Yes, sir,” he replied slowly. “We met her in connection to a case we are working on.”
“I see. I was introduced to Mrs. Caruthers soon after she arrived in town. I considered her in my quest for a bride.”
Artie’s eyes widened. “A bride, sir?”
“Indeed. I am the Emperor of these United States and protector of Mexico, but I will not live forever. It would be a tragedy if I left this mortal plane without leaving an heir behind. Don’t you agree, Mr. Gordon?”
“I do, your highness. You said you ‘considered’ Mrs. Caruthers?”
“Yes, but once I gazed upon her, I changed my mind.” Norton leaned forward slightly and lowered his voice, even though they were currently the only ones in the room. “Take care, Mr. Gordon. She is an evil woman. I am certain she was part of the cabal that ruined me.”
“I see.” Artie murmured. Plainly he was confusing Ivy Caruthers with someone else. The “ruin” he spoke of happened twenty years earlier when he lost his fortune due to possible fraud in the rice market. That catastrophe may have led to the breakdown of his mental facilities, or else a plot to defraud San Francisco with his guise as the emperor.
“Do not let her know I told you,” the emperor went on. “I have no doubt she looks upon me as her protector, as do all citizens of this fair city.”
Artie cocked his head. “Have you met Mrs. Carothers more than that one time?”
“No. Nor do I wish to. I know about her and her brother. Pure evil. One only need look at her.”
“I see,” Artemus said again. “We will keep your warning in mind, I assure you.” He did not want to ask about the “brother,” certain that Norton had Ivy Carothers mixed up with another woman from his past. The conversation would likely go far afield!
Artemus returned to the hotel long before Jim did, but he reclined on his bed, reading, waiting until he heard the sound of the next room’s door opening and closing. Sliding off the bed he went to the connecting door, tapped on it and then opened it.
“How was the opera?”
“Superb. If we finish this business before it closes, you really should see it, Artie. I wouldn’t mind going again.”
Artie smiled. Jim liked opera well enough, but for him to want to see any performance a second time was rare. “That’s a good reason to work hard and solve this mess.” He then told Jim of Emperor Norton’s comments. “He has to be confused, but I asked him more about it before we parted for the evening, and he knows her correct address and the fact that she has been in San Francisco for only a few months.”
“That’s interesting,” Jim nodded. “I guess we’d better see what Washington has to say about Ivy.”
[Confucius said] To know that we know what we know, and that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge.
—Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), American author and naturalist
In the morning, they went to the train waiting in the rail yards. Artie sat down at the telegraph key and transmitted the message asking whether any information had been gleaned on Mrs. Ivy Carothers. Within minutes, the reply came. Artie wrote it down then looked up at his partner. “Well?”
Jim shook his head. “She sounds perfectly normal to me. She married a wealthy man in Cincinnati, was widowed, sold everything, and moved to San Francisco. Nothing ‘evil’ there.”
“I agree,” Artie sighed. “Most of the time Norton carries on a logical conversation. He was also discussing financial matters with the president of a bank tonight. But sometimes…”
“Sometimes he goes off the track. Still, how would he know Mrs. Carothers? Even know of her? Dozens of higher society ladies live in this city, get their parties and dinners mentioned in the papers. Why would he single her out?”
Both were silent a long minute, then Artie pulled the key toward him again. “I’m going to ask them to do a little more digging. Find out who she was before she married Carothers in Cincinnati.”
“Good idea. Although I can imagine Bosley and Ned might grumble a little.”
Artie laughed. “Why do they think they’re earning the big bucks sitting at those desks?”
Annoyance is man's leaven; the element of movement, without which we would grow mouldy.
—Baron Ernst Von Feuchtersleben (1806-1849), Austrian poet, philosopher, and physician
In the afternoon, the agents returned to the Barbary Coast, together this time. One of their first stops was the Golden Eagle where Muff was on his regular chair. The bodyguard glared at them as they stood at the bar; he then rose and went through the door behind him. Moments later, Rance Ricks emerged and strode toward them.
“What are you doing here?” the owner demanded.
Jim gazed at him blandly, glanced down at the glass he was holding. “Drinking our beer. Why?”
“You’re not welcome here.”
Now Artie evinced surprise. “Why? What’s wrong with our money, Ricks?”
Nearby patrons had noticed the exchange and were watching and listening. The flush on Ricks’ cheeks indicated he realized he might have acted hastily. “As long as you pay for it,” he snarled, whirling and stomping back into his office, slamming the door behind him. A few seconds later, the door opened again and although the order was not heard, apparently Muff was summoned inside.
“Rance appears a bit distraught,” Jim observed, putting his glass on the bar. “Or perhaps worried.”
“I noticed. You don’t suppose he has something to do with the counterfeiting.”
“The thought crossed my mind. Well, our work is done here, Artemus. Shall we move on?”
Before entering the Golden Eagle, neither had voiced thoughts about upsetting the owner, who might view the return of the federal men as worrisome. Of all the denizens of the sinkhole known as the Barbary Coast, both knew that Rance Ricks was one of the most likely to be involved in the distribution, if not the printing, of counterfeit bills. Ricks was ambitious and greedy. He had been suspected of involvement in other crimes including the theft of some jewelry from a hotel where a wealthy woman visiting the city had deposited her valuables. Nothing had been proven, however. So a visit to the saloon, if only to annoy the owner, was a given.
They stopped at four more saloons, not bothering to buy refreshments but merely talking to the bartender or owner about the possibility of bogus money passing through their cash drawers. One actually looked into the till and allowed them to inspect the tens and twenties he had accumulated. All appeared to be genuine.
“Should we continue?” Artie asked as they exited the fourth establishment. “I have a feeling it’ll be futile.”
Jim sighed. “Yeah. Unfortunately, even if a bad bill came through, they might not have kept it. These places don’t want the law hanging around… for some reason.” He flashed a grin at his partner.
“Well, we could see what these two fellows who have been dogging us want.”
“Good idea.” Artie had also spotted the pair who had appeared when they exited the first bar after the Golden Eagle visit. A couple of plug-uglies, one of whom he had noticed lounging in the Golden Eagle.
They stopped on the porch of a pawnshop, another ubiquitous business in the area. The two trailing men hesitated, exchanged a couple of words, then continued towards the agents. Jim and Artemus watched them, somewhat curious. I thought they’d duck into the nearest door until we moved on, Artie mused.
Jim heard the slight sound behind him and spun. Two more men had appeared, quite possibly from the alley between the pawnshop and the next building. Both were holding weapons. “Artie,” he said softly.
Artemus looked around. “Uh-oh. Afternoon, gents. Something we can do for you?”
One of the men, with a face that looked as though a hundred fists had battered it, motioned with his weapon. “Into the alley, boys.”
Jim looked behind him again. As he expected, the original two men were striding up rapidly, weapons in their hands as well. Four. We can probably handle that.
However, upon entering the indicated alley—which was long and dim—his viewpoint was changed. Two armed men waited there. The agents were disarmed and ordered to move deeper into the alley. Piles of trash and some discarded crates littered the ground, and for a moment, Jim thought about using some of that to cause a distraction, perhaps kicking a crate at someone. The opportunity did not arise. The two in front kept their glances sharp over their shoulders as they led the way, while the four behind were equally alert.
“What’s this about?” Jim asked quietly, when they were ordered to halt.
“We just want to let you know you ain’t welcome here.”
The pudding-faced man jerked his head. One man grabbed Artemus's arm and pulled him back while a second man followed. Artie was shoved toward the brick wall of the next building, in between a smelly stack of food refuse and a pile of broken boxes and crates. The second man, a rather skinny fellow stepped up to grab Artie’s right arm, suddenly twisting it painfully behind the agent’s back, pulling him toward the wall.
The man facing Artie was much more muscular. However, Artie realized that the one holding his arm had a strength that was unexpected; the grip on his arm was firm. He knew what was going to happen. He was going to be pummeled by the one at his front.
I’m not Jim, but I know a few tricks!
The one thing he had noticed was a somewhat large piece of lumber leaning against the stack of crates a few inches to his left. A broken section of a two-by-four, about five feet long. As the man facing him wound up to launch a blow, Artie willed himself to ignore the pain in his twisted right arm, grabbed the heavy stick firmly in his left hand then swung it, pretty much in one motion.
The big man took the blow on the side of the head. For one long moment, he stood as a statue, shock registering on his muddled face. The man behind Artie was frozen in surprise as well, and his grip on the arm loosened slightly. Artie jerked himself loose just as the bigger man abruptly collapsed into a pile on the alley floor. Whirling around, he brought the two-by-four up and forward. Once again, it struck bone at the temple. The thinner man sank immediately.
