SS senior field agent
Posted - 12/13/2015 : 08:52:27
| The Night of the Carnival of Terror
O caeca nocentum consilia!
O semper timidum scelus!
[Oh, the blind counsels of the guilty!
Oh, how cowardly is wickedness always!]
—Thebais (II, 489), Statius (Publius Papanius Statius; c. 60-100), Roman poet
The two agents strode side by side down the polished floor of the corridor, not speaking, but with similar thoughts on their minds: Why had Colonel Richmond recalled them from their vacations? What could be so important? Very little had been going on at the time they each had headed their separate ways, Artemus to Chicago to join his fiancée, Jim to Canada for a visit with his brother’s family. Before either reached the intended destination, a telegraph message had been sent out to intercept.
The secretary in the anteroom looked up as they entered and waved them through, another indication of the importance of the colonel’s summons. Jim was ahead and reached the latch, pushing the door open.
“Colonel…” he began, then stopped in his tracks, causing Artemus to nearly run into him. “Senator?”
Colonel James Richmond stood up. “West, Gordon, you are acquainted with Senator Henry Gibson Russell.”
“Yes, sir,” Artie murmured, looking toward the slender man with graying dark hair and a van dyke beard. “Good afternoon, Senator Russell.”
“Good day, sir,” Jim said, his curiosity bursting. What is this about? A matter of national security?
Russell stood up and shook hands with each man. He had gray eyes that gazed at each of them piercingly, but they could discern the deep concern in the depths of those eyes, along with the lines of weariness and worry on the face. “Thank you for coming, gentlemen. I deeply regret recalling you from your leaves, but I hope when the colonel explains why you are needed, you will understand.”
“Sit down,” Richmond said, as he regained his own seat. “I’m going to be succinct. Senator Russell’s eighteen-year-old daughter has disappeared, and the two of you are being assigned to find her.”
Jim and Artemus exchanged a quick glance, and Artie said, “Kidnapped, sir?”
Russell’s face contorted for an instant, displaying his grief before he regained control of himself. “We don’t know. Let me tell you the story. You may be aware that I am a widower. I have two older sons, one who is employed in Ottawa in the American consulate, the other currently reading law with a firm in New York. My daughter, Roseanna, is eighteen, and as you can guess, somewhat younger than her brothers. She is… precious to all of us.
“My wife’s sister, Mrs. Rachel Kidder, invited Roseanna to accompany her to Oregon, where Rachel has a brother. Roseanna finished her schooling last year, and I thought it would be a fine experience for her, with the prospect to see more of the country. Two weeks ago, I received an urgent telegram from Rachel. They were in Denver, and Roseanna had suddenly vanished.”
“Do you know the circumstances, sir?” Jim asked, as the senator paused to gather himself again.
“I do. I immediately boarded a train and traveled to Denver. Rachel informed me that they decided to extend a layover in Denver a couple of days for an opportunity to view some of the surrounding countryside. She said Roseanna was thrilled by the snowcapped mountains nearby, so they hired a buggy and a guide and spent a day seeing as much of the area as they could. The day before their train was to carry them further west, they were resting in their hotel room—at the Silver Queen Hotel.”
“A very fine establishment,” Artie put in quietly. “We have stayed there.”
“Yes, I agree. Roseanna told her aunt she had noticed a sweet shop across the street, and wanted to visit it to pick up something for the cousins she would be meeting for the first time in a few days. Rachel let her go alone. She had done so before, for as you know, this part of Denver is respectable and quiet. She remained in the room… and fell asleep. When she awakened, she realized nearly two hours had elapsed. She was not immediately alarmed that Roseanna was not in the room, feeling the girl had probably crept out to allow her aunt to sleep.
“However, when she went down to the lobby and inquired, the clerk told her he had not seen Miss Russell return after passing through the lobby sometime earlier. That did worry Rachel. She went across the street where the owner and clerk in the sweet shop said they did not remember anyone of Roseanna’s description coming into the store.”
“I assume you contacted the authorities.” Jim sensed the senator wanted the question asked as he paused.
Senator Russell took a deep breath. “My sister-in-law did so immediately upon realizing Roseanna had not carried out her purpose for leaving the hotel. Roseanna is a very responsible girl. She would not have lied to her aunt. In any case, the police came and questioned people in the area. One person, the shoeshine boy in front of the hotel, remembered seeing Roseanna because he had seen her previously and noticed that she was a pretty girl. He was around the same age. He observed her emerging from the hotel, but was busy with a demanding customer and did not see where she went.”
“No trace has been found, although Senator Russell has a slight clue. Go ahead, Henry.” The colonel nodded toward the legislator.
Russell cleared his throat, reaching inside his coat and extracting an envelope. “I received this in the mail shortly after I returned home two days ago. Rachel remained in Denver to keep in touch with the police.”
Jim was the closest, and he leaned over to take the envelope, pulling out a piece of paper, which he unfolded and read aloud. “‘Senator Russell, I think you should know that four other girls of similar age to your daughter have disappeared from this general area in the last few months. I have an idea about it, if you care to return to Colorado and speak to me.’ It’s signed by Sheriff Anselm Kendrick of Black Mountain, Colorado.” Jim glanced at Artemus. “That’s about a hundred miles sound of Denver.”
“Did the Denver police know about these other disappearances?” Artie asked.
“No. I telegraphed them after I received this and they said they would look into it. This morning I received a response. Sheriff Kendrick was murdered, apparently the day after he mailed the letter to me.”
Artie took the paper Jim handed to him but did not look at it immediately. “Were the Denver police able to learn to what the sheriff referred?” he asked.
Now the senator sighed heavily. “No. It seemed the sheriff kept it to himself. His wife said he was very upset the last couple of days, and anxious to talk to me. I’m not sure why he did not immediately contact Denver.”
Jim now gazed toward Colonel Richmond. “You want us to go to Colorado and try to find out what the sheriff’s idea was.”
“Exactly. A slight chance exists that his death has nothing to do with these missing girls. Denver is trying to find out more about the other girls. They had had no information about the vanishings.”
Jim nodded. “Likely they occurred in a scattered area and no one knew they could be connected—except Sheriff Kendrick.”
“Wonder how he found out,” Artie murmured, frowning as he scanned the brief letter.
“I expect that will be about the first thing we need to find out,” Jim said. “Is there anything else you can tell us, Senator?”
“No,” Russell sighed. “I wish I could go back to Denver with you. Some might think me hardhearted, but I sense that the two of you will be able to do much more than I could, and I might be a hindrance. I have work to do here, some important legislation.”
“We can leave as soon as we get track clearance,” Artie said, getting to his feet. “Oh. Do you have a photograph of your daughter, sir?”
“I do.” Russell reached inside his coat again and produced a square of cardboard. This time Artemus stepped forward to take it as the senator continued. “This was taken at the ceremonies for completion of her time at Miss Blaylock’s School for Young Ladies last summer.”
The picture was of a pretty, young woman with light brown hair bedecked with a diadem of white flowers, and clad in a white dress. She stood in an arbor covered with light-toned roses. The pose, as with most photographs, was stiff, but the life and sparkle was apparent anyway. Artie passed the picture to Jim, who studied it a moment then slipped it inside his jacket as he got to his feet.
“Senator, we will do our level best to find your daughter,” Jim promised.
“You’ll keep in contact with me?”
“We’ll be reporting regularly to the colonel,” Artie responded. “I’m sure he will share anything pertinent.” It’ll be best if Richmond censors our reports and gives only what is necessary to the senator.
“I’ll telegraph my sister-in-law that you are on your way. She will be much relieved.” Russell stepped forward then, grasping Jim’s hand. “Mr. West, Mr. Gordon, please find Roseanna. We have to know what happened to her.” He then took Artemus's hand in a similar firm, heartfelt manner.
His message was unspoken and implicit. He wanted to know if she was alive or dead. The limbo of not knowing would be unbearable.
“We will, Senator,” Artie responded gravely. “We will.”
After clearing a priority route to Denver, the Wanderer left Washington the following morning. At stops along the way, connection was made to receive any updates from the department, but unfortunately, none were available. Richmond had instructed his office workers to attempt to acquire intelligence regarding other young women who reportedly had disappeared in the Denver area, but perhaps because those incidents might have occurred in rural, out of the way sites, the data was not swiftly available. The agents on the train realized they would have some riding to do in order to gather this information.
Three days later, they took their horses from the train at the Denver rail yard and rode to the Silver Queen Hotel, where they met with Mrs. Rachel Kidder. She was a still attractive woman in her late forties, some silver threading her dark hair. The resemblance to the young woman in the photo was strong, despite that Mrs. Kidder was displaying some of the results of her harrowing weeks in Denver. Shadows deepened her eyes, and sheer fatigue lined her face.
She repeated what the Senator had told them, and could add little more. “The police talked to storekeepers in the area, as well as shoppers who might have been on the street that day. As you no doubt know, the only person who remembered Roseanna was the shoeshine boy.”
“He did not see where she went, however,” Artie put in.
“Yes. I have talked to him myself. He is a bright young man, and he feels terrible that he cannot be of more assistance. Did the Senator tell you about the other women who have vanished?”
Jim nodded. “We’re going to talk to the police here, and then head to Black Mountain to see what we can learn about Sheriff Kendrick’s suspicions. We know he is now deceased, but he may have told his family or a deputy or someone else.”
“You know he was murdered,” Mrs. Kidder exclaimed. “Do you suppose…?”
“We hesitate to speculate on anything like that,” Artie responded quietly. “A lawman’s job is dangerous. We can’t accomplish much until we know the circumstances of his death—which is something we are definitely going to look into, I assure you.”
The Denver police had nothing to tell them. They had no information on the alleged other disappearances; they had enough to do in their bustling western town, with no time to look into crimes in the rural areas. That was up to the law in those counties and towns. If Mr. West and Mr. Gordon learned of anything that would connect those missing women to the disappearance of Roseanna Russell, they would be more than willing to step in. They were very aware that Miss Russell was the daughter of a United States senator!
For murder, though it have no tongue, will speak
With most miraculous organ.
—Hamlet Prince of Denmark (Hamlet at II, ii), William Shakespeare (1564-1616), English dramatist and poet
No railroad tracks approached within thirty miles of Black Mountain, Colorado, once again necessitating saddling the horses, this time for a longer ride than from the railroad station into the heart of the city of Denver. They arrived in the town a little after midday and dismounted in front of the sheriff’s office. A large black bow, somewhat faded now, was tacked to the half open door.
The man at the desk looked up as they entered. “Can I help you, gents?” He was in his early to mid thirties, of lanky build, with curly blond hair and blue eyes in a somewhat long but handsome face. He wore the sheriff’s badge.
Jim quickly made the introductions, and explained their mission. The sheriff stood up then, extending his hand. “I’m Bill Coogan. I was Sheriff Kendrick’s deputy and after he was killed, the town council gave me the badge until the next election at least. I’m not sure it was a very nice gift! Sit down and tell me what you need.”
Two wooden barrel-backed chairs were in the office, so the agents took them. “Tell us first how Sheriff Kendrick was killed,” Artie urged.
“Right here in this office. He sometimes stayed late of a Saturday night when things might look busy. I came in Sunday morning and found him on the floor, behind the desk here. He’d been stabbed… in the back.”
“You haven’t caught the killer?” Jim inquired.
Coogan shook his head sadly. “Nope. The doc said Anselm likely died around midnight. No one saw anything, or heard anything. A couple of cowhands who headed home around one said they noticed no lamps were burning in the office. They thought that kind of odd because they knew Anselm Kendrick was likely to stay in the office all night if he thought he might be needed.”
“Where were you that night?” Artie asked.
“Home. My wife had our second son two days before and Anselm told me to go stay with her. Things don’t usually get so bad around here that two officers are needed at once. Mostly I spelled Anselm so he would have time off occasionally.”
“So no suspects?” Artie went on.
“Not that we could pin anything on. Every lawman has enemies. You boys know that. Just pinning on this badge is enough for some folks to hate us. The killer didn’t even leave the knife. Nothing for us to track down.”
“What do you know about Kendrick’s ideas regarding the missing girls?”
“Not a thing. Anselm could be damned close-mouthed at times, and like I said, it wasn’t as though we were constantly working side-by-side. I’d maybe see him once a day when I’d come by to give him time to go home for lunch.”
Jim cocked his head. “What do you do when you’re not here?”
“I raise and sell saddle horses. I have a little piece of property north of town, just big enough to keep fifty-sixty head at a time. Training them takes up a lot of time.”
“I imagine it does. Do you know if Kendrick kept any notes about his ideas?”
The sheriff looked at Jim for a moment, as if surprised, glanced down at the desktop in front of him, then up again. “No, I don't know. I have to tell you, I’ve been dang busy these few weeks since I got to wearing this badge. We’ve had a spate of rustling throughout the county that’s been keeping me on the run. I don't think I’ve opened any drawer on this desk except the top one to get some ammunition.”
Jim and Artie exchanged a look, and Artie asked, “Do you mind if we look through it now?”
“Not a bit. I haven’t had my lunch yet. I’ll go get a bite and you two have at it. I hope you find something. Oh, by the way, in case you didn’t know, we lost a girl here in Black Mountain about two months ago. I reckon that was what set Anselm off. His brother’s daughter. I’ll tell you more about that later.” Then he was gone.
Artie shook his head, smiling ruefully. “I’m getting the idea Sheriff Coogan can’t wait until election day when he can lose his badge!”
“Yeah, I noticed. Let’s see what we can find in the desk.”
Not much at the outset. Outdated wanted posters, a few letters from the state representative of the area, ledgers that kept track of the personal money Kendrick had spent. And in a bottom door, a stack of newspapers.
Artie leafed through them. “These might mean something. They are all dated within the last few months, and seem to be from various Colorado towns. Wonder how Kendrick acquired them.”
“Look here,” Jim said, bending down as Artie lifted the eight-inch stack of newspapers out to the desktop. He came up with two folded papers. One was a map, the other a poster. “An advertisement for a carnival,” Jim mused, laying it open on the desk. “The ‘C. X. Yount Spectacular Carnival.’ Never heard of it.”
Artie pointed to a row of dates at the bottom of the page. “Looks like it’s been touring this part of the country recently. I wonder…” He took the map from Jim’s hand and opened it on the desk as well. “Look. Kendrick marked some of the towns where the carnival appeared, along with dates…” He brought his eyes up to meet Jim’s.
Jim nodded. “I think we’d better read these newspapers.”
When the sheriff returned a half hour later, he found the agents had taken over his office, with newspapers carefully folded and placed on the floor in a row, the map on the desk, and a sheet of blank paper they had found in a desk drawer covered with dates and notations.
Artie explained to the puzzled lawman. “We believe that Sheriff Kendrick realized that the disappearance of these girls coincided with the visits of the carnival. It was here two months ago…”
Coogan’s eyes widened. “They were in Black Mountain two days before Nancy Kendrick vanished!”
“How is it Sheriff Kendrick had these newspapers from all over the state?” Jim waved to the papers on the floor.
“Oh, that was kind of a hobby of his. We don’t have a newspaper here in town. He paid stagecoach drivers and freight wagon drivers to pick up papers in other towns to bring to him. He’s been doing it for years. I didn’t realize he was saving some. Why in the world would someone from the carnival be kidnapping these girls? It seems as though no ransom was ever asked. At least I know that didn’t happen to Judson Kendrick, Anselm’s brother.”
“Neither did the senator,” Artie said, “nor, according the newspapers, anyone else involved with the missing girls. We may not know until we find them—or their abductor.”
“You think they could be alive?”
Both agents shook their heads with grim expressions on their faces, as Jim said, “We have no way of knowing right now. Where does the sheriff’s brother’s family live?”
In love to our wives there is desire, to our sons there is ambition; but in that to our daughters there is something which there are no words to express.
—Joseph Addison (1672-1719), English essayist, poet, and statesman
The Judson Kendrick ranch was about an hour’s ride south of the town. The shadows were lengthening as the two agents approached the well-kept two-story house. A stocky man came out onto the front porch to greet them, and when they dismounted to identify themselves and explain their visit, a petite woman emerged through the door.
“Are you here about Nancy?” she eagerly wanted to know.
“We’re looking into the disappearance of several young girls,” Artie replied quietly. “We hoped you would be able to tell us the circumstances on the day you last saw your daughter.”
Mrs. Kendrick invited them inside and they sat in a neat, if worn, living room. “Nancy is our only daughter,” Mr. Kendrick said. “We have three boys that are out working on the range today.”
“What occurred that particular day?” Jim asked.
Mrs. Kendrick shook her head. “Nothing unusual. Nancy took her pony out like she often does.”
“Did she ride out alone?” Artie queried.
“Oh yes. She often rode out alone. Sometimes she went with her brothers or a friend, but usually alone. She is a good rider and her horse is well behaved.”
“Only we thought that day he mighta throwed her,” Mr. Kendrick added. “He came back alone. Me and my sons saddled up and went out looking but didn’t find anything. Not Nancy, and not any sign of anything.”
“No indication she might have met up with someone?” Artie gazed at the sad-faced man.
“Nope. My oldest boy is a pretty good tracker, but it had rained a couple days earlier, so the grass was all soft. You know, it springs right back up. We went to her favorite places, but couldn’t find anything that showed she had been to any of them. She just… vanished.”
“I presume you brought in your brother, the sheriff,” Artie said gently.
Kendrick sighed. “Yeah. Him and Coogan went out and looked all over, asked folks if they’d seen her. Still nothing. And then… then Anselm was… murdered.”
“Mr. West, Mr. Gordon,” his wife looked at each man. “Do you think Anselm’s death had anything to do with Nancy?”
Jim could only shake his head. “We don't know. It could be a coincidence. We are going to continue searching for Nancy and the other girls until we find answers.”
Artie then asked if they had a recent picture of their daughter. Mrs. Kendrick brought out an album with a velvet cover and extracted a cardboard similar to the one they had received from Senator Russell. Other similarities abounded. Nancy Kendrick posed in a white shirtwaist and dark plaid skirt in front of an obvious photographer’s background that displayed a pair of fake rosebushes. Like Roseanna, she was dark-haired and quite attractive. When asked, the Kendricks gave permission for them to keep the photograph.
