SS senior field agent
Posted - 09/23/2016 : 10:21:27
| The Night of the Woman Scorned
Heaven has no rage like love to hatred turned, Nor hell a fury like a woman scorned.
Zara in The Mourning Bride (Act III, Scene VIII), William Congreve (1670-1729), English playwright and poet
In life there are meetings which seem
Like a fate.
—Lucile (pt. II, canto III, st. 8), Lord Edward Robert Bulwer Lytton (1831-1891), English statesman and poet
“I didn’t know it could be so cold in September,” Artie complained as they drew their horses to a slower pace along the darkened street.
Jim glanced at his partner. “I thought you grew up in Michigan.”
“Yeah, but that was a long time ago. I’ve spent too much time in California and Arizona and the like!”
“Well, I guess it can get pretty cold in Idaho too,” Jim smiled. He cast his glance on either side of the street. “I don’t see a hotel.”
“Great. That saloon looks nice and cozy. A shot of whiskey might warm my bones.” The sign above the porch read “Silver Dollar Saloon, Whiskey, Beer, and Games.”
Dismounting, they tied their horses off at the rack along with a number of other ponies. Looks like a popular place, Jim mused as they stepped up onto the porch. The laughter and talk from inside seemed to confirm his thoughts, which were further validated as they stepped inside. Men were lining the bar, and most of the tables were occupied. Best of all, a potbelly stove in one corner was putting out comforting heat. Despite the warmth, he experienced a frisson of a chill as they stepped inside.
“Now this is nice!” Artie pulled off his gloves and began to unbutton his fleece-lined jacket as they made their way to the bar. A couple of men nodded and moved aside for them, while casting gazes full of curiosity their way. A lanky bartender approached and took their order for bourbon. He produced a bottle and two shot glasses to place in front of them.
Artie poured and both took hefty swallows, feeling the warmth of the alcohol trickling down their throats and into their stomachs. Jim turned to gaze over the assemblage, holding his glass. He saw a mixture of ranchers, farmers, miners, and lumberjacks who had sought warmth and companionship, along with some gambling games while others were gathered around a piano at the far end, tunelessly singing along with an equally out of tune piano played by a woman who was barely visible behind the several burly men.
A number of women were mixed in with the men, more women than he would have expected in a small town like this. Most of the women were older, he decided, so perhaps this was a last refuge when they could not get work elsewhere. One of them noticed his scrutiny, smiled, and headed their direction.
“Gentlemen,” she greeted. “Welcome to Blue Falls. Passing through?” She looked to be well into her thirties, with thick dark hair wrapped into a loose chignon and decorated with a white ribbon. Her gown was rather plain and had seen washings and mending aplenty. Nonetheless, it was attractive on her.
“For the most part,” Jim replied. “Buy you a drink?”
“Sure. Thanks. The usual, Hank!” she called. Jim knew that that probably xmeant a watered down version of what he and Artie were drinking. “I’m Hattie.”
“Jim. This is my pal, Artie.”
“Ma’am.” Artie touched his hat. “Say, is there a hotel in this town?”
“I’m afraid not. There is a boarding house but I can tell you it’s full up. If you’re not too particular, Fanny has rooms upstairs. Gets a little noisy until closing time.”
“When’s that?” Jim asked.
She laughed. “Oh, as soon as all the boys either head for home or are dead drunk in their chairs.”
“Who’s Fanny?” Artie wanted to know.
“The owner,” Hattie responded. Jim did not miss the way her face tightened for an instant. “She’s over there at the table in the corner, the blonde with the sheriff and the judge if you want to go talk to her.”
“Go ahead,” Jim said when Artie glanced his way with an unspoken question. “Any bed inside is better than making camp out there in the cold.”
“I’ll say,” Artie nodded. He downed the rest of his whiskey and started across the room, making his way through the tables and chairs and the men moving among them.
“Something about Fanny you don’t like?” Jim asked, refilling his own glass from the bottle.
Hattie looked at him in some surprise. “Why would you ask that?”
He smiled. “I saw your face.”
She sighed. “Well… I feel like talking and you look like a good listener. Let’s go sit down.” Without waiting for his assent, she headed for a nearby empty table.
Jim followed, carrying his glass as well as Artie’s and the bottle. He could not comprehend why, but something about this place, about Hattie’s reaction to her boss, put his nerves on edge, commencing almost the moment that they pushed through the door. He had no idea why he would feel uneasy. He saw nothing and no one threatening. They had come upon this town by pure happenstance, making their way across Idaho to meet the Wanderer in eastern Montana, after delivering a wanted man to authorities in Spokane.
Late in the afternoon, they had been making for the settlement at Lake Coeur d’Alene, expecting to spend the night there, when a sudden and fierce storm that put down rain, hail, and some snow caused them to veer off course to seek shelter. They found refuge in a partially collapsed old barn. By the time the tempest passed over, darkness had fallen, with the clouds hiding the moon and stars, without which, they had little sense of direction. Spotting the lights of this town seemed like a godsend.
He sat down on a chair that gave him a view of the room as well as the front door, feeling almost foolish in what seemed a convivial atmosphere. Even the stares received when they entered had not held any threat, just interest. They were strangers, after all, and it was unlikely that this small out of the way burg received many unknown visitors.
“Mind if I have some of that?” Hattie asked, motioning to the bottle Jim placed on the table.
He cocked an eyebrow. “It’s the real stuff.”
“Just what I need.” She took the bottle and filled her glass, taking a hefty swallow but not emptying it. “You want to hear about Fanny Burgess?”
“If you want to tell me.”
Hattie sighed noisily. “I need to tell someone. Might as well be a stranger who will be gone tomorrow. All the others around here know the story but they don’t want to hear it. It helps to talk about it once in a while.”
“Go ahead.” Off in the far corner Jim could see Artie standing by the table where “Fanny” was located with two older men.
“See, I came here about four years ago, down on my luck. You know what happens when a gal starts to show her age. Anyway, the owner of this place hired me. He said I was still good looking and he liked my looks. Liked the way I can sing. His name was Bill Foreman. Great guy. Not always in the best of health, but everyone liked him. I did. A lot. He was maybe twenty years older than me, but I really did like him. We spent a lot of time together.
“Then he started talking about getting married. He said he was going to leave this place to me whether that happened or not. I didn’t want the Silver Dollar, I wanted Bill, so I tried to get him to take care of himself. Still, the idea of having a place of my own into my old age was a nice one. Then a little more than a year ago, she showed up.”
“Yep. Maybe you haven’t had a good look at her but she’s older than me, probably around fifty, or more. But good-looking. Looks younger. Acts younger. She’s got a way about her and Bill fell for it. Fast and hard. All of a sudden, she was the one spending time with him. She didn’t care about taking care of him either. They were drinking a lot. That wasn’t good for him. Then one day, six months ago, he was dead. I don't think I was surprised when I learned that he had changed his will leaving everything to Fanny Burgess.” Now Hattie finished her drink.
“That wasn’t fair.”
“Yeah, but what is it they say about all being fair in love and war? Nothing I could do about it. I have to admit I’m grateful that Fanny let me stay. I’m not even sure she knew about Bill and me. Maybe someone else told her. I didn’t. I have nowhere else to go. So here I am.”
“We’re set,” Artie announced as he approached the table. “Five bucks for the night.”
“Five dollars for two rooms?” Jim asked, astonished. That was the fare for a decent hotel in Denver or San Francisco.
“One room,” Artie amended, sitting down. “One bed. That’s all there is, pal. Better than nothing.”
“The overflow from the boarding house,” Hattie said. “The fellows don’t want to ride back to the mine or the lumber camps on a night like this, especially half sloshed.”
“Well, it’ll be good to have a bed for the night. As long as my friend here doesn’t hog the blankets!”
“Hey!” Artie protested as he picked up the bottle. “That wasn’t me last time we had to share a bed. It was you! Besides, Miss Fanny told me where some extra blankets were stored. No heat in the room and we might need a couple more. So we can each have our own.”
“Very thoughtful of her,” Jim murmured.
“Yeah. Seems like a nice lady.” Artie did not frown but he felt like it when he saw the expression on Hattie’s face. I have a sense I missed something.
“H-h-howdy, M-m-miss H-h-attie.”
The words were mumbled by a bent over old man with long and straggly black and gray streaked hair that poked out from under a floppy-brimmed hat shadowing his face, and an even more unkempt beard, wearing an oversize greatcoat that hung to his ankles. He touched the brim of his hat with a finger as he shuffled by the table.
Hattie smiled. “Hello, Nestor.” When the old man had moved on, apparently heading for a door behind the bar, Hattie spoke again. “Harmless old man. Fanny hired him a couple of weeks ago, lets him sleep in the storeroom and gives him a couple of bucks a week for keeping the place half clean. One good deed she did.”
Artie noticed that last comment but did not remark on it. As he had been spending ten minutes with Fanny, Jim sat with Hattie for those same ten minutes. What did they talk about? I have an idea it was something interesting…
They sat there with Hattie for another half hour then left her the remainder of the bottle as they went out to take care of their horses. Fanny had told Artemus they could use the stable behind the building. Feed was stored there suitable for the horses, but it was unattended with no hostler. While they were tending the steeds Jim quietly told Artie what Hattie had related.
“Hmm. Well, Fanny is an attractive woman for her age. Could be that this Bill liked the fact that she was closer to him in age as well. Sour grapes on Hattie’s part?”
“Maybe. You liked this Fanny, huh?”
“Well, I didn’t dislike her after ten minutes of conversation. The judge and sheriff seemed comfortable in her presence. You wouldn’t think they would if they thought she was some nefarious character.”
Artie let it drop, recognizing that something was bothering his partner, probably something more than the saloon woman’s sob story. He knew from experience that the best thing was to wait and allow Jim to bring it up in his own time. A crowbar would not pry it from him otherwise.
Qualis pater talis filius.
(Like father, like son.)
—Proverb (Latin, Portuguese)
Both men awakened immediately when the sharp tap sounded at the door. Jim sat up, looking over to his partner; the sky had cleared enough for moonlight to illuminate the room through the sole window. Artie shook his head on the pillow, as puzzled as Jim was. He did not know the time but it was late. Very late. The din from the bar downstairs had not ceased until well after three—he knew because he had checked his watch several times.
Jim threw his blankets off and grabbed his trousers to pull on over his long drawers before picking up his pistol and padding to the door in his stocking feet. Artemus was sitting up in the bed now, but had similarly secured his weapon from the holster he had left on the floor next to the bed.
Stepping slightly to one side, Jim unlatched the door and flipped it open. He stared at the dim figure lit only by the low lamp burning in the hallway. “Nestor?”
Without waiting for an invitation, the character in the greatcoat and floppy hat stepped inside, pushing the door shut. He then lifted the hat from his head. Jim’s vision had adjusted to the moonlit darkness by now and he could not stop the word that jumped from his lips.
“Sam? I mean…” He just stared, unsure what to say or do. He had not seen the man he had previously known as Sam Neville in close to a year. The man he now knew was his own father. Not even the scraggly beard and long straggling hair could disguise that. Is this why I felt so oddly when I came into this establishment?
Artemus had slipped out of bed and emulated Jim in pulling on his trousers. “Mr. West! I certainly did not recognize you in that getup. What’s going on? Why are you here?” He kept his voice barely above a whisper.
“I found Francine Woodrow.”
“Where?” The information startled Jim into responding.
“Here. Fanny Burgess is Francine.”
“Are you certain?” Artie asked.
“Positive. I have been here for two weeks. She apparently hasn’t recognized me, but I know her.”
“I take it she is unaware you have spotted her,” Artie put in, noticing that his partner continued to be tongue-tied with shock.
“Right. I have been too hasty many times over the years, as well as careless. A few times, she saw me before I saw her. This time, however, I had information ahead of time. A man I met in Seattle talked freely about this saloon in Blue Falls and the handsome blonde woman who ran it, calling herself Fanny Burgess, which is a name Francine has used in the past. I approached Blue Falls with extreme caution, and as you can see, I used your tricks, Artemus, creating a disguise by allowing my hair and beard to grow longer and using bootblack to darken it somewhat. It has worked. It is Francine all right. Thirty years older, and as the man in Seattle said, still a striking woman.”