Artie transferred the lumber to his right hand, and grabbed his own pistol from the lean man’s belt. He could hear voices and commotion beyond the stack of garbage, including a grunt of pain. Stepping out, he quickly took the scene in and moved forward.
Jim was being held so that the large man who had ordered them into the alley could administer blows. Three men secured him, one on either side holding his arms, the third behind with his own arm around Jim’s neck. A bloody lip on that man suggested Jim had got in at least a couple of licks before being overpowered.
Artie’s first thought was to lift his gun and yell for them to halt. Just as quickly he realized that chances were Jim would be used as a shield. Thus, he stuck the gun in his pocket then stepped forward and swung his club again. Apparently, the bulk of the big fellow had blocked him from the view of the men holding Jim. The surprise was complete. The struck man staggered a little, then his knees buckled.
For an instant, the other three men did not move, staring in disbelief. Artie could see that Jim was gasping for breath, having probably been struck in the midriff more than once. The man to the left of Jim moved then, letting go of Jim’s arm, stepping aside, and starting to pull the gun poked under his belt.
Artie coordinated his swing with the man’s movements, and the stick slammed into the hand holding the gun just as it started to rise. Accompanied by a scream of pain, the weapon flew across the alley. “You broke my hand! You broke my hand!” The former possessor of the weapon held his wrist and bent over in agony.
The other two men moved then, releasing Jim, who sank to his knees. Stepping further forward, Artie swung the club one more time, crashing into the head of the man who had held Jim’s neck. That man fell to the ground. Artie then grabbed his pistol. Before he could order the remaining man to drop his weapon, that one turned and ran down the alley. “Injured hand” followed an instant later, although not as swiftly. He was still moaning.
Artie watched them disappear among more heaps of refuse. Satisfied they would exit on the other end of the alley, he slipped the gun back into the holster under his jacket, dropped the club, and went to his partner, helping him to his feet. “Okay?”
“Not very,” Jim gasped, “but I’ll manage. What happened?” he was staring the two men sprawled on the ground.
Artemus pointed to the piece of lumber he had dropped. “Excalibur and I did the job.”
Jim blinked, looked at his partner, and then at the piece of wood. “What?”
Artie saw Jim’s pistol protruding from the pocket of the bigger man and grabbed it, putting it into Jim’s hand. “I’ll tell you later. Let’s get out of here.” He kept hold of Jim’s arm and guided him slowly to the mouth of the alley, although not out into the open yet. “You going to be able to walk? I think we’d better get you to a doctor.”
Jim caught his breath as he straightened his body. “I’m fine.” The words did not come out as firmly as he had hoped. He did not know how many blows had been directed into his stomach, but he was damn sore. Breathing hurt. He was still holding the gun, he realized, and carefully put it into the holster under his jacket. To his amazement, he had spotted two more men on the ground.
“Sure,” Artie nodded to Jim’s claim of being “fine,” knowing better than to believe his partner. “Come on. We’re going to have to do some walking to find a cab.” He muttered something further as they stepped out onto the street.
“What did you say?” Jim asked.
“I said that ought to teach them to underestimate me.”
“Artemus, were you hit on the head? You’re talking in riddles.”
“Jim, they put two men on me, four on you. They thought they could handle me with just two!”
Jim chuckled, and winced. “Well, as you say, that’ll teach ‘em. By the way, thanks.”
The doctor who treated Jim was one they had visited before. He shook his head as he viewed the rapidly darkening skin of Jim’s midsection, but after a few moments of palpation of the injured area, he announced that nothing had been cracked or broken. “Wonder of wonders,” he murmured.
He gave Jim a jar of ointment as well as some powders he could mix in water and drink if the pain kept him from sleeping. He knew as well as Artie did that the powders would likely go unused. The doctor also suggested they try to get some ice from the hotel restaurant.
“If the restaurant has ice, wrap some in a towel and hold it against your bruises today and tonight. Take a hot bath tomorrow morning and try to avoid anything strenuous. I know I’m talking to the wind, but professional ethics require me to say that.”
“Yeah.” Jim replied, pulling on his shirt.
Behind his partner, Artie rolled his eyes at the physician. “We’ll have a quiet evening, at least. Or we’ll try to, doc. Sometimes it’s beyond our control.”
“I realize that. But I can hope, can’t I?”
Artemus was on his second cup of coffee when Jim entered the hotel’s restaurant. He watched his partner make his way through the tables toward him. Jim’s hair was still damp from the hot bath he had just exited, but what interested Artie more was the ease of movement.
“How do you feel?” he asked as Jim settled into a chair across from him.
“Much better. The ice, a good night’s sleep, and the hot bath, just as the doctor ordered.”
Artie had been extremely surprised when he peeked into the adjoining room this morning. The paper that had held the sleeping powder was on the bedside stand and had obviously been opened. He knew better than to ask about that now. Either Jim had been in deep discomfort or he realized that he needed to get a good rest—or both. He had risen early to take advantage of the bath requested before retiring last night. They had also obtained ice from the restaurant kitchen that Jim wrapped in a towel and held against his bruised body for long periods.
The waiter came up to bring coffee to Jim, and took their orders for breakfast. Jim took a couple of swallows, savoring the hot, strong brew this hotel prepared. He had actually felt somewhat groggy when he first awakened, due no doubt to the powder. In any case, he had slept deeply, probably without moving much, which soothed his bruised abdomen, further aided by the hot bath.
“I thought of something while I was soaking,” he said then.
“That we have pretty much ceased thinking about Ivy Carothers and her murdered butler.”
Artie nodded thoughtfully. “True. Very true. We have devoted the last few days to Rance Ricks. Possibly because he has devoted his attention our way.”
“I don't know about you, but I still haven’t figured out where I know Mrs. Carothers or Roche from. No dreams last night.”
“I know.” Artie paused as the platters of food were served. He picked up the small pitcher to pour maple syrup over his hotcakes. “It has to mean something that we both feel we have seen them previously. But I don't know what that something is at the moment. We probably should go out to the Wanderer and see if any new information has come in.”
“I was thinking the same thing. Tomorrow is Ivy’s afternoon soiree.”
“Yeah. It’s probably not a bad idea for us to attend. Might be fruitless, but who knows? We’ve obtained information through odder means.”
Jim daubed strawberry jam on the biscuit he held, looked up at his partner. “It just doesn’t make sense though. Ivy Carothers is a wealthy woman. As far as has been determined, she gained that wealth legitimately, inheriting it from her husband. Why would she be involved in counterfeiting?”
Artie sighed. “That’s why we need more information about her, James my boy. Let’s hope that Washington was able to come up with some.”
When they arrived at the rail yard and entered the train, they found engineer Orrin Cobb seated at the desk, diligently transcribing an incoming message. He barely glanced at the pair as he completed the missive and tapped an acknowledgment. Then he sat back with a sigh.
“Glad to see you two. I stopped in to pick up something I’d left under my bunk, and I’ve been sitting here taking down incoming messages for an hour!”
Artie grinned as he picked up the stack of papers on the desk. “Timing is everything, Orrin. Thanks. Get on out of here. We’ll stick around for a while to see if any more come.” The crew had been released for some time off while the agents were in the city.
Cobb stood up. “I doubt it. I think I got every one of them.” He grinned back.
Jim accepted half of the pages as Orrin waved and headed back to the car where he and the other crew bunked. Both agents sat down and quickly scanned what had been received. Finally, Jim looked up.
“The Navy has been watching Ricks for some time now, suspecting him of smuggling. None of the fake bills have shown up anywhere other than San Francisco.”
“Concentrated here,” Jim murmured. “Interesting. I got the batch about our lovely society lady, Ivy Carothers. First of all, Mr. Carothers died in a fall down the stairs in Cincinnati. He was about thirty years older than Ivy. Seems before Cincinnati, she was living in Pittsburgh, and her husband—twenty years older—died in a fall down stairs. He was also very wealthy.”
“Well,” Artie leaned back in his chair. “Well, well, well. A black widow?”
“Maybe. Maybe a coincidence. That’s as far as they’ve been able to trace her as of now. Her name before the Pittsburgh marriage was Pickering and the department is trying to find out if that was her maiden name.”
“Or another married name,” Artie added. “The problem really is, if we start worrying about Ivy Carothers’ love life—or lack thereof—are we veering away from the real problem, Rance Ricks?”
“Or vice-versa. I don't know Artie. My only idea right now is to hit the Coast again. This time maybe we’d better try to find some regulars who might know what’s going on around there.”
“Good idea,” Artie murmured extending his sheaf of papers over to be exchanged. He read the ones Jim gave him and then glanced up to notice his partner staring vacantly across the car toward a window. “What’s on your mind?”
