SS novice field agent
Posted - 09/15/2005 : 14:37:20
| Part 1 - Prologue
“Mr. West, we have a situation.”
“Well, Colonel, I hardly expected that you would have called me here simply to enjoy the lovely weather, and the lovelier young ladies.” James West bowed as one of those same young ladies walked past where he and his superior stood, formally garbed and aperitifs in hand, on the veranda of a stately New Orleans home.
“Not that I don’t appreciate both, and the chance to enjoy the Senator’s party, even if for only a short time.”
“Yes, well…” Colonel Richmond smiled distractedly as another young lady passed by them, throwing coquettish glances at the young agent by his side. “The Senator is at the crux of this matter.”
“As opposed to actually being at his own party. Colonel, why do I have a feeling that the sudden conference that prevents his presence is not quite as it has been represented?”
“Indeed. Perhaps, West, it would be best if you and I retire to the Senator’s study.” He indicated a pair of giggling young ladies who had taken up a position at the foot of the veranda steps, and were looking rather determinedly in their direction. “Perhaps there would be fewer distractions.”
“Certainly, sir.” As the Colonel turned to lead the way inside, West made a regretful, placatory shrug in the direction of the young ladies. Then he followed his superior inside, already focused on the important matters at hand, to the point that he completely missed a longing gesture made by yet another, particularly lovely young lady actually standing at the veranda door.
Once the study door was closed behind them, shutting out the music and gaiety of the party outside, the Colonel abandoned his awkward pose and became completely business-like.
“The Senator has been abducted, as I realize you already suspected.” He motioned West to an armchair and seated himself behind the rather imposing, ornate desk.
“Well, it did seem a reasonable guess under the circumstances, sir. Do we have any idea yet by whom?”
“We know precisely by whom.”
West’s eyebrows lifted slightly at this statement. “That’s quick detective work. I assume the ransom demands are unreasonable?”
“Now why would you say that, Jim?”
“Well, sir, you’d hardly have made this a Secret Service matter for anything as simple as an ordinary kidnapping, even of a state Senator.” Though seated motionless he radiated a vibrant energy. “You know who the kidnapper is, which suggests someone already on this case is highly efficient. Besides which, if I may say so, you appear more than a little perplexed, and I can hardly recall having seen you in quite such a state.”
“Excellent, West, excellent. Everything you have deduced is quite true, except that while Detective Stoner is highly efficient, he did not have to discover the identity of the kidnapper. That was revealed to us at the time we received the… unusual, not to say actually unreasonable demands.”
West gazed at the Colonel as he took a sip from the glass in his hand. He had fielded a few general guesses about the situation in order to understand it better. Now he was prepared to allow the Colonel to complete the scenario in his own time, once he had organized his own obviously harried thoughts. However, a small suspicion was beginning to fret at his mind.
“I assume you recall - considering your several encounters with him - a certain - unconventional scientist…”
West set his glass slowly aside and rose to his feet as his superior spoke. His blue-green eyes took on a darker intensity as he interrupted: “Colonel Richmond, please tell me it’s not Dr. Loveless.”
“Ahem. Yes, well. Dr. Miguelito Quixote Loveless; brilliant but, shall we say, unconventional expert on most of the more esoteric branches of research. A man whose dwarfish physical stature belies his giant intellect. It appears that it is, indeed, he who has taken the Senator prisoner.”
“I don’t even want to hazard a guess as to what ransom he’s chosen to demand.” His compact body assumed a military ‘at ease’ stance without his quite realizing it. “I assume that you need me to find the Senator and rescue him, rather than let the government be forced to deal with whatever outrageous demands Dr. Loveless has seen fit to make this time?”
Colonel Richmond was already shaking his head.
“Oddly enough, we have been unable to see anything too unreasonable in Dr. Loveless’ demands, if he is being honest in all of his statements.”
“Honest? I would hardly call him honest, but I don’t believe I’ve ever known Dr. Loveless to tell an outright lie in his business dealings with the U.S. Government. He’s too sure of himself to believe it necessary; he’d think it crass to simply lie. It’s the underlying deception you have to beware of.”
“Well, be that as it may, I would hope you would be capable of dealing with any situation that should arise from Dr. Loveless’ demands. I would not like, however, to insist upon your taking part. In this particular case, I will not order you into a situation which is so bizarre as to…”
“Colonel, if I may, sir?”
Colonel Richmond stopped with an almost imperceptible sigh and the slightest upward curve of his lips.
“It would be simplest if you would just tell me what Dr. Loveless has demanded, sir, so that I may proceed with the case.”
“Very well, then. But do keep in mind… Well, Dr. Loveless has assured us that he intends no harm whatsoever to the senator. He actually called the abduction a “calling card” to assure our attention and especially,” the Colonel paused once again.
“He wanted to be sure that I became involved in whatever scheme he is working on now.”
“Precisely, Jim. His sole ransom demand is, in fact, that you pay him a visit.”
West grimaced, and shook his head. “To be delivered up in chains, I suppose?”
“No, that’s the truly strange part of his demand. You are to go unarmed, of course, but Dr. Loveless vows not to do you any harm whatsoever. He states that he wishes to meet with you to resolve your differences, but guarantees that if we accede to his request, no one will be harmed.”
“So what part of his request seems most likely to allow him to violate that promise without actually being in the wrong?”
“Well, he did say that no one else was to accompany you, or attempt to take part in the affair. That sounds reasonable enough, but we are of course suspicious of anything too reasonable sounding from Dr. Loveless.”
“He would want to be very subtle.” West turned away to pace slowly down the length of the room.
The Colonel’s brow furrowed as he watched his agent, and he started twice to speak before he finally said: “I couldn’t say that he requested anything that had even the least hint of hidden subtlety.” He sighed silently, and straightened his shoulders as he rose to his feet. “Jim, what do you suppose he’s likely to be planning?”
“I’ve found that in the end the only way to penetrate the workings of that twisted mind is to walk into whatever trap he has constructed, and hope to come out whole.” West turned back and strode over to the desk. “If that will be all, Colonel, I’d like to get back to the train and make what preparations I can for this little jaunt.”
“Certainly.” The Colonel pulled a folded sheet of paper from inside his coat and opened it to scan the contents.
“Here are the directions Dr. Loveless sent us to reach his current residence.” He extended the sheet to West. “I can only ask that you be as careful as possible. I don’t like sending you into this in the least. However, I suppose accepting Dr. Loveless’ demands really isn’t that different from simply attempting to rescue the Senator.”
“With the exception that we can hope Dr. Loveless really will let the Senator go once I arrive.” West smiled grimly as he accepted the sheet. “Anything that increases the chances of that is surely worth attempting,” he added.
“That is certainly so. And Jim?” The Colonel offered his hand, and continued as West gripped it firmly, “I wish you the very best of luck.”
“Thank you, Sir.” West slipped the paper into his coat pocket and walked quietly out of the room.
Colonel Richmond stood in thought for a moment. He had intended to remain at the party for a time, then return to his hotel. However, he realized that the situation as it stood after his meeting with James West would likely keep him from resting. Instead, he went in search of his hostess, to make his excuses. The government offices were across town on canal street, but he determined to go there, and find out if his operatives had gathered any further information within the last few hours.
To Be Continued
SS novice field agent
Posted - 09/17/2005 : 09:30:00
| Part 2
James West had already departed the Senator’s fine home, and had a much shorter trip out to the railroad siding and the small private train that was his home as well as his base of operations. When he arrived, he immediately began revising the plans that had been forming in his mind during the short ride.
“Well, James my boy, I trust you had a pleasant evening out?”
Artemus Gordon lolled comfortably in an armchair. He had a small notebook in one hand and a pencil in the other. His black hair lay in tight, damp waves against his skull. He wore a gold and crimson dressing gown over a plain but good quality unbleached linen shirt and heavy-duty trousers. Where his feet rested on an ottoman, West could see crimson slippers with gold tassels, and smudges of mud imperfectly wiped from the trouser legs.
West had paused just inside the rear door, one hand on the knob and his hat in the other, arrested in the act of removing it. He closed the door firmly behind him and tossed the hat across the room. Gordon mimed applause as it settled on the hat rack against one wall near his chair.
“I didn’t think you’d make it in before Monday.” West smiled to himself as he removed his formal evening cape and folded it over his arm. “Senator Long was holding one of his gala parties tonight,” he commented.
“Oh!” Gordon stretched the syllable out fervently, and turned his head sharply away as if struck by an invisible hand. “And I suppose all of his beauteous nieces and their many sundry friends were in attendance?” He pressed the notebook to his breast with both hands and sighed dramatically.
“Each one more beautiful than the last, Arte,” West confirmed with a broad grin. He started down the car, but as he crossed in front of him Gordon suddenly exclaimed.
“Senator Long hired that chef away from Bon Miason!” he cried. “Jim, he does an etoufe that would… Wait a minute; it’s too early for a host as accomplished as Senator Long to have even sat dinner yet, much less be done with it. “
West headed on out the far door of the salon, calling back over his shoulder: “I didn’t say I stayed for dinner. Artemus, what are you doing here so early?”
“Leeson's real grandson showed up out of nowhere with incontrovertible proof of identity, and the attorney confessed everything, so they didn’t need me anymore. When I got back to the hotel, I heard there was a freight train derailed up the line, which was going to delay all trains down for days, possibly weeks. I hitched a ride with a Calvary train that had lain over to pick up stock.” Gordon’s voice drifted to him.
When Gordon didn't appear in the wardrobe compartment doorway to finish the conversation, West removed his tails quickly and returned half-dressed to the salon. There he found Gordon still in the armchair with his head bent over the notebook, making dilatory notes.
"So the Calvary train got you here early?" he asked as he buttoned on a fresh shirt.
"Eh?" Gordon looked up. "Oh, the train. Well, it wasn't actually passing through New Orleans. Or even into the delta region. But they were kind enough to lend me a horse." He grimaced as he set his notebook aside.
"I'll tell you this, James. Leeson’s Labyrinth aside, between an overcrowded troop car and an over-aged nag, I was definitely wishing I'd followed my first inclination and kept the room for a night before coming on down." As he spoke, he executed a long, muscle popping stretch.
"Well, Artemus, I'm sorry you had such a miserable trip,” West slipped into his vest as he continued, “but I'm glad you hurried it."
"Yeah, I figured with your leaving Senator Long's early, and the fire I saw in your eye when you came in that there was something in the wind.” He folded his hands across his midriff, elbows on the chair arms, crossed his ankles, and gave West his full attention.
“So what did the good Senator have to say?”
“Nothing whatsoever.” He finished with his tie and reached for his jacket. “He’s been kidnapped, and I think Colonel Richmond wanted to take some of the sting out of his explanation of the situation.”
Gordon sat upright slowly, and the muscles in his face tightened. “This does not bode well at all. You might as well tell me the worst of it first, then fill in the little nuances.”
“There’s no way to make this easy to take.” West turned to a concealed cabinet to get his gunbelt, then stopped and set it deliberately down again. “There really never is.” He turned to face his partner. “It’s Dr. Loveless again,” he explained.
Gordon slumped back with a grimace, and pressed his fingertips to his forehead. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” he said. “Go on, go on,” he waved his other hand in West’s direction, “tell me all of the wonderful details.”
By the time West was through with his explanation, Gordon had slipped out of the salon toward the wardrobe, ducking under the windows as he went. “Do you think he’s having the train watched?” he asked as he began changing.
“If so, I don’t think I’ve given any real indication that I’m not alone.”
“And I haven’t been out of that chair since I got in. If someone is watching, they probably won’t know I’m here. I’ll slip out unobserved. If we’re lucky, he’ll have done his usual job of careful checking, and he’ll believe me to still be out of town. No one but you even anticipated my arrival for weeks yet.”
“If he’s not expecting you, that would give us some advantage. He knows I don’t like to involve any more men than necessary, especially in dealings with him. We may be able to convince him I’m really doing this alone.” West grinned suddenly. “Especially since I was planning on just that until I saw you were back,” he added.
Gordon paused as he pulled on his riding boots. “We may be in trouble, though, if he has someone watching the government office in town. I stopped off there to check in before I came here.
“Well,” he added as he ran a soft cloth across the leather of the boots, “That can’t be helped.”
West reached for the buckskin jacket hung behind the door, and raised an eyebrow at the trail dust still settled on its fringes. Without comment, he held it out for his partner to put on, then led the way back to the salon.
While Gordon waited out of sight, he pulled shades down over the windows that looked onto the inner end of the room. Then he went down to the other end and made himself busy at the desk there, and Gordon quietly accessed the weapons cabinet.
“Any suggestions?” Gordon murmured as he surveyed the available equipment. “I suppose I’d better stock up on explosives.”
“I’m thinking more about that thing you built to reduce electrical conduction. It might not work as an anti-lightening device, but you know Dr. Loveless likes playing around with electricity.”
“You do have a point, there. Think I’ll take a few time-delay party favors, too, just to liven things up. And all the basics. Of course I’ll grab my field makeup kit on my way out.”
With a final smile and tip of his hat, Gordon slipped from the room and was gone.
SS novice field agent
Posted - 09/19/2005 : 10:55:52
| Part 3
Colonel Richmond was discussing the situation with his aide, having found that no further hint of Dr. Loveless’ machinations had yet been obtained. “I’m mostly glad that Artemus Gordon is away on another case at the moment, Mr. Montgomery,” he commented. “I would hate to think of the mess we would have on our hands if he weren’t.
“Sir, I don’t understand,” Montgomery responded. “Mr. Gordon is…”
“Mr. Gordon is an excellent, even brilliant agent, but he is also pig-headed, and I sometimes think he has appointed himself West’s guardian angel. We’d have had to put him in chains to prevent him following West, and you know what Dr. Loveless said.”
“I don’t think I do know everything, sir. I don’t believe anyone but you has seen the entire message.”
Richmond looked up at him in surprise. Then he quietly reached into a drawer of his desk and handed a sheet of expensive foolscap to his aide.
“But Colonel,” Montgomery looked up suddenly from reading the document, “Dr. Loveless threatens to negate every promise he makes if anyone besides West is found anywhere on or near the property!”
“Exactly. Which is why we have sent no one else near it.”
“But Mr. Gordon…” the man stopped, making a helpless gesture.
“Would be a real problem if he were around.”
“Colonel… Sir, Mr. Gordon reported in just after you left this evening. He went straight from here to the train siding.”
“Good God, man, why wasn’t I informed immediately?” Richmond shoved his chair back and rose swiftly. Then he raised a hand palm out and continued in a weary voice.
“No, of course there was no reason to make a special report. But you see… No wonder Loveless insisted that West be told only the bare facts, and none of the details of his demands. If West had seen that letter, he would have spotted the trap in a moment. And I was fool enough to practically lie to him about it.”
“The wording does take on a new meaning when you factor Gordon into it. How do you suppose Dr. Loveless knew he’d be available? How did he know we wouldn’t prevent Gordon from entering into it?”
“How does he know anything? The man is a phenomenon. And he probably realized that we wouldn’t be able to control Mr. Gordon. If they catch him...”
“Can’t we try to stop him from going?” Montgomery pulled a watch from his pocket almost in unison with his superior.
Looking at his own watch, Richmond shook his head.
“Send someone at once, of course, but as swiftly as those young men work, I doubt if it will do any good. I’m afraid their fate is in their own hands, as always. As is Senator Long’s.” He shook his head again. “If it were anyone but Loveless.”