Thirty-some years ago Nevin West had been a prosperous businessman in a moderate sized town in upstate New York, happily settled with his second wife, their toddler son, and his son by his previous marriage. Suddenly that life had been blown apart when he vanished from the town, along with the wife of his partner in the town bank, leaving that partner and a clerk dead in the bank, and all the bank’s funds missing.
During the Civil War, James West had been contacted by authorities in Chicago who informed him that the body of his parent had been found in Lake Michigan, identified by a pocket watch, which had been enclosed with the message for the younger son. Jim had been estranged from his half brother for almost twenty years at that time, and had no idea where Matthew was. A couple of years ago the two brothers had been reunited by the mad scheme of a nearly bankrupt former millionaire who wanted Jim’s help in bilking some Indian tribes out of valuable land. At that juncture, Jim learned that their father was still alive, innocent of the robbery and murder charges. Nevin West was pursuing the woman who had actually committed the crimes.
Jim had grown into a man believing that his father was a fugitive. A murderer who had deserted his own family to run off with the wife of the man he was believed to have killed in cold blood, along with the clerk. Over fifty thousand dollars of bank money went with him. His brother had similarly vanished about ten years later, his excuse only a little less criminal in young James’s mind: a tavern girl had convinced him to run away with her.
“What is your plan?” Artie inquired.
“Well, now that you’re here, you can arrest her.”
“No!” Jim abruptly spoke. He then appeared chagrinned with the outburst. “I mean, we can’t just arrest her. We have no proof.”
Nevin West seemed to be a little stunned. “I thought you…”
Artie interrupted. “What Jim means is that while we certainly believe in your innocence, the authorities may not. You have been a fugitive for all this time.”
The elder West’s expression changed. “So my word would not necessarily count for anything.”
“You are the only witness—besides Francine Woodrow.”
Nevin West sighed. “I’ve been so excited to find her I haven’t really thought it through. I had plans to kidnap her and haul her to the police in another state. You might have noticed she’s chummy with the sheriff and judge here. Chances are they’d believe her over me in Blue Falls.”
“We need to make her confess,” Jim said thoughtfully.
Although Nevin West’s facial expression did not really alter, Artie saw the flash in his green eyes—the eyes so like his son’s. West realized, as Artemus Gordon did, that Jim was agreeing to help his father. Nevin nodded. “That’s a good idea. How?”
“Good question,” Artie grimaced. “For one thing, I told Fanny—Francine—that we would be here for just one night. We’ll need to think of an excuse to stay longer.” He paused for a thoughtful moment. “Is there a telegraph office in town?”
“Yes. Next to the mercantile.”
Jim was nodding. “If nothing else, we can come up with a story to remain here for some bogus reason. We’ll work that out. For now, I suggest we all get a good night’s sleep.” If that’s possible now! “We can make further plans later. As long as Francine is unaware of your presence, we should be able to take an extra few days.”
The elder West seemed to be more accepting of this strategy than initially. “All right. I’d better get to my quarters before I’m spotted. I generally sleep in because I’m up late cleaning, so don’t worry if you don’t see me before noon!”
“Is the storeroom comfortable?” Jim asked, displaying a furrowed brow.
“Not bad, actually. I have a cot and plenty of blankets.”
“Then good night, sir,” Artie smiled. “Don’t worry about anything. Jim and I have a reputation of solving problems like this.”
“I know.” Nevin West grinned behind his ratty beard. “Don’t forget, I’ve experienced that a couple of times. Good night, Artemus. Jamie.” He placed his hat back on his head, opened the door carefully to peek out, and with one backward glance, stepped out and closed the door behind him.
After a moment, Jim stepped to that door, opened it again to peer out before shutting it. “Looks like he made it to the stairs anyway.”
Artie went back to the bed and began stripping off his trousers. “Now that was a surprise, eh?”
Jim made a noncommittal sound, returning to the bed himself. He holstered the pistol he had been holding all this time and sat down. “Artie… I didn’t… I didn’t know what to call him.”
Artemus glanced back. Jim was staring at the dark wall in front of him. “I don’t suppose it matters much. What does Matthew call him? Dad, isn’t it? I always addressed my father as ‘Father.” I don't know why. It just happened that way.”
“Yeah. I guess. What are we going to do?”
That very question was strong insight into James West’s mind at this moment. He rarely became rattled over anything. Not facing down toughs with fists or guns, not dealing with possible poisonous gases; definitely not while dealing with someone like Dr. Miguelito Loveless. Nonetheless, the unexpected encounter with his long absent father was causing an unaccustomed anxiety; that was evident.
“Nothing right now,” Artie replied quietly, laying back and wrapping his blankets around his body. “Tomorrow we’ll send a telegram to get the right answer from Washington—just in case the telegrapher is prone to gossip. We will also figure out how to deal with Francine Woodrow alias Fanny Burgess. We can’t let her get away this time, Jim.”
“I know,” Jim sighed. “I hope I sleep!”
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 - 09/23/2016 : 10:21:59
| Chapter 2
If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail!
—Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), American writer, a philosopher, a scientist, a politician, a patriot, a Founding Father, an inventor, and publisher
Because all the other tenants of the second floor over the saloon had been up late, they slept late. The extra time allowed the two agents to secure more slumber as well after a long restless period; Jim had more difficulty than his partner falling back to sleep. The sun was halfway to midday when they dressed and went downstairs.
Only the bartender was present, apparently taking stock of his supplies. When they asked, he first responded a restaurant was located down the street, and to a second query that the telegraph office was next door to the mercantile. They had decided to be safe and ask that question openly about the telegraph, partly to let people know they were going to use the service, and as well to make sure no one suspected they had learned about its location otherwise. Last night’s darkness might have precluded spotting it.
The restaurant was clean and half filled with patrons at this late hour, which indicated to Artie that the food must be decent. A pleasant middle-aged woman took their order and brought coffee. “We can use the Jake Niemand trick.”
“That should work.” Jim sipped at the hot, dark brew in his cup. “Sounds good to me. You write it up.”
Artie grinned briefly. “I’m glad you appreciate my literary talents.”
“Artie, I thought a lot about this last night. I need to make myself known to Fanny Burgess.”
“What do you mean?”
“I have a feeling she’s going to recognize me almost immediately, to begin with.”
Artie nodded. “You do look a great deal like your father—as does Matthew. You have Nevin’s eyes especially.”
“Of course, I won’t just go up and introduce myself as Nevin’s son.”
Artemus had to chuckle. “Not a good idea.”
“It is also hardly likely that she’s going to take a look at me and say, ‘oh, you’re Nevin’s son!’ But if we watch her closely enough, we will recognize when that revelation hits her.”
“Then I will be perfectly ignorant regarding who she is and make friends while we search for the nonexistent counterfeiter.”
“Are you that good of an actor?”
“What do you think?”
Artie could not respond immediately as the waitress brought their steaming, loaded plates, and then refilled their coffee cups. “This looks marvelous,” he crowed. “And I am starved.” He picked up a light-as-a-feather biscuit and began buttering it. “As to whether you are an actor, it pains me to admit it, but I believe you are. I have witnessed too many instances when you had to be someone else, or tell a flat-out falsehood and get away with it. Not as talented as me, of course. But more than sufficient.”
“Thank you. I couldn’t wish for a higher compliment.” Jim grinned for a moment. He cut off a chunk of ham and chewed it thoughtfully, swallowing before speaking. “I think I’ll need to take Fanny in as my confidante.”
“Tell her my life story.”
“Ah. What better way to put her off her guard? Good thinking, James. What will I be doing in the meanwhile?”
Jim cocked his head. “Do I have to do all the thinking?”
Artie rolled his eyes. “Well, to begin with, if at all possible, we both have to strike up a friendship with ‘Nestor,’ as mentioned last night… or early this morning… whenever it was; that goes without saying. That might be somewhat difficult, seeing that the persona he’s invented seems to be a loner.
“At this moment, I am at a loss as to what comes next. I suspect we should improvise and see how your friendship with dear Fanny goes. I am sure you don’t expect her to immediately exchange confidences. ‘Oh, by the way, Jim, thirty years ago I killed my husband and another man and had it blamed on your dear old dad.’”
“She could let something slip nevertheless. I’ll deliberately leave out details.”
“Good thinking. She has been getting away with this for so long, she may get careless. You know, if by chance we do manage to wrest a confession from her, having another, impartial witness would be a good idea.”
“I thought of that. I have no idea how to work that out. Again, as you say, we play it by ear and see what happens.”
As they exited the restaurant a short while later, Artie shook his head and sighed happily. “Now that was a breakfast! I can’t remember the last time I couldn’t clean my plate like that. And I was hungry!”
“Don’t forget, pal. They are usually serving miners and lumberjacks. Big eaters.”
They went to the telegraph office across the street. Jim paused in the doorway to light a cigarillo, primarily in order to be quite visible entering the establishment. As he joined Artie at the counter, he looked at what his partner was writing on the pad. “While passing through, we think we saw Jake Niemand in Blue Falls, Idaho. We wish to stay a few days to check. Please authorize.”
“Niemand” in German meant “nobody.” The department had chosen it a long while ago to use as a code when an agent in the field needed a cover of some sort. Their superior would soon wire back authorizing extra time and ask if they needed assistance.
Nestor was busily emptying spittoons into a bucket when they reentered the Silver Dollar. Several boxes of empty bottles were on the bar top, and no doubt that would be the swamper’s next task, to take those to a repository—probably a ditch—somewhere out back. Hattie and another woman were at a table near the door, nursing coffee. Fanny Burgess sat at the same table in the far corner as she had occupied last night. She had a cup of coffee, but her attention was on a ledger book open in front of her.
“Miss Fanny, excuse me,” Artie said as they approached her.
She looked up, and neither man missed how her smile froze for an instant when she saw the man accompanying Artemus Gordon. The smile then blossomed as she fastened her eyes on Artie. “Mr. Gordon, isn’t it? How are you today?”
“Quite well. We had a good night and an even better breakfast. I want to mention to you that chances are good we’re going to stay longer than anticipated.”
“I should introduce you to my partner, Jim West. Jim, this is Miss Fanny Burgess, our hostess.”
Jim had already removed his hat, and he hoped his smile did not look as forced as hers had for that moment. “How do you do, Miss Fanny. Thank you for your hospitality.”
She just nodded as Artie continued. “I didn’t mention before that we are government agents, and as such, we are always on the alert. When we went out for breakfast, we saw a man riding through town. Both of us thought he looked familiar, but we needed some time before we realized who he might have been: a known and wanted counterfeiter.”
“We could be wrong,” Jim took up, “but we have decided we need to spend some time in this area to see if we can spot him again and be sure. If he is the man in question, he has been wanted for several years and is a dangerous man. So we may need to remain a few days more.”
“I see.” She cleared her throat. “Well, of course, the room is yours as long as you need it. Five dollars a night.”
“No problem,” Artie smiled. “Thank you. We are going to go talk to Sheriff Beatty about it. We always like to keep in touch with the local law.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” Jim said as he turned to go. The old man at the bar hoisting a box of bottles ignored them completely as they walked by him.
“I guess after we visit with the sheriff, we had better take a ride out into the countryside in our search for good old Jake,” Artie commented as they strode down the board walkway
“First we’d better come up with a description for Jake. Something nice and nondescript.”
Sheriff Floyd Beatty was in his late forties, of average height and weight, sporting a luxurious handlebar mustache several shades lighter than his carrot red hair. Artie had met him the previous night, and he introduced Jim, again adding the previously omitted information regarding their profession. They then offered the same story they had given Fanny about the counterfeiter, this time adding a description of a man who, except for the hair color and mustache, fit the sheriff well. He seemed not to notice.
“Well, he could be any one of a few dozen men in these parts,” Beatty pointed out.
“We realize that,” Jim nodded. “That’s one reason why he’s been hard to spot over the years. We’re going to take a ride to see what we can see, and ask anyone we come across.”
“Good idea. Want me to come with you?”
“That’s not necessary,” Artie said with a warm smile. “I’m sure you have plenty to keep you busy. Chances are very good he was just passing through. But we have to check.”
“Of course you do. Good luck.”
