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SS novice field agent

610 Posts

Posted - 02/02/2009 :  14:05:52  Show Profile
The Night of the Well of Fire A Wild, Wild West tale by Roniyah Gabrielle Caitrin Bhaer

[from Sistema Sombrio… by Pablo Neruda]
Así pues, como un vigía tornado insensible y ciego,
incrédulo y condenado a un doloroso acecho,
;frente a la pared en que cada día del tiempo se une,
mis rostros diferentes se arriman y encadenan
;como grandes flores pálidas y pesadas
tenazmente substituidas y difuntas.

So that’s how, like a lookout gone blind and senseless,
incredulous and condemned to a painful watch,
facing the wall where each day’s time congeals,
my different faces gather and are bound in chains
like large, heavy, faded flowers
stubbornly temporary, dead already.

Author’s Notes:

Sadly and with huge affection, this story is dedicated to my nephew, Jacob Anthony Yeshuah, who passed away on January 12th, 2009. He was 29 years old and very close to getting his Masters degree. He was already teaching the classics and had a well earned reputation as a gifted teacher. Jacob or “Jay” as we often called him was the kind of young man we’d all like to know and be friends with. Luckily for me and my closest friend, and a great many others, who packed the church on bitter cold day for his services, Jacob loved being friends with lots of people.

A document easily as long as this one would be needed to tell all the things Jacob did for his family and his friends. Another would be needed to talk about his wry sense of humor and his almost shy, day bright smile. Everyone who met Jacob loved him. And that could be taken as a cliché, but it’s not in this case, it’s the G-d’s honest truth. His was a generous, loving, helping, caring spirit, which I firmly believe has made ‘Jay’ one of the newest and brightest angels in the Heavens. We miss you, Jacob and we love, that’s for always, that’s forever. Roniyah Gabrielle Caitrin Bhaer 01/28/09

I first wrote The Night of the Blind Beggar which precedes the action of TNOT Well of Fire in 1979-80, and sent it to a fanzine of sorts, being published by the Clarion Writing Workshop at that time “housed’ at Michigan State University. I checked last year and found that Clarion has moved to a new home at University of California at San Diego. Theirs is a wonderful program, encouraging writers or Science Fiction and Fantasy, including, luckily for me, writers of fanfiction, too.

In any case, I was greatly honored to have TNOT Blind Beggar accepted by Clarion that year. And a wonderful artist named Signe Landon did some spectacular artwork for it, too. That story and that artwork was republished later, in ‘spies in the Old West #2”, still available from Live Oak Manor Press, Gail M. Paradis, 237 Simmonsville Avenue, Johnston, Rhode Island, 02919-5823. Blind Beggar is also online at And Well of Fire will be posted there, after the New Year.

Now, “warnings’ for the kindly reader:

TNOT Well of Fire and its prequel may need to be considered as Alternative Universe Wild, Wild West fanfiction, for several changes in back story and several inventions and other elements of creative license are to be found in these pages. First of all, you may see the suggestion of some sort of psychic abilities or connections between the good guys here, and that was not seen or heard on screen in W3. Secondly, Jim, Artie and their partners all know and use what we call today “American Sign Language or Ameslan’ which was in existence in one form or another since the 16th century.. Again this was not seen on the show.

In a substantial shift away from W3 “canon’, this version of James T West was born in 1840, not 1842. Those two years give him the chance to be a West Point graduate, just when the Civil War was underway. Otherwise, he’d still be in school somewhere… nope, doesn’t work for me. So, my version of James West’s life has him attending and graduating from West Point, as one of the members of the May, 1861 class.

And I’ve given Jim a backstory in which he actually grew up in northern Virginia, with a large, extended family near Norfolk. This gives Jim the choice of fighting for the Union or the Confederacy from a very personal standpoint, and of course he stays loyal to the Union. And besides, this means Doctor Loveless, seen here as Miguel de Cervantes ACTUALLY got some information on our hero WRONG. LOL

This backstory also gives Jim three of his four grandparents as first generation immigrants to this country, his father’s parents from Wales, his mother’s father from Ireland, that being the case, my version of the character James T West speaks Irish Gaelic learned from his maternal grandfather Jaimey Randolph, as well as Welsh and North American Spanish, learned from his paternal grandmother, Meredydd Jennet Howlys West, who settled with her husband Daffyd Arthur West near San Antonio, Texas. And Jim speaks the Quebecois French he learned from Jacques D’eglisier, and some of the Yiddish he learned from other agent-friends. The fact that Jim’s portrayer, Robert Conrad is himself multilingual speaking French and Spanish with native fluency, as well as German, only goes to support that capacity in his alter ego.

On a different character note, I’ve given Jeremy Pike an M.D. There were scenes that needed more than one doctor around and others that needed our hero to feel over-doctored. So, since there was nothing in canon about Jeremy’s education prior to the War and the Secret Service, we now have Tobias Jeremy Pike, MD. #9786;

And lastly, I’ve given Artemus Gordon a backstory of growing up in San Francisco as Adam Gorniak, the son of a chemist and a violinist who immigrated from Poland. Ross Martin, of course, was born in Grodek, Poland, and came as an infant with his parents to live and grow up in New York City’s famous lower east side. So this is in a certain way a shout out to that gifted actor’s heritage. ‘Artemus Gordon’ then, is a stage name the character later adopted, in my “alternative W3 Universe”.

This backstory gives a lot of support to Artie’s scientific and musical genius that being a working actor would not. Giving ‘Artie’ that Eastern European background led me to add another note to my backstory, which again is only my opinion as expressed in my own W3 stories. And it’s a more personal one. I chose to make Artie and his parents Jewish. In my opinion it adds color and dimension to the character, rather than detracting them. It also allows me to paint some of that culture and very, very small part of that religion into these stories. Being Jewish myself, it’s an added means of self expression, never meant to detract from anyone else’s view of Artemus Gordon.

To say that Artemus Gordon is a linguistic genius is a gross understatement, and another reason for him to grow up in San Francisco, which has always been a polyglot city and a goal for immigrants coming across the Isthmus of Panama, across the western plains, or around Cape Horn. So it is very likely that Artie speaks at least a dozen languages, some of which we heard on the show and some we did not. My version of the character like his portrayer Ross Martin speaks and or reads Polish, German, Yiddish, Russian, French, Spanish, and Italian. To which just to cover what we saw and heard on the show we’d have to add Farsi/Persian, Arabic, Mandarin, Aramaic, Japanese,Syriac, Hawaiian, Hebrew, and, Dutch, Portugese, Sioux, and a number of other AmerIndian lauguages and dialects.

Okay, this story and Blind Beggar should both probably come with “high angst warnings’. The guys are really put throught the mill in both. But Imho, neither story would carry a ‘rating” higher than PG-13 That being said,. Well of Fire deals in detail with painful events from Jim’s childhood that were discussed in general in Blind Beggar. Those details are core elements of the plot and of what our hero-agents have to overcome.

I don’t own rights of any kind to the characters or storylines of the classic series The Wild, Wild, West, and that’s a darned shame. James T West, Artemus Gordon, Colonel Richmond, Jeremy Pike, Frank Harper and “Miguelito” Loveless do not belong to me. Dang it anyway. Those rights belong to the late Michael Garrison’s estate, to Leonard Katzman, Bruce Lansbury, the other producers of W3 and possibly still to the Columbia Broadcasting System [CBS]. No copyright infringement or profit taking of any kind is intended by this work of fiction. So please, don’t sue me, it would be a huge waste of attorney-billing hours.

On the other hand; Jacques D’eglisier, Thomas Macquillan, Stephen Arthur West, Liesl Branoch, Stephan Aynsley, Jean Stuart, Jimmy Randolph, Joanna Randolph, Ori Hoynes and the younger team members, as well as Gideon Remiel Boudin, Saul Lawson, Aubrey Lanier, Ezra Smith and Percy Mahann, as well as their supernumeraries herein, are my thought-children. So I will ask the gentle reader to ask their ‘mother” [me] before inviting them to play in your sandbox [ fanfiction ] thanx.

This story would simply not be in pixels, much less finished if not for the generous advice and help of some very special fellow W3 fans so I must thank them here or be terribly remiss: Sambev, Pet, Apple and Qohart, you’re absolutely the best of readers and the most excellent of friends. Merci, mille fois que merci, mes amis!

This story is also dedicated to three gifted actors, [in alphabetical order] Michael Dunn, Robert Conrad and Ross Martin who, with their incredible creative talents of contributed so very much to the series which inspired this story; Michael Dunn, Robert Conrad and Ross Martin. It is my thank you to them all for the fun, the fantasy and the terrific ‘ride” they gave so many others and me, by letting us come onboard the Wanderer, and share their adventures.

Sadly, Michael Dunn and Ross Martin are no longer with us, so I can’t thank them in person, now. Nevertheless I want to say that W3 would never have been the marvelous show it was, without both of them and their boundless talents. What they shared with all of us was manifestly their great passion for acting, for characters, and for story-telling on a grand scale. We were and we still are very lucky to have shared the world with them. And if the opportunity arose I would want to say this to Robert Conrad, thanks so very much for bringing James T. West so vividly to life, and for all of your other incomparable work. That is a tremendous gift of yourself, which we can never repay.
Synopsis: The Night of the Blind Beggar [ prequel to The Night of the Well of Fire ]

After the election of Ulysses Grant to his first term as President:

Former Confederate soldiers, enlisted men and junior officers now indigent and living in and around Washington, DC are being found dead: 11 are found with their throats cut, 23 others are found violently killed, but by other means, confusing the connection to the 11, during the same period; and another 27 are eventually found in a mass grave - giving a total of 61 men murdered as part of what will become known as ‘the Courier Conspiracy’

James Richmond, Director of the Secret Service and his agents are called in on this case when several of the murdered men’s families, raise the issue with their connections in the District of Washington, and the Grant Administration realizes it doesn’t exactly look good for the new President to ignore the murders of former Confederates. Richmond puts his top team of agents on this case, the team led by Thomas Macquillan, and consisting of Frank Harper, Jeremy Pike, Jacques D’eglisier, Ori Hoynes, Jim West and Artemus Gordon. A top-flight analyst team led by Rhodes Scholar PhD, Danielle Hoffner backs up this team.

On word from another “informant’ [a plant by the killers] Artemus Gordon rides into the countryside between Washington and Arlington, and finds a friend and informant, Shimon Danielson, from Athens, Georgia there, brutally murdered. Not only has Shimon been murdered, but his murderers have gone to the extreme of leaving a defaming, Anti-Semitic placard with his body. Outraged and furious, Artemus decides to go after the killers in the guise of another former ‘down on his luck” Confederate.

According to the agents newest security procedures, set up by Macquillan, Artie would usually take Jim West along to the party as his backup. But, Jim is home in Norfolk, VA, because his maternal grandmother, Jean Randolph, who raised him, is dying. So, as he’d done many times before, but rarely in such a rage, Artie goes out alone. And that’s exactly what the killers want. They abduct Artie’s ex-Reb street beggar and put him through the mill. Artie sends one message back to the team, and then vanishes for nine days.

Getting word of Artie’s disappearance while at his grandmother’s funeral, Jim rushes back to Washington; and joins the search for the actor agent. Jim and Ori Hoynes, Artie’s newest intern, from San Antonio by way of Dublin, find Artie beaten half to death in a vacant lot in Baltimore. And now Jim is just as enraged as Artie was, and insists he take over the “costume drill’ and go out as a blind beggar under the cover name of an old acquaintance, Sergeant Travis Madsen from Norfolk, who was reported dead after the Crater.

Against the advice of all his partners, Jim does exactly that and gets nabbed by the bad guys. Jim vanishes in his turn and does not surface, except, it seems to send a few telegrams. While in Aynsley and Boudin’s hands again, Jim is given the fullest extent of Aynsley’s further developments in patterning. He emerges; or rather another disasociative persona re-emerges, called Courier. And Courier, to all intents and purposes, and to all appearances, is the assassin Aynsley and Boudin have been seeking since the middle of the War. Jim/Courier, does not reappear till September, in Baltimore, meeting Artie there.

Courier/Jim meets with Artie and with Grant. Jim stops Courier from assassinating the President. In the face of the man he knows and loves and reveres as a second father that is not possible to him. 19-year-old Liesl Branoch, Aynsley’s deranged niece, is at the President’s hotel, and makes her own attempt on Grant’s life. The revolver she carries chain-fires and kills her, blinding Jim. Boudin, who secretly brought Liesl to Baltimore from her uncle’s house waits behind the hotel for either or both of his would be assassins to emerge. When the blinded child-brother-self Torry Littlest appears, Boudin takes him to a dumping ground he owns otherwise known as the Baltimore State Asylum. Torry and his brothers remain hidden there, committed under a false name, for most of the next year.

After the team as a whole and Jim’s cousins search on every point of the compass, for over a year, Artemus Gordon and Mac Macquillan find Jim West committed under the name Jonathan North Traherne in the Baltimore State Asylum. But in fact, the person/s they find are Jim’s first born but superficially youngest brothers, the Torrys. They have a number of attributes and a number of disabilities. All of these ‘l Company brothers, or Littlers are blind, because Jim’ Oldest Torry’s eye injuries were only indifferently treated. Some of them do not know or do not remember Jim’s friends and partners.
Most of them believe their Poppa is still alive, but got very angry and left them there. All of them believe they must not leave the asylum, as Boudin, in the role of their Poppa, ordered them to wait for his return, if he ever decided to come back there for them at all. The other brother selves begin to emerge as well, and they are both angry and frightened, confusing the agent team badly. Jim himself is not heard from for some months after being found.

Jim West is amnesiac, in fact pretty much mute and nearly catatonic, and he’s been not only neglected here but also abused not only by Boudin but by his hired criminals who run the place. Another major stumbling block, early on after Jim is found, is that he doesn’t respond, he can’t respond to being called Jim, or James or even Jimmy as Mac sometimes does. Those names mean next to nothing to the Torrys.
They were also left with several post hypnotic compulsions one of which was only to respond to those who called them Torry. That baby-name or family name of Jim’s is one Artie, Mac and the team probably are aware of but have either forgotten or discounted. Now, frustrated and afraid for Jim, Mac and Jacques D’eglisier go to California to ask Miguel de Cervantes [aka Miguelito Loveless] to make good an oath he made some years back. The small doctor swore he would come to West’s aid and save his life,when no one else could help him.

Jim, as it turns out took an opportunity to save Antoinette from drowning, [on an occasion similar to that in Murderous Spring] and Miguel was both chagrined and furious at this and swore he would repay the intolerable obligation. Antoinette, it seems was carrying their child and the child was born healthy later… So a great debt is clearly still in arrears. Miguel, among other things, knows Jim’s family name and tells it to Mac, who uses it to get the Torrys talking again. Further, Miguel agrees, on several conditions, to come east and commit himself to the asylum, thus being there constantly, in order to help the Torrys and their Oldest brother.

On top of this, it develops that Aynsley did pattern Artie, to either assassinate Courier on the day of Grant’s assassination, or failing that, to disbelieve anything and everything that could conceivably be seen as defending Jim’s/Courier’s actions. Artie vehemently objects to LoveleSsbeing involved in any way with helping Jim recover. He’s out voted. In fact, he’s out of town when the rest of the team, including Richmond, and with Grant’s approval, officially bring Miguel de Cervantes in on the case. Miguel, Jacques, Jeremy and when he understands his patterned reaction, Artemus all work along with their colleagues to help Jim recover. Miguel forms a strong rapport with the Torrys, and some amazing progress is made.

Miguel even suggests to Jim’s partners that procedures he’s invented or at least theorized could restore Jim’s sight. But they also have the problem of negating the fraudulent commitment of Jim West as Jonathan North West. Mac Macquillan was given Jim’s power of attorney by his late father. And that should help, but Boudin’s employees at the asylum are continually placing obstacles in the way of that process. Artie, who’s had the most trouble with Miguel’s involvement, begins to see how much the small doctor cares for the Torrys and admits to a growing affection of his own for the ‘schoolhouse full of little boys inside my best friend’.

PROLOGUE Baltimore State Asylum, Baltimore MD, the 1870s

“Keep your voice down, if you please, sir! Indeed, you will keep your voice down, as befits a gentleman addressing his betters, while addressing me, at all times and under all circumstances, whether you please to do so or not, sir!” Gideon Alexander Remiel Boudin whispered harshly, glaring at his tall, long limbed, black haired cohort.

“Just as you say, sir.” Henry Percy Meriwether Mahann answered, lowering his tone and nodding stiffly to the iron grey haired, grey eyed, powerfully built older man. “ I am quite well aware, sir, of the proper way in which a gentleman treats his betters. I am also familiar, sir, with the correct manner with which a gentleman speaks to his peers, as opposed to the way one speaks to or otherwise treats a menial, sir!”

“As I am, Mr. Mahann, and as I do, whenever I find myself in the company of my equals, sir.” Boudin replied, and hid a smile at the younger man’s flash of temper. “ Nor would I have thought it necessary to remind you, that you are nothing of the kind, being in my employ, as you are now these several years, my good sir.”

Mahann’s icy eyes almost twitched with anger now, as Boudin’s amusement began to wane. “I am merely enduring temporarily reduced circumstances, my good sir!” Mahan answered. “That is an unfortunate fact following the losses my family suffered during the Conflict, of which you are quite well aware, Mr. Boudin, sir.”

“Following the losses your family suffered?” Boudin echoed, laughing. He was furiously angry with Mahann just now, and that only made goading the hot tempered fool all the more pleasant.

”And just what family of yours would that be, Mr. Mahann? Do you have reference now to the Charleston street peddler who became your maternal grandfather, no doubt through no planning of his own? Or are you referring to the Richmond Cyprian who gave you life, doubtless with even less intention? Or perhaps you are in fact speaking of the Atlanta family you invented, during the Conflict, to conceal the truth about your ignoble forebears?
In any case, it’s something over nine years now, since our Glorious Cause, and our Noble Confederacy fell to the Unionist rampaging hordes of unschooled, unwashed, homicidal know-nothings, scrounged up from all the sewers and pits of Europe! That being so, one might have thought any gentleman worth his salt might have recovered his assets in good measure from the even the devastation of the damn Yankee juggernaut!”

“Mr. Boudin, I am not accustomed to being called a fraud, or a liar, sir.” Mahann almost hissed in answer. “Nor have I ever needed to invent anything regarding my own deep-rooted Southron kinship and lineage! I would add that I do not, as a True-born Southron Gentleman, find it acceptable practice to stand in the presence of menials or in such a public venue as this and hear my entirely honorable forebears libeled, my good sir! Indeed, it seems clear if you truly had such a low, despicable opinion of my origins, and myself, you would never have sought to associate with me in the first place, sir!”

“ Do you now claim that I sought your association, sir?” Boudin demanded, his pleasure in the exchange paling. “Well, I am more than willing to rid you of that notion, my man! However, I concur on one point you make and one only. This matter, and the others I have to discuss with you now, should never be bandied about on a public street. You were summoned here to meet with me in the administrator’s office. Therefore you will accompany me , Mr. Mahann, and immediately, sir!”

Mahann stopped glaring at his supremely infuriating employer long enough to look at the gateway behind him. The two very tall, very elegantly tailored, very proper seeming gentlemen stood arguing, surrounded by a quartet of Boudin’s armed bodyguards at the entrance to the Baltimore State Asylum, where they had been for nearly three quarters of an hour. The street, which was more of an unusually wide alleyway, full of noise, wagons, carts, draymen, and warehousemen, was close to the port in Lord Baltimore’s City.

The street, the buildings, and the people there all seemed on the verge of ruin. After
more than a century and a quarter, this oldest part of one of the oldest towns in the middle states was simply showing its age, and a certain less than genteel neglect by its neighboring districts. The port itself pre-dated the city by twenty three years, and these alleys and paths, these crowding warehouses, taverns and auction platforms had been here almost as long and looked it.

The asylum complex had often been used, by many tradesmen and seamen coming into Baltimore harbor, to warehouse goods from around the globe. But for the past dozen years and a little more, it had been used exclusively by Boudin to warehouse men the Georgian took an especial aversion to. Thinking on that, just as he was about to argue whether or not he’d come here at Boudin’s summons, Mahann felt chilled to his core. He swept a bow to the older man and held his tongue. Up a rickety staircase to the second floor, and then down one dank, dingy corridor after another, Mahann followed Boudin

There were only two saving graces to be found here today, he considered as he just barely kept up with Boudin’s purposeful, long limbed strides. First, the chill, rainy winter weather of the past few days had forced the evacuation of the open courtyard that normally served as the main ward here. Second, the Administrator’s office was placed in the farthest corner from the stench that even the worst winter downpours couldn’t overcome. Four hundred and seventy three men, more than three times the number of inmates the complex originally held made up the inmate population there, now.

During some periods of the asylum’s operation, Mahann knew, even larger numbers of Gideon Boudin’s vast number of suspected or known enemies had been “housed’ in the complex the Georgian owned. What no one knew was the precise percentage of that inmate population who sickened, went mad, died, or disappeared within those crumbling walls. After more than a decade, the only certainty was that scores of men entered the asylum complex and never left again. Mahann knew, from the asylum records that Boudin’s contract with local health officials provided substantial compensation, per capita for each inmate admitted here.

So it was hardly surprising to those who knew Boudin’s business practices, as Mahann and a few others did, that this ‘asylum’ was never at a loss for empty cots or corners to fill. Without accounting for sieges of quartan fevers, diphtheria, influenza, pneumonia, and other diseases, the men brought here died in great enough numbers, and on such a regular basis to make room for more. And those who didn’t die from those processes were those who starved, those who fought their keepers, or those who simply willed themselves to die there. The remaining inmates, were either so far gone in madness that they had to be isolated, or so profoundly lost in nightmares that nothing could reach them any longer.

“Mr. Mahann, are you going to attend this meeting, or stand there wool-gathering for the entire afternoon, sir?” Boudin demanded harshly. “Mr. Mahann, are you attending to me at all, sir? MR. MAHANN!” Boudin finally shouted.

Startled out of his thoughts, and nearly out of his wits by the dangerously sharp tone the Athens Georgia millionaire was using Mahann swallowed hard. While he’d been wool gathering they’d reached the over-crowded, over furnished, Administrator’s office. Looking inside, the Richmond native wasn’t surprised to see the fatuous fool who presently ran the complex for Boudin, and his equally unctuous assistant already busily groveling.
Mahann was surprised in the next instant, though, when he saw two more of Boudin’s associates in business Ezra Smith and Saul Lawson, neither of whom had any respect for Mahann or any other ‘true born Southron Gentleman’, so far as he knew. Smith, a dark haired, light eyed, compactly built fellow was a well-known gun hand, and a paid enforcer for all of Boudin’s operations. Lawson was nearly as tall as Mahann but dark-eyed, whip thin and sharp featured. He owned a reputation as a callous killer too, and as someone Boudin only sent on the most lethal assignments.

“Yes, of course, sir.” Mahann answered, glancing at the unexpected pair. “Gentlemen, good afternoon, I had not expected to have the honor of your attendance, here today. And if I may ask …”

“You may not.” Boudin answered, offering a taut, half smile. “Mr. Administrator, your instructions in preparation for this meeting were eminently simple. Have they been carried out in full, my good man?”

“Oh, why y-yes, y-yes of course, Sir!” the reed-thin, reedy voiced official agreed. “ Oh, why y-yes, absolutely they have, Sir!”

“Then where are the files you were ordered to make available to myself and my cohort here, today?” Boudin demanded, thoroughly enjoying the way the pathetic dolt jumped and jittered at his every word.

“ Why, they’re…they’re… Why they were … “ the putative official sputtered in terror, and then turned to scowl in turn at his own subordinate.

“Well, where are those records, my man? What in the world have you managed to do with them, now?”

“Sir!” His assistant, a plump, over anxious young man shrilled.” I placed all the files requested by Mr… by Mr… that is, by the older… “

“You do not even possibly have reference to myself, do you, young sir?” Boudin hissed, rounding on the recently promoted clerk. “You are not possibly trying to identify me with the request your superior received by wire from one of these gentlemen, here? You were surely not about to utter my name, were you, young man, when the possibility cannot even exist that you know who I am?”

Now, the assistant froze, trapped in Boudin’s coldly outraged gaze. Every man there knew the Georgian obsessed over his privacy, his anonymity, in any and all business affairs. Not once in nearly forty years had he permitted his family name to be bruited about in any such dealings. Not once in fifty years time had he allowed his subordinates the free use of his name.
The Georgian much preferred keeping to and pulling other’s strings from the shadows. He relentlessly chose a depth of secrecy that kept other men in the limelight, while he played director off the world-stage. He had sent men to their deaths on the least inference that they’d damaged his utter concealment. Wholly terrified, the assistant barely managed to shake his head in answer. Then he shakily pointed to a small desk in a cubby just outside the crammed office.

Boudin barely glanced in the direction indicated. He was too busy enjoying the young man’s evident terror. He was too occupied keeping his ice-grey eyes fixed on the assistant’s profusely sweating, round face. He was far too engaged, just at the moment with contemplating how he would make his displeasure fully known. “You removed those files? You removed the very files these gentlemen requested, from this office, young sir?” Boudin demanded. “And on whose instructions could you possibly do any such thing?”

Once more the frightened assistant answered wordlessly, nodding to the first two questions and pointing to the Administrator in answer to the third. Boudin, and his surrogates here, Lawson, Smith and Mahann all turned to look at the Administrator, while that functionary stepped back further and further, until he stood against the row of bulging file drawers against one wall.

A feral smile spread from one of the visitor’s faces to the next then, as Boudin’s focus once more shifted to another target. “Explain yourself, my man.” Boudin ordered the official, his tone cold enough to freeze a wildfire.

“Sir!” The Administrator shrilled, looking as if he’d be glad to jump out the small window behind him. “Sir, I …I was only thinking of your … of your comfort, sir. My, my office is in no state, no state at all to receive a gentleman of your standing. Why, one can hardly turn around in here without … causing an avalanche, sir. One can hardly take two steps without… without falling over …something.
I would point out, my good sir that this meeting, according to the instructions I received, was to be held promptly at two of the clock, this afternoon, sir. Whereas it is now no more than three quarters of an hour past eleven in the morning. Unfortunately you have arrived to find preparations for this meeting still underway, sir. My … my own chair, sir was to be placed alongside my subordinate’s desk, for you to take your ease and… more readily … umm… peruse the records… sir.”

“Oh, indeed?” Boudin asked. “Well, sir, if it were not for matters that have nearly gone out of control here, I would no more set foot in this establishment than I would walk into any other such cesspool! And since this place has nearly gone to wrack and to ruin under your purported administration such that even my most trusted associates could not prevent imminent disaster, if I were you, sir, I would not now seek to cast blame elsewhere! Is it or is it not the fact of the matter that you have somehow allowed these premises to come under damn Yankee Federal investigation, sir? Is it, or is not the case that you have permitted agents of the damned to Perdition Unionist-Federal oligarchy in Washington’s City to begin inspections here?”

“Is it, or is it not the plain, unalterable fact here that these investigators, these inspectors have made a raft of egregiously expensive and utterly superfluous changes here? Have you, or have you not almost constantly for nearly the past year now, applied to these gentlemen for increased funding?
And have you not make those applications because you acquiesced to the point of sheer extravagance, with those damnable beaureaucrats bizarre and completely pointless demands as regards operations here? Have you or have you not spent extraordinary sums on this compound simply to appease their absurd ideas?”

“Have you not exhausted the perfectly reasonable financial constraints you have been given? Have you not exceeded, in just this past half year, all expenses and all accounts by which this institution has been quite efficiently run for over a decade? No, remain still, say nothing! I have no need of your verbalized response, my man! I have all the records I need ever see to tell me that you have become a squanderer, a spendthrift and a complete and utter wastrel, sir! And I would only add, you have done so with funds that never belonged to you, sir!”

“These gentlemen have with mind numbing repetition supplied you with funding you had no right to ask for! These gentlemen have forwarded monies to the accounts for this institution in excess of those required to run all other such facilities in the region! Yes, you have pointlessly plundered the accounts set up years ago for the smoothly economical operation of this place, sir! But that is not the worst of your transgressions, is it? No!”

“You have caused this establishment to come under suspicion, sir. You have, as I said, created a situation here that invited Federal inspection and investigation! And you have done far worse! Due to your lacksidaisical, slipshod, careless regime, you have allowed city, county, state and Federal officials to get their grasping hands on your records!

This, now, today, this idea that confidential records of the inmates here should be stacked like cordwood in an open corridor, sir, is only one egregious example of your negligence! And in allowing open access to just such records, my man, you made it not only possible, not only potential but absolutely real that the finances of this institution have been examined, have been audited! Do you have any idea what measures were in place, you pathetic cretin, to shield this establishment from just such a purportedly legal incursion?”

“Do you even know the consequences of your folly in this matter, sir? Well, be assured I am about to tell you: These gentlemen’s legal representatives have received notice, which I would have thought you might have heard of, yourself. They have received notice of considerable arrears in the property taxes supposedly due on this complex! And with those notices came word that these grasping, greedy, avaricious officials have declared this asylum will be sold at the county’s next tax auction! Well, did you or did you not, my man know that this very property is about to be stolen from me by means of this Federally sponsored legal fiction?”

“S-si-sir, I received precisely the same notice from the county assessor, nearly three months past.” The Administrator gasped out, shaking like a willow. “But sir, I have reported that and all these matters to your … to these gentlemen, as they happened, over the past ten months and more! Sir, I communicated these problems to your … to at least one of these gentlemen here, sir. I made these things fully known, I do assure you! I acted in complete good faith as regards these issues. I recounted every single pertinent detail in the reports I sent, sir!”

“Reports you sent to at least one of these gentlemen, you say?” Boudin asked, with an icy smile. There was no room for doubt in his eyes or his voice that he already knew the answer to his next question. There was no doubt he’d been driving the floundering official towards just this point. “And to precisely which of these three gentlemen, my man, did you send your reports on these matters. Please do not prevaricate for even an instant, sir. I am all too well aware no such accounts of the situation ever came to me.”

“N-n-no, sir! Nothing of the kind, sir!” The Administrator answered, terrified to have Boudin’s ice-grey gaze still fixed on him. “I have always followed any instructions I received here to the letter, sir, to the very letter! And from the first instance of my… posting here, sir, my main instruction was never to send any communiqués whatever to you, sir, or to anyone other than whichever of yo… of these good gentlemen … ummm… communicated with me.
And during my tenure here, my good sir, I have kept with the utmost strictness to that dictum. Therefore, in some instances I have sent my reports regularly to Mr. Lawson, and when I received new instructions from him, to Mr. Smith. And when I was once more given a change in instructions, that last time nearly a year past, sir, I began at once remitting all my reports, just as requested, on a monthly basis, to our Mr. Mahann.”

“You most certainly did not, sir!” Mahann shouted, looking far more frightened than angry. “That is patently a falsehood, which I will have you retract on the instant!”

“Hey, now, Percy, are you callin’ this poor fellow a liar?” Lawson asked, laughing harshly. “Because if so, you’d best think that over, you see first me and then Ezra here were getting all his reports, for the past four, five years, mebbee a little more. We got his reports and the ones our paid guards gave as well. Then, starting up, just about the time he said, just about eleven months back, two things changed, an’not for the better.”

“First, these same Feds who’ve been making all the trouble here for more than a years time, made yet more trouble for us. Those damn Yankee bastards pushed an’ prodded an’ screamed bloody murder about the treatments being handed out to a lot of these here lunatics. An’ they wouldn’t quit till the guards we’d had on payroll longest all got canned!

Seems like they decided to take a handful of these poor wretches on as their very own pet crazies! So there was purely nothin’ to be done, nobody really t’ blame, so it seemed, back then. An’we got th’ word on that out to those who needed t’ know it, Ez an’ me, just as soon as the thing happened.”

“An’after that, neither Ez nor me got any reports, or got any word of what was goin’on here, all these months. Why, t’ find out what those Fed cops have been up to, we’ve had to send some of our own pet crazies inside here! An’come t’ find out through them, with no small trouble, as they’re pretty damn fuddled for real, that every single one of these danged changes here were goin’ inta reports that never got t’ me, and never once got t’ Ezra either!
No, sir, not word th’ first came from this fellow or this office to either of us. That’s when I figured the folks that might take the most hurt from all these troubles oughta hear about them. That’s when Ez also figured where all the news outa here was goin’.”

“An’ that’s when we put our heads together and made damn sure word of this got where it was needed. An’ come t’ find out, that one of the three of us, you, Percy, me an’ ol’ Ezra, had a secret nest-egg growin’, only one of the three of us has money stashed in a dozen accounts in half a dozen banks ‘round Baltimore, these days! Now, it ain’t ol’ Ezra who’s got all that money, cause he ain’t never held much with banks, you see. An’ it surely ain’t me who’s got anything like a nest-egg, cause I never had any sort of use for a nest!”

“I have no such thing!” Mahann shrilled, panicking now as the Administrator and his clerk took their first real chance and left the office on the double-quick. Then he nearly fainted, as Smith locked the office door and Lawson shut the window behind him. There was no leaving here, now. There would be no exit for Henry Percy Mahann. They’d made that plain.
“I… I may have some minimal, some miniscule savings, but nothing akin to what you suggest, Saul. What could possibly make you think I was hoarding funds? What could possibly make you believe I was doing anything against … our mutual benefactor? Surely you can’t think, Ezra, Saul, neither of you could begin to think me capable of such double-dealing! Why, you may as well suggest I’d connived with those ludicrous Federals! Why, you might as well say I’ve betrayed…” Mahann stopped, and froze where he stood, suddenly hearing what he had said.

“ And have you? Have you betrayed our friendly little Society, Mr. Mahann?” Boudin asked so quietly his tone could have been merely curious. “Have you betrayed your oaths to The One, Henry Percy? Have you broken your most solemn vow never to betray me? Have you so far forgotten your vaunted honor, sir? Are you the traitor in our midst, these days?”

“Is, is that what you called me here to find out?” Mahann demanded, his voice cracking with the strain. “Is that the true reason you called this meeting, sir?”

“ Meeting?” Boudin chuckled, noting how the Virginian hadn’t answered his questions. “Did I call a meeting here? Did I send you any sort of summons? Did I communicate with you before I saw you downstairs, in any fashion, Henry Percy Meriwether?”

“N-no! Of course you didn’t! You never put pen to paper to so much as write a laundry list, if you think it would imperil you for even a minute, Gideon Alexander Remiel!” Mahann cried out, brazenly using the Georgian’s name. “You sent one of your usual third-party lackeys to me! You sent one of those boys who currently have your favor! I don’t remember which one it was, just now. I can’t tell them from one another, these days, sir, indeed, I wonder that you can!”

“But we are not here to discuss me or my …activities, sir.” Boudin told him, scowling. “We are here, as you’ve surely guessed by now, to discuss and resolve the matter of you, and yours. And you have yet to answer my questions, sir. And I will have your answers, Mahann. I will have the truth of the matter from you.

Nor can you blame myself or our two colleagues for coming to this point so early on, it was you, yourself, sir, who mentioned betrayal, here. So you will now answer me, on that question, fully and truthfully. Have you betrayed us all? Have you betrayed The Work we do, The Great Work we have labored at since the Conflict, sir? And in doing that, have you betrayed me, sir?”