Steady hoof beats and the creak of supple, well-tended tack were all that filled the unnaturally silent night as West rode up a long and winding lane. He passed at intervals between pairs of armed men who watched him steadily but without uttering a sound or offering any gesture, threatening or otherwise. The total absence of the noise of even the tiniest bug or largest night predator suggested far more strongly the dangers of this place than did those visible guardians. Whatever caused that silence loomed over him with chilling promise.
The warmth of the Louisiana summer night seemed even more fragile when he finally rounded another bend to find, rising up before him, the silhouette of a sprawling building lighted from within by a cold, vaguely bluish light. He reined in his horse for only a moment, however, before urging it onward, right up to the front steps. More of the silent guards stood on the moonlit porch, but made no move as he dismounted and approached the door.
It swung open, also silently, when he rapped on its surface.
West nodded to the guards, tipped his hat gently, and strode inside. There he found himself in a large, pleasant foyer well lit by the bluish glow he had already noted. The light sources scattered at strategic points about the room were hidden from direct view. To his immediate right was a curtained doorway, then a sweeping curved staircase that led to a balcony that overhung the far wall. Under it were two closed doors, and in each corner an opening that obviously led into passages off to the left and right. Centered in the wall to his left was a beckoningly open doorway.
Nowhere in sight was there any sign of human presence. The only sounds that came to his ears were the click of the door latch as it was drawn silently shut behind him, and his own muffled footsteps as he advanced far enough into the foyer to see a slice of the room beyond the open door. To all appearances it was as empty and ordinary, save for the lighting, as the room where he now stood. He turned and crossed to the curtained doorway. His natural movement was so quiet as to blend with the silence about him. It made him feel less like an intruder and all too much like a planned piece of this odd reality. The room beyond the curtain was lit only by the glow of the full moon outside; shining between the open draperies.
He turned back again to the foyer. Upstairs and downstairs beckoned new labyrinths, equally enigmatic and equally uninformative. He could call out, but since his presence was manifestly known that was unlikely to be productive. Whatever game had been set in motion by his arrival, he had already accepted its rules, at least provisionally, by coming here.
It was typical of dealings with Dr. Loveless that he had been left to work those rules out on his own. Evidently, he was now expected to explore, but experience suggested that his apparently endless choices of path were likely to be illusory. There would be some specific goal intended for him to find. Until he had achieved that goal, he would be barred from proceeding with his mission. It irked him to play so passive a part, but until he could gather more pieces of the puzzle, he had to take up the challenge as it was presented.
He crossed the foyer again and entered the lighted room. It was empty, but another door opposite where he had entered stood open.
For several minutes he worked his way through the house, until he found himself returning to the same hallways and rooms several times from different directions. He stopped in a long central room furnished as a lounge. Set in one wall was a huge stone fireplace, whose merrily burning fire was the only natural light he had encountered since the single moonlit room off the foyer.
To continue his exploration without any further clue was not only an unappealing prospect, but also one likely to be unproductive. He was missing some subtlety meant to guide him, if he could only pin it down.
By the fire was a Queen Anne wing chair that looked thoroughly comfortable. As he stood in thought, his gaze centered on this tempting piece of furniture. Slowly his lips stretched into a humorless smile. He walked quietly over to the chair and sat down.
An almost imperceptible click followed, and he was flung from his seat. He found himself sliding down a metallic chute that twisted and wound about before casting him suddenly onto a hard, cold stone floor in the dark. The speed of his slide and the height of his fall were sufficient to have done considerable damage were it not for his reflexes. As it was, he had turned his body in mid-air and landed in a bent-knee crouch with his palms flat on the stone. He steadied himself for a moment, then rose cautiously to his feet.
From out of the darkness surrounding him came a low-pitched giggle. As it built into a roar of laughter a second, musically feminine laugh blended with it. It was a sound he had heard too often to doubt its source.
“You see, Antoinette, how cat-like his movements are?” The high-pitched tenor voice commented. “Now, if we leave him in the dark he will begin exploring his surroundings almost as surely as if he could see what he was doing.”
West unconsciously straightened his bolero jacket, then made a formal bow to the darkness.
“Doctor Loveless, and of course the charming Antoinette. I was honored by your invitation, sir. I apologize for the delay in my arrival, but I’m afraid I lost my way admiring your lovely home.”
“Ever the perfect gentleman, Mr. West. But you’re too kind. You haven’t even seen the best part of my home.”
Light flared up all around, the same cold, bluish light he had encountered throughout the house. He frowned at the room about him, but deliberately adjusted his expression to a warm smile as his raised his eyes toward the pair in the room above, which made a pit of the room where he stood.
There stood a small, lovely, dark-haired woman and an older man with the size and physical proportions of a dwarf. Each held in their hand an odd device shaped somewhat like an overgrown pair of opera glasses.
West considered his options for a moment, then chose to ignore the multitude of metal bars, bands, spikes and grotesquely jointed and bladed apparatus surrounding him and comment only on the devices.
“Considering your comments, Doctor, I assume those objects you are holding somehow allow you to see in the dark. A product of your own genius, of course?”
“What, this?” Dr. Loveless waved the device toward West carelessly. “Oh, a mere toy, a simple nothing. Just an idea I came up with while studying the properties of light. It amuses me.”
“And this wonderful light?” West motioned toward the hidden light sources. “Surely it’s artificial. A result of your experiments with electricity?”
“If you will, dearest.” Dr. Loveless nodded to Antoinette. As the delicate young woman turned away, he looked down at his captive again.
“How very kind of you to recall my minor explorations into that field, Mr. West. Yes, I have extended some of my earlier ideas to an interesting conclusion. You will note that I have eliminated the disturbing level of noise produced by that first electrical candle.”
“Most impressive. But then, your inventions and discoveries usually are, or would be, if only they were used for the benefit of all humanity.”
“Oh, come now, Mr. West, let’s not begin again on that tired old argument. You believe that human kind has value and deserves to be protected, while I find people to be a blight on this world and would dearly love to see them removed entirely. Surely we can agree to disagree for the moment at least.”
West made a small bow of assent. As he did so, a soft melody seemed to drift down from above – the sound of a harpsichord played by expert hands.
“Besides,” Loveless continued. “I am much more interested in getting your opinion on some of the other little toys I have invented. Of course, modesty forces me to admit most of them are mere modifications and improvements on ancient ideas. Look about you, sir. You stand amidst what is indubitably the finest collection that has ever existed of devices meant to obtain information, confessions, or pretty much anything else from a human being, be he willing or no.”
West could feel his lips tightening as he forced himself to coldly survey the macabre furnishings surrounding him. He didn’t think it was fear for himself that prevented him making derogatory comments concerning pride in a working torture chamber.
“Of course,” Loveless’ tone became taunting once more, “they also serve nicely for inflicting maximum punishment on those from whom one wishes nothing more than their suffering. Ah, but I wouldn’t want you to think that a threat, Mr. West. If you will be so kind as to wait a moment, I will join you and give you a proper tour.”
“Miguelito!” The music stopped with a discordant noise.
“Oh, don’t worry, dearest.” Loveless turned away from the pit. “I will be perfectly safe. Mr. West would never dare harm me while he is still awaiting word on the fate of the good senator. However, if it will make you feel better…” he leaned forward to gaze mockingly down at his prisoner. “Mr. West?”
“Doctor?” West smiled blandly up.
“Would you be so kind as to give Antoinette your word of honor that you will not lay a hand on me if I come down there to show you around?”
“Anything for a lovely lady.” West raised his voice. “Antoinette, I give you my word to honor truce for as long as the good doctor continues to do so.”
“Excellent, Mr. West. I find your terms most satisfactory.”
SS novice field agent
Posted - 09/26/2005 : 10:01:45
| Part 5
West couldn’t help but notice that although Dr. Loveless was obviously enjoying the ‘tour’ greatly, he seemed somehow almost to be passing the time in anticipation of something to come. He repeatedly began to hum with the musical accompaniment from above, but as often lost the thread of the tune without seeming to realize what he did. This was no more calculated to make West easy in his mind than the vivid descriptions Loveless gave of the effects on the human body of the various devices prepared for use at a moment’s notice. He found his own thoughts dwelling on the expectation that Gordon would soon make his presence known, hopefully by some subtle indication.
For all the years they had worked together, he still thought his partner subtle. Yet while by comparison to West, Gordon’s methods were devious, they were rarely understated.
It was a relief more than a worry when one of the silent guards entered the room and stood waiting to be acknowledged. Loveless scurried across the room immediately. West puzzled over the guard’s actions as the man knelt down to quietly give his report, and passively maintained the stance while his employer performed a mad little jig of delight before dismissing him. He filed the oddity for future consideration, however, as Loveless returned.
“A most interesting occurrence, Mr. West. It seems that a roving band of gypsies has been discovered trespassing. My men have standing instructions to bring any intruders to me, of course. You might as well come along while I talk to the gentlemen.”
He led the way out of the pit-chamber, his normal exaggerated gait now embellished with an occasional skip, as of childish delight. The implication of his behavior was becoming all too obvious, now. Somehow, he not only suspected that, despite his instructions, West was not working alone; he had known it. He had known that Artemus Gordon was no longer away on a separate assignment, as he had been for several weeks. He had actually been passing the time waiting for the second half of the team to put in his appearance.
He clearly had plans for the two of them.
West had to credit his partner with a definite score in their ongoing competition wherein West attempted to penetrate Gordon’s disguises. He was certain that one of the group standing in an angry, irregular row before them must be him, but he could spot no clue as to which it was.
He took a quick mental inventory, noting that there was a close resemblance among them that was suggestive of family kinship. In fact, a pair of them who were constantly looking at one another and muttering and gesturing appeared to be twins. There were six others, none of whom stood out in his eyes. He quickly dismissed the differences in height among the men. None were of a height so different from Gordon’s that he couldn’t fake it, although one was distinctly taller than the rest. Two were older, probably uncles to what must be brothers or cousins, but the age spread was certainly well within the scope of the master of disguise. One man was noticeably paunchy in comparison, and seemed to lurk a bit behind, more sullenly angry than the rest. One had an odd distortion to his jaw line, suggestive of its having been broken in the past, and the last was an absolute average of the rest; by himself he might have been a bit exotic looking, but in this group, he was the least noticeable.
It was to the twins that the others seemed to look for guidance. They gestured the rest to silence and stepped slightly forward to address West.
“We insist you explain this at once,” the one on his left told him. “This is a terrible thing,”
“To be attacked in the fields, then treated like bandits,” the nearly identical man on the right finished. “We demand an explanation.”
West lifted a hand toward Loveless.
“Here,” he informed the pair with a small smile, “is your host. I fear I am nothing more than a fellow guest in this house.”
The two turned their gaze aside, and each raised a surprised eyebrow, one on the left, and the other the right. There was a snort of disdain from the sullen man, but the twins again made mirror gestures silencing him.
They didn’t speak further, apparently feeling that they had expressed themselves quite adequately already, even if to the wrong man.
“You were trespassing and you know it.” Loveless looked intensely at each man in turn as he spoke. “I do not take kindly to having my property violated, and I especially don’t like it when people try to sneak up on me.” He was quickly becoming angry, and West guessed that it was caused by an inability to discern which of the eight men was a fraud. “You, lurking there in the back,” he called out, “come out where I can see you.” He thrust past the twins to reach a better position to see the others. He stared intently at the man to whom he had just spoken.
“You don’t talk to the others,” one of the leaders objected.
“You got questions, you ask me and Guillermo,” the second insisted.
“You idiots,” Loveless’ voice was beginning to rise, “I don’t want to ask questions, I want to get a good look at all of you. I know one of you is an imposter, so you might as well stop trying to hide him.”
“Imposter?” “Impossible,” they exclaimed almost in unison.
“Nevertheless, I know it for a fact. I will not let you convince me that your appearance at this time is some sort of coincidence. I will give you credit, Mr. Gordon…” Loveless’ smile as he surveyed the group yet again had a jerky quality. “You have certainly managed to make the deception difficult to penetrate. One man would be obvious, but this is clever.” He snaked a hand up and caught the coat front of the man standing nearest him; one of the elder pair. He jerked him down to eye level and ran his fingertips across the sun- and age-wrinkled face.
The twin leaders let out an outraged howl at this indignity, and only the raised guns of the guards spread about the perimeter of the room prevented the entire band from attempting sudden physical violence. Their reaction served, however, to drive Dr. Loveless out of the circle with the alacrity of a mouse that has realized he is under the gaze of owls.
“Curse you, Gordon!” Dr. Loveless’ voice was rising in pitch. “Wasting my time on this senseless deceit. But never worry; I shall have you in a moment. You there.” He turned to the guards. “Keep these men back until called for.” Loveless hurried over to a nearby table and scrambled up a small stepladder onto it. “Now,” he continued, “bring one of them over here.”
When all of the guards started to move at once, Loveless squalled in frustration and ordered them back. “Numbers thirteen and seventeen, step forward.” This time only two men moved. “Bring one of those men to me, but keep a good grip on him. No!” He waved the nearest guards to cut off the twins as they moved toward him. “Drat it, I said I will see you one at a time.”
The two leaders exchanged a glance, and one promptly stepped back. The other positioned himself directly in front of Loveless. “So, gajo, you start with me and tell me what you want. Maybe I let you talk to the others, maybe no.”
Loveless stared at him, then glanced beyond at the other twin. “Why you? He asked. “Why did your brother give up precedence to you?”
“Giuseppe is younger. Our father had already acknowledged me his heir before the midwife even knew he was coming.”
“Hm, step back. You come here.” Loveless gestured peremptorily to the younger brother. Both growled deep in their throats as they switched. Giuseppe assumed the same place and stance as Guillermo had used.
After trading glares with the gypsy for several moments, Loveless waved him away. “Now let me see…”
“No!” Giuseppe’s objection was followed in the same breath by an echo from Guillermo. Giuseppe stepped back to his brother’s side, and they exchanged low-voiced comments.
“I’ve had more than enough of the pair of you!” Loveless broke into their conversation. “Numbers ten and two, take these two men into the next room, and if they attempt to come back here without my express permission, shoot them both.”
When they started to protest, West intervened. “Gentlemen, please. Our host is a man to be taken seriously. I beg you not to resist him or his men, because they will do exactly what he said.”
“Always leaping to protect others, aren’t you, Mr. West?” Loveless’ anger faded into a smile. He turned to the twins. “Indeed, I have no scruples with having you killed, gentlemen. Don’t push me, I warn you.”
The men leaned their heads together again and exchanged a few more words. “We believe,” Guillermo answered.
“We go, but…” Giuseppe paused.
“We warn you.” Guillermo finished.
“Yes, yes, if I mistreat any of your band I’m very sure your wrath will be a terrible thing. Go now.”
As they were led from the room Loveless gestured toward the nearest member of the rest of the band. “Him, bring him here now.” The man, one of the older pair, stepped up to Loveless’ table and stood with his head raised, staring over Loveless’ head.
“Oh, I’ve looked at him, take him to the back of the room and bring me another.”
The guards hardly had anything to do, as the gypsy moved away and was replaced by the second older man instantly. Loveless reached up and tugged at the sagging jowls, then pulled the man’s face down level with his own. After staring intently, Loveless waved this one away, too.
The tallest of the group stepped up next. This one had a mustache, and Loveless quickly assured himself that it was real.
Loveless stamped a foot and shoved him away. The next man to come up to him was the one with the crooked jaw. Loveless gripped the man’s shirt front and tugged him down to a level. He was grinding his teeth as he fingered the gypsy’s prominent nose, and cheeks. “Not this one either,” he mumbled. Suddenly, he dug his fingers in, just as they were at the edge of the crooked jaw. When he released, he stared. Where his fingernails should have cut into skin, a torn flap of putty now gapped loose bloodlessly.