The sky was a clear azure blue. The sun was warm but a breeze held a nip of autumn in it. Both men removed their heavier jackets to tie behind their saddles, as regular jackets were enough for now. They headed north out of town, and before long came to a mining camp. The several men they spoke to there shook their heads when “Jake” was described to them, with one or two commenting that it could be anybody.
“Which is exactly the response we want,” Artie said with a grin as they rode away.
Visits to another lumber camp, silver mine, and a farm produced almost identical results. At the farm, the teenage son of the owner commented that the description sounded just like Sheriff Beatty “without the red hair and mustache.” The agents chuckled about this as they headed back to town just as the sun was heading in its downward slope toward evening.
All through the morning while riding from one site to another, they discussed the problem of Francine Woodrow and how to handle soliciting a confession from her. Artie pointed out the obvious, that she was a very clever woman. She had survived all these years apparently primarily on wit after the fortune she stole dwindled.
“She has evaded your father and seems to have been able to provide for herself—even managing to gain ownership of this saloon. Who knows how many other times that happened? We don’t even know but what she has murdered others along the way to gain her ends.”
“That would take a lot of research, unless she tells us,” Jim concurred. “The way I see it, our best plan is the one I mentioned before, with me getting friendly with her and seeing if I can trick her into any kind of admission.”
Artie sighed. “I know. However, the more I think about it, the more I wonder if that can be done in a few days. We may need your father to make an appearance.”
“Yeah. I know. As a last resort. Every other time she’s spotted him in the vicinity, she has fled.”
“We don't know if, at those other times, she was the owner of property. She may be more reluctant to leave it all behind if this is the first time.”
Jim looked across at his partner. “In that case, he might be in danger if she recognizes him.”
Artie grimaced. “Yeah. I know. We can talk to him about it.”
His partner laughed shortly. “You know what his answer would be.”
“I know.” Like father, like son. Stubborn!
And, after all, what is a lie? 'Tis but
The truth in masquerade.
—Don Juan (canto XI, st. 37), Lord Byron (George Gordon Noel Byron; 1788-1824), English poet
Upon returning to town, Artie headed for the telegraph office while Jim went on to the saloon. It was open for the day, with a few men inside. Three were sitting at a table with their beers but did not appear to be playing any card game. Two more were leaning against the bar, in conversation. All glanced toward the agent as he entered but continued whatever they were doing without interruption.
Francine Woodrow was at her table, this time playing a game of solitaire. Jim spotted the yellow envelope on the table as well. He strolled over, removing his hat, noticing that “Nestor” was not present. “Good afternoon, Miss Fanny.”
She looked up, obviously unaware of his approach. “Oh, Mr., er, West, isn’t it?”
“Call me Jim,” he smiled. “Sorry if I started you. Mind if I sit down?” Her blonde hair was probably lighter in shade than it had been thirty years ago, now laced liberally with silver. Her face, nonetheless, while aged, still had a youthful appearance. She could pass for eight or ten years younger, Jim decided. She was obviously a very beautiful woman, and is still attractive enough to interest men. Although she had put on a few pounds through the years, her figure was still good.
“No, please do. Here. Stan from the telegraph office brought this by a little while ago.” She picked up the envelope and extended it to him.
Jim accepted it, glancing at it before putting it in an inside pocket without opening it. “Thank you.” She needed to find out if we were actually telegraphing about her!
“You’re not going to read it?”
“I know what it says. We asked permission to stay longer. Our boss rarely denies us that permission. My partner is going to be annoyed however. He detoured to the Western Union office to see if an answer came.” Jim grinned.
“How long have you and Mr. Gordon worked together?”
“Since almost the beginning of the War. General Grant asked us to take on a specific mission together. We worked well so he gave us other assignments. I joined the Secret Service first, but Artemus came along soon after.”
“I have occasionally read about you in the newspapers.”
“Hazards of the job,” he smiled. He wondered if she scanned the newspapers looking for information about her pursuer.
Fanny glanced down at her cards for a moment, moved a red queen to a black king. She brought her eyes up. “What about your family? Don’t they worry about you in such a dangerous job?”
Jim shook his head and hoped the pleasure he experienced with the direction of the conversation was hidden. “I’m not married. I don’t have any family to speak of. My mother died when I was ten, I haven’t seen my brother in years, and my father is dead.”
She could not disguise her surprise. “Dead? Your father, I mean? Are you sure?”
He shrugged. “I received a letter from the Chicago police about ten years ago telling me they’d found a body in Lake Michigan, with my father’s watch in the pocket, along with other identification. They sent me the watch. I recognized it from a description my mother had once given me.”
“Ten years ago…” Again, Fanny Burgess looked down at her cards, but this time she did not make a play. Plainly, she was confused by this information. Jim knew that his father had seen her, and she had seen him, within that time span.
Finally, she seemed to shake herself mentally. “Well, that’s sad. I’m… do I understand you had not seen him for a period prior to that?”
“I never knew my father. He ran off with another woman when I was very young, less than two years old. The two of them killed her husband and fled with company funds.”
“Oh. Oh, that’s terrible. It must have been horrible for you… and your mother.” The uncertainty could not be erased from her blue eyes.
“It wasn’t easy, that’s for certain. Mother became ill and passed away, as I mentioned. But I survived due to the care of a kind aunt and others.”
“That’s nice. That… oh, here comes Mr. Gordon.”
Jim did not smile, turning around to look toward the door. Her relief at the interruption was palpable. He got to his feet. “Thanks for the company, Miss Fanny. I expect Artie will want to take advantage of your spread on the bar. I’m a little hungry myself.” With a nod, he strolled off to meet Artie near the bar.
“Let’s get some food,” he said in a conversational tone that he knew would carry back across the room.
“That’s a good looking smorgasbord,” Artie replied, gazing at the array of cold food on the bar: boiled eggs, ham, pickles, cheese, cold chicken, along with some hearty bread and thick mustard. “I doubt we could do better down at the restaurant.”
After filling plates provided with their selections, and picking up a glass of beer each—which was the “cost” of the food—they carried them to a corner table near the front window, as far from Francine/Fanny as possible. Jim sat with his back to her.
“Don’t give any indication of what I’m going to tell you,” he said.
Artie threw his head back and laughed uproariously. “That’s a good one, James!”
While Artie ate and made irrelevant comments accompanied by equally irrelevant facial expressions, Jim told him about receiving the telegram from her. “I haven’t looked closely, but I’m pretty sure the envelope has been steamed open. She had to know what we sent in our telegram.”
Artie chuckled, picking remaining meat off a drumstick. “I bet you did,” he said aloud.
Jim went on to relate how she had opened the door for him to provide information about his father. “I deliberately left out mention of the bank clerk who was killed, as well as let her believe that I believe my father is dead. She was startled, to say the least.”
The man disguised as Nestor the swamper entered the saloon through a back door, as if on cue, still attired in the oversize coat and hat that covered the upper half of his face. He shuffled along the bar to the food array to fill his own plate. The bartender handed him a glass of beer. No doubt part of his “salary,” Artie decided. Nestor then moved to an empty table halfway between where the agents sat and the one Fanny still occupied.
Artie covered his mouth with his beer glass before murmuring. “I’m surprised she hasn’t recognized him. I suppose it’s the way he keeps his head down. If she spotted the West eyes, it might be all over.” He put the glass back on the table. “Here comes Hattie.”
Jim looked around to see the friendly woman descending the stairs. She smiled toward them and headed their direction. Jim had no doubt she had just gotten up. Her hair, while obviously brushed, was hanging down her back, secured at the nape by a ribbon. Later she would put it in an up-do for a more sophisticated appearance. She was also wearing a plain cotton dress.
“I’d say good morning,” she quipped, pulling out a chair uninvited, “but I know that while it’s morning for me, you gents have likely been at it for hours.”
“We had a tour around the countryside,” Artie smiled.
Hattie cocked her head. “I thought you would be long gone.”
“Looks like you’re going to have to put up with us for a few more days,” Jim replied easily. “We didn’t tell you we are federal officers. We think we saw a wanted felon in this area and we’re going to spend some time looking for him.”
“Well, unlucky for him, lucky for me. I like having handsome fellows around.”
“For that, can I buy you a beer?” Artie asked.
She declined but swiped a chunk of cheese from his plate. “I haven’t had breakfast—or lunch—yet.”
“Do you usually eat the bar food?” Jim wanted to know.
“Depends on how late I sleep. Often I go down to the restaurant for a good meal, but their food is too good. A girl has to watch her figure, you know. I… uh-oh.”
She had glanced toward the door when it opened to spot the man who just entered. He was a barrel-chested individual in his middle years, with gray streaking through his dark hair and beard. Nonetheless, he appeared to be a very strong man, with wide shoulders. His well-worn plaid wool shirt seemed to emphasize the strength in those shoulders and arms.
“Trouble?” Jim murmured.
“Maybe.” She continued to watch the man as he strode across the room to where Fanny was seated. That woman had seen his entrance and was watching as well. She smiled as he approached, but even from the distance, Artie thought the smile faltered.
“Who is he?” Artie asked.
“Name is Lute MacCluskey. He’s foreman up at the Blue Falls Lumber camp, the biggest company in the area. Also the furthest from town, which no doubt Fanny appreciates.”
Artie had seen MacCluskey grab Fanny’s hand to kiss it as he sat down across from her. “A suitor?”
“Yeah. All of us other gals are glad he aimed his attention on Fanny. He’s a brute and a bully. You might have noticed none of the boys in here hollered a friendly welcome. They don’t want him in their card games. Sheriff Beatty has asked the owner of the lumber company to do something about MacCluskey, but he thinks the owner is afraid of him too. Thank goodness that the camp is nearly half a day’s horseback ride off. MacCluskey comes in town during the day about once a month, riding with the camp cook who comes in for supplies. Then he comes on a payday once a month too, mostly. He surprises us sometimes, like today. He was here just last week with the cook, and it ain’t payday yet.”
She spoke in a very low tone, as almost all conversation in the room ceased with MacCluskey’s entrance. “Nestor” was still at the bar consuming his meal, and he apparently had paid no attention to the newcomer, although Artie thought he might be peeking glances under his hat brim. I need to get a hat like that for my wardrobe, he mused. It might come in handy whether I’m in disguise or not!
“Does he cause trouble here in the Silver Dollar?” Jim asked. “Or just for Miss Fanny.”
“Both. She doesn’t like his company, but she puts up with him to keep him from breaking up the place, as happened the first time he came in about two months ago. He had just been hired and thought that all the Blue Falls men who were here should buy him a drink. When a couple tried to decline, they soon regretted it. Beatty had to take him to jail at gunpoint! Judge Blackmore gave him a hefty fine, but after seeing what happened, no one ever refuses when he wants them to pay for his liquor.”
“Sounds like a real peach,” Jim said, picking up the last of the food on his plate, a piece of ham.
“Are you going to stick around this afternoon?” Hattie inquired.
“We are working men,” Jim replied. “There is a wanted man out there.” In some ways, this story is going to hamper us! They were going to have to spend at least some time out searching for the imaginary counterfeiter, which would keep them away from the saloon and Francine. Nonetheless, the cover was important. They would have the evenings to do their real work.
“Speaking of that,” Artie said, taking the final swallows of his beer, “we’d better continue our search, James. Just because we saw Niemand riding north does not mean he continued to ride north.”
“Niemand?” Hattie looked at Artie. “Is that his name? Did you know Niemand means ‘nobody’ in German?”
“And how do you know that?” Artie asked, totally surprised.
She smiled. “My last name is Holtz. My parents emigrated from Germany, and German was my first language!”
“Well, thank you for the German lesson, Miss Holtz,” Jim grinned, getting to his feet. “When we find him, we can arrest Mr. ‘Nobody.’ Right, Artie?”
They laughed about this while riding out of town. “That never happened before to my knowledge,” Artie commented. “I suppose it was inevitable, considering the fact that many people in this country are first or second generation Americans.”
“Hattie is turning out to be a font of knowledge. Artie, what concerns me is this cover of searching for Mr. Nobody requires us to be out of town a great deal. That doesn’t give us a chance to work on Francine, or be around in case ‘Nestor’ needs us.”
“Got a better idea?”
“At the moment, no.”
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 - 09/23/2016 : 10:22:47
| Chapter 3
Sunshine is delicious, rain is refreshing, wind braces up, snow is exhilarating; there is no such thing as bad weather, only different kinds of good weather.