After a stop in town long enough to pick up the newspapers, carnival poster, and map, as well as thank Sheriff Coogan for his assistance, Gordon and West made the long ride back to the Wanderer, reaching the train as the sun was lowering behind the western hills. Orrin Cobb had started supper, peeling and putting a pan of potatoes on the boil. After changing clothes, Artie took over, pulling out some cut up chicken from the cooler, and setting it to fry.
They had not talked much on the ride back from Black Mountain, each deep in their own thoughts, mulling over what they had learned and not learned about the missing girls. Little was said until the agents and the two train crewmen were seated at the table with fried chicken, mashed potatoes, gravy, and green beans that Artie had cooked to a perfect crispness.
“Did you find out anything about the girls?” Cobb asked then.
Artie quickly explained what they had learned. “Right now we are thinking someone at the carnival is involved.”
“What do you think happened?” Kelly, the fireman, wanted to know. “Were the girls killed?”
“Sadly,” Jim nodded, “that seems most likely. The only other answer might be white slavery. However, that would require transporting the girls to someplace like San Francisco, where corrupt sea captains might buy them to take to other countries. We know of at least five girls who went missing. If they were all taken by the same person—or persons—how could they be concealed for such a long period?”
“I was thinking about that too,” Artie said, putting down his coffee cup. “I think it would require a conspiracy.”
The three others looked at him. “What do you mean?” Orrin Cobb asked.
“I mean more than one member of the carnival troupe being involved. Somehow, they would have to secrete the captives, possibly in a wagon, say, that trails the traveling carnival and remains out of sight from others in the carnival as well as local residents. The logistics seem to place that idea out of the question.”
“Unless,” Jim interjected, “everyone, or nearly everyone, in the carnival is involved.”
“True.” Artie nodded. “And I’m thinking the only way we’re going to begin to find out about that is to visit the carnival.”
Res splendidiores facit amicitia cum leviores adversas partiens curas et dolores.
[Friendship makes prosperity brighter, while it lightens adversity by sharing its griefs and anxieties.]
—De Amicitia (VI), Cicero (Marcus Tullius Cicero; 106-43 BC), Roman philosopher, statesman, and orator
The southern Colorado town of Appleton was on the railroad tracks, at least. Cobb was able to place the Wanderer on a siding three miles or so from town. They were actually a day earlier than the scheduled arrival of the carnival, but Artie pointed out that often the carnivals did not keep a strict schedule. They could already be on location already or could be late arriving.
After riding into town, they were surprised to realize that no law office or jail was situated within the town limits. Upon being asked, the bartender at the saloon where they got a cold beer told them that the county sheriff was available if problems arose, but he was in the county seat, some twenty miles away.
“At least they have a restaurant,” Artie said when they emerged from the saloon, pointing toward the building across the street bearing a sign designating it as an eatery. Nearing the noon hour, they decided to eat before returning to the train. They had already discovered that the carnival wagons had not arrived at the field set up for it outside of town.
As they strolled across the street, Artie tapped his partner’s arm. “Jim, look. Is that who I think it is?”
Jim followed Artie’s gaze and saw the couple strolling up the board walkway, arm in arm. “Erika?” He then said it louder. “Erika!”
The exotically beautiful woman turned her head in their direction, stared a moment before throwing her hand to her mouth in total surprise. She spoke a word to her male companion then stepped off the walk to hurry toward them, holding out her arms. Now James and Artemus were the ones displaying astonishment: Erika was obviously pregnant!
“Oh, Jim! Artemus! What a wonderful surprise!” She hugged each of them then stepped back, holding onto Jim’s hand. “Whatever brings you to Appleton? Work, I suppose.”
“As usual,” Jim replied. “But you?”
She turned then to grasp the hand of the husky man who came up alongside her. “Mathias, I’ve told you about Jim West and Artemus Gordon. These are they! Gentlemen, my husband, Mathias Durant.”
Jim looked at Artie then turned to extend his hand to the man with chiseled features and very broad shoulders. “Mathias, I’m pleased to meet you. I will have to hear this story. Erika once told me she was too busy with her lions to think about marriage—and a family.”
Artie took his turn to shake the groom’s hand. “How do you do. We were just heading into the restaurant for a meal. Won’t you join us?”
The four of them entered the restaurant and took a table by the window. A robust middle-aged woman came to take their orders. The selection was small: fried chicken or chicken stew with dumplings. When she had gone off, Artie looked at the couple across from them.
“What are you doing here in Appleton, Erika?”
She smiled. “Mathias is waiting for the carnival that is due to arrive tomorrow. He’s going to be their new ‘strong man.’”
“The Yount Carnival?” Jim asked, startled.
“Yes. We…” Erika looked at each of them. “Don’t tell me you’re after them for something! We need this job!”
“We plan to check them out,” Jim admitted, “but we can’t say we are ‘after them’ for anything. Tell us more about what you know about the carnival and its owner.”
“We met him in Denver,” Mathias said. “When we married last year, Erika left her circus and came to work at mine. When she learned she was going to have our baby, she stopped working with the lions.”
“It’s just a temporary job,” Erika put in. “We’re heading for California, and so is the Yount Carnival. We have bought some property there, using up all our savings to do so, so we need this job to get us there. Oh, don’t look at me like that, Artemus! We did not buy it, sight unseen. It is a farm next to one owned by Mathias’ brother in the Sacramento area. Mathias saw it a couple of years ago. When it went up for sale, Peter wrote to us. We sent him the money and he has purchased it.”
“Good,” Artie smiled. “I’m afraid we’ve heard of too many swindles involving land sales like that.”
Their food arrived, stopping their conversation for a few minutes. Jim found himself sneaking glances at Erika, remembering the fun-loving and very courageous woman he had met in Denver a couple of years back. Thinking of her as a married woman, and mother-to-be, was difficult. Nonetheless, her happiness was apparent. She glowed with it.
“Now,” Erika said firmly as she buttered a warm biscuit, “you have to tell us why you are interested in the Yount Carnival.”
Erika could be trusted. They knew that. As well, she and her husband deserved to know what they might getting into, especially considering her condition. Therefore, between them, Jim and Artie carefully and quietly explained about the missing young women, and the possible connection with the carnival.
Both Erika and Mathias were silent a moment before Mathias spoke. “Have you met Cecil X. Yount?”
“No,” Jim replied, shaking his head. “We plan to when the carnival arrives. What can you tell us about him?”
“Not a whole lot. I had never met him until I went to talk to him about the job. I hadn’t even heard of him or the Yount Carnival before that day. I’ve since learned that they usually work up and down the Pacific Coast, California, Oregon, and Washington, sometimes up into Canada.”
“Mr. Yount needs performers,” Erika said. “When Matthias told him I was a former lion trainer, he tried to convince us that I should return to the cages. Even after Mathias told him I was expecting a child!”
“Is he a hard taskmaster so that he lost employees?” Artie inquired.
“Not from what I heard. In fact, he pays very well, a great deal more than what I ever earned before, even after I explained that it was to be a temporary position.” Mathias shook his head. “He was really anxious to hire me.”
“He’s… he’s kind of an aloof man,” Erika put in. “I met him before the carnival left Denver. We didn’t go with the carnival right away because my sister was getting married in Omaha, and we went to the wedding first. When I talked to him, I had the sense his mind was elsewhere, perhaps worrying about his show. Even paying higher salaries was not drawing acts.”
Artie frowned. “Is this a new carnival?”
“I don't know.” Erika shook her head. “The tents and wagons and such look well used, but they could have been bought second-hand. He has no animals in the acts other than the horses used by bareback riders. I presume he would have acquired cats had I agreed to work for him.”
“It might be,” Mathias offered, “that because he performed only on the coast, the show is not well known in the other parts of the country. Perhaps he decided to expand, and it is not working out well. As you probably know, numerous such traveling shows move around the country. The competition for the money locals pay for such things is strong.”
“That could be,” Jim nodded.
“We might be able to ask when we meet him,” Artie concurred. He pushed his empty stew bowl aside. “Something occurs to me, James.”
“What is that?”
“Depending upon what we learn when we visit the carnival, it might be a good idea to not truly make ourselves known.”
Jim looked at him a moment. “You’re thinking you should go in disguise to talk to him.”
“And go alone,” Artie confirmed. “I can come up with another reason for talking to him than the missing girls.”
Erika was smiling. “Mathias, you should hear some of the stories Artemus can tell about the times he wore disguises and fooled people. Even Jim!”
“That doesn’t happen often,” Jim defended with a grin.
“Often enough,” Artie chuckled. He sobered. “We’ll just take this one step at a time. When the carnival arrives tomorrow, I’ll visit in a guise that gives me some authority, but will, I hope, allow me to call on the carnival again as myself or in some other disguise.”
The waitress arrived to remove their emptied plates and take their dessert orders. When she walked away, Mathias spoke up. “It occurs to me that I could act as your spy. If you find reason, that is.”
“Thank you, Mathias,” Jim said. “We might take you up on that.”
“I can too!” Erika chimed in. “Mr. Yount asked if I would be willing to help him in his office from time to time, with bookkeeping and such. Who knows what I might come across?”
The three men initially demurred, but Erika was adamant. “Who would suspect a pregnant woman?”
They had to agree. Mathias was the most reluctant but he obviously had come to realize how stubborn his wife could be. Erika promised to be very cautious and to never move or remove anything that might incur suspicion from Yount. Jim and Artemus were aware that they needed all the assistance they could get if they were going to determine if Yount had anything to do with the kidnappings.
Over dessert, the conversations drifted to subjects more pleasant. When Artie asked, Erika explained that she and Mathias had met when Colonel Housley, the owner of the show where she had been working, bought out a smaller, failing carnival, with whom Mathias was employed. He had had to move to still another show because Housley already had a strongman with whom he was quite satisfied, as well as loyal. But they had kept in touch with letters and in person when possible.
“I took one look at this beautiful woman among the lions,” Mathias grinned, “and I was lost for good.”
Erika had to smile. “I’m afraid I wasn’t impressed so quickly. I thought he was just another muscular dolt. Fortunately, Mathias soon proved me wrong. He has a degree from the University of Pennsylvania!”
“What in?” Artie asked.
Mathias grinned. “Agriculture. I always wanted to be a farmer, and now I’m going to be.”
“And I am going to be a farmer’s wife!” Erika smiled broadly, her eyes filled with love for her husband. “The next time you are in California and have time, you must come to visit us… so Artemus can teach me how to cook!”
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 - 12/13/2015 : 08:53:45
| Chapter Two
I am a gentleman, though spoiled i' the breeding. The Buzzards are all gentlemen. We came with the Conqueror.
—The English Moor (act II, 4), Richard Brome (? – 1652), English dramatis
The C. X. Yount Spectacular Carnival arrived in Appleton the following day just before midday. By the middle of the afternoon, it was open for business, with tents erected, show stages set up, and the wagons that were the homes of the carnival people parked behind the main tent. Word quickly spread throughout the area and soon residents old and young were flocking onto the grounds.
One gentleman strolled slowly, gazing at the colorful signs that proclaimed the presence of a half-snake woman inside that particular tent, or urging patrons to come see the strongest man in the world. That “strongest man” appeared on the small stage in front of the tent and straightened a horseshoe. The muscular fellow cast a glance toward the gentleman and nodded ever so slightly.
This gentleman was rather portly, indicating he enjoyed his meals. His walrus mustache, in fact, bore further proof with bits of this morning’s repast still clinging to its hairs. He was fairly well dressed, although his trousers could have used a good pressing, even cleaning. A fine black bowler perched atop a full head of graying curly hair.
He eyed everything, including the rough men, whom he was aware were denoted as roustabouts. These men were still checking the setups as well as carrying water and feed to the horses that had drawn the numerous wagons to the site. Finally, he paused by a man who was tightening a knot connecting a tent pole to the canvas nearby.
“My good man,” he spoke pleasantly, “Can you tell me where I might find Mr. Cecil X. Yount?”
The roustabout gazed at him with narrowed eyes. “He’s likely busy. He don’t talk to strangers mostly.”
“Indeed. I have business with him.” A hand came up and moved the lapel of his jacket back slightly, so that the afternoon sun glinted off the shiny badge pinned to his brocade vest.
The workman straightened, eyes widening now. “Oh. Okay. He’s probably in that wagon back there. The one with the red trim.”
A touch of a finger to the hat, and the portly man with the badge strolled on, cutting between two small tents to head toward the wagon. Artemus doubted that Erika would be there yet. Although Mathias was at work as the strongman, she was likely tending to other matters as they set up their home in one of the wagons. At least both of them are accustomed to this type of life, he mused. Both are also no doubt looking forward to a stable home where they can remain in one place!
Reaching the wagon in question, which like all the others bore the name of the carnival on the side, Artemus paused at the steps before grasping the railing and making a display of hoisting himself up with some difficulty to the small porch, where he rapped sharply on the door. A voice inside called out, and although Artie was sure that the words were “Who is it? Go away!” he opened the door and peered into the dim interior.
“How do you do, sir? Mr. Yount?”
The thin man in shirtsleeves with wispy dark hair got to his feet from the chair by the roll top desk at one side. “Who are you?”
“My name is Franklin Y. Wallace. I am a United States Marshal.” Again, the coat was moved to display the badge.
The roustabout’s eyes had widened upon learning this fact. Cecil Yount’s eyes narrowed. “What do you want? We have no trouble with the law.”
“Oh, of course not. I’ll tell you about that in a moment, but I want to ask you a more personal question first.”
“Yes. My middle initial, Y, stands for Yount. I’m named after my maternal grandfather. His surname, you see. When I saw the name of your carnival, I wondered if we might be related. The Younts in my family come from Vermont.”
Yount continued to scowl. “My family is from Florida.”
“Oh, I see. Disappointing. I’m an only child of two only children, you see. I was hoping I’d found family. Oh well.” Artie had known full well that Yount originated from Florida; they had procured that information from Washington. “Oh well. If we are kin, it goes back much further, eh? Now about the official business. I’m looking for a man, an escapee from a Virginia prison. He’s known to work for circuses and carnivals. Name is Harry Burns.”
The other man shook his head. “No one by that name here.”
“Of course, he would have changed his name. Let me give you his description. He’s very difficult to miss.” Franklin Yount Wallace chuckled deep in his chest. “Just like me, only in the opposite way. Burns is about six feet, six inches tall. He has flaming red hair that he has dyed from time to time, but he cannot completely dye his beard, as of course, our facial whiskers grow rapidly. Thin as a rail too. And with a long face. It’s been compared with a jackass. Seem familiar?”
“Not at all. I cannot help you, Marshal. If you’ll excuse me, I have a great deal of work here. We just opened in this town.”
“Yes, I know. I saw your posters along the way, which is what brought me here. Fine little carnival, Mr. Yount. You ought to enlarge.”
“That is in consideration.”
“Good, good.” Artie grabbed Yount’s hand and pumped it vigorously. “Well, thank you, ‘cousin.’ Mighty glad to have met you. And good luck. Yes sir, good luck!”
Jim was unsaddling his black horse when he heard Artemus ride up. He knew his partner was arriving because the rider came directly to the side of the car where the ramp was still down. Artie dismounted and led his chestnut up into the car. “Hi, Jim. How’d it go? Any luck?”
“Not really,” Jim replied, hefting the saddle to put it on the side of the stall. “Finding the tracks of the carnival wagons was easy, with so many of them. They left distinct marks in the dusty road. I did come across tracks that appeared to leave the others and I followed it awhile before losing it in a grassy meadow. I rode around a while to try to pick it up again, but nothing. Thing is, I have no idea whether that was really one of the carnival wagons or just a local person heading across a field for some unknown reason. I spotted other wagon tracks among those of the carnival wagons. I returned to the road and backtracked further until I came to a busier road and pretty much lost it.”
Artie shook his head. “It would be really strange if those girls were being taken along with the carnival caravan. You’d think the risk of them being found by someone else in the carnival would be great.”
“Unless everyone is in on it, or almost everyone. How’d you do?”
“Well, a roustabout reacted when I showed my badge. Could be, however, that his face is on a wanted poster somewhere. As Erika said, Yount is pretty coolheaded. He was a bit surprised, but I can’t say he was concerned.”
Finishing with the horses for now, they moved into the next car where Artie went to his compartment to shed his disguise. When he joined Jim in the parlor car, Jim had two glasses of whiskey on the table and was sitting on one chair waiting for him. Artie sat down, picked up the glass, offered a salute of thanks, took a swallow and placed the tumbler on the table.
“Any thoughts, James?”
“Nothing. The carnival is our only lead.”
“I know. I do feel they need more investigating. When I was walking around, I tried to take notice whether any employee was paying particular attention to a young woman, but I didn’t see anything out of the way. They must select these girls somehow.”
“But Roseanna Russell did not attend the carnival.”
“Yeah. There is that. We know the carnival was in the Denver area, however. I wonder if it is possible that she was simply a… lucky—or unlucky—chance. That they spotted her alone on the street that day, with relatively no one around.”
“Possible,” Jim nodded. He took a sip of the whiskey and held the glass in both hands for a long moment. “Somehow they knew that Nancy Kendrick was going to go riding and picked her up. She was on her family’s property. Finding her was not likely an accident.”
“I wish we had more facts on the other girls. The papers were not always that helpful.” Some had complete detail, such as stating that a young woman had been walking home from church—which happened to be the day the carnival left her town—and she never reached her home. Another article simply stated that the young woman’s family was seeking her after she did not reappear from an errand; a third was hanging clothes on lines strung some distance away from the residence, and did not return. Sheriff Kendrick had aligned these disappearances with the proximity of the carnival.
“We need to get more information on the carnival, Artie, more than what can be provided by Washington’s files. We don't know the names of employees there yet. Erika and Mathias might be able to provide some, but that may take a while.”
“Jim,” Artie said, lowering his glass to the table. “I had a thought as I was riding back just now. Let me run it by you.”