“Ah, ha!” Dr. Loveless shoved this man hard straight at West, who kept him from falling. “Did you really think I wouldn’t find you out, Mr. Gordon?” He immediately turned to the two guards who had stayed near him. “Take the rest of them, and those other two, out to dormitory B and lock them in. And be sure they are provided with whatever refreshments they require. And escort Mr. West and Mr. Gordon here to the dining room.” He turned again. “You gentlemen will join me for dinner?”
“How could we refuse so kind an offer?” West asked. “Come on, Arte, I’m sure you’re hungry.” He reached up and peeled off the false lump from his companion’s jaw. “It was a good try,” he added.
SS novice field agent
Posted - 09/27/2005 : 10:08:14
| Part 6
Artemus Gordon washed down a last mouthful of the supper he had been served with a sip of wine. He wiped his mouth on a linen napkin, and looked across the table at his friend. “Ah,” he commented. A most excellent meal, don’t you think?”
“The cooking isn’t bad, Artemus, but I don’t think much of the service.”
“I am sorry about the situation, Guillermo,” Gordon responded. “But I will see to it that you get out of here.”
“Yes, if you and your friend West aren’t killed.” Guillermo waved off Gordon’s protest before he could form it. “No, my old friend, I do not accuse you of anything. You described the situation and your opponent very clearly. We all agreed to your plan, including Jacamo, when he let you falsify that disguise. But none of us are foolish enough to not realize that things could go wrong.”
“That’s true, but it would be very outside Dr. Loveless’ character to hold any of you if he did dispose of James and me. Otherwise, I never would have risked calling in that favor you swore you owed me.”
“We will not go into that matter. Had you not proven the truth of that series of crimes…” Guillermo shrugged expansively.
“It still might be better if all of you escaped now, and I send Jacamo after you.”
“Not better for your mission. No, my dear twin brother,” Guillermo laughed. “You shall now make up old Antonio there,” he gestured to the older member of the gypsy band sitting at the end of the table. “To look like your Senator Long, and you will go find the senator, and you will make the exchange. Then we will leave and take the senator with us. And you will send Jacamo and Antonio back to us after this mad dwarf has been defeated.”
“Guillermo, old friend,” Gordon stood up, “I am proud to know you.” He reached across the table to shake hands with his erstwhile twin. “May your caravans always find the best camping places, the sweetest water, and the most forgiving farmers and sheriffs.”
“And may your life be long and robust,” Guillermo returned. “Now, oughten you be to your work?”
With a grin, Gordon complied. A short time later he stood back to observe his handiwork. “All right, Antonio,” he commented. “You’ll do very nicely. Just be sure the guards don’t see your face when they come in.”
The older gypsy grinned widely. “It’s the right of a respected elder not to have to speak to or even acknowledge the gaje,” he responded.
“Which just makes the fact that you help me all the more of a true honor.” Gordon bowed low from the waist to the smiling man.
“I’m not so sure you’re really a gajo, Mr. Gordon. You sure you weren’t stolen from the gypsies as a baby?”
“Not that I remember, uncle.” Gordon clapped Antonio on the shoulder, and then moved across to speak with Guillermo. “Be sure you force the putty I gave you right into the lock, with the fuse solidly in the middle of it. And stand back, because while it only burns for a few seconds, it gets very hot.”
“Even so, how much damage can so little explosive do? Even inside the lock?”
“It’s not really an explosive; it won’t make any noise. It’s a chemical that burns, and it will melt the lock out. Just be sure you give the guards plenty of time to clear away before you use it. I’ll wait and signal you how many they leave outside. And don’t wait more than twenty minutes for me to check back in. If I haven’t found Senator Long by then, I’ll let you know. If I don’t show up, the whole band better get out fast. If he’s got James and I both, I don’t think he’ll bother to keep Jacamo for long.”
Guillermo offered his hand again. “I do not easily call anyone brother, and none outside of the Rom. But I have called you brother, and I mean it. This is not a favor repaid – it is help for family, which the Rom never fail to give. I wish you luck, my brother.”
“And I you, Guillermo, my brother.” Gordon clasped the wrist behind the offered hand, and had his own clasped in return. They embraced. “We’d better be ready; the guards should be coming to clear away supper any time.”
The rattle of the key in the lock came so hard on this comment it might have been a reply. Most of the rest of the band grouped behind Guillermo and Gordon, who was still made up as the ersatz ‘Giuseppe’. Old Antonio, however, stayed seated with his back to the door, as well as to the table.
The entering guards gestured the group away from the table. They held their ground for a moment, then moved aside. While some of the guards, unarmed, began gathering the remains of the gypsy’s repast, the band moved around toward the armed ones at the door. These responded by bringing their guns to bear. There was an exchange of muttered comments, and some of the gypsies moved diagonally closer to the door.
Gordon caught the eye of one man and held it long enough to snarl at him. He muttered a Romany curse and turned suddenly away, starting toward the back of the room. Guillermo, on the other side of the guards, began making demands in a loud voice. The guards all turned in that direction and two of the gypsies stepped between them and Gordon. Gordon slipped immediately out of sight behind the open door.
The band gathering again at Guillermo’s back and his loud demands soon caused the guards to respond more actively.
“Everyone will move to the back of the room,” one said in a flat-toned voice. “You will remain there until we leave. You will be silent.”
“Not until we are…” Guillermo started to protest.
“If you do not cooperate, we will begin shooting until you do so.” The threat – no, simple statement of fact – was accompanied by a raising of rifles to the guards’ shoulders.
Guillermo waved his family back toward the far wall. “Giuseppe, make them stay back,” he called. “We do as you say,” he spoke levelly to the guard who had given the warning. “But we demand…”
“No demands. Behave and you shall soon be released. Do not and you shall all be shot.”
During the exchange, the armed guards had all moved forward, with their backs to the open door. In that moment, Gordon slipped around it and out of the building.
“Some days,” he muttered softly, “things go too well. Makes me nervous.”
He settled himself in the shadow of a low-hanging willow where he could clearly see the door of the barracks building he had just left. In a short time, the guards came out. When the left no one posted outside, Gordon grimaced. “Much too easy,” he grumbled. He followed them at a distance, watching for any to peel off and return. Instead, they led him to another, smaller building nearby. Most of them remained outside while two – one armed and one not – entered. They returned a moment later with another tray of dishes.
“Enough for one. That’s got to be the senator.”
As the guards proceeded on, Gordon hurried back to the barracks holding the gypsy band. Outside the door he whistled a low curlew’s cry. A moment later, watching the keyhole, he saw a tiny, brilliant flare.
When the door swung open, he spoke low. “All clear.” He led the emerging band to the willow’s protection. “He’s nearby; they led me right to him,” he told Guillermo. “We should be able to make the switch without raising any suspicions. They’re not leaving any guards on any of these outbuildings.”
“Suspicious, no?” Guillermo commented.
“Suspicious, yes,” Gordon returned. Very suspicious. But if it’s a trap, hopefully you can get Senator Long out before it springs.”
“If we get out, your senator will as well. This I promise you.”
“I know it is true.” Gordon smiled before he turned to old Antonio. “Are you ready, uncle?”
“I am ready, cousin.” The old gypsy bowed with great dignity. “Let us go and free this poor man. After all, no little madman can hold a true Rom prisoner for long.”
Gordon nodded gravely, and led the way back to the small building he had seen the guards visit. He set Antonio to keep watch while he manipulated the lock.
“Why you don’t do like with the other one?” Antonio asked, keeping his eyes on the surrounding moonlit grounds.
“I don’t want anything about the lock to make them suspicious of you.”
“Yeah, that’s smart.” Antonio nodded. Only when Gordon touched his arm did he turn. “Wait just inside the door,” Gordon requested. “Until I make sure of the senator.”
He was back beside Antonio in a moment, accompanied by another man.
“Senator Long, say hello to Senator Long,” Gordon quipped.
“Hello, Senator Long,” the prisoner responded dully.
Antonio snorted derisively, and moved off into the room. “All right, Mr. Gordon, you had better get the door locked back pretty quickly, don’t you think?” Antonio gave a fair imitation of the senator’s voice, and certainly had pushed the gypsy accent out of his speech pattern.
“Be careful, uncle.” Gordon shook his friend’s hand once more. “Remember, you only have to fool them for long enough for Guillermo to get the real senator out of here. And if the pretense gets dangerous, don’t try to keep it up.”
“I’ll certainly remember that. Now go.”
Gordon led his charge out into the moonlight. The senator followed him unresistingly, which had already been setting off mental alarms. “Sir,” he spoke softly. “Are you all right?”
“All right.” The senator’s voice was flat.
Gordon drew the man into deeper shadows. He turned to face him, watching his reactions as he spoke. “Your daughter has been terribly worried about you, sir.”
“I have no daughter,” came the toneless response.
“Do you know who I am, Senator?”
“I’ve never seen you before in my life.”
“You’ve never…” Gordon paused. “I guess that’s true, at that.” He commented, considering his current disguise. “Do you recognize my voice?”
“Your voice is familiar.”
“If you don’t know who I am, why did you come with me?”
“You told me to come with you.”
“Well of all the… So you just did what I told you?”
“Senator Long does not let other people tell him what to do.” Gordon was feeling very confused.
“No, I do not.”
Gordon stopped, just staring at his companion. “Well then, why are you?” he asked in exasperation.
“I don’t know.”
“Come on, you’ve got to give me a better explanation than that!”
“I don’t feel as if it is important.”
Gordon continued to stare. Then he slowly nodded his head. “I bet you’ve been drugged.”
“Not as far as I know, Mr. Gordon.”
“I thought you didn’t recognize me.”
“I have recognized your voice as that of Artemus Gordon of the United States Secret Service.”
“Okay. Well, I’m going to take you to some friends of mine. They’ll get you away from here and back to New Orleans. Please do whatever they ask of you Senator Long.”
With a shrug, Gordon led his charge on. When they joined up with the waiting gypsy band, he spoke quietly with Guillermo. “The senator seems to have been drugged. Fortunately, that means he won’t give you any trouble. Unfortunately, it means you’re going to have to deliver him.”
“I do not think that would be appreciated. What gajo would believe us that we did not kidnap him, eh?”
“Well, not exactly deliver him in person. I’ll give you an address to take him to. You just need to get him near there, and then send him in.” He turned to Senator Long. “These men are friends of mine,” he explained. “They and their cousins have risked their lives to help me rescue you. Do you understand?”
“Yes. These men have helped rescue me.”
“I hope you’ll remember that later on, Senator, because you owe them everything. This is my job, but they have no good reason to want to help.”
“I will remember.”
Gordon had started to turn away, but looked back when the senator spoke. He gazed at the man, and then stepped over to Guillermo. “Thank you again. I’m going to owe you very much for this.”
“If you insist, I am sure there will come a time when we need your help again. Then I will remind you that you could not be dissuaded.”
“And I will be glad to remember.” For a moment, Gordon smiled, but his face swiftly became serious again. “Hurry, now. There are too many things going on around here I don’t like. I’ll be much happier knowing you are safely away.”
Once Guillermo and his band had disappeared into the night with Senator Long, Gordon heaved a sigh of relief. “Okay, you insane little genius,” he muttered. “I don’t care what sort of traps you’ve got set around here, I don’t think you’ll catch them now.” He grinned sardonically. “You’ll have a heck of a time even catching me!”
Although he was feeling increasingly anxious, Gordon took his time then to make a careful survey of the premises. While this left him with more questions than when he began, it at least allowed him to leave a few little surprises of his own about.
“Now,” he finally muttered. “That just leaves the house itself. You can bet your Great Aunt Maude’s last silver dollar Dr. Loveless has still got Jim in there. And of course Jacamo. The question is; how do I get in without triggering any alarms?” He hesitated and rubbed his temple. “I guess I could always just walk in the front door.”
Gordon suddenly shook his head. “Where did that come from?” he asked himself. “I’m not about to go to all this trouble to fool Loveless, and then just turn myself over to him!”
He paused and took a slow, deep breath. “Say, I must be worse off than I realized, thinking like that. Exhaustion is not a secret agent’s best friend, I guess.” He examined the back of the house carefully. He was considering the advantages of the second floor windows when he found himself again thinking about how much easier the front door would be.
Arguing with himself seemed such a useless waste of time. It wasn’t, he considered, as if the manner of entry mattered so very much. He wanted to go inside, and he knew both James and Dr. Loveless wanted him inside.
“What does it matter if I just walk in?” he asked himself reasonably. “Maybe Dr. Loveless will just… NO!”
Gordon stood for several interminable minutes, struggling with his growing sense of disconnection. By the time he started around the house toward the front door, he couldn’t quite convince himself that he shouldn’t be surrendering himself so easily. He wondered both why this was, and why the thought should be important, anyway.
SS novice field agent
Posted - 09/29/2005 : 16:51:51
| Part 7
Antoinette had withdrawn after dinner, but Dr. Loveless and his guests were still dawdling over brandy and cigars when they were interrupted once more by one of the guards. West kept his expression politely curious when Loveless looked up in surprise.
“We seem to have another guest, gentlemen.” Loveless signaled abruptly and the messenger slipped out. “Apparently this gentleman just walked up to the guard at the front door and requested to be brought to see you, Mr. West. Who do you suppose this could be?”
“Who indeed, Doctor?” West responded. He didn’t have to pretend puzzlement. He’d recognized quickly enough that the man Loveless had ‘detected’ was not Artemus Gordon, and had been maintaining the fiction all through the drawn-out meal. He couldn’t imagine why the real Gordon would now voluntarily blow his own cover.
“I suppose,” Loveless was musing, “Your Colonel Richmond could have been foolish enough to send someone else when he realized Mr. Gordon was in danger of falling into the trap I so carefully crafted.”
“No, Doctor, I assure you, he wouldn’t. Besides, why would another agent announce himself in this manner?”
Dr. Loveless chuckled. “Oh, I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation. Why, I assure you, the charms of my humble abode are such that anyone hanging about outside is sure to find the allure quite irresistible.”
West gazed at the amused little dwarf and felt a chill. It was plain, now, that there was another trap he’d not even suspected. If so, his partner might well have fallen into it, after all.
The door to the dining room opened again, and a man he’d recently met stepped through.
“You!” Dr. Loveless’ laughter vanished. “What? Where is your brother? The rest of your family? Why have you come here?”
“You might ask him which one of the twins he is,” West suggested, being deliberately unhelpful to cover his own confusion.
“I have no brother, nor any close living family.” The voice was devastatingly familiar. “I have come here to rescue Senator Long and to stop whatever scheme you are working on.”
“Artemus Gordon?” Loveless clearly recognized the voice also. “Artemus Gordon?!” He whirled back to face West and his companion. “Then who is this man here?”
“That man is Jacamo, a cousin to Guillermo, who volunteered to pretend to be me pretending to be a member of Guillermo’s family.”
“Very clever, indeed.” Loveless was calming down again. “Your little double-blind scheme almost worked, too. Unfortunately for you, I was prepared for the unexpected to chance. You,” he gazed up with a snarl into Gordon’s face. “You just stand right there and be quiet until I’m ready for you.” He turned toward the door and signaled. The guard who had brought Gordon in immediately joined him. He held a quiet conference with the man, then sent him away again.
Gordon stood unmoving; he made no effort to meet a furtive look from West. He was behaving exactly like the guards – as if he had no will of his own.
“Well, Mr. West, my compliments. You were very subtle about not letting on that this ‘Jacamo’ man was not our dear friend Mr. Gordon.”