—John Ruskin (1819-1900), English writer, art critic, and social reformer
Late that evening a storm rolled in. Similar to the tempest that had driven them off course, this one started with rain, then sleet, and finally snow, but in much larger doses than that little spate of bad weather had delivered. An older man who made his way through the early downpour to the Silver Dollar commented that winter came early to Idaho sometimes. He also predicted that this one would last a couple of days.
That could not have been better news to the agents. The first advantage was recognized after they had retired to their room for the night, and were joined by Nevin West once the saloon quieted down—earlier than usual because the weather kept the patronage low. The noise of the rain, then sleet, pounding against the building covered their conversation. The wind periodically howled in the eaves as well.
Jim had not had a further opportunity to engage in conversation with Francine Woodrow despite the storm caused low patronage of the saloon. She had not been around much. Hattie mentioned that sometimes Fanny spent time in her rooms working on the books and writing up orders. Hattie thought that Fanny was taking advantage of the slow day.
Nonetheless, he told his father of their plans and how the opportunity had arisen to initiate it with Fanny. “She was very surprised to learn that you died ten years ago.”
“I imagine so, since she’s seen me in the interim. By the way, that business of drowning in Lake Michigan was not planned. I had a job on the lakefront about that time, and late one night while heading to my room, I was held up and robbed. It was a wet cold night much like this one. I chased the guy only to see him fall off a dock into the very rough water. I attempted to throw him a rope, but to no avail. A couple of days later I was surprised to read in the paper that the corpse that washed up was identified as Nevin West. In a sense, the robbery was a blessing in disguise. I had learned that my name was still on wanted lists and posters. After that, it was removed.”
Artie saw the expression on his partner’s face, but he spoke before Jim did. “You could have reestablished yourself completely with a new identity at that time.”
“I know. That occurred to me. However, I had already spent nearly twenty years hunting Francine in order to clear my name—and my family’s name—and I was not about to give up. I was sorry to lose the watch, as it belonged to your great-grandfather at one time, Jamie.”
Jim smiled slightly. “It was sent to me. I have it stored in a safety deposit box in Washington.”
“Oh, excellent. Perhaps you can pass it on to your son, one day.”
Now Jim shook his head slightly. “More than likely to Matthew’s son.”
Nevin’s brows lifted slightly, but he did not comment. “What are your plans now?”
“I hope to continue building a friendship with Miss Fanny,” Jim replied. “I want her to feel that she has really pulled the wool over my eyes, that I have absolutely no idea who she really is. I’m hoping that she will let something slip.”
The elder West looked doubtful. “She’s spent thirty years evading the truth. I don't know.”
“That reminds me,” Artie said, “do you know if she ever owned property before during her fugitive years?”
“Why do you ask?”
“She has led such a transitory life, moving from one place to another these last thirty years.”
Nevin nodded. “As far as I know, she has owned two other places before this one. When she dropped me off in rural Maryland—for which I was grateful since she didn’t shoot me—I had no money or food. Pretty much just the clothes I was wearing, which were in pretty bad shape by then. I hiked to the nearest farm and convinced the farmer I was not a desperado. He fed me in exchange for help on the farm for a couple of days. He was going into the nearby town, so I rode along and got a job there on his recommendation at a store. I was using an assumed name, of course. I had no idea if news had spread that far.
“I worked in the store a couple of weeks, saving every penny I earned, while sleeping in a storeroom. From there, I headed out searching for Francine. At the time, I thought I would find her within a few days, maybe a couple of weeks. She covered her tracks well, however. Nonetheless, because the trail led generally south, I was certain she had headed for New Orleans. She always talked about wanting to visit that city.”
Nevin paused here, shaking his head at some distant memory, staring toward the darkened window. The two agents remained silent, waiting. “I needed almost a year to get there. As you might guess, I had to work to support myself along the way, not to mention being always on guard against a lawman who might just recognize me, despite the fact I had let my beard and hair grow longer. Once in New Orleans, more time was needed, because I was unaware of what name she would be using.
“Turned out it was Fanny Burgess, her first assumption of that alias. She had used the stolen funds to buy a small hotel, which she turned into an elaborate gambling palace. Francine loved gambling, which was only one of the reasons she hated it when Elias moved them from New York City to a small town. She enjoyed the fashionable parties where gambling took place.
“In any case, as soon as I realized Fanny Burgess was Francine, I lost all reason. I could not think of anything but grabbing her and taking her to the law. I barged into the hotel—a perfect sight in my tattered and soiled clothes among the gentry who patronized her establishment. She saw me before I saw her, and recognized me. She screamed that the intruder had come to kill her and a couple of her bouncers grabbed me. They roughed me up some, and under Francine’s instructions, took me off to the nearest police station, saying she would be along to press charges.
“She never showed up of course. I spent nearly a week in that little jail cell. They finally released me—because Madame Fanny Burgess had vanished. By all accounts, she panicked, grabbed what money and valuables were on hand at the hotel, and fled. She left thousands of dollars in her bank account, as well as jewelry in a safety deposit box. I continued my search.
“After several encounters, from which she slipped away even though I was more cautious, I had a nearly three-year gap before encountering her again. The search was made more difficult for me because she used a completely different name for the first and only time, Evelyn Harcourt. She was the owner of a saloon in Helena, Montana.” Nevin sighed. “I came so close that time. I actually walked up to her and started a conversation before she abruptly recognized me. As before, she screamed for help and I was detained while she fled—leaving everything behind again. It’s been like that for most of the thirty years. I tracked her down but she escaped in one manner or another.”
All three men were silent for a long moment before Artemus spoke. “With any luck, she will believe Jim’s tale of your death and that will lessen the chances that she recognizes you this time.”
“We can’t delay too long,” Jim pointed out. “The chance exists that she will suddenly realize who Nestor is.”
“What can we do?” Nevin asked.
“Not you, us,” Jim smiled slightly. “I need to talk to her further and try to draw her out. You continue your masquerade.”
“A time might arise when exposing your identity might be the shock that’s needed,” Artie suggested. “But it has to be the right time.”
Nevin West sighed. “I guess after all this time I can be patient a little longer. Jamie… I want you to know that my first thoughts after she released me were to return home to you, your mother, and your brother. I realized, however, that Francine was correct when she told me that no one would believe that the charming, beautiful, even delicate, Francine Woodrow was a cold-blooded murderess. I had to take her back with me. She shot them with a gun Elias had given her, one with her initial etched on it. I felt that producing that gun would back my story.”
“Wonder if she still has that weapon,” Jim mused, surprised at how he reacted to those words from his father. I’m not sure I ever really thought about that much, whether he wanted to come back home right away or not!
“That would certainly help our case,” Artie nodded. “Once we have her in custody, we can search for the gun. But now, it’s getting very, very late. I suggest you go get some sleep, Mr. West. We’ll see what the weather is like in the morning. With any luck, it’ll keep us indoors!”
Iudicis officio quaeritur de tempore, ut res.
[The judge's duty is to inquire about the time, as well as the facts.]
—Tristium (I, 1, 37), Ovid (Publius Ovidius Naso; 43 BC-c. 17 AD), Roman poet
Snow had ceased falling by the time they got up the following morning, but the sky was leaden, and over half a foot of the white stuff covered the ground, and more importantly, the street and outlying roads. Making the decision that they should not attempt a search for the missing “nobody” was easy. They would doubtful anyone would question that they lingered around town.
The saloon was, as they expected, sparsely populated. Francine alias Fanny was at her usual table, with Judge Blackmore as company. They nodded in that direction before exiting through the back door to tend to their horses in the stable. After that task was completed, they returned to their room to wash up, and then walked down to the restaurant.
“One nice thing about sleeping in because we are not able to sleep due to the noise downstairs,” Artie said as they settled at a table, “is that by the time we get here, the morning crowd has departed.”
“If there is a morning crowd,” Jim responded. “And if any food is left.”
“Don’t say that!”
The waitress emerged to soon allay his fears, pouring coffee and taking their orders for ham and eggs. She had barely walked away when Judge Blackmore entered the restaurant. He was a tall spare man who reminded Jim physically of the late President Lincoln, although his countenance was not as craggy. Probably very handsome in his youth, he was quite distinguished appearing now, with a short white beard and only slightly darker gray hair.
“Mr. Gordon,” he said stepping up to their table, “do you mind if I join you?”
Although surprised Artie quickly invited him and introduced Jim. The waitress immediately returned with a cup of coffee before heading for the kitchen again. Because she did not take a breakfast order from the barrister, Artie suspected either he ate here earlier, or she knew he ate at home.
“Is there something we can do for you, Judge?” Artie asked when the barrister sipped his coffee but said nothing.
“I have some questions.”
“What about?” Jim inquired, after a quick glance to meet his partner’s gaze.
“You are making Fanny Burgess very nervous. Why?”
Both men affected a blank expression. Artie shook his head. “I’m sorry to hear that. We did not mean to. I have no idea why that would be the case.”
The judge eyed each one of them in turn, his dark blue eyes sharp. “Gentlemen, I have sat in enough courtrooms and heard enough testimony over the years to know when a lie is being told. Now, I know you are federal agents. Possibly, you are working on something that you cannot tell me right now. If indeed it does not involve Fanny, I hope you can reassure her somehow.”
“Why would the presence of federal officers upset her?” Jim asked.
Blackmore shook his head slightly. “I don't know. She has been in town for less than half a year. I’ve become friends with her, but I suspect that she, too, is harboring a secret.”
Nothing was said as the waitress returned with plates for Jim and Artemus, then fresh coffee for all three. “What do you know about her?” Artie inquired, picking up his knife and fork to cut off a chunk of ham.
“Not very much. She is quite closed mouth about her past. Women like her often are. I know she is familiar with many different areas around the country. I’ve held several posts and it seems that each time I mention a location where I was a judge, she knows it well.”
“What about the sheriff? Does his presence also unnerve her?” Jim slathered jam on the biscuit he held.
“Yes. He has noticed it as well. I will confess that we have sent out inquiries, but other than one reply that the name Fanny Burgess was known in a town outside Seattle, nothing incriminating has turned up.”
“Interesting,” Artie murmured, careful not to look at his partner.
“It is indeed,” the judge averred. He took a couple of swallows of his coffee. “I can see that you are not quite ready and willing to confide in me. I hope you think about it. I am a man of the law, just as you are. Criminals should not escape justice. Good morning.” He rose and strolled out of the restaurant.
“Interesting,” Artie said again, this time meeting Jim’s gaze.
“To say the least. I guess the next question is whether we confide in the judge.”
“Not immediately, is my opinion. I wonder if it’s possible he has a crush on Fanny and he is trying to protect her.”
“Sheriff Beatty too? I’m pretty sure Beatty has a family here.”
Artie shrugged slightly. “Perhaps he threw the sheriff’s name in for effect. In any case, I think we need to observe a little longer before we become too trusting.”
The meal completed, they returned to the Silver Dollar, noticing that the town’s street was becoming a quagmire as the snow melted and horses and vehicles traversed it, which was good reason to stay off the roads. Being rather early yet, no patrons were in the saloon. The bartender and “Nestor” were attending to their chores. They were about to head up the stairs when Fanny Burgess appeared through the door they knew led to her office.
“Mr. West, Mr. Gordon! Good morning. Join me for coffee?” She motioned toward her regular table, where a coffeepot was resting, probably put there by the bartender. “Gerald, bring two more cups.” She did not wait for the agents to assent.
With a glance at each other, they crossed the room to the table and sat down as soon as Fanny took her chair. The bartender brought the extra cups, which she filled, apologizing that she did not have milk or sugar. “I never use the stuff.”
“We don’t either,” Jim smiled, picking up his cup. They had just had their fill of coffee at the restaurant, but neither wanted to mention that fact. Finding out why the invitation and why she seemed so relaxed and jovial was more important at this morning.
“I hope your room is comfortable,” she said then. “It’s not the Ritz, I know.”
“It’s a dry soft bed out of the weather,” Artie lifted his cup in a slight toast.
“Someday this town needs to build a hotel. Maybe I’ll do it once I have the money.”
“It must be pretty tough to run a place like this, especially for a woman,” Jim surmised. She continues to offer perfect openings!