Gia spaníos eínai parómoia me tous gious tous patéres tous: oi perissóteroi eínai cheirótera, kai meriká eínai kalýtera apó tous paterádes tous.
[For rarely are sons similar to their fathers: most are worse, and a few are better than their fathers.]
—Homer (Smyrns of Chios”; fl. 750 or earlier), Greek poet
Cecil Xerxes Yount lifted his head and muttered with annoyance before calling out, “Who is it?” Whoever it was would get a kick in the pants for disturbing him at this time. Everyone in the circus crew knew that the first hours after arriving at a new site were the busiest for him, as he sorted out tickets and the change he would be distributing to the various tents and shows.
The crisp knock was repeated. “Who is it!” This time he shouted. More than a kick in the pants, whoever was doing this would be fired, unless, of course, someone vital to his plans was on the other side of the door. When again no response came, Yount rose from his chair and stomped to the door, cursing under his breath.
A man was standing on the wagon’s small porch, and for an instant Cecil was reminded of a the time when he found another stranger at his door. This man was quite different, however, somewhat younger and much lighter of weight, appearing to be a man who knew a hard day’s work. He was around fifty or fifty-five, Cecil judged, and when he pulled off his broad-brimmed hat, dark hair streaked with gray was revealed. The hair was oiled and parted in the middle, combed straight on either side.
He had a roundish face, with heavy brows and a thick but relatively short full beard that left only his lips visible. Those lips were smiling broadly. “Mr. Yount? My name is Alistair Graham—Al, for short. This is my boy, Jesse. We’ve come from Kansas to offer you a great deal.”
Yount shook his head. “I’m not buying.” He started to step back to close the door. However, Graham reached out and put a hand against the door.
“Mr. Yount, you misunderstand. We don’t want any money. At least not right off. We heard you were looking for sensational acts. You won’t find any more sensational that my boy Jesse there.”
Slightly intrigued, Yount paused, looking at the younger man who was still on the ground, a half dozen feet away from the wagon. Pouting. That was the first thought Yount had. The man had a sullen expression on his handsome face and looked as though he wanted to be anywhere else in the world but here. He was more slender than his father. Clean-shaven except for a dark horseshoe mustache that was shorter than most, not quite reaching the jaw line, he was around thirty, Young figured.
“What kind of act? What does he do?”
“Sharpshooter, Mr. Yount. Eye of an eagle, Jesse has. Ever since he was a tad, he could pick up a gun and hit a one cent piece at a hundred feet… thrown in the air.” Behind his father, Jesse grimaced, and stared off to one side.
Yount hesitated. He needed acts; that was a certainty. So many that approached him turned out to be flops: a bareback rider who could barely ride, let alone stand on the horse; a trapeze artist who fell during the first tryout and broke his arm. Fortunately, he had found a pair of sisters who were more than competent performing on the backs of horses. He looked beyond Alistair Graham at the son again. Now Jesse lifted his own gaze and stared back with hard green eyes. Yount wondered if he saw a challenge in them.
“All right. Come on in and we’ll talk first. Then I’ll need to see proof.”
Graham chuckled. “Oh, you’ll see proof all right. Come on, Jesse. Don’t be a laggard.”
“You’re from Kansas?” Yount asked, as he took his own chair by the roll top desk and the elder Graham sat in the only other chair. Jesse leaned against the closed door, arms folded on his chest. He had not removed his hat. “A farmer?”
“Rancher,” Graham smiled proudly. “One hundred thousand acres of the finest wheat and beef you’ll find in the country. We do just fine, don’t we, Jesse?” The younger man just glowered, his sulk increasing.
The carnival man cocked his head. “And you’re looking for a job in my show?”
Now Graham leaned forward. “It’s like this, Mr. Yount. I told you Jesse has been good with guns since he was a real small boy. He always wins the sharpshooting contests at the county fair, and even the state fair when we were able to go one year. Now he’s gotten it into his head he wants to be famous for his gun handling. He’s a fast draw too.”
Yount glanced at Jesse and got that emerald hard stare again. “He doesn’t seem very thrilled about the idea.”
The older Graham laughed aloud. “No. You see, me and the boy made a bargain. His idea of becoming famous with his gun is to start hitting the trail towns and mining settlements and facing down the local gun hands. Getting a reputation that way, you see? Then maybe hiring himself out and making some money. He’s not too keen on ranching at the moment.
“Now, being older and wiser, I told him that was also a good way to get himself killed. He’s fast but from what I’ve heard, someone faster is always out there, right? Rough way to find out! He stands to inherit the ranch with his younger brother. Will is home running the place now. Ranching is in his blood. Not Jesse’s though.
“So I told Jesse right off that if he went out on this fool’s errand, I’d disinherit him and leave it all to Will. Didn’t much like that idea, did you, Jesse?” Alastair glanced behind him. His son scowled. “Well, anyway, I came up with this idea where Jesse can get his taste of fame—performing in a circus or carnival for a while. We don’t need the money, so you can pay him the minimum for the time being. I’ll be going along, gratis, just to see how it goes, for a while as least. What do you think?”
Cecil Yount leaned back in his chair. “I’d have to see a demonstration.”
When any great design thou dost intend,
Think on the means, the manner, and the end.
—Sir John Denham (1615-1669), Irish poet
Jim shot the bolt that locked the door of the wagon, then turned, peeling off his jacket. “Do you think we sold him thoroughly?”
Artie was adjusting the faded curtains over one of the two windows, shutting off any view from the outside. He stepped over to the other one, which was between the two bunk beds on one side and did the same. A wobbly dresser and small table made up the other furniture in the traveling wagon that Yount said they could use “for now.” The implication was that if Jesse Graham became the big star his “father” predicted better quarters would be made available.
“I think so, as far as it goes. He certainly can’t fault your shooting.”
Yount had led them out into a field beyond where the carnival was setting up in this small southern Colorado town, where “Jesse” had put on an impressive display of his prowess with pistol and rifle. He had then fetched his shiny black horse, “raised from a colt by hand,” his father proudly proclaimed, and performed while in the saddle.
Yount had been very careful to not display too much admiration and astonishment; that was obvious. He had schooled himself in keeping his emotions in check lest the auditioning performer expect too much in the way of salary. Despite that Al had said they did not expect payment immediately, that would come, Cecil was certain.
Jim hung his hat on a wall nail, and his gun belt on the one beside it. “The important bit is he doesn’t seem to question why Daddy needs to stick close to Jesse.”
Artemus laughed. “Yeah, I think that went well. Your persistent scowl was a good selling point.”
“The Kansas Kid,” Jim sighed. Yount had decided that a show featuring “Jesse Graham” was not going to work. He then came up with the moniker “Kansas Kid,” which would be put on posters. “I just wish we would have seen some sign when we followed them that another wagon was attached to the carnival.”
After working out the details of Artie’s scheme, they had trailed the carnival on horseback from Appleton to this new location just north of the New Mexico border, seeing nothing along the way to indicate anything untoward was occurring. The Wanderer had moved to a siding that was now about five miles away, and a visit there before going to the carnival’s site had enabled them to check with Washington to find out if any further disappearances had been report. Washington had no such news for them. The visit and audition for the carnival owner had ensued.
“I know. This may still be a very wild goose chase. Thinking that the girls are still alive may also be very foolish. Just because no ransoms were demanded and no bodies were found…”
“Something just occurred to me, Artie. According to Erika, this carnival traveled up and down the west coast until recently. We have not tried to find out if any young women went missing in that area.”
“You’re right. First opportunity, one of us needs to send a telegram to either Washington or to Lloyd.” Lieutenant Lloyd Morris of the San Francisco police was their good friend and had often helped them on cases in his city. “I don't know why I didn’t think of that before,” Artie frowned.
Jim had to smile. “Artie, you are fallible sometimes, you know.”
“Maybe. But not often!” Artie offered a smug glance toward his partner then sobered. “Jim, if girls have been snatched in California as well… why? Is Yount a complete madman? He doesn’t strike me as off-balanced. Greedy perhaps.”
“Artie, we’ve known some fairly ‘normal’ people who turned out to be raving lunatics.”
“True enough.” Artie slammed his fist into his other palm. “Damn! We have to learn what happened to those girls. Are they alive?”
“We will, pal. We will. This ruse may do it eventually, if I can convince someone to talk to me.”
“Yes, that’s important. They are not going to cozy up to wealthy papa, but they just might find kinship with the rebellious, dissatisfied son.”
The basis of the plan was that “Jesse” would mingle with the roustabouts and other carnival employees, let them be aware of his dissatisfaction with his father’s plans for him, and how he wanted to be famous and get money of his own without waiting to inherit the Kansas ranch. If the missing girls were alive, the chances seemed high that they were being sold into white slavery, which could be a profitable venture for those with no morals. The idea that more than one person here at the carnival had to be involved appeared very logical.
They could not exclude the idea that one person was kidnapping and murdering the girls, hiding their bodies. However, again, with five young women being taken, one would have thought that some trace of at least one them would have been found, that someone would have seen something.
Four of the missing girls had attended the Yount Carnival a day or two before their disappearance. The exception, Roseanna Russell, may have been chance, a crime of opportunity. She had been alone on what, by the shoeshine boy’s account, was a quiet street at the time. No one except him had seemed to notice her and even he did not see what happened to her. She had been there and then gone. He had not thought anything of it until questioned.
After stowing their gear in the wagon, the two agents departed, going separate ways. Jim was to meet with Yount and a couple of carnival crew to discuss setting up his act. Yount’s idea was a heavy board at one end of the tent where items could be mounted that the sharpshooter would pick off. Jim had quickly vetoed the idea of having one of the attractive women with the troupe hold up cards or candles. He did not want to risk injury to anyone, despite his confidence in his own abilities.
Artie strolled through the area where all the wagons were parked, meeting and greeting other performers and their families, if any were present. He finally came upon the one he wanted to find, the wagon with the exaggerated painting of a muscular man lifting ridiculously large weights. “Mathias, the World’s Strongest Man!” boasted the lettering. Erika Durant was seated on the steps, sewing on a small, soft garment. She looked up as the bearded man approached.
“Good day, sir.”
Artie doffed his hat, bowing slightly. “Good day to you, missus. Ah, seeing you with needle and thread reminds me of the days so long ago when my dear wife was sewing tiny garments for our boys. Dear sweet days.”
Erika smiled. “Years ago, when my mother insisted I learn to sew, I was certain I would never have need for it. But as you see…”
“Ah, yes. Fate works in mysterious ways, does it not?” Artie moved closer. “Erika…” he began in a low voice.
She continued to smile. “Hello, Artemus.”
He could not disguise all his astonishment. “You recognized me?”
Now Erika laughed. “I recognized Jim. Certain…er… aspects of his physique are unmistakable.”
Artie threw his head back and laughed loudly as a pair of carnival women strolled close by. “Well, missus, I reckon you are right. It has to be a boy or a girl!”
Erika ducked her head over her sewing and spoke quietly. “I think both your disguises are excellent. Am I right in that you intend to try to get close to some of the carnival people?”
“Yes. Jim will, especially. We hope someone will have a loose tongue. Any suggestions?”
She pulled a pair of small scissors from her nearby sewing basket and kept her head down while she cut a thread and responded. “A man named Lasko. He’s close to Yount. I understand they have been together for a long while. He drinks rather heavily and I have noticed that that loosens his tongue considerably. Mathias mentioned it too. Of course we have not attempted to talk to him about the missing girls.”
“Thanks, Erika. That may be a big help. If you think of any others, find a way to talk to either of us. Otherwise, stay clear.”
“I will. Good luck. I do hope those girls are safe somewhere… although I fear for them.”
“I know. So do we.” Artie lifted his hat again and spoke more loudly as he started off again. “Good day, ma’am. I wish you good fortune with that new babe.”
When Jim returned to their wagon, Artemus mentioned Erika’s suggestion. Jim nodded. “I met him. He is definitely the boss among the roustabouts. I noticed he also seems to be able to speak up to Yount. Artie, this rehearsal business is hard work!”
Artie laughed. “It is indeed. Is that what you’re going to wear? Reminds me of the shirt Janet Coburn provided when you took a dunking in that alligator pond.” He gestured toward the pale blue satin shirt now hanging on the wall.
“Yeah,” Jim sighed. “Yount found it somewhere. He figures with my black chaps, it’ll do for now. I suspect if this goes on long enough, he’ll have me in sequins.”
His partner laughed even harder. “That would be the day! I’d have to have a photographer on hand.”
“It’s not going to happen, pal. For one thing, we have to finish this business as soon as possible. We need find those girls, or what happened to them.”
Artie nodded, sobering. “The most important thing we need to do is ingratiate ourselves to the carnival troupe. I cannot see how all of them could be involved in the kidnappings, but some may have information they do not even realize they have. So I guess my job will be to converse with some of the performers, like the bareback riding sisters and the sideshow barkers.”
“And I’ll deal with the roustabouts. I paid Lasko a few compliments today—undeserved—and he appeared to like it.”
“Good job. Do you have another rehearsal scheduled?”
“Yeah, tomorrow morning before the first performance. Then the real thing.” Jim rolled his eyes.
Artie did not laugh. He realized that Jim West, the man who had faced death dozens of times, was experiencing a good old-fashioned case of stage fright. “You’ll do fine, James. Just imagine that those cards and candles are Lightnin’ McCoy and Deadeye.”
“What do I do about all the people watching?” Jim muttered.
“They’ll disappear. Believe me. Once you get going, you’ll be the only one there. Besides, I have a feeling Blackjack will keep you busy.”
“Yeah. I asked the men in the tent to do a lot of yelling and noisemaking today. Blackjack reacted at first, but soon calmed down. I think he’s going to like the attention more than I will.”
O Popular Applause! what heart of man
Is proof against thy sweet, seducing charms?
—Task (bk. II, l. 431), William Cowper (1731-1800), English poet
The debut of the Kansas Kid in the carnival’s big tent was a smashing success. Although the audience was rather sparse for a matinee, those in attendance roared with approval and delight when the slim man in the satin shirt and black leather shotgun chaps hit every target with ease, snuffing candles without disturbing the wicks, taking out the pips on playing cards, his bullets hitting every one of five bottles thrown into the air. While two women in spangled tights set up the next targets, the beautiful black horse that performed for and with his master further entranced the spectators.
The Kid’s father stood at the tent entrance with Cecil Yount, watching the owner out of the corner of his eye as Yount’s grin grew wider and wider. He also noted Yount scanning the audience and when his gaze seemed to pause, Artie looked that direction too. Invariably Yount was looking at young women who were entranced by the handsome performer. A couple of times Yount’s eyes narrowed thoughtfully.
What is he thinking about? That these girls are potential targets for kidnapping? Or something else?
He mentioned this to Jim when they were back in the wagon, door locked, and curtains carefully drawn. “I might be reading more into it than it warrants, but I could not help but think he was looking for potential victims, and how you would be drawing them in.”
Jim scowled as he hung the satin shirt on the wall and reached for his own more comfortable blue shirt. “I don’t like to think I’m bait for… whatever he’s doing.”
“I know. Did Yount say anything to you after the show?”
“Only that maybe we should do two shows a day. I told him that was fine if he paid me double. I could see he had to think about that.”
Artie chuckled. “I am getting the impression that he likes money very well. How’s your mustache holding up?”
Jim patted the item on his upper lip. “Okay for now. At least I’m getting more used to it.” He had complained not only about the itchiness he initially experienced but also the fact that shaving his upper lip was necessary each morning, removing and pasting the mustache back again. Otherwise, the ersatz facial hair would likely come loose. He found small comfort in the knowledge that Artemus had to do the same thing for his beard.
“Artie,” Jim said then, “I think we need to get out there and talk to some folks.”
“I agree. Why don’t you continue to work on the carnival people, since you are now one of them? I’ll wander around the midway and see what I can see.”
“Good. We sure as hell don’t want another girl to go missing while we are here!”
Solent occupationis spe vel impune quaedam scelesta committi.
[Wicked acts are accustomed to be done with impunity for the mere desire of occupation.] -
—Historia (XXX), Marcellinus Ammiaus (Marellinus Ammian or Ammianus Marcellinus; ?-395), Antioch Roman historian
Jim spent some time helping a couple of the roustabouts repair the wheel of one of the wagons that carried the carnival’s heavy equipment, like the main tent when it was taken down and rolled up. He casually asked about Lasko, and was told that man was with Mr. Yount. The man who said this had something of a sour expression on his face when he did.
Leaving them, he strolled on and encountered Matthias Durant at his own wagon, dealing with a damaged dumbbell. The weight on one end had come loose. “I need to get this fixed and get myself back on stage. Yount won’t be happy.”
“I can imagine,” Jim smiled as he held the bar perpendicular to allow Matthias to fit the weight back on. “What do you know about this fellow Lasko?”
As the other man had, Mathias scowled. “Nothing particularly good. Seems he’s ‘teacher’s pet,’ so to speak. He does less than his full share of work and drinks on the job. Toby Barnes told me that a few weeks back, Yount fired a man for similar behavior. Gus Lasko gets away with it. Do you have some reason to suspect him?”
“Not really,” Jim replied, “other than we have noticed he seems close to Yount. If Yount has anything to do with the kidnappings, it appears logical that Lasko could be involved. And vice-versa.”
“One thing that both Erika and I have noticed is that Yount is very fond of money.”
“Yeah, we got that impression. He wanted me to do a second show today. When I told him I’d expect more pay, he backed off.”
“I’m just thankful that we’ll be leaving the show once we reach California,” Mathias sighed. “All is not right here, I can tell you that.”
“No… Only what I just said about Lasko. I just don’t like the feeling here. I take it you have no clues yet about what happened to the missing girls.”
“Nothing. We are awaiting information regarding California, whether any have gone missing there. It’s just strange that nothing has ever been found. No bodies, no clothing, nothing.”
Mathias straightened after tightening the weight, and Jim let it down on its side carefully. The glue inside would have to dry now. “White slave trade maybe?”
“That’s a strong possibility. We have also asked San Francisco police and agents in that area to dig into it.”