“Thank you, Doctor.” West forced himself back into the utmost of social manners. “Although I must admit that even I was temporarily deceived.”
“Yes, under normal circumstances, Artemus Gordon is a most competent master of deception. It really is too bad all his clever trickery was for naught. But then, I really do not intend to be beaten by the pair of you again.” He paused, then waved a hand in the air carelessly. “But more of this anon. I believe your escort should be…” The door opened again. “Yes, here they are now.” He turned toward the nearest. “You will take these three men to Mr. West’s suite. And you,” he turned to speak directly to Gordon. “You will remove all elements of disguise from both yourself and this gypsy fellow. You will then give your clothing, all weapons and any other devices you may have about your person, as well as those of Mr. West, to this man. You will both be provided with appropriate clothing. The three of you will remain in that suite until I send for you.”
Gordon turned to follow his orders, and West and Jacamo could only acquiesce to Loveless’ demands.
Once they were in the suite, with the guards standing quietly by the door, West confronted his partner.
“Artemus, what’s going on with you?” he demanded.
“I…” he seemed to waver. “I came to help you escape.” He met West’s gaze blankly. Then he turned away to the side table that stood nearby, with a bowl and pitcher on it, as well as a pile of towels. He peeled away the elements of his disguise and then began to wash his face. West just watched for several moments.
“Well, this isn’t exactly helping.” He grabbed Gordon’s shoulder and forced him to face him. Gordon continued wiping the soap and makeup from his face.
“How could you just give yourself up to Loveless? West demanded.
“I don’t know.” Gordon waved Jacamo over. Jacamo gave West a worried look, and when he received a shrug and a nod, he went to Gordon to have the remains of his own disguise removed. “It was the quickest way to find you,” Gordon added.
“Yeah, but you haven’t exactly done either of us much good here, now have you?” West’s worry was filling him with anger. His partner’s behavior was more than disturbing; it was frightening. “Couldn’t you think of any better way to find me than that?” he demanded.
“I meant to. But then I realized it would be easier to just come in. Give me your clothes and weapons, Jim.” Gordon undid his neckerchief and removed his shirt.
“Arte, you are not seriously going to give away any little advantage we may still have left, are you?” West watched his partner pile his clothing neatly, and lay several formerly concealed items on top.
“We have to do as Loveless said,” Gordon told him in a reasonable tone.
“Loveless’ men have already taken my guns and knife,” West responded cautiously.
“Dr. Loveless instructed that all weapons and our clothing be turned over to him. We must do so.” Gordon stepped up to West and tugged insistently at his jacket.
“Why would he want out clothes?” West shrugged out of the jacket.
“I would assume because of the many devices for defense and escape built into them.” Gordon remained dully logical as he folded the garment and started a second pile.
“You wouldn’t fight me to get me to do as Dr. Loveless instructed, surely,” West asked in experiment.
“I couldn’t beat you in a fair fight, and I wouldn’t want to even if I could,” Gordon admitted. “That’s probably why he sent those guards over there. Anyway, he didn’t tell me I was to force you.”
“No, Artemus, I guess he didn’t. Well, if you insist, I suppose I’ll just have to do as you wish.” He matched his actions to his words.
“I don’t wish for either of us to help Dr. Loveless in any way,” Gordon informed him. “I would very much like to get you and me out of here, but…” a crease appeared between Gordon’s brows. “I’d like to… I can’t…” He shook his head and blinked at West. Slowly his mouth dropped open in obvious shock.
“Arte? Are you all right?” West grasped his partner’s arm firmly.
“I,” he bowed his head and pressed his hand to his forehead. “My God, Jim, what have I done?” he moaned.
West watched in silence as one of the guards took away their property. “I’m not sure how he did it, Arte, but I think somehow Loveless must have drugged you with something that suppresses the will. I think he uses it on all of his guards.”
“Drugged?” Gordon lifted his head. “But how… Oh no!” His eyes widened. “Guillermo’s people, Jim. What if he drugged the supper? Do you suppose this stuff might stop them getting away?”
“I don’t know, I think it depends. Did they need to break themselves out?”
“No, no, Jim, they set out a pretty good while before I started feeling – and behaving – strangely.”
“Then my guess would be they should be okay. Whatever it was doesn’t seem to have maintained its grip on you for very long. I’d guess even if it caused them to turn back, they can’t have made it back here yet. And presumably it’s worn off or is wearing off for them, the same as for you.”
“Lord, I hope so.” Gordon leaned close and spoke sotto voce, “Because Senator Long left with them.”
“Unfortunately,” West kept his own voice at a normal level, audible to the guards by the door. “As much of a relief as your return to normal is, Artemus, I’m afraid we’re still stuck with having to give up our clothing and weapons. Because I don’t think the good doctor’s guards are going to change their minds about enforcing his order.” He nodded his head at another guard who had appeared with fresh clothing for them.
Gordon looked over his shoulder then back at West. “It sure looks that way.” He paused. “Hey, look, Jim. I’m awfully sorry about blowing this case the way I have.”
“Come on, Arte, You’re not to blame and you know it. We’re just going to have to play this one with the cards we’ve been dealt. And we may as well start by doing as we’ve been told.”
SS novice field agent
Posted - 09/30/2005 : 15:29:34
| Part 8
The clothing that had been provided for them had clearly been chosen with care. For West there was a close-fitted suit in a vivid shade of blue, complete with a bolero jacket. Gordon had been provided a flashier suit in burgundy with a gold shirt more heavily ruffled than West’s. In fact, while West’s outfit was nearly identical to what he’d been wearing before, Gordon’s was much like what he was wont to wear to a dinner party.
“Pretty fancy duds there, Artemus,” West commented.
“Yes, well.” Gordon studied their reflections in the mirror. “I suppose its simply a matter of recognizing a true gentleman.”
West shared a grin with him, glad to see the recovery of humor.
Gordon was talking with Jacamo when the door opened. Another of the zombie guards spoke quietly to those already present. Then he turned to the three prisoners. He pointed to Jacamo.
“You,” he told him, “Will accompany this man.” As he spoke a second guard stepped forward.
At a nod from Gordon, the gypsy man obeyed.
The ‘lead’ guard turned to West and Gordon. “You two men are to come with me.” He turned away. The remaining guards made up an escort for the duo.
It didn’t ease West’s tension when they were shown into the strange sitting room where he had first met with Dr. Loveless that afternoon. Gordon peered into the pit and gave an exaggerated shudder.
“Nice,” he commented. “The décor could stand some improvement.”
“But Mr. Gordon,” Dr. Loveless had been seated in a high back chair on the far side of the pit, atop a dais. It was on some mechanism that allowed the entire chair to turn silently about. “Surely you don’t disapprove of my little game room?”
“Well, Doctor,” Gordon hooked one thumb in his vest pocket and rubbed a finger down the side of his nose. “I really must admit, I find it not to be in the very best of taste to receive guests in this manner.” He cast a sideways glance at West.
“But surely it is only right to receive one’s dearest friends in one’s favorite room? And one’s dearest enemies even more so? By the way, Mr. Gordon, speaking of friends…” He paused, making them wait for it. “Those bothersome gypsy friends of yours made good their escape. I’m sure that makes you terribly happy. I did consider sending men after them, just to teach you a lesson about bringing outsiders into our tight-knit family, but it simply wasn’t worth putting my men out for, in the end. Particularly since my one actually invited guest, other than Mr. West of course,” He smirked. “Dear Senator Long was so happily and contentedly ensconced in his private quarters. He assured me he hadn’t been disturbed by anyone, so I didn’t want a hunt creating a ruckus and annoying him.”
“Did you think to ask him whether or not he was annoyed by being forced to stay here when he has so many duties elsewhere?” West asked.
Loveless waved off the comment. He cast his eye instead on Gordon. “In the interest of scientific research, Mr. Gordon, I don’t suppose you would be willing to describe for me your experience under the influence of my mind controlling invention?”
Gordon gaped. “Invention?” he finally asked, his voice weak with the surprise that West was feeling as well. “I thought… how?”
“Don’t tell me you imagined that wonderful effect to have been the result of some mere drug? Have you no imagination?” Loveless smiled at their confoundment. “No indeed! What you have experienced, and you, West, witnessed in your friend is the will-numbing power I now have at my command. A refinement of a peculiar side-effect I noticed upon my assistants while I was developing my lovely blue electric candle.”
West glanced at his partner. Gordon’s lips were pressed into a thin, grim line as Loveless continued his unfeeling lecture on whatever it was that had caused his temporary mindless state.
“It is in part based on auditory principles, you see,” the doctor continued. “I realized that in working to eliminate the considerable noise produced by the operation of my original electric candle, I had actually pushed the signal up into a range beyond conscious awareness. Much like the sound of a dog whistle used by huntsmen.” Loveless brought his hands up in before him slowly as he spoke, pressing the fingertips together. “I then took what I’ve learned over the years about the operation of the will of the average human. Sounds can have a strong effect, you see. And I’ve refined it beyond that – I have been able to modify the equipment into a device that broadcasts a vibration through the aether that subtly numbs the will.” He dropped his hands and leaned forward to address them more directly.
“The path was not without its stumbling points,” he assured them. “Through my research, I attempted to make the effect more immediate. After various experiments, I had to accept that rushing the process only results in utter destruction of the mind. I’m afraid my test subjects lost all ability to operate or take care of themselves.” He leaned back again. “All indications are that this does not result from long-term exposure, fortunately. The result there is simply that the destruction of the will becomes permanent, and the subject’s mind comes to be tied to the one outside influence they have been trained to respond to.”
Loveless fell silent; he seemed to be letting them digest the information he’d give them. Finally, he chuckled and added another thought. “Just imagine, gentlemen, the results when I have developed my device and set them up in large cities, such as New Orleans. Or perhaps Washington D.C.” He smiled and settled back comfortably in his seat. “Peace to all men, heh?
“In case you’re wondering, the prototype of this magnificent device is the main line of defense for my plantation, here. My guards are excellent examples of the long-term effects. And you, Mr. Gordon, made a fine demonstration of the powerful but temporary short-term effects.
“And I might add; Senator Long is rapidly approaching, although he has not yet reached, the cutoff point. If only you had succeeded, Mr. Gordon, you would have been able to save him. Within the next twenty-four hours, however, the cumulative effect will cause the permanent change which will render him forever subject to my will, and my will alone.”
Then he smiled in a manner West did not find reassuring, and asked, “I don’t suppose I could persuade you to assist me with extending my experiments, Mr. West? You see, this house is insulated against the waves broadcast by my device, and I had the equipment turned off to enable your arrival undisturbed. I would very much like to see what differences one would see when a man of your remarkable strength of will is subjected to the influence.” He paused with a sneer. “I had rather hoped Mr. Gordon would provide some data, but he seems to be sadly lacking in your sterling qualities. Pity.”
West kept the shudder that thought elicited suppressed deep within himself. He knew Artemus Gordon far better than did Dr. Loveless. If what Loveless said was true, Arte shouldn’t have fallen under the will-control nearly so easily as he had.
“Somehow, Dr. Loveless,” he forced himself to respond with solemn courtesy. “I simply cannot see myself voluntarily assisting you with anything but taking up permanent residence in a maximum security Federal penitentiary.”
Loveless rose to his feet and strolled to the low railing that separated the dais from the edge of the pit.
“It seems that I cannot reach an accommodation with you two,” he said with mock gravity. “Sometimes I really am at my wit’s end what to do. I must admit, the entire situation between you and myself has been very troubling.”
“You know, Doctor Loveless,” West responded. “I’ve noticed the same thing. But what can you do?” He shrugged elaborately.
“That’s just it,” Loveless grinned at him. “I have had a magnificent epiphany on the subject. A way of looking at and dealing with the problem of our relationship that should resolve it once and for all, and very much to my personal satisfaction.”
He stood silently watching them for several moments. Then he laid each hand deliberately on the rail before him and leaned toward them.
SS novice field agent
Posted - 10/03/2005 : 15:44:23
| Part 9
“It seems such an obvious solution, now. You, Mr. Gordon, I despise. You are an honorable man and an unbearable Goody-Two-Shoes. You have repeatedly misused a perfectly good talent for the con to confound my glorious plans, and you cheerfully accept the plebian lifestyle of a secret service agent when you have the tastes of a dilettante.
“You, however, Mr. West…”
“Let me guess, Dr. Loveless. You find my jaunty savior-faire endears me to you despite all our differences.”
“No, Mr. West. I hate you. I find that the only thing I want more in the world than to destroy you is to find a way to make you suffer. You are of such a pure and gallant heart that you make the insufferable Mr. Gordon look like a snake in the grass.”
“Now that’s low,” Gordon drawled softly.
“The only thing I hate more about you than about your partner, Mr. Gordon, is your tongue. He can be and usually is wretchedly cheeky, but your slanderous ways with the English language are intolerable!”
“You’re pure, gallant and cheeky, but I’m unbearable, insufferable and intolerable.” Gordon smiled at West.
“Don’t forget honorable,” West pointed out.
“True, but on reflection that one became ‘snake in the grass’, so it cancels out.”
“I think perhaps the one thing I have always hated most about the two of you together is your impertinent insistence upon making an entertainment out of every encounter we have. Still, gentlemen, I am not without a sense of humor myself, and I realize that there is no profit in fighting the inevitable.”
Gordon reached up to casually scratch his cheek and, as his hand concealed his lips from Dr. Loveless’ view, muttered to West, “He’s developed a sense of humor and decided not to fight the inevitable? I don’t think we’re going to like this.”
“And thus, as I said, gentlemen, I have reached what I now realize should always have been an obvious solution to the annoying flea-bites which are you and your hounding of me.
“Simply put, we are going to have an entertainment which I shall orchestrate. A very special entertainment, indeed.” Dr. Loveless clasped his hands behind him and began to slowly pace the length of the dais. He took on a solemn, calm aspect. “Tell me, now, Mr. West.” He began in a serious tone. “What would you say is my ultimate goal in dealing with you? To kill you?”
West’s eyes narrowed at this change in attitude. “Actually, Doctor, I would say you’re more interested in humiliating me,” he answered slowly. He glanced at Gordon, who raised one eyebrow and shook his head cautiously.
“Oh, splendid.” Dr. Loveless grinned widely at him. “Then we do understand one another.” He placed his hands on the railing and leaned toward the two agents. “However, I have been going about it in the wrong way all this time. I have attempted in the past to defeat you, to humiliate you, by attacking your person directly.” He turned away and resumed his pacing. “At such times,” he made a broad gesture with one almost normal-sized hand, “you somehow exhibit a lack of self-interest which is most peculiar and frustrating. I have cracked the key to your ego, however, Mr. West. I now know what it takes to not only humiliate you, but to break you utterly. And do you know how I intend to do that? Well you may ask.”
West murmured a soft aside to Gordon. “Don’t ask. He’ll tell us quicker if we ignore him.”
Gordon nodded, yawned and turned his gaze toward the paintings at the side of the room.
Loveless saw their attention appear to wander, and chuckled. “Oh no, gentlemen. I have become accustomed to that trick. I know you are overwhelmed with curiosity. And maybe a little bit of good old-fashioned concern. You can’t very well help wanting to know what it is that I intend to do to you this time.” Suddenly he began to giggle. “It is quite simple. I intend to keep my earlier promise, Mr. West, and do absolutely nothing to you. Nothing except make you sit here quietly and enjoy my little entertainment.
“And that entertainment shall be…” he paused, watching their faces, then began to laugh uproariously. “This really is most amusing.” He leaned closer again, watching West avidly. “You see,” he continued in a confiding tone, “I very specifically warned in my note to your superiors that my promise of amnesty did not extend to the safety of anyone but you who was so foolish as to be caught on my property.”