“It sure isn’t easy. I have had a little experience managing such establishments… but not owning. I can’t tell you how surprised I was when Bill Foreman left it to me in his will. We were friends, but… well, I was shocked. And grateful. It’s nice to have a little stability at my age.”
“I imagine so,” Jim smiled. “Do you have family somewhere?”
“No. None. I was an only child. Oh, there might be cousins somewhere, but I never knew any of my parents’ siblings. I married young to an older man who… passed away soon after. He left me destitute.” Neither man missed the hesitation as well as the bitter twist that touched her mouth for a moment.
She must be thinking of the fifty thousand bucks she threw away on that hotel in New Orleans, Artie decided. “That was rough,” he said aloud. “Seems you survived.”
Fanny sighed. “A pretty woman usually can, if she knows how to use her looks. Oh, I’m not blind. When I was young, looking into a mirror was a pleasure. I was quite aware of my appearance and how it affected men from an early age. However, early age and my age now are completely different things. I may be better looking that some other women my years, but younger, prettier women are around all the time.”
“That’s where personality comes in,” Artie grinned.
She laughed. “Oh yes. Yes, indeed. How about you, Mr. Gordon? Where is your family?”
“My parents were gone by the time I reached manhood. I do have some cousins, as well as a couple of elderly aunts and uncles left. I am betrothed to a wonderful woman. And Jim is my brother.”
Her blue eyes flicked from one to the other. “That’s nice. Jim? You must have a girl somewhere, a good-looking fellow like you.”
“A girl in every port,” Jim grinned. He was aware that forgetting who she really was would be very easy. He could see how she wrapped men—and probably women too—around her little finger. She was charming. I need to ask Dad how he resisted those charms. With a start, he realized that perhaps for the first time he was thinking of that near stranger as his parent.
“Are you all right, Jim?” Francine Woodrow asked.
He shook his head slightly. “A little chill. Someone walked over my grave, I guess.”
“I’ve had those more times than I want to count.”
They continued to chat with her for another hour or so, but learned nothing of real importance. She was expert at hiding her past, and no doubt had a great deal of experience doing so. Perhaps the primary result of the chat, as Artemus pointed out later in their room, was that she appeared to be completely trusting them, accepting that their appearance in Blue Falls was sheer coincidence. Jim agreed, saying that she also must believe his lie about Nevin West being dead, even if she thought she had seen him in the last ten years.
“She might now feel she has gotten away scot free.”
After gathering up some items, mostly shirts and underclothes, they took them down the street to a laundry they had noticed. A smiling woman promised the wash would be ready for them the next day. “If it doesn’t rain,” she cautioned. She had space to dry laundry indoors, but it was limited space. They assured her no hurry existed. They expected to be around another few days.
“What now?” Artie asked as they stepped out onto the porch of the laundry. “Still too wet to go anywhere. Although that hasn’t stopped a lot of people.” He looked toward a farmer’s wagon that was struggling to get through the mire, the two dray horses straining in the harness.
“Maybe we should go talk to Judge Blackmore.”
Artie looked at him. “What are you thinking?”
“After talking to Francine and seeing her cheerful mood, I’m wondering if she confided in him and he has assured her all is well.”
“Do you mean he is complicit in…?”
“Depends on how much she confided. We might be able to find out if we are clever.”
Artie chuckled. “Or we might put our big feet right in our big mouths.”
“Let’s go find out.”
The Judge’s office was in his home, they had learned, a large house at the edge of town. Upon entering through the front door—which had a sign inviting “come in” on it—they found themselves in a typical anteroom. A young man was seated at a desk, apparently busily copying something from a book that was open in front of him. He pulled off his glasses and looked up with them with eyes remarkably like the judge’s dark blue ones.
“Can I help you?” he inquired politely.
“We’d like to speak to Judge Blackmore,” Jim said, displaying his Secret Service credentials.
Picking up and donning his spectacles again, the young man came around the desk to take the folder. He studied it a moment, handed it back to Jim then looked at Artemus. Artie bit back a smile and produced his own credentials. Finally satisfied, the clerk excused himself and went through a polished walnut door behind his desk, closing it behind him.
He was back in less than thirty seconds, his countenance registering some surprise and a bit of chagrin. “You may go in,” he said.
Judge Blackmore rose from behind his massive desk to greet them. “Forgive my grandson Charles. He’s studying law with me before attending university next fall. Sometimes he takes his duties as my clerk very seriously.”
Artie smiled. “A loyal clerk and grandson, sir.”
“Sit down. What can I do for you? I presume you’ve thought over what I said this morning and are prepared to tell me why you are tracking Fanny Burgess.”
“Yes, sir. Only her true name is Francine Woodrow.”
Artie gaped at his partner. He sure changed his mind quickly enough! Wonder why…
Blackmore cocked his head. “Francine Woodrow… that name sounds familiar for some reason. Tell me more.”
Jim hesitated only a moment. The cat was out of the bag. He understood Artie’s astonishment. He was surprised with his actions himself. Suddenly, meeting the judge again, witnessing that straightforward gaze, and experiencing the strong handshake, all doubts had disappeared. Nothing to do now but plow straight ahead.
He related the story crisply. Blackmore listened silently, displaying only the smallest of reactions, especially when told the identity of Nestor, the saloon swamper. Learning of the crimes of the woman he knew as Fanny Burgess did not seem to take him aback at all. For some reason, he has had suspicions, Artie decided. I’ll be interested to know what they were and why.
When Jim finished with the explanation of how he and his partner had arrived in Blue Falls to unexpectedly encounter his father, learning of the presence of the woman who had framed him so many years ago, the judge was silent, his face extremely sober. After a long moment, he took a deep breath and exhaled.
“Well. Thank you, gentlemen, for entrusting this story to me. Now I will tell you mine. When ‘Fanny Burgess’ arrived in Blue Falls last spring, she at first seemed like a long line of lost women who are driven to remote areas in order to survive in their trade, a trade chosen or forced upon them by necessity or another means. I found, however, that as I came to know her, something did not ring true. I cannot yet tell you what that was, even knowing the full story now.
“I was appalled when Bill Foreman turned his attentions to Fanny. He had been very happy and more than content with Hattie, a woman much younger than him, but who seemed truly devoted. Hattie cared enough to convince him to take care of himself, to stop drinking, get more rest, eat better—everything the doctor tried for a long time to get across to him. Fanny, on the other hand, encouraged those bad habits.
“Perhaps that was part of her charm for him. He was a saloon owner. He was supposed to drink with his customers, stay up late, eat the bar food as they did. However, many of his customers were younger, hardworking men. They weren’t putting on weight and suffering from gout and other problems. I tried to caution him, but he would take umbrage if anyone spoke against Fanny.
“Dr. Crabtree examined Bill’s corpse closely when he died, but could come up with nothing other than it was to be expected. That was his public pronouncement. To Beatty and me, he confided that he felt that Bill’s death was not natural. He could not, nevertheless, make an official statement to that effect. I was shocked, but in retrospect not surprised, to learn Bill had changed his will. I am the only lawyer in town, but he wrote it out by hand and had it witnessed by his bartender and another responsible man. It was legal. Fanny got everything.
“Since then the doctor, the sheriff, and I remained very friendly with Fanny, hoping that somewhere, somehow she would slip up. She is a very clever woman. I don't know if she suspects our motives or not, but she’s been perfectly… perfect.” He let out another breath. “So what are you plans to move forward?”
“This is where we are stumped, sir,” Artie said. “We need her to confess. Taking her back to New York with Nevin West’s word alone will not be enough. Very likely any other possible witnesses are long gone, if anyone even remembers the crime now. It has to be foolproof: a signed confession.”
“That is a predicament,” the barrister nodded. “Getting her inebriated to loosen her tongue might not work well. A good lawyer would tear that to shreds.”
“Exactly,” Jim concurred. “My father could face her, but at least one other time when that occurred, she screamed that he was there to kill her. He spent a few days in jail and was only released when it was realized that Francine Woodrow had vanished.”
“Of course, that might not occur here because of your coming forward to me,” Blackmore mused. “But at this moment, I think it’s best we keep that option for a last resort. It also occurs to me that we should leave Dr. Crabtree and Sheriff Beatty out of this for now. Almost a case of ‘too many cooks spoil the stew.’ They are fine and honorable men, but it is so easy to allow something to slip out.”
“I agree,” Artie said. “We can always bring them in, both or one at a time, when needed.”
“I think, Mr. West, that it would be a good idea for me to interview your father. Why don’t you tell him that I will be speaking to ‘Nestor’ to offer him the additional job of cleaning my office? That will be a good excuse for him to come here. I’ll clear it with Fanny first so she will not be suspicious.”
“I will do that,” Jim smiled. “Thank you, sir.” The sense of relief he was experiencing was astonishing. Coming to talk to the judge was a good thing! Even after he had made the decision, he had wondered if it was a good move.
Artie suggested that the judge wait until the next day to talk to Nevin West, because the agents could not easily speak to the swamper until he came to their room late at night. After expressing their gratitude and promising to keep the judge apprised of any developments, the pair left the house and walked back toward the Silver Dollar, neither speaking.
Bypassing the saloon by going down the alley beside it, they checked on their horses, and let the beasts out into a small corral attached to the building. The sun was shining and the ground was drying rapidly. Tomorrow they would probably have to make at least one foray out into the countryside seeking “nobody.”
They entered the saloon through the rear door, and found it a busier place than earlier. Most of the men present appeared to be townspeople, but a few were evidently from the outlying area, which signaled that the roads were getting passable. The midday spread was on the bar, but neither agent was hungry enough yet after the late—and large—breakfast.
Fanny Burgess was at her table, but two other men, probably local merchants, had joined her. She saw them and nodded, but did not indicate that they were invited to join. Nestor was not in view either. Hattie waved to them from a table where she was playing checkers with an old man. With nothing else to do, they headed upstairs.
Artie had a book in his saddlebags that he pulled it out to read, lounging on the bed. Jim also had a book, but he was not in a mood for reading. He pulled a chair over by the single window that overlooked the muddy street to sit there and let his thoughts wander. After about fifteen minutes, he turned around to look at his partner.
“You don’t suppose she is deceiving us, do you?”
Artie lowered his book to his chest. “If she is, she is one of the greatest actresses I have ever seen. No, I think it’s the opposite. She believes us.” He sat up then. “I think the only thing that concerns me is if we hang around here too long. The search for ‘Niemand’ is rather flimsy excuse.”
“We can’t leave here without finishing this thing.”
“I know that, Jim,” Artie said quietly, seeing the tension on his friend’s face. “We also cannot allow Francine to know what we are up to. She’s almost as bad as Loveless in her escaping ability.”
That brought a quick smile to Jim’s face. “Yeah, she is, isn’t she? Thirty years. Thirty years, Artie! For most of that time I thought my father was dead, and even after Matt told me, I was not positive of the truth of the matter.”
“But you do believe he was a victim, not a murderer.”
That brought an expression of surprise to his partner’s countenance. “Oh, yeah. Certainly. He would have no reason to be hunting her down all this time otherwise.” He turned his face away to stare out the window again, his voice soft when he spoke. “Thirty years.”
“With Judge Blackmore’s help, maybe it won’t be much longer.”
“Yeah,” Jim West sighed. “Maybe.”
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 - 09/23/2016 : 10:23:30
| Chapter 4
Jealousy sees things always with magnifying glasses which make little things large,—of dwarfs giants, suspicions truths.
—Cervantes (Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra; 1547-1616), Spanish author
Jim left his partner engrossed in his book and strolled down the hallway towards the stairs. He had just reached the top of the stairway when another door opened further down the corridor and Francine alias Fanny emerged. She paused a moment, then smiled while coming toward him.
“Hello, Jim. I saw you and Artemus come back earlier. How is your day?”
“Not bad,” Jim replied, as they started down the stairs. “It’s still too wet out there with the melting snow for us to try to do any traveling, but tomorrow we will probably be out again looking for Niemand.”
“Yes, once the sun comes out things dry up rapidly. Is Artemus napping?”
“No, reading. I thought I might dig out a book too but found I wasn’t in the mood. I’m going to the mercantile for some smokes.”
