|T O P I C R E V I E W
||Posted - 07/02/2020 : 21:33:33
The Night of the Jack O’ Diamonds Continued
Disclaimer: I don’t own the characters or anything related to the series, I’m just taking them out to play. Has scenes from The Night of the Jack O’ Diamonds in season 3.
Author note: I found this story on an old laptop. This story was started back in 2006, while I was in high school, and I never finished it. I was so close and just had to put a few tweaks here and there. Sadly, some crazy life things got in the way and I stopped cold turkey. I have several more that were started but not finished. My hope is to start working on them again. Anyways, I had always wondered how Jim got his horse back and how he managed the ride back to town with a gunshot wound. So here is my idea of how it played out. Hopefully, you enjoy it.
“Señors!” Sordo called with amusement. Both agents stopped and hesitated before slowly turning towards the bandit, they had previously thought dead. “Do nothing foolish” the bandit laughed. “Your money, please!” Sordo demanded amusingly.
Jim looked incredulously at Artemus, as they both realized they had been tricked. Of course, he wasn’t dead! Artie’s incredulous look turned to mock amusement, as he reached for his wallet inside his fringe jacket. Artie quickly glanced inside and then threw it towards the bandit with indignation.
Sordo caught the wallet with ease. “Now, throw your guns and your gun belts into the bushes.” Jim and Artie simultaneously threw their guns to the side and began undoing their belts to do the same. The bandit laughed. “You ever have the feeling we have been had?” Artemus said incredulously. Jim stared in serious frustration. “Sordo, you will never make it. You’re wounded too seriously.”
“Oh this…” he said palpating the wound. “I have been hurt worse than this. They do not call me the old fox for nothing!” He laughed as he trained the gun at the two agents. He was clearly amused by his own trickery. “Now because you’re not bad gringos, I am going to leave you a horse…” He explained as he backed away to the horses. “Give my regards to President Juarez huh...Tell him to ride my horse in good health.” Sordo backed up to the smaller bay and mounted, gun still trained on the agents. Both agents looked sheepish as they stood waiting for the bandit to make his exit. “Adios, amigos” Sordo laughed as he rode away.
Both men looked in his direction, not even trying to stop him. “How far do you think he will get?” Artie asked.
“About as far as a hangman’s noose” Jim replied. Still not believing what just took place, Artemus responded. “Yeah sure…Someday.”
“Yes, But not today, Artie.” Jim said plainly. The Agents gave each other unbelieving looks before they both turned to retrieve their guns. The rapid hoof beats, in the back ground, dissipated as the outlaw distanced himself from the two agents.
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Arm bandaged; Jim gingerly swung into the saddle of the larger horse. Taking his foot out of the stirrup, Jim allowed Artie to swing up behind him. He turned the horse towards the direction Sordo had retreated and nudged him into a walk.
“uh Jim…Town is that way.” Artie gently reminded, as he pointed in the opposite direction. “Yeah, well my horse is that way!” Jim replied with a tone that said he wasn’t accepting any argument. He loved that stallion and wasn’t planning on leaving him behind. He lightly nudged the horse into a slow lope. Jim knew they could only keep up this pace up for a short distance while riding double. It would be slow progress but they would have to alternate between longer walk breaks and short loping sessions.
After what seemed like forever in the desert heat, Jim started to recognize the layout of Sordo’s camp. His mission was clear, and his arm wasn’t slowing down his determination. As he put the horse into a slow walk, he scanned the surroundings. Luckily, he knew exactly where the corral would be and he knew whistling would give him and his partner away. After another mile he pulled the gelding to a stop and signaled for his partner to dismount. Artie didn’t complain, as he was ready to be back on the ground for a spell. Jim dismounted and handed the reins to Artie.
“Give me 30 minutes. If I’m not back...” He gave his partner a knowing glance. “You will be back!” Artemus exclaimed as he tied the gelding to a brush weed. Getting comfortable he got down and laid against a bush that was in the light shade of a cactus. Putting his arms behind his head, Artie pretended to snooze.
Jim chuckled at his partner. He knew Artemus was rarely comfortable out on the prairie, and doubted he was comfortable in this heat. Flexing his right hand, Jim tried to move the stiffness out of his arm. Artie, through squinted eyes, spied this in concern but refrained from commenting. He knew nothing would stop his partner from getting that crazy horse back. He would have loved talking Jim into getting a much milder horse, but Blackjack did have his uses. He had the stamina and speed of an Arabian and the heart of a cougar. Although flighty and head strong, he could get them through the most dangerous situations. A horse like that was hard to find. He also knew his partner loved that horse and would not let him be used by bandits.