West’s eyes opened wider a fraction, and the muscles of his face tightened. In response to these slight movements, Dr. Loveless smiled and nodded his head.
“Of course, I insisted that you not be told my full demands, because I was quite sure you would see my little trap. As I promised, you are safe. Your partner is not; I even practically warned them that he would suffer my wrath if he appeared.”
“A warning which you made sure I didn’t receive.” West’s voice had taken on a lower tone and a quieter delivery. “That hardly seems sporting.” He kept his eyes on his opponent even as he heard a soft murmur from Gordon.
Dr. Loveless’ face seemed to knot up and his teeth clenched as he uttered a wordless sound part like the growl of an angry beast and only part a human exclamation. “Oh, so now I’m to do your thinking for you? I’m to be sure and treat you fairly in all our dealings? Just as you’ve always treated me, I suppose, spoiling all my lovely plans, using your strong, healthy young body to make me seem small and weak and foolish again and again.” His voice rose an octave as he spoke.
Then he paused, closed his eyes and placed his hands, palms together, before his face. He drew a slow, quivering breath and relaxed his face. “No, no, Mr. West,” he continued in a normal tone again. “After all, it is your job and Mr. Gordon’s to risk life and limb in the line of duty. Why, I thought the two of you reveled in taking chances. Surely you didn’t think you’d have everything your own way forever? Now it’s my turn to call the tune.” He squared his shoulders and thrust out his chest to face the two of them from a peremptory pose.
“I intend to make you sit here quite helplessly and watch while my men take Mr. Gordon downstairs into that pit and torture him. Maybe I’ll have them kill him, maybe I won’t. But even if I do, it won’t be for a very long time.”
West suppressed a sudden surge of fear that would have more than satisfied Loveless had he known of it. He flickered a sideways glance at his partner, although he couldn’t bear to meet his eyes. Gordon had paled slightly, but his jaw was set defiantly, and West could imagine the coldness of the gaze directed at their tormentor.
“In fact, now that I consider the matter a bit more,” Loveless continued as he turned away, hand on elbow, rubbing his jaw with the other. “I believe I want him left very much alive. I’ll just have them maim and cripple him. That way, you’ll have to live with his ongoing suffering and your impotence in his time of need for the rest of your life.
“Oh, yes, I do like that thought.
“Why, in honor of our long association I might for once set aside my dislike of noise and crude physical scuffling, and take part in the activity my very own self. Would you like to see that, Mr. West? Would you like to watch my small, weak hands destroying the strong, vibrant body of your dearest friend and partner, and all because of you?” He turned to stare avidly at the two of them, standing side-by-side facing him in almost identical postures of defiance.
Loveless clapped his hands together twice. “Arrange them!” he ordered. He began to giggle again, and it slowly built to a maniacal crescendo of laughter as several armed men appeared and encircled them. Four handed their weapons to their companions, and a pair approached each agent.
Loveless’ laughter died away, and the scene took on a surreal, almost ceremonial air. With so many guns trained on them from different angles, they were forced to submit quietly. And yet, the gunmen’s faces held no threat. They simply performed their tasks silently and surely. Gordon’s guards each took a firm grip on one of his arms and held him while West was escorted to a large, heavy wooden chair overlooking the pit, with thick leather straps on the arms and back.
When they tried to force him to sit, he suddenly resisted, flinging them both from him. But before he could even begin to make another move he heard the click of hammers being pulled back and three men stepped forward to press their gun barrels to his partner’s head.
“Come, now, Mr. West. You and I both know perfectly well that your sense of optimism will prevent you from forcing my men to kill Mr. Gordon immediately. Of course, if they were to do so, it would save him a lifetime of suffering, but neither of you really believes at this point that you cannot escape me unscathed. That being the case, why don’t you sit down like a good boy and let the gentlemen make you comfortable.
“Meanwhile,” his tone became clipped, “take Mr. Gordon below, and prepare him.”
West and Gordon exchanged a look of confidence, and each yielded to the guidance of his guards.
SS novice field agent
Posted - 10/04/2005 : 10:27:14
| WARNING - The violence level rises considerably in this section. For those who prefer not to read a fairly detailed account of torture, please skip to the summary I have added at the bottom of the page.
West settled into the chair and turned his focus to a study of his guards as they buckled the straps. Their zombie-like demeanor had given him an idea, and he decided now was the best time to try the experiment. He cast a glance across the pit at Loveless. The little man was avidly watching for the appearance of his victim. West decided to make full use of the opportunity. “That’s a very nice job,” he said, modulating the volume of his voice but keeping the tone firm. “Now release me and return to your quarters,” he commanded.
“That won’t do you any good, Mr. West.” Dr. Loveless met his lifted eyes. “They are all quite thoroughly indoctrinated to obey only my commands. You do guess rightly that someone simply under the influence will do whatever anyone tells them to, but of course that also leaves them open to having that obedience molded by a stronger will, and I assure you, my will is very strong.”
“There is certainly no doubt of that, Doctor,” West agreed. “It takes a strong will to survive again and again disasters that would kill a lesser man.”
“Quite right, Mr. West. Now, why don’t we go about seeing how strong a will and a survival instinct your dear friend has.”
Below, Gordon and his guards had entered the pit. It became clear that Dr. Loveless had choreographed at least the first steps of the procedure ahead of time. Without a word from above, the blank-faced men efficiently striped Gordon down to his trousers. They even removed his boots. Then they hustled him over to a table-like device of ominous form.
When they started to lift him, Gordon shook free. “Thank you very much,” he said, “but I can do it myself.” Before they could lay their hands on him again, he hopped up to sit on the metal-banded wooden surface.
“Very good, Mr. Gordon,” Dr. Loveless commented. “Do enjoy the ability to move freely under your own power while you still can.”
Gordon swung his feet up onto the table. While the guards were securing his bare ankles in solid-looking iron cuffs, he snapped off a mock salute, directed, directed at his tormenter. “We who are about to die,” he intoned.
“I appreciate your sense of the dramatic,” Loveless responded. “It does help set the stage nicely for things to come.” He looked across the pit at West. “Come Mr. West, have you comment to make regarding my carefully arranged entertainment?”
“Well, the only one who’s shown me anything is Artemus, and he already knows how much I admire him.”
Loveless frowned. “Yes, yes, I know, courageous in peril,” he replied. “Why don’t we wait and see how long his courage holds up once the fun really begins?”
Gordon lay flat and allowed his guards to pull his hands above his head. The cuffs they snapped around his wrists were attached to chains, which in turn were wound around a large spool-like mechanism with spokes at each end like two ship’s wheels.
The spool was rotated until the chains were tight enough to prevent him from Then the guards stepped back and stood quietly.
“I really would have expected something a little more sophisticated than the rack,” Gordon commented. “It’s so… medieval.”
“Yes, a rather prosaic device on the face of it, I’ll admit,” Loveless agreed. “But so very effective. And as we go along I think you’ll come to agree that the modifications I’ve made have brought it right into the nineteenth century.” He raised his head to look across at West. “Now, forgive me if I digress into basics which we all understand, but I want to be sure you appreciate every nuance.”
“You needn’t bother on my account,” West told him.
“Nor mine,” Gordon added.
Loveless ignored both comments. “We begin, of course, with the human body apparently at full extension,” he explained. “The interesting thing is that when we,” he raised his voice slightly, “tighten the wheel a notch, and another…”
The nearest guard stepped forward and did precisely that.
“The body is pulled into a further stretch without any noticeable difficulty for the subject, although I’m sure there must be some increase in discomfort.”
“Not so I’ve noticed,” Gordon spoke again.
“Give me time, my dear Artemus Gordon, give me time. A proper progression must be followed. And soon we’ll have you singing a very different tune.
“Of course, Mr. West,” he continued, “I could simply have the wheel tightened right up immediately, until Artemus’ body disjoints at the shoulders, the hips, the elbows and knees, the wrists and ankles; until the spine is extended, pouring exquisite agony out between each vertebra as they are drawn apart. And then the flesh gives way and your dearest friend and partner is torn limb from limb.”
“But of course you would never do that; it wouldn’t be any fun.”
Loveless chuckled. “No, indeed. Especially after I’ve promised you an extended entertainment.”
“Ah well then, perhaps you will do me the favor of having those men release the chains.”
“How very droll I find you, Mr. West. I’m sure I’ve mentioned that before, have I not?”
“You’ve said something to the effect. The fact remains that I am not finding any of this the least bit amusing.”
“Oh, so now it is time for you to turn into an old poop and try to spoil my enjoyment. But you shall not succeed this time. I have no fear whatsoever that you might break free. You are quite stripped of all those ingenious little devices of yours. And you are also quite utterly immobilized. However, if you continue in your rudeness, I might just have to have you gagged. You know, it won’t interfere, really, with the procedure.” Loveless gazed across the pit for long moments. “Ah, but I can see from your face that you won’t force me to do that. You want to retain any little bit of freedom you can. Ever the optimist.”
“As you say, doctor.” West bowed to the extent that his bonds would allow.
“Now, we commence that sequence of events I just described, although at a much, much slower pace.” He leaned forward to call to his men below. “One notch per minute for the nonce. And you may begin at once.”
The guard at the wheel pulled on it, and West saw the muscles of Gordon’s throat jump and cord. The torture, he recognized, was well and truly begun. And he could think of no way to stop it.
Minute by minute the barrel rotated by tiny degrees and the chain tightened. First a fine sheen of sweat broke out on Gordon’s face, as his teeth clenched tightly, and across his body. Soon this turned to rivulets.
“Enough!” Loveless commanded. “Look at him, Mr. West. Every muscle and tendon stretched almost to the breaking point. Right now, your friend is becoming intimately familiar with nerve-endings he never knew existed. And every one of them is screaming a most horrible manner.” He paused. “Rather disappointing that he refuses to follow suit.”
“I’m sure he’s just trying to be considerate.” West was forcing his calm with every fiber of his being. “We both know how averse you are to loud noises.” If Gordon could control himself under such torment, West was determined not to let his friend down. Loveless might guess at the mental distress he was causing, but he would not have even one modicum of the satisfaction seeing it would give him.
“Yes, I see. Well, perhaps I can yet persuade him to sing us a little tune.”
Loveless extended his arm over the pit, his flat hand facing palm upward. The second guard stepped to the side of the rack, and reached under it to make some adjustment. As Dr. Loveless’ hand slowly rose to the vertical, so did the major components of the torture device.
“Do you remember, dear Mr. West, how it was your friend put paid, at least temporarily, to my lovely scheme for raiding a territorial penitentiary, the Federal arms depot at Tyler, and the sub-treasury bullion reserves, all at the same time?”
“Certainly. It was at the Territorial communications center in Junction City. He shorted out the power to the telegraph equipment so you couldn’t contact your teams to give them the go-ahead.”
“Indeed he did. But be more precise. Just how did he go about shorting the system out? Surely you haven’t forgotten?”
The image came all to readily to mind. Dr. Loveless had them disarmed and helpless under the gun of his current prize student, the beautiful Belladonna, while he gleefully laid out the fullness of his current ambition. Gordon had been standing beside West, and the machinery that provided the electrical current used to send messages all over from that central hub was humming at their backs. Gordon had meekly interrupted Loveless.
“It looks y much like we’ve lost,” he had admitted. “And, as my Great Aunt Maude always said,”
The mention of Great Aunt Maude had instantly put West at the ready. Quoting his fictitious relative in such circumstances was always a signal to alertness.
“She said, ‘Artemus, if you can’t win the game,”
He was planning drastic measures.
“The next best thing is to upset the chess board.”
With that Gordon had thrown himself backward, smashing into the machinery and setting off a shower of sparks and electrical arcs. West had leapt forward to snatch the gun away, and as quickly back again to jerk Gordon free of the machinery. When Loveless snarled “He’s dead, I hope,” West had momentarily feared it was true, but Gordon had fumbled for some support, proving their enemy’s hopes in vain.
“You were too preoccupied with harassing me to notice,” Dr. Loveless informed him, “but my brain is ever on the alert for new and interesting phenomena. In that moment when the electrical current was coursing through his body, Mr. Gordon displayed the affect of a man in terrible pain. And even as you and I dueled over what outcome we would see to our contest, the ever-present scientist in my mind was making note of the lingering distress he evinced.”
“Electricity has always been a favorite toy of yours,” West noted.
“Tool, my dear friend, electricity is a tool of such monstrous power that only a genius such as I could ever hope to harness it to my will.”
The best way to give Gordon a break was to distract Loveless with his own brilliance. West wasn’t about to let slip the opportunity to prolong the distraction. “Thus the light.”
“Yes, as you say, thus the light.” Loveless smiled.
“Which could be of so much benefit to mankind.” This was the other bolt that always went home; challenging Loveless’ use of his undoubted genius.
“Which mankind wouldn’t even be able to appreciate. Far less the multitude of other uses I’ve already dreamt of.”
“We’re in an age of scientific and industrial advances. I’d say there’s been a pretty good acceptance of all that.”
“Pah, a blind grasping at improvements on established methods. I’m talking about a whole new way of doing practically everything.” Loveless paused, then grinned widely. “Why, Mr. West, I do believe you’re trying to delay my little show. That’s very naughty of you, you know. But interestingly enough, you’ve not drawn me so very far yet from my chosen direction. For you see, I’m ready to demonstrate another ingenious use of electricity I’ve discovered. And our friend down below will help me with that demonstration. Now please observe.” He gestured into the pit. “The platform on which Mr. Gordon was lying, against which he is now standing, if you will, is banded with iron. Iron, of course, is a great conductor of electrical current, as is water. And as is also human flesh, although not so much as the others. But that little lack is easily remedied.” He leaned forward to call another directive to his mind puppets. “Water. Be sure he is thoroughly wet.”
The man who had manned the wheel moved to a dim corner of the pit, and returned immediately with a large bucket in each hand. He set one down and lifted the other over Gordon’s head.
Gordon had his eyes closed, and his head was propped back against the platform behind him. He breathed in deep gasps. When the man tilted the bucket and water caught him in the face, his first reaction was to jerk his head to the side, coughing out the fluid that had entered his open mouth. With the second bucket he faced back into the stream, letting it wash the sweat away and cool his overheated body.
From the conversation that had come before, West was pretty sure he knew what came next. Evidently, his partner had been preoccupied with his short reprieve, and had not listened to them. Or maybe Gordon was simply being rational and making the most of the temporary relief even though he knew it was leading up to more suffering.
Whatever the truth was, Gordon seemed engrossed in the process of wetting him down. When it was done, however, he shook the water from his eyes and focused a hard stare up a Loveless. He didn’t speak, but his defiance was obvious.
In that moment, West let himself relax enough that he knew his pride in his partner’s fortitude showed in his face.
“Oh,” Loveless whined in frustration. “You can look smug if you like, Mr. West. I believe I can soon wipe that smugness from your face. And the insolence from yours, Mr. Gordon. Give him a level four for three seconds!”
Gordon’s eyes flew wide open and his taut-stretched body seemed to vibrate like a plucked bowstring. For three seconds his hard tremble continued, then his head sagged forward with a whimper.
“You know, Mr. West, that a strong current is a fatal as a lightening strike. I’ve discovered that a weaker current, properly modulated, can give a great deal of pain without doing physical damage – or at least not much. Now, I’ve just had Mr. Gordon hit with a rather high setting to, shall we say, wake him up? And you will note that as long as the current runs, the pain continues. Rather like the lash of a whip that can continue its impact for as long as the one applying it desires. Of course, this causes muscular convulsions that could do considerable damage, but I think that’s an acceptable risk. Now, let’s see what happens when we apply a somewhat less extreme level. I believe you’ll be surprised with the results.” Loveless leaned forward again. “Give him one second at level one.”