“They have a good selection there…”
They had just reached the bottom step when a voice filled with rage roared out curses. Jim had not been paying much attention to the saloon below, but now saw it was much more populated than when they had gone upstairs. He also saw that Lute MacCloskey was present, was the man shouting, and was striding towards them, fists clenched and cocked.
“You whore!” he raged, adding a few more profanities as he kept his furious gaze on the pair. “I told you to keep away from younger men, you *****!”
“Lute…!” Fanny cried, backing up a stair, clearly terrified.
Jim stepped in front of her. “Hold it!” He put out his left hand, palm forward, while the right hovered near the gun at his hip. “Right now! Stop!”
MacCloskey halted, but not until he was a few feet away. “You leave my woman alone, you son of…”
“Lute,” Fanny tried again. “We were just talking!”
“I seen you coming down the stairs with him, all smilin’ and happy! You ain’t foolin’ me, whore!”
“Ask anyone! I went up there five minutes ago to get a handkerchief!” She fumbled in her skirt pocket to produce an embroidered slip of fabric.
“Liar! I just come in, but I know you’re lyin’ and you’re gonna pay!”
The lumberman started to reach past Jim toward her. Fanny shrank back further, and Jim grabbed the big man’s wrist. “Just settle down and listen,” he said sharply. “Miss Fanny is telling the truth. We just happened to meet…”
MacCloskey was having none of it. He jerked his arm, which caused Jim to lose his balance. He was able to grab the newel post before falling to the floor, but the moment gave MacCloskey an opportunity that he took, swinging a big fist towards Jim’s face. Although Jim dodged away, the knuckles grazed his chin with enough force to cause him to lose his grip on the post and stumble to the floor.
Fanny screamed but Jim saw the boot now aimed for his head. He rolled aside and came to his feet. MacCloskey immediately brought a big fist back with the intention of swinging it at his opponent’s jaw again. As the arm came forward, Jim ducked under it, wading in with his own fists, striking the bigger man’s midriff.
The lumberjack might have been twenty or more years older, but he was not soft, a fact which did not surprise Jim. He had gotten a good look at MacCloskey on the previous occasion. Obviously, MacCloskey did not stand aside while all his men worked; he joined them with the axe and saw, quite possibly to enhance his status as the top dog.
Still, the blows had some effect and MacCloskey backed up a few paces, Jim following and continuing to pummel the stomach area. Finally, with a curse, MacCloskey swung his fist towards Jim’s head again. Jim saw it and ducked, and in doing so had to dance away a couple of feet. MacCloskey took that as an opportunity, this time reaching out with both hands in an obvious attempt to pull the smaller man into a crippling embrace.
Recognizing the tactic, Jim moved further away. Usual methods aren’t going to work with this fellow, he surmised. Nonetheless, he decided to attempt one tried and true method. The patrons of the saloon had cleared away to the sides—Jim saw his father among them—not wanting any part of the fray.
Spotting a sturdy chair, Jim grabbed the back with both hands, using it to elevate his feet. As MacCloskey charged forward like a mad bull, Jim’s boots slammed into his midsection with far greater force than the fists had been able to provide. With a scream of rage and pain, MacCloskey staggered back until he hit the bar, scattering the men who had gathered there, including, Jim noted, his father and his partner.
MacCloskey was nowhere near down for the count, however. He took a couple of deep breaths, perceptibly painful, his complexion scarlet, before charging forward again. Jim was able to avoid the rush, jumping to one side. I’m going to need to come up with something even more drastic. I don’t want to shoot the bastard!
The lumberman was enraged to the point of imprudence. He wanted his hands on this much smaller fellow who would not stand still and fight! All he could think—and he was not thinking much—was to continue to charge forward, arms flailing, yelling curses and threats. Jim continued to avoid those wild but powerful hands for the most part, receiving one strong blow on his shoulder and another that barely grazed his temple. That one was enough to cause him to dance back to allow time for his head to clear.
He watched for his opportunity. He was aware he needed to strike with more force. Blows with his fists to MacCloskey’s head were not having much effect; that he knew. Spotting an open space at the bar, Jim leapt for it, standing and spinning around immediately. MacCloskey stopped about three feet away and stared. “Yellow belly!” he roared. “Yellow bastard coward! Come on and fight!”
“If you say so,” Jim replied mildly.
He bent his knees slightly, and jumped forward, his booted feet slamming with far greater force than the previous attempt into MacCloskey’s chest. The huge man gasped, staggered, and collapsed, his head hitting the floor hard. His eyes fluttered, then closed, and he was still. Jim had immediately rolled to one side and came to his feet, ready. Instantly Artie was at his side, kneeling down to check the supine man.
Artie glanced up at his partner. He had come downstairs as soon as he heard the commotion, positioning himself beside “Nestor,” knowing that Nevin West had never seen his son in action and might be worried. He was right. The elder West had reacted when MacCloskey attempted to get his hands on Jim, pausing only when Artie put a hand on his back, out of view from anyone who might be looking their direction, and spoke a quiet word of assurance.
“He’s alive. Just out cold,” he said now.
“And we’d better get him to the pokey while he’s still out,” Sheriff Beatty said, coming up. “I came in just as that started. Never seen anyone handle MacCloskey like that, West. He’s going to be even wilder when he comes to.”
The sheriff commandeered a couple of reluctant men to carry the unconscious MacCloskey to the jail, reminding them that the lumberman was not able to identify them at the moment, and with a warning glance, suggesting loudly that no one tell him later.
Jim went to the bar and accepted the cold beer Fanny handed over to him. “That was amazing,” she said, shaking her head. “Most fellows just try to beat him with their fists, and that sure never works.”
“I’ve learned to do whatever is necessary,” Jim replied, lowering the glass after a long swig.
“I never encouraged him,” Fanny said then, shaking her head. “He always thinks he owns me.”
“Some men are like that,” Artie nodded. “James, why don’t you go wash up then what do you say we go get a bit of lunch? It’s getting late in the day.”
Knowing that his partner wanted to talk, Jim nodded. Someone handed him his hat, which had fallen off early on. He hurried upstairs to the room where he splashed water on his face, surprised to see a small cut on his chin. It was not bleeding now. Downstairs again, he followed Artemus out of the saloon. Neither spoke until they were seated in the restaurant with coffee and their orders placed.
“Good thing MacCloskey didn’t connect full on with any of his blows,” Artie commented with a slight smile.
“That was my general idea. The taps I received were evidence of his power. I’ve never met a man of his age with such strength.”
“Beatty’s right. I’m sure he can’t be kept locked up long, although Blackmore may give him the longest sentence possible.”
Jim shook his head. “Only a couple of days at the most. MacCloskey doesn’t strike me as the kind of man one can talk to, either. A head of stone in more ways than one!”
The waitress brought the bowls of soup they had ordered, neither being extra hungry, and at that time Sheriff Beatty entered the restaurant, waving away the waitress’s offer of coffee as he took a chair. “What the hell started that, West?”
“Not much,” Jim replied ruefully. “I met Miss Fanny in the upper hallway completely by accident and we walked down together. MacCloskey read something else into it and wouldn’t listen to an explanation.”
The lawman shook his head. “Bad day when Blue Falls Lumber hired that fellow. I think they know it now. This isn’t the first time he attacked a man for being with Miss Fanny. He doesn’t seem to worry about the judge and me. Too old, I guess.” He grinned briefly. “But let a younger man come near…”
“I presume he’s been fined and jailed before.”
“Fined. He has never been knocked cold before. I got him to the jail once by pulling my gun on him, but I wasn’t sure then if even a bullet would stop him. My jail is strong though. Built that way because we knew at the time we were going to have miners and lumberjacks. I’ll run him out of town once he’s released… or try to.”
“Maybe you should throw him in a wagon and haul him back home while he’s out cold,” Artie suggested.
Beatty’s eyes widened a bit. “That’s not a bad idea! I do have some chains I can put on him to keep him quiet if he wakes up. The judge can’t do much, that’s for sure, but I’ll check with him, just in case. Thanks. I’m going to find some help and do that right now!” The sheriff jumped and strode out of the restaurant.
“I was joking,” Artie said ruefully.
“I know. However, it is a good idea. If they can get him to the lumber camp while he’s still out, it’ll be that much longer before he can make his way back to town. Maybe we’ll be gone by then.”
Artie knew this time his friend was the one who was not serious. “We wish.”
“At least by tomorrow we should be able to get out and do some ‘searching’ for our wanted man.”
“Yeah. I won’t mind that. I’m getting cabin fever.”
The present only is a man's possession; the past is gone out of his hand wholly, irrevocably. He may suffer from it, learn from it,—in degree, perhaps, expiate it; but to brood over it is utter madness.
—Dinah Maria Mulock (used pseudonym Mrs. Craik; 1826-1887), English author and writer of “Magnus and Morna”
When Nevin West came to their room in the dark of the night, the agents told him of their conversation with Judge Blackmore. For a moment, he was alarmed, but he nodded, recognizing the wisdom of bringing in the local barrister. He was pleased with the idea of “Nestor” being hired to help in the judge’s office. “I won’t mind an opportunity to be out of character for a while,” he smiled. “As well, I can tell him the entire story. Glad to hear that Francine’s wiles are not working on everyone around here.”
He was also concerned about his son’s altercation with the massive lumber camp foreman. “MacCloskey is not known to forget a grudge. I saw him knock a fellow cold with one blow soon after I arrived here. As far as I know, the only thing the man did was to step up and order a beer a few seconds ahead of MacCloskey—and he did not shoulder anyone aside.”
“As if anyone could shoulder MacCloskey aside,” Artie added.
“But he’ll be back after you, Jamie. Be alert.”
“I usually am,” Jim responded.
All three men fretted about the shortness of time they would have to try to bring Francine Woodrow to justice. The agents could not hang around many days longer. For Nevin West to do so was foolhardy. At some point, she was going to recognize him; Artie unnecessarily pointed that out. Nonetheless, they could come up with no other plan beyond simply arresting the woman and taking her east. To do so was no guarantee of success. Time and her gender were on her side.
After their usual late morning breakfast at the restaurant, Jim and Artemus saddled up their restive horses and headed out of town. The roads were in good condition, although puddles remained here and there, and a stream they had to cross was running full and swift, water lapping the bottom of the wooden bridge. However, the span was sturdy and it was still standing on their return trip.
In general, they merely traveled around, talking to anyone they encountered, but not making a point to visit any ranches, farms, mines, or lumber camps. The people they talked to had no information for them about the mysterious “Niemand,” of course. Two different men had spotted strangers passing through but the descriptions did not match each other’s or the agents’ imaginary quarry.
Returning to town around mid afternoon, they went directly to the restaurant, figuring that the bar spread would be well picked over by now. After a good meal, and putting the horses in the stable behind the bar, they entered the Silver Dollar. Many of the usual patrons were there and some wanted to talk to Jim about his vanquishing of the local bully—always ending with the warning that “Lute will be back, you can count on that!”
“Miss Fanny” came downstairs shortly after their return, and waved them over. First, she warned Jim about Lute MacCloskey, that he was sure to be back, and Jim thanked her. She then related the happy news that Nestor had a second job. “That will be good for him. I can’t pay him much and he has a lot of time to spare around here anyway. I asked him once if he had family, and he does. Maybe he can save up enough to go to them.”
After a little more conversation, she excused herself, saying she had to work up liquor orders. The agents took their beers to a far corner in the half-filled saloon. Artie had a swallow, watching his partner.
“What’s on your mind? Trouble?”
Jim shook his head slightly. “A couple things, I guess. One is the fact that had I not known Francine Woodrow’s history, I could like her. Very much.”
“I know. However, remember it is that charm that has helped her survive all these years—and might serve her well if she’s ever brought to trial for the murders. It’s why we need her confession.”
“You said two things.”
Jim sighed. “I just have this feeling—not really a hunch, but just a feeling—that something is about to happen. I don't know what.”
Artie did not question. Jim did not often admit to such presentiments. “I guess we won’t know until it happens,” he said quietly. “There’s your father,” he added in the same low tone.
Jim glanced around to see the shabby, bent “Nestor” coming in the front door. The old man did not look around but went straight for the stairs. He met Hattie descending the steps and paused to say hello to her apparently. The saloon woman patted him on the shoulder and laughed about something before continuing. She spotted the agents and came straight to them.