Artie silently wished his partner good luck, as he saw him start for the cliff face.
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Artie looked at his pocket watch for the umpteenth time and noticed it was about ten seconds from being thirty minutes. As if on cue, Artemus heard more than saw the thundering hooves of Blackjack with his partner low in the saddle. With a cue from his partner, Artemus mounted quickly and nudged his mount in the direction Jim was headed. He could distinctly hear gun shots raining down on them. Artie shot a quick glance behind them and saw a string of horses with no riders following them. Artie smirked as he turned back and nudged his horse to go faster.
After covering a few miles, Artie’s mount started to slow. Jim started to slow Blackjack, figuring they had created enough of a gap if anyone decided to follow. Of course, the bandits would need to catch their horses first. They walked for another mile before Jim stopped his mount.
Dismounting slowly, Jim grabbed the canteen as he removed his hat. Filling his hat with a small bit of water, he offered both horses a short drink before splashing the rest of the water onto his head.
Artemus watched his partner in silence before asking. “Do you think they will follow us?”
“No…” Jim answered. His voice just barely above a whisper. “I loosened the saddle straps before I released the horses. They will have to find where the horses dropped the saddles before they can follow us.” Tossing something in the direction of his partner, Artie caught it as it hit his chest. “I found that too.” Jim said musingly. Artie looked in shock at his wallet. He flipped through it and saw that the only thing missing was the cash. “Well, what’s a few dollars?” Artie said smugly. “At least I have my ID back. You know they were going to charge me to print another one. Apparently, I ask for too many replacements!” He laughed.
Jim just smirked before he took a long swig from the canteen. His head was pounding and he was beginning to feel lightheaded. He tried to hide the fact from his partner as he handed over the canteen. Of course, Artie had not missed the subtle clues at all. He noticed the slight shake in his partners hand as he handed over the canteen, the flushed face, and his quiet demeanor. “you ok?” Artie asked
Jim eyed him before answering. “I’m fine.” He lied as he took the canteen back from his partner. He tied it back to his saddle then hesitated. With a sigh, he pulled himself into the saddle less gracefully than he had hoped for. His sleeve was soaked and the slight blood loss was starting to affect him. “We better get some more distance between us before they find those horses,” Jim said sternly.
Jim nudged his horse into a smooth trot and his partner reluctantly followed. Artemus knew his partner was right but he also knew his partner needed rest and a new bandage.
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The injured rider swayed to the left as the hot sun shone above. The heat was unforgiving as it radiated across the desert in waves. The horses had white foam showing from their hides as they obediently obeyed their riders to keep going.
Artemus looked back to his friend in concern. “You going to make it?”
Jim stared at the saddle horn as he felt his body sway side to side with the rhythm of the horse. “I can make it.” He said quietly.
Artie slowed, the gelding to match speed with the stallion. “Just a little further.” He encouraged. Jim looked to his partner in appreciation. “If you can count a full day and a half ride, as just a little further.” Jim said melodramatically.
The two agents rode in silence for the next mile. Artie’s rental horse snorted and stamped the ground as a snake slithered in front of him. Black jack gave a quick pull to the right. His rider swayed with him but kept his seat. “easy, boy.” Jim soothed through gritted teeth. He was weary of this ride. Ready to be back in the comfort of his own bed aboard the wanderer. His head was fuzzy and he could feel the darkness trying to eat away at his vision. “I need to stop and rest” Jim confessed quietly.
Artemus kept an eye on his partner as he replied. “we can stop at that outcropping of Mesquite trees.” Artemus said pointing. “There should be a small watering hole, if I remember right. We can water the horses and I will make us something to eat.” Jim didn’t respond but instead steered Blackjack towards the trees.
Artemus dismounted and tied the loan horse to a small shrub before walking over to his partner’s side. Jim just sat atop the stallion for a few minutes before slowly dismounting. He grabbed for the saddle as the world spun around him like a top. Within seconds, Artie grabbed his side to steady him, concern washing over him. Jim shrugged him off and moved towards a shady spot near an old tree. With a groan, he sat against a rock, his injured arm clutched protectively close to his side.
With his partner comfortable, Artemus returned to Blackjack to grab Jim’s bed roll. He untied it and tossed it gently to his partner. Without a reply, Jim placed it in the shade and laid his head down against it. Within seconds he was out.
Artemus started a small fire, then pulled a can of beans and a pot from his saddle bags. ‘Looks like it’s beans again,’ he thought as he pulled out his knife. He put the point of the knife to the can and used his palm to hammer it twice into the metal. Prying it open, he tossed the lid and poured the beans into the small travel pot. He glanced to his partner’s prone form and noticed a light sheen of sweat across his pale face. ‘I hope you can make it, Jim boy’ he thought.