Jim pulled himself out of his reverie. “I was thinking. Cincinnati and Pittsburgh. Not cities we spend a lot of time in.”
“So not likely where we would have run across Ivy,” Artie nodded. “We may have to ask her pointblank if we met her somewhere.”
“Then there’s Roche,” Jim mused. “Were they together when we met them? If so, what was his true capacity in her life?”
Artie glanced down at the papers on the desk. “I guess the department hasn’t found any information on Roche. Maybe I should remind them.”
“Also tell them to send us a regular wire to be delivered to the hotel if they do get anything for us, so we can come to the train to receive it.” Jim grinned briefly. “Can’t count on Orrin being Johnny-on-the-spot every day and we don’t want to take the chance of any of this information becoming public knowledge.”
James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: "Thanks Artie"! Is that all you can say to me? I've just come back from the grave, risen like Lazarus, and that's what you say? "Thanks, Artie"?
James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: It's a pleasure.
- TNOT Pistoleros
SS senior field agent
Posted - 02/07/2015 : 11:20:00
| Chapter Five
Things are seldom what they seem,
Skim milk masquerades as cream.
—H.M.S. Pinafore, Sir William Schwenk Gilbert (1836-1911), English comedic and satirical writer, dramatist and librettist
The remainder of that day was spent in the Barbary Coast. Instead of canvassing one seedy bar after another, they visited the ones frequented by the informers they were aware of, men and women who would pass on information they picked up in exchange for a few dollars. At the end of the day, the foray had been only partially successful.
One woman claimed she had been paid for her services with a spurious twenty-dollar bill, but she had spent that bill herself. She was certain the fellow who had passed it to her had nothing to do with the counterfeiting. “He’s more likely to be out slittin’ throats rather than printing bad bucks!” she chortled. A bartender had heard of some money-printing going on, but had no further information about it. “Just made me start watching the bigger bills that get handed to me!’
Others heard rumors but none could name names. Almost all were sure that the money was not being printed close by. The clank of a printing press would likely stand out amidst the regular din of tinny pianos, laughter, and shrieks of anger. Twice Jim asked directly if the name Rance Ricks or Ivy Carothers had ever been heard in connection with the money production. In both cases, heads were shaken. The persons never heard of Ivy Carothers, but also felt that Ricks would not have a hand in counterfeiting. “Not his speed,” Harv, the bartender said.
“I’m beginning to believe those counterfeit bills were a figment of our imaginations,” Artie grumbled as the hack headed back toward their hotel.
“It certainly is a crazy situation,” Jim agreed. “Not like any I can remember we dealt with. Usually we can get a more solid lead. I can’t really say that Ricks or Mrs. Carothers is a solid lead.”
“Not yet anyway. Despite what Harv said, I can see Ricks getting into the bogus money business. Just because he has not previously doesn’t mean he wouldn’t see the profitable possibilities. If poor Mouse hadn’t died, we might have learned a great deal from him.”
“Which brings us back to why Roche—if it was him—stole Norton’s stick in the first place.”
“And gave it to Mouse.”
“With the two of them dead, we may never know the answer to that one.”
When they climbed out of the cab, Artie waited while Jim paid the driver, then motioned down the street. “The pharmacy down there is still open. I need some shaving soap. Can I get you anything?”
Jim shook his head. “Thanks, but no. I’ll see you upstairs and then we can get a good meal.” With a wave, he strode toward the hotel door and entered the lobby. The desk clerk saw him enter, turned to withdraw something from one of the boxes behind him, and extended it toward Jim.
Jim took the envelope and gazed at it a moment. He recognized expensive stationary, as well as the fact that the writing on the outside was likely a feminine hand. “Mr. James West,” is all it said. He slid his finger under the lightly adhering flap, and withdrew a folded card, with an embossed ivy design on the front.
“Mr. West,” read the same handwriting inside the card, “A reminder that you and Mr. Gordon are expected tomorrow at 4 p.m. I would be honored with your presence. Mrs. Ivy Carothers.”
“Must be something nice by your smile,” Galvin, the middle-aged night clerk commented.
“Nice indeed,” Jim replied, slipping the card into an inside pocket. Galvin handed him his room key and he headed for the stairs.
“Mr. West? Mr. West!”
The feminine voice was unfamiliar. Jim turned to see an attractive well-dressed woman hurrying across the lobby toward him. She was garbed in a deep green two-piece outfit with ivory piping, ivory lace at the collar of her under-blouse and trimming the matching green hat replete with feathers and flowers. She was probably in her late twenties or early thirties, he judged.
“Yes? Can I help you?” As she came nearer, Jim could see the rouge on her cheeks and lips, the kohl that lined her dark blue eyes.
She paused a few feet away, seemed to catch her breath, eyes wide with apparent alarm. “Oh, Mr. West. You must help me. Help us! You must!”
“If I can,” he replied quietly. “Why don’t we go sit down?” he motioned to a sofa at the far side of the lobby.
Now she grasped at his coat sleeve. “No. No. My husband… he is waiting in the carriage behind the hotel… waiting for you. Please! We must go!”
“Who are you and who is your husband?”
The hand released his sleeve, and gloved fingers laced together at her midriff. “I am Clara Naughton. My husband… my husband is John Naughton. He’s a lawyer. He’s in such trouble. Only you can help him!”
For a long moment, Jim gazed at her, and her eyes dropped away. “Just a moment,” he said, turning back toward the hotel desk. “Galvin, do you mind if we use one of the smaller meeting rooms for a few minutes?”
“Not at all, Mr. West,” the clerk replied, reaching under the desk to come up with a key to extend to him. “Use number 3 over there, next to the stairs.”
Jim took the key and turned back to Clara Naughton. She was staring at him in horror, her complexion several shades paler under the rouge. “No!” she cried. “We have to go help Charles!”
He grasped her arm firmly and started steering her toward the door near the bottom of the stairs. “I thought your husband’s name was John.”
“Oh. Oh, I mean… it’s John Charles… we…I sometimes…”
Still keeping a strong hold on her arm, Jim used the key on the door, opened it, pulled her inside, then locked the door behind him. The room was long and narrow with a table that extended almost the full length, three buffets on one side. At the far end was a large window. Jim walked to it quickly but found he did not get a clear view of the rear grounds of the hotel. He could see a shadow with movements indicating at least one horse was standing there just out of sight.
“All right, Clara,” he said, coming back toward the woman, who was now wringing her gloved hands frantically. “Tell me about your husband’s trouble.” He pulled out one of the chairs and guided her into it, remaining on his feet.
“Well I… well…”
“I can’t help unless I know.” Jim made his tone gentler now.
She still did not look at him, and while her hands still fretted with the gloves, she was a bit calmer as well. “A man… some men… they want to hurt him.”
Now her glance flashed up toward him. “I don't know.”
“Did he go to the police?”
“I… I don't know.”
Jim pulled out a chair and sat down, folding his arms. “Clara, due to the nature of our work, my partner and I know at least the names of most of the lawyers in this city. I’ve never heard of John Charles Naughton.”
Before she could form the reply, a sharp rap sounded on the locked door. Clara started visibly, terror on her countenance as Jim stood up. “Who is it?”
Jim turned the key and opened the door to admit his partner. “What’s going on?” Artie asked, eyeing the woman. “Galvin told me you were in here.”
Closing the door but not locking it again, Jim responded. “Mrs. Naughton, this is my partner, Mr. Gordon. Artie, Clara says that her husband is in very bad trouble. He’s in a coach out back waiting for me to come help him.”
Artie’s dark brows lifted. “Indeed? Then perhaps I should go assure him all is well and invite him in.” He reached for the doorknob.
“No!” Clara cried, leaping to her feet and grabbing Artie’s arm. “No, no! Don’t!”
Artie smiled as he carefully removed her hand. “Don’t worry. I’m armed.” He slipped out the door.
Clara sank into the chair again, and tears began to roll down her cheek, bringing black to mix with the rosy hue. Jim was about to offer his handkerchief but she opened her reticule and procured one. Jim reached over to take the purse from her lap as she began to dab and smear her makeup even more. She did not try to stop him.
He reached inside and pulled out the wad of bills, leafing through them quickly. “Do you always carry this much money with you? Looks like around five hundred dollars.”
Clara burst into sobs then, her shoulders shaking as she held the hanky to her face. Jim sat quietly and waited. Just as her convulsions started to subside, Artemus returned. His expression was grim.
“A coach was waiting back there. One man was up on the box and three waiting below. I had my gun out as I opened the door. When they saw me, the three jumped inside and the driver whipped up the horses. No chance to stop them.”
“Clara?” Jim’s voice was quiet.
She took a deep breath and lowered the handkerchief. “You knew right away, didn’t you?”