[Jim] Artie, you will help, won’t you?
[Artie] Oh, sure. There’ll be two of us.
TNOT Legion of Death

SS novice field agent

610 Posts

Posted - 02/09/2009 :  11:20:31  Show Profile
SCENE ONE Baltimore State Asylum, Baltimore, MD

“NO!” Mahann shrilled, desperately turning to gave from one colleague to another. “No, sir! I have never by deed or thought or word betrayed The One, sir! I have never and would never deal with our adversaries! I have never joined with any Unionists, Federals or any other sort of Damn Yankees! There’s your answer, sir! And I defy you to disprove the truth I’ve stated!
That fool, that pathetic weakling who ran out of here a moment ago, is idiotic beyond belief, sir! Clearly he understood nothing of … of… any communication… I might have had… with him! Clearly he has no comprehension of the gravity of the situation he’s bungled himself and this … complex into!
All I told that idiot, that dolt was to send his reports to me whilst Ezra and Saul were both in Haiti with you, sir, at the end of the year, sir! Evidently he couldn’t grasp the temporary nature of those instructions! He continued sending reports to me, when either Saul or Ezra should have had them! There’s just been a misunderstanding, here.”

“Yes, indeed there has been.” Boudin nodded. “On that point at least, we are in absolute agreement. You, sir, have well and truly misunderstood me, sir. You have in fact, mocked, lied to and now, you have openly defied me. However it signifies precisely nothing to me whether or not you have profited by your treason! Soon enough it will signify even less, I do assure you, sir, even to you, yourself.

Now, you are undoubtedly correct in your assessment of the pair of fools who just … departed our company. They are imbecilic, in the extreme. Nor did I ever think any better of them. But where you have truly erred, my man is where you seem to have developed the same demeaning assessment of me! I am no one’s fool, that I can promise you, sir. I am no one’s dupe! And I have never suffered a fool gladly. nor will I acquiesce in my own betrayal!”

Mahann shuddered, and fixed his gaze on Boudin, as the real threat here. “Sir, if I have offended you in some way, if my outburst at being so wrongly accused disturbed you, I offer my profoundest apologies. And I protest my innocence, sir. I have done nothing against you, nothing against The Great Work or against The One.
I have labored for the goals of that Work, sir, ceaselessly from my first … induction in it. I have never wavered from my loyalty, or my support for our Society. And I do not, I protest most strongly, sir, comprehend how I should be charged with lies, with treachery or with harming anyone here!”

“Just shut it, will you! He’s still lyin’!” Lawson called out harshly laughing, and crossed the small room to smack Mahann hard across the face. “He’d lie, when truth sounds better, and we all of us know it! You know he must’ve been stealin’ that damn fool runnin’ this place half blind! Else how could he have scrimped up nigh onta enuf cash t’buy this place?

An’ that can only mean he’s in the damn Yankees pockets! We know he’s got to be behind all the mischief going on here. We know he must be th’ one who found that ol’Perfesser’s papers, th’ones you told us had t’ be somewhere in his burnt out house! We know th’ DamnYankees must have ‘em by this time! An’ we know Mahann must’ve rolled over on the whole danged Society, by this time, sir! So,we know what we’ve gotta do, now! Just give th’ word an’me an’ Ezra’ll see to what needs doin’ now!”

“Mr. Lawson makes some valid points, I fear.” Boudin responded. “We haven’t found the least trace of the late Herr Doctor Aynsley’s papers. And knowing Stephan as I did, I cannot believe he destroyed them. Therefore, someone who does not have common cause with us I am more and more certain found those records and absconded with them. And no doubt our Federal adversaries would pay a fine, tidy sum for Stephan Aynsley’s letters, experimental records and journals.
No doubt there is much contained within the late Herr Professor Doctor’s writings that could aid and comfort our enemies and threaten all our Work. My only real question is whether or not my late colleague from Vienna also wrote in such a way as to implicate me. Was there anything like that in dear old Stephan’s papers, Mr. Mahann?”

“There was nothing in them! Nothing, I tell you!” Mahann screamed, falling as Smith neatly tripped him up.

“Figure you just shot yourself right in the foot, there, Percy.” Smith chuckled, shaking his head and pulling the Virginian up off the floor. “An’ you tryin’ t’ run out just then didn’t help none. Mebbee you should give a try tellin’ at least some truth, this time. Who’s got th’ ol’ Doc’s papers?”

“No one! No one has them! I did find his strong box. Months and months ago… nearly a year ago, in fact, I found it! Yes, I found it in the rubble below where I believe the good Professor’s attic study had been. It was half buried, by a beam that almost broke the box open. But the materials inside were unreadable! No one could have begun to comprehend the cipher he wrote in!
And so I removed the contents and burned every last scrap of paper, and even cut the journal covers to ribbons. I did that for The Great Work, for the One and to keep Aynsley’s devilish business dead and buried with him! How is that treachery, sir, how is that defiance, much less treason? I am innocent and I can show you precisely where I burned those papers and buried the ashes, to prove my plea to you!”

“I know the site perfectly well.” Boudin told the angry, but still terrified Mahann. “And there is certainly no dearth of ashes still to be found there. But you fall and fail again, sir, in not considering you cannot prove what those ashes came from. Nor do you mention what befell the Herr Professor’s strongbox. It was made of iron, as I recall. Where is that item, now, sir?”

“It was broken, I tell you!” Mahann insisted, but his ruddy face was suddenly pale as milk. “It was ruined, and of no use whatsoever! I … I … do not recall what happened to it, being that heavy, I … I must have left it there! Why should I even bother with the thing, now? Why should you, sir? The Austrian concealed what he wrote in some damnable sort of code, I told you! No one could have made head or tails of the thing! It made no more sense than does this … ersatz tribunal!”

“Hey! Watch what you call us, Mahann!” Lawson shouted. “We’re not stupid, Ez and me. And as of right now, we’re as much a judge and jury as you’re ever gonna see, that much I can tell you! Now, Ezra he suggested you talk straight, and I’m not sure you even know how to, Percy-boy. But you might want to try, just one last time, just for the sake of … it bein’the last chance you’re gonna have.”

Mahann stared again from one of the trio to another. Lawson, Smith and Boudin all seemed to have the same expression now, the same taut, feral grin on their faces. He had no chances left, and little time, that was clear. “There… there were three men… coming down from the main Baltimore-Washington road, when I … while I was destroying those papers.” The Virginian finally said, sighing. “I … I have no idea whatsoever who … who they were. But they were searching every inch of ground from the road on up to where Aynsley’s house stood.”

“I do not know… I have no idea whatever regarding their purpose there. They were moving slowly, almost one stride at a time and stopping to search. So I ran to where I’d hidden my rig behind what was left of the stables, there. And I got in and I drove south. I drove south from there… towards Washington’s City; it seemed to me those three came from the other direction.
I have no notion whether or not they saw me. I truly doubt they did, because they gave no sign, no signal and never called out to me. For all I know they were three tramps looking for whatever they could steal, or three starvelings looking for roots in the doctor’s old garden, there. I might have … I suppose I might have attempted to take the strong box with me. But it was smashed, and it was empty once I … destroyed the papers! And if you want to take my life because I left it there, well, gentlemen, clearly, I am entirely at your … at your mercy.”

“Indeed you are, sir. Indeed you are.” Boudin coldly agreed, smiling tautly. “However, you are also still prevaricating with me. You are adding and ommitting details as it suits you. And that, sir does not suit me, or my purpose even for an instant! You are, to be quite blunt lying to me, Mr. Mahann. But I have found you out. I have all the information, all the ACCURATE information regarding your activities over the past year and a little more.

You seem to have forgotten, my wide array of sources and resources, Henry Percy. You seem to have dismissed my capacity for ferreting out the facts of any matter touching on The Great Work or The One. And it is too bad, really too bad for you, Henry Percy, that you have shown yourself so mendacious AND so foolish all at once.”

“But I … I was merely giving you the most … most essential details regarding the matter, sir!” Mahann declared, shaking as if suddenly afflicted with a high fever. “ Why… what else would you … care to know? Whatever it may be, you need only ask, Mr…”

“I have nothing more to ask of you, sir. I do, however, have an emendation for your accounting of these wearying events. While I was wintering in Port au Prince last year and for six full months thereafter, Mr. Mahann you were busily doing all you could to undermine this element of our operation, of our Great Work here!”

“Oh, no, no, Sir! I can assure you I have never undermined…” Mahann started to protest again, only to have Boudin’s icy gaze stop the words in his throat.

“You have, and since you seem to have utterly forgotten your misdeeds, your crimes and misdemeanors, I will gladly catalog them for you, now, sir!” The Georgian snarled, inwardly gleeful at watching the black haired man almost collapse before him. “First of all, sir, no sooner was I out of the country, than you cheerfully acquiesced in the firing of the guards Messrs, Smith, and Lawton put in place here at no small expense and with the most explicit instructions in hand.

Secondly, you allowed the nearly witless fool who with his completely witless assistant left us so precipitately to increase expenditures here by a magnitude! Thirdly, you did nothing and instructed that same pair of fools to do nothing while, for more than a year now, Federal agents have infiltrated, invaded and investigated this complex! Lastly and worst, Mr. Mahann, you have time and time again proven yourself an utterly despicable dastard, sir! You have taken authority upon yourself that was never yours to take.”

You have squandered funds that were none of yours to spend. You have allowed the
most ludicrous suggestions, measures, changes and charges to be brought to this establishment. And you have lied, and lied and lied again whenever the subject arose of how these dreadful occurrences came to be! I knew you had lied about the increases in spending here, sir. And I was willing to put that aside as a matter of almost no significance at all. A man of property sometimes finds himself in difficult fiduciary circumstances. A man of business occasionally comes upon problems of supply and demand, one might say.

But a gentleman, sir, a trueborn Southron Gentleman does not and would not ever deceive his peers, his fellows, or as in this case, his betters! And yet you have piled one fabrication and omission upon another, upon another expecting perhaps to confuse or at the least exhaust anyone who tried to follow your perjured narrative. Eleven months ago, Henry Percy you were not within three hundred miles of my old friend Stephan’s former property south of Lord Baltimore’s city. Eleven months ago, my man you were neither in Baltimore, nor at your familial home in Richmond, nor anywhere east of Tennessee, sir.

You were, in fact, in the environs of Chattanooga, seeking to get your even more worthless younger brother, young Robin Dudley Mahann out of a debtor’s prison there! And with what funds, what sudden, unexpected largesse from what unrecorded benefactors I wonder, Henry Percy were you hoping to appease his creditors there? But more importantly, at this moment, Henry Percy, however did you think I would not find the answer to those questions? However did you imagine I would not find you out?”

“Sir,” Mahann tried again to plead, wondering if he had any chance of shifting the Georgian’s anger from himself. “ My brother, as you must know, never left that vile place in Tennessee, Sir. He was dying before I even heard of his financial troubles, Sir. Robin died of complications from pneumonia, my good Sir before I … “

“I will hear no more of your prevarications, sir!” Boudin snarled. “You will say no more, do you hear me, unless I require some further, succinct response from you to MY QUESTIONS. DO YOU HEAR ME?”

“Yes, yes, Sir. Yes.” Mahann stammered.

“Very well. For the edification of your erstwhile colleagues I will set the matter correctly for the record, now. You left Baltimore nearly a year ago, Mr. Mahann, you left your work here for our good Society, you left The Great Work and The One to travel south first of all to Washington’s City. On your way there you DID NOT, NOT EVEN FOR AN INSTANT stop anywhere near my old friend Stephan’s property, even though it lies not a quarter of a mile off the Baltimore-Washington road.
No, sir. You went to Washington’s City and from there to Richmond and after spending less than a week total between the Damn Yankee’s booming capital and our Lost Confederacy’s ruined one, you trained west to help dear, sad young Robin.” Boudin went on, his grey eyes flashing.

“But he was beyond help, that much of your story holds true. He was on his last legs, as it were. But we are gentlemen here, sir. So we will not speak even amongst ourselves of his actual last illness and how he came by it. Gentlemen, sir, do not speak of such things, even amongst their closest confidants. You took your brother home to Richmond, when he’d died out west there, Mr. Mahann.
You paid his debts and brought him home to be buried in the family plot, at the Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond. And you had enough funds left over from all that traveling, from paying all his debts and the expenses of his funeral to give yourself a month down in the islands, Mr. Mahann.

But you had nothing resembling that sort of free capital before you left here for Washington’s City, did you, Henry Percy? You barely had enough wherewithal to rent a horse for that first leg of your long, morose journey. You barely had enough funds to buy black crepe for your arm and some for your hat band, sir! You’d been gambling again, Henry Percy, betting on the ponies and a great many hands of poker, a great many turns at the roulette!
Le jou continuez, messieurs et madames! Le jou continuez! So, how was all that travel paid for, Henry Percy? How were Robin’s debts settled, even at the minimum? And how could you afford a lavish funeral in Richmond AND a month in St. Thomas when it was done and he was in the ground?”

“ I’ll tell you, shall I? You surely did find Stephan Aynsley’s strongbox. You found it in the hands of our Damn Yankee adversaries, a year ago! But you did not set one foot on the grounds of his former home, at any time, for any reason, sir. Not whilst he lived and surely not afterwards. You did not find yourself surprised by tramps or criminals or starvelings at my old friend’s property. You never saw the contents of that box, not until the Federals who found them showed them to you, you damnable betrayer!


“Sir, that is not the case.” Mahann tried again to insist, thinking he couldn’t make things worse. “Well, not exactly. Please, let me … Please, Sir, I would most sincerely wish to… try to set the case before you, if I may … Sir, Please.”

Boudin squinted at the Richmond native. Then he astonished everyone in the office by nodding. “You have our leave to make ONE attempt before WE proceed.”

“ I am most deeply grateful, Sir.” Mahann gasped. At least he could go on breathing while he went on talking it through. ‘sir, it was one of those Damn Grasping, Underhanded Yankee Fools who came to me, seeking whatever I could tell him about the late Herr Doctor Professor Aysnley. And like most such dolts, I learned more from him than he ever did from me, Sir. I learned that not one but two of his superiors had been at the Doctor’s home, while the Work proceeded as regards … well, as regards the Great Work to be done, Sir. I learned that one of those two Federal agents was filing reports to the effect that he’d begun to recover his memory of that time.

Well, of course, Sir, I did not credit that report. Knowing full well the efficacy of the late Doctor’s procedures, I did not believe him. However, it seems this other Federal agent, a man who goes by the name of Gordon, I believe, reported on his alleged recollections of the late Doctor Aynsley and his niece. Well, Sir, naturally, out of my great Devotion to the One and to the Great Work, I took it upon myself, hearing that, to surreptiously probe further into whatever this young Federal fool might have thought he or his superiors knew.”

“Indeed. And what did this young Federal fool believe is known? My identity, I suppose?” Boudin almost hissed.

“No, no, not at all. No, indeed, Sir!” Mahann insisted, suddenly hoping wildly he’d stumbled on his way out of trouble. “This Gordon, who, as I can hardly credit, Sir, I’m told is actually a damnable Hebe, reported having no memory of anyone other than the late Doctor and his tragic niece as taking part in the … in what he called the Courier Conspiracy, Sir.”

“The Courier Conspiracy?” the Georgian repeated, with a tiny, icy smile. “ Yes, very well, go on.”

“Yes, Sir. This Gordon, then, reported being at the late Doctor’s home. He reported encountering Doctor Aynsley and his niece there. He reported being badly mistreated by some of the Doctor’s staff. Gordon accused the Doctor of ordering some of his staff take his life… this Gordon’s life, I mean.

But his reports to their dastardly Secret Service and to the Butcher Himself, Grant, all contain no other personnages as leading this so-called Conspiracy. No others, Sir. None. They don’t know of anyone else taking part… No one at all, Sir. That is, no one else who could be considered as … having any sort of … that is… no one else who they consider … important… Sir.” Mahann replied, hoping he was gaining ground.

“Wait.” Boudin demanded. “You are not expressing yourself very clearly, Henry Percy. Please elucidate that last point for us. Along with the rest of his supposed revelations, did that despicable Gordon report any other persons as having a leading role in this so called Conspiracy?”

“No one, Sir. No one at all.” Mahann eagerly nodded. “They have no other names at all. They have no idea of any other significant participants. None at all, Sir. So, you see… “

“I see that you are exaggerating, at the very least, the supposed benefit to us of what you claim this Federal contact told you, Mr. Mahann.” Boudin scowled. “I see that you are exaggerating, as usual, the importance of what you’ve done for the Society, the Great Work and the One, as opposed to the jeopardy, the harm and the outright damage you’ve done! You received a goodly sum from this Federal extortionist, Mr. Mahann, did you not? And you still have not clarified for us what they received from you in return! I will have your answer to that vital question NOW!”

“But, Sir, what could I POSSIBLY have told them? Nothing! Nothing whatsoever. I lied to them, Sir. I thoroughly decieved them. I led them to believe they might be able to break the late Doctor’s cipher with my assistance, when I returned from seeing to my sad brother’s affairs.” The Richmond born Mahann answered. “They in fact got NOTHING from me, Sir. I am not a traitor to the One, I have never, never betrayed you, Sir. I swear, I have never broken faith with you”

“No, sir, I swear you have done little else!” Boudin snarled, raising his fist in apparent rage. “And yet you persist in proclaiming your innocence.”

“Sir, you cannot believe anything but my innocence in all this to be the case!” Mahann pleaded, shaking his head. “I tell you the Federal dolts got nothing from me but empty words, nothing from me, nothing but the foolery and lies they so richly deserve! They never got a scrap of information on the Doctor’s papers from me, Sir. They never got so much as a syllable, a jot, or a tittle from me. I gave them nothing, Sir. I cheated them, don’t you see? You must see how I tricked our enemies all the while they thought they were tricking me. You see that, of course, don’t you, Sir?”

“I see you are trying to trick us now, with your lies, your confusions and your deliberate obfuscation of the facts.” The Georgian answered.

“Sir, Sir,” Mahann implored, knowing all too well what danger he was in. “Upon my oath, I gave our enemies nothing! My absolute, long-lived devotion to yourself and to the Great Work, Sir, makes what you suggest impossible to me! I could do no such thing, Sir. I could never aid those despicable Yankees! I gave them nothing!”

“NO,OF COURSE NOT! INDEED, I BELIEVE YOU GAVE THEM NOTHING, SIR. NO SIR, YOU SOLD THEM ALL OF AYNSLEY’s RECORDS, ALONG WITH ALL OF US, STANDING HERE, ALONG WITH THE WHOLE, ENTIRE SOCIETY OF LOYAL CONFEDERATES AND THEIR SURVIVORS!” Boudin cut him off in a seeming rage. In truth he was very much enjoying Mahann’s growing dismay. One or two more moves in this particular game, and he would have the Richmond native wholly ensnared in his own lies and half-truths.

“These witless, hopeless, helpless Federals have been seeking after Aynsley’s backers, his supporters and his confederates for three full years. And in all that time they found no trace. They had no suspects, no persons of interest, not so much as one individual they could accuse, much leSsindict in this matter. They had only the remains of some unfortunate fallen Southron boys. They had only the dear, dead Liesl and her equally expired Uncle Stephan.

They had no evidence, no word, no sign, not a single scrap of paper connecting anyone here to the deaths in Washington’s City, or the failed attempt on the Butcher Grant’s life. They had none of that, Mr. Mahann,until you had the temerity to deal your deceptive hand in a game of Risk with the Butcher’s dastardly agents, without consulting myself, or your colleagues. They had nothing, Sir remotely hazardous to our person or the Great Work, until you chose to play your imbecilic would be charade.”

Mahann gasped, and stared from Boudin to Lawson to Smith, and back again. “Sir, that cannot be the case. No, indeed that cannot be, Sir.” he insisted. ‘they must have already known something about the late Professor’s … failed plans, Sir. They must have learned something from this Gordon person. He must have recollected and revealed the matter to them. I know that must be the fact of the matter, Sir, because as I already told you, I revealed NOTHING!”

“I’m well aware of what you already stated. But you stand here condemned out of your own mouth. You decieved the Yankee fools? You lied to them and they believed you? They expected your assistance with Stephan’s cipher in return for funds received, and you broke your word to them? They funded your travels over hundreds of miles and a number of months, and you abrogated your bargain with them? That is what WE ARE TO BELIEVE, SIR?
Indeed I suppose there are those who might have done so.

But as an officer of the Court, as a trial attorney in my youth, sir, I gained an immensely valuable insight into human nature: If a man decieves his enemies for no purpose other than his own insignificant, private, personal gain, he will decieve his allies for the same reason, sir. If a man perjures himself for the sake of a plaintiff one day he will be even more likely to lie under oath for the sake of a defendant on the next. In other words, having admitted you lied to the Federals, sir, you have as much as admitted yourself capable of lying to us. Therefore we have no reason to believe a word you say, and we do not.

They got their grasping, greedy, cloying hands on Aynsley’s strongbox. They got their hands on his records. They had no possible way of knowing where to BEGIN searching for those perilous documents, sir. They had no means of knowing where the late Professor’s home stood. That Federal spy, that Gordon, was quite thoroughly patterned by our late friend Stephan, I assure you. He was absolutely prevented from recalling his brief incarceration there. And he remains to this day the only survivor of Aynsley’s procedures to retain anything resembling the merest level of sanity.

Therefore it was not Gordon who revealed the existence of Aynsley’s home, his laboratory, or the fire there. It could not have been Gordon who recollected for our Federal adversaries the records Stephan kept in minute detail, nor the means by which the late Professor safeguarded those documents. Therefore someone else who knew of all those things made them known to our enemies, sir. And believe me sir, I know exactly who that was, thanks to your erstwhile ally.” Boudin turned from Mahann’s wide dark, terrified gaze for a moment and pointed in the direction of the office doorway, where the Administrator’s assistant once more stood, quaking.

“NO!” Mahann shrilled. “He could not have … He’s lying, Sir. He knows NOTHING! He’s lying! He knows NOTHING, SIR! NOTHING!”

“Be Silent!” Boudin ordered, taking on his would-be-dictator’s manner in full. “You have not been granted permission to speak! Be utterly still and listen well to me! You did indeed take it in mind to search Herr Professor Doctor Aynsley’s grounds. You did indeed hire a carriage here in Baltimore and you did indeed, earlier this winter, drive to the plot. Those are the hard facts in evidence.

The rest of your tale, however, is an utter fraud! You knew exactly who the men searching those grounds for Aynsley’s records were. You knew precisely what they were looking for that day, almost a year ago. You knew to the nth degree what they would find and very nearly exactly where they would find it. You knew all this because you did all you could throughout the period the Great Work went on out of Stephan’s home to pry, to peer, to spy upon and to eavesdrop on his procedures. You tried to learn his theories, his methods and his ciphers. And you failed in that, at least.

But you knew all this because you made it your sneaking, conniving, grasping, traitorous busineSsto LEAD THE DAMN YANKEES THERE and point out precisely at which corner of the property Aynsley’s attic study would have been when the fire started. You helped our enemies find precisely what they need to bring their case to court against us! And for your treachery, sir, you exacted payment from the damnable Yankees!

And if that weren’t enough, sir, you then turned to fabricating this web of lies and distortions you’ve prepetrated on us, since that day. You could not have given the Federals the key to Stephan’s ciphers. No one but poor mad Liesl was ever entrusted with those secrets. You could not have given the Yankees any insight into Stephan’s work as you lack the intellect to begin to grasp his theories. You could not have given the Yankees anything more damning or more damaging to our Work than the contents of that strongbox! Stephan knew how those records could be used against us and protected them with his ciphers.

But you couldn’t break those ciphers. No, you could only lead our enemies to those records. So now, the damnable Federals not only possess Stephan’s strongbox, they have been working to decipher its contents for a good half year! And when they do, my man, when they break Stephan’s cipher, there will indeed be considerable hell to be paid!
But after that you had nothing left to sell them… nothing sir, but our Society, our Work, our Cause and our Lives!
You could only hand our enemies all they need to destroy us. You could only trade the places of our meetings, the sites of our homes, the dates and hours of our gatherings. You could only barter the names of all our supporters, all our friends, our kinsmen, our countrymen AND OURSELVES. AND SO YOU DID, SIR. By your own admission you GAVE THEM NOTHING, NO, YOU SOLD ALL OF THAT TO THE FEDERALS! YOU SOLD US ALL TO THEM!”

Mahann put one long hand to his forehead and rubbed as if he found some speck or splotch to remove there. He was trapped, as surely as he stood here. He was doomed, as certainly as he yet lived. Suddenly he realized why Boudin summoned him here, where so many of the Georgian’s enemies simply vanished without a trace.

“My good sir, “ Mahann answered shaking so hard he could barely speak. “My very good sir, you have very much mistaken me. I never had any … I never once dealt directly with any of our enemies, sir. That being said, while I was acting only as your surrogate here while I was in communication with that fool Administrator… One … one or two of those perfidious Yankees approached … approached my… approached that imbecilic assistant and they … they … broached a truly despicable … agreement, which they purportedly wished to conclude. Well, I was outraged, sir! I was profoundly affronted. And I made certain that they knew I would make no such accord.”

“No, certainly not, sir, undoubtedly you refused them at the first.” Boudin agreed. “Unquestionably they needed to better the terms they were offering. Certainly they needed to make their damnable proposal far more attractive financially. Indubitably it became necessary for them to up their bid, their bid for the sale of one Gideon Alexander Remiel Boudin, and the Society of Loyal Confederates and their Survivors!
You will answer me, sir, you will tell me the price on my head and the heads of our entire noble cohort, as well! You will tell me, Mahann how much you have been paid, how much you’ve been promised, and by whom and what you have done with the DamnYankee blood money you got for my life, for my freedom and for the utter destruction of My Great Work!”

Mahann was staring and speechless for once. His cold grey eyes almost seemed to have acquired a life and a will of their own. They nearly danced in terror now. His head with its black mane of hair, and his whole long frame shook.And now his legs ceased to support him, and the Virginian dropped to his knees, shivering and moaning in front of Boudin.

“Never mind.” Boudin told him, grinning icily down at the wreck. “I know the sum total, my man. I know the entire amount. And I must say I’m bemused. It doesn’t come close to what I would have expected them to pay. Apparently the Butcher’s bungling Administration has made either paupers or misers of its corps of extortionists! And I know through that imbecilic assistant… the damnable fool you thought you owned, just what sort of treachery you agreed to. He was more than willing to reveal what you’ve already done to me and the Society, and what more you promised to do, sir! What a great fool you’ve turned out to be, Mahann. Why, one would almost imagine you must have somehow gone utterly mad to do what you’ve done!”

Terrified, hearing his worst fears confirmed, Mahann shook his head helplessly. He couldn’t seem to speak any longer at all. Instead, he raised his hands in a fruitlessly pleading gesture, one that would have surely moved a great many hearts. Anyone who knew Boudin knew the Haitian-born, Atlanta, Georgia native had given up all semblance of compassion for anyone but Gideon Alexander Remiel Boudin years ago. The matter was settled. Mahann’s doom was entirely sealed.

Boudin turned his ice-grey eyes from Mahann and nodded, smiling to Lawson and Smith. “Gentlemen, it seems we are in need of the Administrator’s services, again. It seems our Mr. Mahann has suffered … what is it the correct term again? Ah yes, he’s evidently suffered a nervous collapse of some sort.

I will send those two barely functional functionaries back to you in just a moment, my friends. And you will of course provide any aid you can to them, in helping our … abruptly unbalanced colleague, here. I would have to suppose he must be committed for an indefinite period of treatment. I’m sure they have all the obligatory documents close at hand. In fact, “ Boudin pulled a thick document, folded in three, from his coat pocket and handed it over to Lawson. “I seem to have brought the crucial documents with me, today.”

The sight of the crucial documents seemed to partly revive Mahann now. He’d seen hundreds just like them and knew their import. There could be no doubt from the size and from Boudin’s comments that this was a package of fraudulently prepared commitment papers! There could be no question now that it was Henry Percy Meriwether Mahann who was to be locked up there, that day either under his own name or more likely a pseudonym.
“Sir, sir, sir, “ Mahann pleaded, hardly able to take his eyes from those damning documents. ‘sir, I … refused … I refused … I … Sir … I never wished … to … to … to…. please, Sir… I never wished…”

“To finally, utterly, and entirely betray The One, the Society and the Great Work?” Boudin concluded. “Yet, you’ve betrayed us all, Henry Percy. You even managed to betray yourself, this time. You betrayed your Great Oath, the oath you took with such fervor, with such dedication during the Conflict. And I know you recall precisely the wording, the working and the worth of that sacred promise. I’ll have you recite it, again for me, now.”

“Now?” Mahann echoed, his voice cracking with strain. “Yes, yes, Sir. The One must be at all times and under all conditions protected. The One who set our Great Work and all our Endeavors in motion must never be … betrayed. The One who is at the core, at the center, at the heart of our Great Work and all our noble plans must not be betrayed to our Great Enemy, ever! Thus we will not speak, or allow his name ever to be spoken. We will not by word or sign or action give any acknowledgment of his presence at the core of The Great Work. That is forbidden, now and forever.

And this is the way in which the One for whom all the Great Work is set in motion will be forever protected: If I remember what is forbidden, I must die. If I remember what is forbidden, I will gladly die rather than betray. Rather than betray the One, I will die. If I remember what is forbidden forever I must die. Rather than betray, I will die. By my own hand, by my own means, and without hesitation, I will die, rather than betray. There is no other option, no other choice to be made if I am to walk the Faultless Path.”

“That is correct. Therefore you will now entirely cease to remember anything you have ever known about The One, the Great Work, or the noble Endeavors of the Society.” Boudin nodded, as calmly as if he’d been given an inventory of supplies, holding an intricately carved ring, with a fiery stone, in front of Mahann’s fearful gaze,. Then he went on to fulfill the long since implanted hypnotic cues in his former cohort’s severely overwrought mind.

“You do not know me, these gentlemen, or those who will shortly join us here. You do not know who you are in plain fact or how you came to be here. You only know you must have become dreadfully ill at some point. You only know you must have done something horrific, which no doubt caused you to forget all you knew. Indeed, it must have been something so egregious that recalling it will surely drive you even further into an abySsof madness, or more likely it will cause you to take your own life. Now let us test that question, again. Just who are you, sir?”

“I … who am… I … who?” the wholly hypnotized Mahann stammered. “I … I don’t know!”

“No, so you’ve already stated. “ Boudin agreed. “And who are these gentlemen?” The Georgian asked, pointing out Smith and Lawson in turn.

“I … I don’t know… them… Sir… I’ve… I’ve never seen them before.” Mahann responded, more and more locked into the patterning he’d received long years back.

“Again, that is what you have told us ever since you came to this place. Do you know what this place is, my man?” Boudin asked. “Come, come, do you know what this place is or how you come to be here, now?”

“N-n-no!” Mahann answered, his voice and his terror rising together. “No, I … I don’t know … I don’t remember coming here! I can’t remember! Didn’t I already say that?”

“Yes, yes, so you did. So you did. But something about you’re coming here does seem to be disturbing you, my good man. What is that? What is troubling you, now?”

“ I … I … don’t … I don’t … remember! I can’t remember!” Mahann rasped out, his throat dry as cotton batting now. “I … I must have done … I must have done something … terrible, mustn’t I? Or else, I could remember it now, couldn’t I, Sir?”

“That does seem to be the core of the matter. Oh and one further point. Do you know who I am, my man? Have you ever laid eyes upon me?” The Georgian demanded, watching for any sign of the hypnotism’s failure. But there was none to see.

“NO!” Mahann shrieked as Lawson and Smith bound him up in a straitjacket. More and more lost, he struggled and screamed again, which brought the Administrator and his assistant both running back in. “NO, I TOLD YOU I DON’t KNOW ANYTHING! I TOLD YOU, I CANNOT REMEMBER AT ALL! I DON’t KNOW YOU; I DON’t KNOW ANY OF YOU! I’ve NEVER SET EYES ON YOU BEFORE… NOT BEFORE NOW, HAVE I? NO! NO! I DON’t KNOW YOU, SIR, I DON’t KNOW ANYTHING! I CANNOT! I CANNOT! I MUST NOT! I CANNOT RECOLLECT ANYTHING, EVER! NO! NO! NOTHING, NOTHING AT ALL! NO! NO!”

“This gentleman seems to have suffered a nervous collapse.” Boudin told them, quietly smiling. “He’s quite dangerously ill, in his mind, as you can well see and hear. And in accordance with our agreement with local heath officials, I am turning this fellow over to your care. All the documentation you will need is here.

Let me see, ah yes, this says he’s been ill for years, a treacherous, murderous madman, who’s suffered recurrent bouts of amnesia as now, and at other times simply became brutally homicidal. His name is given here as Palmerston Conyers Hamilton-Lewis, no family remaining, hailing from old Williamsburg. Mr Smith and Mr. Lawson will be glad to assist you with this gentleman’s … further care. I have something else I must take charge of. See to him, gentlemen, will you?”

The quartet, all of them now struggling with Mahann, knew what Boudin wanted done to the letter. They’d all seen to other gentlemen in similar cases many a time before now. And they knew Boudin’s deep dislike of being delayed.

“Yes, Sir.” They answered and turned back to their now hoarsely babbling, plainly insane charge. None of them wanted to end up like Palmerston Lewis. And all of them knew they easily could, if Boudin was ever so moved.

“ Very well, gentlemen, Abientot. “ Boudin smiled and strode away down the corridor once more.
SCENE TWO Baltimore State Asylum, Baltimore MD the 1870s

Gideon Boudin now pulled out his favorite Meerschaum pipe, an inheritance from his late father, along with a pouch of his most favored tobacco blend: a broken flake of dark Virginia, Syrian Latakia, and black Cavendish. He wasn’t a man to remain satisfied with one purpose, one home, one horse, one wine, one lover, or one blend, but this one had been a favorite since an old school chum introduced Boudin to its peppery-smoky taste and aroma.
The pouch aroma was unmistakable, strong, distinctive and pleasing. The Georgian never once heard even his most sensitive guests at The Cadmea, his estate outside Atlanta, complain of its room-aroma, either. And more importantly now, Boudin knew very well that some friends, acquaintances and even adversaries, identified this tobacco’s signature scent with him, very strongly, and that would serve his present purpose very well indeed.

This represents the one favor you did me, Jimmy, years ago, when I came to William and Mary for the one year only, that I find I can still appreciate. Boudin considered, thinking of his long ago school-friend James Torrance Kieran Randolph. All the rest you sullied, if not ruined once and for all. You wrecked so many lovely possibilities, my dear, old friend! You shattered so many bright hopes and plans.
Well, now I hear you’re finally coming home from Cyprus, with your bereaved daughter and granddaughter in tow, along with dear Joanna and my own cherished sister, Beatrice Helene! And now, soon, you will see the ruin, the wreckage and the shattering I have accomplished in return.

“Our Jessy-Anne’s little boy, our Torry,” Boudin heard Jimmy Randolph saying in a long past memory, “isn’t only all that we have left of his angel-momma, lost to us all those years ago. No, he’s like one of my own to me! He’s bright as a copper penny, Remiel, quick and sure and fine… He’s fired-gold to the rest of the world’s dross, my friend, just as his angel-momma was! He’s our pride, our proud young princeling! He’s the Brian Boru! He’s the light of all our eyes! He’s the shining star of the breed, old friend, the shining star of the breed!