Suddenly, he spied a lizard cross in front of Jim’s sleeping form. He watched as it scurried a few feet away and then stopped to rest. Slowly, Artemus grabbed a nearby rock, about the size of his fist, and carefully aimed it at the lizard’s center of mass. With lightning speed, he threw it at the lizard with enough force to hopefully kill it. He was rewarded when the lizard’s body slackened. ‘yes!’ he thought with silent excitement. That would give some meat for the beans.
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“Jim…Jim…come on partner, wake up.” Artemus gently shook Jim’s shoulder. Briefly he paused then reached up to feel his partners forehead. ‘no fever, that’s good at least.’ Artemus thought as he gently shook his partner’s good shoulder again. “come on, Jim!’ he said with a little more worry than force. He was rewarded with a moan.
Jim opened his eyes slowly but just saw fog. Blinking rapidly, his partner and long-time friend started to materialize in front of him. “Hey.” Jim croaked, as his hand went to his face to wipe the perspiration from his eyes. Jim slowly tried to rise, but his eyes rolled and his head fell back to his bed roll. “I feel weak.” Jim sighed. Artie reached for him in worry. “Easy Jim, take it easy.” Artemus reached for his friend’s shoulder and gently but firmly lifted Jim up before he spoke. “I know you are. Let’s see if some food can fix that. I found some meat, for the beans. Do you think you can manage a small meal?”
“I don’t know,” Jim answered with confusion. “but I will try.” Artemus was getting more and more worried about his partner. His usually strong no nonsense personality was now frail and unsure. ‘not a good sign’ he thought as he eyed Jim again. “Here, let’s try.” He coaxed as he picked up Jim’s plate and carefully set it in Jim’s good hand. It was hard to miss the fresh blood coming from the bandage on his arm, causing his sleeve to be completely soaked. “Once you eat, I will adjust your bandage.” Artie said more to himself. Jim didn’t complain, just set his plate on his knee and stirred the fork around in the beans. Jim shoveled a small bite into his mouth and the meat within made his mouth water. He hadn’t realized he was hungry and shoveled another bite into his mouth. He ate a few bites but then his stomach churned. He set the rest of the beans down on the ground and started to lean back onto his bed roll. He rested his head snuggly against the roll and put his hand to the ground to steady himself. “Just 5 more minutes,” Jim slurred as he lost consciousness.
Artie scooted over to his partner and watched for signs of breathing. The even rise and fall of Jim’s chest made him let out the air he was holding. “Might as well change that bandage while he is out.” Artie said to himself.
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Jim awoke groggily to his arm throbbing and the pressure making his head swim. He focused his eyes then looked down at the newer blood-stained bandage. He looked around and saw his partner putting out the fire with his boot. When he tried to move, he let out an involuntary groan. Artemus was immediately at his side.
“Jim. How are you feeling?” Artie asked trying to mask his concern.
Jim slowly and carefully lifted himself partially up. When the earth didn’t throw him off, he finished sitting up. He put his hand to his aching head. “Feels like I’ve been kicked by a mule.” He grumbled.
Artemus studied his partner before he responded. “You tore your wound, and it started bleeding with a vengeance, but I think I got it stopped. The bullet went through, so no worry there…” Artie trailed off. “we need to get you to a doctor before the wound gets infected… Do you think you can ride?”
Jim lowered his hand to the ground and his eyes went up to his black mount. “Yes.” Jim said after some hesitation. Artemus eyed his partner then helped him to a standing position. There was no reason to delay the inevitable. Jim reeled but Artemus held him steady. “I’m fine.” He answered Artie’s unspoken question. “Just help me mount. I’m just a little groggy, from sleep.”
Artie was surprised when his partner was able to get into the saddle with minimal assistance. Waiting briefly, he seemed content that his partner wouldn’t fall off and went to pick up the last of the supplies.
Within minutes they were back on the trail. The three-hour break had refreshed both man and beast. Artemus frequently looked to his partner to see how he was faring. Jim was slightly hunched to one side in the saddle, but seemed to be holding his own. The horses had new reserves and were making good time. Artemus looked to the sun, it would be setting soon. They had killed a lot of time letting Jim rest, but he knew it was a necessary evil. About two miles off, He spied a grove of mesquite trees surrounded by some large rocks, and steered his mount for them. Jim perked up at the change in direction. His mind had been wandering and he hadn’t even realized it was getting close to dusk. They still had a good full day’s ride ahead of them.