“I suspected. Your attire indicates a young society matron, but no woman of that status would wear such makeup on a trip downtown, and rarely ever at home.”
“Oh.” She appeared chagrined. “I didn’t think. I just… always…”
“Tell us the whole story, Clara,” Artie urged, taking another chair. “Someone hired you. Why? Who was it?”
She looked at each of them. “Are you going to arrest me?”
Artie shook his head. “So far we have no reason to do so.”
Clara took a deep breath, studied her hands for a long moment, before looking up. “I work at the Lucky Lady Club on Montgomery Street. As a dealer,” she added quickly. “Men come in all the time, and I got to know a few. One, Giff, came in often because he’s sweet on Elsie, one of the… entertainers. When she was busy, he’d spend time at my table. We talked a lot on slower nights.
“Yesterday he came in, and I think he knew it was my off time. I was eating my supper at a back table and he sat down with me. I didn’t think a lot of it, even though he never did that before. First thing, he’s asking me if I want to help him and earn five hundred dollars. I said, ‘How?’ and he said that two men owed him and another fellow a lot of money. They were slippery, he said, and they were having trouble getting hold of the pair to demand the debt be paid.
“I asked what I’d have to do and he said I would just have to convince one or both to go to the back of the hotel with me. Nothing was going to happen, he said. Just they were going to scare these deadbeats into paying up. I didn’t know Giff all that well, you understand, just from him coming in and playing at my table. Anyway, it sounded reasonable to me, and it was sure good money. I said okay. He gave me some money to buy these clothes in addition to the five hundred. He said I had to look like a respectable lady.”
Clara paused and looked down the room toward the window for a long moment. Both agents remained silent. After a few seconds, she resumed. “They picked me up in the coach earlier this afternoon, and parked it down the street from here. When they talked, I came to realize the story was bogus. They figured on doing more than scaring the ‘deadbeats.’ They mentioned names, and I recognized them. I read the newspapers and I know you are federal agents. You just finished testifying at that trial.
“I told Giff I didn’t want to do it and tried to give them the money back. They wouldn’t let me back out. Said I’d get hurt if I didn’t go through with it. So I…. I didn’t have a choice. When the hack let you off in front of the hotel, and Mr. Gordon went down the street alone, they argued for a minute about whether they should grab him first. But then they decided they’d just go after you, Mr. West. Giff said they could get Mr. Gordon later.”
“So you came in and acted your part,” Jim said with a smile.
She sighed. “If I hadn’t put on the face, would you have believed me?”
“That’s a good question, but moot right now. What do you know about Giff? What’s his last name?
Clara shook her head. “I don't know. I never heard it. I know he works for someone on the Coast, but I don't know that either. You know, we talked, but we never asked those kinds of questions.”
“What about Elsie?” Artie asked. “Would she know?”
“Maybe. That’s another thing, though. She quit yesterday. Quit and left the Lucky Lady. I didn’t know until after she was gone and another employee told me. I have no idea where she went.”
“Covering all bases,” Artie murmured, glancing at his partner.
Clara sighed noisily. “What am I going to do now? They’ll know I squealed right off!”
“Have you family somewhere?”
She looked at Jim, eyes brightening. “My older sister lives in Ohio. That’s where I’m from. She was widowed two years ago and keeps asking me to come live with her. She has four kids, and it hasn’t been easy for her. But…”
“Clara,” Artie spoke softly. “You have five hundred dollars. That will get you to Ohio easily. You don’t even need to go back to your place of residence. You can buy what you need in Ohio, or on the way.”
She looked at the wad of bills Jim was still holding. He extended them to her, and she accepted them with a smile that faded quickly. “They might be watching for me to leave the hotel!”
“Don’t worry about that,” Jim assured her with a smile. “We’ll escort you to the railroad station and see you safely on your way.”
“First, however,” Artie said, “if you like, you could come up to my room and wash your face. You don’t want to arrive in Ohio looking like a circus clown.”
It was not until they were returning to the hotel, after making sure Clara Naughton—which was her real name they learned—was safely on a train heading east, that Artie told Jim more about the men he saw behind the hotel. “I am positive one was among the jolly bunch that ambushed us yesterday. The one who was going to rearrange my face—I’ll never forget his.”
“We still don't know who sent them,” Jim muttered. “I’ve got to think it was Ricks, but my opinion alone doesn’t necessarily count in a court of law. Oh, by the way, I had this waiting for me at the desk.” He pulled out the envelope and handed it to Artie.
The light was rapidly fading, but Artie was able to lean near the cab’s window and read the note. “How thoughtful of Mrs. Carothers. Nice to be wanted.”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought. It would also be nice to know why we are so wanted. As a novelty among her regular high society guests? Or because she wants to pick our brains to see what we know about the counterfeiting?”
“Good questions. Lloyd will be on duty tomorrow. I think we should visit him on the way to the festivities, bring him up to date on what we have learned—or not learned—and tell him where we will be.”
Jim cocked his head. “Why Artemus, you sound as though you are nervous about visiting Ivy.”
“Did you ever hear of poison ivy, James?”
The following morning, after breakfast in the hotel, the agents decided to spend some time visiting various merchants in the downtown area, especially those who had received the bogus bills. Although the police had questioned them, it was always possible that the persons involved might have remembered something later, or that the weight of the federal government might cause them to remember some fact they had neglected to mention to the city police.
That proved to be a fact at the closeout sale where a counterfeit bill had been received. The clerk suddenly recalled that a rather nervous man had paid for a shirt with a twenty-dollar bill. “He was so uneasy he did not want to wait for me to wrap it,” the clerk recalled. He described the man, and although the description meant nothing to the agents, Artie recorded it carefully.
They were walking the couple of blocks toward the next establishment when they noticed a young woman carrying some rather large and bulky boxes from a bakery to waiting hack. “That’s Doreen from Ivy Caruthers’ house,” Jim commented.
Striding up to her, Jim quickly relieved her of the cartons she was attempting to put inside the coach—while the driver sat on the box ignoring her. “What’s this, Doreen?” he asked.
She sighed heavily. “Cook quit last night. I don't know how to cook these pastries, and neither does Jasper, so Mrs. Caruthers sent me here to purchase some for the party this afternoon.”
“Cook quit?” Artie echoed. “On short notice?”
Doreen grimaced. “It was coming. I gotta say, Mrs. Caruthers isn’t the easiest to work for. Emma was the second cook since I’ve been working there. I know two other maids were there before me.”
“And they all quit?” Jim asked. Ivy had said she lived in the mansion only a few months.
“Yeah. You see, Mrs. Caruthers forbids anyone to go down into the basement. It’s locked most of the time. Cook always said her kitchen and pantry were too crowded on account of she couldn’t put things like potatoes and other stuff down in the basement. Yesterday she was getting madder and madder ‘cause she didn’t have room to make the stuff Mrs. Caruthers wanted for the party. Finally, she just yanks off her apron, picks up her handbag and leaves. I gotta say Emma ain’t gonna have any trouble finding another job. She’s a good cook and folks know it. I can’t do that as easy.”
“What about the maids?” Artie glanced at Jim, knowing his partner was having the same thoughts he was about the “forbidden” basement. “Why did they quit?”
“Oh, that’s easy. There’s too much work for one person! We oughta have another maid, maybe two, but Mrs. Caruthers won’t hire one. Don’t ask me why.” Doreen shrugged.
Perhaps because she doesn’t want too many people with opportunities to snoop, Jim mused. Aloud, he asked, “Will you have someone available to help you get these into the house?”
“Oh sure. Jasper is still there. Don’t reckon he’ll ever leave. Him ‘n’ Roche, they was real loyal to Mrs. Caruthers. I reckon on account of they come with her from… wherever she was before. Roche, he was the only one who lived in the house. The rest of us go home at night.” Doreen sighed noisily. “She pays good, I’ll say that. Otherwise I wouldn’t be able to afford a room in the boardin’ house.”
The two agents shared a glance again. That was not what Ivy had told them about either man. They helped the maid into the carriage and waved the driver on, stepping back to watch it head down the street.
“Seems whatever Ivy Caruthers has in that basement is more important than keeping good servants,” Artie murmured. “What do you suppose it is?”
“Could be worthwhile finding out.”
“Perhaps this garden party will give us an opportunity to inspect the layout of the grounds. What do you think?”
“I think you are absolutely right, Mr. Gordon. It certainly gives us added incentive to attend a type of fete that we usually avoid.”
Artie laughed as they started walking again. Both enjoyed evening soirees and balls where dancing and champagne were the focus. An afternoon garden party meant standing or sitting around making conversation, often with people whom one did not know or that one had nothing in common with. Usually when people learned their line of work, or perhaps knew their reputations, they were plied with unanswerable questions, often making it difficult to remain sociable.