That’s what Torry is, just as Jessy-Anne was, and just as our dear brother Drew was, years ago! I’m proud to say I’ve had part of the raising of our Torry. And he’s surely done us proud, Remy. He always has done us real proud! And when I come to think we could have lost them both, lost Torry and Jessy-Anne both, in that one night, in that awful fire! I don’t know how we would have come back from a blow like that, I surely do not know

Well, old friend, in a short while you will surely learn the answer to that conundrum! Your Torry is well and truly lost these days, old friend, and he shall remain so, so long as I posseSsthe means and the knowledge to ensure that! You will come home, and come here, only to find the boy you loved so well, being your beloved sister’s only surviving child, as hopelessly lost as if he’d gone down with all hands in the midst of some great battle at sea!
But I wonder, my dear old Jimmy, if you will ever discover, if you will ever truly understand how long and just how well I’ve been engineering exactly this destiny for you and a boy you seemed to love more than your own two sons. Shall I make it all known to you at some point, old friend? Shall I let you in on all the darkest, deepest of my plans and plots and secrets, someday, Jimmy? Boudin thought, smiling icily as in the office behind him, his remaining employee hurried to do his bidding.

The Georgian liked it very much when someone, and even better, when a great many someones did his bidding. He was, after all, a born and bred Southron aristocrat! He was after all one of the last scions and survivors of that genteel class from antebellum days. As such Boudin demanded, and with the far flung interests of his parent’s estates, got, what he wanted, at all times and under all conceivable conditions. He was a proud man, certainly. But unlike the hoi polloi, the Georgian knew he had every right to be immensely proud, to be extraordinarily particular, and to be a considerable power in this benighted post-bellum land. And eternally damned be anyone who by word or look or act implied otherwise!

“Sir, we’ve entirely concluded with the solution to … the matter just under discussion.” The Administrator muttered, rushing down the hallway to wave a sheaf of papers at the Georgian. “The proper disposition … has been … made, sir. And the documents are all ready now for … for your perusal, that is, if you would wish to do so, Sir.”

“For my perusal, you say?” Boudin frowned. ‘those documents were fully prepared before they were given into your keeping, sir! Nevertheless, in view of the circumstances, in this one case, I shall peruse them. I shall that is, immediately, when you provide me the proper place to do so, and the proper equipment on which to rest my great grandfather’s Meerschaum!”

“Oh indeed, indeed, of course, of course, Sir!” The floundering functionary agreed, shaking so hard it was difficult to say whether he was also nodding his agreement. “If you will simply take a seat, in my … outer office, Sir. And on Mr. Lawson’s sage advice, Sir, so as not to trouble you any further, I’ve also entirely disposed of my erstwhile assistant. I had no idea, Sir, no idea whatever that young simpleton was was being corrupted by … that other … gentleman, Sir!”

“I can entirely believe you had no idea whatever, my man.” Boudin agreed. “And as for the young imbecile being … corrupted, well, that can happen to the young. However I must, it seems, ask you to be much more particular, now. In what manner precisely has your imbecilic former subordinate been disposed of?”

“Why, why, my good, good, Sir, the young dolt was taken well in hand by our fine Mr. Smith, Sir. And shortly thereafter, Mr. Smith confined the young fool in one of our ‘treatment rooms’ one of those we only make use of when treating our most violent charges, Sir. Oh, I can assure you, I do assure you entirely, Sir, nothing more will be heard of that greedy, that grasping, that … “ The old dolt sputtered and spit with outrage, running quite out of breath, it seemed.

“Imbecile.” Boudin finished. “Yes, I quite understand you. And our Mr. Mahann, that is, poor Mr. Hamilton-Lewis, where is he, just at present? He’s no longer in your office, I should sincerely hope, my man, if you intend me to return there.”

“Oh, no, no, of course he isn’t there, Sir!” The functionary answered. ‘that abject madman, screeching, and screaming every step of the way, I might add, and thereby greatly disturbing the other inmates in that part of the complex, has now been likewise incarcerated, Sir. He is, even now, confined to one of the water-treatment wards, Sir.

He has been fully restrained and indeed is now locked into one of the treatment barrels … that is, tubs, there, Sir. That is, at one time, the receptacles we use were in fact, quite over-sized barrels, Sir. And if need be, as often happens with the hopelessly mad in our facility, Sir, that desperate creature will be forcibly … umm… medicated as per our well-established practice, Sir. You need have no further concern on his account, Sir.”

“Indeed?” Boudin asked. “Well, we shall see, shan’t we? The established practice has been to medicate such violent cases immediately on their admission to this institution, not after they’ve already disturbed their fellow inmates. You seem to have forgotten that, my man, along with a great many of our other dictums regarding the operation of this compound! Therefore, while I am perusing these documents, and the records you were ordered to make available, you will see to that sad wretch’s instantaneous dosing, will you not, my man? Then you will return here, directly!”

“Oh, indeed, yes! Indeed, yes! So I shall, Sir! Oh, immediately, Sir!” The once more frightened fool exclaimed. And after gesturing to his former assistant’s previous working quarters, he scurried away from Boudin as fast as his flabby legs could take him. The Georgian was satisfied upon examining the space to find only a smallish, emptied roll top desk, the Administrator’s own desk chair, the records previously asked for, and an acceptable marble ashtray there. And on the latter of those objects, Boudin now set his pipe, and pulled on his riding gloves once again.

In almost any other circumstances, Gideon Boudin would not have lifted a hand to such menial, clerkish duties, but in these circumstances, he would not allow any other hands, or eyes. He’d sent Lawson, Smith, Mahann, and more than a dozen other surrogates over the past twelve years to make sure all was as he wished regarding this crumbling old complex, and in most cases he’d been satisfied with their undeviating reports of absolute compliance with his dictums.
Now, the Atlanta native was no longer willing to take that assessment at face value. Too many eager county, state and federal beaureaucrats, along with their interminable supernumeraries and low caste menials, wanted to go through these same files, with a fine-tooth comb, just lately. He saw his long awaited prize hanging like a Georgia peach in summer, about to drop into his hand.

He would not lose this chance at grasping all he wanted, all he sought for, and all he was destined to have. So as he combed those dusty files, wearying himself in the musty little office, Boudin was coldly smiling. He had been rightly, justly furious, of course at the betrayal Lawson and Smith uncovered. He had been ready to crush the breath out of Mahann, for his damnable treachery, surely. A
nd Mahann’s fearful confession had merely served to seal the matter for Boudin. Some of those damnable Unionists actually sought to buy their way into these records! What Mahann never realized was that both sides had entrapped him during the proceSsof his desperate double-dealings. Yes, the former Richmond attorney, now a blabbering, screaming amnesiac lunatic, had planned to steal and sell those records. Yes, he made secret, traitorous contact with agents of The One’s Great Enemy.

Fortunately for the Georgian, and unfortunately in the extreme for Mahann and those Federal extortionists, these much sought after records had long since been encrypted, almost as intricately as Stephan Aynsley’s notes and journals. So, all was still on course, despite one or two decidedly frustrating setbacks, Boudin considered.
All would soon be his, at long last, all that he’d been deprived, robbed, denied, and cheated of for so long. And moreover, all those who’d cheated, who’d denied, who’d robbed and who’d deprived the Georgian soon would have what another old friend might have called “just recompense” for their treachery and their transgressions. And he himself, none other, had cast wide the net that drew them, inexorably, into his hands.

Some have mocked my long limbs, and likened me to a “king spider”, spinning my webs, trapping all unwary creatures in my radius, devouring everything within my reach. Well, there may not truly be such a creature within Nature. But, no matter, I have never sought, nor accepted such false constraints. Now what I most desire, what I have too long awaited will be accomplished, and by myself, alone! Now what I myself long since set in motion will live and breathe and become immortal in my grasp!

For the enervating total of one hour and twenty-seven minutes, Boudin worked his way through the records he’d demanded. From one he pulled an invoice, copied and sent off to The Cadmea. From a second, a notice of someone’s hiring and subsequent dismissal, included in correspondence with his former law practice in Atlanta.

And from another file, the Georgian, scowling now, took a list of former guards dismissed late this past spring, noting his estate’s manager as a reference for two thirds of them. With these, and half a dozen other potential ‘stumbling blocks’ cheerily burning in the grate, Boudin turned his focus to the matter that seemed most frightening to the spineless dolt he’d put in place here as Administrator. That fool had duly returned from performing his duty, as ordered, and stood, still shaking like a willow, within the doorway of his own office, as if belonged to anyone but him.

“You also retrieved and compiled the records of those poor souls committed here without a family member’s signature, or petition?” the Georgian asked, turning to his frown on the functionary.

“Y-yes, Sir.” the patent imbecile replied, quaking.

“And you’ve allowed no one else, no one else whomsoever, for any reason whatsoever, to see those documents?” Boudin continued, peering sharply at the idiot.

“N-n-no, Sir. N-n-n-no one but yourself, Sir, not ever in my entire term… er… tenure… er not for any reason whatever … never, Sir!” The babbling fool went on.

“But you have been pressed to do so, especially in the past eight to ten months, have you not, my man? You have come under pressure, just as our unfortunate former cohort did, to open these very files to the importunate eyes and hands of outsiders, have you not?” Boudin asked, knowing the answer as well as he knew Port au Prince where he was born or Atlanta where his grandfather’s plantation, The Cadmea stood, but finding himself enjoying this pallid man’s increasing pallor almost as much as his mounting terror.

“I have, Sir. Y-y-yes, Sir. And all to n-n-no avail whatever, on their p-p-p-part, Sir.” the shaking man answered, picking up and laying the over-full files on the desk in front of the Georgian.

Boudin pulled back from the desk and glared at the Administrator as if the quivering dolt had begun swearing like a stevedore on the Baltimore docks, “ What are these, pray tell?” he demanded, biting off each syllable as if it carried a foul taste.

“Sir, my good Sir, these are the documents you just now … that is, the very documents we were… I mean to say these are the commitment papers to which I just now made reference, my good Sir.” The frightened imbecile replied, his voice rising till it broke.

“But that cannot be the case.” The Georgian icily insisted. “ Do you hear? I say that can not be. You had instructions from our own Mssrs. Smith and Lawson, you nitwit, you dolt, you imbecile. You received instructions to utterly destroy every scrap, every line, each and every jot and tittle as regards those entirely unfortunate cases leSsthan a month ago, you fool. That being the case, how can it be that you maintained these files, entirely abrogating your instructions?”

Now the Administrator jumped half way across the tiny office, staring at Boudin as if the Georgian had become a cobra, raising its head to strike him dead in the next instant. “ No, no! Mister … That is, Sir, please, Sir that is not the case at all! Please, please, my good sir. I received no such instructions! I received no wire, no letter, no correspondence whatsoever ordering the destruction of any asylum records. None, Sir, I do assure you!” the balding, shivering fellow cried.

“Then it is clear to me, sir. That either you, or the person who reported the delivery of those instructions, is guilty of the rankest sort of mendacity!” Boudin exclaimed, wondering if he’d found out yet another traitor to the Great Work.

“Not I, Sir. Not I! Not even once, Sir!” The Administrator insisted.

Boudin studied the man, silently for a moment and then shook his head. “You had no meeting then, with our erstwhile colleague, Mr. Mahann, something over a fortnight past?” he asked.

“No, Sir! I swear to you, Sir, he had not set foot in this complex, much leSs in this office in three or four months time, before this afternoon, Sir. And … “ The trembling functionary insisted.

“Yes, yes, and what, precisely?” the Georgian demanded.

“And on the occasion of our last meeting, Mr. Mahann gave me clearly to understand that he would be gone for the winter, gone to the islands, Sir, for the entire winter season. In the past month, Sir, I received the instructions to gather these records, by wire, Sir, which telegram, as instructed, I of course, destroyed.”

“Of course! That slothful, self-indulgent coxcomb! That indolent, vainglorious, popinjay! That dandified peacock with the pretensions of an eagle!” Boudin paced the office’s width and depth twice over and turned back, still raging. ‘this wire you received, my man, it arrived from what location, when?”

“Wh-why from Atlanta, Sir.” The Administrator stammered, his pale eyes bulging in his yet paler face. “I was in receipt of that wire … on the 17th instant of last month, Sir.”

“And the missive, Mr. Administrator, came with whose signature, if you please? Was it our Mr. Mahann’s?”

“N-n-no, Sir. It arrived with the signature of our Mr. Lawson, Sir, Saul Lawson.” The dolt answered.

Boudin’s thick eyebrows flew upwards at this reply, reminding the frightened Administrator of nothing so much as vultures taking flight. Then he smiled and nodded to himself and the man behind the desk became still more frightened. "So, either I have been, until just lately, gulled by one incompetent, self-absorbed fool; who sought to make me believe I am betrayed by another of his cohort, or I am doubly betrayed! Which do you think pertains in this situation, my man?”

“Sir, in all honesty, Sir, I do not believe our Mr. Lawson has a disloyal bone in his body, Sir. I imagine I should have retained that wire for your perusal, Sir. However, I am after all this long while in the firm habit of doing just the opposite with any such documents, Sir.”

“Indeed. No doubt our erstwhile betrayer, Mr. Mahann, forged the message you received. And I concur with your opinion of our Mr. Lawson. If anything, Mr. Lawson has shown himself more zealous than his entire cohort put together, in pursuit of our shared goals. I have nothing but the utmost confidence in him. Boudin nodded, knowing as well as the fool in front of him that he had utmost confidence in no one other than himself

“Very well. You will next complete the task I have begun here, my man. You will eradicate these commitment papers and all the files pertaining to them, consigning them to the flames here as I have been doing. But before you carry out their destruction, you will open each file for my … perusal. Beginning, now, my man.” Boudin ordered and smiled tautly as the soon to be former Administrator dithered about, opening, shredding and transferring these genuinely damning files to the red-hot grate.

They had been used to condemn some hundred and seventy eight, all of them Boudin’s perceived enemies, to be fraudulently committed here. When the one hundred and-seventy ninth file was about to follow the rest, Boudin stopped the still quaking man, and placed the tip of his ebony walking stick on the fellow’s arm.

“Lay that one on the desk, and open it fully, so I may read. Then, when I tell you, and not a moment beforehand, you will consign each separate form and document to the flames, Well, begin, my good man.”

“Y-yes, yes, of course, Sir. “ The Administrator, a marginally prudent man who had no wish to find himself on the receiving end of the Georgian’s powerful wrath, thus complied.

One “Jonathan North Traherne” was the subject/inmate noted, observed and recorded in this file. “Herr Professor Doctor Stephan Johannes Sebastian Aynsley” was the physician
of record on “Traherne’s’ case. A long time judge of the circuit court for the Baltimore region even appeared to have properly signed off on the commitment decree.Further documents in the thin file had to do with ‘observations’ made of and ‘treatments’ given this “Jonathan Traherne”.

Each one of several dozen observations echoed the Professor Doctor’s original statement, and noted this inmate as “violently, hopelessly insane”, “a clear danger to himself and others’, and a “cunning lunatic able to make himself appear passive, helpless, almost catatonic, at one moment, only to launch into verbal and physical attacks on anyone in his reach, the next instant.” Further notes in the file gave “Traherne’s’ physical description and more details of his presenting symptoms, diagnosis, and prognosis, as well as mentioning the numerous bronchial infections and quartan fevers he’d presented with, to doctors doing clinical rounds during his two years in this asylum.

Torry could have died on any number of occasions, since I left him here. Boudin surmised, reading each report before tapping it with his cane and watching it burn. And I would have been gratified to a large extent if he had convenienced me in that fashion. But then, if “Jonathan Traherne” had passed away at some point in the last two years, I would have lost the chance to observe the shocked and dismayed reactions of his nearest and dearest remaining kin!
And I have no intention of missing the tender reunion between those family members! No doubt, further attempts will be made to overturn “Traherne’s’ commitment with the additional help of his family. No doubt one or another of those attempts will finally succeed. But as to the condition “Traherne” is released in… well, I still have something to say, or rather, something to do about that!

“Sir, my good, good, Sir, I … please excuse me, for interrupting your train of thought, Sir. But there…there is something… something more as regards that last patient, that Traherne, Sir.” The Administrator offered, looking to Boudin as if he would collapse from the strain of so much daring.

“Yes, yes, what is it now?” Boudin demanded, frowning darkly and quite enjoying the terror springing back to life in the man’s beady eyes.

“It’s in this part of that young, blind madman’s file, Sir. It’s in the newest portion of his file, Sir. You … may wish to … to peruse it, also, before it’s destroyed, as well, Sir.”

Swallowing a taut grin that threatened to stretch across his face, the Georgian read the offending document. Then he looked up with a scowl at the Administrator.“What’s this I see here, my good man? What’s this about “Traherne’ and so many other likewise hopelessly mad inmates, being removed from the general population? What’s this about monies spent on some alleged improvements and additions to the infirmary here? Were your orders, after all, so ambiguous as to allow you their utter abrogation? No, sir, I think not, my good sir!

Your orders were to maintain young master Traherne in no more and no less a state and place than he had on his arrival. Your orders were to maintain him in the general population where it might be hoped he would obtain some benefit from the natural stimulation of human company, however impaired, my good sir! And only on those occasions when Traherne's own mania made his residing there a danger to himself and other inmates, was he to be removed for treatment, always, always I tell you, only on a temporary basis! I will have an explanation for this egregious disregard for the understanding reached on this young lunatic’s arrival as with all these others, and that
at once, my good sir!”

“Sir, my very good Sir, I … I communicated these … departures from the agreement, in full, and in writing, to, as I thought proper at the time, quite wrongly as it turns out, now, our … Mr. Mahann. Sir, I acted in all good faith, in communicating these matters to him. And in most cases he made no response at all, thereby, as I’ve always understood, giving assent to th … these changes.
Sir, we were finally ordered, by county and state health officials, to make these changes, sir. And among their most strident demands, with the consequences being the immediate closure of this institution, was the removal of a list of some eighteen inmates from the general ward.”

“Sir, these demands were made numerous times! These demands came well in advance of the county’s tax auction notice! And as the general ward was becoming … more populous, as usual with the autumn and winter weather this year… And with the fevers so prevalent in the main population, Sir, and the demands of these varied governmental officials… I…

Sir, if I’d known at the time of making these changes, that the complex would be … was facing …will be auctioned…Sir, I …did what was demanded of me. I did only that, Sir, and nothing more.” The Administrator, now back to quaking again, as if a gaping earthquake fault-line had appeared under his feet, almost danced as he tried to allay Boudin’s outrage. At least he could direct it onto a third party, he hoped.

“And my orders, and my understanding, Sir, has… have always been that no such communication should be directed to you, or to any of your fine dwellings, or your Atlanta offices, my very good Sir.”

“I see.” the Georgian said, nodding curtly, still privately enjoying the pallid man’s dismay greatly. “Well, you had that last correctly at the least. Now, before anything else can be found to cause my ennui to worsen you will immediately show me how these monies I was not informed about have been squandered on this old wreck of a complex. It certainly does not satisfy me to know that the results any such spending will now either end up in rubble when a new owner demolishes this place, or worse as a benefit to their operations here!”

”Yes, Sir! That is, I meant to say, no, no indeed not, Sir!” The bumbling fool stammered.

Boudin smiled frigidly and stood up, stretching his extraordinarily long limbs as he did so. “Well, lead the way, man!”

“Y-yes, Sir. The infirmary remains; naturally in its same location, Sir, at the far end of the corridor, just off to your left, Sir. The rooms were cleared as I mentioned are also along that corridor, Sir. And in truth, Sir, very little monies were needed or expended. We merely, only partially, cleared out some old, dilapidated items stored there. Nothing, Sir, I assure you; nothing of any value was removed from these premises.

The …ummm… the health officials who required these measures, as I said, refused to make use of any items which I, in true generosity, offered them, Sir. Instead they actually brought in new items: cots and mattresses, wheeled chairs, a small, cast iron stove, bathing tubs, new linens, garments, books, a plethora of small, odd, hand carved objects, with which these poor delusional souls supposedly exercise their faculties. And they brought pillows, Sir. Pillows! Furthermore, they had the gall to bring in the most appalling and volatile compounds with which their own menials purportedly scrubbed the floors, the walls and the windows in those few, small rooms!”

“They are quite madly obsessed, Sir, with some European nonsense about the mechanism by which diseases are spread, Sir! Can you imagine, can you, Sir, these functionaries, these governmental supernumeraries, tried to tell me the entire complex should be cleaned in the same absurd, and dangerously noxious fashion! They tried to tell me our inmates would not then, or at the least would less often contract diseases that no one knows how to control, Sir! They spoke of controlling the occasion and the spread of cholera, Sir, and pneumonia, quartan fevers, diphtheria, and a host of other ailments known to be incurable! What sort of cruel hoax these meddlers are attempting to propagate, Sir, I have no idea!”

“At least two or three of these persons, these officials, Sir, have been hounding my office almost day and night for months, now, Sir! They want a kitchen to be established and run within this complex! They want this, they want that! They want everything from a roof to be constructed over the courtyard, to a garden for the inmates to work in, in fair weather, to a greenhouse, for the rest of the year, to fresh meat and vegetables purchased and prepared according to their specifications, in this presumed kitchen, every day, Sir! They are surely among the most importunate, over-zealous, over-eager, and demanding persons, Sir, with whom I have ever been acquainted!”

“Yes, yes, I see, how very wearying for you. I’m nearly exhausted, just listening.” Boudin shook his head, and went back to tamping and drawing on his pipe. The man was patently a fool, and certainly never got this post due to his paltry medical training. No doubt, even though it was gaining some acceptance, men like this would go on denying the curative powers of Listerism for the next thirty or forty years, if some catastrophe didn’t change their perspective.

“So, these hopeless cases, Mr. Administrator, now have separate quarters along that corridor, there?” Boudin asked, impatient to be rid of the fool, now.

“Yes, Sir, yes. Well, no, no, Sir… There aren’t any separate quarters. Why, to do that we’d have clear out the entire upper floor of every building in the complex! No, sir. What we have are merely the same storage rooms as before, with the minimum space cleared in each… for some cots, a table, a shelf, well no, not a shelf, there were always some shelves…”

“Be still.” The Georgian commanded him very quietly. “I wish to make my own observations of these rooms and their occupants. Since I never have and never will willingly surrender my capital in support of the Federalist monstrosity we nowadays, laughingly, call the national government in Washington’s City, this complex will soon be leaving my possession. Oh, and by the way, my good man, do you happen to have any matches? I’m in tremendous need of a relaxing pipe, just now. “

“Y-y-yes, Sir, of- of course, Sir.” The quaking man fumbled in his pockets, at length producing a tin of matches. These he held out to Boudin, as a nervous lion tamer might hold a steak out to his largest and hungriest feline.

“These will have to do, I suppose. I did think you might have some matches designed to be used for lighting one’s pipe.” Boudin sighed, and left the Administrator to quake yet more while he filled and tamped and filled and lit and tamped until the Meerschaum was finally drawing to his satisfaction. Then, the Georgian threw a heavy purse onto the small desk.
“You will now, on the instant, absent yourself as far from this office, this complex, and this benighted country as you can go, where I care not, with these funds. And don’t dast think of asking for any more, ever, lest you meet our poor Mr. Hamilton-Lewis’ sad fate, yourself, my man. Do we clearly understand one another?”

“Perfectly clearly, Sir. And may I say …” The Administrator offered.

“You may not.” Boudin answered, cordially, leaving the ashen man still more pale. The Georgian knew the man was well and truly frightened but for how long? Hadn’t he proven himself too witless to be properly wary of Mahann’s treacherous machinations? Hadn’t
he proven himself an absolute coward in the face of regional and Federal investigator’s bullying? Wouldn’t it be best all around to be done with this doddering fool once and for all?

”I’ve changed my mind.” The Georgian said, before the Administrator could take a step. “Give me pen and paper, a candle and some sealing wax, and at once. And when I complete my missive, you will deliver it, sealed, into our Mr. Lawson’s capable, loyal, hands. And you may believe me, my man, I will know if you dast defy me by reading the contents of this private communiqué. It is for Mr. Lawson’s and Mr. Smith’s eyes only. So I will once more, and for the last time ask, do you take my meaning entirely, sir?”

“Why, why, yes, yes, surely, of course, Sir!” The dolt nodded, scrambling through the maelstrom on his desk for the implements of his own doom, making it clear to Boudin that just the opposite was true. Within the next moment, Gideon Boudin had written, signed and sealed his ‘missive”. He folded it twice and stuffed it into into the imbecile’s coat pocket

“You are excused, sir. Be on your way.” The Georgian nodded, hiding a grin behind one long, silk gloved hand as the dolt marched off towards his own destruction, just as he’d willingly sent so many others to theirs. Now Boudin strode towards the refurbished infirmary. He glanced in the doorway two down from the infirmary and smiled at what he saw already in place there. Knowing what he knew, the Georgian realized only one more cue was needed, now, to end this “play”.

Yes, now we come to the endgame, at long last, Jimmy, old dear. The Georgian told the image of his used-up, wholly defeated, enemy-friend from years past. And we will see it out to that end, together, Jimmy. We will see how your ‘shining star”, your young champion, your beloved Torry shatters and crumbles into nothingness now, all to pay for your transgressions against me and our long ago friendship! And I wonder, will that quite break your foolishly sentimental old heart for you? Will it kill you, old friend, literally or at the least figuratively, to learn how I’ve conspired, and connived against you and “your Torry”, since he was barely out of swaddling clothes? Will it destroy you, old friend to learn how I’ve worked against you both, since Torry was toddling about so adorably, your dear ‘momma’s old house, adored by all?

His pipe was relaxing the Georgian already; the “English blend’ spicy and strong and a touch exotic, exactly to his own tastes. But his excitement at today’s events showed in a glint that never quite left his ice-grey eyes. Now that tobacco was sending the peppery, smoky tell-tales of its presence down this narrow corridor, into all the open doorways there, just as he meant it should.

Only let Jimmy hurry back to see the moment you turn from him to your Dearest old Remy! Let Jimmy see and hear how his sister’s son has come to need, to care for, and to call for his oldest and dearest of friends! Let me see that old man’s face crumple like an infant’s, and hear his once powerful voice break and quaver! One he has believed all this while was his own precious lad, dearer to him than his own sons, let him see as mine alone, now and forever after! I could live on that moment’s reckoning alone, for an eon!
But there will be far more to live on and live for! Just as I promised, dearest, so long ago! You will bring me to the shining Day of Reckoning and Resurgence, dearest. You will fulfill the Glorious Destiny I swore you’d have! And all our enemies, dearest, will stand and gape and fall away like the hollow, heartleSsfools they are! You were surely born to bring about the settling of scores that was always to be mine, as the First Emperor of the Resurgent Confederate America, Gideon Alexander Remiel! And I was born to teach you, shape you, and all but recreate you, dearest, to become the New-Risen South’s Matchless and Most Beloved Martyr-Liberator, James Torrance Kieran West!
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SS novice field agent

610 Posts

Posted - 02/09/2009 :  11:21:30  Show Profile
SCENE THREE The Oval Office, The White House, Washington, DC

“No. That is not even minimally acceptable to me, Thomas. In fact I find that to be an entirely insupportable notion, to say the very least.” Ulysses Grant insisted, scowling at Thomas Macquillan, Frank Harper, Jeremy Pike, and Jacques D’eglisier in that order.

“Mr. President, all due respect, I feel certain this is the identical request Jim West would make himself, if he were addressing you, just now, Sir.” Mac answered, keeping his tone calm. It was not his job to tell the Man when the Man was wrong. Not usually.

“I know it is. And I would give him exactly the identical answer. I am not in the habit of ignoring the needs of my friends and subordinates, as all of you, and James, when he’s well, very well know. And from what you tell me, it seems quite clear our young firebrand needs to see… that is, to know without any question whatever, that I am entirely well, and moreover, was unharmed in the attack, due to his own undaunted actions. In fact, it seems to me James deserves nothing less than that from me, and a great deal more than the blasted medal I seem to be having such difficulty getting the CongreSs to vote him!” Grant replied, gesturing in the general direction of the Capitol Building.

“Sir,” Frank said, dry-scrubbing his face and taking his turn at “bearding the lion’. “It might just be that the CongreSs isn’t as sure as we all are that Jim saved your life that day.”

“No, blast their narrow-eyed perspective to Perdition!” Grant exclaimed. ‘the Medal of Honor Committee, and the Congress as a whole, has come within inches of disputing my own deposition on those events! One step further and they would be accusing me of perjuring myself to aid a loyal friend! You know as well as I do, and so does that damn fool Committee, that James earned such an accolade twenty times and more by this time! Yet they delay and delay and seek to deny him even as little as that! Well, I won’t have it!”

“I won’t have any more suggestions that I should act in such a timorous, dishonorable manner where that same friend is concerned, gentlemen! I am going to see our young friend down in Baltimore, since we still seem to be absurdly blocked in the effort to remove him from that … wretched place. And frankly, that is something I still cannot comprehend. All this lawyerish nonsense about James being falsely committed there should have been resolved months ago at the least!

And when I’ve done that, my next step will be to the mayor of Baltimore, the County administrator, and the governor in Annapolis. There I will let them know precisely what I think of the contracting of supposed indigent care and protection facilities in their city, county and state! You are all quite welcome to accompany me on that excursion. However, from what you’ve reported, a crowd of visitors might prove more disturbing to James than otherwise. Artemus and the … doctor are keeping a close watch on the lad now, are they not?”

“Yes, Sir.” The whole group chorused.

“But surely not only those two are keeping an eye on our firebrand, just now?” The President demanded, wide eyed. “All respect to Artemus’ skills and the doctor’s knowledge, and vice versa, the persons who left James there have proven themselves not only mad but dangerous in the extreme.”

“No, Sir.” Jeremy shook his head, taking his turn answering the Commander in Chief. “We’ve actually developed a small cadre of agents to keep watch there, on a rough sort of rotation. I’m sorry there hasn’t been a time you could meet them. And a lot of them volunteered for this duty, being friends of Jim’s like Tommy Newhouse, Terry Hawks, Chris McIntire and Danny Hoffner, for example, or protégés of ours, such as Mac’s son, young Mairtin, Frank’s youngsters, young Rob and Tom Harper, and Artie’s young Texan friend, Sean Oriel Hoynes.

As a matter of fact, Mr. President, following the General Amnesty, and ever since Artie recruited that black-haired San Antonio tombstone, we’ve had a flood of applicants and new agents from the South coming into the Service. And some of them, not very surprisingly, are related one way or another to that very firebrand we’re all talking about. We’ve had Jim’s cousins Ben and Jemison Singer from Raleigh join up. They’re part of that cadre, right now. Then there’s Dr. Michael Spencer from Chattanooga, another cousin by marriage, Dan Morrissey, Thaddeus and Micah Kuenle, Randolph James Alexander, and Rhys Eilian Parry, who’s also a minister. And the newest batch includes a young neighbor of Jim’s from Norfolk, Travis Barret Madsen.”

“Very good. I want to meet these new agents at the earliest instant it can be arranged, gentlemen. It is past time for our Southern brothers to be accepted as such once again.” Grant muttered, as if granting thousands of former Confederates amnesty was no real accomplishment.

“Very well, gentlemen, stop scowling at your Commander in Chief and get ready to accompany me to Baltimore within the week. I will not put off seeing our friend James even a single day longer than that, I assure you. All right, Thomas, you’re obviously not ready to acquiesce. What further objections must I listen to now?”

“Mr. President, I stepped down as your Chief Security Advisor some months after you took office. I did that because I knew Jim West could step into that role and do us all proud. And that he has.” Macquillan sighed, folding his arms, knowing very well he might not win this argument, either.

“Now I’ve got the job back, despite being perfectly willing to hand it off to any of these fellows or their successors. And as long as I’m in this job I have to do it, Sir, as I swore, to the best of my abilities, always. Therefore I am asking you once more, just as Jim would in my place, to wait until he’s not surrounded by treacherous enemies of yours and a population mostly made up of … madmen, Sir.”

“And having waited over a year now for James to be removed from just those dangers, how much longer do you suggest I must do that, old friend?” The President demanded, turning his bright, deep set eyes on the Bostonian.

“Jeremy, didn’t Artie say he’d had another letter from Jeanny Stuart?” Mac asked his long time friend and partner instead of directly answering ‘the Man’.

“Yes, he did, Mac. And she wrote that barring unforeseen problems at sea, she would arrive in Baltimore later this week, with her father, Jimmy Randolph.” Pike answered.

“Mr. President, as it turns out, we need Mr. Randolph’s help to gain Jim’s release from that miserable place. Even though Thomas here was given Jim’s power of attorney, nearly ten years ago, just before Jim’s father passed on, Jimmy Randolph became Jim’s legal guardian twelve years earlier, when Stephen, nearly died of yellow fever. The earlier agreement pretty much contradicts and effectively nullifies the later one, Sir, especially since Randolph is Jim’s oldest surviving blood relation.”

Ulysses Grant paced and studied the row of agents lined up before him and shook his head. “Gentlemen, as a group of my former officers, you must be aware that as of this moment you could not possibly pass Army muster. Your shoulders slump, your gazes wander. And your general appearance is sloppier than mine was on entering the McLean House, some years back, with far less cause. None of you have ridden a bad stretch of road in a Virigina spring time, the state of that road varying from sinkholes of mud to clouds of dust. None of you went to sleep for the last week with a migraine, waiting for General Lee and his staff to see the reason of the matter.

Furthermore, I find your whole attitude in this to be spiritless at best at this juncture. Nevertheless, I am, for once, pleased with your report, especially yours, Mr. Pike. It clarifies a matter that has genuinely perplexed me for the past year and a little more. But, it seems to me the central question remains unanswered. I shall therefore restate it: When can I expect James West to be released from his wrongful confinement in that so-called asylum? Is that something any one of you is prepared to tell me?”

“Yes, Sir.” Macquillan nodded. “James Randolph sent the necessary documents to his son Paul, in Norfolk, nearly a month back. As soon as the elder Randolph is in this country once more he and those papers will be presented to the District Court in Baltimore. Once that’s done, we’ll take the old gentleman to the asylum, where an officer of the Court will present the Judge’s release order.

Since there can be no further question of holding him there at that point, we’ll simply take Jimmy out of that place, along with Miguel de Cervantes. At this time, the plan is to take the youngster to the home, and more precisely, the hospice/clinic Senora de Cervantes has already established near Richmond. Mr. Randolph may want his nephew to come home to Norfolk at some future point. But it seemed best at first that Jim be under the doctor’s care as he continues to recover.”

“And what are you leaving out now, Thomas, that leads you to that odd conclusion? Wouldn’t James be better off in familiar environs?” Grant demanded.

“Sir, at this point, and as part of our correspondence with Jeanny Stuart and her father, it was generally agreed that taking Jim back to his grandmother’s home, or his uncle’s in Norfolk might cause … might be more disturbing for him than a less familiar place.” Mac answered. “A large part of what happened to the youngster had to do with disrupting, with distorting his memories of growing up there, Mr. President. And considering what he still has to deal with, a “change of venue” as it were seemed the best choice right now. “

Grant frowned again and shook his head sadly. Of all the things he hated about ordering soldiers, or agents, as in this case into hazardous duty, the harm they took doing that duty had to be the worst. “And as regards the injuries James took in saving my life nearly four years ago, Jacques, has there been any change? Have we any hope, as I thought I’d been told that our young friend might regain his eyesight, for example?”