“Hello you two. Any luck today?”
“Not a bit,” Jim replied. “If it was ‘nobody’ we spotted, he has likely cleared out.”
“So you will be too?” Her disappointment was evident.
“Not necessarily,” Artie smiled. This was something they had discussed on the ride back to town. “We need to contact our boss and see if any assignment is awaiting us. If not, we just might stick around for a while longer.”
“Well, I sure hope there are no terrible crimes that need your attention!” Hattie winked.
“So do we.” Artie saw the Jim’s thoughts had roved elsewhere, no doubt on the sensations he was experiencing. Not fun to feel like that and not know what to expect! “You seem to have a good relationship with old Nestor.”
“Oh yeah. He’s a harmless soul. Did you hear that Judge Blackmore is paying him to come dust and sweep his office? I think that’s lovely. There are nice people around here, you know.”
“I’m sure there are,” Jim said, shaking out of his reverie. “I think I’m looking at one.” He lifted his glass toward her.
Hattie sighed. “I hope you stay around for a long time! We don’t get many nice gents like you two. Just these rough miners and lumberjacks, and cowboys who are a cut above, but not much!”
“And you don’t want to move on yourself, Hattie/” Artie asked.
“No. Crazy, huh. I got beat out on owning this place—though that sure wasn’t the reason I was taking care of Bill. I did that because I liked him. A lot! I guess I have two reasons for staying. One is like I told Jim that first day, at my age, it ain’t easy to get decent job. Fanny lets me stay, knowing my history with Bill. I also feel a crazy kind of loyalty to Bill’s memory. I want to make sure this stays a decent place like he always ran it. As long as I can!”
“Like I said,” Jim grinned, “I’m looking at a very nice person.”
Hattie could not remain with them long. Her job was to mingle with the customers, encouraging them to buy drinks and gamble at the saloon’s tables. She sat down and dealt blackjack for a while. Jim and Artemus remained at their table, buying another beer but sipping the second one to make it last. The afternoon wore on as they watched the place fill up. Men came and went and some returned. A couple of miners appeared but most were townsmen and ranchers and farmers from nearby. The lumbermen usually appeared on the weekends, they had been informed. Today was Thursday.
Nestor made an appearance, toting a broom and dustpan, as he went around to sweep up cigarette butts and other debris that careless and uncaring customers dropped. After a circuit of the room, he managed to wander by the table in the corner, where he bent down to whisk up what was an imaginary piece of dust.
“Had a nice talk with the judge,” he said in a low voice, keeping his head down. “He said to tell you he now remembers my story from when he lived in Pennsylvania. Glad he’s going to help.”
Jim covered his mouth with his beer glass. “I just hope he comes up with a good idea!”
Nevin West did not say anything further, moving off to sweep up some drying mud near the front door. Artie stretched his arms out. “I think I’m going to go upstairs and relax until time for dinner. Join me?”
“No. I’ll go look in on the horses, and then maybe take a walk. I never did get those cigarillos yesterday!”
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 - 09/23/2016 : 10:24:37
| Chapter 5
There is not in nature
A thing that makes a man so deform'd, so beastly,
As doth intemperate anger.
—The Duchess of Malfi (act II, sc. v), John Webster (1580?-1625?), English playwright
Stepping out of the general mercantile, Jim paused to open one of the packets of thin cigars he had purchased, retrieving one to place in his mouth, and putting the packs in an inside pocket. As he lit the smoke, he glanced around. The town seemed normal. People were going about their business. The weather was more like September now, clear and cool. The brief spate of “winter” had moved on. More would arrive in another month or two, he knew.
I wish I could get rid of the sense of foreboding, or at least figure out what it means. He had experience similar sensations in the past, and quite often, something happened in varying degrees of seriousness. With the problem of getting Francine Woodrow to confess or be able to prove her guilt in some other manner, he suspected his premonition involved her. But how?
Two men walked by, farmers by their garb, and each tipped their hat to him. They knew who he was, Jim could tell. The story of his defeat of Lute MacCluskey had spread over the area, which was not going to sit well with the loser of the fight. It would be good if we could clear out of here before he is well enough to travel. A man he met in the store had informed him that MacCluskey was woozy and sore, unable to get out of bed as of yesterday evening. This man worked at Blue Falls Lumber but had left the lumber camp early this morning, having quit his job there, and was buying supplies to head home to Utah.
Jim stepped off the porch and headed for the Silver Dollar. Inside, he nodded to greetings but headed straight for the stairs. Upon entering the room, he found his partner sound asleep, a book open on his chest. Jim put one of the cigarillo packs in his saddlebag, and the slight noise roused Artemus.
“Nothing. Go back to sleep.”
Artie sat up, putting his book aside after marking the page by folding a corner. “No, if I sleep too much I might not sleep well tonight.” He stretched his arms widely then brought them over top of his head. “Is Fanny downstairs?”
“Yeah, at her table. Artie, what the devil are we going to do? I know we can get a few more days from Colonel Richmond, but what are we going to do with them?” They planned to send the coded telegram tomorrow to request an answer that would say no assignments were pending, so stay where they were.
“I don't know, Jim. It seems more and more that your father’s original thought of kidnapping her might be the only solution.”
Jim laughed slightly, knowing his partner was not serious. “Yeah. And end up in jail ourselves! I guess the only thing is to keep talking to her in a friendly manner and hope she slips up.”
“With a witness. There in lies the problem, James. She could confess to you, or even to both of us, but we are prejudicial witnesses. Any judge worth his salt would throw us out of court.”
“I know.” Jim shook his head now. “Nonetheless, something is going to happen. I know it is.”
Artie fell silent. He was aware of how important this was to Jim West. At one point in the past, he had asked Jim why his father did not simply immigrate permanently to Canada to live with elder son Matthew and his family, where he was very welcome, and where he occasionally traveled for respites. Jim had smiled ruefully and shook his head.
“It must be in the blood,” he said. “I know that if I was in the same position I’d keep hunting her for thirty years, even forty years if that is what it took. Matt would as well.”
Artie also knew that both West sons wanted their father to be able to settle down somewhere, to enjoy his later years. He had missed the raising of his sons, but he had three grandchildren in Canada that he enjoyed being with. However, that restlessness, that need to find Francine Woodrow and prove his innocence had kept Nevin West moving, always seeking.
Is this going to be the end? Is this the premonition Jim is experiencing? Or does it mean Francine is going to escape again, and the search will go on?
Artie rose from the bed. “Well, I need to visit the john, but I’m actually starting to feel hungry.”
“You are always hungry, Artie,” Jim chided with a grin. “I’ll wait for you downstairs.”
After a good dinner, they returned to the Silver Dollar. Artie had briefly lamented the lack of entertainment in Blue Falls. The Silver Dollar was the only tavern. Although when they asked, the waitress told them that occasionally plays or other entertainment were performed at the school, nothing was scheduled at this time. “I would gladly settle for ten-year-olds reciting the times tables,” Artie sighed.
After procuring beers, they took a table nearer to Fanny’s than they usually did. She was not present. They knew she cooked her own meals in her rooms upstairs, and would no doubt come down for the evening. She did not frequent the restaurant as her employees did; the agents had not yet encountered Hattie in the restaurant but had noted other women there, as well as the bartender.
About an hour later, Francine Woodrow descended the stairs. She had changed clothes for the evening, and now wore a gown that Artie thought was more suited for a night at the opera or theater than an evening in a saloon, but he also admitted it befit her splendidly. The fabric was dark blue satin, with a narrow waist, a slight bustle and a neckline that plunged in a V yet did not display what might not be an attractive part of an older woman’s collarbones. She had put her hair up and tied a dark blue ribbon around it.
She came toward their table smiling, and both men rose to their feet. “Good evening,” she greeted. “I have a feeling this is going to be a great night.”
“And you dressed for it,” Artie smiled. “You look wonderful, Miss Fanny.”
She beamed under the compliment. “Thank you, Artemus. I have had this dress for a long, long time. I’m surprised I can still get into it. Tonight I just felt like wearing it for some reason. Come on over to my table, both of you. I’m in the mood for good company.”
For the next hour they chatted with Fanny Burgess and try as they might to steer the conversation to her past, she avoided any discussion beyond mentioning that she had once lived in New Orleans, that she loved New York City, and revealed some knowledge of the northwest territories of Washington and Oregon.
Jim hoped he hid the frustration he was experiencing, especially when he saw his father, as Nestor, shamble through the saloon, bent and with head down, as usual. Artie is right. Eventually, she is going to get a good look at him and realize his identity. We have to draw the confession out of her before then!
“You have not mentioned California,” Artie commented. “Have you not entered that great state?”
Fanny shook her head. “For some reason, I have not. I actually thought of going to San Francisco when I stopped here. I’m sure you have heard the tale of what occurred here. All completely by surprise. I was simply being a friend to poor old Bill.”
Neither man responded to that, with Jim only remarking that she probably would like San Francisco. They brought up other locations, some she had “visited,” many not. In these later years, it seemed she concentrated on the northwest. Nevin West had chased her around the two northwestern territories over the recent past.
“You’d think I’d head to Arizona,” Fanny laughed. “I don’t really like rain. I was…”
Her words stopped suddenly as her eyes widened and complexion paled. At the same moment, the agents noticed the abrupt decline in conversation through the room. Jim twisted around. “Uh-oh,” he murmured, getting to his feet.
Lute MacCloskey had just entered the Silver Dollar. He stood in the doorway now, eyes scanning the crowd before landing on Fanny’s table. “Oh no,” he heard her say, but she came around the table to stand beside Jim. Artemus who had risen as well was on the other side of Jim.
MacCloskey strode across the floor, never taking his gaze from Fanny, as men scrambled to get out of his way. A couple of chairs got knocked over, but no one paid any heed to them. As the lumberman neared, Artie could see the bruises on his face, more livid than when he had been carried out of the Silver Dollar. His countenance was taut with fury, eyes blazing.
He stopped about half a dozen feet away and pointed an angry finger. “I told you to keep away from these young fellows!”
“Lute, they are just friends. Why can’t you understand that? Friends!”
The finger waggled. “I know women like you. Can’t leave the men alone, ‘specially the young and good-looking ones. Well, they ain’t gonna be good-looking no more!”
His right hand went inside the heavy jacket he wore and came out with a pistol. Jim’s hand dipped as well for the gun at his side, knowing his partner was also drawing. MacCloskey’s weapon came up, pointed directly at Jim, an instant later than Jim’s doing the same. In that same eternity of a moment, before Jim could fire, Francine Woodrow alias Fanny Burgess threw herself in front of the agent.
“No!” she screamed, as MacCloskey fired twice.
The force of the bullets hitting her threw her back against Jim, who stumbled back, reaching to support her with his free hand. He was thus unable to fire. Nonetheless, he heard another gun go off, and he saw Lute MacCloskey stagger back, red spurting from the middle of his chest. Jim did not pay that scene any further heed, easing the sagging woman in his arms down to the floor. The front of her satin dress was even shinier now—scarlet with gore.
“Get the doctor! Get the doctor!” someone was yelling. Jim saw a man race out the front door.
Holstering his still warm gun, Artie knelt down alongside Jim. “Is she alive?”
Jim had just pressed his fingers against her neck. “Yes, but it’s not good. Let’s get her upstairs.”
Nevin West, having thrown aside his floppy features-disguising hat, led the way upstairs to Fanny’s suite. An ornate bed was located on one side of the room. Artie jerked back the blankets and Jim placed her on the sheets. Hattie and another woman were there, then, pulling off Fanny’s shoes and carefully rolling her over to undo the back of the dress.
They had to shoo most of the men out of the room; Judge Blackmore had just arrived moments after hearing the shots, and he was at the bedside. Artie briefly told him what had happened. “No one expected MacCloskey to recover so quickly,” Artie finished.
The judge shook his head. “Fury can give a man strength. He had no reason to be jealous of Fanny, but he was, ever since the first moment they met. She didn’t like him, everyone knew that. Except MacCloskey.”
“The doctor needs to get here quick,” Nevin West spoke tightly.
Hattie looked at him with narrowed eyes. “Wait a minute…”
Jim was next to her and he touched her arm. “Explanations later, Hattie. I hope you will help the doctor when he gets here. It’s important.”