“Oh, I almost forgot,” Mathias said then, as Jim stepped away preparing to move on. “Last night Erika was sitting outside on the steps to cool off. When she came in, she said she saw someone she had not noticed before, a woman who rode up and went directly to Yount’s wagon. She stayed about ten minutes, and then went off again.”
“Not a part of the carnival?”
“Not that Erika had seen. Middle-aged woman, rather rough looking, she said. Wearing trousers!”
“Thanks. Let us know if she’s seen again, possibly while she’s still with Yount.”
Back at their wagon, Jim passed Mathias’ information on to Artemus, who frowned deeply. “A mysterious woman? What do you think?”
Jim could only shake his head. “I don't know what to think. I do know that I’m going to try to get close to Lasko, if possible. Did you notice anything on the midway?”
“Not really. I saw the trapeze artist, Valerian, and a couple of other men ogling the young women who were passing by. I watched them a little while but none attempted to accost the girls. Can’t arrest them for… Oh! Good grief, I almost forgot!” Artie reached into his jacket pocket. “I’ve got to ask Orrin where the devil he learned sleight of hand. He bumped into me and put this in my pocket without me realizing it. I found it a while later.” He pulled out a folded sheet of paper and passed it over.
Jim opened it, scanned the writing quickly. “Artie! Six girls missing from Washington to just south of San Francisco!”
“Even more interesting, the dates of their vanishing coincide with the stops of this carnival, same as here in Colorado.”
Jim blew out breath between his lips in a silent whistle. “I think that pretty well confirms it, Artie. This carnival is involved, somehow.”
“But why, why, why?” Artie began to pace in the small area allowed, turning in a circle with a minute circumference. “Where are they? Eleven girls! I know young women have been taken and sold into slavery. But virtually eleven at once?”
“Perhaps more,” Jim spoke grimly. “We’re some distance from San Francisco yet, if that’s where the trail ends. Let’s hope San Francisco comes up with some information.”
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 - 12/13/2015 : 08:55:39
| Chapter Three
They threw their caps
As they would hang them on the horns o' the moon,
Shouting their emulation.
—Coriolanus (Act 1, Sc. 1), William Shakespeare (1564-1616), English dramatist and poet
The Kansas Kid’s second performance the following day was to a full house and followed with raucous cheers and wild ovations. Jim found that the apparent adulation, with his reputation spread by word of mouth, was rougher on the nerves than his debut the previous day. He did not make any errors, but the gnawing worry of doing so was in the back of his mind.
When he exited the tent on the prancing Blackjack—who seemed to adore the cheers—and dismounted, Cecil Yount hurried up to him. “Jesse, that was sensational! I hope there is a newspaper in this town. We need to have this written up so that the crowds will be there the first day next time!”
Jim just shrugged. “That’s your business, Mr. Yount.”
“By the way, I’m still thinking of two shows a day.”
Again, Jim shrugged. “Like I said, I’d expect double pay.”
“Might be worth it. Yes, it might be worth it. I’ll consider it. Good work, Jesse. Great performance.”
“Jesse’s” father joined him as the performer led the black horse toward the temporary stable set up well behind the carnival grounds. Rough fences and ropes contained the numerous horses needed to pull the wagons, as well as the ones like Blackjack who performed. They passed the two sisters who were the bareback riders heading toward the tent for their performance.
“Jim,” Artie said quietly, “tomorrow we head for the next town.”
“I know. Do you think word ought to be gotten to the law here to tell parents to keep their teenage daughters under close watch, and in particular not allow them out on their own? The kidnapping seems to happen a day or two after the carnival has left town.”
“I thought about that. It could be tricky. I know that folks from the show go into town to pick up supplies, personal items, or just to have a drink. We wouldn’t want to be spotted.”
“Yeah.” They were both quiet for a long minute before Jim spoke again. “Erika or Mathias might be able to do it. At least to slip a note to the sheriff.”
“Good thought. I’ll go see if I can find one of them. I’ve already struck up an ‘acquaintance’ with Erika as Alistair Graham.”
As Artie headed back toward the carnival’s wagons, Jim continued toward the horse enclosure. He was pleased to see Lasko there, but less pleased that he was not alone. Two other men were with him. They appeared to be discussing the health of a massive draft horse next to them. Jim let himself in through the rope gate, hooking it back again.
“You know much about horses, Graham?” Lasko asked.
“Not horses like that, I’m afraid. What’s up?”
“Ah, she’s off her feed,” another man said, rubbing the steed’s massive shoulders.
“Might be a veterinarian in town,” Jim suggested.
The three men looked at each other. That same man spoke again. “Yount don’t like us bringing in outside.”
The third man squared his shoulders. “Well, he’s gonna be even madder if old Billie here ain’t ready to haul the wagons tomorrow.”
“Tell you what,” Jim said easily, “why don’t I go fetch the doctor. Or blacksmith or whoever the expert is here. That way Mr. Yount can blame me.”
Lasko grinned widely. “And he sure ain’t gonna kick out the new goose that’s layin’ the golden egg. Go on, Graham. Find ol’ Billie a doctor.”
Jim swung into the saddle, and with a wave headed off. Fortunately, the wagons lay between him and the road into town, and no one would think it odd if they saw him pause to speak to his “father.” He found Artie in conversation with Erika at the Durant wagon and quickly informed them of this stroke of luck.
“If no vet is available, I’ll find someone to carry a message to the sheriff.”
Again, he headed out, now skirting the grounds occupied by the carnival with its tents and exhibition platforms. He noticed a couple of young boys point his direction as well as some others staring at him, and realized that he had not changed out of his performance costume. Too late now, he sighed inwardly. He did not want to risk returning to the wagon to change clothes and possibly encountering Yount who might countermand the idea to fetch help for the horse. Veterinarians cost money, after all.
Upon reaching town he asked the first person he saw and was directed to a house on the far side of town, sitting back several hundred yards from the road. Jim suspected that the outbuildings behind the house were used as a “hospital” for ailing beasts. The woman who opened the door to his knock invited him in, saying that her husband, Dr. Owen, was indeed in one of those structures treating a prized bull. She told him to sit down in the parlor and called to someone, a son probably, to go fetch “papa.”
The veterinarian arrived about fifteen minutes later, wiping his hands on a towel. He was around forty, Jim judged, with a no-nonsense attitude about him. An attitude Jim liked. He also liked how Owen listened soberly, asking no questions until Jim finished.
“You don’t have any credentials?” The vet eyed his visitor’s rather unconventional garb.
“Not with me, sir. My partner and I felt it best to leave them behind to avoid chance of discovery.”
“I’ve heard of West and Gordon. Except for the mustache, you fit the mental picture I’ve had of James West.”
Jim grinned. “The mustache is false, part of the disguise. So you’ll carry the message to the sheriff?”
“I will, sir, in the morning as you suggest, as soon as I’m sure the carnival is on its way. Are you positive these people are behind the kidnappings? I read about them in the newspapers.”
“We are not one hundred percent certain. Nonetheless, all signs point to someone in the carnival being involved. We also don't know if any young woman in this area is targeted, but…”
“Better safe than sorry. My daughter is fifteen. My eldest child. I realize she’s slightly under the age of the young girls being taken, but I will keep her within view at all times.”
“At least for a week,” Jim nodded. “Every girl has been taken within two days of the departure of the carnival. The only variance was the one snatched off the streets of Denver. We have to think that was a crime of opportunity. The carnival did not perform in Denver, but passed nearby on their route south.”
“The word will get around, I assure you.”
Jim returned to the carnival grounds feeling confident that the veterinarian would carry out his task. He so informed Artie as he changed clothes in their wagon. “No fuss and feathers. He accepted the story and promised to deliver.”
“Good.” Artie equally had faith in his partner’s judgment. “So tomorrow we head for Double Creek… and repeat the whole thing.”
“I guess so,” Jim sighed. “We may be able to keep them from taking any further victims, but how the devil are we going to find the missing girls?”
Artie shook his head. “By keeping our eyes and ears open. Something is bound to turn up.”
“What do you think about this woman Erika saw?”
“I have no idea. We can’t exactly ask Yount outright about her. Could be an old friend who stopped in.”
“But you don’t really think so.” Jim tucked his shirt into his pants, eyes on Artie who was sitting on the lower bunk.
“I have to admit that I feel she may be involved. How, I don't know.”
“We find the girls, pal, and we’ll know everything.”
Fabula (nec sentis) tota jactaris in urba.
[You do not know it but you are the talk of all the town.]
—Art of Love (III, 1, 21), Ovid (Publius Ovidius Naso; 43-c. 17 BC), Roman poet
The Yount carnival pulled out shortly after dawn, heading for Double Creek, a trek that would consume better than two days with the slowness of the equipment wagons. At least “ol’ Billie” was up-to-snuff again. The vet had determined the horse had eaten some vegetation that was not good for her. A cathartic administered had taken care of it.
Remembering the wagon tracks he had seen pulling away from the road previously, Jim had tied his horse to their wagon, and a few miles into the trek, he mounted the black, calling out to his “father” that he wanted to give Blackjack some good exercise. With the large, heavily packed vehicles bearing the tents and other supplies, a smaller wagon could easily hide among them. He first rode toward the head of the train, circling around the lead wagon of Cecil Yount, then back down the train in the direction of the last wagon.
When he rejoined Artie, his face displayed his disappointment. “No extra wagons in the train,” he sighed.
“It was a good idea,” Artie nodded. “Could well be that sometimes another wagon joins the train.”
“If our suspicions are correct.”
Little more needed to be spoken. The agents felt certain they were on the right track; nevertheless, many questions needed to be answered, not the least of which was whether the girls were still alive. If so, where were they? Why had they been seized? Was Yount the mastermind, or someone else here in the carnival?
All they could do was continue their guise as the Grahams, father and son, as long as necessary, and as long as possible. This morning Jim nearly forgot to reattach his mustache. Of course, he could have, as he had once before, offered the excuse that his razor slipped, making the removal of the entire mustache necessary.
A little after midday the caravan stopped in a field near the road, after Lasko rode ahead and got permission from the landowner. The horses were unhitched and fed and watered, while campfires were built and dinners were prepared, either by individual wagon owners or groups, something that Artie had noticed seemed to be prearranged and longstanding. He had seen similar arrangements at the parked wagons. He and Jim had their own meal.
While they were cleaning up, Mathias Durant strolled by, and seemed to pause to converse just because he accidentally encountered the Graham pair. They shared some small talk about the trip and the weather, then in a low voice Mathias told them of some information he had come across.
“I didn’t notice it before, because Erika and I have usually parked our wagon away from the animals. Last night I was a bit restless and took a walk just after dark. I encountered Joel Beaton near the corral fence and we talked. He was on guard, and he said that the roustabouts take four-hour shifts every night to watch over the animals. Seems a couple were stolen in Oregon some while back.
“Well, we talked quite a while and Joel came out with a bellyache he and the others had. Gus Lasko takes his sentry turn with the others, and always has the midnight to four shift. That’s fine, but according to Joel, Lasko spends the entire time drinking whiskey. The next guard usually has to almost carry him back to his wagon.”
“Does Yount know?” Artie asked, laughing aloud and slapping Mathias on the shoulder.
Mathias grinned widely before speaking again. “Yep, and that’s the real beef the others have. If they were caught drinking like that, they’d be kicked out. It happened to one fellow a few months ago. Further proof that Lasko is a favorite, I guess.”
Jim was silent a moment, looking down at the ground. “That’s interesting,” he said then.
“There’s more,” Mathias said, poking Jim in the arm and chuckling. “According to Joel, Lasko gets very talkative when he’s had a few. Joel complained that Lasko says crazy stuff about pretty girls and money. Joel didn’t seem interested enough to find out any more about that.”
“Ah.” Artie looked at Jim, who nodded back.
“Yeah,” Jim said. “Mathias, I’m guessing that because the crew contains eight or ten men, they don’t serve guard every night.”
“Right. I managed to find out that Lasko’s next turn will be our first night in Double Creek.”
Again, Artie slapped him on the back and all three men laughed. “That’s a good one!” Artie crowed. “Great one, Durant!”
The three of them chatted and laughed a few more minutes before Mathias strolled on. Jim and Artemus finished picking up their meal items and put out the fire, noticing that others were hitching up their teams, indicating that the stopover was nearly finished. They did not really talk until on the wagon seat and out on the road again.
“I guess we know our next move,” Artie said then.
“I’ll go join Lasko for a little party and see how much of what this Joel says is true.”
“I wonder if Yount knows how much his pal talks when drinking? I am thinking Lasko does not drink much around Yount. Possibly that’s why he drinks on duty, so to speak. His only real chance.”
“No doubt Yount would think drinking a waste of money.”
Artie laughed softly. “You could be right, Jesse, my boy. At least we may have a real lead finally. You’re going to have to put your charm to work.”
“You mean my iron stomach!”
Artie continued to grin. He knew that, like himself, Jim had perfected the art of appearing to drink a large quantity of alcohol, while in reality disposing of the liquor discreetly. Especially if Lasko was inebriated, he would hardly notice.
Cecil X. Yount was ecstatic when he realized the local publisher had received the telegram he had addressed to “any newspaper” in Double Creek, and a fine article about the sensational Jesse Graham, alias The Kansas Kid, had been written up. People started queuing to purchase tickets long before the scheduled performance. He immediately made a slight change in schedule. Whereas previously, the sharpshooting exhibition had occurred approximately halfway through the entire show, Yount now moved it to be the finale. He knew from experience that very often that after patrons saw the “main event,” they left. He did not want these ticket buyers to also stop purchasing popcorn and peanuts from the vendors that made their way through the grandstands during the show.
After the performance and its rousing reception by the audience, Yount once more tried to convince Jesse Graham to do a second performance in the evening. Once again, Jesse sourly refused unless his pay was increased. “You ask Pa and he’ll say the same thing,” Jesse had all but snarled.
Jim had to bite back a smile as he led his horse away. He had seen the woe in Yount’s eyes. Cecil was in a bind. He wanted the money from the additional performance, but did not want to have to pay for it. He might have a contract with his other performers requiring them to do their acts any time he ordered them, but the Grahams had signed nothing. This was, after all, a trial period for the younger Graham.
Artemus strolled through the midway, pausing to watch the teaser acts on the outer stages that were intended to tempt viewers to buy tickets for a supposedly more exciting performance within the small tent behind the stage. He watched Mathias hoist a seemingly impossible weight above his head and applauded with the rest of the crowd. He knew how anxious Mathias and Erika were to leave the carnival and circus life behind them. Erika had grown up in a performing family, and had siblings who still toured with other outfits, but Mathias had been persuaded to join another troupe when his strength was witnessed in another situation. It had seemed exciting at the time. Five years later, he had had enough, as had Erika. The farm in California was calling them.
With any luck, Artie mused as he strolled on, just a few more weeks for them. His thoughts turned to Lily Fortune and their future plans. They had not set a firm date for the wedding yet, let alone when each would leave their current occupations. It was going to happen, he knew. Maybe we’ll surprise each other and elope, he smiled to himself. Wouldn’t that frost Prudence? All Prudence Fortune Peters could ever talk about when they saw her was the enormous, elaborate wedding her daughter would have.
Artie paused abruptly, and then covered his movements by pulling a case from inside his coat and extracting a cigar from it. He took time to clip off the end and then light it, pretending to have difficulty first keeping the match burning, and then igniting the tobacco. Under the brim of his hat as he bent his head down he watched the three men. Two were standing off to one side of the passageway, their eyes on the third, who was near the opposite side, near the display of the “elastic man,” an extraordinary acrobat who could bend his body in what seemed like excruciating contortions.
That third man was Valerian, the handsome trapeze performer. He was in conversation with two young women, around eighteen to nineteen years old. The girls were big-eyed and obviously very impressed that a performer had chosen to speak to them! They giggled at something he said. One girl nodded, the other shook her head vehemently.
His cigar burning well, Artie casually moved forward and pretended to be fascinated with the poster alongside the acrobat’s stage, which was empty because act was going on inside the tent just now. He kept his back to Valerian, and knew that the trapeze performer similarly was turned away. Artie did not even glance at the other two men, seeming to not even notice them as he studied the poster.
He was not close enough to Valerian and the pretty young women to hear all of their words but he heard enough. After three or four minutes he ambled on, this time glancing around, seeing the other two men, both roustabouts, and touching his hat to them with a warm smile of greeting. They nodded back and did not appear the least bit suspicious.
All right. Now what do I do? Perhaps the ruse of Erika going into town will have to be put into effect this time. It’s not likely that…
He paused once more, noting the lanky man standing and peering at the stand where sarsaparilla was being sold. The man wore a silver star on the lapel of his coat. Quickly Artie strode forward. Upon reaching the man, he stuck out his hand to grasp that man’s, and pounded his shoulder with the other.
“I’ll be a monkey’s uncle! It is you! How about that? After all this time and so far away!” As the lawman stared at him in open surprise, Artie lowered his voice. “I am a federal agent working in disguise on the case of those missing girls. Play along. What is your name?”
To his great relief, the sheriff replied in an equally low voice, “Walter Broome.” Then loudly, “I’ll be damned! How long has it been?”
“Call me Al Graham,” Artie whispered. “Good to see you, Walt!” he cried out. “Let’s get a beer—er root beer and catch up, eh? My treat!”
Some small tables with chairs were on a wooden platform next to the stand, and they found a table in a far corner, currently some distance away from any other patrons. For about fifteen minutes, they talked, seemingly exchanging information about their lives. Artie learned enough about Walt Broome to be able to answer any questions should they be asked later. However, primarily he explained the situation to the sheriff, warning him about the girls in the area.
When he described the two he had seen with Valerian, Broome nodded. “Sounds like Elsie and Ruth Corwin. They look enough alike to be sisters, but they are cousins. I’ll be sure to talk to their families, and everyone else in the area with girls that age. You have any idea whether the missing girls are alive?”
“None,” Artie said, forcing a smile. “That’s why we attached ourselves to the carnival. We have a few clues, but not enough.