“Oui, M’sieur,” Jacques D’eglisier answered, with a typically Lyonnaise shrug. ‘doctor de Cervantes was highly confident on that subject when he began his work with James. I was not sanguine at first myself, on the proposed method, that of replacing James’ damaged corneas with those from a … from a cadaver. But since then I’ve read many of the articles that influenced Miguel’s conception, and some that he published himself. It sounds quite shocking, oui, but it is not impossible.

Mais, we cannot do this at all, without either Jim’s consent or his uncle’s. There is far, far too much risk. Indeed, it is tantamount to surgery on the nervous system or the brain, which no one now attempts, M’sieur. It’s unheard of. And yet, only a decade ago, M’sieur, when the War was still in progress, thoracic surgery was also unheard of. No one even thought of operating on men with internal injuries, except in the attempt to remove a bullet or the fragment of a burst shell. Otherwise, at that time, those patients we knew were injured, even bleeding internally, either survived without surgery, or they … did not survive.”

“I see. Well, thank you. You’re all excused, gentlemen. I’ve rattled your cages enough for one day, I’d have to guess.” Grant sighed. “I’ll expect your report on the release of our young firebrand as soon as it happens. Just keep this firmly in mind: I will be going to see James, whether in Baltimore or Richmond within the next fortnight. That is my final word on the subject. Dismissed.”

“Yes, Sir. Thank you, Sir. Merci, M’sieur, Thank you, Mr. President.” The agents chorused, and beat a deferential, if hasty, retreat from the Commander in Chief’s still scowling presence.
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SS novice field agent

610 Posts

Posted - 02/09/2009 :  11:22:20  Show Profile
SCENE FOUR Baltimore State Asylum, Baltimore, MD

The whole complex was in chaos. And as far as Gideon Boudin was concerned, nothing could possibly serve his purposes better. The Administrator, his assistant, and the gentleman who’d claimed to be standing in for Boudin here for the past three months, and more had all vanished without any sign, without a trace left behind. A good number of the guards took this as a chance to flee the complex. They were quickly disabused of that idea by a new cadre of guards and “attendants’, armed with repeating rifles and, when required, a plentiful supply of narcotics with which to subdue these would-be deserters.

At this crucial juncture, the Georgian intended no one should leave his “employ” here unless they did so in the same way so many of his perceived enemies had done before them. Those new guards took up round the clock watches on the whole asylum compound, establishing and maintaining their authority by sheer terror. And as Boudin watched with unveiled enjoyment, terror was spreading faster than a fever through that segment of the inmate population who remained capable of reacting to anything, now.

The new group of attendants was just as busy. They began a regimen of searching and inspecting each ward and treatment room on a three times daily schedule. And in every search they found more inmates in high panic, requiring more ‘treatments’. It would not do, Gideon Boudin made extremely clear, for the county, state and Federal official coming to oversee the tax auctionto find the asylum’s charges out of control.

The guards Lawson and Smith hired years ago were also found and reinstated now. These Boudin assigned, through his subalterns, to guard and when ordered, search the inmates in the ‘dangerous wards’ and ‘treatment rooms’ off the main courtyard. And as the Georgian fully expected, the guards he now recalled to that service easily managed even the worst cases, by means of the same sadistic brutality they previously employed here. It was those guards who duly noted the admittance of three more uncontrollably screaming maniacs into their “care”.

That was nothing new here. Nor were the claims these lunatics made when they managed anything resembling comprehensible speech. To the vast amusement of their fellow ‘dangerous’ inmates and the guards, two of these new admissions protested that they had been part of that now missing trio of erstwhile authority figures! The third madman didn’t manage even that much in the way of complaint. In fact, when morning rounds began two days later, he was discovered face down in one corner of that dangerous ward, stone cold dead.

Somehow, in the short time following his incarceration and first session of “water treatment’, this tall, black haired, strongly built fellow found the means, the guard’s report stated, to slit both his wrists and make a try at cutting his throat. No one in the ward or the complex as a whole had any idea how that could have happened. No one knew how the late “Palmerston Conyers Hamilton-Lewis’ got possession of the shards of glass he’d used to take his own life. For several years now, glaSs windows had been officially banished from the compound in light of their potential danger to precisely such deranged wretches as these.

Gideon Boudin stood in the erstwhile Administrator’s office, watching disinterestedly as “Hamilton-Lewis’ mortal remains were interred in the courtyard. His interest was far more taken by the message coming through on the telegraph device he’d ordered installed here several years back. His interest was secondarily on the finely built, attractive young man operating that equipment, another one of Boudin’s latest protégés from the University of Georgia at Athens.

“Read that back to me, I believe I have the gist of it, now.” The Georgian demanded.

“Yes, Sir. The message is from our Mr. Devlin up in Washington’s City, Sir. He reports that half the town is alive with rumors of a Presidential trip to Maryland, probably to Annapolis, and here to Baltimore Sir. The other half of the rumors he’s hearing now state that instead of coming here, Grant will be traveling to Richmond, as he hasn’t been there since the Conflict was ending. Either way, word is Grant will be traveling to one destination or the other within the fortnight, Sir.” The young man answered.

“The mountain has chosen to come to Mohammed, then!” Boudin chortled, stepping closer to his young assistant. “I knew this would happen! I knew that damnable Butcher could not keep away from the boy indefinitely! I knew he would insist on coming to see “Jonathan West’, sooner or later! This talk of going to Richmond is just so much political prattle!

The Great Enemy is coming here, coming into our hands once more! And we will be sure to properly greet him on his long awaited arrival! Send this back to Devlin: Keep close touch with our best source close to the subject there and report your findings on the instant. The device in place here is about to be out of order on a permanent basis. Do you have all that, my dearest lad?”

“Yes… Yes, Sir.” The ‘lad’ answered, keeping his hands and his eyes on the task he was given.

“Very well. As soon as you’ve finished that, you will demolish the device, just as instructed. I see no reason to put such expensive equipment into the hands of the Federal fools who are no doubt poised to take over this compound. Oh, and you were going to bring me a fresh package of matches for my pipe, have you done so?” Boudin asked, indolently holding out one hand, in what he believed to be an entirely suitable and regal manner.

“Yes, Sir. Here they are, Sir.” The collegian nodded, standing up and tearing the telegraph wires out of the device, as he finished the message. “I went to the tobacconist you requested, Sir. And as they had a new supply, I also brought you some of the English blend you told me you liked. I hope you’ll accept it as a small token, Sir, of my … esteem and appreciation … I believe it is the right blend.”

Boudin took the matches but at first, only scrutinized the bag of tobacco as the lad held it out. “Very kind of you, very attentive… Let me see… Yes, you remembered correctly.” The Georgian finally answered.”I wouldn’t touch those new blends for all the tea in China! Without at least a touch of latakia they’re nearly flavorless, not to say utterly plebeian! You’re turning into a good, thoughtful, quite discerning lad, aren’t you?”

“I … I surely hope to… Sir.” The young man answered, keeping his eyes down, and his manner subservient, as Boudin also preferred. “Shall I start on my other tasks now, Sir? You had requested that I finish disposing of all sealed records here, lest they fall into the Enemy’s hands, Sir.”

“Yes, yes, well, that can wait for a bit, just for a bit, my lad. I’ll also require your assistance in moving one of our frailer inmates to another one of the rooms separated from the main ward, in a little while. You’ll know when. He’s in far too fragile a condition to withstand all this tumult. So I know you will help me to help the poor wretch to more sheltered quarters, removed from any further … interference.” Boudin replied.
SCENE FIVE The main ward, Baltimore State Asylum same day

An hour and a half later thick, grey plumes of smoke filled the hallway outside the Administrator’s office. When the alarm was sounded throughout the complex, Jim’s cousin, Jemison Singer hurried to help his new colleague, Miguel de Cervantes escape the choking fumes. Artemus Gordon easily lifted and carried Torry, and together this odd quartet made their way down to the main ward, while guards and attendants rushed upstairs.

“But, ‘temus-Poppa,” Pocket Torry grinned as they reached the lower level. “Whyn’t we go down on th’ leleevater?”

“Well because lots of other folks were using it to go upstairs, Pocket.” Artie answered, wondering at the gift he seemed to be developing for telling the “brothers’ apart these days. “And we wanted to get… Miguel away from all that smoke in a hurry. It makes him cough, and that’s not what we want. We want Miguel to … to breathe and go on breathing.”

“Well, I’m gratified to hear you say so, Artemus.” Miguel chuckled. “Thank you. Now, Pocket, come sit with me, while all those big folks scurry around trying to find out where all that smoke came from. I think it was starting to get your cough going again, too, wasn’t it? Jemison, did you bring the hard candy with you today that I’d mentioned? They seem to help Torry’s throat and even his breathing when he doesn’t chew them too quickly. And besides, I like sour candies, too.”

“They’re right here, Doctor.” Jemmy said, holding out a brown paper sack full of hard candy to Miguel and handing one piece to Torry. ”Now, Little Cousin, will you take just one at a time? And try to hold it in your mouth a while, instead of crunching it the way you did the last time, please?” The Raleigh native asked.

“Otay, Jemmee-dokker.” Pocket giggled, plopping the candy into his mouth and plunking down next to Miguel. “Wees just like thems middle parts too many t’ be waitin’ on “em, figger.”

“Figure you do, Little.” Jemmy laughed in turn. “Artemus, is something the matter? You’re being pretty quiet.”

“No, no, nothing really, Jemison. And I thought you were going to start calling me Artie. Anyway, I suppose I’ve just got a suspicious nature, is all. I’m sitting here wondering what was making all that smoke. Didn’t it seem like a lot to you? And from what little I saw before we ran down here, there was a lot of paper ash in it? Someone must have been burning a whole lot of paper, it seems to me.

And the only large amounts of paper in this complex are or rather, were, the records in the Administrator’s office!” Artie sighed. ‘so I have to call this fire rather suspicious. The place is about to be auctioned for back taxes and the records all of a sudden go up in smoke? And on top of that, the pair of idiots who were claiming to be fully in charge here have both now somehow vanished? How can that be? Grown men don’t just vanish, present company, naturally excluded!”

“Naturally, Mr. Gordon.” Miguel giggled. “However, since I feel you may be most concerned with the records by which the Torry’s were illegally committed here, let me reassure you. I took the opportunity, some weeks back, to filch those very documents from the Administrator’s office and replace them with similar but even more fraudulent copies. I haven’t had such a good reason to go back to my old sleight of hand, trompe d’oeuil techniques in a long while, so it was rather amusing.”

“And those documents, where are they now, Miguel?” Jemmy asked, thinking Artie wouldn’t. “Not upstairs in your study where any of the bad guys here could walk in and retrieve them?”

“No, no!” Miguel grinned. “You’re quite right that would have been an exercise in futility at best! No, the whole lot of them went to Richmond, to my dearest Lady-wife there, in the last packet Jacques was kind enough to take her. As a matter of fact, Jacques has gone down to see Antoinette so often, it’s a very good thing indeed, as it turns out, that I’ve not a single jealous bone in my body.”

Artemus bit back a grin and was working hard, the next moment, not to laugh out loud at his declaration “Not one, not even one jealous bone, Doctor?” The older agent finally managed to ask.

“Wazz jelluss bohn, ‘temus-Poppa? Wazz jelluss bohn, Mee-gel?” Pocket demanded. “Wazz izz?”

“Well, Torry,” Jemmy began, as both Miguel and Artie worked not to laugh at the child’s latest vocabulary question. “If our friends don’t mind my answering for them, it means that Miguel doesn’t mind if Antoinette is friends with our friend Jacques or other fellows. And some grown fellows do mind that sort of thing, when they’re married, sometimes. It just depends.”

“Oh otay. Wees ken figger dat. Dat’s what us’ns newes’ friens Danny an’ Seanny-Ori, an’ us’ns friens Trav an’ Rand dey say it dat way.” Pocket nodded sagely. “Us’ns Mee-gel does be us’ns prettiest ever was Ani’s veryiest own bestest fella, so them gots Micah Little an them gots marree den. So Mee-gel does be Ani’s ‘mo” trey share marree Mee-gel tol’ us’ns dat!

Wee did be see her pichur Mee-gel keeps all of times, kinda same, kinda no th’ same as us’ns guddes’ Ol’est Torry keeps us’ns guddes’ prettiest, bestest, angel- momma’s pichur… all of times, too… Kinda same, kinda no th’ same… Yes, Mee-gel? So Mee-gel no wants us’ns Ani t’ have novver fella… Yes, Mee-gel?”

“Yes, Pocket. That was…” Miguel started to answer, when a commotion broke out across the main ward. Suddenly, as the doctor and the two agents watched, a dozen or more guards boiled into the room as if charging enemy forces. And they were, in a sense, because more than twice that number of ragged, unkempt, and furious inmates were standing and quarreling with a much smaller, very nervous, knot of attendants. Miguel was getting nervous himself, worried for the child’s safety, and well aware of how loud, angry voices frightened the Torrys.

But then the doctor took another sharp look at the main group of “inmates’ causing the ruckus, a dozen young men in total, and he relaxed. He’d been introduced to each of these ‘scarecrows’ when they came to his infirmary upstairs, as new admissions. Six of these amazingly brave inmates towered over the guards, and for that matter, most of the men in the ward, so they were easily recognizable even in this actually maddened throng.

And the other half dozen made up in their muscular builds and lung power what they might lack in height. These were the young agents currently assigned to help Artemus and his partners keep the Torrys safe: Ori Hoynes, Terry Hawks, Rand Alexander, Travis Madsen, Chris McIntire, Mairtin Macquillan, Micah and Thad Kuenle, Rob Harper, Mickey Spencer, Sean Phillipsen, and Tierney Roberts.

“Looks to me as though the cavalry’s coming a bit late to the party.” Artemus muttered, hiding a grin behind one strong hand. “In fact, I’m kinda surprised that Ori, Danny, Terry and Mairtin don’t have the whole place under their thumbs at this point.”

“They probably would if that’d been the idea.” Jemmy replied just as quietly. “They could’ve taken the whole complex over by now with Harper and Rand, Mickey and Micah and the rest helping out! In fact, if I hadn’t seen how many new guards have shown up here the past few days, I’d have bet money we could slip Torry and Miguel on out the door while the rest of the fellows keep “em busy in here! And maybe, just maybe we should go on ahead and try that, right now, Artie. Artemus, what’s the matter? What’s wrong now?”

Artie was staring at the rifles some of the guards carried, and now he pointed them out. ‘they’ve got some odd kind of device covering the end of the barrel. If I didn’t know better, I’d say they were a kind of grenade. But there’s too great a risk of the whole blasted thing just exploding if you tried using a rifle to send off a grenade.

I don’t know what those objects stuck into the ends of some of those rifles could be. And that doesn’t make me very happy at all. Also, we can’t just take Jim out of here. We’ve tried that before, when the bastards running the place had fewer guards. It’s even more dangerous now, for reason of the increase in guards you noted yourself. One or more of them could easily panic and get someone in here killed.”

“Added to that.” Miguel went on, very quietly, while Pocket played with some of his tin soldiers. “Is the fact that whenever we’ve mentioned taking the Torrys out of this place, we’ve run smack up against the post-hypnotic compulsions they were given. They were told not to leave here without permission from their Poppa. And that;s something our mutual enemies clearly know we have no means of acquiring.”

“Because my cousin Stephen isn’t with us any longer.” Singer frowned, keeping his voice down as well. “Yes, of course. The danged cowards thought of everything, didn’t they? Those surely are strange looking devices on some of those rifles. They look as if they were meant to hold … liquid or mebbee pellets or … Ah G-d! Do you think they’ve got some kind of miniature loads of canister in them?”

Miguel started coughing again, before he could answer and so did Artie. Pocket Torry was coughing harshly too, by the time Miguel reached him to try holding a handkerchief over the child’s mouth. “No, not pellets, not… any…sort of missiles… Gas!” The small doctor exclaimed. “Get Pocket away … Get the children… away!”

Jemmy Singer hurried to his cousin, fighting the hacking cough rising in his own lungs now. Miguel was right; bright white fumes were spewing from more than half the guard’s rifles now, filling the ward with a painfully harsh, stinging compound. “Pocket, Pocket, little …Cousin, we need … to get you… closer … close to the wind… windows…C’mon ….y”all c’mon now” Jemmy gasped, as he tried to pull Pocket/Jim to his feet.

“Cain’t!” Pocket cried, coughing harder, pulling away from his cousin. “Cain’t Jemmee! Mee-gel’s goin a… asleepin’! An’ temus .. Poppa … too! Cain’t go wifout us’ns guddes’ … friens… Cain’t! Help temus-Poppa, nows Jemmee! … Help… Mee-gel t’ go! Cain’t … Won’ go wifout … mees guddes’ friens…”

Looking around, the young doctor groaned, Pocket was right. Half the men in the ward, including his colleagues, were suffering from the gas now. Jemmy reached for the added training in chemical mixtures Artie had been giving him free and gratis while they watched out for the Torrys together. Whatever this gas was, it not only burned in his lungs, but harshly effected his nose, throat and eyes! Miguel had collapsed, and Pocket desperately clung to his small friend. Jemmy felt his own knees buckling, and turned to look for his agent-mentor.

Artie was trying his best to stand up, despite the pungent compound’s disastrous effects. The ward looked more like a battleground than even the lousy excuse for an asylum it was! The guards wore some sort of mask over their faces, and even so Artemus could see the eyes of the guard closest to him now were tearing as badly as his own. “Bad … enough they’ve got … to resort to… this… But now… They …They’ve stolen … my … tearing-gas… form…” The former actor protested unhappily, falling to his knees as a very tall, very long limbed, icy eyed figure approached him.

“No, no, Mr. Gordon.” Gideon Boudin answered, from behind the mask he wore to keep the fumes from choking him as well. "The invention is entirely yours, we assure you. We’re only borrowing it for the time being. And we’re truly quite, quite grateful to you, for helping to prevent a needless effusion of blood here today. You may feel free to use it again whenever you’ve … if you ever recover the ability, that is.”

Artie was still fighting the gas, and looking beside him, he could see that both his colleagues were having the same struggle. Then he looked up again, and despite the painful watering of his eyes, Artie saw a tall, expensively dressed extraordinarily long legged man peering down at him, like a bug on a microscope’s plate. And there was something else about this fellow. Artemus was sure he should recognize him… but how or from where, the former actor had no idea, and no real recollection.

“ What’s with this “We this and we that’… are you claiming some … kind of … bizarre … kind of … roy…royalty?” Artie asked.

“We are, as we always have been the purest of Southron-born aristocrats, Mr. Gordon, we assure you. And with your invaluable aid and that of our dearest Torry, we shall in short order take on the Imperial Title the True-born Ruler of this Magnificent Confederate Continental Empire Has Always been Entitled to claim! When that Glorious Day of Southron Resurgence and Revival finally dawns, we shall be delighted, indeed we shall require that you address us in the entirely appropriate manner.” Boudin answered, grinning.

“You may, of course, start practicing now: We are, as we were always meant to be; Our Imperial Highness, Our Majesty, President, Premier and Prime Minister Gideon Alexander Remiel, First Emperor of the Second Confederacy of the Americas. And we do mean all the Americas, Mr. Gordon. It is clearly Our Destiny to Magnanimously Conquer and Reign over the Empire the French, the British and the Conquistadores merely dreamt of, stretching from Hudson’s Bay in the far north down to Cape Horn and from the West Indies to the Pacific!

That has always been our Great Work and our magnificent plan, Mr. Gordon. And there’s no reason at all you shouldn’t know that now. You will in all likelihood recover just enough from this interesting compound of yours to report our intentions to your so-called superiors in General Washington’s City. And we are entirely pleased that you should do so.

They have every right to know who has taken over the reigns of power from them. But for now, we think it best you cease struggling against the effects of your own discovery. And being of a compassionate nature as befits all truly royal persons, we have come to your aid in that regard, as a very small token of our thanks for your many services to us and our Glorious Reign.”

Someone Artie couldn’t see very well, due to the problem with his eyes pouring out tears, now jabbed a syringe into his arm. Just barely able to turn, he saw three more someones doing the same thing to Jemmy, Miguel and Jim! “You… you’re leaving out Tierra del Fuego, the Galapagos Islands, Antarctica, Alaska, and the North Pole. Why is that?” Artie asked, fighting what he felt sure was some sort of narcotic. “Don’t you like cold weather? Or is it the turtles you despise, because they live longer than you can ever hope to…”


“Oh, if I only had a wooden nickel for every time I’ve heard that before now, I could rebuild an entire redwood forest!” Artie chuckled. But the narcotic wasn’t helping him breathe too well, and it was definitely beginning to cloud his judgment and his senses. The stranger somehow seemed to grow taller by the instant, or at least his long legs seemed to get even longer.

“And I wouldn’t serve you dinner if you were the King of the World! But you’re not. You’re just a King Spider, which is a contradiction in terms, to say the least. Anyway, I’m gonna take a nap now, I guess. So I’ll just say good morning, your Arachnid Majesty, sire.” The former actor laughed and passed out.

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SS novice field agent

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Posted - 02/09/2009 :  11:23:04  Show Profile
SCENE SIX A ‘treatment room’ behind the main ward, Baltimore State Asylum

“Torry, Lie still, Torry. You will lie absolutely still, hearing and heeding only our voice. Torry, you will cease struggling and at once.” Gideon Boudin demanded, frowning as his prisoner struggled and thrashed despite all physical and mesmeric restraints. That inmate lay on a scratchy canvas cot, coughing harshly. He lay face up, his head rigidly held back, his hands clenched, his features taut, while a voice cold enough to freeze a prairie fire filled his ears.

He was fighting with all his strength, pulling and pushing against thick, stiff leather restraints that held his ankles and wrists to the sides of the cot, while wider leather and canvas straps trapped his legs and held his torso to the cot, made him flinch as if they burned him. More than that, he was struggling against the decades old mesmeric cues the acrid fumes, the ice and silk voice and the freezing-burning bonds all held for him.

There was a sharpness in the air around him, a scent burning his eyes, filling his nose and turning his stomach, leaving him almost unable to move. The harsh odor surrounded him. He could hardly breathe as it grew stronger. The scent was somehow both exotic and all too familiar. He knew it and he didn’t. He was suddenly afraid to remember how he could know the acrid scent. It was too bitter, too overwhelming. He thought he’d pass out if he breathed in any more of that burning, peppery smell. He was nearly choking on bitter, burnt-pepper scented tobacco fumes.

He wasn’t winning this fight. He was utterly alone except for his tormentor, and that by itself was terrifying. He couldn’t recall a time he’d felt so isolated, so totally bereft. There was no help for it and no hope. He was already lost. Once the bitter smoke reached his lungs, he could hardly breathe. Once the icy voice reached his ears he could hear nothing else. He could barely move or think. Torry West as he’d been known half his life, James Torrance Kieran West as the world outside his Norfolk home knew him, was back in Gideon Alexander Remiel Boudin’s control. And the Georgian fully intended his “Courier” would remain so.

”You will obey us. We command and you obey, remember, Torry? You must obey us perfectly as always, Torry. You have no choice, remember? There is no other way by which you may still walk the Faultless Path. Remember, Torry how desperately you need to walk that Faultless Path? Remember what Fate awaits you and all in your world, if you dast step one inch, one fraction of a milimeter from the Faultless Path we gave you, long years ago? You will remember now as we command you, Torry. Now, Torry, you will remember unerringly the Well of Fire!”

The captive jerked as if all his major muscles abruptly spasmed. Then he lay very still, his blind green eyes fixed on the nightmare image Boudin conjured. All his mind and memory allowed him to sense in this instant was that well of fire, blazing all around him, filling his diminished world with leaping flames, searing heat and choking fumes. He’d fallen off the edge of any world he ever knew into a flaring, dancing, gem-bright firestorm. This was the Well of pure Fire the Nightmare invoked, and he was falling hopelessly into its depths.

This was the oldest prison he knew, in which he was helplessly caught. The flames wholly enthralled him in an instant, capturing his beleagured spirit, his unswerving gaze, his whole imagination and his once more fragmenting mind. The fire swept over him in a bright, bizare tidal wave, filling his senses and his whole frame, drowning him in its raging, devouring, dismantling blaze. He lay cut off from everything but the fire and the silk and ice voice of his longest lived Nightmare.

Boudin watched his most important inmate closely. As he considered the matter, he knew the young man shivering on the cot beside him exceptionally well, better than anyone, the Georgian believed. Jimmy Randolph’s namesake nephew had, after all, become the key to the Georgian’s long term plans the moment they met, thirty two years ago, this very month. In December, 1841, Boudin found himself a guest at the Randolph family home outside Norfolk, along with his sister Beatrice. And while he’d expected the family to be making much of the recently widowed Jimmy, or his small son Paul, that was not the case. Instead a sunny haired, brightly smiling, green eyed, busily rushing “Babyboy” of sixteen months was the center of everyone’s attention there.

We recall the scene, Torry, exactly as it occurred. Boudin considered. We saw how eagerly everyone in and around your grandmother’s home, indeed, everyone in your world cherished and doted on you, Torry. We saw how precious you were not only to your parents as their growing, thriving son, but to all your kin as well. One would have thought to see the way they cosseted and spoiled you, Torry, that none of the adults in that house had ever seen a lively, healthy toddler before.

Even our own sister Beatrice became thoroughly besotted with you, then. But most of all we saw how profoundly your namesake, our dear old Jimmy adored you, his beloved sister’s son. One would have thought, to see the man with you, dandling you on his knee that he had no children of his own, much less a son and heir in your cousin Paul.

The way he doted upon you! The way he cajoled and spoiled you, dearest! And that was our answer, dearest. That exact instant gave us our key! In that precise moment we knew just how we would ultimately win! And we knew just who would help! It was only “icing on the cake” when we noted how much your lady mother cherished our dear Jimmy! It was only the last sweetest touch we needed, seeing how your “Poppa” still befriended that dejected wretch!

Then came our turn. We were gifted with your golden grin. And we were as enchanted as all the rest! You had no fear of strangers whatever, Torry dearest, we were glad to see. You were no shyer than a tamed puppy or a spoiled house cat’s get. Indeed the only difficulty you had at that glorious first encounter was with Jimmy’s fond, foolish old nickname for us. You were a precocious child to say the least, already delighting your entire kinship with your excursions into spoken language albeit of an unschooled kind.

You won’t remember, that, rather than being at all reticent about the lack of a clear grasp of your consonants, you were quite well pleased with the result. You’d renamed us, and in a sense made us over as yours and yours alone. You immediately, and for a good five or six years afterwards called us us your “Wemee Dweewes’. And the piece de resistance came when your grandmother renamed you and in that same sense, made you over.

“This baby boy of Jessy-Anne’s needs his own name, all the more now that our Jimmy’s back home in N’folk. Two Jimmys would be one too many under my roof.” The matriarch announced, wrapping her arms about the toddler to keep him still a moment. “And I have one in mind that belonged to my own dear grandfather, Padraich Micheal Torrance. His father, Kieran Daniel took his family to Manchester, during one of the famines in Eire. And Kieran Daniel wanted no son of his being known as “Paddy”. So he called the lad ‘torry” and that’s what we’ll call this little one. So, how do you like your new name, Torry-Little?”

“Towwee!” the little boy, who hadn’t quite mastered his ‘rs’ shouted with laughter, hugging her in return. “Mees Towwee Wid… Widdal!”

The Georgian had been waiting over a decade at that point, ever since he spent a miserable year on a scholarship to William and Mary College, and encountered Jimmy Randolph there. More than anything in his life, bitterly envious of the Virginian’s gifts and his heritage, Boudin wanted to steal from Jimmy all the loving fondness, trust and faith his widespread family and many friends held for him The young Tidewater scion and his friends made things hard for the boy from Atlanta, deliberately, as Boudin perceived it.

All the affronts, the slights, the snubs of that “hazing” lived on as open wounds in his spirit. He’d been insulted as a backwater bumpkin by some of the older boys there. He’d been scorned regarding his Haitian born father’s reputation by some of the younger instructors. And he’d been offended profoundly by the College’s failure to extend his special one year scholarship

Then came the worst offense of all, as the offended party saw it, just when young “Remy” Boudin thought he could at least make good his escape from the tormenting environs of Williamsburg. His seventeen year old sister Beatrice arrived to travel back to Atlanta with the angry, embittered youth. That was shameful enough, the idea that he needed an escort or a companion on his now longed for journey home. Then his always charming, always easy in company older sister “Bea” began making friends of the very collegians Remy despised.
She especially charmed Jimmy Randolph, and was very much charmed in turn by him. Before Remy could even try to dissuade her, Beatrice declared she’d fallen in love with the young Virginian! Before the young Boudins left Williamsburg that spring, Jimmy Randolph openly admitted he was smitten with “Queen Bea”! Not seeming to realize for an instant how they were enraging and wounding Remy, Bea and Jimmy entered into a warm, life-long friendship that bordered on love-making, the Georgian believed.

That was his breaking point, his Rubicon, Remy declared. He would have nothing further to do with Jimmy Randolph, northern Virginia, the Tidewater aristocracy, the vaunted First Families, or anyone remotely connected to them. He would have nothing good to say about the “Upper South’ for the next two decades and more. And he would spend that time seeking any and all means he could find, steal, compell, compromise, bribe, abduct, buy or otherwise acquire to take revenge on his ‘true Enemy”.

“And you gave us the best of all possible means to my long-awaited Day of Retribution, our dearest Torry. You, at all of sixteen months of age, showed us precisely how we would break our dear, old Jimmy’s smug, self-satfisfied, hypocritical heart!” Boudin noted aloud, still watching his captive intently. The prisoner barely moved on the cot, except to shudder. He was wholly caught up in the mesmeric cues the Georgian invoked.

“And that Day is coming upon us, Torry, quite, quite soon. That Glorious Day will at last arrive, when Jimmy sees at last, when that old reprobate finally knows to his core the price you have paid for his infamy, for his betrayal, for his rejection of us, long years ago! So, Torry, in order to ensure the Triumph of all Our Great Work, we are here beside you once more. We are here to allow you the full recollection, the absolute understanding of all we have done to reach the Shining Hour of Our Transcendent Destiny! Once that is accomplished there will be no further obstacles or impediments on the Faultless Path you must tread. Torry, you do wish only to walk that Faultless Path at last, do you not?”

“I wish only to walk the Faultless Path.” Torry/Jim stiffly replied, powerless to give any other response.

“Of course. Of course you do, dearest boy.” Boudin purred, pleased to see his post hypnotic compulsions well in place. “Just as we taught you, beginning with your First Lessons from us, years ago, you were born and bred, and more than that, you were destined to be an authentic, classical Homeric hero. We knew that Truth of your Nature the moment we saw your golden smile, and heard your clear, lilting, lisping voice Torry. We knew your Shining Destiny the instant we saw your sturdy toddler’s frame, and the gleam in your bright green eyes!

We will have you remember those First Lessons, Torry. We will have you recollect those early times, all the glorious secrets and all the high adventures we shared. Ah, Torry, what times those were! What treasure hunts we took you on! And what hidden, golden treasure was already there, only waiting for us to find! What fine long tramps about the countryside we went on, and what glorious carriage rides, what sailing excursions, what heroic horseback journeys we took. What daring explorers we became then, Torry, of attics, garrets and root cellars, pump houses, stables, tack rooms and summer kitchens.

“ Such superb wonders you learned from us then Torry and such vast dreams we taught you to spin! Each and all of those glowing hours you will now reclaim. Each of our profoundly close moments, our days, our journeys together we decree you shall regain, just as we once decreed you would forget them for a time. Remember now, Torry: Remember how we brought you our wonderful, poignant, especially secret golden games, and how we kept those all for you, Torry, only for you and ourselves. Now, Torry, now!” Boudin ordered, sweeping one hand acroSshis prisoner’s forehead in a long since implanted cue.

The captive shuddered harshly, almost convulsing for an instant. Then he lay motionless on the cot, as if the unyielding grip of a giant pushed him into the unraveling canvas. The Nightmare that had been all around and above him crashed down like a storm tide, fully equipped with the oldest terror he knew. He couldn’t move, see, hear, think or speak. He couldn’t make a single sound. His voice seemed harshly trapped in his throat. He couldn’t make his arms, his legs or any part of his frame move. Abruptly, as the Nightmare that was also an horrific memory went on. In this memory he wasn’t an adult at all. He was a tiny boy, pinned down by the weight of a viciously powerful giant.

“Yes, yes, that is correct. Torry. You are recalling precisely the First Lesson we gave you, the earliest instant in which we played our special private game.” The Nightmare’s voice told him. ‘remember, dearest, we explained you needn’t be afraid of us. We explained you were only awkward, only nervous, only just learning our secret game. It was just a game, remember, Torry? We told you time and again, you would soon learn to play the game, just as we once learned it. It is only a game, a special, secret, wondrous game we desired to teach you. Remember, Torry how you learned it from us? Answer.”

“ … mees …meemembers, mees does.” the child-self ensnared along with his adult “brother” answered slowly. This was his oldest night-terror, almost his oldest memory, that held him entirely powerless, completely terrified as always.

“That is correct. Keep on then, keep on remembering the game as you learned it from us, Torry.” The Nightmare’s voice, Boudin’s voice ordered. “Remember how the Lessons we gave you continued.”

Hopeless to do anything but obey the Nightmare, the child nodded. In memory, freezing cold trapped him, as if the winter wind surrounded him in the form of a gigantic captor. The wind held him down with enough force to tear the child in pieces. The voice shifted into a crackling noise far over his head. The ‘giant’s’ frame blocked all but the tiniest chinks letting light into his prison.The child struggled and cried out but couldn’t make the giant “go “ways!”

“No, no, Torry. You can’t learn the game that way. No, you must lie still for us, Torry. Lie still now and cease your wailing. Lie still and do not disobey us, ever. You must be a good boy for us, Torry, and learn the game. You must obey us, always. You will obey us, always and completely, Torry.” The Nightmare laughingly insisted.

“Mees mee… mees ‘meemembers mees … wessins.” the child-self answered the Nightmare, too afraid and shocked by the memory/return of his worst night-terrors to do anything else. The Nightmare’s hands were too strong to struggle against. He was too small to fight the Nightmare/giant. He was too shaken to understand anything but not wanting to hurt, and to young to realize the lies being woven against him. He was too sickened by the tobacco fumes and too panicked to know what was real.

“Now, now, come, come, Torry!” the Nightmare voice icily chuckled. “We’ve barely begun what another old friend of mine might call your ‘memory Work”. You truly must heed us and lie quietly. We must continue. We must reach our objective in a timely manner. Lie quietly, Torry. Lie quite still and remember how your Lessons proceeded. It is imperative that you reclaim these memories while we permit them to you, dearest. We cannot permit you to have them for an indefinite period. But as of this moment, you do recall how your Lessons went on from those mere beginnings, don’t you? You do remember what more, what other fine, speical, secret games followed those earliest Lessons, don’t you? Answer.”

“Mees does. mees does meem… meemember… mores of … “pechul see”krit … gayms, mees does… wees does… “ the child-self, one of the earliest to emerge responded, shaking with terror suddenly when he slipped and spoke of his brothers.