Catching a streetcar, the agents made their way to police headquarters where they checked with Lieutenant Morris. He had nothing new to tell them. No further counterfeit bills had shown up. “Which might mean that the distributors are aware we are onto them.”
Jim nodded. “You are probably right. I’m sure Colonel Richmond has put out the word to other localities to be on the watch as well.”
Artie stretched out his legs from his chair and folded his arms across his chest. “It really is looking more and more as though Ivy Caruthers is involved.” He briefly told the policeman what they had learned from the maid. “While that’s not absolute proof that something is going on at the Caruthers house, under the circumstances, we feel it is something to look into.”
“How are you going to do that? No judge is going to give you a warrant to search the place on the basis of such ‘gossip.’”
Artie just smiled. “We’ll figure out a way.”
Morris knew better than to ask for details, not only from his own experience in working with these two Secret Service men, but also from a long conversation he once had with Colonel James Richmond. “Believe me, Lieutenant,” the colonel had said, all but rolling his eyes, “you really do not want to know!”
Society is a masked ball, where every one hides his real character, and reveals it by hiding.
—“Worship,” The Conduct of Life, Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), American essayist and poet
Mayor Thomas Selby and several other city political dignitaries were present at Ivy Caruthers’ afternoon garden party. She laughed as she guided Jim and Artie through the house toward the French doors that opened off the main parlor. “I’m sure Mayor Selby ordered this fabulous weather for us!” She was garbed in a pale yellow organza that was perfect for such a summer day in San Francisco, with yellow silk roses twined in her hair, altogether very lovely.
As they stepped out into the sunshine of the extensive garden, they saw the other local luminaries in attendance, including Chief of Police Patrick Crowley, the man who had ordered all his men to salute Emperor Norton when encountering the celebrity on the street. Crowley nodded to them as he continued his conversation with two apparent businessmen that the agents did not recognize.
“I understand you had something of a crisis,” Artie said as they paused at one of the refreshment tables. “We encountered Doreen this morning procuring the supplies for this gathering.”
Ivy sighed and shook her head. “What is it about these California servants? I never had this problem in Wisconsin. Doreen is a gem. She’s sticking with me through thick and thin.” They followed Mrs. Caruthers’ gaze to where the young maid was carrying a tray bearing glasses of lemonade around to the guests. She was already perspiring under the sun. Jasper was bringing out a fresh tray of sandwiches; he did not appear quite so worn out.
“I have no doubt you are the type of employer to reward such faithfulness and industry,” Jim smiled.
She seemed startled for a moment then smiled. “Yes. Oh yes! Of course. Will you excuse me a moment? I believe new guests are arriving.” She hurried away as James and Artemus exchanged a bemused glance.
Neither agent was perturbed as the afternoon wore on to notice that Ivy Caruthers was too busy making sure her guests were properly served to pay much attention to them. If she had had a cook in the kitchen preparing the trays, as she no doubt thought she would, the afternoon would not have been so hectic. As it was, Doreen was doing that duty, preparing coffee and tea, putting pastries on trays, etc., along with serving. Ivy must have said something to Jasper later because he started hustling more.
The agents, however, wandered about the garden, speaking to people they knew, being introduced to those they did not, admiring flowerbeds and the surrounding landscape. In particular, they got a decent look at the back of the house, noticing the slanted outer doors that apparently led down to the cellar. That a padlock was securing those doors was of little import.
“It’s not necessarily unusual that the outer doors would be locked like that,” Jim commented as they admired a bed of pansies, “but one has to wonder about the inner door and the command that servants are not allowed down there.”
“In my experience, especially the cook would have use of a basement, as Doreen said, to store vegetables and other supplies. I imagine the pantry is crowded if the potatoes, beets, carrots, and other such items have to be kept there along with the usual food preparation amenities.”
“Artie, I’ve been looking at the house directly behind this property. I think it’s vacant and would be an excellent entrance point.”
Artie took a quick glance toward the house in question and noticed that the windows were shuttered and that a climbing rose badly needed pruning. “I think you are right. Question is, how do we get into the cellar without being noticed?”
“No, the question is how do I get into the cellar. The second question is, how do you create a situation whereby no one notices I’m inspecting the cellar.”
“Ah. I see. I will have to think on that, James.” Artie grinned.
They stayed at the party for a little better than an hour, then found Ivy Caruthers to tell her they had business to take care of and must leave. She was with Mayor Selby at the moment, but she expressed her disappointment. “However, on Tuesday evening, I’m having a little do in honor of Mayor Selby’s goddaughter. She has just completed a term at a prestigious musical institution and she’ll be entertaining us on my piano. You will come, won’t you?” Her smile was bright.
Too bright, Artie decided. She is not that thrilled to be the hostess of this event. Aloud he said, “I’m so sorry, Mrs. Caruthers, but we have another engagement Tuesday evening. One that cannot be broken. Perhaps another time.”
“Did you notice,” Jim asked when they were settled into the cab they hailed on a nearby street, “that Ivy is not that happy to be honoring the mayor’s goddaughter?”
“I did notice. I wonder why. Most women in her position would be thrilled beyond compare. Perhaps it interferes with something else she had planned. However, it occurs to me that Tuesday evening’s fete might be a perfect time for you to investigate the cellar. I have an idea about how I can create a diversion.”
James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: "Thanks Artie"! Is that all you can say to me? I've just come back from the grave, risen like Lazarus, and that's what you say? "Thanks, Artie"?
James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: It's a pleasure.
- TNOT Pistoleros
SS senior field agent
Posted - 02/07/2015 : 11:20:53
| Chapter Six
Why are those tears? why droops your head
Is then your other husband dead?
Or does a worse disgrace betide?
Hath no one since his death applied?
—The Farmer’s Wife and the Raven, John Gay (1685-1732), English poet and dramatist
Sunday was, for once, a relaxing day. The Barbary Coast did not respect the Sabbath, so Jim and Artemus spent some time there in the quiet of the morning talking to owners of establishments. Three admitted having received fake bills. Not wishing any problems with the law, two had burned the money; the third still had the two tens he had received and handed them over to the agents. None of them were certain—or so they said—who had spent the bills the bar. No untoward problems occurred.
While walking down one of the streets, they did see Rance Ricks, who glared at them as they passed by. West and Gordon touched their hats politely and continued on their way. As certain as they were that Ivy Caruthers was somehow, for some reason, involved in the counterfeiting, they were unsure about Ricks. His behavior may have been due merely to the hatred he had for anyone representing the law.
A telegram was waiting at the hotel instructing them that new information was available if they contacted the Washington office. They knew that Sunday meant little to the department if the information was important, so they immediately grabbed a hack for the railroad depot. The information was indeed important.
“Very interesting,” Artie said as he finished transcribing the message and looked up at Jim.
“I should say. She had at least four husbands who died in ‘accidents’ and left substantial estates to the widow. Again, in cities in which we have spent relatively little time, Buffalo and Hartford.”
“Yeah. Too bad they haven’t yet been able to trace her back to her maiden name. I judge she’s in her early forties. These other two marriages would appear to have occurred in her early to mid thirties. How many marriages prior to them?”
Jim picked up the paper Artie had written on and scanned it. “It seems that Ivy has been supporting herself by wedding wealthy older men.”
“Yep. So why is she now turning to the counterfeiting business?”
Jim dropped the paper back onto the desk. “We may not know that until she tells us.”
On Monday and for a good part of Tuesday, they continued canvassing merchants of the city regarding the counterfeit money, having a little luck until a tailor showed them a twenty-dollar bill he had received on Saturday. He had not been certain of its authenticity and had put it aside. Better yet, he remembered who handed it to him: a man he knew worked on the docks and went by the name of Butch. He gave the agents a description as well, but spending a couple of hours on the docks was fruitless. Either Butch was not there or his acquaintances were not squealing on him. Nonetheless, the lead was better than any they had had in some time, and during a visit with Lloyd Morris at his home, they passed the information on, along with their plans for the evening.
As evening approached, they finalized their strategy, going to the Wanderer to pick up needed supplies and to check with Washington. No new news was available from their headquarters. Catching a cab near the depot, they headed to the area of Ivy Caruthers’ home. Jim dismounted from the carriage a few blocks away, while Artemus ordered the cab to go a short distance and halt.
Jim made his way up the sloping street, staying in the darker shadows cast by trees and houses as much as possible. He did not want anyone to raise an alarm of a “prowler.” He reached the seemingly deserted house without incident and crossed through its yard to the fence that separated it from the Caruthers property, crouching there to watch and listen for several minutes.