Both agents pulled up to the small cove of trees. Artemus dismounted first and offered a hand to his partner. “I’m fine.” Jim waved off the help as he dismounted, but stayed close to the saddle until his feet adjusted to being on the ground. He turned and started pulling his gear from his horse, but Artie stopped him. “let me.” Artie offered and pointed to the shaded area. Jim conceded and moved toward the shade. He didn’t want to admit it, but he was feeling pretty lousy. The nap from earlier had refreshed him, but he was still woozy from blood loss. He decided to occupy his time by collecting small pieces of kindling that was nearby and started prepping a small pile for a fire. He knew Artie would be gathering wood to feed the fire, and this made him feel useful without using a lot of energy. By the time Artie had the supplies unloaded and a good amount of wood, Jim was nursing a nice little flame.
“You’ve been busy, James my boy.” Artie said as he set the wood down nearby. He took a few nicer dry branches and put them around the flame. Jim continued to nurse the flame until the branches started to burn into a hearty fire. Artie brought over a pot of beans and placed it near the fire. “I couldn’t find any meat this time,” Artemus grumbled while stirring the beans.
After about 20 minutes he stirred the beans and began spooning some onto two plates. He handed one to Jim before rising to sit over next to Jim. “Beans again.” Artie groaned. “what I wouldn’t give for a good Venison Bourguignon.”
West looked to Gordon in admiration. “That’s your problem Artie, you’re too spoiled.” His eye sparkled with mischief for a moment. Artemus gave him a sheepish grin. “Like my great Aunt Maude always said, “Laughter is brightest, where food is best!” Both men laughed in unison.
West placed his partially eaten plate close to the pot and leaned back on his bed roll. His arm was giving him trouble and he massaged at his hand to try and ease the ache. Artie looked at his partner and grimaced. Jim’s face was flushed with a sheen of sweat, his eyes glossy and shadowed with pain. He could tell it was taking a lot of energy to stay focused. He was fixing to mention they should hit the sack, when Jim decided to roll onto his side. He moaned as he jarred his arm and shifted uncomfortably. Within a few minutes he fell into a fitful sleep.
Artemus set at the fire for a few more minutes before he went to tend the horses and grab more kindling for the fire. His mind was so busy with worry that he didn’t even hear the danger until it was too late. The sound of several guns cocking all at once sent a chill up Artie’s spine. He slowly raised his hands to waist height as a bandit came out of the shadows.
“Señor. I believe you have something that belongs to me!” The bandit growled. He was tall and lanky with a grisly beard and mustache. “Throw away your gun, Now!
Artemus gave an innocent look towards the bandit. “I don’t know what you are talking about, sir. I’m just passing through. I…”
“Shut up, Gringo! I come for your money.” The bandit interrupted harshly. “Now throw your gun away.”
Throwing his gun away, Artemus huffed with amusement. “If it’s money you’re after, you’re too late. We have already been held up once today.” Artie reached into his pocket and tossed the wallet to the Bandit. The Bandit look disgusted when he looked inside. “I see. Then we will take the horses!”
Artie’s face went from amusement to horror. “Please, it’s the middle of the desert, we will die!” The bandit had a grin on his face. “Not, my problem Gringo!” he growled.
“Please!” Artie begged. “My friend is hurt; he can’t walk all the way to town. It’s over a full day’s ride!” Artie started to shift and pull a silver ball from his waist belt but before he could grab it, he heard several horses squeal in fright and take off running. Several of the bandits started scattering after the horses, yelling and forgetting the robbery. Artemus finished pulling the silver ball out and threw it at the bandits’ feet. The ball burst into a cloud of red smoke and the leader gagged and sputtered before stumbling to the ground unconscious. Artie grabbed his gun and ran towards where the horses scattered in search of Jim. “Artie, over here” Jim yelled from a bush. Meeting up with his partner, they ran towards their own horses. Full of adrenalin, Jim pulled himself clumsily into the saddle. Just as Artie was mounting, he heard his partner gasp in pain.
Two of the men, grabbed Jim by his arms and dragged him off his horse. Gasping in pain, Jim tried to move with them to stop the pain in his arm. One man pushed him to his knees and Jim grimaced at the rough treatment. Perspiration was dripping from his face, as one of the other bandits grabbed him by the hair and raised his head up. With his other hand he placed a knife to Jim’s throat. His angry voice boomed. “If you value your friend’s life, you will dismount and throw away your gun.”
Artemus hesitated at the sight of Jim on the ground with a knife to his throat. He slowly dismounted while taking his gun from his belt. He tossed the gun to the side in defeat. Raising his hands, he pleaded, “Please I will do whatever you want. Please don’t hurt him!”