“Ah, now I know you are recalling our old, dear times, Torry.” Boudin, the originator of all the child’s nightmares beamed. “You often sought to flatter your old Remy by speaking in the way we often fall into. You remember wanting to be like your dearest old Remy, and we’re quite well pleased to note it. Continue, Torry. We’re on rather a strict schedule. Remember how we completed your earliest Lessons. Remember how we took you forward in the games. Remember!”

His worst memory rose around the child-self, leaving him almost paralyzed with shock and pain. It was a very bad, bad thing. So wasn’t he a most awfully bad little boy if it was happening to him? Wasn’t he somehow, despite the Nightmare’s injunctions, disobeying? Fearing that made him shudder and the Nightmare’s bitter cold shook him like a fever. The shadows were even more frightening, hiding the form and the name and the face of his tormentor. hiding the world, hiding him from that world. All he knew was being alone with the Nightmare and the roiling terror it inspired.

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SS novice field agent

610 Posts

Posted - 02/09/2009 :  11:24:46  Show Profile
CENE SEVEN Main ward, Baltimore State Asylum that evening.

Sean Oriel Liam Hoynes was among the first of the younger team members awake after he didn’t know how long, following the spread of gas through the main ward. His head ached fiercely, his eyes burned as if they’d gotten too close to a fire, and his throat felt as if someone had weeded there, with a rusty, dull rake.
But looking around him, the tall, black haired Irish immigrant wondered at first if he was still tangled in nightmares from the late War! Men lay sprawled out, curled up, piled against each other, or prostrate all around him, as if on a very strange sort of walled-in battlefield once the guns stopped barking and clattering, the cannons stopped roaring and the screams died away.

“Chris?” Ori tried calling out for his own young partner, and scowled when he could barely produce a whisper.

“Don’t yell!” Sandy haired, wide grey eyed Gloucesterman Chris McIntire called back, sitting up, a few feet away. “My head’s trying hard enough to split on its own, and doesn’t need any more help! What’d they gas us with, anyway?”

“Something… a lot like that tearing gas Artemus …worked up a few years ago, I’d guess. But this was a whole lot harsher!” Tall, strawberry blond, Mairtin Macquillan, Mac’s son, answered in between coughs. Then he stood up, stretching his long legs, another two yards across the room. “Artemus told… me if you don’t get the …mixture right that stuff will just about suffocate you!”

“And it just about did!” Thad Kuenle, Jim’s cousin, a greying redhead originally from Knoxville rasped in his turn, walking slowly over to join his allies. Then he gestured to more of the young agents still “fallen’ to the gas. “Mi’s still out of it, and so are Tierney, Travis, Terry and Rand!”

”And so are more than two thirds of the patients in the main ward. And I’m not sure some of them can recover from this.” Dark eyed, dark haired rangy Cincinnati native, Mickey Spencer, another young physician-agent on the ‘second string’ as Ori called them, added, as he stood up and looked around.”But I think Rob and Seanny are alright, we each had one of those miniature breathing masks Artie’s been working on for just such occasions.”

“Yeah, I’m fine, and so’s Rob. But we’ve got some real trouble, fellows.” Stocky, blond Sean Phillipsen agreed, walking into the main ward from the lift alongside tall, dark haired, bright eyed Rob Harper, Frank’s younger son, currently a Resident at Maryland State University Hospital.

“We already had real trouble.” Ori noted, standing up, despite the banging in his head and the way the whole ward tried reeling around him. “What’s been added?”

“Artemus, Jemison and Miguel are all up in the infirmary, that’s where Sean and I just came from. And they’re all three still unconscious, and showing every sign of being dosed with something besides the gassing we all got. Artie had a breathing mask too, and he’d given one to Miguel. But it did them no good. That was what first caught my attention to them being dosed.” Rob answered, frowning, his shoulders wearily slumping. “And …Jim’s missing, again.”

“Great G-d!” Ori exclaimed. “All right, boyyos, we can’t have this! But you already know that. For one thing, Artie will line the lot of us up against that wall right there and open up with a firing squad, if we’ve somehow lost his partner! For another, and worse, the Man… the President’s due to come here within the week, just to see Jim! And President Grant won’t like it one tiny bit if we don’t have his protégé here for him to see!”

The group of young agents began arguing, and that went on for several minutes as more and more of their number came around, either aching, dizzy, or sick from the gas.

“Everyone calm down!” Mairtin called out. “We can’t go off half-cocked here, no matter how bad it looks. And it looks awfully bad! Sean Oriel, I expect you’re in charge, being senior amongst us. And that’s fine with me. But we have to get moving, comb the complex, and then move out from there. Mickey, Seanny, Rob, you weren’t knocked out, not by the gas, anyway. Did you see anyone carting Artemus, James or the doctors out of the ward?”

“Wish I had, Mairty, but I got a pretty good clonk on the noggin from one of those scurvy guards.” young Sean Phillipsen answered ruefully. “When I came around, Rob had carted me up to the infirmary and was trying to get me awake.”

“Rob and I got Artemus up in the lift, between us.” Mickey added. “That was right after Rob carried Miguel up, and I shifted Jem. And then we started taking the patients who seemed worst off from the gas. I suppose I should have noticed right away that James wasn’t with the others. I thought maybe someone had taken him up to the acute ward. What a boneheaded mistake that was!”

“Hold on, Mick.” Ori told the tall, dark Ohioan, crossing to him and putting one long hand on his shoulder. “We’re all at fault here. And Mairty’s right, we can’t waste any time casting blame. Speaking of which, of time, I mean, how long do you figure we were knocked out? How much time have those bastards had to get Jim away, if that’s what they’ve done?”

“If that’s what they’ve done? Why else would they gas us and drug the others?” Rand Alexander, a protégé of Jemmy’s demanded, getting to his feet and glaring at the older, taller agents.

“Well, if I had to guess, Rand, it might have been so we’d waste even more time quarreling and sniping right now, instead of searching for Jim and trying to help our friends.” Chris answered. “So maybe we should stop doing what they want and start disobliging them some.”

“I agree with Ori, and with Chris, and with Mairtin, so you all know how uncomfortable that makes me.” Rob offered. “But to answer Ori’s main question: It’s only been two and a quarter hours since the guards came in here with those gas canisters on their rifles. I know it probably seems a lot longer, fellows.
But that’s part of the disorientation the gas causes. When you can’t breathe right it does funny things to your senses. So, whoever did this to all of us has only had that much time to get away from here. And I’m not convinced that taking Jim out of here fits with everything else the bastards that run this place have done, so far.”

“All right.” Ori nodded. “Gentlemen, we have a lot of work to do and we’ve lost two and a half hours at this point. Mairty’s right, I have to take charge of this … disaster, until Artemus comes around or one of the other senior agents comes up from the District. That’s where Thomas and Frank, Jacques and Jeremy are right now, still trying to talk the President out of this trip north he’s got his mind set on. And I wish them good luck with that! And I think Rob’s got a very good point.

The sobs we’ve been fighting off, and working against, including the ones we’re still trying to identify as part of all this brouhaha, have nothing to gain by taking Jim away from here, now. They’re losing the whole complex to that tax auction in less than a fortnight. And that means they’re losing control of all the men held here, our friend, Jim West included. They don’t have time now to set up another dumping ground somewhere else and surely, they must know… “

“They’ve gotta know the Man’s comin’ here!” Travis Madsen called out, pushing himself to his feet in the corner. Shaking his thick blond hair out of his heavy lidded, wide grey eyes, the wiry young Norfolk native strode to the middle of the group. “That’s why they won’t take ol’ Torry anywhere away from this pesthole, not before the President’s visit! They’d lose their best chance in a month of Sundays, if they done that. They want another go at the Man!”

“By G-d, Trav, I think you’re right!” Rand nodded, excitable as ever.

“And so do I.” Ori said. “Now, here’s what we do. Mairtin, you head up to Doctor de Cervantes’ desk in the infirmary and wire your Pop. He’s got to make the President see this place is too bloody dangerous, despite all his good intentions in coming. And Mac’s one of the few people who might get the Man to actually listen. And Mac listens to you.”

“Thaddeus, Chris, Seanny, and Travis, you start searching this part of the complex first and then branch out. Thad, you have seniority amongst that bunch of rowdies so you take charge. No arguments from the rest of you, you get that? We don’t have time! As the rest of us get up to par again, we’ll join in. That’s all except for Mickey and Rob, clearly you’re most needed up in the infirmary, and not just by our fellows. Rand, you go up and help Jem to come around, we need him and Artie and Miguel up and around as soon as possible. I’ll help you, Rob, and Mickey take Terry and Mi upstairs, since they’re still not completely awake.”

“And as for this searching. Be careful and be thorough. Question every guard and so called medic you can find and then when they won’t answer, just go on searching. Remember some of these buildings have attics and some have cellars, and some are already falling apart. Technically the Service has no jurisdiction here. But with a known threat to the President emerging again, we have a mandate to follow. Now these bastards have upped the ante again, seeing as how Mickey says they could have killed half the men in this complex with that damn gas! So we’ve got a far more dangerous situation on our hands than it already was.”

“And that means my idea for starting that row earlier on was a really bad one! Oh and one more thing: You’re all Federal agents, me fine boyyos, not constables, not sheriffs, not marshals, and you can’t act like them or like rowdies, not in this state of affairs. So, you find Jim, and you tell whoever’s got him they’re jeopardizing the safety and well being of a Federal agent. And that is a Federal crime, which earns them hard time in a Federal pen, not some county or state prison! Everyone’s clear on that, right? Alright me fine boyyos now, move out!”
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SS novice field agent

610 Posts

Posted - 02/09/2009 :  11:26:43  Show Profile
SCENE EIGHT Another ‘treatment room’ behind the main ward

“Wees no wants mores of gayms plees, Weemee Dweewest. Wees no wants more of gayms, plees1” The child-self known to his brothers as Saddest wept and bit his lower lip as two rough, silent strangers dumped him onto another cot and bound him to it.

“You will cease that childish lisping and wailing at once, Torry!” Gideon Boudin ordered his prisoner, James West, when he had the young blind man moved to another of the small rooms adjoining the main ward. ‘those annoying Federal nuisances who thought they could keep me from you are busily playing hide and seek even now. We must finish this part of your Memory Work as Stephan surely would term it, were he still in the living world with us.
And we will have to find the appropriate time to work on your memories of my old friend Stephan, Torry. You have forgotten a great deal, if not everything you ever knew about our “Herr Professor Doctor Stephan Johannes Aynsley of Vienna, Zurich, Atlanta and Baltimore. As of now you don’t even remember poor, mad little Liesl, his darling lunatic niece, I’d warrant. And I believe you were becoming quite fascinated with her, insane as she was. Obey me, boy. Lie still and be utterly silent!”

The brother-self known as JimmyR emerged as the child shook his head, and immediately lay on the cot as if at full attention, somehow holding even his restless blind green gaze still for half a minute.

“That is correct.” Boudin noted. “Now we can proceed. And as we told you, we are on a strictly limited schedule for this review of your Lessons. We cannot even think of continuing, however if you cannot maintain a properly deferential, mature demeanor. So, you will maintain some semblance of a trueborn Southron gentleman’s dignity thorughout the remainder of our sessions, will you not, Torry? Why are you shaking your head at me, young sir?”

“I only meant to indicate … I’m sorry, Sir. I will maintain the proper demeanor throughout my Lessons.” the next brother in this particular group of four, known as Richman’s Grandson or “RG” answered. “I’m afraid I lost some measure of concentration, Sir. I apologize for that, Sir, if you will please accept it.”

“For the present, we shall.” Boudin frowned. “Now, recite for us what you’ve recalled as regards the third level of our old Lessons. Now, Torry. Do not keep us waiting.”

“No, of course not, Sir.” ‘rG” responded in full cadet-mode, fighting the shivering that ran through his whole frame now. “We next began to work on the concept of a true gentleman’s privacy, Sir, and how vital that is, Sir. We added to that Lessons on the proper bearing and genuine modesty, not to be mistaken for false humilitity, expected of a trueborn Southron gentleman, Sir. We went on to Lessons regarding the philosophy by which a Southron gentleman must live his life, Sir.
True Respect, True Southron Courtesy to onc’s peers, if one should happen to encounter one’s true peers, Sir is one of the foundation stones of that philosophy. And so is a reasonable Pride in one’s advanced station and one’s heritage, one’s family, Sir. Open Beneficence to one’s underlings, servants and menials is the mark of a True Southron also, Sir, as is Constant Compassion for those who cannot help the lower stations in life they were born to…”

“But those are not the truly profound Lessons on True Southron Gentility we gave you, Torry. We will hear those now.” Boudin demanded. “Well, we are waiting.”

“Yes, Sir. A True Southron Gentleman can be remarked for his evident sense of Noblesse Oblige, Sir. But that is only the entrée as it were, Sir, to the sensitive, cultured, genuinely enlightened aristocratic nature of the Trueborn Southron Gentleman, Sir.
A true Southron Gentleman, Sir, is a thoroughbred, Sir, high strung, finely conformed, patrician and high minded in all manners and all matters. That being the case, Sir, the True Southron Gentleman is always keenly aware of the presence of these finely bred qualities in those around him, and even more keenly aware of the lack thereof among the masses.

Therefore, the Southron Gentleman seeks out and cultivates those qualities in his every associate, friend and companion. The Southron Gentleman avoids at all times the rude, the coarse, the plebeian, Sir. And the trueborn Southron Gentleman has no contact whatever, aside from his role as a charitable example, with the lower classes which seek to usurp his proper place in Finance, at Law, in Government, in Society and the World, Sir.

And it was your search for those finest qualities in your fellow Southron that brought me to your attention, Sir. You were good enough to do what you could to properly train and teach me as you yourself were taught to live and think and act, Sir. And I am forever grateful, of course for your tutelage, your support, and, and … your … your … friendship… your…” The brother began to shake, shaking and turning his head from side to side now, as if looking for someone, despite his blindness.

“Torry, whatever are you hesitating for?” Boudin asked, glaring at his prisoner. “Torry! What can be the matter with you, boy? Answer us, at once young sir!”

“… Your friendship…” the brother self known as Reckless murmured, emerging as his counterpart shook his head and left the scene. He was abruptly, due to plain exhaustion mostly caught up in an entirely different place and time, Jim’s meeting with Ulysses Grant, more than three years earlier. “… unless it was… unless it… Sir, I serve at the pleasure of the President. And I will… gladly… I will gladly do so… to my … to my last breath.... if I’m … I … don’t… Sir… what that’s meant to… to me… And nothing, nothing in my life… honored me … honored me more… your call … to service… unless… it was your… your friendship… Sir, …please…”

“Be Silent!” Boudin ordered as if he were furious. The man on the cot snapped to attention, as well as his restraints would let him and lay as if paralyzed. Boudin was secretly pleased, in fact, to find even these shards of Stephan’s patterning still extant. “That is better. We will have to end this session shortly, as it seems as you are not up to the work, Torry. So heed us now and heed us well, boy.
We sought to give you the same precious training we received in all the manners, mores and matters pertaining to the proper ways of a True Southron Gentleman. We did all we could to bring you to our level. We will be most profoundly disillusioned and disappointed, Torry, if you fail us at this final juncture. Therefore you will listen to every word we say and burn them into your weary mind, boy. And when we demand it, you will recite every word back to us, word for word as you have learned it.

A Trueborn Southron in this wicked modern world of ours must do all he can to retain and cherish the ways of his Race, the Southron Race, boy. A Trueborn Southron Gentleman must do even more. He must at all times and under all circumstances reject, refuse and resist all low, mean, degrading so called modern mores, ideas and practices. As we were taught the proper way of life for a Southron Gentleman, Torry, so we once tried to teach Our True Enemy. But he proved himself utterly and eternally unworthy, even treacherous to our Ways. That is of course his loSsand his tragedy, really.

But now we know that our True Enemy, known to the pathetic world he lives in as James Torrance Kieran Randolph, will never belong to our Genteel Society. Now we know he has no place amongst Authentic Southron Gentlemen at all. And soon, Torry, very soon now, he will know how he has been supplanted in the World he could have belonged to, once. That is your Destiny, Torry, to show that sad old hypocrite the error of his ways. That is your Honor, boy. And we know you will carry it out with tremendous dignity and valor as befits a Southron Hero!

To that end we taught and trained and showed you all we could of a Trueborn Southron Gentleman’s Life, boy. To that end we gave you all we could in the way of proper reading, proper protocols, proper understanding. And to that end, we will bring you face to face once more with Our True Enemy, Torry. And let him turn his face away from you, if he dares! Let him see what his own folly costs him! Let Jimmy Randolph know at long last how his perfidy is repaid in full at long last!”

“Jim… Jimmy Randolph?” the captive whispered when Boudin fell silent, briefly, turning to refill and tamp down another pipe filled with his English blend.

“Yes, Torry, your much beloved, overly cherished fool of a namesake is and long since has been OUR TRUE ENEMY! All that blather our old friend Stephan tried to impress upon you as regards the Butcher currently holding sway in General Washington’s City means very little to the One, or to the Great Work.” The Georgian finally answered, glaring at the imagined face and form of Jimmy Randolph.
“He never came close to taking the Great Oath to the One, Torry. He would never bend his stiff neck nearly that far, you see. And so instead we have bent you to Our Will time and again to repay his obstinant treachery. And when he sees what we have accomplished in training you to walk the Faultless Path, Torry dearest, that low, wicked, heedless old man will finally know the cost of his betrayal!

I know he tried to be a father to you, when your own father was too bereft to look at his own and only living child. I know he was in his own negligent way, a figure of affection and so forth, as long as you met his remarkably low standards of decorum. I know you once wished to have our True Enemy as your father. But now you know the truth of his disgrace. So now you can understand why we felt it only right we should remove you from his inglorious way of life.
Now when you come face to face with the True Enemy of the One, you will render our judgment upon him without needing to say a word. If he has even a remnant left of family feeling in his withered frame he will have the good grace to lay down there and die. In any case, we expect to shortly be freed at last from the ignominy of his existence on the same planet as Ourselves. And believe me, Torry, it will lend the Great Work tremedous service when the Old Fool breathes his last!”

“Breathes… breathes his … his last?” the captive echoed. “I … I am to… I am to… take … take his life?”

“Oh, surely that will not be required if Jimmy only has the grace to make a decent end. However, dearest boy, you’ve had your instructions in the matter of that old fool’s obdurate nature for some time. You know very well what you are to do, if Our True Enemy refuses his Long Ordained Fate, do you not? Answer us, at once.” Boudin asked.

“I … I … I am… I am… to… “ once more the captive shook his head and now a brother emerged who Boudin might have recognized if he had ever realized there were many different personas within the one spirit and frame of his prisoner.

“Come, Come, Torry! This was a matter of some of your earliest memory work! What are you to do if The True Enemy fails to accept his doom?” The Georgian ordered.

“I am the Courier of the Great Work, Sir.” Courier answered, taking up the posture and manner of an automaton again. “I carry the Well of Fire within my core, lighting always and only the Faultless Path which I must tread. I am the Courier of the Great Work, oath bound to the One throughout all Time. I take the dispatches of the Great Work to the Gre… to the True Enemy and make them precisely understood. If the True Enemy refuses to comply with those dispatches, Sir, I will complete my honorable task at once and before their eyes.”

“What is your Honorable Task, Courier, if the True Enemy of The Great Work and the One, refuses to take on his well earned reprimand?” Boudin asked watching his captive intently.

`Sir, I am the Courier of the Great Work, carrying the Well of Fire within my core, lighting the Faultless Path I must tread. The Faultless Path I tread leads directly to the Shining Hour of Destiny for the One. My duty as Courier is fully stated within the Great Oath to the One, which I request the great honor of reciting for you at your request, Sir.”

“We do require you to recite the Great Oath at once.” Boudin replied.

“Thank you, Sir.” Courier nodded. ‘the one who set all our Endeavors in the Great Work in motion must never be betrayed. The One at the Core of the Great Work must never be betrayed in the least respect. The One at the Center of the Great Work must be protected at all times and under all circumstances, regardless of the well being and safety of any other. This is the main way in which the One for whom all is set in motion will be forever protected:

We will not speak or allow his name to be spoken. We will not acknowledge, we will carry no memory of the One in our consciousness. We will live and die unable to so much as speak his name, or anything as regards the One aloud. And if we fail in loyalty to the One to the least degree, we will gladly accept a traitor’s death. All those who would heedlessly seek to commit treachery against the Great Work and the One are to be chastised in precisely this way: They will be given the opportunity to wipe out their offense in blood. They will be offered an honorable death at their own hands. And if they show themselves to be utter dastards, complete cowards refusing that path, they will be made to witness the final act of loyalty to the One, performed by their closest kin within the ranks of the Great Work.”

“Stop for a moment. That was very well recited, Courier. Now, tell us what is that final Loyal Act?” The Georgian asked, fascinated by the rigid self control his captive seemed to have taken on.

“Sir, in order to demonstrate perfect loyalty to such damnable traitors to the One, their closest kin will stand before their eyes and gladly take their own life. In that way the dastards will be made to understand precisely what Honor required of them, which they have utterly failed to carry out.” Courier replied.

“Therefore, when you are face to face with Our True Enemy, Courier, and he fails his honorable task, what will you do to properly chastise the damned old fool?” Boudin demanded, more and more excited as Courier began more and more numb.

“Sir, I will wipe out his Great Dishonor with my own life’s blood.” Courier answered. “When The True Enemy of the One refuses his honorable end, I will make him the witness to my own. In that way, he will realize at long last how irrevocable Fate is. He wished to be a second father to me, and I wished he were, once long ago. But now I will make unalterably clear to him how he has failed and where my true loyalty lies.”

“That was well recited. And now a warning, Courier. Listen to us well.” Boudin ordered.

“Yes, Sir.” Courier stiffly nodded.

“Our lesser enemies surround us in this place, as you well know. Courier they will press you, ceaselessly we do not doubt to break your adamantine loyalty to the One. They will seek any smallest crack or fissure in your resolve to keep the Great Oath. That being their treacherous intent, you must be fully prepared for any and all assaults. That preparation also lies within the framework of the Great Oath to the Work and to the One. You will therefore recite the rest of the Great Oath in our hearing, now. Recite for us precisely the precautions built into the Oath to prevent even the tiniest defection or betrayal.” The Georgian required.

“Yes, Sir. I am the Courier of the Great Work, Sir. I carry the Well of Fire within my core, lighting always and only the Faultless Path which I must tread. Needing only to keep to my Duty, I need only keep in mind the Well of Fire at all times. I must forget all else as regards The Great Work or the One, as if I never knew either to exist. I must remember only the Well of Purest Fire, nothing else and nothing more to carry out my Duty on the Faultless Path.”

“And if you chance to forget the Well of Purest Fire, Courier, what will become of you, according to your Oath?”

“If I forget the Well of Fire, I will be lost beyond any hope of recall. I will wander the boundaries of oblivion where you found me, Sir. Therefore I will forget all but the fire, as if it never existed.” Courier replied. “I will forget, all but the fire.”

“And if you chance to recall what is forbidden to you, Courier, what are you to do?” Boudin asked.

“If I even begin to remember what is forbidden to me, I must die.” Courier responded. “If I begin to remember what is forbidden, I will die, rather than betray the One. If I remember what is forbidden to me, in following the Great Oath, I will gladly die rather than betray the One. Rather than betray, I will die.”

“How, Courier? How will you die?” Boudin keenly demanded to know, as he had three years before.

“By my own hand, I must die, rather than betray the One.” Courier replied. “By my own hand, I will die.”

“And there the Lesson ends.” Boudin gloated, as his captive collapsed back onto the cot.

“Take the boy back to that absurd so called acute ward up next to that equally laughable infirmary.” The Georgian ordered his guards, as he injected his subject with another dose of narcotics, and opened the treatment room’s heavily bolted door. “And be sure you leave him in the far corner, on that ridiculously sanitary cot our former Administrator allowed him. We have gone to considerable pains to reach this point. We shall not be deprived of our eagerly awaited visitor’s encounter with the boy on the basis of any unremarked detail. Do you entirely understand my meaning, my good men?”

The guards, hired because they were powerfully built, not unintelligent, and mute, simply nodded and followed Boudin’s orders to the letter. The Georgian followed on their heels and smiled coldly. Everything and everyone in the pair of small rooms was as he’d planned and arranged it. Nothing was out of place by so much as a hair. He would have his Destiny Fulfilled. He would have an end to the Great Work, and a Renewed, Reborn World would fall into his hands!
SCENE NINE The play room, what the Torrys call their “prize room’
upstairs level, Baltimore State Asylum.

Littles were playin guddes wif some of guddes boxed-up sojers. Thems was veryiest like th ones Littles played wif from Littles Gramma Jean’s gud ol’ house, where Torrys Littles did be usta run an play. Thems was bestest sojers, Littles culd memember, wif all guddes colors and decked out like in long ago fightin times. Thems guddes ones of these was be call Condinentils.. Thems had buffs an blues fer thems coats an’ hats an funny lookin’ trowzers, wif thems guddes stripey ol’ flags.

Thems baddes ones of these boxed up sojers was be call Rddcohts, thems had reds an whites fer thems clotheses an’ nuniforms, an’ differn more funnier lookin’ flags. An wif thems Condinentils camed even more guddes, specially brave an bestest sojers. Torrys knowed about thems… from long an long an Grampa Jaimey’s favrit stories.

Thems had browns an’ blacks an’ greys an’ lots kinds colors of thems clotheses, thems dint hev no nuniforms a bit, cos thems was g’rillas, thems was pardees’ns, an did be go wif bestes ever Gen’rls Fraanciss Maryons! Playin wif thems guddes sojers, Torrys liked to play thems was grillas… fightin at ol’ Tar’tten, an’ Cor”waliss. Thems was baddes ever Rddcohts, ever, cept fer ol Ki Geor, course!

Grampa Jaimey teld Littles, gen an gen, Littles wuld ast hims. Grampa Jaimey knewed mos ever thing, an pecially knewed bout Gen’rls Fraanciss Maryons.An’ even Torrys Littles veryiest own momma did be knowed “bout some of thems ol’ fightin’… She wuld come over, hug an’ teld her Littles

‘time to stop soldiering, my Torry, and come up now”. Dat was fer Littles to come up an’ go a sleepin’ Torrys did be allus goin’ up wif momma. Mebbee when was no so littles, wuld stay down an’ play mores. An’torrys momma knowed th’ mos’ funnier thing t’ say “bout thems ol’ fightin’ stories Grampa Jaimey teld. Torrys wuld grin up at momma allus an’ be teld her ‘momma, y”er so, so pretty, momma!” She did likt dat, an’kisst her Torrys.

Den wuld momma allus, allus sayd: “Why so are you, my Torry-Little! All the Randolphs are fine lookin’ people, well set-up, and handsome as the day is long! But… you know, you won’t understand this yet, my own Little, but it’s just as true, anyhow. All of us pretty, and truly thoroughbred Randolphs, haven’t had a single lick of sense amongst the whole entire lot of us, since the Revolution!”

Torrys wuld allus giggle when momma, Gramma, unc Jimmy sed dat. It was so funnier, Littles thunk. Grown folks thunked it too, an’ even Torry’s guddes quiet, some of times smilin’, some of times no smilin’ Poppa. Playin’ wif boxed up sojers wuld allus make guddes pichurs in Littles heds… guddes’ warm an’ sof an … sleepy-makin’ pichurs, too.

Kinda muzzied, Littles curled up on thems sof, warm, gud smellin’ kinda cot-fing, an’ started in to make more of thems guddesfav’rit ones. Littles wazz a-sleepin’ on their guddes’ sof an warm, gud smellin’ kinda cot-fing, in their guddes’ prize room. They did be get to be goin’ asleepin’ there all th’ times nows.

It put some of them veryiest guddes’ pichurs in their heds, from when Littles was hardly even babies. When Littles snuggled down onta their cot-fing, it put pichurs right in their thinkers, of guddes’ places, an’ peepls, an’… bein’ sayf an’ fine an’ gud boys wif Littles Grammas, Grampas, unc Jimmee, Aun’ Jo, hims Poppa an hims momma, too

Torrys momma was so veryiest many pretty like in fairy stories. She was allus singin, runnin’ smilin’, ridin’ roun wif Torrys, playin’ too. She allus did be laffin, huggin, lovin her own Littles. Poppa was veryiest quiet, but he did smile at Torrys… An it felt veryiest guddes warm an’ fine all down insides… It was a veryiest gudder fing for Torrys to help Poppa get some of smilin… Poppa was a lot saddy nows, but no cried cos thems Poppa wazz all a grown folks, all a growed up boy, nows. Poppa culdn’t fyn hims smilin’ veryiest much nows… Gramma, Aun’ Jo, Grampa, unc’ Jimmy sed-so.

There was a lots of saddys… Littles seed an heered thems, wif ev”body. An’ thems saddys wantad to come sit wif Littles… an wazz veryiest big ol’ saddy… an Littles thinker wuldn’t go, dint wanta go, lookin’ fer th’ why wazz… nope, nope dint wantad go fyn why wazz th’ big ol’ saddy… Littles thunked they wuld jus go huggin’ on Poppa, that wuld, mebbee culd give hims back some of hims smilin,

Poppa liked Torrys Littles huggin on him… An if Poppa culdn’t fyn hims smilin’, Poppa could purely have some of Torrys Littles smilin fer nows. Yup. Littles wuld jus go fyn an hug on thems guddes quiet saddy Poppas… Littles wuld get up from nappin, an go fyn thems veryiest own Poppa…

But nows Littles culdnt. Littles culdnt move or look or lissen or make enny, enny kinda sorta souns … A mos awfully scariest ever fing wazz… Little’s little noses wazz happy snuffin’ at th’ gud smellin’ sof” cot-fing when wazz wakin up “gen. but den… wazz somefings mos awfully bad an scaredy… thems noses founded it an all the bigges’ ever scaredys comed runnin up at Littles gen… thems noses founded thems sharp, almos makin sneezes, almos makin’ Torry’s eyes waterin… like when Grampa Jaimey tookt an’ grounded up pepp”corns for Gramma Jean, an Littles watched… long an long…

Thems sharp, pepp”corn smellin’ somefings allus came wif th mos’ baddes mos’ awfully bad an scaredys … allus camed wif thems mos’ awfully saddy an’ baddes scaredy-dreems… allus camed wif all them baddes pichurs puttin in Littles’ heds… allus camed wif them mos maddy, scaredy talkin… mos’ owwy, scaredy veryiest cohd an maddy talkin’…An’ thems peppercorns smellin allus camed wif thems mos awfully owwys ever… mos skeeredy owwys, mos’ baddes’ owwys…

Littles knowed thems was mos’ awfully baddes… an den more scaredy, maddy talkin…an den more owwys, more baddes’ fings… an allus camed wif all thems mos awfully baddes owwyiest fings … Far an far ways, Littles heered ovver talkins, ovver guddes no skeeredy, no owwy, nevver maddy talkins….But was far an far. An no culd wriggle, turn roun, no culd be talkinup, no culd whi”per… or nothin… th’ mosawfully bad an saddy skeerdy camed on back gen, affer it goed ways affer it no camed for long…

Littles wazz veryiest bad an bad boys, Littles wazz so veryiest an mos awfully dis’ bedien… “gen an’gen, an’ gen! Littles did be laffin’, runnin’ singin’, playin’ Dat wazz mos’ baddes’ dis’bediens, Littles did be smilin’, wrigglin’ cryin’ some of times like babies, an mos awfully, mos’ baddes’ Littles did be talkinup, “gen an’gen, an’ gen’ an gen! Now Littles did be so many veryiest much dis’bedien’, nows Littles culdn’t be camed on home, culdn’t be wif thems Poppa, Gramma, Aun’ Jo, Grampa, unc’ Jimmee! Littles culdn’t be evver gud boys no, no, more, no evver!

Littles guddes momma went aways far an far an far … t’ be a angel… an nows Littles wazz so many much bad boys… thems Littles culdnt be wif thems brovvers…no thems Ds an’ lissen to thems funnier talkins, thems funnier games, no thems Ws, cos thems Ws culdn’t no more be takt cares of Littles… no, no, more evver, evver! An pecially, pecially Littles culdn’t be wif thems Vs, wif thems Ol’est Torry, no, no, mores, an takt cares of thems guddes’ Vs brovvers… no, no, no, mores, evver! Nows Littles did be havta stay steel, stok-steil, stay heers, no ovver, enny, enny ovver places… no, no, evver!

Nows, Littles mus’ allus, allus, allus, allus stay quiyat, lessen thems maddy, scaredy, owwy mans did be sed… Nows, Torrys Littles culdn’t be talkinup no, no, no, more, evver, evver, no to Quiyat Tommy, no to Jac, Jer’mee an’ Frankie, no to Littles ovver guddes’ friens, neever… an’ no, no more to Mee-Gell, no, no more to temusPoppa, neever. No to enny, enny guddes friens, no, no, more, dat wazz veryiest mos’ awfully dis bedien…

The skeerdy did be teld Torrys Littles what if thems be dis bedien gens, nows… Bfor, when Littles was so many awfully dis bedien, the skeerdy sed, what did be happen? Littles guddes’ momma was so many saddy, so many s’amded, so many much owwied, she did be go far an far an far t’ be a angel.
Nows, if Littles did be dis’ bedien’ gen… Nows, thems guddes’ saddy, quiyat Poppa wuld be go far an far …far an far… t’ be a angel wif Torry’s momma…. B’for times, when Torrys was so many awfully dis’ bedien, thems dint hev thems momma no, no, more affer dat! Nows, if Torrys Littles be dis’bedien, thems wuldn’t hev thems guddes’ quiyat Poppa, no, no, no, more neever!
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SS novice field agent

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Posted - 02/09/2009 :  11:32:37  Show Profile
SCENE TEN The infirmary and acute ward, Baltimore State Asylum

The next morning, Miguel de Cervantes woke with a monstrous headache, from a nightmare that faded with altogether too much swiftness for his liking. He couldn’t remember the details, only the suffocating sense of loss and remorse that came with it. And it felt far more like a premonition than simply a case of indigestion. Then he looked around, chuckling to find himself sleeping sitting up beside a former examination table that was now part of his ‘study”. A psychology textbook, as well as one on biochemistry, and another on childhood ailments, the latter two of which he and Antoinette co-authored, lay open in front of the small doctor. He’d simply fallen asleep while reading, but still he felt distinctly uneasy.

“Could someone please pull the shades down in here? The sun’s awfully bright for December, isn’t it?” Jemison Singer asked, rubbing his forehead, as he walked back into the infirmary above the main ward.

“Dr. Singer, do you have a headache as well?” Miguel asked, his unease getting considerably larger as he peered at the Raleigh native.

“Yes, a rather fierce one, in fact. I didn’t even mean to sleep this long, but it seemed to be the only solution.” “Jemmy” Singer answered. “And where’s… where are the boys, this morning?”

“Come over and take one of the powders Antoinette sent me last week. She has a wonderful way with cures for headaches and other physical annoyances. The Torrys are probably back in their favorite corner of the prize room, with all the quilts and pieces and patches and cot-parts they could drag with them to play ‘tens’ an’sojers’.” The small doctor answered, grinning. ‘that whole martial business truly must have been ingrained on his psyche at a very early age, it seems to me, from observing the Torrys at their favorite games.”