Sharp as the proverbial tack, Broome laughed and nodded. “It’s just so crazy that so many girls have vanished without a trace.”
“That’s the way we feel, and we’re clinging to the hope that the kidnappers have some use for them—and that we can find them before that use, whatever it is, is carried out.”
They talked a little longer then left the eating area, shaking hands warmly and loudly promising to keep in touch. Back at the wagon, Alistair found his son, Jesse, sitting on the steps cleaning his guns. He excitedly told Jesse about meeting an old boyhood friend from Iowa, where he had grown up (and where Broome told Artie he had lived), speaking loudly enough that anyone within twenty or thirty feet would hear. Only when they went inside the wagon did Artie reveal what actually happened.
“Valerian was asking the girls about what they did for recreation,” Artie said. “He wanted to know if they ever went walking or riding alone.”
Jim scowled. “So that the kidnappers might have a chance to grab one.”
“I’m sure of it. If we had time, I’d sure like to know if any of the missing girls talked about meeting Valerian or another carny man.”
“If nothing comes out of tonight, we might need to get word to Washington to start asking that very question.”
They never taste who always drink;
They always talk who never think.
—Upon a Passage in the Scaligerana, Matthew Prior (1664-1721), English poet and diplomat
Jim paused, peering through the darkness. The moon was only a sliver tonight. He recognized Gus Lasko’s voice and heard the slight slur in the words. “Jesse Graham. Who’re you?”
“Ah, the Kansas Kid! Come on ahead, lad. What are you doin’ out?”
Jim moved forward, his eyes adjusting more to the dark. “Couldn’t sleep. Decided I needed some fresh air. What are you doing?”
Lasko was among several boulders that were situated alongside the rope fence that contained the horses. He leaned against a large rock and raised a pint bottle. “Just having a good time. Sit down and join me, Kid.” He reached over to a burlap bag and pulled out a full pint bottle.
“Don’t mind if I do,” Jim replied, taking the bottle and breaking the seal. He took a long swallow. “Good stuff.” He lowered himself to lean against another boulder. “You just come out here to drink?”
“I’m on guard,” Lasko smirked. “Nice quiet, dull night. What better way than to enjoy good whiskey!”
“I guess you’re right. It’s good stuff.” Jim tipped up the bottle to his lips but this time kept his thumb over the opening. He wiped his mouth with the back of his other hand.
“How’d you learn to shoot like that, Kid?”
Jim shrugged. “Just came natural, I guess.”
“You ever draw on a man? Kill him?” Lasko took a long drink from his bottle.
“Once,” Jim replied slowly, and pretended to take another drink. Lasko’s bottle was empty and he tossed it aside, busied himself procuring another and opening it. While he did so, Jim quickly dumped out a portion of his to the side. “That’s why the old man decided I should join a show.”
“Oh, yeah, I heard about that. You always listen to your old man, huh?” Lasko smirked in the darkness.
“I do when fifty thousand acres are at stake.” Another fake swig from the bottle. Jim coughed a little, tipped it up a second time. “Damn, that’s good stuff!”
“Potent too,” Lasko said. His words came out more like “poshunt too,” but they were understandable. “Whatcha mean, fifty thousand acres?”
“That’s my share of the ranch when Pa kicks off. Split even between me and the kid brush… kid brother… If I’m a goo’ boy…”
Lasko snickered. “An’ you’re doin’ just that, huh? Hell, if I could shut… shirt…if I could fire a gun like that. I’d be out there a-makin’ a name for m’self.” He tipped up his bottle and drank, the liquid gurgling in the quiet night.
Jim “drank” too, and tossed his bottle aside. “That’s that.”
“Well, here, have ‘nother. Plenty here, Kid. Plenty. I allays come well shupplied…” Lasko pitched a bottle Jim’s way. It landed on the ground, but did not hit a rock.
Jim picked it up, opened it and saluted Lasko before tipping it up. With a sigh, he lowered it. “I was… I was gonna be famush… rich’n’famush.”
“How dya mean rish… risch… what do you mean?”
“Big rich men would pay me to get rid of fellas they don’ like. Y’know? Lotsh of money.” Jim waved the bottle to indicate a pile of riches. “Not much money in shootin’ in a tent.”
“Ya sure get the looks from the purty girlsh.”
“That…that’sh not much help unlesh I find one with a rish—rich papa.” Jim took another sham drink. When Lasko raised his bottle for a long drink, Jim again took advantage and dumped more from his bottle.
Now Lasko wiggled a finger in the air. “Ya shee? Ya shee? Thatsh where you’re wrong, Kid. All wrong. Lotsha money in having pretty girlsh like you. Ol’ Ceshul already said somethin’ about that. Valerian, he’sh gettin’ too old, Ceshul sez.”
Jim realized that “Ceshul” was Cecil Yount. “I think yer drunk,” he slurred and tipped his bottle up again.
Lasko giggled. “Yeah, I’m drunk. But I ain’t shtupid. You could make plenty uh money. All ya gotta do ish talk to these li’l shrweetiesh and shet up a meetin’.”
Disguising the excitement he was experiencing, Jim shook his head. “I think you’re drunk. Whatta you talkin’ ‘bout?”
“Girlsh! Shweet, pure little girlsh! That crazy fella is payin’ plenty for us to bring them some more.”
“Yer the crazy one,” Jim mumbled, almost dropping his bottle and grasping it just as it tumbled into the grass, spilling some, which of course was his intention. “Thish fella startin’ a harem?”
“Huh? Naw! He’s a shientisht. Shientissst. In Shan Fan…San Fan… ah hell, Frishco. He want uh dozen girlsh for a, a eshperiment.”
Now Jim fought to hide the sudden chill he experienced. “’Speriment? What kinda ‘speriment?”
“Hell, I dunno. He wants a dozen girlsh. Twelve. We got ‘im ‘leven. Gotta get one more and we get paid a bundle. And Yount shaysh his pal will want more later.”
Jim gazed through the darkness at the very inebriated man. “You—yer sendin’ him these girls when you get ‘em?”
“Naw. Too far to go. We got’em here.”
Now Jim looked back in the direction of carnival’s setup. “Here? In a tent?” That can’t be possible! They couldn’t be kept hidden!
“Naw! Shee, Ceshul’s sister, she’s helpin’. Ceshul, he don’t like shpreadin’ the money out like that, but gotta be done. Viola—thash her name—Viola and her ol’ man, they take care of the girlsh. Got a wagon, shee? Keep the little ladiesh in the wagon till we get’em to Frishco. Then we get the money!”
“Ah, I din’t shee no wagon.”
Lasko snickered again. “Coursh ya din’t. Shtays away from the rest of ush. Only a few know. I’m takin’ you into a very speshul group, Kid. Whatcha say?”
Jim took another sham swig. “I dunno. Can’t figure it. Where’sh this wagon with all these girlsh?”
“At the old fort.”
“Yeah! Viola’sh ol’ man Fred, he always shcouts ahead and findsh a shpot. Found this old army fort, ain’t been used in a hunnert years. Haunted they say, sho folksh don’t go there. Good place to hide out. Besht they found for a while. Now come on, Jeshee. Thish is a good deal I’m handin’ ya. All you gotta do is flirt with the girliesh in the midway and make a date with one. Then we pick ‘em up. Got our dozen and we’re rich!”
“Wush my cut?” Jim slurred.
“Hunnert bucksh a girl. Jusht one for now, but more later. What d’ya say, huh?”
“Soundsh good to me. Real good. Wha’sh this shientish fellow doing?”
“I dunno. Don’ care. He’s payin’.”
“Awright. I’m in. I better get back to the wagon ‘fore my Pa wakes up. Don’t wanna tell him.”
“No, you gotta keep it shecret. Big shrecret. No one knows. Shhhh!” Lasko put his finger in front of his lips. He then took another long drink—and fell over, unconscious.
There is an emanation from the heart in genuine hospitality which cannot be described, but is immediately felt and puts the stranger at once at his ease.
—Washington Irving (1783-1859), American short story writer and essayist
“Get your boots on, Artie. We have a lot to do.”
“What did you find out?” Artie asked, sitting up and reaching for his footwear stuck under the bed as Jim began to strap on his gun belt.
“I know where the girls are. Apparently, they are alive. Not sure how well cared for. We’re going to need to get your friend the sheriff to help.”
Jim quietly informed his partner of all he had learned as they made their way through the darkness to where the horses were stabled. Artie’s chestnut mare had been placed with the carnival horses from the time the “Graham pair” arrived, and of course, Blackjack was considered part of the troupe now. They walked by Lasko, still snoring loudly and reeking of alcohol.
Saddling up, they mounted and took a circuitous route that would keep them out of sight from any of the circus wagons, in case anyone was awake. In his conversation with “old friend” Walter Broome, Artie had learned where the sheriff and his family resided, and that is where they headed first, a two-story house on the far side of town.
Broome came to the door quickly, obviously accustomed to being roused in the middle of the night. He heard the story then hurried to dress, as well as to inform his wife what was going on. “Martha says bring the girls right back into town. Folks will take care of them,” he said as he joined the agents downstairs again.
The first thing they did was to go to the home of Broome’s chief deputy, a balding man in his thirties with intelligent and alert eyes. Broome had obviously told him of his encounter with the agent at the carnival, for the deputy just nodded as the sheriff ordered him to collect the two part-time deputies and anyone else he could find and trust.
“Get out there to the circus and hold this Yount, Lasko, and Valerian and anyone else who looks suspicious. We’ll clear it up later.”
Broome knew the most expedient route to the old fort in question, which he said was some seven or eight miles east of town. He confirmed that people stayed away from the old fort due to stories of haunting. Those brave enough to visit reported hearing cries of savages and soldiers, dying during the massacre that had occurred there in the early days of the settlement of Colorado. A few even swore they saw specters on the grounds.
A thick grove of trees was located about a quarter of a mile from the ruins, and Broome suggested leaving their horses there, which the agents agreed was a good idea. All three men procured rifles from the boots on their saddles and proceeded on foot. As they neared, the faint scent of smoke reached them, and finally the remaining standing poles of the fort loomed into view.
Creeping up behind those poles, they peered inside. A circus wagon was on the far side of the clearing. Two people could be seen rolled up in blankets near the dying fire. Jim motioned to his companions, then he headed directly toward the pair, while Artemus and the sheriff each went different directions to come in from either side.
Jim paused by the fire and waited until the other two approached before he spoke in a loud voice. “Wake up! You’re under arrest!”
The woman awakened first, sitting right up, then scrambling to grab the rifle that lay alongside her blankets. Artie was nearest and he stepped over to kick the weapon away. The man was slower to rouse, rubbing his eyes and looking around, demanding to know what was going on. The woman just cursed, long and loud. She was middle-aged, and the agents had no doubt she was the one Erika had seen.
As soon as Viola and her “old man” were handcuffed, Jim hurried to the back of the wagon. They had already heard some frantic calls emanating from inside, as the prisoners no doubt noted the commotion. Jim hoisted the bar that secured the door and opened it. At once, a foul odor hit him, but then one after another the young women were reaching for him to lift them down, and he did.
“Who are you?” they demanded, still uncertain. “Who are you?”
Artie had been building up the fire for warmth and illumination, and by the firelight they could see that the girls were filthy, their clothing torn, their hair badly in need of washing. Nonetheless, they looked well fed, and all were smiling, if a little wary and disbelieving yet. Artie recognized the girl who ran up to him.
“I’m Roseanna Russell. Is my aunt all right?”
“She’s fine, although very worried, as is your father. We’ll contact them as soon as possible. First we need to get all of you into the nearby town, so I’m afraid you’ll have to make one more trip in the wagon.” He was impressed that her first thought was for her aunt.
A petite blonde girl looked at him with big eyes. “Can we leave the door open?”
“You most certainly may, my dear. No more closed doors unless you close them yourself.”
The first order of business, as Artemus had said, was to get the girls to town and safety, to baths and clean clothes, beds instead of ragged blankets on the floor of the dark wagon. Jim and Artemus wanted to talk to them, but knew the wisdom of letting them have some peace and quiet and normalcy for a while.
Mrs. Broome had elicited help from several neighbors and they were ready with hot water and tubs, along with clothes from their own daughters or borrowed from others. The word had spread quickly, even in the predawn hours. They took the girls in hand, and shooed the males off to gather in the evil people who had committed this terrible deed. Jim and Artie assured the girls that their families would be notified on the morrow, when time allowed information to be gathered.
“You need some recovery time,” Artie smiled as caring women gathered the girls. “Tomorrow is time enough to send telegrams.”
The men then rode out to the carnival grounds as the sky was beginning to brighten in the east. The carnival was astir, lanterns glowing from every wagon and elsewhere. The chief deputy sprinted out to meet them. He had managed to pull together a posse of seven men and they had initially found Valerian, he reported, but Yount and Lasko were nowhere to be seen.
“We were just pulling this Valerian from his wagon, after asking a woman who was sitting on her porch having a cigarette where he was, when this Valerian, he yells, ‘Hey, Rube,’ or something like that. We thought he was goin’ nuts, then all of a sudden these big hooligans started jumping out of their wagons with guns and sticks and… well, it took us maybe twenty, thirty minutes to get control. Then we hunted for this Yount and this Lasko, and they weren’t nowhere to be found. This Valerian, he escaped during the rumpus.”
Muttering a curse, Jim reined his horse toward the wagon that Yount had used, Artie following. They dismounted and went inside, lighting a lamp. Signs of a hasty departure were evident. Quite a few papers, however, remained in the small desk. While the sheriff and his men searched the grounds and elsewhere for the two missing men, the agents pored through Yount’s papers.
“Lasko said this scientist was in San Francisco, right?” Artie asked, looking up from a sheet of paper he held.
Jim nodded as he continued to leaf through a handful of envelopes he had found. They seemed to be mostly about bookings. “Why?”
“This letter. Look at it.”
Artie handed the paper over and Jim held it close to the lamp on the desk. “Professor Nestor Mayfield. Lasko never mentioned a name.” The letter was addressed to Yount, and while the language was vague, knowing the intent behind it made it more understandable. Mayfield was urging Yount to carry out his contract; the professor was growing impatient. Time was growing short. “The current crop cannot be sustained much longer.” Jim read that sentence aloud and looked at his partner.
“I’m thinking that means he has the California girls. I wish we knew why he needed a dozen. What in the world is he up to?” Frustration was on Artie’s face and in his voice.
“We might not know until we find him. Let’s finish this up. We need to talk to those girls, as well as Valerian and Viola. Maybe among them they can provide some hints.”
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 - 12/13/2015 : 08:56:44
| Chapter Four
Never confide your secrets to paper; it is like throwing a stone in the air; and if you know who throws the stone, you do not know where it may fall.
—Pedro Calderon de la Barca (1600-1681), Spanish dramatist
The carnival continued in an uproar as full daylight emerged. Those that had been roused by the earlier altercation were still confused about what had occurred and why, and those who awakened later were even more upset. They kept coming to Yount’s wagon and interrupting the agents in their work. Artie finally sought out Mathias Durant, brought him to the wagon, then in his sternest and most official voice, informed the carnival workers that their employer had absconded and was wanted by the government. He told them that Durant was now in charge and that no one was to leave the carnival grounds without permission from Durant or the agents.
Quite a bit of grumbling followed but no one seemed willing to raise too much of a fuss when the government was involved. Mathias was given permission to tell the people some of what had occurred; especially that Yount and Lasko were involved in the kidnappings. He was to ask people for any information they might have relevant to the case. He was also told that when the Wanderer pulled out for California in the next day or so, the Durants were welcome to come along. The other carnival people would have to fend for themselves.
Erika came to the wagon to help sort through the mess. She remained there when, after going through all of Yount’s papers, and finding a couple more not very helpful pieces of correspondence from the professor, Jim and Artemus rode into town to the telegraph office. A wire was transmitted informing Washington that they had rescued the girls from Colorado, all were safe; details would follow. The girls’ families would be notified today and they knew that Richmond would immediately contact Senator Russell.
Another message went to San Francisco Police Department to ask them to seek out a Professor Mayfield, as well as be on the lookout for Yount, Lasko, and Valerian, who were presumed to be heading that direction. The agents then had breakfast, after which they went to the jail to talk to Viola and Fred. Viola was not helpful at all when they brought her into the sheriff’s office. She either said nothing to their questions or cursed them. Fred was another matter.
Fred Detloff swore up and down that he had been an unwilling participant in the whole business. Viola wanted to help her brother and she wanted the money Cecil promised. “I tried my best to talk Viola into letting those poor girls go,” he attested. “I made sure they was well took care of too. I swear!”
Fred knew only that they were delivering the girls to San Francisco. As soon as one more had been picked up, the wagon was going to separate from the carnival, with Yount joining them, to head further west as swiftly as possible—which wasn’t going to be too swift considering the type of conveyance they were using and the fact that they would continue to have to remain hidden. Viola had told him some professor wanted these girls, but even she did not seem to know why. Fred had never heard the name and did not recognize “Mayfield” when Artie mentioned it.
When Fred was returned to his cell—which he had requested be separate from his wife—Viola screeched imprecations and threats, seeming to know that her husband was the weaker link. The five roustabouts in the third cell were not immediately questioned. The agents suspected that the men had responded to “Hey Rube,” the traditional circus and carnival call for help, out of habit and loyalty, not because they were particularly protecting Yount, Lasko, and Valerian.
With Sheriff Broome, Jim and Artie went to the sheriff’s house, where, as they expected, most of the girls were still sleeping. Mrs. Broome marveled how neighbors had cooperated in providing the girls with baths, fresh clothes, and good food. They had also offered beds, but it seemed the girls wanted to stay together on what might be their last night. Their common peril had bonded them into good friends. All were upstairs in the room that had belonged to the Broomes’ two daughters, since married and in their own homes.
“It’s a little crowded,” Mrs. Broome laughed, “but they don’t seem to mind.”
Nancy Kendrick was the one girl who had risen and come downstairs. She now looked much more like the girl in the photograph they had seen, even if her dress was a little large for her slim frame. Her hair was washed and brushed, falling over her shoulders, all the grime gone from her face and hands. The agents were going to allow her to have her breakfast in peace, but she urged them to stay and talk to her.