The bandits laughed at his pleading. The man with the knife made a slight slicing motion and Jim hissed as he grabbed the knife in an attempt to move it from his throat. “This gringo has some fight,” The bandit sneered. “Now, we are going to take your horses and to make sure you don’t interrupt, your amigo here will join us. Now get on the ground!”
Artie’s face flushed with fear as he began to get down on the ground. He watched in horror as they placed Jim back on his black stallion. ‘What now!’ Artie thought! ‘How will we get out of…’
Artie caught a glimpse of Jim’s stare; He knew that stare. ‘Uh oh!’ Artie’s thoughts were interrupted as Jim Kicked his mount as hard as he could. Black jack bucked and ran over the man in front of him that was holding the reins. Loud screams and sudden gun shots erupted as the bandits tried to stop Jim. With as much energy as he could muster, he reached forward and grabbed the reins. Pivoting the stallion, Jim steered him head on towards another one of the bandits. The bandit started aiming his gun at the man on the horse, but not quick enough. The black thundered over him and the bandit’s body thudded lifelessly to the ground. Artemus in the confusion, raced for his gun as Jim pivoted his horse around to make another charge. As the last bandit raised his gun and pointed it at Jim, Artie raised his gun and aimed at the bandit’s head. Two-gun shots went off consecutively and for a second Artemus thought he was too late. As his heart briefly stopped, Artemus saw the gunman drop in a heap.
Jim slumped forward in the saddle holding desperately to the horn. The world was spinning wildly and he was trying desperately to hold on for dear life. With a side step from the horse, Jim lost his desperate hold on reality and blacked out. Artemus ran for Jim, and had just reached him as he fell from the saddle. The black side stepped away from his rider, as Artemus dropped to the ground in a desperate attempt to break his fall.
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The next day’s sun had already reached its climax in the sky, when Artemus decided to start clearing lunch. He started to put up the supplies when he heard a soft moan. Dropping the dishes into the saddle bag, he rushed to his partners side.
“Jim?” He anxiously waited for a response. “James…” Jim’s eye lids fluttered several times and then slowly opened. He stared into an open void for several seconds before he blinked several times. Jim’s eyes search until they landed on the face of his best friend. “hmm…Artie” Jim rasped.
“I’m here, James. I thought for a little bit I would be breaking in a new partner. How are you feeling?” Artie mused worriedly. Jim reached for his forehead and felt a bandage. “What?” Jim gasped as he touched a raw spot. Artemus cleared his throat. “Well, you decided to use black jack as a battering ram. In all the excitement, He decided to test his hard head against yours. That crazy horse reared up when the last Bandit shot at you. Unfortunately, when he slammed on the breaks and reared, the front of your head connected with the back of his. You stayed conscious for a few seconds before you blacked out. and I barely caught you before you hit the ground. Black Jack is fine. I didn’t find a gunshot wound on him but he may have saved your life. I shot the bandit in the head but not before he got off a shot.” Artemus watched his partner’s face as he chewed on the information.
Jim started to lift himself up slowly but froze as his world spun. When the spinning slowed, he started again to sit up. Artie helped him the best he could. Jim looked at his injured arm which was now bound to his front. His eyebrows furrowed in confusion. “You opened and tore the wound again, so I immobilized your arm until we can get to a doctor.” Artemus explained. “I saved you some food.” Jim grimaced. “I don’t think I could keep anything down.” He said with revulsion.
Artemus tried to hide his disappointment. “I will wrap it up for later. It’s already a pretty late start to the day, so let me pack up and then we will try to get out of here. That is, if you think you are up for a ride. I don’t really want to hang around here too long.”
Jim processed Artie’s concern. “I’m not sure I can but I will try.” Jim answered quietly. Artemus’ concern deepened. “Just rest. Get your bearings and then we will try.
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Jim slowly stepped towards Black Jack as the world once again spun. With Artie’s help, he had made it to his stallions’ side and roughly grabbed for the big animal for support. He placed his head on the animal’s shoulder and waited for his world to stop spinning. Jim patted the stallion’s neck, in encouragement. “Thank you, boy.” He whispered.
Artemus stayed by his side for support, while Jim talked soft tones to the horse. Jim reached up, grabbed the rein, and gave the animal a command. With a little more speed than Artemus expected, the big horse lowered his head and almost bowed. Then with a thump he laid down. Artemus watched in awe. He knew Jim’s horse knew some tricks, but he had never seen this one implemented. Jim dropped the reins as Artie helped Jim move into position. Using Artemus for support, Jim pulled his leg up over the animal to straddle the saddle. Artemus handed him the dropped reins but stayed close in case his partner lost his seat. With another flick of the reins, the big black rose onto all fours again. The movement was quick and accurate, making Jim’s head swim. He slumped forward, placing his head on the horse’s neck. He sat there for what seemed like an eternity with his eyes closed. Artemus was just about to ask Jim if he was ok, when his friend slowly lifted himself into a sitting position. Jim’s eyes were still glossy, his face still flushed, but he seemed to have the strength he needed to get this far. Artemus only prayed he had enough reserves to make it back to town. They would be spending at least one more night out on the desert before they could make it to town.