“I’ll take one of those headache powders myself, as long as you’re handing them out, Doctor.” Artemus Gordon declared, groaning as he got up from the cot he’d been trying to sleep on with little succeSsmost of the night. ‘my head feels like it’s been twisted off and put back on exactly wrong this morning. It is morning, isn’t it?”

“It is eight and three quarters of an hour ante meridian, to be precise, Mr. Gordon.” Miguel frowned. “And all three of us now seem to have awoken with headaches! Both of you come over here! I want to examine each of you, at once!”

“There’s no seeming about it, and no need for an exam, Doctor, really.” Artie protested, manfully restraining his urge to make a horrible pun about two doctors in the same place being a paradox. “Anyway, I was about to ask, how old were you, Doctor, when you first peered through a microscope, or a telescope for that matter?”

“Three and a half, with my father’s assistance for the latter, Mr. Gordon. But with the great cost of just the lenses for the former, I had to wait another full year before I was permitted to prepare a slide and then study and report on what I saw. I was rather precocious, however.”

“And Jim West could have mustered out a Colonel General, if he hadn’t split his own war efforts between the General Staff and the Bureau.” Artie proclaimed, sure that Jim would never say the same on his own behalf.

“Of Military Information, yes, yes, I knew that. So, your hypothesis is that Major West possDubbyuhs all the qualities that could have made him another of the “Boy Generals’ of the late War? Or are you taking it a step further and claiming he could be some sort of military genius?” Miguel asked, enjoying the return of Artie’s healthier, more challenging manner.

“Yes, and yes. Although the latter isn’t something Jim would ever lay claim to for himself. He follows the President’s example very closely on the subject of his achievements during the War and will hardly talk about them. He doesn’t like to talk about the War at all, much, in fact. And right there’s another red flag I should have picked right up on, the last time we talked, two years ago!”

“Artie,” Jemmy said, shaking his head and grasping Artie’s right arm. “We’ve been all through that. What did we miss, and whatever it was, how could we miSs it? Have you talked to Frank about how sick he felt, when Jim was found here, knowing he didn’t stop that obstinate, impetuous Cousin of mine from going out, when Jim was mad as a wet hen and primed for trouble? And doesn’t Frank know what we all do: that no one and nothing short of a Presidential order had a snowflake’s chance in Hades of stopping Torry that night?”

“If he doesn’t I’ll be glad to help knock that into his Vermont marble- head, for him.” Artie offered.

“Hey, are you three finally awake again, then?” Rand Alexander asked, rushing into the infirmary, with Ori, Rob, and Mairtin right behind him.

“Awake again?” Jemmy asked his protégé from Raleigh. ‘randolph, old fellow, what do you mean?”

“He means we were all gassed, down in the main ward, just yesterday.” Mairtin answered. “And on top of that someone dosed all three of you, probably with some kind of narcotic.”

“Gassed… and then dosed?” Artie echoed. “Ori, what in the world are you talking about? I just woke up and my head’s aching like fire but…”

“But you don’t remember what happened up here, and then down in the ward, yesterday?” Ori demanded. “Artie, me boyyo, you’ve got that picture-takin’ memory!”

“Well, the picture’s damned hazy just now, Sean Oriel, me boyyo. So would you like to explain what you’re talking about?” Artemus insisted.

“The bastards who still run this place upped the ante, big time. There was a fire in the Administrator’s office, just before noon.” Mairtin answered as Ori seemed dumbfounded just at the moment. “And we’ll get back to that, but in brief it looks to have been deliberately set, probably in some of those record files locked up in there. And when that happened, you, and the docs, and Jim all came down to the ward.

And then the commotion really began. Some of the boys got just plain knocked out when the guards ran in to the middle of the ward. We were trying to raise a ruckus but not the way they had in mind. A lot of the new guards had these odd looking cans or boxes or containers of some kind attached to their rifles. When they fired, the place filled with something very like your tearing gas, but with an extra punch, or maybe something missing. It knocked almost all of us out. “

“Almost all of you?” Miguel asked.

“Mickey and Seanny and I had some of your breathing masks, Artie.” Rob answered. “So we were … alright. In any case, when Mickey and I got the three of you fellows up here, Doctor, we couldn’t rouse you at all. So that’s when we checked further; You were all injected with a drug of some kind. And it must have been a strong one, if none of you remember any of that happening.”

“Well, I surely don’t.” Jemmy admitted. “What happened then?”

“I wired Pop, to let him know about this new trouble.” Mairtin answered. “We all thought he should try to convince the President …”

“Hold on!” Artie demanded, all of a sudden realizing what was wrong with what Rob said. “Hold on, you said the three of us were drugged, what about Jim?”

“When we looked around the main ward he wasn’t anywhere to be seen.” Ori quickly replied. “But before we’d searched all of this building, we found Jim, next door here, in the acute ward, sound asleep, curled up on a cot, just like a little boy. Well, we were so glad that he was safe and he …seemed alright. We didn’t want to … to rouse him. So Mickey and Rob didn’t really examine Jim to see if he’d been drugged, too.”

“Well, then we’d best do that examination, now.” Miguel nodded, and turned to Jemmy. “Jemison, I’m still rather stiff, if you’ll…”

“Wait.” Artie said, holding up one hand. ‘doctor, you said a moment ago… Are you sure … the Torrys are awake, now? Because if they are, they’re being awfully quiet.” Artie asked, looking towards and then striding towards the playroom, his gut instincts not calling out but shrieking.

“He’s right, Jemison, if you will …” Miguel reached out for the doctor-agent’s assistance. And following the example Jacques set months ago, Jemison lifted Miguel onto his shoulders and strode after Artie.

“Great G-d!” Artie gasped, stopping no more than a foot away from Jim. He felt as though they’d all jumped back seven months and more, to the time the soldier-agent was first found here. Jim sat in the far corner of the playroom, absolutely silent, pressing his thin frame against the place where the two walls met, as if he would merge with that wood and plaster at any moment. His shoulders were slumped, his knees bent, his legs tucked in closely to his chest and his arms folded tightly over his knees. His head lay on that self-pillow as if it were too heavy to lift.

Jim looked more than anything, Artie thought with a shudder, like one of the hundreds of Soldier’s memorial statues around the District, the ones showing a uniformed figure in abject mourning for his lost comrades at arms. But he moved and he breathed, the former actor was hugely relieved to see. In fact, Jim shook as if with a new bout of malaria. But there was no hectic color on his face, no sign of dizziness, nausea or other symptoms of that quartan fever’s onset. He gave no sign of hearing the trio enter the room, no reaction at all when they moved closer.

“Ori, go send Thomas another wire, right now.” Artie whispered to his protégé, fighting for and finding the fortitude to think like an agent. ‘the President can’t come up here. Something’s very wrong and I don’t want him anywhere near this place. Well, I didn’t want him here to begin with. Word the wire as strongly as you possibly can. And then send one just like it directly to President Grant’s private telegraph instrument in the Oval Office, over my name.

As senior agent on the premises, in Thomas’ absence, I’m telling the President the circumstances have shifted here so drastically that we cannot do our jobs if he takes such an unwarranted risk. He can fire me when I get back to Washington if he wants to, for putting it that way. But that’s exactly the way I’m putting it. You might add that I highly doubt his former Chief Security Advisor would thank the President for gratuitously placing himself in the line of fire.”

“Yes, sir.” Ori nodded. “And I’m going to send Thaddeus, Mairtin and Rand, since they’re in good shape and we need Mick and Rob here, back to the District to give their own report on this in person. I’ve already sent mine. It was my idea to start up that brouhaha in the main ward. And Mick says nineteen inmates have already died from the effects of that damn gas!”

“Fine, then get going.” Artie answered but spared his protégé another glance. ‘sean Oriel, me fine boyyo, we all make bad judgment calls at one time or another. Don’t waste your time, or your thinking, or your energy on yours. Not now. That can wait till we’re … out of this mess. Okay?”

“Okay, ta, Artie.” Ori nodded again and strode over to the telegraph on Miguel’s desk. Mairtin was already halfway out the door, but Rand stopped long enough to glance at Jemmy. His mentor gave the younger ‘tar Heel’ one look over his shoulder and simply mouthed. “Go.”

Now, stepping closer to Jim, Jemison bit back his own cry of dismay. When Jim laboriously turned his head on its resting place Jemmy saw another frightening change in his affect. The younger agent’s blinded, always restless eyes, were fixed on nothing the others could see, and whatever that was was terrifying. After months of moving away from near catatonia, James West once more sat frozen in place, mute, shut down, and shut off from all of them.

What in the very devil could have happened? Artie somehow found the presence of mind to sign, rather than speaking aloud to the doctors. He’s …this is the way he was seven months ago and more, the way he was when Mac and I got here! What did we do? What? Great G-d, did I miss some sign this could happen to Jim, again?

Any number of things could have happened to cause this seeming relapse. Miguel replied in kind, getting down from Jemison’s shoulder and walking up to the silent figure. Any number of things, which I apparently, utterly failed to note as potential threats to him, whatsoever. Well, here’s the result of my arrogant, false confidence in the measures we’ve already taken! All of them, Major West, the Torrys, and all their brothers are back to being sealed off from us, back to being buried, buried alive, inside his skull.

Friends, Jemison interjected by the same eloquent, silent means. Let’s not waste time with blaming ourselves, here. Something, or someone doing something, more like, triggered this state in Torry, in all the Torrys, the first time. And clearly, something’s triggered it all over again. And my first, best guess is it has to be something that hasn’t come anywhere near my cousin in more than half a year’s time. So…

“So what’s here, again, now,” Artie whispered nodding agreement, when he saw still no reaction to their presence from the child/man. ‘that hasn’t been here since then? And how did … whatever it is, get here? Any ideas how we find that out, doctors? Because only two people I know of, well, physically speaking, only two, knew what made this happen the first time. And … one of them’s a damned, dead madman. And the other’s sitting right there, but he may as well be deaf and mute.”

Artie sighed, already feeling defeated, but started looking around the playroom for whatever dangerous substance, object or item there had sent Jim reeling backward this way. Badly needing to do something, Artie was feeling, once more, as if he’d been well dusted with itching-powder, the way he’d felt seven months ago. But with Jacques’ help and … yes, the small doctor’s, there was a clearly discernible difference, now. Now the actor-agent knew this edgy, short-fused, distrustful feeling came from their enemies, from Stephan Aynsley and his damned patterning. And something was niggling at the back of Artie’s mind, trying to come through about this, or about a way to find their answers.

Miguel remained sitting quietly beside the blind man, as he had on his own arrival here, months before. Not by sign or sigh or word did the small doctor show his own dejection to the child/man. The Torrys were still in there, and the more he watched the more Miguel saw tell-tales of their presence. They had their own way of fidgeting, in the tiniest possible increments, and that was one of these signals. They canted their heads, his head, towards his right shoulder when they were trying hardest to listen, that was another. And once or twice, perhaps three times, they just barely bit at their lower lips, clearly to keep from ‘talkinup”, now. As long as they were able to do that, he had hope of disinterring the brothers, young and old alike, once more.

“Torry, don’t, now.” Miguel soothed him, rubbing the child’s back, as he did with Micah Diego, “You’re trying so veryiest hard now, not to move a muscle. I know that. And I know you were somehow, told not to move, not to speak, and not to reach for us, again. But you needn’t be so veryiest afraid. Truly. You needn’t do what the nightmare bids you again, ever.”

“He’s right, Torry.” Artie heard himself fervently telling the child, now, to his own mild surprise. “You don’t have to listen to that scaredy, ever, anymore. Remember, remember Torry, how we talked about, how we showed you those liars, those monsters on two legs, are the ones who are truly frightened, truly cowards? Remember how … Miguel told you they want most of all you to be as afraid as they are? Well that’s exactly right! Isn’t it, Jemmy?”

“That’s exactly, exactly right, Cousin.” Jemmy agreed, wondering if the children, the Torrys could hear them at all, now. ‘so you just listen to Miguel, to ‘temus and to me, now, all right? And you come on awake again, just as soon as you’re ready.”

“That’s right, Torry. That’s right.” Miguel agreed. “We’re just going to stay here with you, and do all we can to make sure you know your “guddes Jemmee, an’ temusPoppa, an’ Mee-Gell are here with you. And somehow we will find the means to protect you, until we are all far away from here, and after! We will take you to a good, quiet, sunny place, Torry. We will take you where you can have fresh air, good food, and clean, safe water, every day.

No more dark corners, and no need to hide in them, no more hurts, no more bad an’ scaredy mans, ever. Torry, you know, your oldest brother has heard me saying something of this nature a few score, perhaps a few hundred times, by now but I still hold to it. I want a world, a whole, entire, world that is safe for, kind to, open for, comforting to, and at peace for all its children! I always have.”

Miguel chuckled, and shrugged a little tiredly. “Well, yes, it’s true, sometimes, in the past, I had some… marginally odd notions on how to accomplish that goal. And, well, yes, I did think at one time I should have my grandmother’s land grant reestablished. It did seem the logical way to go, at that time, starting a Children’s haven, where my own had once been.” Miguel heard a pair of very polite, quiet coughs now, and looked up at his colleagues.

Both agents had stopped their search of the playroom to glance at him, and both wore quizzical expressions. They would get no response to their skepticism from the small doctor, he decided. Smiling blandly, Miguel merely nodded and waved at them, somewhat regally, he thought, to indicate they should go back to their business.

“Yes, Torry,” he went on addressing only the child/man. “A Children’s Haven is still one of my most cherished, determined, long term goals. But I think, instead of some sort of lugubrious grown folks idea of a title, I’ll just call it Treasure Island, or as ma cher Antoinette prefers I say it, Isle d’ Tresor.”

Making a tremendous effort not to giggle somewhat nervously himself, Jemison turned back to searching the playroom, exchanging a wry, still troubled glance with Artie. Careful not to rearrange too much of the makeshift tents and encampments, and not to displace too many of the Torry’s play-things, the agents spent the next few hours lifting, looking, shaking and sifting through every puzzle, every pile of the sighted Torrys’ drawings, and every tin of his much loved tin soldiers.

Now, Jemmy stopped a moment, smiling at one particular collection of tiny Revolutionary War figures. “These have been his favorites, I think, just lately.” The North Carolinian said quietly. ‘torry and all of our cousins were raised on stories of the Revolution in the Southern colonies, all about Camden and Charleston, Cornwallis and Gates, Tarleton, and of course, Francis Marion.”

“One of the Torrys likes to play out those stories, too. It’s not surprising, is it? Everyone around him probably thought they had a budding general on their hands when Jim was growing up.”Artie nodded, and then shook off glum thoughts of the trials and changes that “budding general’ had gone through. “Where did that tin of tin soldiers come from, Jemmy?”

“Wait, Artie, I was just about to ask you the same thing. You don’t know, either?” Jemison asked, frowning, and studying the box more closely.

“I have no idea.” Artemus answered. “Doctor, do you know how these tin soldiers got here, or from whom?”

“Well, as a matter of fact, it was delivered less than a week ago. And when I made a point of inquiring, the Administrator’s young clerk simply told me it came by post from Virginia. Torry was moping a bit that particular day, running a low-grade temperature, just overnight. But no sooner did he get an idea of what was in that box, than the child, and I’m fairly sure this was the brother named ‘torry Sojer”, perked up considerably. He grew quite excited and not a little fretful whenever something interrupted his playing with them the rest of that day.” Miguel told them, and then grew thoughtful, putting one long hand up to his face, before he went on.

”He spent all the rest of his waking time that day, and the next, playing with these soldiers, to the exclusion of all the others in here, all the puzzles, and all the other toys. They were all he wanted to play with. And he chattered away like a little magpie, telling me the stories he was weaving about them. In fact, Sojer became exceedingly animated, while playing with them. In fact, in comparing his behaviors to Micah Diego’s in roughly similar circumstances, meaning when they receive a present or a toy they want very much, or that is for some boyish reason exceedingly important to them, I’d say both boys become almost agitated.”

“Agitated?” Jemison echoed, while Artemus kept his own counsel for a moment and listened.

“That’s definitely the clinical term I would apply to the same behavior in an adult patient, yes.” Miguel nodded.

“But you, yourself, have made a great deal of hay, Doctor, about the idea that we’re no longer dealing with an adult … patient or otherwise.” Artie pointed out.

“More precisely we’re no longer dealing with only an adult named James Torrance Kieran West, Mr. Gordon. Are you now going back to your earlier stance of denying that seminal fact in this case?”

“I’m not going anywhere, Doctor.” Artie told him, frowning. “And especially not right now, because I want to know where you’re going with that rather odd sounding description of …a little boy playing with a new set of toy soldiers. “

“Well to tell the truth, I was only thinking aloud, just then, merely ruminating, as you might say.” Miguel said, not feeling much like a genius at the moment.

Artie sighed again and shook his head. Something, a whole handful of somethings, really, were niggling at the back of his mind about all this. All he needed was some peace and quiet and the time to see how they might fit together. But how much time did they have with Jim and his brothers in this buried state again? The actor-agent feared the answer to that was ‘less and less’. And where were all those brothers? Wasn’t the whole concept he was still struggling to comprehend that they only existed to begin with to protect and to help their ‘oldest’ brother deal with the kind of childhood terrors no child should ever have to understand, much less’deal with’.

So what was going on here? What could have driven all of them, including the ones with all the swagger and reckless, defiant nature that was so much a part of Jim West, into hiding, now? And if they were somehow gone, now, in some way Artemus didn’t think he could begin to understand, ‘disbanded’, how was Jim West going to make it through a repetition of the last seven months?

Artie recalled all too well that he’d been strident in his disbelief regarding Jim’s brother-selves. But now he knew that disbelief in anything that might exonerate the younger man, was literally put into his head by Aynsley and company. So, with time and a boost, a well placed jibe, or a swift kick in the pants, now and then from Jacques, Jeremy and Mac, the actor-agent had “come around’ to accepting the ‘seminal fact’ of their existence and their more or less benign purpose. And now he found himself in the odd position of heartily wishing one or more of these alternatives, these brother-selves of his partner, would emerge again.

“C’mon fellas,” Artie whispered. “C’mon, just give us some kind of signal, send up some sort of flare, fly a few red flags, maybe to let us know where, besides the inside of my partner’s head, you’ve got off to. And why, yeah, the reason why you left Jim in the lurch, would be nice to know, as well, about now.”

While he pondered these things the actor went on with his immediate task, which happened to be searching through a pile of Torry’s drawings. These were colorful, childish renditions of yet more soldiers and their accoutrements. Considering the present condition of Jim West’s eyes, they were that much more amazing, showing what Artie would have, in other circumstances, called “a fine eye” for motion and rough form. Now, ruefully glancing over his shoulder at a still frozen, still mute, still stone blind Jim West, Artemus Gordon wasn’t sure if these pictures dismayed or awed him. Maybe the truth, as it did so often, lay somewhere in between. Now half of the drawings slid off the table and Artie, fuming, bent to them up.

“Fumble-fingers!” the actor mocked himself, and then stopped in the midst of putting the offending artwork back where it came from. A smaller sheet of more finely milled paper, scored like a ledger was sticking about a third of the way out, under another stack of drawings.

“Wait, wait just a moment, here.” Artie said, mostly to himself, and pulled the sheet all the way out of its evident hiding place. Writing in lead pencil, in a careful, schoolboy’s hand, covered both sides of the sheet. But it wasn’t readable at first glance. “What have we here? Jemmy, Doctor, take a look at this, will you?” The actor said and walked back to the two doctors, each of whom now sat dejectedly on either side of Jim.

“It’s coded.” Jemison noted immediately, while Artie and Miguel nodded in agreement. “But not in any code I know on sight. And what is more, I don’t recall seeing any of the Torrys, actually writing. They just don’t have those skills yet. They don’t have the least idea of handwriting, much less coding. So what’s going on here? And don’t we already have enough mysteries to solve?”

“This is odd, very odd, indeed.” Miguel agreed. “And surely if the brothers wished to encode something for us, for us to find I mean, they would have chosen a more complex cipher than this which is a relatively straightforward reverse-numeric.”

“Let me take another look at that.” Artie said and did so. ‘doctor, you’re right, and you’re wrong. But don’t be disheartened. This is written in a kind of reverse-numeric code, numbers being switched for letters. But, with a second glance, I know Jim… I know one of the brothers wrote this.”

“And just how do you know that, Mr. Gordon?” Miguel asked, feeling the way he usually did when Antoinette told him he was being peevish.

“Because I just realized this is written in a code that Jim West showed me when we first met. And at first I just couldn’t keep from exclaiming and laughing. And I told Jim this was a perilously decipherable code to be using, especially in wartime, and especially that War, when the enemy had more West Pointers in their ranks than we did. And I meant it, because at first glance this looked to me like a code a plebe fresh in the gate at West Point could break and break into smithereens.

Well, that ruffled the feathers of the West Pointer in our ranks just a bit; he can get pretty touchy about the Military Academy. And I don’t doubt all those Southerners heading home, from ‘the Point’, and pledging themselves to the Southern Cause, before the War started was something of a sore point with men like Jim, and George Thomas, who didn’t leave their oaths or their Country behind. But in typically Westian style, in the next moment Jim laughed right back and told me that first year men, at West Point decades past, actually did invent the code he showed me. And it wasn’t just a one-dimensional reverse-numeric by the time he got there. And Jim went on to insist this was a perfectly good code to start with, because by the time he showed it to me, in the fall of “61, nobody was using reverse-numeric codes any longer. And thus no one had the ciphers for them, much less the training to use them.”

“And are we to assume that somewhere in that prodigious, eidetic memory of yours, Gordon, the cipher needed for this encoded document still lives and breathes, as it were?” Miguel asked tiredly.

“I’d say we’re about to find out, Doctor.” Artie said, noting the general petulance of the small doctor was on the rise, again. But where at one time this would have amused, or even delighted the agent, now he found himself not reacting that way at all. Now it merely occurred to him to wonder how much rest de Cervantes had been getting lately. The actor sat next to Jim, now and studied the ‘document’ intently for several minutes.

Then he pulled a battered leather-bound notebook from his coat pocket and began alternatively leafing through it, reading old entries and making new ones. As this process went on, Artie found himself moving incrementally closer to his partner, out of long habit, he supposed. But then, for the space of an instant, it seemed that Jim was aware enough of his surroundings to take comfort in and lean against his partner’s broad shoulder. Jemison watched with a wry half-smile.
These partners, all trials and tribulations to the contrary notwithstanding, retained a tacit and inimitable synergy. And that alone had carried them, and oft times the nation, safely through horrendous perils. Now the North Carolinian, who’d been their friend for years couldn’t help wondering if the younger partner, Jim West, would ever be consciously aware of that or anything in his world again. The answer to that was looking more and more like a resounding “no”.

But we have to keep at it, don’t we? Jemmy considered. G-d knows, Torry would do the same for any of his partners, if not a tad bit more for Artemus. Artie tells me, and I have to believe him, knowing Torry, that my cousin has pulled his partners, Jeremy, Frank, Jacques and Artemus’ bacon out of the fire on any number of occasions. It just seemed to be what the team of agents Thomas Macquillan and James Richmond put together do! And they’d do it again in a heartbeat. Mac Macquillan and James Richmond made that team happen, surely. But then, this magnet for disaster younger partner came onboard.

And in no time at all, from what they’ve told me, Torry was a core component of every plan, every mission, and of the team as well. I suppose some folks would only see that as signs of a young man’s natural drive, his ambition. That’s because they don’t know Torry is the least ambitious man in the Secret Service! Well, maybe he’s not the least; Thomas likely owns clear title to first place in that category. But Thomas is also, second only to the President, Torry’s surrogate father and mentor. So, it’s only natural, that working with and serving with those two extraordinary and extraordinarily shy men he admires so much Torry would become almost as self-effacing as they are.

Miguel de Cervantes watched all three men from his own singular perspective. And he tried to be more patient, working hard in fact to hold back his urge to appropriate and decipher for himself this strangely written and yet more strangely arrived ‘document’. Everything, except his ‘oldest friend’, the grinding pain in his joints and spine, a result of some intractable lacking of their cartilage, and his own just-bearable homesickness for Antoinette and Micah, had been progressing well, if slowly.

Until less than a few hours ago, a few hours! Now, everything seemed to be set at just the right pitch to fray his already overburdened nerves. The Torrys and their brothers already came through this ordeal of outwardly enforced captivity within their own minds, their own frames, and their own psyches once. Why had they slipped this far back now, this morning? What triggered such a severe withdrawal? The Torrys were still quite young; most of them were pre-literate, in fact.

So, think, de Cervantes, he scolded himself. And think as hard and as fast as you possibly can, which is considerable. What could trigger this level of pure terror in a small boy? It has to be something sensory! It has to be something he touched or tasted or heard or … for those few of the Torrys who remain sighted, something he saw, or smelled, doesn’t it? Children of their age are incredibly attuned to, and forcefully prompted by, as regards the world and the people around them, their senses. Well, they have to be, don’t they? Add to that all-encompassing fact of human development, and the fact that at least twice in his early childhood, James West’s or rather, Torry West’s, world was wholly capsized and never entirely righted.

And what you have is a child-mind that was first shattered by his tormentor, and then bereft of its central figure, Jessamyn Anne Randolph West. What you have, what we still have, is a child-mind, a child-spirit so young at the first instance of that torment it could only perceive its world through sight and sound, touch and taste, and scent. Only to have all those mainstays, all those paths to understanding, betrayed so horribly they still are not wholly recovered, thirty two years on! And either that same tormentor, or someone privy to that appalling history, has acted now, here, in the last half-day to turn back seven months of healing. But they may not have succeeded as well as we first thought on seeing the Torrys so mute, so still, again.

“Well, Mr. Gordon? What have you discerned from this inexplicably arrived … paper? Well? I’ve entirely lost my patience for this!” Miguel demanded.

“ Really, Doctor?” Artie, his dark, bright eyes lit with mischief, suddenly couldn’t help quipping. ‘tell me, where did you last have it?”

“Artemus!” In the absence of their team leader, Jemmy did his best to frown in true ‘Macquillan-style, at the actor. But in another moment both he and the small doctor had given in to their weary funny bones. Combine sentences And in the next all three men were laughing so hard it was almost painful. It couldn’t last any more than a summer thunderstorm. And like that kind of cloudburst, generated by extremes of heat and cold, it was mostly generated by nerves stretched taut.

“My apologies, doctors.” Artie finally managed when he was breathing better. “Now, where were we?”

“This unprovenanced, unlooked for document. The decipherment thereof.” Miguel answered, succinctly.

“Well, it seems to be a list, and I think it’s possibly a list of names, maybe, from the way …the brothers talk, a kind of roster. But its an odd sort of list, or roster, to say the least. Not that any part of this boondoggle has been ordinary. And part of the oddness is that if these are names they’re not written down in columns. They’re written down as part of what seem to be sentences, except for the first three lines here.” Artie took the sheet of what seemed to be ledger paper and spread it out on the nearest “play-table”, and next to it, the leaf from his journal he was using to write out his solution.

“Alright, what it seems to be saying at the top on the first side, well the first side if I’m going by the number at the bottom right, is ‘the Four” Artie pointed to his ‘scratch paper” and back to the encryption. “And then, here’s the second line, which seems to be the titles we’ve heard the Torrys and the others using for themselves. ‘littlers or Littles, Defiants or Defenders, Watchers or Witnesses, Veterans’ or Old Hands’. And the third line, again in
an ordinary document, I’d say these were also titles, or categories, ‘tutors, Trustees, Sentinels, Troopers’. And below those three lines, there are… let me … yes, there are forty seven rather run-on sentences.”

“Forty-seven!” Jemison echoed. “Great Glory! Can there be that many brothers?”

“If that wasn’t a rhetorical question, Jemison, then the answer is decidedly yes. And as we’ve already seen with the brothers who’ve made themselves known so far, and if our current…. if Mr. Gordon’s current theory proves out, then yes, indeed there forty seven times four!” Miguel answered. “Go on, Mr. Gordon.”

“Well, I’m…” Artie stopped, shaking his head. “ I’m speculating, in a way here, in the way all code breakers have to. And so…”

“You’re not certain, Gordon?” Miguel demanded, frowning. “You don’t know what it says?”

“In the sense that I’m not the author here, no, Doctor, I’m not, and no, I don’t.” Artie admitted. “I’m using the cipher I know, that seems to best fit with the way this document is encrypted. And the only way I would have of being certain in a case like this would be if the author told me so, whoever that is. And at first glance I would have said it was Jim West, who can’t even tell if I’m in the room, right now. It’s written in a hand somewhat similar to Jim’s. But this is definitely more formal, more like a schoolchild’s.”

“Artie, hold on a minute. Let me look at this again.” Jemison asked. ‘something is familiar to me, about the way this page is set up. And maybe if I gape at it for another minute… I’ll be able to tell you two what I’m half-remembering.”

“Be my guest, Jemmy. I’m beginning to think maybe this particular puzzle is more complicated than we imagined.” Artie said and stepped aside, to let the North Carolinian physician “gape” at the ledger page again.

“Well, well, Jemison, what’s there? What’s familiar to you?” Miguel demanded to be told.

“Sorry, Artie, sorry, you were close, but you’re wrong here.” Jemison finally said, straightening his back and stretching.

“I’m usually willing to stand corrected, Jemmy. Where did I go wrong, exactly?” Artie frowned. It was still somewhat uncomfortable to him, some days more than others, to have the small doctor openly listening to the agent’s conversations, and more so when the agents disagreed.

“Well, I don’t know how important this point is or isn’t. But this isn’t a formal roster: It’s a watch-rotation schedule, the kind that was posted for every Army encampment during the War. And it’s the kind of hand written watch-schedule that still gets posted at every Army post and fort. Or, at least that’s the way it looks to my tired eyes. If I’m right, this may be meant to show how the brothers are organized. But how will we know that, if they’re all locked up inside Jim again, now? How can we even get started, from just about Square One, again, without … and this sounds odd, even as I say it, without their help?” Jemmy asked.

“But why are they trying to tell us now, today, how they keep watch for their Oldest brother?” Miguel added, frowning in concentration much as Artie was. And then, almost in the same instant, both men laughed and clapped Jemison appreciatively; on his arm in the former case, on his back in the latter.

“They need us to call them up, all of them.” Miguel and Artemus said at the same moment and then looked appropriately chagrinned.

“Call them up, as in roll call, as in calling the roster?” Jemison asked.

“That’s it, Jemmy. We need to call them, all of them, to report in and get their orders, just as any troop would do after Reveille and before Drills. Something sent all the brothers back into bivouac. And don’t ask me, I have no clue how I know that. Combine sentences But I do. And so a roll call just might be what brings them out, again, following what seems to be their quasi-military way of … being. And, in that sense this may be their roster.” Artie smiled.

“That being the most likely case, we need to call them up, in the way a troop expects, by reading out their names, reading them exactly as they appear, my friends, on both sides of that ledger paper.” Miguel added, craning his neck to look up at Artie. “And yes, by the way, Mr. Gordon, I did just refer to both of you as my friends. And that is surely something to be discussed, or even to be debated, on another day. Shall we simply agree to continue our somewhat less-armed, armed truce for the time being?”

“Certainly, Doctor.” Artie nodded, holding back on his urge to bow mockingly to ‘the little man’.

“Hey, wait a minute, fellows!” Jemison exclaimed, still looking at Artie’s deciphering and the original. “We can’t! We can’t do this. Don’t you see? It’s not physically, not even remotely possible!”

“What? Why not?” Artie demanded.

“Yes, whyever not, Jemison?” Miguel asked.

“Because, over the last seven months and a little more, my friends, there’s never been a time when we’ve seen more than one of the brothers at the same time. And I’d have to gueSsthat’s because physically speaking, there still is only one Jim West for them to… appear, to emerge from. So, how in the world can we suddenly ask all of them, counting Jim as their Oldest, the way the Torrys do… how can all the rest of them, all at once, “go on stage” as it were? I know, Artie, I know, I’m always the spoilsport around here, aren’t I?” Jemison groused.

“Only when I don’t get there first, my friend.” Artie quipped. “ And only when neither Mac Macquillan nor Colonel Richmond push ahead of me. Well, we’re stymied again. And we can’t be! Jim and … his brothers can’t afford for us to cave, especially not now. So we need to get creative here, we need to be a whole lot more imaginative.”

“And I concur, for which breach of our agreement to disagree, I will apologize later, Mr. Gordon. We can’t be tied down by conventional, commonplace considerations. The Torrys and their brothers are, after all, to be somewhat clinical about it, a number, an array if you will, of bio-chemical, neuro-psychological processes and responses to very adverse stimuli, within their original, their Oldest’s, mind.

And clearly, they are also entirely discrete and psychologically self-aware whole entities, who do not and at this late date, likely will not cease to exist merely because we do not, or more precisely, we cannot ourselves always perceive them. And we have all seen these processes, these responses, these entities, flow into one another like tributary streams flowing into a river.

Moreover, I think it’s clear that we have all seen these brother-selves on numerous occasions for some years before they allowed us to consciously encounter them. Therefore, I believe them to be perfectly capable of communicating with us by other means than their more practiced self-expression through Major West’s physiology. That being said, there is no question in my mind that Mr. Gordon only found this list, this watch-rotation, today as a result of the brother’s otherwise thwarted means of making contact. And he found it while we were all searching our minds and memories and this room, for something to aid Major West and his brothers through this new crisis.” Miguel offered, going back to sit next to Jim.

“I’d add that the Torrys who made those drawings very proudly showed me each and every sheet they’d used in the last fortnight or more. And so I am positive there was no ledger sheet, no rotation, and no roster amongst them, until today. And all those factors simply do not allow for the effects and causes of mere coincidence. What we have here is plainly a message in a bottle, gentlemen. I strongly suggest we take full, swift advantage of it, in order to get the Torrys and their brothers off this ostensible desert island!”

“And the risks, Miguel?” Jemison asked, looking glumly at the small doctor. “What are we doing about the risks of trying this, that we neither know, nor understand, yet? Are you saying we’re just going to, to continue your analogy, blithely sail past them, my friend?”

“No, not at all. I’m saying we have no other choice than to risk the breakers, and the rocks in the harbor, the jetties, the coral, and the stingrays, and the possibility of drowning, now, my friend. The ‘risk” of doing nothing at this juncture would mean not only becoming complicit ourselves in what our enemies wish to accomplish. No, it would mean sitting back now, today, and watching the brothers, all the brothers die, within a prison
of their worst enemy’s making. A prison that was fashioned when they were very, very young, from their minds, their hearts, their memories, their spirits, and their very physiology! And I have no more intention of allowing that, of doing that than you, or Artemus, Thomas, Jacques, or any of our allies. Which is to say, this we cannot and we will not allow.”

“No, by all that’s holy, we won’t!” Jemison nodded. “I don’t suppose either of you two ‘old seafarers’ are as scared about this as I am?”

“Petrified, would be a better way to put how much I’m scared, right now, Jemmy.” Artie told him, putting one hand on the North Carolinian’s shoulder.