Artemus Gordon screamed.
Afterwards, silence engulfed the pit and the room above it.
Dr. Loveless was smiling widely with bared teeth, and staring across the pit at West.
West struggled within himself, and met Loveless’ gaze with as bland an expression as he could manage. He beat down his torrential emotions as fury, horror and grief shook his core. He knew he had failed to hide his reaction even before Loveless began to dance about and laugh maniacally.
Loveless stopped suddenly, rushed to the edge of the pit, and cried out, “Again, hit him again!”
Gordon’s next scream crumbled into a sob of struggle for self-control. At the edge of his vision, West could see the madman’s jig continue, but he could no longer pull his eyes from the figure below. The expression on Gordon’s face was surprisingly familiar, although he knew he’d never seen it there before. It took another scream, with the accompanying thrashing of the head, to bring the memory into sudden sharp focus. The only time he’d seen a man in this sort of enduring agony was during the war, when he’d been called upon to help hold down a man who was having a leg amputated by a less-than-skilled field surgeon. That had taken a terrible eternity, and he’d been able to do nothing to ease that poor bastard, either.
Even when the unblinking stare made his vision blur over, giggling shouts of ‘again’ that were answered by uncontrolled screams bombarded him.
Then the screaming stopped.
West blinked rapidly and shook his head to clear his vision. Below, Gordon’s head hung limply forward. As he looked, Dr. Loveless, who had stopped laughing, shouted. “Increase to level two! One second!”
Gordon’s muscles jumped, but otherwise he didn’t respond.
“Oh!” Loveless stamped his foot. His voice rose steadily in pitch as he shouted, “Darn, darn, darn! He’s lost consciousness already! He wasn’t supposed to do that!” He looked across to meet West’s gaze of smoldering anger. “I suppose this is your fault. I’m used to dealing with you more so than Mr. Gordon. You would certainly have been able to withstand a higher setting, and for much longer. It seems your friend just isn’t as tough as you. What a disappointment.” Loveless paused. His hand came up to rub his chin. “Unless… Yes, I suppose he might somehow have managed to hide some sort of chemical about him to cause unconsciousness. Still, how disappointing that he would use such a cowardly escape.” He looked down into the pit. “Open the main switch, return the rack to horizontal and release the excess tension. You two,” he glared across at West, or at least at his guards. “Take our guest to his suite and release him there, but be sure to lock him in. Do not let him leave without my orders.”
As the guards began removing the straps, Loveless again addressed himself to West. “The situation with the Senator, of course, remains the same, my old friend. Furthermore, should you ‘make a break’ on the way to your quarters, I will have Mr. Gordon shot dead immediately.”
“Understood, doctor,” West responded. “And of course, if I don’t have proof, and quickly, that Mr. Gordon is still alive…”
“Yes, I’m sure your vengeance will be very terrible. And yet as long as you believe you will get your chance to rescue him, you will allow me to set the rules. And you will allow me to torture him horribly. I find that terribly amusing, don’t you?”
“I’m afraid I can’t agree with you on that, doctor.”
Loveless responded by going into another jig and giggle fit. “Oh, do be careful, Mr. West. Your veneer of civilization is wearing thin. I do believe I see hate in your eyes.”
West felt he couldn’t answer without giving Loveless more satisfaction, so he turned and strode quietly to the door. The cackle of the tiny wizard followed him out.
SUMMARY OF PART 10
West attempts to take control of one of the guards, but is informed by Loveless that they have been indoctrinated to obey only him. Gordon’s attitude is defiant as he is chained to what seems to be a medieval rack. After further insolent comments from both agents and a detailed explanation by Loveless of the workings of the rack, the torture session begins. When this fails to elicit cries from Gordon, Loveless has the rack adjusted so that it is vertical, and moves on to the added use of electric shock. This he prefaces with a discussion with West of the events in ‘TNOT Bogus Bandits’, when Gordon frustrated his plans by using his own body to short out the electricity to operate the telegraph. The further torture succeeds in making Gordon scream, and this is continued until he unexpectedly loses consciousness. The session is ended and West is returned to his suite.
SS novice field agent
Posted - 10/05/2005 : 11:52:30
| Part 11
When West stepped through the doorway into the suite where he and his partner had changed earlier, the door was closed and locked behind him. He was left alone for the first time since he’d arrived, like Alice, in this nightmare Wonderland.
He walked across the room to stare into the ornate mirror. He pictured himself and Gordon side by side in that same mirror earlier. Gordon dandied up; haggard from a lack of rest and demoralized by having fallen under Loveless’ spell, even temporarily; yet unwavering in his determination.
West turned away from the image. His eyes fell on the washbasin where Gordon had removed his disguise. The thought of the cool water drew him, but as he scooped a handful of water to splash on his face, he suddenly remembered another encounter with Loveless, another time when the demented dwarf had created a nightmare world for him. Then, the latest vile creation had been a drug, and Loveless had been testing it on West himself. It had driven him half-mad, releasing the most vicious side of his being, and had also caused him to hallucinate himself cold-bloodedly shooting down Artemus Gordon.
If only the scene he had witnessed in that pit had been such a fantasy of evil. West thought about the possibility for a moment, while his hand drifted to the handle of the porcelain ewer. Then he shook off the unhelpful wish and deliberately flung the pitcher across the room to shatter against a wooden sconce that concealed one of the eerie blue lights.
He forced himself to begin quietly examining every inch of the suite, searching for… whatever might be there to find. A possible weakness in the trap that would allow him to escape? It wasn’t just arrogance, West knew, that made Loveless confine him where he could undoubtedly crack either door or windows whenever he chose. It certainly wasn’t the temporary truce he had made for Antoinette earlier – Loveless had clearly broken that with his actions against Gordon. Especially as all that West had promised then was not to attack Loveless while the truce held. Escape was checkmated by the same compulsion that had brought him there – he didn’t know where the senator was, and daren’t make a move that might endanger the man.
Or did he? Loveless had mentioned speaking to Senator Long after Gordon had fallen under his power, yet West suddenly remembered a quick aside in this room earlier; Gordon telling him that Long was with the escaped gypsy band. Loveless had confirmed their departure, yet denied Long’s escape. Still, until Long’s safety was assured, West had to continue to comply with the rules Loveless set out for the game.
Added to that, Gordon was now a pawn in Loveless’ hands – tortured senseless, at best, and currently in an unknown state in an unknown location in this freakish house. West faced the mutually exclusive compulsions to remain obediently in these quarters until he was informed of his friend’s condition, or to break out and seek to rescue him.
Helplessness was not a sensation with which James familiar. He was a man of action, and always able to rely on the machinations of his wily partner to supply a solution where direct action would not serve. Being in the hands of the enemy was supposed to mean using his wits and counting on a last-minute, Gordon-style rescue from some unexpected quarter if necessary. It was West, the brash, direct partner who was supposed to draw the enemy’s fire. If Gordon fell into their hands, he was most likely to be largely disregarded until the two of them could join forces to resolve the situation. It was West’s part to be the target for the more purely sadistic motivations of evildoers. Gordon was his unclear shadow, skilled at the quick fade from view and from mind when it came down to confrontation.
Now Loveless had turned West’s job as target into a weird role-reversal. And West had no idea how to play Gordon’s role of non-target, how to patiently await opportunity to change the twist on the situation.
And he’d never imagined a torment he could be so powerless to deal with. Left physically untouched, he felt himself nearer to collapse under the fiendish torture of watching his friend suffer than he’d ever been suffering directly himself. Yet until he found a way to assure himself of the safety of his charge, he must endure it, must allow his friend to be its victim.
He continued to prowl restlessly until he heard the key turn in the lock. He moved to the middle of the room to wait. After a moment the door opened. The man who opened it stood back, and two more carried the limp form of Artemus Gordon into the room. They dumped him unceremoniously onto the floor at West’s feet, then turned and left the room. Before the door was closed and locked, West was on his knees and had gathered Gordon’s head and shoulders into his lap.
“Arte?” He bent to press his ear to the unconscious man’s chest, holding his breath tensely.
He was rewarded by the sound of a regular, normal heartbeat, and the feel of a slow expansion of the chest. Gordon was alive and, apparently, in no immediate danger.
“Arte?” He spoke again, and gently slapped Gordon’s pallid cheeks in an attempt to revive him. When he got no sign of a response, he shifted around to lift Gordon bodily from the floor. He carried his friend into the next room and settled him onto the bed. Then he returned to the sitting room for water, and remembered his earlier action in destroying the pitcher. He pounded on the door and shouted until a guard opened it. When his demands for fresh water and gauze were met, he settled down to tend the injured man.
Only after he had bathed the dried sweat from Gordon’s face, chest and arms, and managed to coax a little water down his throat, was he finally see signs of returning consciousness.
He was examining Gordon’s bruised wrists, making note of the redness that seemed to have nothing to do with their earlier brutal confinement, when Gordon stirred and feebly pulled free of his loose grasp.
“Hey, Arte.” He kept his voice low. “You know, you don’t look so hot?”
Gordon attempted to make some response, but all that came out was a harsh croak, which launched a weak fit of coughing. West brought the water to his partner’s lips, and was relieved to see him take several large swallows.
“Thanks,” Gordon murmured. After a moment he added, “I have felt better.”
West set the water aside and drew a deep breath. He knew he couldn’t take any more time to cosset his friend, despite his condition. “Artemus,” he asked firmly. “How sure are you about Senator Long? Is he safe?”
“From what Loveless said,” he nodded.
“But he said he spoke to the senator.”
“Didn’t say he asked him who he was, did he? That was Antonio, made up to look like Senator Long.”
West sighed in relief, then realized the full meaning of that statement. “You mean,” he asked slowly, forcing himself to speak quietly, “that we let Dr. Loveless do this to you for no good reason?”
“Hardly, James.” Gordon’s voice remained hoarse, and it was all too easy for West to understand why. “We had to give Guillermo time to get the senator to safety.”
“Okay. I can see that. However,” he glanced toward the doorway, “I think it’s getting to be about time we stopped playing the devil’s game. What do you say we go pay a call…”? Gordon’s hand on his arm recalled his attention to the man on the bed. He was shaking his head.
“Not we. I’m no good to you, now, Jim.”
“What?” West was startled by the calm certainty in his partner’s voice. “Artemus, how much damage did you do to you? That rack, and the convulsions from the electricity…” His hands flew to check shoulders first.
“No, no.” Gordon waved West away. “It’s nothing you can help. But there’s no way I can even get off this bed. You have to go without me. First thing, you have to Jacamo and Antonio free.” Strain was showing in his face.
“You can’t ask me to leave you…”
Gordon interrupted. “You know you have to. Just leave me something to fight with, can’t you? If you can grab a guard’s gun or something for me.”
“No, Artemus, I’ll just have to be patient. I’ll wait until you feel better, get your strength back a little.”
“Jim, Jim, Jim.” Gordon was shaking his head again. “I get my strength back that much, do you think Dr. Loveless will give us a chance to fight? I’ll be back in that damnable pit. You have to go while I’m helpless. I promised Guillermo. I gave him my word.”
“I can’t leave you here defenseless. He’ll kill you.”
“He’ll kill me if you wait, too.” Gordon struggled to sit up, and West assisted him rather than try to force him to remain still. “I’d rather die fighting.” He seemed to be rallying his strength, and gazed firmly at West as he continued. “With our line of work, I’ve always accepted that I stood a pretty good chance of dying a horrendous death. I just always assumed my death would be in a worthy cause; that some good would come of it. This,” he indicated his bruised and scorched wrists, “I object to. I refuse to endure this torment for the grotesque pleasure of that monstrous madman. He thinks he has you shackled. If you leave me and get them out, well, I’ll take care of spoiling Loveless’ fun.”
Before West could frame a logical counter-argument, Gordon’s surge of animation faded, and in a moment he was once again insensible.
“You’re probably right, Artemus,” he told the now silent figure. “But I will not leave you absolutely helpless like this. I’m staying until you can at least defend yourself against him a little.” He eased Gordon back down to lie flat, then checked his pulse and breathing again. Slow, steady, unwavering. The signs of deep unconscious. He realized that the argument was not going to be taken up again for some time. He shrugged, and turned his attention to making his partner more comfortable.
SS novice field agent
Posted - 10/06/2005 : 15:49:54
| Part 12
Hours later West was awakened from a restless sleep by the sound of the outer door of the suite opening. He launched himself out of the chair and was standing in the doorway of the bedroom before the guard who had entered even reached the table with a large tray of covered dishes and a steaming coffee urn. A second guard stood by the door, with a gun leveled at West.
“You will be allowed one hour to break your fast before meeting with Dr. Loveless in the game room,” he was told. Both guards then departed.
West turned back to the bed. Gordon lay as he had left him, unmoving even when he sat on the edge of the bed beside him.
“Arte.” West shook his partner’s shoulder gently. “Wake up. We’ve got to figure out what we’re going to do.”
Gordon’s head rolled limply. West checked his pulse and leaned close to listen to his slow, steady breathing. He realized that the unconscious state had not changed despite the passage of the night.
There was no longer any doubt in his mind; there was something more wrong with Artemus Gordon than the effects of the torture he had suffered the night before. Loveless had obviously been surprised by how readily he had fallen under the influence of the mind-control, as had they both by his collapse on the rack. The problem was, West didn’t know what was causing it. Unless having that much electricity flow through his body had done some damage none of them expected. Even Dr. Loveless didn’t know everything about it.
With a worried sigh, West reached for the water glass he’d left by the bedside, and coaxed a trickle down Gordon’s throat. It was all he could think of to do for him, for the time being. Except that he could make sure he would be at his best to defend his helpless partner. He moved into the parlor and poured himself a cup of coffee, and then sat down where he could see into the bedroom, and forced himself to eat a hearty share of the breakfast for two.
Exactly one hour after the meal had been delivered, a larger group of guards arrived. One cleared away the remains of the meal, while the rest stood ready to enforce the order that West and Gordon accompany them.
“I’m afraid Mr. Gordon isn’t able to oblige,” West pointed out, following the men who moved into the bedroom. “I can’t wake him. Dr. Loveless will just have to be satisfied with me.”
“We are to escort both of you to the game room immediately,” the evident ‘lead’ guard responded flatly. He stepped to the bed and prodded Gordon.
“Well, it’s impossible to ‘escort’ an unconscious man anywhere. There’s nothing you can do about his condition.”
They all stood silently for several moments, while the guard obviously attempted to reconcile his orders with the situation that faced him. Finally, he shook free of the puzzle and spoke again. “We will escort you to the game room. Dr. Loveless will be informed that his instructions about Mr. Gordon were not possible.”
West made another mental note, setting aside for hopeful future use the evident fact that the blocking or destruction of free will in the guards made them susceptible to confusion when faced with the unexpected.
“Very well,” he responded. “Let’s go see the good doctor and see what he thinks he can do to a comatose man.”
Having reached a solution to their dilemma, the guards promptly led West from the room. He cast a last glance over his shoulder, hoping for some sign that Gordon was, after all, playing possum. He left in disappointment.
Some consolation came from Dr. Loveless himself, as he threw a red-faced, high-voiced fit when informed that Gordon was still unconscious. “You idiots!” he finally managed to shriek. “Mr. Gordon is an accomplished actor! He’s fooled you!”