“I know how important it is for you to get information as soon as possible. Don’t forget, my uncle is a sheriff. I was fortunate in that I was captive for the least amount of time, but I completely understand what the others have endured. Even for my few days it was pure… hell.” She seemed loathe to pronounce that word, but also appeared to recognize that it might be the only one to truly describe the situation.
As she hungrily devoured the flapjacks and eggs Mrs. Broome served, Nancy told them how she had met, and been completely charmed by, the trapeze artist Valerian. “He asked questions about the area, said he might consider settling in such a place, and wanted to know how I spent my leisure time. I told him how I liked to go riding by myself.” Nancy shook her head slightly. “I know now that was the most foolish thing I could have said!”
“Valerian is indeed a very charming and handsome man,” Artie smiled. “You weren’t the only girl to be taken in.”
“So I learned. In any case, I took my usual ride and was very surprised and flattered when I saw Valerian approaching on a horse. I stopped to talk to him, and two other men jumped out, pulled me from my horse, tied and gagged me. I was taken to the wagon, which was nearby. I admit that at the time, I was quite curious as to why Valerian asked so many details about where I rode, but I was also quite thrilled by his attention. I know now he wanted to find the best spot to ambush me!”
“Nancy,” Jim said quietly, “did you hear anything that would indicate why you were kidnapped and where they were taking you?”
She swallowed the food in her mouth. “Not really. Mrs. Detloff mentioned San Francisco once or twice, but we were not sure what that meant. I tried to ask Mr. Detloff, but his wife was always nearby.”
“Fred Detloff claimed he tried to help you girls.” Artie commented.
“Oh, he did! He was very kind compared to his wife. He was obviously quite under her thumb. She ran the whole business. We were forced to sleep in the wagon, of course, with only a bucket for our needs. In the morning, we were taken out, one at a time, and fed. Same thing happened in the evening. Mr. Detloff tried to convince his wife we should be fed three times a day but she said it was too much trouble.” Nancy sighed, a haunted expression in her eyes. “Those were the times when we all felt we were headed toward our doom and that was why she was not worried about keeping us healthy!”
One by one, the other girls appeared at the table, and their stories were similar to Nancy’s. Another also had been captured while out riding—after she too had told the captivating Valerian all about her habit of riding and where. A third was taken when she walked to the schoolhouse where she assisted the current teacher. Yet another when she was delivering food to a poor family in her area, something she did regularly at the behest of her mother. All their stories were similar: they were flattered and taken in when the performer singled them out for attention.
Roseanna Russell was the only variant. She had left the hotel on her errand, and a man had called to her from a nearby carriage. His mother was ill inside, he said. Could she help him? Roseanna had thought nothing of it. The carriage—which she later learned was rented—looked very respectable and so did the man, Cecil Yount. As soon as she reached the open door, she had been seized and pulled inside, like Nancy gagged and bound, then kept out of sight.
“No one was on the street. I had noticed that when I left the hotel. Except for the shoeshine boy who was very busy shining some shoes someone had left with him.”
“As we figured, a crime of opportunity,” Artie murmured.
Comes jucundus in via pro vehiculo est.
[A pleasurable companion on a journey is as good as a carriage.]
—Maxims, Syrus (Publilius Syrus; c. 1st century BC), Roman (Syrian born) mimographer
Convinced the girls were in good hands and would be reunited with their parents, Jim and Artemus returned to the carnival grounds. Some order had been restored. Mathias and Erika had told the remaining carnies what they knew of the situation, and those people had held a meeting. They were unsure of the legalities, but this carnival was their life, their income. They voted to continue on and elected one of the barkers, apparently very respected, to be their leader. They would decide on their future while keeping the dates that Yount had already scheduled.
Erika and Mathias were urged to stay with them, but the Durants preferred to accept the offer of the safe and swift passage on the Wanderer. They had expected to reach California in a couple of months, shortly before Erika’s due date, but now they could be in their new home well before their child arrived.
The trek to meet the Wanderer was relatively fast and simple as the railroad tracks passed by Double Creek within about two miles. Mathias and Erika were settled in the spare compartment, their goods stored in the stable-lab car, and the train headed west. At periodic stops for fuel and water, and twice to visit nearby towns for supplies, telegraph messages were sent to check on progress in locating the fugitives as well as this Professor Mayfield. No news was forthcoming. The professor had not been located at any of the nearby schools nor anywhere else in the area. Yount, Lasko, and Valerian simply vanished.
The trip was otherwise uneventful, and quite enjoyable with the guests aboard. Artie was able to show off his culinary talents, which Erika paid great heed to, and the four of them played cards in the evening. Occasionally the train crew joined them, if that pair were not busy tending to their duties, or preferred to hit their bunks early.
When the Wanderer rolled down out of the Sierra into the central valley of California, the train halted at the Sacramento depot, where Mathias’ equally husky brother was waiting with a wagon to take them to their new home. After all their goods were loaded on the wagon, many hugs were exchanged, along with a promise from the agents that once the case was cleared up, they would make another stop in the capital city in order to visit. Erika reminded Artie that she still had a lot to learn as far as cooking was concerned. Behind her, Mathias nodded enthusiastically.
Though a good deal is too strange to be believed, nothing is too strange to have happened.
—Thomas Hardy (1840-1928), English novelist and poet
The agents had their horses saddled and ready when the Wanderer came to a full stop at the San Francisco rail yards. Throwing open the side door and dropping the ramp, they immediately headed out toward police headquarters, knowing that being on horseback would be infinitely faster than a hack trying to make its way through the sometimes heavy city traffic. Upon reaching the building, they went directly to the office of their friend Lieutenant Lloyd Morris.
Morris wasted no time in bringing them up to date. “Professor Nestor Mayfield has not been found. No one named Mayfield at all. I have sent enquiries to Santa Clara County, Monterey, and Santa Cruz Counties…all down the coast… as well as north to Marin, Solano, Sonoma. In fact, to the Oregon border.”
Artie shook his head. “And that’s all we have to go on. We scoured through Yount’s wagon. That name appears twice in letters postmarked San Francisco—which does not necessarily mean he resides here.”
“But somewhere close by,” Jim murmured, drawing nods from the other two. “He must be using another name in this area. We have to find him. The girls kidnapped here on the coast are certainly in his custody.”
“That definitely seems to be the case,” Lloyd nodded. “By the way, mostly out of curiosity, I checked through missing persons reports in the city over the last year or so, thinking that perhaps other girls are missing that we did not connect. I found just three women under twenty. One was found dead, another was verified as having eloped with her boyfriend. The third hasn’t been located, but she was a young prostitute and doesn’t seem to match all the other girls.”
“No,” Jim agreed. “When I had my conversation with Gus Lasko, he mentioned that the girls needed to be ‘pure.’ We have no notion what the means, other than chaste girls often bring more money in the white slave trade.”
“We’ve been checking that too,” Morris stated. “As far as we’ve been able to determine, no transactions involving young girls, or even the ships suspected to deal in them, have occurred in the last several months. That’s something we try to keep a close watch on along the waterfront.”
“Just like the girls in Colorado,” Artie said, “the ones in California, Washington, and Oregon, were picked up over a lengthy period of time. They had to be kept captive during that time—and would have been hidden in that wagon all the way to California. Lasko told Jim that a dozen were required. Mayfield—whoever he is—apparently does not have that dozen yet, without the Colorado girls.”
“Chances are,” Jim added grimly, “that if Yount and Lasko made it to San Francisco, they are in contact with Mayfield and will soon set out to retake six young women from somewhere. We have to find Mayfield before that happens.”
Morris could only shake his head. “I’ve instructed foot patrolmen to keep an eye out for abnormal activity, such as seeing anyone carrying food supplies into an unusual area, like old warehouses. Presumably these captive girls are being fed.”
For a long minute, none of the three men spoke, their expressions somber, even a little angry at the frustration they were experiencing. Then the lieutenant leaned forward, tapping a folder of papers on his desk.
“When I was searching for possible missing girls in the city, I came across something else. Over the last year to eighteen months, a number of men have gone missing. Men of various ages, but all of them derelicts—drunks, bums, beggars. Primarily they were reported by some acquaintance that noticed they weren’t in their usual spots—begging on a corner, selling matches outside a restaurant, or just in their favorite saloon.”
“I don’t suppose a lot of effort was made to find them,” Artie put in wryly.
Morris sighed heavily. “No, you are right. With as much as we have to do in this city to keep law and order, looking for vagrants and floaters is very low on the list, especially when they could have tumbled off the dock in the drunken stupor. In fact, one was later found floating in the bay. Oddly, even though the body was in bad shape after being in the water so long, the doc who took a look said it appeared to have been operated on.”
“Really? For what?” Artie asked.
“He wasn’t positive. Organs were missing but that could have been due to fish predation. He didn’t spend a lot of time on it, apparently. Just scribbled a few notes in the file.”
Jim shook his head doubtfully. “Can’t see how that would be related to our case.”
“That’s what I thought,” Morris concurred.
They talked with the policeman a little while longer before departing with the stated intention of doing some searching on their own for Nestor Mayfield. Morris was not insulted. He knew that the police had their sources, but Jim West and Artemus Gordon also had theirs. He would send word to the train if anything new came up. He reminded them that they were invited to Morris’s home for supper before they left San Francisco. They would want to see how his little daughter had grown, and meet the newest member of the Morris family, newborn Zachary.
Two weary Secret Service agents returned to the Wanderer late that night. The day had been spent walking or riding all over the city, meeting people from all walks of life. That included a bookie who kept an “office” in the alley next to a Barbary Coast saloon as well as the well-set up madam on that same Barbary Coast in her luxurious suite on the top floor of her house. They also tracked down a lawyer known to have the knack of slipping bribes to officials in order to get a client exonerated or a permit approved. They bought drinks, twice purchased meals, handed out silver coins, and above all, talked.
All to no avail.
“I don’t believe it,” Artie complained as he stripped off his jacket. “Somebody has to know something!”
Jim hung his hat on the rack and shed his jacket before going to the cupboard to pull out a bottle of bourbon and two glasses. “You’d think so. Artie, I could not detect anything that indicted any person was lying to us.”
Artie sighed heavily as he accepted the glass of amber liquid. “I know. No one ever heard of Nestor Mayfield. No one knows Cecil Yount or Gus Lasko or anyone named Valerian. We should have tried to find out his real name from the carnies.”
“Yeah. He seemed to be a minor player, the one who lured the girls into revealing helpful information. But he is involved.” Jim held up his glass in a salute and took a swallow. “What next?”
Matching the salute and swallow, Artie shrugged. “I’m not sure. You know, I keep thinking of those men who went missing. I’m thinking we should cover all bets and do some digging there. It’ll be fresh ground because we know the police didn’t do much.”
“I agree. Artie, why don’t you do that tomorrow? I’ll continue in the same direction we were going today. We didn’t hit everyone. This ‘professor’ could still be a man of science, even if none of the schools know him. I’d like to ask a few doctors.”
“Excellent idea. Don't know why we didn’t think of that earlier.” Artie polished off his drink. “I’m for bed. It’s been a very long day.”
Jim saluted him again and emptied his glass. “Hear, hear. My pillow is calling!”
Artemus reached the section of the city known as the Barbary Coast around midmorning. They had been here yesterday but had not spent all that much time in the sordid area, intuitively sensing that this “Professor” was not one of the usual denizens of the coast. The people they had talked to were their usual informants and a couple of owners of establishments—with absolutely no luck.
He had gone to Lloyd Morris’s office to retrieve the file folder with the information about the men who had gone missing, along with the names of the persons who reported them missing. A few of the names were familiar, and Artie sought them out at their usual hangouts. After the first couple, he began to think he was on the proverbial wild goose chase. The men who reported their comrades as having vanished had no knowledge other than “Willy” or “Snake-eyes” had not appeared at their normal haunts.
The third man he located was a former sailor, one of the last Sidney ducks, with a peg-leg and a badly scarred face. He told Artie that his pal “Jonesy” and him had been walking to their digs one foggy night when a big black carriage pulled up alongside them, with a man inside calling them over. Peg-Leg Al was not interested, wanting only to get to their shared room and beds. Jonesy was, however, so both stepped out into the street.
All they really heard was a voice, because the area was dark and the coach did not have any lighting. A man’s voice said that if they would go with him, they would have all the food to eat and all the drink to drink they could ever want. Al had tried to find out what was up, but Jonesy was all for it. He climbed inside, urging his friend to follow, but Peg-Leg had demurred.
“Somethin’ fishy was up, Mr. Gordon. Somethin’ real fishy. No one invites folks like us to their homes. ‘Specially not folks with big fancy carriages like that.”
“I don’t suppose you saw anything to identify the coach—writing or an insignia on the door? The driver?”
“Naw. Like I said, it was pitch black out here. Fog was really thick that night, an’ no moon. Couple days later I hollered down Ernie, the bear what walks this beat, and tol’ him about Jonesy. ‘Course you know nothing else come of it.”
Artie nodded, evincing some sympathy for the loss of a friend. “I know. I’m going to see what I can do about it, Al, but I’m not promising anything. We’re looking for some young girls who also disappeared.”
Artie smiled, shaking his head. “No. Girls that were taken from their families.”
“Oh, dat’s terrible. Terrible. You think Jonesy being missin’ might have somethin’ to do wit’ dat?”
“I don't know. But I’m going to find out.”
Perseverance and audacity generally win.
—Dorothee DeLuzy (1747-1830), French actress
Jim’s morning did not go quite as well as his partner’s initially. He went to the public library to find the city directory, spending time to copy down a dozen names of doctors in a relatively small area of the city. He then visited those doctors at their offices, one by one. One by one, they told him they had never heard of Nestor Mayfield, as a professor, a doctor, or even a patient. Not even as an acquaintance.
He had visited four and was heading for the fifth when he noticed a tobacconist on the street he was traversing. Remembering he was low on cigarillos, Jim dismounted in front of the establishment, entering to buy a box of his favorite brand. He was putting that box in his saddlebag when he heard his name called.
“Jim? Jim West!”
Turning, Jim looked toward the source of that voice and smiled broadly. He held out his hand as he walked to the man now standing on the sidewalk. “Paul Hynes! It’s been a while!”
They shook hands, and the other man nodded. “It has. Close to a year now. How have you been?” He was in his late forties, with a mane of graying blond hair and clear blue eyes, clean-shaven. Some had advised Dr. Paul Hynes that if he ever wanted to be taken seriously has a physician he needed to grow some facial hair for a dignified appearance. Hynes had steadfastly refused. He was still known as one of the finest surgeons in the city; as well, he had been used regularly by law enforcement as an expert witness. That was how the agents met him. They had become good friends during the length of a trial.
“Pretty well. Actually, I was probably going to be looking you up, if not today, then tomorrow.”
“Oh? You’re not ill?”
“No,” Jim laughed.
“Then you want some legal-type medical advice.”
“Not that either. We are on a tough case and looking for a man named Nestor Mayfield, possibly using the title of Professor. Ring any bells?”
“No,” Hynes responded, frowning as he shook his head. “However, I did make the acquaintance of a Professor Newbold Mayhugh.’
Jim rubbed his chin. “That’s close to Mayfield, isn’t it? What can you tell me about him?”
“Jim, I was heading for Molly’s across the street there. I had an early call to check on a patient, and I haven’t had breakfast. Why don’t you come along for a cup of coffee and I’ll tell you about Newbold Mayhugh. Might be the oddest character I’ve ever met.”
The two men waited for a freight wagon to lumber by, then crossed the street to the café, which was a small place owned by an Irish couple who served excellent food. Jim and Artemus had eaten here more than once, and he quickly learned that so had the doctor when Mrs. O’Byrne greeted both of them by name. Once seated at a corner table, the doctor ordered a hearty breakfast while Jim settled for a cinnamon bun to go along with the coffee Mrs. O’Byrne poured immediately.
Jim quickly related his reasons for talking to physicians regarding the missing girls. “Tell me about this odd character, Paul.”
The physician nodded. “I’ll have to give you a little background first. When I first entered the university, I thought I wanted to be a scientist, a researcher, so I took classes that ended up putting me in the laboratory of a brilliant and well-known, well-respected professor whose specialty was aging.”
“Aging?” Jim frowned. “You mean why people age?”
“More or less. Also, he was investigating whether anything could be done to stop the aging process, or reverse it—kind of looking for a scientific fountain of youth. Oh, he studied other health-related topics as well, but aging was his passion—even as he grew older. I found I shared that passion for a while, and we became good friends despite our age difference. We spent a great deal of time away from the lab discussing theories and possibilities.
“Finally, we decided to write a half-tongue-in-cheek paper about how one could reverse or halt the aging process. We did not think that any journal would accept it, but one did. Over the next several years, it sparked a number of lively discussions, even debates. Almost everyone realized what it was—non serious, and mostly improbably and impossible.”
Hynes paused as Mrs. O’Byrne brought their orders, and the silence continued as he poured maple syrup on his pancakes and arranged his bacon and eggs just so. Jim took advantage of the hiatus to consume a couple of bites of the warm, buttery, cinnamon-laden bun. Then the doctor took up his narration again.
“I say almost everyone because it appears this Mayhugh read the article and took it quite seriously. Sadly, my professor died a couple of years after that article was published, and by then, although I had enjoyed my time in the lab, I had realized my place in medicine was with patients, not with test tubes, and I had moved on.”
“Are you saying this Mayhugh came to you here to talk about the theories you published?”
“Exactly. He showed up at my office and waited until I had seen all my patients, then offered to take me to dinner so we could talk. He seemed… respectable, as well as knowledgeable…at least initially. In the midst of our rather sane discussion, Mayhugh abruptly told me he had been doing experiments based on the article. I was rather appalled to say the least.”
“What were some of the theories proffered?”
Hynes sighed. “We wondered if using serums made from the organs of young animals to be injected into older persons would reverse the process. We also talked about young plants and nectar from flowers. As you can tell, it was highly improbable. Even silly.”