“Chary.” Miguel responded, earning another pair of skeptical glances; one hazel eyed from Jemmy and one deep brown from Artemus. “Well, gentlemen, shall we take our turns at this calling of the roll? Mr. Gordon, you earned pride of place, having found the “bottle”. You should begin.”
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SS novice field agent

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Posted - 02/09/2009 :  11:34:28  Show Profile

“Thank you.” Artie answered, clearing his throat with just the slightest note of sarcasm. ‘the Watch; The Four: The Companies: L Company, First Company, First born, Littlers, Tutors. W Company. Second Company, Second born, Witnesses, Watchers, Pickets. D Company, Third Company, Third born, Defiants, Defenders, Dreamers. V Company, Fourth Company, Last born, Veterans, Novices, and Plebes.” He read as before, then as always before a recital closed his eyes and took a deep breath, and went on reading:

“Whisperin’ watches for D’artagnan, who watches for Tin Man, who watches for Scout who watches for Whisperin
Notalkinup watches for Quiet Tommy who watches for Turncoat, who watches for Attache, who watches for Notalkinup
Noseein’ watches for Blind Beggar, who watches for Seer, who watches for Travis, who watches for Noseein’
Skeered watches for Buckingham, who watches for Richelieu, who watches for Gascon, who watches for Skeered
Genrls Torry watches for West Pointer who watches for Darius who watches for Alexander, who watches for Genrls Torry
Sojer watches for Athos, who watches for Loyalist who watches for Galahad, who watches for Sojer
Wrigglin watches for Youngster who watches of Doubting Thomas, who watches for Dad, who watches for Wrigglin’
M’hundry watches for Porthos, who watches for Headstrong, who watches for AWOL, who watches for M’hundry
Yowlin’, watches for Monster, who watches for Vengeful who watches for Innocent, who watches for Yowlin
Foal watches for Lead Agent who watches for Lunatic, who watches for PrinceOTWM, who watches for Foal
Runnin’ watches for No hero who watches for His Grace who watches for Black sheep, who watches for Runnin’
Nohearin watches for Protégé who watches for Cassius, who watches for Brutus who watches for Nohearin
Dutafu watches for Campaigner, who watches for Raider, who watches for Cavalry, who watches for Dutafu
Notelldis watches for Johannes, who watches for Subject, who watches for Emissary, who watches for Notelldis
Shad’o watches for Cyrano, who watches for de Guiche, who watches for Baronet, who watches for Shad’o
Genrls Fraancis Maari”in watches for Lafayette, who watches for Tarleton, who watches for Partisan, who watches for GFM,
All fi” nows watches for Chevalier, who watches for Exigent who watches for Orphan who watches for All fi” nows
Fourahalf watches for Mute, who watches for PlayActor, who watches for Horatio who watches for Fourahalf Torry.
Natterin watches for Grampa Jaimey, who watches for Orator, who watches for Torry who watches for Natterin
Horsy’s watches for Old Soldier, who watches for Odysseus who watches for Telemachos, who watches for Horsy’s
No botherin’ watches for SAW, who watches for Federal, who watches for Gallant who watches for No botherin,
Saddest watches for Reckless, who watches for Richman’s Grandson, who watches for JimmyR, who watches for Saddest’

Artemus read. But more and more of the listed “brothers’ names were catching him off guard and catching at his strong, warm voice as well. Looking away for a moment, the actor blinked hard and swallowed. Then he gratefully accepted and sipped from the flask Jemmy offered him. Miguel had just been wordlessly indicating that none of them should chance drinking the water that had been in either of the wards since the previous evening. “Go, go ahead, Jemmy, go on reading it...” Artie said when he got his voice working again.

The North Carolinian demurred, and in process of taking his own drink, he glanced across the room and almost dropped the flask, gasping. “It’s working! Fellows, it’s working! Take a gander at that!” Complying, his colleagues were, despite their best hopes, taken aback. Across the playroom, almost as if they were walking in from the hallway beyond, a crowd of male figures were gathering.
And as the ledger page suggested, they were “arriving” in groups of four at a time. They were also of four clearly distinct ages, small children, seeming to be between one and a half and six at first glance, men who looked to range in ages between thirty and fifty, youths who seemed to be anywhere between eighteen and twenty nine, and boys who appeared to range in ages between seven and seventeen.

They owned a greatly varied wardrobe as well. A majority of the younger brothers wore different versions of the kind of clothing boys prefer, well worn, in great need of mending but not ragged, and comfortable with the requisite collection of pockets, for collecting things. Some of the boys and men seemed to be dressed for school, for church, or some formal occasion. Another segment were uniformed, in Regular Army, cavalry mostly, West Point cadet and boarding school style.
Another group of the older brothers seemed to be in theatrical costumes, except, Artie, thought, they wore 16th, 17th and 18th century cloaks and tunics, waistcoats and leggings, tricorns, wigs, trews and doublets as if there was nothing odd in the least about it. And the remaining brothers clearly emulated Jim West’s “East Coast nabob’s grandson’ style, except for the jackets which all three colleagues knew he divested himself of at the first opportunity that arose.

And there were other, wider differences in their appearance. They were redheads, sandy blonds, towheads and dark haired, they were wiry, squarish, compactly built in some cases, and tall, broad shouldered, whip thin, even lanky in others. Their features had more in common, in most cases with their Oldest brother’s, being sharply drawn, virile and striking, with a decided ‘randolph stamp”. And while it was harder to tell, their eye color also seemed to run a gamut of a similar, changeable nature to Jim’s, Artie thought, looking grey, grey-blue, grey green, green-hazel, and not unexpectedly, ‘true Randolph-green, green as grass. There was one more all-inclusive characteristic or behavior they shared.

Standing together, they manifestly looked out for each other. In each four, the youngest held either the hand or the arm of the eldest; while the eldest kept only their eyes on the youths, clearly not wishing to injure their pride. Those youths in their turn monitored the boys standing with them, who seemed less than happy with that.
And in their turn, the boys intently guarded the youngest, either with one hand on a small shoulder or by taking an openly defensive stance. Each group of four in fact kept so close together, it was as if an invisible cord ran from one to the next. They gave every impression of being not wholly separate but quadrupled entities. And in each small band, the seeming youngest held the greatest air of authority, while the other three deferred to him in every look and each gesture they made

“ Wait, maybe we should stop calling the role for a second.” Artemus suggested, still studying the brothers and their wide ranging differences.

”Why?” both Miguel and Jemmy asked, both canting their heads in such a similar fashion it almost made Artie laugh aloud, when he looked their way.

“Because I don’t know how we can be seeing what we’re seeing, that’s why!” the former actor told them. “And as worried sick about Jim as I am right now, as worn out as I am, I’m wondering if I’m having some kind of hallucination. And that’s because I really don’t know how we CAN be seeing these fellows… You both are seeing them, right?”

“Since Jemison already answered that by calling our attention to the Companies,” Miguel replied.“I assume you’re really asking me that question, Mr. Gordon. Yes, I am indeed seeing the room filling with groups of four male figures, just as the roster suggests. And I’m seeing them as they’ve described themselve previously, in four distinct age groups. Now, as to the mechanism by which this is occurring. There are any number of possibilities, the least likely of which is the three of us having precisely the same hallucination.”

“Or dream, either.” Jemmy offered. “I was wondering about that myself, Artemus. But frankly I’ve never known any group of persons to have exactly the same waking experiences, much less the same experiences when they’re sleeping or unconscious.”

“But we were all drugged, on top of having that tearing gas thrown at us in the ward.” Artie protested.

“And yet the names on the roster are calling up these children, boys, youths and men.” Miguel countered. “How could our adversary plan for something we’ve never thought of and perhaps should have?”

“I don’t know that, either.” Artie shrugged. “But I’m not sure of much, right now, so don’t be surprised to hear me say that, Doctor. I just don’t see how…”

“ ‘top!” the youngest appearing member of the last group of four unhappily shouted, getting all three men’s attention. This was a thin, pale faced, strawberry blond child of no more than three and a half, so far as the team could tell. “ ‘top dis fightin’, Temus, Mee-gel, plees! Wees veryiest many much needs yous be readin dat nows!”

“He’s right!” the next oldest brother, a wiry copper redhead with blazing green eyes set in a sharp features face in that grouping called out, frowning. “You can’t just stop an’ get into another danged wrangle when you’re not even half done with the rotation lists!”

“We thought you had it figured, damn it, Actor!” the next oldest a pale, sturdy redheaded youth shouted. “You said you knew why we wrote it out and left it where you couldn’t miss it! And now you’re just stopping, cause you don’t get it?”

“They’re all right, Artemus.” the fourth brother in that group added, a wiry red-chestnut haired, sharp featured man with changeable eyes, shaking his head in a very Westian manner. “You can’t stop in the middle of getting this working when we REALLY need this to get working.”

“But it looks like I was wrong, which you may or may not know how much I hate admitting.” Artie answered, crossing the room to face the fourth of these brothers, who looked like a cross between hazel eyed, sandy haired Jemmy and dark haired, bright eyed Jim. “It looks like I don’t understand how this works at all. How on earth can I… can we be seeing all of you? How?”

“We want you to. No, we need you to see us.” the fourth brother answered. “It’s just that simple and just that complicated, Artemus. We need to be seen by people we can trust not to take us out this madhouse and toss us right into another, sunnier, cleaner one. And all of the Companies agreed we need this now. And you have no idea, just no idea at all how easy it never has been to get the Companies to agree on much of anything, except the Ls’ safety, and Oldest’, too, of course.”

“You need us to call you up. I was pretty sure I got that part of the message in the “bottle”.” Artie agreed. “But … “

“Alright, the quick and dirty answer, cause we don’t have time for the long one:” the oldest appearing brother nodded. “We’ve only emerged like this before now when Oldest was sound asleep and not even dreaming. We’ve almost never taken the chance otherwise. Well, maybe a handful at a time, especially when the Ws knew the Ls really needed some play time. But now we’re amongst friends, mostly. Now we need to … be known, to be … real, for lack of a better word, for our friends to see, to understand us better. So we were talking about something like this for quite a few weeks, just lately. And then…”

“All hell broke loose.” Artie finished the sentence, the way he was used to doing for Jim. “So you’re … Reckless?”

“That’s what my L named me.” the chestnut haired man nodded. “I’m trying not to live up to that, lately. Can you go back to reading the lists off now?”

“Sure. I just wondered one thing…”Artemus nodded.

“Artemus, you always just wonder one thing!” the Veteran-brother sighed. “What?”

“Why do you all look … different? And why are some of the Veterans … in period costumes?” the agent asked.

“That was TWO things!” the redhead exclaimed, glaring at Artie . “We look the way the Ls see us, mostly. And we look the way we see ourselves. What’s your third question?”

“You’re apparently different ages because…?” Artie half chuckled.

“Because the idiots in the rest of the world don’t get that the Ls were here before any of the rest of us. And even if they got that, they wouldn’t get that the Ls look the way they did when the whole shootin’ match started. And the Companies never wanted or needed to change that.” The D Company brother answered. “Now, will you go on back to reading off the lists?”

“Well, yes I think we’d best continue.” Miguel agreed, mentally sitting on his “few thousand questions for them, for now”. Nodding, Artie wordlessly passed him the list. Smiling and nodding to the increasing group of “brothers’ acroSsthe room, the small doctor began reading:

Dreamin’ watches for Doc Miguel who watches for Émigré who watches for Refugee who watches for Dreamin.
P’tectin’ watches for Merlion, who watches for Taliesin, who watches for mon Enfant, who watches for P’tectin’.
special Little watches for Scarred who watches for Liar, who watches for Schoolboy, who watches for special Little.
Pocket watches for de Olvidado, who watches for Quixote, who watches for Caballero who watches for Pocket.
Bedien watches for Commanding Gen, who watches for Capt. Torry, who watches for Effective who watches for Bedien.
Wondrin’ watches for Subaltern who watches for Adept, who watches for Foursquare who watches for Wondrin’.
Hushin watches for Forgotten who watches for Edmond Dantes, who watches for Missing who watches for Hushin.
Hidin watches for Aristo, who watches for Carton, who watches for Darnay, who watches for Hidin.
No cryin watches for Plebe who watches for Renegade, who watches for Cadet East, who watches for Nocryin.
Wis’fu watches for AALG, who watches for Tough Guy, who watches for Adamech Avishai, who watches for Wis’fu
Rand watches for Horse Handler, who watches for Virginia, who watches for Footracer, who watches for Rand
Huggin’ watches for Aramis, who watches for Firebrand, who watches for Bedwyr, who watches for Huggin
Fassest watches for Regular Army, who watches for Hero, who watches for Steadfast who watches for Fassest
Towhead watches for Mourner who watches for Confederate, who watches for Matchless, who watches for Towhead.
… Well, I’m a trifle parched myself, now.” Miguel reaching for the flask. “Jemison, I think it falls to you, now to finish the roster.”

“Surely, surely.” Jemmy said, taking the copied ledger page, glancing at the figures acroSsthe room. Nodding to himself, the North Carolinian began to read in turn:

“ C’ntraree watches for Assassin who watches for Liberator, who watches for Radical who watches for C’ntraree
Noddin watches for Partner, who watches for Deserter, who watches for Colonel, who Watches for Noddin
Prinslin watches for Ailing, who watches for N’Orleans, who watches for Pony who watches for Prinslin,
Fin lookin watches for Ruin, who watches for Dandy, who watches for Cripple who watches for Fin’ lookin
Watchfu” watches for Prof, who watches for Stoic, who watches for 12th of 45, who watches for Watchfu”
See”krit watches for Achilles, who watches for Remy, who watches for Boy, who watches for See”krit
Shinin tar watches for JTKR, who watches for Torrance who watches for Tidewater who watches for Shinin ‘tar
Annie’s watches for Vicar who watches for Circuit Rider who watches for Preacher, who watches for Annie’s
Littler watches for Veteran who watches for Defiant, who watches for Witness, who watches for Littler
Littlest watches for Pendragon who watches for Mordred, who watches for Emrys who watches for Littlest
Babyboy watches for Oldest Torry who watches for …what in the very devil?” Jemmy exclaimed and stopped cold, staring at the ledger page copy.

“Jemmy, what’s the matter?” Artie demanded. “Jemison, old man, what’s wrong, now?”

“You didn’t really, really read the whole page, while you were deciphering it, did you, Artemus, m’ boy?” Jemmy cracked wise.

“And now you’ve picked up Mr. Gordon’s talent for answering a question with a question?” Miguel asked, in turn. “ But I’d much prefer an outright answer, my friend. What is the matter?”

“ ‘m not exactly, sure I’ve got the answer, doctor. But I think Jemmy must’ve set off my alarm clock. Is that what you were just doin’, Cousin? And if so, why? I was sound asleep here! No, I was … really, really out… again.” A clear, warmly chuckling, voice they all knew exceedingly well and hadn’t heard in several months responded, bringing three pairs of eyes back to the cot in the far corner. Laying on his side on the cot, but facing them now, was a bleary eyed, smiling, but barely half awake, Jim West.

“Well, I guess you could put it that way, Torry.” Jemison agreed. “We surely haven’t had the pleasure of your company, just lately. In fact, I’ve begun to seriously consider the very real possibility that you’re malingering here.”

“A fellow takes a little time off, a well deserved vacation, finally, and you want to call it malingerin’, Cousin?” Jim asked, still chuckling dryly and shaking his head.

All three observers knew what that gesture signaled by heart at this point. But instead of another brother emerging from within Jim’s wiry frame, the younger agent simply, literally, fell sound asleep in the next instant. He would have been sleeping on the floor in another moment, but Artie, with the alacrity of long practice, moved to catch his partner and settle him back onto his side. Jim was softly snoring, profoundly asleep but only asleep as all three men were somewhat astonished to see, in another moment.

“We’ll not need to share Oldest’ instrument again, until and unless we sense the Enemy’s presence, gentlemen. And let me say; we are most profoundly grateful for your assistance this morning.” A rich, warm voice with a distinct Parisian accent called out, bringing Artie, Jemmy and Miguel’s attention back to the crowd of “brothers’. The speaker was an elegantly strong, richly clothed and cloaked in courtier-soldier 17th century style, gentleman of middle years, with somewhat long dark hair, grayed by handsome streaks of silver, a van Dyke beard and dark brown-hazel eyes.

“Pray excuse my boldness in interrupting, but just then, you seemed to be slightly… ummm… bemused, I believe is the Anglais expression. I am Capitaine-Lieutenant Athos, or that is, I am un homage to that fictive persona, from Alexandre Dumas pere’s novelles. You will likely be well aware how avidly we’ve read those adventures, and many more of that genre, messieurs. As for what I wished to clarify just now, we would, par example, revert to the practice of appearing only from within our Oldest brother if we were to detect the presence of some such personage as the likes of Lady de Winter, de Roquefort, or the Cardinal.”

“In the presence of our enemies the last thing we’d wish is for Oldest to appear schizophrenic. Bien sur, that would merely bolster their malevolent cause! Therefore, although First Company will keep strict Watch with him, always, Oldest is now, and for the foreseeable future, the only one of our brothers still residing within his frame. Clearly, we utterly failed to afford Oldest and First Company the protection they needed against the attack on him and…indeed on all of you, down in the ward. And I assure you, notre tres cher docteurs-amis Singer et de Cervantes, et notre si brave M’sieur Gordon, we are greatly troubled by that failure!”

“Well, so are we!” Artie couldn’t keep from exclaiming, striding closer to confront the cloaked figure. “And frankly, I’m not as sure I understand all of this now, as I was … a quarter of an hour ago! You just got done showing us how your watch-rotation supposedly works.
But this time it didn’t! You … you’ve just shown us how many… of you make up the Companies. But this time, not one of you was awake or aware enough to keep the Ls from being terrorized back into that horrid, enforced silence? This whole thing has sounded crazy to me from the beginning, I’ll grant you, and I’ve been working hard to understand it. But now, now I’m completely at a loss, all over again! Can you …help me out here?”

“I’m more than willing to make the attempt, M’sieur Gordon. all the more when you’ve been such of such immense help to Oldest and all of us, once again. The Company’s Enemy, our mutual Enemy, in truth has not made so bold a maneuver against The Watch in a number of months! Indeed, we’d entertained some dim hopes of his withdrawing from the field…

We’d had not so much as an inkling of his presence in this bleak and tres dangereuse corner of Perdition since you and your partners and El Senor Doctor de Cervantes began to make your presence known here, as Oldest’ protectors. Plainly, our Enemy sought to viciously retake the field, just in the past day or so, by use of his damnable chemical agents and horrific mesmerism! The Enemy knows he will lose physical control over Oldest in the very near future, and therefore made his latest, most desperate, most wicked assault on the Companies and on yourselves.”

“Great jumping Balls of Saint Elmo’s Fire!” Artie shouted. “You’re right! You’re absolutely right about that! We were all put under!”

“Well, Mr. Gordon, as much as it would usually dismay me to note, I believe you’re correct in that.” Miguel answered, with a mischievous smile at the former actor. “I’m afraid our agreement to mostly disagree; that is, our armed truce, is on rather shaky ground these days, Mr. Gordon. But what’s to be done?”

“No doubt an entire series of new treaty negotiations will be called for in due time, Doctor.” Artie replied, dryly.

“Hey! Hey there! Can’t ya fellows stop jawing for even a minute when something needs to get done?” Another voice, younger, harsher and far less controlled than the cloaked Frenchman’s shouted. Once again, Artie, Miguel and Jemmy turned to see if they’d woken both Jim West and his black Irish-Welsh temper If anything, they could see Jim was even more soundly asleep, snoring still more loudly.

But behind Jim, behind the cot, seeming strangely held in place there, stood a wiry young man with thick, dark red-brown hair, carelessly tossed back to show his knife sharp Randolph-stamped features and blazing, bright blind green eyes. This youth was frowning darkly in the direction of the trio, but most of all, at Jemison, and seemed ready to let loose another tirade. But he said nothing more, and the three men could hardly credit what seemed to be the reason for his abrupt silence.

“Jim’s holding him back!” Artie whispered to his Cohorts. “That’s Courier! I know it! I spent a just over a week in Baltimore, wondering what the devil was the matter with Jim West. When in fact I was dealing seven-tenths of the time with that young maniac. But look at this, look at them! Jim’s absolutely sound asleep.

He doesn’t even know what’s going on, not consciously, and still he’s holding that young hothead back!” All three men took a step closer, ignoring the Frenchman and the angry youth, and as soon as they did, Miguel and Jemison saw what Artie already noted. Jim West’s strong right hand was fixed like a vise on the redhead’s left arm, in such a way that either that hand, or that arm would have to leave its owner, if either moved too suddenly or violently in the opposite direction.

“Ye got that right at least! He surely is! Oldest is holding me back now, just the same damned way he held me back all that week at the Bridgeport in Baltimore! Remember, Playactor?” Courier snarled. “And if Oldest hadn’t done that, with all the trouble you were trying to give me, with all you did to try to fuddle me or stop my mission, I would have happily, easily, left you in the county morgue! So count yourself lucky, old man; you could be more than three years dead right now, this minute!”

“No, Courier, no. That’s not so.” Miguel argued. “You could no more kill Artemus Gordon than you could assassinate Ulysses Grant. We already know, because you told us yourself, some weeks ago. You clearly stated that Oldest Torry, who we have known as Major James West, was the one who prevented your ‘mission’ from being accomplished.

And clearly, if you were capable of overriding the major’s loyalty and brotherly affection for Mr. Gordon, you would have made good your threats on any number of past occassions. At any rate, I thought it was Doctor Singer you were truly incensed with, just now. Would you care to clarify that matter for us, Courier? And while you’re doing that, would you please explain why it is, that all the while Major West is constraining you, you seem to be doing exactly the same service for Young Jaimey, standing there behind you?”

“He’s madder than a wet hen, DocMiguel, cos DocJemm stopped the roll dead in the water, right when he got to Cour. And that left the both of us stuck over here like this. You fellas figured it out real well, that we needed you to call the roster, to call us up. But you ain’t… meant to say you haven’t finished the job, quite yet.

You got all caught up talkin’ to Capitaine Athos, there, I’ve got to figure. That’s him, right there, in the fancy cloak an’ stuff… the old fellow from Fourth Company you were jawing with, when Cour got mad. Oh, and Captain, you have to know it was Third Company, not Fourth that got things all whopperjawed last night, right?” Youngest Jaimey called out, grinning nervously and peering around Courier’s left side.

“Too bad your big mouth never gets stuck, YJ!” Courier said, scowling. “And by the way, Actor, I’m not Lunatic! He’s a lot further up the roster, if you didn’t take note! All right! C’mon then! Now that you know where you got it wrong; DocJemm, do you suppose you could try to get it right, just this once?”

Jemison fixed his dark hazel gaze on Courier for a moment, wondering how many times
in the past he’d endured this youth’s acerbic raging, and only thought he was getting a lambasting from his cousin, Torry. “I’d be glad to, Courier, if only so Jaimey can get a break from your not so very agreeable company!” The North Carolinian answered. “Now, I’ll just go quietly back over that last ‘sentence” on the roster shall I? Babyboy watches for Oldest Torry. And please, Jim, stay asleep this time, you could use it...”

“Wees ken hep wif dat, nows wees ken be runnin’ ‘round again DockerJemee! Wees ken!” a child’s voice called out now. And now the three men were startled all over again, if to a lesser extent, when a sturdy, sunnily smiling, towheaded boy-child, who looked to be
no more than two and a half or three years old popped out from under Jim’s cot. Next
he somberly, considering his seeming age, bent over the still sleeping agent and affectionately, gently laid both his small hands on Jim’s forehead. Jim showed no reactions to this, except to sigh in his sleep and retain his strongly clenched grip on Courier’s arm.

“Us’ns guddes’ Ol’es’ weel be stay asleepin’, nows. Plees be finish dem rolls fer us’ns Couri an’ us’ns Jaimee nows plees.” The child whispered, moving his hands to lay them protectively on Jim’s right shoulder.

“All right, Littlest…” Jemison agreed and turned back to the ledger page. ‘oldest Torry watches for Courier, who watches for Youngest Jaimey, who watches for Babyboy. And that, friends, completes the roll.”

“Danged right it does!” Courier announced, and with a great deal of apparent caution, eased his left arm from Jim’s grasp, while letting Jaimey go in the same moment.

“Thanks, Littlest, thought for a sec there we were well and truly blocked.” Jaimey grinned, once more looking very much like a boyish version of Jim West, while he moved to pat Littlest’ thin right shoulder.

“Izz otay nows, Jaimee.” Littlest nodded with surprising show of calm authority.

Then Jemison, in the process of handing the ledger sheet to Artie nearly dropped it, exclaiming. “Wait, wait! Hold on. There’s another notation here, on the original, in pencil, all the way down in one corner. Artie am I seeing things or aren’t I? What is this word, down here?”

Artemus took the ledger sheet and peered at the one word “notation’ Jemmy found. At top speed the actor went through his notes on the cipher, going from them to the original, and back. When he looked up, rather than looking weary, saddened, and a bit stunned, Artie was grinning again, from ear to ear.

“It’s Latakia! Doctors, those new tin soldiers that had us so worried? They were only a cover! They made a pretty good feint at our flanks, wondering how they got here and why the Torrys were so caught up in playing with them. We were supposed to take those tin red herrings and waste all our time tracking them! But this, this is the real culprit, right here, this latakia!”

“ It’s a type of tobacco, isn’t it, from Syria, or Turkey?” Jemison asked.

“From Syria and Cyprus, but no, not Turkey,” Miguel told him. “It is a specially treated pipe tobacco, cured over a stone pine or oak wood fire. And that process imparts its signature intense, smoky-peppery taste and smell. Of course like many Levantine tobaccos, Latakia is quite strong, and for most pipe smokers, too strong to smoke by itself.”

“Which is why you’ll mostly find it used as a “condiment’ in blends of pipe tobacco.” Artie added. “Especially “English blends’.”

“Quite right, Mr. Gordon. Of course you’ll know that this type of tobacco gets its name from the main seaport of Syria, on the Mediterranean. Its site is actually the Ra’s Ziyarah promontory. And it is quite an ancient city, known to the Phoenicians, as Ramitha, to the Greeks as Leuke Akte. Its present most widely known name is in fact a corruption of Laodicea.
And it became a major city of the Seleucid empire following the conquests of Alexander the Great renamed in fact in honor of the mother of one of Alexander’s generals, Seleucus I Nicator. “ Miguel rattled on, knowing it still somewhat irritated the actor, and just enjoying taking his own not inconsiderable knowledge base ‘out for an airing”.

“As it happens, Doctor, yes I do know that.” Artie frowned, refusing to rise to the bait, despite any and all temptations to the contrary notwithstanding. He would not, however, turn down the chance to match knowledge bases with the small doctor. “The city was a major port and a great importer of wine to the Seleucid empire. It became the capital of Syria in the late second century, and in later eras was destroyed by earthquakes, rebuilt by Emperor Justinian, conquered by the Arabs, then by Crusaders, and in 1188 by Saladin himself who erected a marvelous palace nearby. Subsequently the city was administered by…”

“Artemus!” Jemison finally shouted, rather irritated by both geniuses at the moment, and finally got the actor’s still grinning attention.

“Yeah, Jemmy? Oh.” Artie blinked, and at least managed to look sheepish.

“Yeah, oh… You said this tobacco, this Latakia is our culprit. And since we’ve been trying for close to three hours now to find said culprit I’m standing here kinda wondering why you think we’ve finally found it! “

“Actually, I think this answer requires a finer grasp of physiology, memory and the senses.” Artie answered. “ Doctor …de Cervantes, this may just be more your field of expertise.”

“I believe so, Mr. Gordon, thank you. Jemison, this tobacco, and by it.s nature any tobacco when burning, gives off two separate kinds of aromas, one that stays, for the most part,with the smoker, the other spreading out into his environs. And any long-term pipe smoker is very much aware of that fact. That.s the first point to this answer and this culprit. The second point is this: our olfactory memories are without question the strongest, the most telling and the longest-lived we possess.

This is the reason why scent, more than any other sense-stimuli, will immediately and inescapably conjure up our strongest auditory, tactile, and visual memories, that are by their nature and our own, bound up in one another. Putting those two pieces of well-accepted neuro-physiological data together, we come to an inescapable conclusion: The ‘room aroma” of this damnable Syrian tobacco must indeed be what triggered the apparent exodus of Torry’s brothers. And what is more, when we find the vile excuse for a human being who purposely smoked it in these environs, we will in that same heinous amalgamation of malevolence, find the Torry’s instigating tormentor!”

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SS novice field agent

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Posted - 02/09/2009 :  11:36:37  Show Profile
SCENE TWELVE the same day

An odd surge of sound, like waves crashing on a distant beach, or boot heels tapping on a wooden floor above their heads, now reached the colleagues. It was coming from the brothers, still gathered acroSs the room. And as Jemison, Artie and Miguel looked, it appeared many if not all of them were clapping. Artie now mightily restrained the impulse to bow in response. And Jemmy barely managed a surprised nod. Miguel however had no such compunction, and bowed in true to-the-manor-born fashion.

“Your servant, kind sirs.” The small doctor chuckled. He was mildly startled, and warmed, in the next moment to find himself surrounded by many of the youngest brothers, the Torrys, giggling and hugging, but otherwise wordlessly greeting him. These small spirits then turned to Artie and Jemison, repeating their affectionate display, wriggling and reaching and hopping for joy, it seemed.

“Looks like it worked, alright.” Artie wearily muttered. “Any idea what we do next, gentlemen?”

“Maybe ask if any of them know who this damnable pipe smoker is?” Jemmy warily suggested.

But Artie shook his head. “I’m frankly a lot more concerned with where that bastard is, right now! We’ve just seen again, how damnably dangerous he is to the Companies, and most of all, to James. I want him tracked down and if at all possible, hung, drawn and quartered, the sooner the better!”

“And so do I, once we learn from him the exact means and methods by which he exerts these horrendous manipulations.” Miguel agreed, grinning fiercely. “But I will demand we obtain those answers before his summary execution. We are still playing at guesswork here, after all. While he and the late Herr Professor Doctor Aynsley were the inventors of this damnable practice they called patterning, but which has proved far, far more destructive than simple, basic mesmeric work to ease or to block traumatic memories. “

“Wait!” Artie turned, knowing he should keep his temper, but far too worn out to do it. “Wait a second! You know what Aynsley did to Jim’s memory … and to mine? You know how he did it, Doctor? And what, you just waited till now to mention that small detail?”

“Artemus, we’re all worn to a nub about now…” Jemmy tried to intervene.

“Yes, and rode hard and put up wet!” Artie went on, striding closer to Miguel, his eyes were practically shooting sparks, not even glancing at Jim’s cousin. “But none of us, me included, has had it as hard as James! And we haven’t had the first idea from the start how to help Jim get back to himself. Well, that is, I haven’t, and neither has Thomas, Jacques, Jeremy, Frank or any of the rest of our team!

But now, more than a year down the road, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, El Senor Doctor de Cervantes knows exactly what Aynsley and his crew did! And I want to know, Doctor, I really want to know just when you were planning to bring that up! I want to know how long we were all supposed to wait around for your immense knowledge and experience in dickering around with other people’s minds to even come into the discussion!”

“Artemus, don’t do this, not now!” Jemmy exclaimed. He’d learned all the signs by this time. He knew the older man was only starting to vent his anger and exhaustion and fear. And he knew how valuable the truce Artie had called with Miguel had just now proven to be, bringing the Torrys and their brothers out of a near-catatonic state. But where Jacques or Jeremy, Frank Harper or Thomas Macquillan could likely call a halt to their long time friend and partner’s temper in an instant, Jemmy had no such assurance. “We can’t fight each other and the bastards who put Torry in here, too!” The Raleigh born physician declared, giving it his best try.

“Jemison, you don’t know this …man the way the rest of us do!” Artie fumed, turning finally to glare at Jemmy. His face was going from red to nearly purple and his voice was getting harsher and more bitter by the instant. He stood between Jim and both doctors as if to hold them physically away from his partner. And he couldn’t seem to stop bellowing.

“And we can’t fight the bad guys at all while we’ve got one right here in our camp! I knew it! I knew he was playing us all for s*ckers! I knew all this time! And I tried, oh, dear G-d, how I tried to tell Mac and the rest of you, just that! And you’re still buying his con! You’re still letting him work his shell-game on you, right now, right here! But like I say you haven’t been gulled by him in the past. You haven’t been run around hell’s half acre with his tricks and his lies and his poisons! So, I’m gonna give you the benefit of my experience, okay? YOU CAN’t TRUST THAT LITTLE MAN AS FAR AS YOU COULD THROW THIS WHOLE DAMNABLE COMPLEX WE’rE STANDING IN RIGHT NOW!”

“If you still don’t agree with your colleagues, Artemus, I have to say I’m truly sorry.” Miguel said very quietly, finally entering the fray, his own temper beginning to show. “But I did not enter any agreement with you to come here and help Major West. I did so with Thomas and Jacques when they traveled acroSs country to Los Miraboles to request my assistance here. And that being the case, here I shall remain until I have done as I promised them I would…”

“To see Jim West entirely under your control in your imaginary clinic down in Richmond? Right, I remember hearing about that!” Artemus growled. He couldn’t stop now. The whole situation was spinning even further out of control. He felt as if he were riding an earthquake or hurricane and couldn’t even think of getting off till it died down. “We’ve both been in your clinics and hospitals before now, thanks very much! I won’t let James set his little toe in any such place, ever, ever again!

Why don’t you regale my friend Jemmy with some stories about the labs and clinics and madhouses you’ve pretended to run for the sole purpose of playing tricks on my partner and me? Why don’t you tell Jemison all about the times you planned to drive James insane or maybe just cut up his brain? Why don’t you tell the truth, for this once, just to be different? You envy and hate James West. And you still want to destroy him, even now when he’s all but destroyed! Oh, and yeah, I almost forgot, you STILL want to cut into Jim’s brain! Only this time, you’re pretending it’s for some bizarre, horrendous, mock procedure to replace his corneas with some from a corpse!”

“The procedure you mention is still experimental, I grant you that much.” Miguel answered, even more quietly, even more sternly. “But it does not in fact involve brain surgery at all. You’ve clearly misunderstood what I’ve explained time and again on that question, Mr. Gordon. And I have done …a great many things in the past of which I’m not altogether proud at this juncture, perhaps you can relate to feeling that way, yourself, some times. And I have in the past envied men with better health than my own, such as Major West. However, to envy him now would be the very quintessence of madness, and thus I do not.”

“Because you’re not insane? Right! Sure! “ Artie jeered.

“Not by any measure or definition I would accept, no. Insanity in any case, is a legal term, and therefore of very little value in any medical practice. And if we are to go on talking in such terms as madneSsand envy and other such worthleSs notions, I’d have to in all honesty, admit to my own bias, Mr. Gordon. I believe, from all you’ve said to this point that it is you who’s presently quite overwhelmed by envy.” Miguel insisted, his wide grey blue eyes alive with anger and irony.

“Envy? Envy, me?” Artie scoffed, turning towards Jemmy. “Did you hear what he said? I’m the one who’s envious, here, not him! Next he’ll be telling you I’m the one who should be locked away as insane, instead of either James or the “good doctor”! And all the while, all the while, Jim is stuck here, while we wait for a legal system that’s patently corrupt to spring him as soon as his wastrel uncle decides to show up! And all the while we’re stuck here listening to that medical prodigy over there make one pronouncement after another while nothing gets done! “

“Nothing gets done while you two stand here railing at each other, is that what you mean, Artemus?” Jemmy asked, casting an anxious glance at the Companies. “Nothing gets done while Torry and all his brothers stand around wondering if the three of us have all finally lost our minds? Is that what you’re talking about? Because then I’d have to agree!