West waited until it looked like Loveless might be getting control of himself before he offered his own contribution to the situation. “I wish that were the truth, but I’m afraid this time it’s no trick. Artemus woke up about half-way one time, but after that he passed out again and I haven’t been able to stir him since.”
“That’s ridiculous! I haven’t even begun to torture him to a degree that would put a feeble old woman into such a state, much less a you man of his ridiculously good health and conditioning.”
“How much do you really know about the effects of repeated exposure to electrical current?” West asked soberly. For the moment, it seemed he and Dr. Loveless were locked into the same puzzle. “Maybe your new torture technique isn’t as useful as you thought.”
“Preposterous. I’ve done extensive experimentation with laboratory animals, using electrical shock to control their activities. I assure you, I’ve come nowhere near giving Gordon the sort of exposure to electrical current that would be required to produce a comatose state.”
West shrugged, hiding his own frustration. “Go check him for yourself,” he suggested. “You tell me what’s wrong with him.”
“Oh, don’t doubt I shall, Mr. James oh-so-smug West. This is obviously some trick the two of you have cooked up, but it won’t save him, I promise you.” Loveless scuttled for the door, calling over his shoulder, “Bring him, and don’t let him get away!” He led the way back to the comfortable suite, outside of which two of the mindless guards still stood their posts. He paused suddenly at the door, and then turned to another of the men. “Go to my laboratory,” he ordered firmly. “Bring the black case with my emergency medical supplies. IF this is for real, I need to discover what is wrong with Mr. Gordon.”
West mentally shook his head at the thought that he would have to depend upon the man who most wanted to destroy them both to help his partner.
It did no good. Loveless’ frustration had been subsumed by his medical curiosity by the time he finished his examination. After confirming that the coma was genuine, he speculated on and dismissed possible causes such as incipient illness. He also made a careful search for any signs of West having manually rendered his endangered partner unconscious. He settled, albeit with obvious dissatisfaction, on the theory that the agents had somehow managed to conceal some drug or chemical in the suite, prior to being deprived of their equipment.
“I must say,” he commented harshly. “I would have thought it beneath either of you to use such a cowardly escape.” He ordered Gordon removed to another bedroom and focused his own attention on a thorough search of West. He seemed less than enthusiastic, as if he were unsuccessfully attempting to convince himself of the possibility.
West suppressed his natural desire to taunt his enemy. He was caught in the same puzzle, and it was beginning to seem as though both of them would be stalemated until it was resolved.
Loveless viewed the situation differently, it appeared. “I’m going to get to the bottom of this,” he insisted. “But one thing you don’t seem to realize is that I have all the time in the world to do so. By tonight Senator Long will be my complete puppet. If I thereafter chose to set him free to act on my behalf, don’t think that will enable your cohorts in the Secret Service to attack this compound and rescue the two of you. My device will make sure that nay such attempt fails.” He studied West through narrowed eyes, clearly trying to penetrate his mask of inscrutability. “Oh, I’m sure you’re thinking of the amount of time it took for it to effect Gordon,” he spoke slowly, almost with a growl. “But I’m afraid you are deceiving yourself, my dear old friend. You see, I decided to be kind to Mr. Gordon’s friends, so I didn’t have my device turned back on until they had finished with dinner. So, while there is a slight possibility that a determined cavalry charge could safely make it through the sphere of influence before they lost the will to attack me, any attempt at a cautious approach will prove useless.”
West chewed on this assertion after he was led to a far more Spartan suite. This time, instead of being left to his own devices in the suite, he was shoved into the bedroom, and two of the zombie-guards stayed in the room to watch him. Through the open door he noticed several others taking seats and apparently resting – not that they looked particularly comfortable; or uncomfortable either.
For the moment, at least, West decided that his best option was to play the waiting game a little bit longer. Dr. Loveless was not a patient man, and as his impatience grew he was likely to make some slip that would allow West to wrest control of the situation. Until then, he decided, he might as well make up for the poor night’s sleep he’d had. A lack of sufficient rest was a subtle enemy he didn’t need to be courting just now.
SS novice field agent
Posted - 10/07/2005 : 09:25:15
| Part 13
West was awakened some time later by one of the guards. “You are to eat,” he was told flatly. With a silent scowl, he rose and went into the sitting room to look at the dinner provided for him. Loveless clearly intended for him to keep his strength up. He had barely settled into a chair when he was distracted by a soft thump.
The guard nearest the door had simply collapsed. The rest were looking at him, but not reacting yet. The two standing over West hadn’t even looked around. When the next man closest to the door also collapsed, West struck. The guards may have been set to prevent just such an action, but they were too slow and too confused.
He quickly collected a weapon and turned to face the door. Slight scritching sounds were coming from it, then a click, and the knob turned. The door opened far enough to allow Artemus Gordon to slip into the room. While hardly as dapper as he had been before the trip to the pit, he had at least reacquired a shirt and boots. They made him look less helpless.
“Artemus, you son of a…” West slipped the gun into his empty holster and crossed the room in a few quick strides to clasp hands with his partner. “I didn’t know what sort of incapacitating injuries Loveless had given you,” he explained as he gripped Gordon’s shoulder with his free hand.
“It wasn’t injury.” Gordon’s expression became grave. “It wasn’t even directly what he did to me, although that didn’t help. Jim, remember I told you back at the train how tired I was? I just gave you the highlights, the bits that I could make entertaining.”
The little clues he had seen and dismissed aboard the train snapped into focus. “You came into this suffering from exhaustion.”
Before West could berate himself for his lack of perception, Gordon looked past him and exclaimed happily. “Mind if I share your dinner? I’ve slept off every bit of last night’s feast.”
“Dig in.” West waved a hand at the table. “At least I had a good breakfast.”
Gordon took him at his word. Around a mouth full of chicken he commented, “In a way, my condition helped us out.”
West looked up from gathering the remaining guns. “It made you susceptible to Dr. Loveless’ device!”
“True, but at least it kept him from doing me any permanent damage before I passed out on him.” He lifted a cover off of a side dish and wrinkled his nose. “Grits,” he complained. “You can eat those.”
West laughed as he sat down opposite his partner.
“And unless he figured out what was wrong with me…” Gordon stopped buttering a biscuit and raised an eyebrow at West.
“No, fortunately such a simple explanation never occurred to him any more than it did to me.” West took the gravy boat from under his partner’s hand and poured its contents generously over the disregarded dish. “I’m afraid his opinion of your toughness is very low right now, Arte.”
“All the better. And save some of that for my potatoes. My body and mind just shut down and forced me to rest completely for… Jim, how long have I been out, anyway? In this creepy place I can’t tell what time of day it is.”
“All night, and I’d say a good part of the day. It seems like the mid-day meal was brought kind of late.
“So how did you pull that off?” West jerked a thumb over his shoulder at the guards who had passed out without his assistance. “Considering that Loveless managed to actually divest us both of every tool and device we had on us.”
“Well, ‘on us’ being the key phrase there.” Gordon grinned and waved his fork at West. “It’s not that hard to make a lock-pick out of a few stray bits and pieces, you know. And I’d planted a few things outside a couple of windows earlier. Sort of spreading my eggs in several baskets. At least I managed not to give that much away.” Gordon’s face became grim as he dabbed at his lips with the napkin. “That was before that will-killer thing of his got to me.” He shook his head and frowned. “I sure hope the way I succumbed so easily was because of the exhaustion, too. It would be too humiliating to think I didn’t have a stronger will than the average Loveless flunky.” Then he brightened. “The good side of it all is Dr. Loveless must think I’m out of it, as far as fighting him goes, right?”
“Arte, you were so completely out it scared me. Drove the good doctor half mad, too.” They shared a grin.
“So Loveless thinks I’m useless and you’re helpless because of me and Senator Long. What do you say we raise a little ruckus around here?” He pushed his chair back. “Especially since, just in case worst came to worst, I’ve also got some explosive devices planted around the grounds that will go off within a few hours if I don’t reclaim them. You now the slow decay barrier between the two inert compounds that react rather violently to one another?”
“And I said we would probably never use that.” West rose and went to check the door. “Little farewell gift if we got killed, huh?”
“Well, I tried to find anything that looked like weapons or machinery,” Gordon agreed. “It’s useless to hope I got that weird mind control device of his, but we might as well take as many toys away from him as possible, right?”
West smiled at the comment, and then became serious again. “I don’t know how much you had to wander around this place to find me.” He paused.
“Oh, not that long. They only had a couple of guards on me, I think they were under instructions to keep me from being rescued.” Gordon gestured West over as he began emptying his own pockets onto the table. “You’re probably going to want some of this, James my boy. Once I got out it wasn’t hard to keep out of sight until I saw some guys bringing trays up the stairs. I figured they had to be for you and Jacamo, so I watched where they went. Led me right to this corridor, and since you’re in this room, I’m assuming Jacamo is in the one down the hall.”
West laid a pair of revolvers on the table, and then slipped some of Gordon’s equipment into his own pockets. “That had better be our first order of business, Artemus,” he commented. “Get your friend out of the house.” West paused. “But how do we keep him from being stopped by Loveless’ device?”
“The time delay on its effect,” Gordon assured him. “As long as he makes a pretty straight run for it, there should be no problem.” Gordon’s face brightened. “As a matter of fact, maybe I can tell him where Antonio is being held, and he can try to get him out, too.”
“Hey, take it easy there, Arte. Don’t forget, Loveless still thanks that’s Senator Long. The guards on him are going to be pretty heavy.”
“I don’t think so, Jim. From what I saw earlier, Loveless seems to be putting a lot of trust in his device to eliminate the need for guards. Anyway, Jacamo,” West raised a hand and Gordon stopped.
“No way. We can’t ask a civilian to take any more risks. I’m not sure I approve of you involving these people this deeply in the first place.”
They matched gazes in silence for a moment before Gordon responded.
“I judged the level of risk carefully, James. Based on my knowledge of both Dr. Loveless and of Guillermo’s family. When the opportunity unexpectedly presented itself, I admit I played it off the cuff, but I stand by my decision.” He shrugged and frowned. “We’ll know I was wrong if anything happens to Jacamo or Antonio.”
Anyone who didn’t know Gordon as well as West did might have thought this statement callous. West knew, however, that his partner was admitting the possibility of error on his part, as well as accepting complete responsibility.
“I’d still be much happier if you went with Jacamo and made sure both of them make it out of here safely.”
Now Gordon shook his head. “And you want to make sure I make it out of here safely, too, don’t you?”
West shrugged. He recognized that the ploy had been rather transparent.
“Jim, I don’t mind leaving you to clean up when we’ve worked all the kinks out of a case and your direct approach is all that’s needed.” Gordon replaced the items West had passed over in his own pockets and tucked the two guns into his waistband. “But there’s still too many things we don’t understand. Besides, why waste being one up on Loveless for a change?”
“What do you mean by that?”
“I’m your secret weapon, remember? Except Loveless knows us too well for that to work, usually. But now…” He gave West an expectant look.
West realized that what Gordon was suggesting was true. “And now when he realizes we’ve gotten loose,” he responded. “He’ll be certain you’re maybe able to make a run for it at best. Probably that I had Jacamo take you out of here.”
“Exactly. And as my Great Aunt Maude always said, never throw away an ace in the hole just to get busted on the flush.”
“Okay, it makes more sense for you to stay,” West admitted. “But I’m still not sure about asking Jacamo to try to rescue Antonio on his own.”
“Well, I would never ask an outsider to take the responsibility and risk to free the senator, but this is one of Jacamo’s own uncles. The Rom can be very clever when it comes to protecting their own. Besides,” he smiled a bit again. “Once the pair of us start working on Loveless, he’ll be too busy to guess that we’d send Jacamo for the prisoner.”
“All right,” West capitulated. “We’ll discuss it with him.” He moved back to the door and checked the corridor outside carefully. “It’s still clear as far as I can tell. Which door do you think is Jacamo’s room?”
Gordon pushed past him and led the way down the corridor. He stooped beside another door and carefully poured a small amount of clear fluid under it with the aid of a tiny metallic pipette. Then he pressed his ear against the panel momentarily, and nodded to West. He bent to work on the lock. In a moment it opened, and he slipped inside.
SS novice field agent
Posted - 10/08/2005 : 11:31:23
| Part 14
West kept watch until his partner returned and signaled him inside. There was a guard slumped unconscious on each side of the door. On the other side of the room Jacamo was standing over another lunch tray from which he had clearly just risen. His face showed signs of relief, although he quickly marshaled his feature to a neutral expression.
The two explained the situation, and West was unsurprised but less than pleased when Jacamo immediately insisted on rescuing his uncle before making his own escape. Still, he could hardly deny the man the right, and there was still a dangerous mission facing him and his partner.
He realized that Gordon was watching him silently. He forced a small smile for the patient insistence of his partner, and nodded. “You two work out how to get Jacamo out and how he’s to get to Antonio,” he suggested. “Then, Arte, find that device. It’s got to be somewhere in this house. Oh, and I think you should make yourself look just about enough different to fool these men.” He nudged an unconscious guard with his foot. “I think as long as they can’t instantly identify you, it should be pretty safe.”
“My thought exactly,” Gordon responded immediately. “And if I act mindless, they should see me as one of them unless told specifically otherwise. Too bad for Loveless he can’t see the usefulness of a man with the ability to think for himself.” Gordon looked around the room for a moment, then picked up the coffee urn with a thoughtful look on his face.
“Yes. Pity, isn’t it?”
“So what will you be doing, Jim? Gordon was rubbing coffee grounds on his skin to darken it.
“Me? The direct approach, I thought.”
“There’s something new.” Gordon rolled his eyes.
“Hey, I haven’t had the chance this whole time. I’m getting a bit restless.”
“I’ll just bet you are,” Gordon snickered. He found a sponge beside the pitcher and basin on a side table, and moved to the ash-filled grate. “So you’re going right for Dr. Loveless?” he asked as he used the sponge to apply ash to his cheeks, exaggerating his impending stubble.
“That’s right. We capture him, find and destroy the device, and this whole nightmare will finally be over with.”
Gordon paused to look at his partner. “From your lips,” he said seriously, “to God’s ears.” Then he surveyed the erstwhile guards. “You’d better get started,” he added as he tried on one man’s jacket. “We’ll be off in a minute.”
Right,” West responded. He reached for the doorknob. “Oh, and Arte?”
Gordon was at the mirror, checking the look of a battered Stetson hat with the rest of his improvised disguise. “Yeah, Jim?”
“Be careful, okay?”
“You too, Jim.” He met his eyes in the mirror, and his look acknowledged his partner’s concern. “I promise, I will.”
Now that he understood how the guards minds, or rather what remained of them, operated, West found it ridiculously easy to avoid them. His inclination was to make his way first to Loveless’ so-called ‘game room’. Caution dictated, however, that he make a more cautious check of the rooms along the route. His first instinct, not surprisingly, was proven out as he approached Loveless’ favorite room. He heard the music before he reached the door. The lyric sound of a waltz carried none of the threat he had faced at every other turn. He eased the door open and peered inside.
Dr. Loveless was seated at the harpsichord. His fingers flew across the keyboard, but his eyes were on the figure of his paramour, Antoinette. She was dancing and swaying to his music, spinning about the room gracefully. As she danced, she sang a wordless descant to the tune, and cast coquettish looks at Loveless.
West hesitated to interrupt. He told himself that he didn’t want the zombie-guards to be alerted by the sudden cessation of the music. The magical charm of the scene he dismissed immediately.
As the waltz drew to a close, Dr. Loveless spoke. “Beautiful, my love. You have the grace of a woodland nymph.” His voice was low and warm.