Jim held his fork still, his eyes on the doctor’s face. “This Mayhugh… he was using animals and plants?”
“Seems so. He said he quickly discarded plants, but claimed he had seen some success with animals, using material from young to inject into older animals. I am highly doubtful. I think he was seeing what he wanted to see. Here’s the thing, Jim. He wanted me to join him in his research. He said he was embarking on a major project and my expertise was badly needed.”
“I don’t suppose he detailed this ‘major project.’”
“No. By then, I was beginning to realize that the semblance of a sane and intelligent man was a fallacy. He was crazy. I refused of course, tactfully using my work at the hospital and in my clinic as an excuse. He was very disappointed, also saying I would be sorry when fame and fortune came his way.”
“Paul, where does this Mayhugh live?”
“You think he might be someone you are seeking?”
“I don't know. We are grasping at any straw we can these days. I would certainly like to talk to him, particularly because his name so closely resembles Mayfield.”
“Well, fortunately for you, he contacted me again about four months ago and asked me to visit him. I had not gotten his address the first time. I had some time off and I decided it could be interesting to see what in the world he was up to. His address is down in San Mateo County, Jim, just across the county line. It’s an old white farmhouse set a couple hundred yards off the road. You can’t miss it—especially if he still has the big black coach that was parked there when I visited.”
“What did you find out when you went there?”
“Not much. He had some rats he claimed he had stabilized as far as aging was concerned by injecting them with his serum concocted from the glands of younger mice. They looked like old rats to me. He again asked me to join him and I again declined. I haven’t heard from him since.” Hynes paused, gazing at Jim in return. “Jim, why would he want to kidnap nearly a dozen young women?”
“That is a very good question, Paul. A very good one indeed.”
"But for to assaye," he seyde, "it nought ne greveth;
For he that nought nassayeth, nought nacheveth."
["But to attempt it," he said, "should not grieve:
for he that attempts nothing will nothing achieve."
I.e., Nothing ventured, nothing gained.]
—Troilus and Criseyde (bk. V, st. 112), Geoffrey Chaucer (1340-1400), English poet
Jim returned to the Wanderer long enough to give his horse a good graining, and to leave his partner a message. He had hoped Artie would have returned by now, but the crew reported he had not been seen since the pair departed the Wanderer earlier in the day. Therefore, he placed the lengthy note on the desk, and asked Cobb and Kelly to be sure that Mr. Gordon saw it when he did return.
“Who knows, I might be back before he shows up. I just want to be sure he knows where I am.”
After adding a few items to the inside pockets of his corduroy jacket, Jim saddled up again and headed south from the city. At a brisk pace, he reached the southern county line in about an hour, and as Paul Hynes had said, soon trotted by a large white farmhouse—where a black coach was resting near what was probably a stable toward the rear.
He continued by, casually gazing around, but taking an extra good look at the building and its surroundings. A few trees were between the house and the road, along with numerous untended bushes, including roses. He knew he could probably approach the house unseen on foot. Now he needed to find a place to safely place Blackjack for the duration.
Such a site was located about a quarter mile up the road, after a sharp turn. Off to one side was a grove of trees within which was a small clearing alongside a narrow swift-flowing stream. Jim was able to fasten ropes to trees to give the horse access to the water and some freedom of movement, while being pretty much out of sight from the road behind trees and brush.
Once the horse was secure, Jim made his way back toward the house, staying as far away from the road as possible, and using vegetation as a cover, especially when the roof of the house came into view. He did not want to be spotted from an upstairs window. As he grew nearer, he realized those upstairs windows were covered from the inside with what appeared to be heavy paper. He drew a sharp breath upon realizing what this could potentially signify: someone hidden on that second floor!
Artemus returned to the Wanderer about an hour after Jim had departed, although he did not realize this until he spoke to Orrin Cobb and then read the note on the desk. Jim explained that he had encountered Dr. Paul Hynes, who had told him about Professor Newbold Mayhugh, living in San Mateo County, possessing some odd ideas about aging and prevention. He thought it was worth checking out.
Artie frowned in annoyance as he realized Jim had neglected to provide any further information on the whereabouts of this Mayhugh, other than “San Mateo County,” which was a fairly expansive space, not to mention mountainous and covered with forests where it had not yet been settled. Unknowingly copying his partner, Artemus loaded some extra supplies in his pockets, as well as in his saddlebags. He then set out to find Paul Hynes.
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 - 12/13/2015 : 08:58:05
| Chapter Five
Mad as a March hare.
—Archaic Diet (vol. II, Art, "March Hare"), James Orchard Halliwell (1820-1889), English biographer, archaeologist, scholar, librarian, and author
Keeping his head below the lower edge of the first floor windows, Jim crept along the side of the house. Now up close, he discerned that the place needed new paint badly. One window had a board that replaced a broken pane. The roses and other shrubbery could do with trimming. Someone was living here but not doing much upkeep, it seemed.
The first window he peered into was a kitchen. A woman was at the big iron stove, her back to him. She appeared to be stirring a large pot. Jim moved on. The next window was a room with a desk, chair, and a pile of books, but little else. No pictures on the wall, no other furnishings. The room was also vacant.
The final window was nearest the front of the house; here was where he found human occupation. He recognized Yount and Valerian instantly. Valerian was leaning indolently against the far wall, studying his fingernails, while Cecil Yount appeared to be listening intently to the man in a white lab coat who, like the woman, had his back toward Jim. He was blond and appeared to be wearing spectacles. That was about all he could discern of the man.
This must be the professor!
Then another man, one Jim had never seen before, stepped into view, apparently emerging from a door or hallway that Jim that was out of range from his vantage point. This one also wore a lab coat but was smaller and seemingly older than the other. He said something and the first man turned around.
Jim gasped! That could not be! He stared hard. Even with the spectacles, the face was easy to recognize. But he’s dead!
So startled and bemused was he by the sight of the man inside, Jim forgot for an instant to be on alert. He did not hear the footstep behind him, and was unaware that anyone was there until the hard barrel of a weapon jammed into the middle of his back.
“Just stand still, Kid,” a familiar voice spoke harshly. Jim obeyed, knowing that while he might swing around to try to knock the gun away, he was also in great danger of being shot before he could do so. A hand reached out and jerked the snake-embossed gun from its holster at his hip. “Now turn around. Raise your hands.”
“Hello, Lasko,” Jim said easily, lifting his hands to shoulder height. “Nice to see you again.”
“I ain’t so sure about that,” Gus Lasko growled. “What the hell you doin’ here?”
“Well, the folks at the carnival were worried about their jobs. I volunteered to find you and Yount.”
“Yeah, sure,” Lasko growled. He motioned with his own pistol, held in his right hand. “Move.” Jim’s pistol was gripped with competency in the left hand and Jim suspected Lasko knew how to use it in that hand.
They walked around the front of the house, up onto the porch. Jim watched alertly for an opportunity to disarm his captor, but none came. Lasko might be loose-tongued when inebriated, but sober he was fully alert. Jim opened the door and stepped into the room where the other four men waited.
“Jesse Graham!” Yount exclaimed. “What the hell…?”
“I’m doubtin’ that’s his real name,” Lasko said behind Jim. “I think we oughta search him.”
“As I told Gus,” Jim spoke easily, barely keeping his gaze from fastening on the man in spectacles, “I came looking for you on behalf of the other carnival people. We were worried something might have happened to you three.” Finally, he allowed his eyes to focus on the other man. “Maitland, isn’t it?”
The professor looked at him in some surprise. The blond hair was longer, and had more gray in it, but the smirking smile was the same. “Ah. I suspect I know the gentleman’s identity. West, I believe?”
“That’s right. James West.” At least that might prevent them from searching him and finding his hidden stash of weapons. “But you’re not Dr. Norris Maitland.” He could see the differences now, although ever so slight.
“Norris was my brother. I am Noren Maitland—his twin. And you murdered him.”
Jim shook his head. “He died in the sanitarium for the criminally insane.” At the trial, Dr. Maitland had gone completely off his rocker, insisting he could save the Sedgewicks and many others with his work, that the aging and deaths of the men he had used was completely necessary and acceptable under the situation. The judge had halted proceedings and commended him to the hospital, where six months later he was found dead in his cell.
“He was not insane! No more than I am. Our work is important! It will save mankind!”
“And what is your work?” Jim inquired. He had no doubt now that this Maitland was responsible for the kidnappings. Were the other six girls still in this house? Behind those covered windows upstairs?
Maitland straightened his shoulders and lifted his chin. “When my work is concluded, millions of people will be able to cease the aging process, remaining young for years and years.”
“That doesn’t sound like a very good idea.”
The professor stared at him. “Why would you say that? Wouldn’t you like to stay young forever?”
“I suppose that might be seen as more favorable than growing old and decrepit. Have you thought about the world’s population? If no one dies…”
Maitland waved a dismissive hand. “You don’t understand. Not everyone will receive the treatment. Only those who can pay for it.”
“Ah. I imagine the price will be high, and you will become very rich.”
“What is the sense in working so hard if not?” He smirked.
“Why do you need these young girls?”
Maitland did not attempt to deny knowledge of Jim’s query. “Because they are young, Mr. West. Young and vital. My work requires their organs.”
Jim suppressed the surge of anger that collided with the cold wave that seemed to freeze his blood fleetingly. “Their organs? Why?” Maitland’s expression was of a man discussing removing an appendix or a bad tooth.
Maitland exhibited annoyance with his prisoner’s stupidity. “Because of their youth, Mr. West! Their very vitality! I erred originally in believing that was unimportant. I used the organs of some useless men who would never be missed. However, their age and dissolute manner of living rendered their organs worthless. I considered younger men and then decided that young women, barely women, would be ideal. However, from what Yount told me, you have disrupted my schedule.”
“I won’t apologize.” Jim’s voice was cold. So that was what had happened to the vagrants Lloyd had reported.
“No matter. Yount and his companions will find six more. An even dozen is required.”
Maitland shrugged. “It just seems like a good round number. Oh, I am sure I will require more. However, I want twelve on hand when I begin the experiment so it is less likely I will run out of the needed material.”
Out of the corner of his eyes, Jim could see Yount and Valerian listening to this conversation. Valerian was still bored, Yount not so much. He did not like to listen to the reasons why he was being paid to kidnap these girls. No doubt, he knew the reasons already, but it was easier to push it to the back of his mind and concentrate on the money if he did not hear it said aloud.
The other man in the white coat simply stood behind Maitland, expressionless. He was not as old as Jim has originally surmised, probably no more than fifty, if that. He had to guess this was an assistant. Who was the woman in the kitchen? Almost as though she heard his thoughts, the woman appeared through a door on the other side of the room. She was in her forties, rather plain, with a large nose and too small mouth. Her dark hair was streaked with gray, her apron stained. She looked tired.
“Noren, I’m ready to serve the girls their dinner.”
Maitland glanced around. “Very well. Mr. West, I am sure you have not met my dear wife and boon companion in this endeavor, Ilona. That is my assistant, Paxton. Paxton will assist you, Ilona. Get on with it.”
If Maitland had kept his gaze on his wife and assistant, he might have noticed the sharp hatred in their eyes just before they turned to go through the door again. Seems as though not all are willing participants, Jim mused, and wondered if and how he could use them.
“Now, Mr. West, what are we to do with you?”
“Let me go?”
Maitland chuckled mirthlessly. “Not really. Lasko, get some rope and tie him up.”
“Why not just kill him?” Lasko complained.
“Because it occurs to me that I am going to have to wait a few weeks, if not months, before my supply of subjects is replenished. I might as well make use of my time. I am sure a virile, healthy man like Mr. West will be very enlightening to use in experiments. You will participate, won’t you, Mr. West?”
“If I have a choice, no.”
Lasko ordered Valerian to go to another room to fetch some rope, and when he returned, Jim was lashed to a straight-backed chair. He tried to flex his muscles so that the ropes might not be as tight as Lasko was attempting to make them, but succeeded only minimally. He did not think he could reach the acid pellets in his jacket pocket, at least not immediately. Once their prisoner was secure, Lasko spoke to Valerian and they went out the front door.
Maitland also left the room, but returned almost right away with a notebook and stethoscope. He opened the notebook and poised a pencil over it, asking Jim his age, weight, and height. Jim remained silent. The professor was unperturbed, obviously making estimates. He then used the stethoscope to listen to Jim’s heart and lungs, murmuring in satisfaction.
“Excellent, Mr. West. You are a perfect specimen.”
“Glad you approve.” Jim voice and expression dripped with acid.
Maitland stepped back. “You did murder my brother, you know.”
“No. I merely arrested him for his dastardly experiments. Those men died long before their times.”
“That’s of no consequence when science is concerned—real science, not simply watching mice in a laboratory. Norris’s work could have been ground breaking, as mine will be. He was so close to finding the secret to the Sedgewick family’s curse. Who knows how many other people that would have helped?”
“He was not close. His theory was balderdash. When real scientists explained that at the trial is when your brother went over the edge. Your theory is also crackpot.”
Maitland reacted then, slapping Jim hard across the face. Jim’s head jerked back, and his lips stung. After a moment, he tasted the salty blood. “You are an ignorant fool,” Maitland sneered. “You do not deserve to live and pollute the world with your stupidity. I will kill you, but it will not be a rapid and merciful death, Mr. West. I have numerous ideas on how to test your stamina, your reflexes, and your overall vitality. Many of them quite painful.”
“I have no doubt.”
The professor gazed at him, seeming to be briefly flummoxed by his prisoner’s calm demeanor. He was about to say something more when Yount, who had been quietly watching, spoke.
“Professor, when this fellow came to the carnival, he was with another man. A guy who claimed to be his father.”
“He is my father,” Jim stated flatly.
Maitland made a scoffing sound. “I recall in reading of my brother’s trial that you had a partner at the time. A man who posed as a victim of the disease Norris needed for his experiments.”
“That was Artemus Gordon. He’s in Washington, DC on another assignment. I’m here alone now. My father went back home.” He could feel warm blood trickling down his chin from his stinging lip.
Plainly, neither Maitland nor Yount knew what to believe. After a moment, Maitland told Yount to find Lasko and Valerian and bring them to his study. They had to make plans on how to obtain the “missing girls” as he termed them, new subjects for his hideous plans. Yount went out the front door, as Maitland exited through the door that apparently led to a hallway and other portions of the house.
Jim took advantage of the moments alone to try to loosen his bonds. It was going to be an arduous task, he realized, and not a quick one. Tipping the chair was unlikely as well. It was a large chair, with legs spread wide apart, and very sturdy. Even if he did manage to topple it, noise would be produced, drawing attention.
Lasko and Valerian reentered with Yount and the three of them passed through in the same direction Maitland had taken. Only Lasko shot a sneering glance at the bound man. As soon as they were gone, Jim resumed the attempts to loosen the ropes. He was fully aware that once Maitland began his experiments on him, he could lose ability to even attempt to resist.
After about ten minutes, with little result for his efforts, Jim heard a sound beyond the open door to the rest of the house. He paused his movements. A moment later, Ilona Maitland entered. She glanced behind her anxiously then came up to him, bending low and whispering.
“Mr. West, Mr. Paxton and I will help you if we can. Our first concern will be the girls upstairs.”
“I agree,” Jim whispered back, although surprised. “Do what you can for them. I can take care of myself.”
She turned and hurried away. Jim remained still for a long moment, considering the visit. Was she being truthful, or was this some kind of ploy by Maitland? That did not make any sense. Why would he send his wife with such a message? I have to believe she’s honestly wishing to help. He remembered the expressions he had viewed on the faces of Ilona and Paxton. They were unwilling collaborators, it seemed. Well, I’ll take any help I can get!
Another twenty minutes or so had elapsed when Jim ceased his efforts. He had made some progress in loosening the ropes that bound his wrists behind the back of the chair, although still not enough to pull free. However, he realized that the meeting in Maitland’s study could end at any time, and a sheen of perspiration had developed on his face with his efforts. He did not want any of those men to notice that and realize what he had been attempting.
He heard a sound outside the front door and looked that way just as someone rapped firmly and insistently on that door. With no window in the door, he could not see who was out there, but moments later, Mrs. Maitland hurried in, glancing at Jim, and going to a window at one side to peer out. Before she could step to the door, her husband strode in.
“Who’s out there?” he demanded.
“I can’t tell.”
However, the knocking resumed, and then again, louder each time. By now the other three men had followed Maitland into the front room. It became obvious that the person on the porch knew someone was inside and was not going to go away. Finally, Maitland stepped over and opened it a few inches.
“Who are you and what do you want?”
“Herr Professor Maitland?” came a somewhat squeaky voice. “Haf I find you at last?”
“What do you want?” Maitland demanded. No one looked at Jim West, who had thrown his head back and closed his eyes for a moment in utter relief.
“I seek the Herr Professor Maitland! I wish to collaborate in his work. I am Professor Doctor Emil Walther Dietrich Von Cleve of the University of Tübingen, Tübingen, Germany. I haf come to this country and haf seeked the Professor Maitland. I know his work very well and I am come with new ideas.”
“What makes you think he’s here?”
“Ah, you see, I am very…uh… gowohnheitsmäßig.... I do not quit looking. You know what I mean? Ja? I am in this country a year and I am finally find Herr Professor. Ja??
Maitland was quiet a moment before speaking again. He did not yet open the door wider. “What do you know about my experiments?”
“Ah, much, Herr Professor. You see, I too wish to make people young again. Ach! My poor lovely wife… you understand?”
“I do indeed, doctor. Please come in so we can discuss this.” Maitland stepped back now, opening the door.
The man who entered was attired suspiciously like Ian Gellico Cooper Featherstone, the British big-game hunter who had helped Jim track down the serial killer of a town’s citizens—minus the deerstalker hat. Instead, he wore a dark brown bowler ringed with a tan ribbon. He carried a cane, one Jim West recognized.
Dr. Von Cleve doffed the hat immediately upon entering and spotting the woman present. He bowed slightly in her direction then looked in some surprise at the man tied to the chair. “Ah! Was ist das? You haf a prisoner, Herr Professor?”