Within minutes they were back on the dusty trail. The sun was now high in the sky and beating unforgiving rays down on them. The scorching ground heated up the air, causing the sun’s light rays to broadcast images ahead of them, in mystical mirages. Artemus used a handkerchief to wipe sweat from his face as he studied his partner. Jim was sitting slightly crooked in the saddle but seemed determined to make it.
“What I wouldn’t give for a long cold beer, right about now.” Artemus broke the silence. The corner of Jim’s lips lifted in a half smile. “Beer! I’m getting a shot of whiskey!” Jim countered. Artemus smirked, “yeah that sounds great too! I just want something to wet my whistle. Something cold!” The two agents rode in silence, thinking about those cold drinks. It was a welcoming thought from the hot, dry, dusty trail.
Jim required several more stopping breaks to rest in the shady spots of the large Cardon Pachycereus pringleis. Without those cacti, there would be almost no shade at all, big enough for the men to rest under. They hit points where even the drought tolerant mesquite trees were nonexistent.
At the 3-hour mark, Artemus reached for the canteen. Shaking it, he realized they were desperately low on water. Taking a small sip, he let it sit in his mouth and cool the dryness. Due to Jim being injured and requiring more water, they had already been down to one canteen. Artie handed the rest to his partner. Jim thankfully accepted the canteen and took a small swig. He offered it back to his partner, but Artie shrugged it off. “No, Jim. You need it more than I do.” He said with a sympathetic tone.
West returned the lid and reattached it to his saddle “We need to find water,” Jim mentioned casually. Both men knew the closest mapped water hole was another two hours ride and they couldn’t go several hours without. Jim scanned the horizon. The only thing in sight was sand, sky, and some patches of Prickly Pears littered across the landscape. Urging his mount forward, he looked at Artemus. “If we go much further without water, we are going to be in trouble.” Jim licked his dry lips. “We can grab water from the prickly pear cactus, if we need to, but it needs to be in the morning when the acid is lower. Cactus juice must be sipped slowly or the acids can make you sick, and we don’t want to be sick out here. An old Indian friend suggested not to do more than a ½ cup diluted with water and even less straight from the plant. We can also cook and eat the prickly pear after scraping off the needles. It’s a little gummy but not too bad. It will help with hydration but won’t sustain us for long.” Jim wiped the sweat from his face with his sleeve. “Gree…greener pieces are better, bright red for the fruit…” Jim finished shakily.
Artemus looked to his friend in concern. “You ok, Jim” West hesitated and stared off into the desert. The swaying of the horse was rhythmic and made him want to drift to sleep. The even terrain kept him from being jarred too much, and his mind came back to the soft words of his partner. “just tired.” He finally answered.
“I know, James,” Artemus said sympathetically. “Unfortunately, we can’t stop for a break now. We need to keep moving.” Understanding his partner, Jim just nodded.
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They hadn’t made it much further, when Jim pulled his horse to a stop. “I’m sorry, I need to rest.” He said shamefully. The need to rest and lay down was more than he could fight. Artemus, gave a sympathetic look to his partner. He wiped his forehead and quickly dispelled his frustration. At this rate they would never make it to town but he couldn’t be mad at Jim. “Ok, Jim.” Artemus acknowledge. Jim slowly dismounted and dropped the reins. Two steps in, he dropped to his knees in exhaustion. His stallion nickered towards his human in concern. Artemus dismounted and grabbed the bed roll off the stallion. He propped it next to a rock and then helped his partner over to it. Jim laid down without a word and was asleep immediately. Artemus pulled the horses to the west side of them to give a little shade, before going over to join his partner.
After what seemed like only seconds but was actually half an hour, Artemus awakened at the sound of horses. He hadn’t realized he had snoozed and groggily scanned the surroundings. Reaching for his gun, he suddenly heard several clicks of rifles behind him.
“That would not be wise, Señor!” rang a strangely familiar voice.
Artemus groaned allowed. ‘seriously!’ he thought as he slowly raised his hands.
“Muy Bueno. Now get to your feet, Señor!” The bandit drawled.
Rising, Artie slowly turned to see none other than, Sordo. Artemus gave a defeated smile, then raised his hands a little higher. Sordo had six other men moving up to surround him, each with a rifle cocked and ready to fire.