Finally deciding that although lights were visible in the house, no one was in the rear yard, he vaulted over the fence and crept to the slanting cellar doors at the back. Opening the padlock on the hasp was a quick and simple matter. Again, he paused, listening. The slight noise made by his picklock along with removing the lock from the metal hasp had not aroused anyone, it seemed.
He was further pleased to realize that the hinges on the cellar doors were kept well oiled. Ivy probably didn’t want neighbors to be curious why anyone might be going down into the cellar in the middle of the night! I have no doubt that occurred on more than one occasion. Jim lit the small lantern he carried, and made his way down the stone steps, closing the door behind him.
Habitus non facit monachum.
[The habit does not make the monk.]
—quoted by Desiderius Gerhard Erasmus (1465-1536), Dutch scholar, philosopher, and writer
When the sharp rap sounded on the front door, Ivy Caruthers was startled. She quickly glanced around the room at the assembled guests. None were missing. With a sigh, she put her wine glass on a small table and headed toward the door. Unexpected, and especially uninvited guests were a bore, especially when one had given the servants the night off, except Jasper, of course; he was unavailable, having a more important chore to attend to.
Opening the door, she stared at the man now visible in the illumination from the foyer. “You—your… Your Excellency!” she stammered.
He pulled off his beaver hat with the plume jutting from the band, held it to his chest, and bowed slightly. “Madam. Please forgive me for this intrusion. I have so long been wanting to converse with you. May I?” He then appeared to hear the tones from the piano in the parlor. “Oh. You have guests…”
Ivy could not remember when she had been more flustered. Like everyone else, she knew the man known as Emperor Norton I was a fraud, possibly somewhat insane. She also was aware of his esteemed status in San Francisco. If she turned him away, everyone would know, and even though she planned to be gone from this benighted city by daylight…
“Your Highness, please come in. You are very welcome.” At least he would depart with the other guests.
The young woman ceased playing the piano as soon as her hostess and the latest guest entered the parlor. Every person there converged to meet—and bow or curtsy to—the celebrated “Emperor of the United States and Protector of Mexico.” They knew that Norton attended few parties, and for him to appear here was a distinct honor. For several minutes, the parlor was in an uproar, until the emperor moved to sit in the largest, most comfortable armchair—which the mayor had occupied a few minutes ago. Norton instructed the young lady to continue her recital as Ivy brought him a glass of wine and several cookies on a small plate.
Artie smiled benignly as the girl took up the melody on the piano again. He wanted to wince. She was butchering the piece. However, everyone else was smiling admiringly, especially Mayor Selby and his wife, who beamed at his goddaughter. Chances were others realized how badly she played, but none wanted to insult the mayor.
Ivy was definitely nonplussed, he saw. He thought his entrance disguised at the renowned emperor would cause a stir, and it had. How strange that a madman could hold such sway in this sophisticated city. Or perhaps it was not as sophisticated as it would claim to be. Norton made San Francisco the only city to claim its own emperor; that was certain. Portland, Oregon had recently attempted to steal him away; another coup that he chose to remain in the Bay City.
Most importantly, right now, everyone was concentrating on the presence of the emperor, and if any odd noises sounded from below the house, it was unlikely anyone would notice. Move fast, James. I’m not sure how long this “enchantment” will endure.
When he noticed Ivy serving the guests, refilling their glasses, bringing more cookies and other bakery delicacies, Artie realized that she must have sent Doreen home early, which was rather odd. Did a reason exist for having no one around once the guests departed? Perhaps we will find out!
Jim smiled when he spotted the items on sturdy benches, shrouded with cloths. He quickly plucked the cover off one to find, to no surprise, a printing press. The one next to it was the same. Each held a finely etched plate, one for the front of a ten-dollar bill, the other for twenty. He quickly removed each plate, found the reverse sides of the two plates carefully wrapped in cotton batten alongside each printing press. Without hesitation, he departed from the cellar, returning ten minutes later empty handed.
For about the next twenty minutes he prowled through the cellar, all the while hearing movement as well as some music from above. At one point, all was still, and he judged that was the arrival of the emperor. Because music resumed after a few minutes, he could only believe that Artie’s disguise was successful—as usual.
He found boxes of printing paper, bottles of ink, along with some lists of names, one of which included “Mouse Naiman.” These must be distributors, or potential distributors, he decided. Even more interesting was a small but thick ledger that seemed to divide profits between Ivy Caruthers and Rance Ricks. Jim poked it into an inside breast pocket, knowing it would be excellent evidence. He would secrete it with the plates when he left the basement.
The question remained: why had Ivy Caruthers turned to counterfeiting? A secondary puzzle was how she might have come into contact with Rance Ricks. She apparently had been getting away with murdering elderly wealthy husbands for some years. Why change tactics now and enter into something she ostensibly knew little about? He shook his head slightly as he closed a cupboard, finding nothing of interest in it.
At that moment, he heard sounds. Not from upstairs, where the piano was still tinkling, but apparently from outside the cellar doors. Voices, he was certain. Then, even more certainly, he heard the rattle of the door and a man’s voice speaking in alarm. “This isn’t locked! Someone’s down there!”
In revenge and in love, woman is more barbarous than man.
—Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche (1844-1900), German philosopher
Emperor Norton departed from Mrs. Caruthers’ home along with the other guests, after a pleasant evening of music and conversation. Ivy was relieved that all went as scheduled. When she heard the last carriage drive away, she latched the front door and hurried into the kitchen. Just as she gained that room, the door from the cellar opened—and James West strolled in.
Only a moment later, Heck Bertram emerged behind the agent, his pistol pressed against Jim’s spine. Before Ivy could speak, Bertram did. “He was in the cellar, Miz Ivy. And he got the plates!” Two other men emerged behind Bertram.
Ivy stared at the burly man she had inherited from Ricks, looked at Jim, then back at Bertram. “What do you mean?”
“They ain’t there. He won’t say what he did with ‘em.”
“That’s because I haven’t the faintest notion of what he’s talking about, Ivy.” Jim gazed straightforwardly at the woman. “I found the printing presses, the paper, the ink… no plates.”
“Why were you down there?”
One of Jim’s brows lifted. “I should think that would be obvious. Looking for proof you were involved in the counterfeiting. I found it.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Where’s Gordon?”
“Following up another lead. We know Ricks is involved as well. Tell me, Ivy, why did you move into this line of business? You seemed to be rather successful in marrying rich men and killing them.”
Now Ivy Caruthers smiled, a rather bitter smile. “Because I faced facts, James. I am growing older. I no longer attract those old goats as easily as I once could. My brother once introduced me to Rance Ricks, so I contacted him. You knew my brother.”
Jim cocked his head. “Did I?”
“You knew him and you murdered him!”
“I’m sure I would have remembered that. What was his name?”
Now Jim West’s eyes widened. “T. Wiggett Jones? T was your brother? I see it now. Both Artemus and I felt we knew you from somewhere. Your resemblance to T is what we have been seeing.”
“We were twins. We were also very close. When I heard how you killed him, I knew that some day I would get vengeance.”
“I didn’t kill him. You might say he killed himself.”
She shook her head vigorously. “That’s not what Roche said.”
“Roche? Ah, he was there that night, one of T’s assassins.” That explained the other puzzle they were experiencing.
“One that escaped. He looked for me and told me what happened. I knew that I would kill you one day.”
Jim shook his head slightly. “I won’t even try to explain what happened that night, knowing you wouldn’t believe me. So murder runs in the family.”
Ivy smiled. “T and I learned when very young how easy it was to kill, and how profitable. At sixteen, we pushed our grandmother down the stairs. She had been our guardian since the deaths of our parents, and much too tight with the purse strings.”
“But at sixteen, you would not gain control.”
“True. However, the aunt who was appointed our new guardian was much easier to manipulate. That is in the past now. Tonight you will tell us where you hid those plates.”
Jim shook his head, expressionless. “I have no idea what you are talking about.”
“Want me to knock him around some, Miz Ivy?” Bertram asked, grabbing Jim’s shoulder.
“Not yet. Mr. West is no fool. Just answer the question, James, and your death will be quick, much as I would prefer to see you suffer.”
“Sorry,” Jim shrugged.
Ivy Caruthers gazed at him for a long moment. “I doubt you are as impervious to pain as you would like me to believe. You see, we were planning to leave San Francisco tonight. I was putting aside my opportunity for revenge in order to save our ‘business.’ Now, however, I don’t have to forego the pleasure of seeing you die before we leave. I want those plates. However, I’m not stupid enough to risk my safety over them.”
“A very practical woman.”
“I am. I would not have been so successful if I were not. You may as well reveal the location of the plates, James. You won’t be stopping anything, only delaying it. We will obtain new plates.”
Jim was about to make a response, when a knock sounded at the front door. Ivy looked at the three men behind him. “That must be Jasper, although I don't know why he came to the front door.” She walked swiftly from the kitchen.