Maitland cleared his throat. “This young man attempted to rob me, Doctor. I’m holding him until the officials can be summoned. He’s a practiced liar, so please ignore anything he may tell you.”
“Ach! It is good you capture him!” Artemus allowed his gaze to touch on the others present, which prompted Maitland to make introductions. He said that Yount, Lasko, and Valerian were simply “friends” who were visiting. Artie acknowledged each with a heel click and bow, and then took Mrs. Maitland’s hand to touch his lips to it gallantly.
Maitland then suggested that the doctor accompany him to his study where they could discuss matters. Jim was very glad that Mrs. Maitland picked up some mending from a small sofa, sitting down to work on it. He had seen a glance exchanged between Yount and Lasko, which turned into a glare at the prisoner. He suspected he might have been due for some abuse had not the woman been present. Instead, Yount, Lasko, and Valerian went out through the front door, closing it behind them.
“Mrs. Maitland,” Jim whispered. “Do you have a small sharp blade?”
“Not with me,” she answered softly. “I’ll see if Herman or I can get one to you. Noren has to be stopped. I’m so happy you rescued the other girls.”
“We’ll rescue the ones here too,” Jim assured her then fell silent as a footstep sounded on the porch. “Herman” must be Paxton, he decided.
Valerian entered, looking rather sullen, and slouched into an overstuffed chair behind Jim. He must have been sent back inside to keep an eye on me, Jim surmised. Did that mean Mrs. Maitland was suspected? She had indicated that Paxton was also against Maitland’s experiments. Was he suspected as well?
To kakó ekdilóseis apó to kakó prokaleí tin ánoixi.
[Evil events from evil causes spring.]
—Aristophanes (448-c. 380 BC), Greek poet and satirist
Artemus had a difficult time controlling his anger as Noren Maitland described his plans for the young women he had had kidnapped, along with more to come. He had been stunned when the door was opened and he viewed a man he thought dead. He imagined that Jim had been similarly astonished. Artie knew this man was not the same man they had encountered at the Sedgewick mansion; a brother no doubt, quite possibly a twin brother, and just as insane. Perhaps that surprise was the reason Jim was now a prisoner; he had been taken off guard.
During and after the Sedgewick incident, Artemus had done some reading on heredity and the few studies of aging, so that now he was able to converse quite knowledgeably about the subject with Maitland, describing “Von Cleve’s” ideas and past experiments. He could see that Maitland was impressed, and he attempted to display the same reaction, disguising his revulsion, when Maitland detailed his own ideas.
It was when Maitland finally got around to mentioning his “subjects” that Artie pretended the most interest. He had told Maitland about Von Cleve’s adored wife who was aging before her time. That had been the initiation of “his” research, when he started doing deep investigation and had come across the name of Maitland. Maitland wanted to know where that reference had been found. Dr. Von Cleve demurred, saying that information was in his notes in his hotel room in San Francisco. He would provide it later. That was when Maitland suggested the good doctor procure his belongings and come to stay here.
“As you can see, it is a large house. Room for the subjects who will provide the necessary material for our work, as well as for all of us.”
Artie frowned. “What about the young man. The prisoner?”
“Oh, don’t worry about him, Dr. Von Cleve. I have plans for him.”
Artie cocked his head. “To summon the law?”
Maitland chuckled, an evil sound. “No. I’m afraid I fibbed about that. I have some other experiments that Mr. West is quite perfect for. You may well be interested in them. I plan to test his endurance to pain.”
“Ah, how interesting. Interesting, indeed!”
Hei mihi, insanire me ajunt, ultro cum ipsi insaniunt
[They call me mad, while they are all mad themselves.]
—Menoechmi (V, 2, 90), Plautus (Titus Maccius Plautus; 254-184 BC), Roman Dramatist
Mrs. Maitland rose and left the living room shortly after Valerian arrived. Jim observed the continued sour expression on the acrobat’s face. “You look like someone stole your lollypop.”
Valerian glared, but did not respond for a long moment. His gaze turned to the closed door. “Those two!” he muttered.
“Yount and Lasko?” Jim queried. “I get the impression they are very tight.”
“Huh! They think they are the only ones who know anything. All they ever let me do is make goo-goo eyes at the girls, then they go pick ‘em up.”
“I expect you get paid less too.”
Valerian leaned forward, elbows on knees. “They think they’re doing the hardest part. They don't know how hard it is to get those little dollies to talk. All they want to do is giggle.”
“I know what you mean,” Jim nodded soberly. Is there some way I can use his discontent against the others?
Paxton entered then, carrying a stack of what appeared to be journals or magazines. He walked around behind Jim, and then murmured an annoyed word as a couple of the publications slipped to the floor. “Clumsy!” was one of the words as he knelt down behind Jim’s chair to pick them up. The chair, Jim immediately realized, was shielding Paxton from Valerian just now, so he was ready. A moment later, he felt something press into his hand. He quickly closed his fingers around it, not changing his expression or looking around.
“What are you doing, Herman?” Ilona Maitland asked as she reentered the room.
Paxton was climbing to his feet. “These are the older journals the professor wanted stored in the sunroom. They are so blamed slippery!” Without further ado, he went to a door on the other side of the room and passed through.
Jim barely glanced at the woman as she resumed her place on the sofa and took up her mending again. Her face was serene and guileless, concentrating on her chore. Quite obviously she had found her co-conspirator and they hatched this plan. Jim was certain the object placed in his hand was a very small penknife. He would open it as soon as he was certain Valerian’s interest was elsewhere.
That did not take long. Valerian rose from his chair, paced the room a bit, peered on the window, and then went out onto the porch. He was really resenting his treatment by the other two, Jim decided with some amusement. He quickly flicked open the knife and tested it against his bonds. Sharp! He felt it slice through the first strands of the rope easily.
I’ll have to be careful. I don’t want the ropes to fall to the floor and give it away. He was glad Maitland had not ordered his ankles bound. Nor did a rope bind him to the chair. Only the fact that his arms had been pulled through the vertical slats of the chair back confined him. Once his wrists were loose, he would be free to access the weapons inside his coat, which had not been touched. He had no doubt Artie had a few items inside the jacket he wore as well.
Coordination would be a good idea, if we can manage it.
Barely had the thought crossed Jim’s mind when he heard the door beyond the front room open, and the murmur of voices. He recognized Artie’s faux German. Maitland entered first, with Herr Doctor Von Cleve pausing behind him. Maitland looked at Jim, looked at his wife.
“Where are the other three?”
“I think they took a stroll,” Jim replied easily, jerking his head toward the front door. Behind Maitland Artie lifted his brows in a questioning manner. Jim lowered the lid of one eye slowly but enough. Artie nodded ever so slightly. He knew that Jim was freeing himself from the bonds, even if he might not know how.
Maitland strode to the door, jerking it open to take one step out and bellow the names of his three missing cronies. Spinning, he stalked back inside, leaving the door ajar. “Dr. Von Cleve, as soon as those men returned, we’ll move Mr. West to my laboratory downstairs, and I will demonstrate the procedures I intend to test on him.”
“Oh, wunderbar, Herr Professor! I look forward to the experiment. He is a young man in fine condition, ja? An excellent subject!” Artie rubbed his hands together in apparent anticipation, moving a little closer to Jim. He positioned himself so he could see Jim’s hands, and saw how Jim was gripping the nearly severed rope so that it would not fall to the floor.
“Those fools,” Maitland grumbled. “Even though I didn’t give specific orders, they should have known to remain on guard!”
Mrs. Maitland kept her head down and concentrated on her sewing. “Valerian was here for a while,” Jim offered helpfully. “Then he went out. Bored, I guess.”
Maitland shot a fiery glance his way. “You are cocky now, Mr. West, but not for long. You are going to pay for my brother’s death!”
“Brother?” Dr. Von Cleve spoke up. “You did not tell me this. Mr. West killed your brother?”
“Same as,” the professor snarled. “He and his partner interfered in some groundbreaking work my twin brother was doing, and as a result, Norris eventually died.”
Ah. Artie nodded solemnly, with Maitland of course not realizing that the nod was in understanding, not sympathy. Twin brother. Well, I guess that might make the professor a little angry. Especially if he’s as insane as his brother, which I believe is the case. He caught Jim’s glance again, and once more, a silent signal was exchanged: When the other three men entered, they needed to make their move.
Footsteps sounded on the porch and the three men entered, Yount first, followed by Lasko and then Valerian. Maitland immediately laid into them, telling them if West had escaped, they would have been at fault. While this was going on—with Maitland’s back to his prisoner and the German doctor, and the three recalcitrant henchmen men with their heads down—Jim made the final cut in his wrist binding.
He came to his feet immediately, reaching inside his coat for the small pistol secreted there. At the same moment, Artie produced a slightly larger gun from inside his bulkier jacket. “Herr Professor,” Artie called in his German accent. “I must speak with you, immediately!” At the corner of his eye, Artie saw Ilona Maitland quickly rise and leave the room. He did not fret. During their conversation in the study, Noren Maitland had complained how his wife had been disobeying him right and left regarding the preparations for the experiments to come.
“She treats the subjects like her daughters!” he had growled, slamming a fist on the desktop.
Maitland turned around then, his eyes widening, mouth dropping open. “Doctor! What…? What are you doing?”
“You boys drop your guns on the floor,” Jim said, motioning toward the three accomplices with his weapon. They complied, slowly.
The professor was still dumbfounded. “But Doctor Von Cleve…?”
With a smile, Artie pulled off most of his facial hair. “My name is Artemus Gordon, Professor. Recognize the name?”
Yount pointed to Artie. “Old man Graham!”
“Right you are,” Jim said.
Herman Paxton appeared in the door of the room he had entered some minutes ago. “Mr. West, would you like some rope?”
“I would indeed, Mr. Paxton. Thank you.”
Generosity is the flower of justice.
—Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864), American novelist and short story writer
The professor and his associates were soon bound hand and foot and placed on the various furniture in the living room, all separate lest they get ideas about helping each other get untied. Paxton volunteered to watch them while Ilona escorted the agents upstairs to find the imprisoned girls. Having retrieved his gun belt and weapon, Jim gave the lab assistant the small pistol.
Ilona Maitland led them down the hall and up the stairway. “I did what I could for the girls. Herman and I wanted to free them, but as you may have noticed, Noren kept the key with him at all times. Breaking in would have made noise he would have heard—his bedroom is just across the hall. I assure you, we would never have allowed Noren to experiment on these girls. Never!”
She had removed the key from her husband’s jacket, and now she inserted it into the second door they came to on the upper floor. Some scrambling noises were heard inside. Artie motioned to the woman to go first, realizing that the girls would not know the two agents and possibly be unduly frightened.
Ilona used the moment to step inside and announce to the prisoners that rescue had come. When Jim and Artemus entered, six young women were embracing each other and Mrs. Maitland, laughing and crying at the same time. They saw at once that these six girls were in much better condition, physically, than had been the five in the wagon. Their clothes were clean, and although their hair was not made up as it might have been at home, the tresses seemed washed and brushed. They also had three double beds to sleep in.
They later learned that was mostly due to Ilona Maitland, with some complicity from Herman Paxton. She had absolutely insisted that her husband allow her to keep the girls well fed and clean. “After all, you want healthy subjects, don’t you?” Maitland had to concur, although he did not like the expense of feeding six young women three meals a day, let alone his lab assistant hauling buckets of hot water up the stairs nearly every day. However, he did not strictly forbid it. He merely retained the door key in his possession, demanding she return it immediately.
The logistics of transporting the girls, Maitland and his henchmen, along with Mrs. Maitland and Paxton, not to mention the agents themselves, was something of a quandary until they found an extra wagon in an old shed out back. Four coach horses were available, and it was simply a matter of putting just two on the big black coach and two on the wagon. Paxton offered to ride in the wagon with a weapon, to keep guard, while Mrs. Maitland rode in the coach with the excited girls. The assistant had earned the right to be trusted when he slipped Jim the knife; whether he would be charged remained to be seen. The same applied to Mrs. Maitland.
They considered remaining overnight in the farmhouse, but almost instantly, the idea was cast aside. Getting the missing girls to somewhere that their families could be contacted was important. The summer evening would be long, so the party set out for San Francisco as soon as the vehicles were loaded. Artie drove the wagon, Jim the coach. Both vehicles were heavy, and difficult to pull, especially up grades, so the trek moved slowly. However, the laughter and joyous voices of the rescued girls ringing from inside the coach helped fill the long minutes that dragged into hours.
At one point, as Jim thought he remembered seeing earlier, some telegraph wires came into view. He had his equipment in the saddlebags on the black horse tied behind the coach, so using those, he shinnied up a pole to transmit two messages. One went to Washington to inform Richmond of the success of their mission. The other was sent to San Francisco Police, attention Lieutenant Lloyd Morris, asking him to be ready to care for these girls.
Thus, when the two vehicles pulled up at police headquarters just as dark was fully falling, Morris hurried out to meet them, along with several officers. The policemen took custody of Yount and his trio of henchmen. After a few words to Morris from Artie, Paxton and Mrs. Maitland were allowed to remain with the girls.
Lloyd jumped up onto the box with Jim, while Artie and Paxton followed in the wagon, and the lieutenant of police directed them to a boarding house just a block away from headquarters owned by an aunt of his wife. He knew that she currently had room. He had sent word to her to expect the girls, so that all was ready for them when they piled out of the coach.
The first thing that was done was to get the names of the girls and information on how to reach their families. The agents promised that word would go out tonight so that their families would know of their safety as soon as possible, and no doubt be on their way to San Francisco the next day. They urged the former captives to get a good night of rest. Tomorrow they would need to tell their tales to the law, but tonight, they should enjoy their freedom and safety.
After rousing a telegraph agent to send several important messages, the weary agents returned to the Wanderer and hit their beds to sleep soundly after a job well done. Come morning, they returned to the boarding house. Three of the girls had already received replies from their happy families. One by one, they sat down with the agents and Lieutenant Morris to relate their experiences, which were extremely similar to those of the five girls in Colorado. They had foolishly been lured into telling the handsome trapeze artist too much—and kidnapped because of that information.
Every one of them told how Mrs. Maitland and Mr. Paxton helped them as much as possible. To a girl, they urged the agents and policeman to not arrest the pair. “I think they are in love,” one girl whispered, eyes gleaming. “I’m sure our situation would have been much worse without their help.”
A judge and the prosecutor felt the same way. Ilona Maitland and Herman Paxton were asked to stay in San Francisco to testify against the others, which they gladly did. Mrs. Maitland promptly filed for divorce. Just as Herman has been misled into helping Maitland, she had more or less been tricked into marriage. Maitland had wanted a housekeeper, not a wife.
The trial was held within two weeks. Because the girls all wanted to go home with their families, they were asked to give depositions. More came from the girls that had been kidnapped in Colorado. The only live witnesses were James West and Artemus Gordon. The jury was out a mere twenty minutes. Guilty was the verdict in all cases.
The agents were able to head east, and with permission from their colonel, stopped in the Central Valley for a week to stay with Erika and Mathias Durant, whereupon Artemus honored his promise and taught Erika more of the rudiments of cooking. She was also learning from her sister-in-law. Finally, with a promise to return to meet the new member of the family in a few months, the agents boarded the Wanderer and headed east.
The perfection of conversation is not to play a regular sonata, but, like the Æolian harp, to await the inspiration of the passing breeze.
—Edmund Burke (1729-1797), Irish orator and statesman
Artie entered the parlor car rolling down his sleeves. He stooped slightly for a moment to note the passing scenery. “Looks like we’re nearing Omaha.”
Jim glanced up from the book he was reading while reclining on the sofa facing the rear of the car. “And more work.” In the midst of their trek east, they had received instructions to reverse their course and head to Omaha to meet with another agent who was investigating counterfeit government bonds.
“But also fine steaks, James.”
“True. Very true.”
“By the way, Jim, I have been meaning to compliment you on your acting skills when you portrayed Jesse Graham. You were quite convincing.”
Jim placed the book on his chest, open pages down. “Thank you, Artie. Did I ever tell you my great-grandfather performed at the Globe Theater?”
Artie froze to a stop as he was heading for the desk, then spun back. “What? No, you never mentioned that! Why didn’t you ever tell me?” He gaped at his partner.
Jim picked up the book again, gaze on the page. “Because it’s not true.”
Artemus Gordon blinked as he digested the words. “It’s not…. Then why did you say it?”
“Oh, it sounded good.”
Artie rolled his eyes as he continued to the desk. Sometimes James West’s sense of humor left something to be desired. As he sat down at the chair, Jim closed his book and got to his feet. The train was noticeably slowing.
“I guess I’ll go change clothes for our meeting with Layton. And dinner.”
Artie did not reply as his partner exited the car. The train rolled into the Omaha depot and halted. Immediately the car was connected with the telegraph wires. When Jim returned, shrugging into his teal jacket, Artie was just signing off on a message he had received.
“What was that about?” Jim asked.
Artie looked up, his face very somber. “A gang of cutthroats raided the White House and kidnapped President and Mrs. Grant.”
“What? My god! We need to tell Orrin to get moving east!”
Artie leaned back in his chair, hands behind his head. “Naw, that’s not necessary.”
Jim’s turn to gape. “Why not? Surely…”
“Because it’s not true. I just made it up.”
“Artie! What in the world? Why did you tell me that?” Jim was glaring, his arms akimbo.
“Turn about is fair play, pal. ‘It sounded good.’”
Jim sighed, throwing his hands out to the side. “All right. You got me. Go get ready to head into town. Those steaks are waiting.”
Artie grinned as he got to his feet. “Now, that does sound good!”
Author’s Note: Arlene Martel, the lovely actress who portrayed Erika the lion tamer in TNOT Circus of Death, passed away while this story was in progress of being written. Thanks, Arlene, for portraying a character who fit so nicely into my story.
My pen is at the bottom of a page,
Which being finished, here the story ends;
'Tis to be wish'd it had been sooner done,
But stories somehow lengthen when begun.
—Beppo (XCIX), Lord Byron (George Gordon Noel Byron; 1788-1824), English poet
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