“Of course I will. I might not think much of Fanny, but I’m not going to stand by and let her die if anything can be done!”
Dr. Crabtree was a round man with a round face and round belly, but he moved with swiftness and determination as he arrived at the bedside, telling everyone to leave except Hattie and the other woman. They did so.
Downstairs, MacCloskey’s body had been carried outside. One man sourly stated that they did not want the “bastard who shot Miss Fanny” to remain in their sight. Sheriff Beatty was present by then and had gotten the story from those same men. When he repeated it to Artie, the agent nodded. “That’s about it. It happened so damned fast…”
“I think it was bound to happen, one way or another. If it wasn’t over Miss Fanny, it would have been something else. MacCloskey was a hateful cuss. Even the owners of the Blue Falls Lumber camp knew they’d made a mistake. He got good work out of the men, but they also lost a lot of men who just wouldn’t put up with him.”
Nevin West stared up the steps toward the second floor. “Jamie, she can’t die. Not without telling the truth.”
Jim put his hand on his father’s shoulder. “The doctor will do what he can.” He was experiencing the same despair. If Francine Woodrow died before confessing, Nevin West would continue to be a fugitive. At least he can go live with Matthew, but he will have this hanging over him. So will my brother and me.
A long half hour elapsed before Hattie emerged. She came halfway down the stairs. “She’s still alive. She’s awake and wants to see Judge Blackmore.”
The judge in turn gestured to the two Wests and Artemus, as well as the sheriff. Hattie evinced surprise at his action, but said nothing, turning to go back up the stairs. In the room, several lamps were lit, obviously to have given the doctor all the illumination he needed for what treatment he was able to administer. Crabtree met them just inside the door.
“I don't know about all this company…”
“It’s important, Louis. You’ll learn why.”
Blackmore went to the bedside, taking Fanny’s hand as it rested on the blankets. “Do you hear me, Francine?”
Her eyes widened ever so slightly. “So you know.”
“I know. You are aware that James West is the son of the man you wronged. Perhaps you don't know that that man is here is well.”
Now the eyes opened even more. “Nevin? Nevin is here?”
Nevin West came up to stand beside the barrister. “Hello, Francine. It’s been a while.”
Her stare seemed to indicate she thought she might be hallucinating. She pulled her hand free and held it toward Nevin West. “Nevin? That’s you? I see it now…”
Jim saw his father hesitate, then take the hand. “Francine, you have to make things right. For the sake of my sons and my grandchildren, if for no other reason.”
She started to take a deep breath, but coughed, which obviously caused pain. Hattie was there with a glass of water, and to wipe away the bloody spittle. “I know I must, Nevin. But first… can you forgive me?”
Slowly Nevin West shook his head. “No. No, you can’t expect that, Francine. You destroyed my family. I can be grateful that you saved my son’s life downstairs. Thank you.”
“All right. I guess I can live… die with that. Can someone write what I say down so I can sign it?”
Blackmore went to the door and spoke to someone out in the hallway. Returning, he stated he was sending for his grandson, who was accustomed to taking notes, both in longhand and in the new Pitman shorthand.
“Fanny,” the doctor said, taking her other wrist to check her pulse. “You should rest now. You can do the talking in the morning.”
Her smile was wan. “My daddy was a longshoreman, a really rough, tough man. He’d get into brawls on payday and come home so bad beat up… mama and I, and then when she was gone, just me, we’d fix him up, being all worried that he was going to die. He’d say, no, not yet. It ain’t time for me yet. Then one Saturday night when I was about fifteen, he come home, and he didn’t look much different, but he told me this was it. He knew. I musta got that from him. I know. I am not going to make it until morning, Doc, and I have things to do. Right, Nevin?”
Nevin West only nodded. Jim saw the emotions coursing over his father’s face. After all this time, so many years, it might be ending. If Francine was able to confess in front of these people…
She started talking again. “Let me tell you a little bit while we’re waiting. Don’t worry, Doc, I won’t use all my breath. Not yet. I married Elias Woodrow when I was eighteen. I wanted a rich husband, he wanted a young wife. It was good. I didn’t like it when he decided to move to a small town to start a bank with Nevin. But then… I met Nevin, and I fell head over heels in love with him. I thought he loved me too. He didn’t. However, I didn’t realize that. I was so blinded….
“Even when he married Louise Templeton, I thought it was just a ruse, a cover. He couldn’t be suspected of having an affair with his partner’s wife. I just knew things were going to work out. When the baby was born, I began to wonder. I started feeling desperate. I had to do something to get him away from her and the baby. That’s when I hit on the idea of robbing the bank.”
The door opened at that moment and young Charles Blackmore entered, carrying a pad of paper and a bottle of ink. The end of a pen protruded from his jacket pocket. He blanched at the sight of the dying woman at the bed, but did not speak, moving to take the chair his grandfather placed for him at the bedside. Charles put the bottle of ink on the stand alongside, wet the nib in it, and poised it over the pad he held.
“Good boy,” Francine smiled his way. “I’m going to try to make this short, but I want to be understood. Ready?”
“I’m ready,” the youth replied, his voice hoarse. “I’ll write this in longhand so there is no mistake.”
“Good boy,” she said again. She glanced at Hattie, who brought the glass of water to her lips again. “All right. You know a little of the background. Let’s start like this. On the morning of May 15, 1844, I followed my husband to the bank. He did not know. Once a month he and Nevin and the clerk went to the bank early… Are you getting this?”
Charles smiled now. “Keep going.”
“… went to the bank early to do some bookkeeping. I knew the customers would not be arriving for well over an hour. When I got there, Nevin had not arrived yet. Elias was surprised to see me. He was shocked when I produced my pistol, the little gun he had given me for self-protection. I told him I wanted the bank’s money. He grew angry and said, no, only over his dead body. So… I shot him. Then of course, I had to shoot the clerk. I hadn’t planned it that way. I had thought to lock them both in the vault while Nevin and I escaped.
“I was gathering the money from the open vault when Nevin arrived. I heard him call out to Elias, apologizing for being late, saying something about young Jamie fussing. Then he saw… the bodies. He saw me. I told him my plans of how we could go away together and live well with all the money. He started shaking his head before I even finished.
“I was so angry. I forced him to come with me. He drove the buggy I had hidden. I tried to convince him that he loved me as much as I loved him, but he… he wouldn’t agree. I didn’t want to kill him. I couldn’t. We just kept heading south and a couple of days later in Maryland, I let him go. I knew he could not go back home. He knew it too. Everyone would think we did it together and then ran off together. Which of course was my original plan.
“I left him there and although I encountered him a few times over the years, this is the first time we have actually been this close. I still love him. This is my sworn statement. Nevin West had nothing to do with the murders or the theft of the money. He was a victim of a crazy woman. Now I’ll sign it.”
Her voice grew weaker and weaker as she spoke. Hattie gave her a drink of water as young Charles prepared the signature lines for the confession. Francine noticed this and spoke again. “I want Judge Blackmore, Sheriff Beatty, and Doctor Crabtree to sign as witnesses.”
“My thoughts exactly,” the judge said, taking the pad from his grandson. He scanned over it, then took the pen as well, dipping it into the ink. “Fanny, it’s on two pages so you’ll need to initial the first page too.”
Dr. Crabtree lifted her up enough so that she could do the requisite signings on the tablet the judge held. Then the three witnesses signed.
Jim had been standing at the foot of the bed, in between his father and Artemus. He heard the long sigh expelled from his father. Impulsively, he reached around to put his arm over his father’s shoulder, and he felt the older man lean into him slightly. Artemus saw the gesture by his partner, and made one of his own, grasping Jim’s nearest shoulder with his hand.
“Is it done?” Francine Woodrow whispered.
Blackmore patted her shoulder. “It’s done, Fanny. Thank you.”
“One more thing. Write this down, Charlie.” A puzzled expression on his face that matched that of all the others in the room, the young man took up the pad and pen again. “I have no family. It’s only right this place goes to Hattie. So I leave everything I own to Hattie Holtz, free and clear. Let me sign it. Judge, is it legal?”
“It’s legal,” Blackmore nodded. “I’ll witness it.”
Again, the requisite signings were done. Francine Woodrow, lately known as Fanny Burgess, expelled a long breath and closed her eyes. Dr. Crabtree immediately took her wrist, his face somber. “She’s gone.”
Nevin West pulled away from his son and left the room. Artie lifted a brow toward Jim, who shook his head. “He needs a few minutes alone. I would.”
“I’ll go tell the folks,” Hattie said softly, wiping tears from her cheeks with her hand. She paused and shook her head. “I didn’t expect that.”
“It’s due, Hattie,” Sheriff Beatty assured her. “The Silver Dollar is yours, like it should have been.”
Artemus gazed at the still form on the bed. What a life. All because she believed she could win a man’s love by robbery and murder! She destroyed the West family, but one could say she also destroyed her own life. He glanced at Jim, who was staring at the floor, face somber and thoughtful. Now what will he do?
Do what you will this life's a fiction and is made up of contradiction.
—William Blake (1757-1827), English artist and poet
Artemus put his book aside and got to his feet when he heard sounds from the area beyond the galley. A moment later, the door with the frosted glass opened and James West stepped through, a grin on his handsome face. “Hi, Artie.”
“Jim! Welcome home!” Artie extended his hand and it was gripped warmly. “How are things?”
Jim expelled a loud breath and sank down on the familiar sofa in the vanish car. “It’s done. All done. Nevin West is a free man.”
Artie closed his eyes for a moment. “Thanks heavens. Tell me about it.”
“How about some of that good whiskey, if you haven’t consumed it all in the last few weeks.”
Artie laughed and went to the cupboard, where he filled two tumblers to the brim and brought them back, handing one to his partner before he too sat down. “Tell me.”
“In the first place, Matt joined us there. He jumped on the next train as soon as he got the telegram.”
“Then…” Jim shook his head. “I guess I expected this, and you mentioned it once, but few people remembered!”
“Thirty years is a long time.”
“Yeah. The chief constable was fairly new in town, having been around only fifteen years or so. However, his assistant is a fellow I went to school with, Bert Michaels. He remembered me, and the story after some hints. The fact that Judge Blackmore went with us was a big help. He had all his credentials, so no one questioned his authority.
“Bert did some digging and deep in the basement found a box with the records and some newspapers. Some time was needed, as well as consultation with the local judge, but after a couple of days, Dad was officially cleared.”
Jim laughed. “That’s pretty much what we said when we went to the tavern afterwards.” He sobered. “It was a pretty… tough time, Artie. Dad cried. He had a lot of weight lifted off his chest… and mind.”
“I should say.”
“We visited Mom’s grave. We took Dad up to Montreal and got him settled in that cottage behind the big house. Dad wants to come back in the spring and Matt said that he and Therese will bring him. Maybe the kids too so they can see where their father grew up.”
Artie lowered his glass after taking a sip. “What about you?”
“I mean, what are you going to do now?”
Jim looked at him, surprise on his countenance. “I guess that depends on whether we have an assignment waiting.”
Artie cocked his head. “Jim, I know that your father’s… problems… have been part of what has driven you all these years. I thought perhaps you might want to…”
Jim cut him off. “Take it easy? Are you kidding? I wouldn’t know how to. Besides, you’d get into a hell of a lot of trouble without me around.”
“Oh yeah?” Artie grinned, realizing only at that moment how much this possibility had worried him in the weeks since Francine Woodrow’s confession and death.
“Yeah.” Jim put his glass aside to climb to his feet in order to pull off his jacket. The car’s fireplace was keeping the interior more than comfortable. “By the way, we are invited to Montreal for Christmas. You and me, and Lily if she’s available.” He picked up his tumbler again.
“Jim, that’s family time…”
Jim tipped his head and lifted a brow. “So?”
Artie laughed and held his glass out. “All right. Christmas it is.”
Jim touched his glass to Artie’s extended one. “Good to be home. Do we have an assignment?”
“As a matter of fact we do. Dinner and the theater. Lily is waiting for us in Washington City.”
“Perfect, pal. Perfect.”
There are loyal hearts, there are spirits brave,
There are souls that are pure and true;
Then give to the world the best you have,
And the best will come back to you.
—Life's Mirror, Madeline Bridges (Mrs. Mary Ainge de Vere; 1844-1920), American 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