Jim waited, wondering if this was his best chance to make a move against the trio guarding him. They had taken the gun from his holster, but had not searched him, so he still had one under his jacket. He was just tensing to spin around, with surprise on his side, when he heard the murmur of a voice from the front of the house. Biting back a smile, he relaxed.
When Jim did not return to the waiting cab at the agreed on time, Artie grew concerned. He knew his partner well enough to know that Jim would not miss the deadline in this situation—if he could help it. He remained in the cab another ten minutes, then climbed out to give the driver specific instructions. Standing on the curb as the vehicle pulled away at a rapid pace, Artie adjusted his disguise as best he could in the dark and without a mirror. He had been successful earlier; he hoped that the surprise of his return would prevent Ivy from looking too closely.
He made his way to the Caruthers’ porch and lifted up the knocker, letting it drop several times. He was just about to repeat the gesture when the door opened. Ivy Caruthers stared at him.
Artie bowed gallantly, again removing the plumed beaver hat. “Madam, forgive me for this unforgiveable intrusion, but it seems I may have left my gloves in your house. Might I come in to seek them?” When Ivy simply gaped, Artie smiled broadly, murmured “Thank you, Madam,” and moved by her.
Lamps were still lit in the parlor so he entered there first. However, he had noticed the lights down the corridor from the kitchen, and caught a movement through the open door there. Someone was in that room. After a moment of looking around the parlor, he came back to the door.
“Nothing there. I wonder—oh, I remember! I went to the kitchen for a glass of water. I must have left them there.”
Ignoring Ivy’s frantic protest, Artie strode down the hallway, jauntily twirling his cane. He knew that the woman was hurrying behind him. He was not especially startled to find his partner standing in the kitchen. Three thugs were with him, all of who quickly tried to hide the pistols they were holding. Artie pretended not to notice the weapons.
“Why, Mr. West, how good to see you. I did not notice your presence at the musicale earlier.”
“I was late,” Jim replied drily.
Ivy entered behind the “Emperor,” completely flustered. She certainly wanted to seize the illustrious personage by the arm and drag him back out the front door, but she also knew what a commotion that would raise, now and later. As she reasoned earlier in the evening, even if she was leaving town tonight, she did not want that much attention directed toward her departure. Emperor Norton would certainly report such an incident to his newspaper friends.
“Ah, my gloves,” Artie said, crossing to the sink. With a bit of sleight of hand he slipped the gloves from his pocket to the counter and back into his hand, turning with a beaming smile. “These are favorites, a gift from your neighbor, Mr. Stanford. Mrs. Caruthers, did I tell you how much I enjoyed this evening? I do want to thank you again for allowing me to attend uninvited. I’m sure if you had known how much I love piano recitals, you would have sent me an invitation.”
“Yes, yes, of course,” she replied, hands clutched together at her waist.
Artemus pulled a gold-plated watch from his pocket. “And it is getting late. I should be going. Mr. West, will you accompany me and share a cab?”
Jim felt the hard end of a pistol jam into his back and smiled. “Thank you, your highness, but I think I’ll stay a while yet. Seems my presence is demanded.”
“Ah,” Artie nodded, completely understanding. He could not see the weapons now, but they were present, he was certain. “Mrs. Caruthers, did I tell you about the time I witnessed Miss Amy Fay on piano? Magnificent performance. I don't know if your young friend will ever approach such proficiency, but that’s certainly something for her to strive for, do you think?”
“Yes. Certainly. Will you allow me to see you to the door, Your Excellency?”
Artie was trying to think of a reason to stall longer, knowing the cab driver would have needed time to carry out his mission, but before he could say anything, the kitchen’s back door opened and Jasper entered.
“Ivy,” he said, apparently seeing only the woman first, “I got the wagon. We can…” Jasper looked around; seeing West surprised him, but he was absolutely startled to view the Emperor. “What’s he doing here?”
“Emperor Norton was just leaving,” Ivy said pleasantly.
“That ain’t Norton! I seen Norton and his Chinaman friend down on Montgomery Street not a half hour ago! Can’t be him!”
“Nonsense!” Artie protested quickly and loudly. “That must be an imposter! Both of them!”
“Uh-uh,” Jasper shook his head. “Norton was carrying his special stick. The one with the snake.”
At a quick nod from Ivy, the three men behind Jim spread out slightly, producing their weapons in full view. “So I wonder who this is?” she said, reaching up to yank at the whiskers on Artie’s chin. He could not move fast enough to stop her—not that that would have been of any avail. The prosthetic beard came partially loose. She jerked again. “Unless I am very mistaken, this happens to be Mr. Gordon. Roche warned me of his proclivity for disguises.”
Artie carefully peeled off more of his whiskers, less painfully than the jerking away had been. “Poor Mr. Roche,” he said. “What did he do to deserve being killed?”
Ivy looked at him coldly. “He was stupid! He allowed Mouse to bait him into stealing Norton’s cane—which led to your involvement.” She smiled slightly then. “In retrospect, I should have thanked him first, for he has given me this opportunity to gain sweet revenge.”
Artemus was surprised. “Revenge? For what?”
Jim answered this one. “Seems lovely Ivy had a relative we knew well. T. Wiggett Jones.”
“Well, I’ll be…!” Now Artie stared at the women. “Of course! Why didn’t we see the resemblance before? You want vengeance for T’s death, Ivy? I’m sure you are aware he was an insane monster.”
For a moment he thought she was going to spring toward him, claws bared. However, she controlled herself. “He was my brother,” she snarled. “My beloved twin brother. We were very much alike.”
“It appears Ivy enjoys murder as well, Artie,” Jim said blandly.
“I will particularly enjoy killing Mr. West,” Ivy said then. “I am aware you were not an active participant, Mr. Gordon, but you were there. I cannot now allow you to go free.”
“Of course not.” Artie moved slightly, ostensibly to deposit the fake whiskers he was holding on a small table nearby. He remained near the table. “So you are leaving San Francisco? Do you dislike this city so much?”
“As a matter of fact, I quite enjoyed my time here. T always told me how wonderful it was and I am only sorry I did not heed his advice to join him. Who knows? He might still be alive.”
“You never know about things like that,” Jim said, casually moving slightly away from the gunmen at his back. The three of them remained rather close together yet despite having parted slightly to display their weapons to Gordon. “You might have died along with T. Or at least been arrested if you were part of his assassination club.”
“I was an honorary member,” Ivy smiled fondly. “He was so clever, providing a service for the world, and growing wealthy while doing so.”
Now Jim turned slightly to face her more directly. “You did well yourself. How many husbands did you have all total?”
Ivy smiled, lifting a hand to tick off on her fingers with the other hand. “Let me see. Ralph, Lorenzo…” She continued on, touching one fingertip after another while murmuring names. “Seven. Seven rich men who helped me to live the lifestyle I wanted—by dying. Oh, wait. I forgot poor Ernest. Eight altogether.”
“Who was Ernest?” Artie asked. “How was it you forgot him?” They had to keep her talking, keep stalling for time.
“Ernest was my first husband. I was barely twenty when I married him. He was young, handsome, and quite well off. He was killed three years into our marriage when an explosion occurred at the factory he had inherited from his father. I had nothing to do with it, but my inheritance from that incident caused me to realize just how easy I could build my fortune. So I moved to another city, found an older man with a lot of money and no heirs.”
“And continued to move from city to city,” Jim put in, “so that your previous… er… peccadilloes would not be known.”
“That seemed wise. I planned for San Francisco to be my final home, but thanks to you two, I’ll have to move on.”
“Why is that?” Artie asked innocently. “If you kill us, who will know of your latest business venture?”
Ivy looked at him with a frown. “You have told the police. I’m sure of that. Haven’t you?”
Now Artie turned a bland gaze to Jim. “Have we, James?”
“You know, Artie, I can’t remember.”
Ivy Caruthers’ expression was one of disgust. “Really, gentlemen. You cannot expect me to believe that you have not been working with the police. I will be moving on. That is not to say I am getting out of the counterfeiting business. I will be taking the supplies with me…”
“Miz Ivy, we still don't know where the plates are!” Heck Bertram was the one who brought this up.
“Oh, yes. Thank you, Mr. Bertram. I had almost forgotten. Mr. West, do you wish to tell us where you hid those plates?”
Jim shook his head, a puzzled expression on his face. “I simply don't know anything about them, Ivy. I didn’t see any when I was searching your cellar. Perhaps one of your men knows something about them.”
Artie prevented himself from smiling. He had no doubt Jim knew the whereabouts of the counterfeiting plates. Clever of him to hide them! If nothing else, this was consuming more time. The police should be showing up at any time now, if things went well. Lloyd Morris had been alerted well beforehand to be ready for a summons.