Antoinette dropped in a spread curtsey that ended with her seated on the floor. Loveless hopped from the bench and made an equally sweeping bow. Then he extended his hand to gallantly assist her in rising.
West pushed the door open. “A truly charming scene,” he commented. He leveled one of the borrowed revolvers at his opponent. Antoinette dropped back and clung to Loveless. “I almost regret interrupting. But we have some rather pressing business, doctor.”
“West!” Loveless caressed Antoinette’s hair even as he snarled at West.
“Not a sound or a signal to your pet zombies, Dr. Loveless, or the game ends now and forever with a bullet through that incredible brain of yours. And you know that at this point, I’d gladly do it.”
Before the confrontation between them could go any further, West was hit from behind by several silent guards.
He rolled forward under the mass attack, and got out from under before they could get all of them through the narrow doorway. He had time to realize that he was faced with half a dozen men.
To his advantage, they were clearly not well organized in their attack, and he knew well that they were not capable of swift, independent decision-making.
He leapt forward and caught one arm of each of the two closest men. He turned their own momentum against them, and flipped the pair together to go tumbling behind him. As the next man attacked, West ducked under his reaching arms and powered him back into those still crowding in the doorway. This created a jammed-up plug. It also gave West the freedom to pull the man he’d shoved forward again and punch him into unconsciousness.
The other three came at him in a bunch, getting in one another’s way and presenting an easy target. West charged and threw himself at them in a horizontal leap. The threesome were all caught across the stomachs by his flying body and went down easily. A series of punches, and West was quickly back facing his true opponent.
“Oh, really, Mr. West. How tedious you are.”
Antoinette gasped a frightened protest. Loveless looked at her, and then back at West. “Very well, I surrender… for the moment. Long enough, at least, to find out what advantage you think you’ve gained, and disabuse you of the notion. But remember this; for this added indignity, I shall personally cut out the eloquent Mr. Gordon’s tongue at our next session.”
“I wouldn’t count on any more chances at him if I were you.” West continued to watch his prisoners closely.
“Ah, do I deduce from that remark that you’ve already rescued that pitiful weakling and sent him off? I’m surprised he had the strength to escape, even with your help.”
“I’m sure you have plenty more venom to spit, Dr. Loveless. However, I have more interest in you telling me where this mind-control device of yours is. It’s about time for this experiment to end.”
Loveless ground his teeth. West could see him shaking with fury.
“Not quite, Mr. West.” He took a step forward, but Antoinette clung to his arm. “No, dearest.” His voice went gentle again. “I know what I’m doing. I suggest you go to your quarters and wait for my return.”
“Miguelito, I won’t leave you.”
“Never fear, sweet Antoinette.” He raised his head proudly. “I am indomitable.” He looked at West again. “Will you allow her to go? You have my word that she will do nothing to interfere.” He glanced once more behind him. “Promise him, my dear.”
Antoinette rose to her feet, dabbed at her eyes, and spoke. “Mr. West, I shall do as Miguelito instructs me. I shall go to my quarters, and do nothing to interfere with you.”
“And meanwhile, Mr. West, I will show you my device. You and I will go up there together, and I dare you to stand with me and face the machine. We’ll see then which of us has the stronger will!”
West laughed dryly at the suggestion, but then stopped himself. “You know, Dr. Loveless, I think maybe that’s not such a bad idea. You’re quite certain, of course, that you’ll defeat me.”
“Easily, Mr. West. Of course, you have the mistaken idea that you will be triumphant. Just because you dominate me physically, you believe you are the superior man.”
“No, doctor. Actually, in many ways you are one of the most superior men I’ve ever met. Unfortunately, moral fortitude is not among your strength.”
“Don’t confuse an overblown sense of morality with a strong will, Mr. West. Will is of the mind, and even you admit that I have a pretty powerful mind.”
“Yes, you do, doctor. It should be extremely educational for both of us to see if good or evil has the greatest will to defeat the other.” He stepped back and reopened the door without taking his eyes or gun off of Dr. Loveless.
“Indeed, Mr. West, verily indeed.” Dr. Loveless bowed once more to Antoinette before leading the way out into the corridor.
SS novice field agent
Posted - 10/09/2005 : 14:29:05
| Part 15
West was more interested than surprised to discover that Loveless had led him to the roof.
“Didn’t it occur to you that I would want to place it to achieve maximum broadcast, Mr. West?” As they stepped through a door onto the roof, Loveless snickered with definite overtones of disdain. “Perhaps you imagine that the signals my device puts out are like those of the telegraph, and are carried through some sort of wire? Remember, they were developed from my experiments with light. And where would you place a lighthouse for most effect?” He spread his hands and smirked.
“As high up as possible.”
Dr. Loveless whirled at the sound of another voice. His eyes and his mouth flew open. It took several moments before he managed to speak.
“What… are… YOU… doing… here?”
“Attempting to figure out how to dismantle this ghoulish creation of yours, actually,” responded Gordon. He was standing beside an intricate-looking machine which hummed atop a turret at one corner of the small widow’s walk where West and Loveless had emerged.
“I suggest you move away from that, Mr. Gordon. Remember, it won’t take very long for it to effect you once more.”
“What made you so certain that thing was what you were looking for?” West called up while he climbed the ladder on the side of the turret.
“Can’t you feel it, Jim?” Gordon asked as West reached his side. “Like a vibration in the air, this close to it. It’s giving me one hell of a headache.”
West realized that he was feeling the same, and the sensation was coming almost palpably from the device over which they stood.
Below them, Loveless growled in frustration. “Oh, it doesn’t matter to me one way or another whether you hang about, Gordon.” He, too, made his way to the platform on which they and his machine stood. “Just stay out of the way. Mr. West and I have determined upon a small test between the two of us. I would invite you to watch, but you won’t really be very interested by the time we achieve some results.”
“Do you think you can dismantle it?” West asked his partner.
“Not without a serious risk of electrocuting myself, and I’ve had quite enough of that.”
“No, no, no! I will not allow you to damage that machine!” Loveless drew back when West took a moment to stare him down.
“So blow it?” West asked.
“Blow it,” Gordon agreed. “You’d better get Dr. Loveless away.” He pulled a small bundle from a pocket. From it he removed a clay-like substance.
West turned away and gestured for Dr. Loveless to precede him down the ladder. At that moment, the dwarfish scientist suddenly made a dash past him, toward where Gordon was bending over the device with the explosive in hand. He threw himself against the focused agent’s legs, knocking him off balance.
Gordon maintained his grip on the explosive until the back of his hand struck hard against part of the machinery. Then it dropped from his numbed fingers. “Down!” Gordon barely managed to shout the warning before the explosive contacted something within the works that set it off.
The force of the explosion flung West to the widow’s walk below, but he managed to roll with the fall and come back to his feet. Immediately, his eyes searched the platform above. The machinery was sparking and spilling smoke, and was twisted somewhat out of shape.
West sprang upward and pulled himself easily onto the top of the turret. One thing was instantly plain. Neither Gordon nor Loveless was visible anywhere, and the railing was smashed.
“Arte!” West moved quickly to the edge and looked over. About halfway down the steep slope of the roof, Dr. Loveless was sprawled motionless on the shingles. “Artemus!” West called again.
“Jim.” Weak, but it was definitely his partner’s voice. It was coming from around the corner of the roof. West switched to that side of the turret.
Gordon’s position was far more precarious than that of their stunned opponent. His greater size and weight had given him more momentum, and he was struggling at the lowest point of the slope. Before West’s horrified gaze, his legs slid over the edge. For one agonizing moment, it seemed he would hurtle to the ground three stories below. But he caught the edge in a tight grip with his left hand, and dug his right elbow into the shingles.
“Hang on, Arte,” West called down. “I’ll be right there.” He turned, digging in his pocket, then realized he no longer had his small folded grapple hook and rope. He looked about him and spotted heavy, insulated telegraph type wire coiled in the far corner of the widow’s walk, beyond the door from below. He hurried to retrieve it.
As he was checking that his partner was still holding his own, he heard a shout of obvious rage from around the corner. His head jerked around and he froze. When he looked back, he saw that Gordon was looking in that direction, too.
“Arte,” he hesitated, torn between loyalty and his sense of duty.
“Get him, Jim.” Gordon made the decision. “I’m not slipping, and we can’t let that little wizard get away again.”
West turned back to where the smoking machinery had finally stopped throwing out sparks. His mind was racing, and he made a quick assessment of his situation.
It was the work of only a moment to fasten the center of the wire to the machine. Then he moved back to the edge. “Arte,” he called. “Catch this and hold on. I’ll get Loveless, then be right back to pull you up.” He tossed one end of the coil down, and it looped over the edge right beside Gordon’s right arm.
Loveless’ shouts had not slacked off during the short time these maneuvers took. West flung the second end of the coil of wire to where Loveless pounded a fist on the shingles he clung to.
“I suggest you grab on to that, doctor.”
Loveless snatched at the lifeline instantly. “You have to help me,” he called. “I don’t have the agility to climb this steep a slope.”
West drew the small man up hand over hand. Just as he hauled him to safety, he heard a scrabbling sound from the other side. He leapt across and saw only his partner’s left hand, still clinging to the edge.
Without hesitation, he stepped off the edge, still holding on to the second half of the wire. He slid down the roof in a barely-controlled manner. The loose loop ran out when he was about half way down, and he let the wire slip through his fingers more slowly. He stopped himself just short of the edge. He dropped to his stomach and reached over the edge. “I’ve got you, Arte.” He gripped tightly onto Gordon’s elbow. Both the wire and his partner’s right arm were hanging loose. “What’s wrong with your arm?”
“My hand. Something must have broken in it. I can’t make it grip anything.”
“Okay, we’ll just have to…”
The wire in his other hand began an intense vibration. West looked up over his shoulder, and saw Dr. Loveless grinning over the edge at him.
“You know, Mr. West, you might just be able to save yourself when I finish cutting through this wire. I’m afraid, however, that the only way to do that is to drop Mr. Gordon.”
“Let me go, Jim,” Gordon spoke calmly. “You have to live to stop him once and for all.”
“I’m not going to sacrifice you, Arte, and that’s final.” West scanned the side of the building below where they hung so precariously. “Can you hang on a minute more?”
“Yeah, if it’ll help.” He adjusted the grip of his one useful hand. “Okay, let go.”
West grabbed the edge of the roof just as the wire in his other hand went slack. It and the second half both snaked down the slope, and he caught them before they could drop away entirely. He inched cautiously backward on his stomach until he was able to use both hands to loop up the wire. Then, peering carefully over the edge to judge the distance, he flung the doubled wire at an angle so that the center looped over a projecting bit of trim on the corner of the house.
“Jim, look out!” At Gordon’s shout he rolled over. A heavy hunting knife hit the roof where he had been lying.
“Why don’t you just die?” Loveless was grimacing at them from above. “Die, I say!”
From his new position on his back, West could see an orange glow beginning to silhouette Loveless. “Look behind you, doctor,” he called up. “We’re all likely to die if we can’t get away from here quickly.”
Loveless spun around and they could hear the snarl in his voice as he shouted. “No! Not another safe place destroyed by fire because of you two!” He jumped from sight, and they heard no more.
West flipped back over, wrapped the wire around one hand, and let himself slide forward. “Get ready to grab my shoulder,” he instructed. “This is going to be tricky.”
“I’m ready.” Gordon grated the reply out between clenched teeth.
West dove forward, throwing his free arm around his partner’s torso. As he dropped, Gordon released his own grip on the roof edge and grabbed on to West with both arms.
If they had dropped straight down, the shock of hitting the end of the wire with the weight of both of them would surely have broken his grip. But West had gauged it carefully in those few seconds he had to do so. The wire tightened with their mass far to the side of its anchor point, so that their fall was translated into a swinging arc. Once they swung past the corner of the building and out away from it, West twisted them around. If they swung too far out, the loop would come loose. He managed to turn their momentum back toward the house, and aimed his feet at a window. A moment later, he was pulling Gordon back inside.
“Now that,” Gordon pronounced solemnly as he cradled his bleeding right hand in his left, “was truly impressive, even for you.”
“That was the easy part. Now we have to find our way out of this maze before the whole place burns down around our ears.”
“I’ve got the hang of it, I think. Follow me.” Gordon ran for the door.
SS novice field agent
Posted - 10/09/2005 : 14:33:34
| Part 16 – Epilogue
“What do you mean, Gordon isn’t available?” Colonel Richmond shouted at his subordinate. “Good God, West, has he disappeared?”
“No, sir. I know exactly where he is, but he’s still not available. If you want to debrief him on the case, you’re going to have to wait. Besides, he can’t tell you anything I can’t, or that you don’t already know.
“We weren’t able to coax more than a couple of guards out of the house before it became completely engulfed in fire.” He paused for a moment. “They’re being cared for?”
“Yes, although the doctors don’t have much hope for any major improvement in their mental condition. But what about…”
“Well, sir, Arte’s time-delay explosives destroyed most of the outbuildings, although we did confirm beforehand that Jacamo and Antonio escaped. The rest of the gypsy family sent Senator Long into the government offices on Canal Street.
“As for Loveless and Antoinette,” West shrugged. “We didn’t find any sign of them, and from past experiences, I’d say it’s a safe bet they escaped. It’s all in our report, which you’ve already read.” West smiled and offered his superior a seat.
“Oh, yes, West. A thorough report, very detailed, very concise.” Richmond sat down and adjusted his creases. “Also very unsigned by Gordon.” His face darkened a shade. “I demand an explanation! You can’t just tell me he’s unavailable without giving one.”
“Well, sir.” West hesitated.
The door to the rest of the car opened, and Gordon stumbled through in his crimson and gold dressing gown. He was yawning and running his undamaged hand through his hair. “What’s all the noise out here, Jim?” he muttered. “It woke me up.” He looked up and froze. “Um… Colonel Richmond, sir.”
Richmond stared for a moment, then turned back to West. Very calmly he asked, “This is what you call ‘unavailable’?”
West glared at Gordon. “Let’s just say he’s supposed to stay out of sight.”
“Oh, this is getting better by the moment. Do you want to explain to me why you’ve been attempting to hide your partner from me?”
“Sir, Jim wasn’t…”
“Go back to bed, Artemus. And that’s an order.”
“West, if anyone around here is going to give orders, I think perhaps it should be me. Don’t you?”
West stared at his drowsy partner until Gordon grinned and left the room once more. Then he turned back to Richmond.
“Sir, the reason I don’t want him talking to you or anyone else is because I don’t want to take any chances on anything keeping him from resting up.”
“What?” Richmond looked startled. “Is he ill? Or seriously injured? I saw the bandaged hand.”
“Not ill, precisely, and the hand’s not that serious. But he’s seriously over-worked.” He raised a hand to stop Richmond from interrupting. “I don’t mean he needs a vacation. It’s just that he went from one very tiring case to another without any rest in between. Surely you’ll grant me the desire for a partner who’s at his best?”
Richmond sat silently for so long that West turned away and moved to the mantle. “Drink, sir?”
“Eh? Oh, yes, thank you.” Richmond watched him pour and accepted the glass offered to him.
“Do you know, Jim, I’d say we’ve got a most unusual situation.”
“We do, sir?” West sat down opposite Richmond with his own glass in hand. “What would that be?”
“I believe this is the first time I’ve known either of you to behave responsibly about his own health.”
“Who, Arte?” West chuckled. “The only real concern he’s showing for his health is based on the fact that I swore I’d kill him if he didn’t take the time off to rest up before he’d hear anything about another assignment.”
“Ah,” said Richmond. He took a sip of his drink. “This really is a most excellent sherry, isn’t it?”