Sordo’s face had an expression of surprise. He stood tall but slightly hunched with a bandage wrapped around his side. “well, if it isn’t the gringos! Here I was thinking I was trailing horse thieves!”
Artemus smiled sheepishly. “so, what now, Sordo?” he asked, curious how this would play out.
Sordo stared amusingly at Artemus before looking to the man on the ground. “Say, your amigo doesn’t look too good.” He said with a worried tone. “What happened?”
Artemus explained how they went back for Jim’s horse and then ran into some bandits. Jim had a slight concussion and reopened his wound during the fight. Their travels were drastically slowed and they were dangerously low on water.
Sordo lowered his gun and moved over to the agent on the ground. Artemus slowly lowered his hands and watched the outlaw curiously. “Fever…” Sordo said quietly before turning and speaking to his men in their native language.
The men immediately started moving away as Artemus turned his attention to his partner. He reached for his forehead and confirmed the fever. Artie grimaced.
Before Artemus realized it, the men had a fire started and food already cooking. They offered Artemus some water and then ushered him to sit. One bandit had made up a salve and was administering it to West’s wounded arm and head. Another bandit fed and watered the horses. Black Jack was not enjoying the strange company, but behaved as long as they kept their distance. Artemus was greatly relieved at the turn of the cards. He honestly didn’t think they would have made it much further.
Sordo sat near Artemus and regarded him seriously. “You gringos sure know how to find trouble.” He drawled. Artemus smirked. “You have no idea.”
Sordo reached for his side and rubbed his aching ribs. “My wound was not as bad as thought. It was only a nick. Luckily, my men are good with wound care. They will ensure our friend gets the care he needs.” Sordo studied the man across from him for several minutes before he continued. “There is a hidden spring about 2 miles in that direction,” Sordo continued as he pointed off in the distance. “We will get a decent meal and then move there. It will have shade and water for the horses.” He continued to explain how he learned about the paraíso spring when he came across it while injured about 10 years earlier. It was mostly unknown, except within the outlaw community. It was often used as refuge because it was surrounded by giant pachycereus pringleithats and clusters of prickly pears that grew unchecked. The forest of cactus made it look inaccessible.
Artemus looked to this outlaw with a new found respect. This band is known for its merciless reign of the area. For them to stop and render aid was definitely not expected, yet here they were helping two gringos. They even felt comfortable enough to divulge the location of one of their hide outs. “Sordo, I…” Artemus started but was cut off by a hand. “No need…Sordo will always render aid to his, amigos.” Artie smiled and just said a simple Thanks.
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As the sun was making its final decent towards the horizon, the band of outlaws, pulled their horses up to a large mountain of rock and cactus. Every square inch looked to be covered in angry spikes, just daring anyone to enter. Some of the cacti were as tall as trees, and the prickly pear were the tallest Artemus had ever seen. Apparently, the secluded area was a haven for them to grow without being disturbed by animal or human.
Sordo led the way to the corner of the rock, where he removed several large clusters of tumble weeds, that were strategically placed to hide the entrance. As they cleared the weeds, a simple little path appeared that led into the forest of cactus. They gingerly led their horses through on foot, and the path slowly opened up to a good size ravine surrounded by rock and more cactus. It was almost as if someone carved out the rock for the very purpose of hiding out. The unclimbable walls offered protection from the outside world and some shade from the hot rays of the sun. At one corner of the hideout, was a small cave that was about 1 foot in diameter that continued into the deep abyss of the ground. The darkness inside the hole was eerie, but the reservoir that engulfed the hole was filled with a beautiful supply of crystal-clear water. A lone Mesquite tree sat to the left of the Spring, providing all day shade to the water, keeping it nice and cool.
Artemus looked around in awe. “I understand why you call it paradise in such a desolate desert landscape. It’s beautiful after looking at sand all day long.” Sordo looked to the agent. “It is beautiful. We try to preserve it by not staying long or taking more than is needed.” He replied, with appreciation in his eyes.
Artemus smiled, then turned his concerned attention to his partner’s prone form. Two men gently lifted James West from the Travois. He was still out and had barely stirred during the trip. They carefully carried him under the mesquite tree and placed him on a burlap bed roll. Artemus sat down next to his partner and reached for his forehead. His fever was still high but his wounds had been cleaned, cauterized, and a salve administered. At this point it was a waiting game. It was late in the evening and the air was cooling down rapidly as the sun set.
Artemus offered to help with prepping the new camp but Sordo, waved him off again. “You rest….” Artemus once again thanked the bandit before walking away. He preceded to his loan horse to grab his bed roll. Spreading it out next to his partner, he prepared to lay down. He strangely felt safe in the company of the bandits. He knew at least for now, they were safe, and he planned to take advantage of the protection to get some shut eye.