“Want us to loosen him up, Miz Ivy?” Bertram inquired eagerly.
Ivy lifted a staying hand. “A moment. James, surely you do not want to endure a beating.”
“I don’t,” Jim agreed. “But I have to say, it won’t do any good. I did not see those plates. Where were they supposed to be?”
“Inside the printing presses.”
Jim shook his head. “I opened those presses specifically looking for counterfeiting plates. Nothing was in either one of them.”
“He’s lyin’!” This came from one of the other two thugs.
Ivy was plainly nonplussed. “You are very convincing, James. But I’m sure you are practiced in telling stories in similar situations.” She glanced toward Artemus. “Perhaps you would be more forthcoming if it was Mr. Gordon receiving the painful blows.”
“I probably would—if I knew anything. Ivy, are you certain you can trust these men? I’m certain I’ve seen a couple of them in Rance Ricks’ place.”
“You’re right, Jim!” Artie put in quickly. “The big fellow there—Bertram is it? And the other one with the crooked nose. He was in the alley that day.”
“You’re right, Artie. I remember him now. He held me from behind.”
Ivy stared at the trio, who gaped back, first at the two agents, then at the woman. “Miz Ivy!” Bertram exclaimed. “We didn’t take the plates! Why would we?”
Before she could reply, Artie did. “Under orders from Ricks, I’d say, if he knows Mrs. Caruthers is leaving town tonight.”
“Naw! That ain’t so. He trusts her.”
“Ivy,” Jasper spoke after being silent through this. “I got a notion these two is blowin’ smoke, maybe stallin’ for time.”
She looked at him, then stared hard at the agents in turn. “Perhaps. But I prefer to have those plates before we leave rather than require time for new ones to be prepared.”
Jim shook his head. “Don’t look at me. I…”
He halted his words as a rumbling sound emanated from beyond the front of the house. Everyone looked that direction. “Jasper!” Ivy rapped. “See what that is!”
The man trotted toward the front of the house where he peered through the glass at one side of the front door. Immediately he whirled and sprinted back. “Ivy! It’s the coppers! They got a Black Maria out there!”
Immediately the three thugs reacted. “Let’s get out of here!” one squeaked, and they headed for the kitchen door despite Ivy’s shouted protestations. Almost at the same time, new sounds came from the front, that of axes striking the door there. One of the men jerked open the back door and immediately slammed it.
“They’re out there too!”
Ivy Caruthers’ face twisted in rage. “No! I won’t be denied!” Her hand dipped into a pocket of her skirt and came up with a small pistol, which she leveled at Jim. “You’re going to pay for killing T!”
Artie saw that weapon and immediately swung his stick, bringing it down on Ivy’s hand. However, the blow was an instant too late as she pulled the trigger. At the edge of his vision, Artie saw his partner stagger backwards, a hand clutching at his chest. Ivy screamed in pain as she dropped the weapon and grasped the struck hand. Police burst in through both doors.
Artemus paid no attention to the commotion that occurred, striding to where Jim had collapsed on the floor. His heart constricted when he saw how still Jim lay. Ivy’s shot had been pointblank into the chest. Jim was on his side and carefully, as he knelt down, Artie turned him over, fleetingly at a loss when he saw no blood. He then saw Jim’s eyes flutter and open.
“What happened?” Jim gasped, reaching again for his chest. He seemed to be trying to get his breath.
Artie helped him sit up. “You were… shot. Ivy shot you.”
Jim gulped in some air, and now his hand slipped inside his jacket. It came out with the small ledger book he had picked up in the cellar. With a wry grin, he handed it to Artie. “I hope the evidence inside wasn’t damaged.”
Artie looked at the book and observed the hole in it, a hole that contained a lump of lead. All he could do was shake his head. “It stopped the slug!”
Jim was gingerly feeling inside his coat again. “I think I have a nice bruise. It knocked the breath out of me.” Again, he took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Hello, Lloyd.”
The policeman had crouched down alongside the pair. “You okay, Jim?”
“I saw her shoot and thought you were a goner for sure.”
So did I. Artie did not dare speak the words aloud, knowing they would have been choked through the lump in his throat. For that one instant, he had been as sure as he ever had that Jim West had been shot dead. He extended the ledger to Morris.
“What’s this?” Lloyd asked.
Jim answered. “It’s what saved my life, and also contains a record of the transactions between Ivy Caruthers and Rance Ricks. Hold onto it.”
“Excellent,” the policeman beamed. “We’ll pick up Ricks too. About time!”
The four men surrendered rather peacefully, but Ivy Caruthers was another story. She shrieked and cursed, especially upon realizing that she had not killed James West. Two officers had to restrain her while a third shackled her hands behind her. She was still screaming as they dragged her out the front door toward the waiting wagon.
Glory long has made the sages smile; 'tis something, nothing, words, illusion, wind.
—Don Juan (XC), Lord Byron (George Gordon Noel Byron; 1788-1824), English poet
When Doreen arrived at the Caruthers’ home in the morning, she was shocked to find policemen carrying boxes out of the cellar, while others searched the house itself. The maid was further appalled to realize she not only no longer had employment, she had little chance of receiving references from her late employer. However, her tears of dismay did not last long. Lieutenant Morris saw her weeping and asked about it.
Upon learning her situation, he had a solution. His wife was expecting their second child, and they had been discussing hiring household help for the first time in their married life. They could not pay as much salary as Mrs. Caruthers had, but the help would live in and have all meals. Doreen immediately agreed to talk to Mrs. Morris, and Betty Morris quite promptly hired her.
Police arrested Rance Ricks the morning after the raid on the Caruthers house, and upon searching his saloon and home, found further evidence of his complicity in the counterfeiting scheme, as well as in the murder of Roche and the attack on the two Secret Service agents. A number of men in Ricks’ employ were arrested as well.
Jim, of course, retrieved the counterfeit plates from the spot he had hid them—under a rock near the fence between the Caruthers’ yard and that of the empty house behind it. Matching the plates to the recently circulated bills was an easy matter. Building the case against Ricks and Ivy Caruthers would be as simple.
In discussing the prosecution’s case, it occurred to Artemus that he needed to reveal to Emperor Norton how he had used His Excellency’s identity to fool the criminals. “It’ll come up in the trial, certainly,” he told Jim, “if not in the newspapers beforehand. Do you think he’ll be offended?”
“That’s hard to say,” Jim replied. “But I think we can soften the blow.”
They invited the Emperor to spend an evening with them before they left San Francisco, giving him the choice of opera or theater. He chose the former, and enjoyed it thoroughly, especially the salutes he received from the other members of the audience, as well as the cast. Afterwards, they went to a fine restaurant nearby for a late supper.
As they enjoyed after dinner drinks, the agents told His Excellency how they trapped the counterfeiters using his identity. Norton listened silently, but wide-eyed, looking from one agent to the other as each spoke. When they finished, he remained quiet for a few seconds before speaking.
“I warned you that Mrs. Caruthers was evil, Mr. Gordon.”
“You did, sir,” Artie nodded solemnly, “and we greatly appreciate that warning.” He remembered then the Emperor’s reference to Mrs. Caruthers’ brother. He had paid little heed at the time but now knew how important that mention had been.
The Emperor leaned forward slightly. “Did you fool them completely disguised as me?”
“He did,” Jim answered for his partner. “Until one man returned and said he saw you downtown.”
“What a shame. Had I known…”
“I do want to apologize, sir,” Artie said then. “I should have come to you to ask permission, but time was of the essence…” That was not quite true but Artie knew it would avoid a longer conversation about incident.
Norton settled back then, picked up his glass of liqueur and sipped it, then spoke thoughtfully. “I wonder if my subjects will believe I was the one actually helping you with this nefarious case.”
Jim and Artie glanced at each other, and Jim spoke soberly. “It’s entirely possible, sir. After all, we know of your bravery.” Emperor Norton had faced down angry crowds looking to lynch Chinese citizens during riots.
“I see no reason to disabuse them of such a notion,” Artie smiled. “At least not until the trial, when we will have to tell the truth.”
“Yes, yes, of course.” A pleased expression settled on the Emperor’s countenance. “But until then…”
Jim lifted his glass. “Your Excellency, thank you for your assistance. Without you, we may never have closed down this gang.”
“Here, here,” Artie cried, raising his own glass.
Emperor Joshua Norton beamed.
There is a pleasure, sure,
In being mad, which none but madmen know!
—Spanish Friar (act II, st. 1), John Dryden (1631-1700), English poet and dramatist
NOTE: Joshua Norton was a real historical character. An Internet search will reveal quite a bit about his life and times.
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