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3 sunrises later, Jim moaned in his sleep. A doctor had already been escorted out to the hideout, several days before, to check out the unconscious agent when he didn’t wake up in a timely manner. Artemus was not entirely sure the Doctor wasn’t forced against his will, since he was blind folded and nervous when he came in. When he found out his patient was an agent of the United States, he willingly checked him over. Artemus was amused by the Doctors baffled behavior before he charged in to care for his patient.
The doctor blamed Jim’s unconscious state on his head injury and exhaustion. The wound was not infected and had been well tended. He went on to recommend they not move him until his head had time to heal. He gave Artemus extra medicine and bandages, and told him he should come out of it.
Two bandits had blind folded and escorted the Doctor back to town, and had taken a full day to return. They brought back supplies and extra water so they could stay held up in the ravine for a few days. After day two, most of the bandits had returned to their main camp. One stayed behind to help maintain camp, cook, and help Artemus doctor his partner.
Artemus stayed at Jim’s side through most of it, and was beside himself when Jim stirred.
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Jim awoke slowly to a bright light. He blinked his eyes several times, trying to remember where he was. ‘outside…desert’ His mind was foggy and last thing he remembered was being out in the desert. ‘Did he pass out. No…they stopped for a break.’ Jim tried to lift himself up but his head swam causing him to moan. He felt movement to his right and a face came into view.
“Well about time you wake up!” Artie teased. “You just decided to skip out on us for a few days.” Artemus said as the fear was washed away. Jim’s face mirrored confusion, causing Artemus to explained the events in the past few days.
Jim still looked confused. “Sordo?” Artemus chuckled at the disbelieving expression on his partner’s face. “Yes, Jim. He caught up to us while you were napping. Thought we were horse thieves. Luckily, he took pity on us and helped instead of killing us. He saved our lives bringing us here.”
Jim started to rise to take in his surroundings, but he felt weak and fell back on his hard pillow. The bedroll was not the most comfortable pillow out there, especially compared to his Goose down pillow at home. His neck was sore, and he reached up to massage it. Apparently, he had lost out on a few days. Trying once again, Artie helped him sit up and propped him up against the tree. Jim scanned the area and his gaze stopped on the pool of crystal-clear water. “Mirage?” He asked confused as he took in the walls around them.
Artemus chuckled. “no, James, that is a spring that feeds into a cave. We are surrounded by a rock and cactus fortress. It’s a hide out just a few miles from where we were when Sordo found us.”
Jim took in the beautiful view as his stomach rumbled. “By any chance can I get a bite to eat?” Jim questioned. “And some water.” This request made Artemus beam. “Of course, James, my boy. Coming right up.” Artemus grabbed the canteen and handed it to his partner before he rose to get a plate from the cook. He couldn’t help but be cheerful at the fact that Jim was feeling well enough to want food. He returned with some beans, tortillas, and some prickly pear fruit. Jim looked at the food and his mouth watered. “hmm this is going to be good,” Jim said excitedly. He was starving!
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Jim West sat tall in the saddle. His arm was still stiff and he was still weak from the concussion, but overall, he felt a lot better than he had a few days ago. Sordo had offered an escort the rest of the way to town but the agents refused. They had already imposed on the outlaw long enough.
Artemus reached into his saddle bags and pulled out a small box. Reaching his hand out to offer the box to the bandit he said, “For helping us.”
Sordo took the box suspiciously. Artemus laughed at Sordo’s expression before adding. “They are from Havana…Non explosive version.” Artemus winked. Sordo laughed heartily. “ohhh excelente! I’m going to enjoy these.” He said excitedly.
Jim’s face showed a great appreciation. “For all your help, Friend. May you smoke them in good health.”
The bandit softened just briefly. “My pleasure, mi amigos. You two gringoes stay out of trouble, eh.”
Jim and Artemus laughed. Jim tipped his hat. “We will try. Until next time.”
Sordo saluted his two new friends. “hasta luego.” With that both bandits turned their mounts and took off at a lope towards their camp.
Jim and Artie watched them leave until all they saw was dust in the distance.
Artemus looked at his partner for a moment. He was still pale, but he seemed to have some of his energy back. “What an interesting man.” Artemus said allowed.
Jim watched the dust cloud in the distance almost disappear. “That man, is truly one of the best I’ve seen.”
Both agents gave each other an understanding look. “Let’s go home.” Jim commented to his partner. Artemus smiled. “home… that sounds lovely.”
Turning their horses towards home, they urged their mounts forward.