We had a near disaster in here today. and that my new friends was just the tip of the iceberg, far as I can see! Have you forgotten all we’re still up against, while Torry’s here? Or have you decided to somehow ignore the real danger he’s still in, that doesn’t even take that anonymous pipe smoker into account? Do you want the short list or would you rather hear the whole damn-all thing? Never mind! I’m going to read it off and you’re damn well going to shut it and hear me out! No, no, not one more word out of either one of you till I’m done!”

Miguel exchanged one surprised look with Artie, and then merely shrugged. In their brief months of acquaintance he’d rarely heard Singer raise his voice, much leSshis temper. Evidently the younger doctor had come to the end of his considerable, Quaker-trained, patience. Artie frowned and opened his mouth, against ‘doctor’s orders’ and got an icy glare so similar to one from one of Jim’s rare rages he almost blinked.

“Jem…” The former actor said, despite the doctor’s injunction.

“Not one more word, d’ ye hear? Not one!” Jemmy demanded, and then cleared his throat. “First, this place is clearly a fire trap, one that will fall down on our heads at the next decent harbor breeze if it doesn’t burst into flames on its own any minute! Second, the stench from where they used part of the complex as a slaughter house is enough to make a cast iron stomach turn green, and the likelihood of highly infectious material still being back there is only confirmed by the smell. Third, the infections that run through the wards here like the Army of the Potomac all going home on leave or chasing Bobbie Lee’s scarecrows, whichever you like better, kill a dozen men here every week, if not more.

Fourth, Torry’s already just barely come through at least two bouts of bronchial pneumonia since I got here. And that was only four months back! Fifth, he’s been plagued all over again with nightmares that keep him awake and he’ll barely touch food unleSs Miguel, or you, or Jacques sits and coaxes him for hours. Sixth, there’s clearly someone with free acceSs to this corner of Perdition who wants Torry to stay locked inside his own mind and never come out! And none of those are the worst worries I have!

Shall I tell you what those are? Yes, I shall! And you’re damn well going to listen! No matter who does it or why or how or where we go, we have to get Torry and his brothers the hell out of this place on the double quick! Why? Because its the middle of winter, that’s why! And all those fevers, including the pneumonia I already mentioned run even more rampant through this horrible place when it’s cold and wet and there’s not a dry space, or stretcher, or stool cot, or corner to rest your bones!

So, if Torry stays here the rest of this winter, my friends, another bout of pneumonia or bronchitis or both will carry him off beyond ANY HELP WE CAN GIVE! If Torry stays here even another month, I wouldn’t give you odds he’ll be alive in the spring! And if Torry dies now, and Artemus, Miguel, I hate putting it that bluntly but it’s nothing but true, It will be ALL THE COMPANIES, ALL THE BROTHERS WE JUST MET WHO DIE HERE, LEAVING NOT EVEN A TRACE OF THEIR LIVES BEHIND, NOT EVEN A TRACE, NOT EVEN A FRAGMENT, NOT EVEN THE BROTHER WE KNOW AS MY COUSIN TORRY OR AS JAMES WEST. They all will be lost, once and for all. And more than that…” Jemison fell silent, shaking his head.

“More than that, what?” Artie demanded, shocked almost out of his anger.

“More than that, Artemus, Miguel cannot abide more than another month or two here. This last fever might have dispatched him. Even the smallest Torrys knows that. And in this climate, Miguel’s hands are becoming more and more crippled. All other considerations aside, and forgive me for saying it this bluntly Miguel…” The younger doctor hesitated again.

“No, Jemison, no one understands what you’re saying better than I.” The older doctor told him. “Go on.”

“All other considerations aside for the moment, my cousin Torry, or Jim West, if you will, will live blind, however much longer he may live. And that’s simply because Miguel is the only one with the skill and the knowledge to attempt restoring his sight. Not only that, but if Torry were to lose his friend Miguel now, I don’t know how the Companies would react …
I don’t know that we could still reach these children, or any of their older brothers in that event, including my cousin, Torry.”

“You are right, Jemison, and you are wrong.” Miguel said into the silence that fell then. “I am a rather good lecturer on scientific and medical procedures. I am a gifted instructor, as well. I can teach you and Jacques the technique I would have attempted myself on Torry’s eyes. And in Richmond, you would find all my research into the method. Of course, I would be glad to have a ‘student’ again, though I’m sure you’re a quick study, Jemison. But, no surgeon in his right mind would perform anything more complicated than an amputation in this charnel house! And, of course, Mr. Gordon won’t mind in the least if someone other than myself operates on Torry. Will you?”

“I’m afraid you understand me too well, Doctor.” Artemus answered with a mocking bow.

“Nevertheless, you have trusted me thus far. You can hardly go back on the bargain now, especially since, as you are fond of pointing out, you never entered into it in the first place. Jeremy, Jacques and Thomas Macquillan did so. I am not by any means the only one who could work to restore Torry’s sight. But I am the only one who can teach what I’m certain will have the best chance of restoring Torry’s sight. Of course, as I can almost see you thinking, Gordon, if I still wished to, I could teach both those doctors how to further and finally destroy Torry’s eyes, and none of you would know better, until it was fully accomplished.

But in fact I swore the same oath to Apollo, Physician as Jacques and Jemison and every other doctor, so I would not do any such thing! I’d add that I am one of the few persons these children have any great degree of trust in. Will you take me from these children now, Gordon? Will you take me away from the Torrys, to be replaced by your no doubt technically skillful impersonation of whomever it is you believe they might need? That would certainly be a hallmark in the Torrys recovery, don’t you think, Jemison? This man, this actor, wants to tear me away from these children out of nothing more than spite and envy.”

“Miguel!” Singer exclaimed.

“Envy?” Artemus scoffed, furious all over again. “Again, you’re accusing me of envy? Of you, you maniac? I hardly think so! You say I have to trust you? Well, I don’t and I wouldn’t, not as far as I could throw Jim and the whole damned train!”

“Artemus, Miguel, stop!” Jemison pleaded again. But they both ignored him.”

“But I submit, Mr. Gordon that indeed you must trust me now. I submit, you in fact have no choice in the matter and never have. I further submit that this useless, destructive jealousy you display is precisely the reason you were not consulted by your colleagues before they approached me to help not you, not Macquillan, not even my newly made friends Jemison and Jacques, not the President, and not the Secret Service to be sure, but that man and all of his brothers, right over there.” Miguel replied, glaring at Artie.

“And it is those brothers, Mr. Gordon, not I , of whom you are so bitterly envious that it now poisons the very air in this place! Come, will you actually deny that now? Will you go on believing only you can or should be able to help your young colleague and friend? Will you go on insisting only you could understand him well enough to offer such aid or such comfort? Will you go on demanding pride of place where you have earned next to none?”

Artie glared back at the doctor, and rubbed one hand acroSshis aching forehead, feeling as if it might actually split at any moment. He could feel how hot, how flushed, his face was, and he knew all the signs better than any of his doctors. He was building towards another heart seizure, and he wasn’t sure he could stop. But it was more as if he could feel his own heart breaking within him. And he couldn’t ask this old enemy of his and Jim’s for help with that, now could he? Artemus’ face was flushed and he was so focused on Miguel that both Jemison and Torry were nearly invisible to him right now. He wanted to go on raging at the small doctor but suddenly found himself staring at Torry.Artie swallowed hard on his bitterness and went on.

”I suppose,” Artemus joked cynically, ‘that leaving the train out of it, I could throw Jim damnably far these days. He only weighs about ...”

“About 118 lbs, I’d hazard. Making his health in these circumstances all the more at risk.” Miguel finished, as Artemus buried his face in his hands. “And that is the main reason, I believe we must act in concert and act swiftly, or any effort will be futile. Nevertheless, the real crisis here is our inability so far to reach with any staying power, the man, James West, whom Herr Professor Doctor Aynsley buried alive inside that child. Now, you seem to suggest you have some notion of what may bring Torry, or Major West, if you prefer, to full consciousneSs on a more frequent basis. And in the children’s best interest, I will stand aside while you make this attempt.

But if it fails, gentlemen, I say if it fails, then you must take us both out of here to my home and my clinic, with all due haste. And I don’t care if doing that takes an act of Congress! In my clinic, at least the odds of Torry’s survival go up, giving us that much more time to reach him where by now he’s running out of air! Well, you have the floor, Gordon, are you going to take this chance, whatever it is you have in mind, or simply give up, again? Well, are you afraid to try out your theories or … I would have to suppose your theatrical skills in the aid of your friend, that man over there, and all of his brothers?” Miguel sharply demanded.

“That man, and all of his brothers…” Artie muttered, shaking his head. He couldn’t look at Jim right now, and could hardly see Jemmy standing beside Miguel. He couldn’t take one glance at the Companies without feeling exactly the sort of loSs the doctor implied. And when he did, all he saw was a sea of faces he almost recognized, staring back at him in genuine confusion.

“I thought I was coming to some real understanding of them, by now. I thought I finally knew what all that was about, and why they existed. But plainly I didn’t. And plainly, I still don’t! And maybe it’s still the damnable patterning I got, thanks to Herr Doctor Aynsley and his lovable crew, what was it, more than three years ago, now! And maybe it’s not, huh?

Maybe it’s just a character flaw, something wrong with me at some very deep level. But I can’t do this, you see? I can’t keep coming here, hoping to find my partner, and my best friend, with next to no luck! I can’t wait every day for days, and weeks and now, months on end for what was it just then, thirty seconds that James seemed to be here? And yes, yes, I did, I meant to use the word ‘seemed’! It’s like trying to live on … birdseed, on crumbs, with a few slivers of ice! Because you see, he’s not here! No, no, there are … all these others, all these children and boys and young men, and some old ones…”Artemus grimaced as he caught the eyes of some of ‘these children’.

“There are only these … pieces and parts and fragments of the man I knew and worked with and called … yes, called my brother, the one I never had, the one neither one of us had, not from our parents, at any rate! So, yes, I got angry, just then. And probably I shouldn’t. It’s not good for my heart and it’s not good for … those little boys, either. You see, I feel very much like a fellow who just got the rug pulled out from under his feet, just when he thought he’d found something like solid footing, again. I feel distinctly cheated, in fact, and … although they couldn’t have meant it that way, pretty well swindled!

They’re just kids, after all, or … maybe pieces of the kid Jim used to be, I guess. They’re only fractions of what once was a whole person! And yet, because I said I’d try coming here to help my friend, I’ve been here for months, listening to these … puzzle pieces that are all Professor Aynsley left us of James. I’ve been talking to them and behaving as if they were real children! I’ve come to sympathize with and worry about them as if they were truly alive! I’ve even toyed with the idea of impersonating their late father for them, if that would be any help! But it won’t. Nothing I do can help, now! Nothing can help Jim, anyway.” Artie sighed and tried hard to calm down.

“Artemus, they are alive, and they are quite real. And so, in a different way perhaps, then you’re used to thinking, is the man you know, who does in fact stand in great need of all our help. Also, I must entirely believe them when they call themselves Oldest Torry’s brothers, certainly we have seen them acting as such many times before today’s demonstration. But, as to as you put it, “what was once a whole person,” Miguel sighed.

“I would have to, in all honesty, tell you that you’re correct. But not in the way you seem to understand it. The members of L Company are disassociated personalities springing from the male child born in Silver Spring, Maryland, July 2nd, 1842. That child, the original of all these brothers, the second son born to Stephen Arthur and Jessamyn Anne West does not exist any longer, and has not for a length of time we cannot tell, not without their input on that question.

That small child and, from the physical appearance of the Torrys, of L Company, I would have to say that VERY small child, was lost beyond our capacity to recall, was destroyed beyond all hope of recovery, in a very real sense, when his hellish abuse began. Torry Babyboy , if I understand the order of that roster correctly, was the first-born of the Companys and took up that original child’s place. Then, following him, as their ordeal continued, so did forty six others. How their older cohorts came to be, is another question which I believe only the Companys can answer.”

“El Senor Doctor is quite correct in saying what we are able to answer, M’sieur Artemus.” another of the Veterans called out, getting everyone’s attention. This was a dark, tall, broad-shouldered, cloaked figure with a shining white plume in his wide hat, and an elongated nose more like the beak of an outsized eagle or hawk. “Pardonez, moi, perhaps I should not have interrupted your... discussion, but after the service you’ve done the Companys today, I felt it to be nothing more than my duty, M’sieur.”

“And if I’m not mistaken, you would be...” Artie started to ask, frowning at the interruption but nevertheless intrigued by this “brother”. “As with mon Capitaine-Lieutenant Athos, M’sieur, I am a member of V Company, and un homage paid to one Hercule Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac, that character in M’sieur Rostand’s work, who was himself un homage to the renowned, original gentilhomme, at your service, M’sieur, if you will so accept. Pray tell, though, how was it you recognized me so quickly, mon ami?” The Veteran asked with an oddly Gallic version of a very Westian grin.

“Well, in all honesty, for two reasons, M’sieur. It happens I’ve acted in and directed Rostand’s play numerous times; it’s one of my favorites. And then of course there’s your... inimitable...panache.” Artemus answered, biting back a taut grin of his own, and then pointing to the plume.

“Merci, m’sieur, merci. Very well put, I might add.” Cyrano replied with a sweeping bow. “Now, since V Company is off duty at present, I am at leisure and I would be glad to answer either or both of the questions currently posed. Which shall I start with, s’il vous plait?”

“I don’t know. I’m not sure I’m up to hearing any more “answers’, right now.” Artie said, shrugging and shaking his head. “Except for maybe this one: You’re part of V Company, you say? Alright, here’s MY question, the one I’m not sure I WANT the answer to but ... I have to know it, wanted it or not: Is Jim West... is the man I’ve worked with, lived with, argued with, the man I’ve partnered since the first winter of the War, is he NOTHING MORE than one more fragment of that tiny child the doctor was just describing? That’s what I’m still struggling with, you see. Because from the time I first learned they were... you were ... here... that’s what I haven’t really understood at all, it seems.”

“No, not seems, I STILL DON’t UNDERSTAND HOW THAT COULD BE! How could I know someone as well as I ... thought I knew my partner, and NOT KNOW Jim has... what is it, four times forty seven, minus one - making a total of one hundred and eighty seven “brothers’ somehow living hidden inside him? How could I know him for twelve years and nearly two months, now, and not know that Jim is just ONE OF A HUNDRED AND EIGHTY EIGHT ... people all inside the same mind, the same frame, the same ... spirit, I guess?

You see, that right there is my problem in a nutshell, M’sieur de Bergerac! I suppose I might have gotten a hint a few times along the way. But I didn’t. I suppose everyone who’s ever met Jim would describe him as being mercurial at times, even volatile, under the right, or maybe I should say the wrong conditions. But I never once considered ... “

“Pardonez moi encore, M’sieur, but speaking as one of Oldest Torry’s confreres in particular, I believe you have in fact at one time or another considered the question of our volatile nature. I believe you have also wondered about the source, the raison d’être of our often, apparently stoic, unmoved demeanor. You have a fine mind indeed, a keen gift for observing the world and the people around you, as well as a lively curiosity, mon ami.

I am quite sure you have indeed had occasion to ponder the quicksilver way in which Oldest may have seemed to change from an angry affect to one of jesting, or from a mood of quite somber discussion, to one in which he enjoyed a grand ball as much as any man you know, to one in which he would far more enjoy “a good brawl’? Am I not correct in saying so, M’sieur Artemus?”

“And that was simply me, seeing different brothers, is that what you’re saying?” Artie asked, reluctantly nodding.

“Precisement, M’sieur.” Cyrano agreed. “We knew you were understanding this ... understanding us far better than you believed.”

“But you still haven’t answered my question, really, have you?” Artemus insisted. ‘my question is not about what I saw or didn’t see, thought or didn’t think, all this while. My question is about Jim West. And maybe I’m gleaning a part of the answer from what you’re saying and not saying to me. Let me try this on you: Your roster lists NO ONE by the name James Torrance Kieran West, no one going by the name Jim, and no one using the title Major West, either.

And not once in the past many months have I heard even one Company member refer to him by that name, the name the rest of the world, outside N’folk, Raleigh and San Antonio calls him, James West. So there’s a real dichotomy going on here, it seems to me, one that has very little to do with the Companies. And it goes right back to my question: IS THERE A REAL PERSON named James Torrance Kieran West at all, or have you simply continued to use the birth name of someone WHO DOESN’t EXIST ANY LONGER, to support some kind of a legal fiction?”

“Oui, et non, M’sieur, tu a raison, dans piece.” Cyrano answered. “As part of our ongoing mandate to protect Oldest, as well as Courier, YJ, and Babyboy-Torry, we have blatantly made use of our lost brother’s biographical information, his birth certificate, his christening, our communion, and confirmation records as well as...”

“Cyry, you’d best stop with your half-baked answerin’ questions you cain’t rightly answer, right there.” a boy’s voice called out now, interrupting the discussion again. This speaker, as Artie, Jemmy and Miguel turned to see him, appeared to be a slender boy of eleven or twelve, with thick, sandy hair and wide grey-green eyes set in clear, handsome young features. “You know better than to go spoutin’ off that way, or you surely should, by this time! Honestly, sometimes I think V Company needs to go back to school with the Ls for a year or two, or four or five to learn when not to go flappin’ their jaws!”

“And at MOST times, Baronet, I must say it is W Company whose manners require a great deal more polish, whose diction is in a sad state of repair, and whose discretion needs a great deal more work!” Cyrano answered, frowning cynically at the good looking boy. “So we would seem unlikely to reach any rapprochement on those matters, non?”

“Except for this time, Cyr, when the Baronet here has stumbled right onto being exactly correct.” A third party announced, this being a tall, thin youth, dressed in a similar style to the Veteran, but far more elaborately detailed, with the sharp features most of D Company shared, dark brown-auburn hair like Courier’s and flashing grey eyes.

“ Ls have The Watch now, or Shad’o would be right here, right now, telling you off but good! But he’s not here and Oldest’s trying to sleep, otherwise, you wouldn’t have even got a chance to start yammering away on your own, and you damned well know it, M’sieur. So you’re just telling tales out of school as they say. And what is worse, you’re getting them all wrong, turned about, mixed up, and whopper-jawed, six ways from Dimanche!”

“de Guiche, old friend, well, perhaps friend is too strong a word,” Cyrano began to protest.

“HOLD IT!” Artemus finally shouted in his best ‘reaching the back of the theatre” manner and voice, thoroughly frustrated with them all and this “conversation’ in which he and Jemmy and the doctor all seemed forgotten. “Just stop it right there! I thought there was some kind of accord established between the Companies. You all claim to be Jim’s brothers, well that means you’re each other’s siblings, too. So what the hell are you doing here, fighting amongst each other this way?”

“The same thing you are doing, M’sieur, when you fight with the colleagues to whom you say you are as close as any born-brother could be. We react to one another as any other lot of siblings are wont to do in strained circumstances, which these are, to say the very least, M’sieur Temus.” De Guiche bluntly answered. “For example, despite having quite as much to do with our present troubles as we do, Cyr’s V Company’s members, by and large much prefer to blame the entire debacle on my own D brothers.

And the Baronet’s W Company confreres aren’t far behind in that regard, but having definite seniority, and indeed some real maturity above and beyond what 4th Company has achieved to date, they know when to make an alliance that HELPS ALL CONCERNED, instead of only gaining some slight benefit for, or accruing some small credit to themselves alone! You will have understood by now that V Company are in truth the last born of “notre famille”, non, M’sieur? That being the case they have for some time been known to act rashly more often than not, and to speak before giving the matter they would discourse on any deep thought. You may have in fact observed those phenomena where Oldest Torry is concerned, at one time or another.”

“In spades!” Artie agreed, almost chuckling, and he would have gone on but the brother called Cyrano clearly had something more to add.

“Mon Baron, if you will kindly withdraw”, Cyrano angrily started once more to protest. “YOU ARE NEITHER NEEDED NOR MUCH WANTED HERE. Indeed, D Company’s standing at present doesn’t allow you much leeway if any for the casting of stones, insults or aspersions. Now, M’sieur Temus, I will try in brief to articulate this matter for you. We call ourselves Oldest Torry’s brothers, because in every sense but physical birth, that’s who we are. Each of the Companies, from the L’s First, to W Company’s Second, to D Company at Third, down to my own V Company at Fourth has shared the experiences and emotions, wrongs and honors of our first-born confreres...”

“Cyr, you were given a clear, direct order to cease and desist this line of discussion.” De Guiche growled, cutting his younger brother off. “And I wouldn’t want to be in your boots, OLD FRIEND, when Shad’o, just for starters and then the rest of L Company decide on your reprimand for crossing the line. You can be too much like your role model at times for your own good, and you know that as well as I.”

“But, I still don’t have an answer to my question, now do I? Can you answer it, Baron, or can you Baronet... de Neuvillette, I presume?” Artie demanded.

“Well that’s right, that part of it, I’m styled after Christian de Neuvillette. But... no, not for the other...” The Baronet answered, looking genuinely downcast, now. “As the Companies got set up, and as they still run up till now, answerin’ questions like those are strictly detailed to the eldest, the first born of us.
To be more near exact, that would be all of L Company, starting with Babyboy.That’s why I come over and told Cyry he was plumb outa line just then. He plain jumped over it a good mile, that time, in fact. I’m sorry, and I don’t mean t’ be contrary, but it’s them y”gotta ask, just outa plain common sense, can you see that? They ... well, they got here first, so they know how it all went.

But there’s one or two things we can tell you, that Cyry got plain wrong, without bustin’ regs in all directions. First, we’re as real as we know how to be, M’sieur Artie, we ain’t liars, or frauds. We ain’t some kid’s play-pretends. We kinda figured you had that all sorted out for yourself, by now.

An’ second, ain’t no one in any of the Companies, not even some of the more crazed D’s, an’ beat-up Vs, ever set out t’ use The First-Born’s name an’ all just for our own good an’ nothin’ more! We only done it like that Capitane Athos was sayin, b”fore, because we COULDN’t LET ON the Companies was even here, that’s all. Why if we had done, Oldest Torry, Cour, YJ, an’ Babyboy, and all th’ rest of us...we coulda been in worse trouble than we are now, today! You can see that, cain’t you? So far as we knew, all this time, eight tenths of the grown folks we’ve ever run into, they weren’t ever t’ be trusted, not worth a damn!”

Artemus nodded, feeling his anger give way to something much more like compassion, again. “I thought I had that all sorted out too, as a matter of fact. And I knew some of those eight tenths, myself, growing up, out in the city. And, thanks. If you’re including me in the other two-tenths, I gueSs I’d better start doing something to deserve it. I’m not really sure what that should...”

“Yous done veriest many guddes’a’ready, temus-Poppa! Yous figgered all us’ns callin’ up listin’! Yous done so veriest gud!” A child’s plaintive voice called out. Then a crowd of ‘Ls’ raced into the ward, and Artie found himself being fiercely hugged by first one and then a good dozen or more of Jim’s smallest and eldest brothers. The first of these, a waifish, black haired, bright eyed child, of maybe three and a half or four, stepped back a bit, and then lifted a tearily smiling face up towards the agent. “Wees does be lovin’ yous so many much, temus-Poppa b”fore dat, an den yous did so veriest guddes’, gen’, helpin’ us’ns!”

“Did I?” Artie shrugged, surprised again by how the child was able to reassure him, almost as if their roles were somehow, reversed. “Well, that’s good to know. Because up to that moment I was feeling extraordinarily helpleSs in this situation. And of course you know it took my old friend Jemison to tell us what sort of listin’ your brothers left us to find. And then it was ... Miguel who realized what we needed to do with the watch rotation, at pretty much the same time as me... And you’re Shadow, is that right? You’re the eldest of these ... particularly quarrelsome fellows? Wait, you’re the eldest, and THAT’s why First Company is called ‘l’?”

“ Mees Shad’o, an’ dems mees Four, yes, temus-Poppa, an’ dat’s some much of dat, yes, but no all. D’ovver part is wees Littlers, wees no boys like us’ns Dubbyuhs, no grown boys like us’ns Dees, an’ no grown folks like us’ns Vees neever.” Shad’o nodded, grinning widely, as if amazingly proud of Artie’s deduction. “An wees...camed first, so dats bein’ d’ovver part why wees Firs’ Com’nee. It goed like dis:

Us’ns Firstest Brovver, hims dat camed “fore all us’ns Com’nees, was hardly even no more a baby den, hims was jus’started t’ be runnin’ roun Gramma’s Place, an did be some more fallin’ down, an was jus’ be start talkinup den. An den camed us’ns Ehls, us’ns Firs’ Com’nee. But wees no had us’ns sekkon birfday den, no fer ‘most eight mor monfs, ... Den camed us’ns guddes’ Dubbyuhs, us’ns Sekkon Com’nee, on dem veriest saddy, skeeredy times when us’ns guddes’ veriest own momma did go “ways far n’ far, t’ be a angel.

Wees was just den all fi” many ol, wen dem veriest skeeredy, saddy times camed. Den camed us’ns guddes’ Dees, us’ns Fird Com’nee when wees was pretty many much of no feel guds, an’ did have lots maddies an’ lots saddies an us’ns veriest own Poppa him gots veriest sicky an’ mos’went t’ be a angel too! Wees was mos’ten when dem bad ol’ times camed.
An afer dat, camed us’ns guddes’ Vees, us’ns Forf Com’nee, in dem ol’ Waor times, an’ wees did be need t’ be dem reely sojers den. Us’ns guddes’ Vees did camed startin’ wif dem ol’ Waor times, when dere was so many saddy, so many baddy fings... An’ yous did knows wees was mos’ twenny-ones when dem ol’ Waor times camed. So dat be dem ansers fer yer askin’, yes, temus-Poppa? Yes, Mee-gel?”

“You didn’t yet have your second birthday? “ Jemmy echoed, shocked almost voiceless, staring wide eyed at Shad’o.

“For nearly eight months after? “Miguel went on when Jemmy fell silent, and shook his head, unable to continue with the thought, much leSs the words.

“Shadow, you were” Artie said, taking his turn, rubbing at his left temple, swallowing hard on his own dismay. “ ... that little boy ...was only SIXTEEN MONTHS OLD?”

“Dats so.” Shad’o nodded sad eyed.

“Sixteen months old?” Miguel and Jemmy chorused, aghast. Then Miguel turned to look back across the “prize room’ to where Jim West still lay, apparently so deeply asleep that in most other circumstances, the doctor would have been concerned for his patient’s level of consciousness. But in this case the doctor could only wonder if his former adversary was at all aware of these brother-selves of his or their origins.

And if James West did not know these elements of his own psyche, better not to introduce them, or the idea of their existence too abruptly, Miguel de Cervantes considered. But there was another, lesser item causing him some concern. According to his own long-term dossier on West, the agent had been born July 2, 1842. Now little ‘shadow” seemed to be saying that datum was in error, off by two years! That discrepancy called for further investigation, surely, but not now.

“Please excuse our outbursts, Shadow.” Jemmy was saying, blinking at unshed tears that brightened his hazel eyes, as Miguel turned his attention back to their discussion. “We simply had no idea, no idea whatever as to just when... as to just how long ago the Companies ... came to be. And now, now that you’ve told us, I have to admit I’m shocked and terribly sad to hear just how long you’ve had to deal with ... all this ... by yourselves. All by yourselves, I mean, without anyone else ... even guessing! That is, if... if I understand you correctly, you’re saying L Company came into existence, thirty one years and four months ago. Is that ... right, Little cousin?”

Shad’o scrunched his face, concentrating hard and seeming to count his small fingers several times, before he answered. “Dat’s how many long, yes, Jemmee-Cous’n. But yous no need be so many much saddy. Wees no culd ‘llow enny peepls be guessed “bout us’ns, long an’ long. An’wees no culd be teld enny peepls b’fore nows. Nows Cyry an’Bari brovvers, yous did be start teld dees parts.

An’ yous many much worryin us’ns guddes’ frens, cause of dat. Dat’s veriest no gud, ever t’ be doin’, even mor pecially when dems jus’ did help us veriest guddes’, gen! So, nows you do be finishin’ up nows, plees. An’ no be teld wifou’ be ast gen, yes?” The seeming child demanded, turning to frown at both the Veteran and the Witness in his “Four”.

“Right, Shad,” Baronet nodded shame-faced.

“Oui, M’sieur. Et pardonez moi, M’sieurs all.” Cyrano agreed, bowing with evident deference to the “child’. Then he turned and bowed again to the three colleagues.” I made a great error in assuming you had already deduced, already come to comprehend much of what I was ... saying, if not precisement, in those terms. I profoundly regret overstepping my bounds and causing you such dismay. Indeed, I’m not at all sure I should not leave it to you, M’sieur Shad’o, to ease notre si bon amis shock, that is, if you would be so kind, M’sieur.”

”Fanks yu, mees will.” The child, obviously the real authority figure there nodded as graciously as any monarch, Miguel thought, and then turned to face the three colleagues. “Yous does be veriest ‘mart, an’ fin, an’ many much helpin’, an’us’ns guddes’ frens. But wees knowd yous cain’t be un’tand ev”fing bout us’ns Cmpnees, no righ ways. So wees veriest sorrees wees maked dis many big, no veriest gud “prize on yous. An’ wees no wantad no telld yous dis. Yous mebbee needin’ t’ be knowd dis, fer helpin’ us’ns Oles’, an’ us’ns Cmpnees mor:

Wees camed, started up wif Ehl Comnees Baby-boy Torry, when dat veriest maddy, veryiest baddy an’ skeeredy mans did be camed t’ us’ns Gramma Je’s howse. An hims camed in dat winder, some b”for Crismassstimes, afer us’ns guddes’ Furstest Brovver had hims firs’ birfday dat summers. An’hims did make... dat bad an’ skeeredy mans... did make veriest many much of skeeredys, owwys, an’ hims did veriest baddes’ fings... hurtin’ on Furstest Brovver.

But wees no culd gots Furstest Brovver in us’ns Ehls. Wees culdn’- hims ...did be a’ready dere, a’ready borned, yous know? An’ den hims gotted too many hurted... so, afer dat, wens us’ns guddes’ Dubbyuhs beginned to came, wif us’ns Younges’ Jaimey, dat we calld fer us’ns bestes Grampa Jaimey, wees did makt us’ns Furstest Brovver a gud seekrit place...down’ th’ hill b’side Gramma Je’s guddes quiyat Sunday place fer singin an’ talkinup reel quiyat, an ... dem kinda fings...”

“Shadow,” Artie started to ask, his whole manner and his tone very subdued and saddened. “Do you mean to say you and your brothers made a place for this tiny brother… this first born brother of yours, down the hill from your grandmother’s house… beside the church she helped get started there?”

“Yeah-uh-huh. Dats where. Wazz otay wees did dat, temus-Poppa? Wazz otay, Jemmee, Mee-gel? Wees thot it mi” mebbee otay, cos us’ns Drew-Little mor oldr brovver, an’ us’ns Cyndy-Little mor oldr sissah, an’ us’ns Rand-Little cuzzin did be hev plaases dere, when dems went … t’ be angels.”

“That was very okay, Shadow. That was a very fine and brave and loving thing to do, in fact.” Artemus answered for the trio, pushing the words past the tears burning in his own throat now. All he could think about, all he could see, far more vividly than he ever wanted, was a tiny boychild-called “Babyboy”; a toddler, really, not yet a year and a half old. And all the actor could feel was pure horror, that a defenseleSschild had been essentially obliterated by the actions and the cowardice of a vicious madman!

“But Shadow, this must be incred… very hard for you to even talk about. And you’ve already been through so much, today. So, maybe, it would be a good idea to take this slow, or even to stop for now. Some of your other brothers seemed to think you weren’t ready… for all this… Of course, with that being said, I’m not sure anyone ever could be… ready to talk about … this kind of nightmare…”

“Wees knowd dey fink so, temus Poppa. Us’ns guddes’ brovvers allus wantad t’ be p’tect us’ns Ehls…An wees does be lovin’ dat dey wantad. But reely deys gots dat kinda turnded roun. Wees did be camed t’ be p’tect us’ns brovvers… Wees gots t’ … “pecially cos wees culdn’t p’tect Furstest Brovver… wen hims wazz just as many much us’ns brovver!” Shad’o shook his head, his wide eyes shining with tears, his small chin jutting fiercely and his child’s hands balled into fists.

Artie knew he was staring at the child, and glanced quickly over at his colleagues; wordlessly asking if they saw and heard what he had. Miguel and Jemison nodded back, looking to Artemus to be, once again, equally astonished. Every gesture, tone and expression Shad’o used were small mirror images of Jim West making an angrily determined declaration.

It was almost more than Artie could stand, in fact, seeing how clearly this seeming child mirrored his ‘oldest brother”. It made his head swim when the realization hit that instead, Jim West was one of Shad’o’s youngest brothers! The terror, from which that brotherhood was born, was more than the San Francisco born agent could imagine. The marvel to him was that anything helpful, auspicious, or encouraging, much leSs anything good could have come from the living hell these child-spirits endured!

“All right, Shadow.” Miguel said, taking his turn with the child, he took Shad’o’s hand and rubbing the child’s small back to ease him. “All right. We surely understand the feeling one can have when one is unable to help one’s brother… And we know that whatever you are able to tell us can only help us help your oldest brother, when he’s more frequently awake and aware once more.”

“Wees did be knowd yous un’stan lots bout us’ns brovvers an’ us’ns Com’nees, Mee-Gell.” Shad’o said in a quieter tone, but one no leSssimilarly determined than his ‘oldest’ brother when trying to persuade, cajole or otherwise win a point with someone. “An wees are veryiest gladder wees gots guddes’ frens dat can un’stan dis… Wees thot long an’ long an’ long dere warn’t nobody culd be un’stan dis… hows wees camed…”

“We’re working hard to understand it better, all the time, Shadow.” Jemmy offered, patting the child’s head. “But I think you’ve done more than enough to help us do that, for one day. So, I’d really like you to get some rest now, or as soon as your turn on Watch is over.”

“Otay Jemmee Dokker. Bari-brovver, does us’ns Dubbyuhs be readied fer us’ns Ehls t’ be hand off th’ Watch?” Shad’o asked.

“W Company’s all present and accounted for, Shad’o, ready to take Watch.” Baronet answered with a stiff, Regular Army salute. ‘l Company may stand down whenever you’re ready, Sir. And again, I’ll apologize for jumping in, getting ahead of things, Sir.”

“Izz otay, Bari. Wees all had same many much of troubles t’day an’ wees all be lots tiredy from dem. But wees need t’ be mor of trustin’ us’ns guddes’ frens t’ figure stuffs out when thems be needin’ to. Thems gots veriest gudder thinkers, an thems does be helped us’ns Com’nees veriest much a’ready, otay?” The child asked, looking and sounding like nothing so much, Artie thought, as a C.O. chiding a green lieutenant.

“Yes, Sir.” Baronet nodded again and with one more salute, took up his post behind Shad’o And now, as Artemus, Jemison and Miguel watched, Each WitneSsmoved to stand a half step in front of, a half step to one side or just behind each Littler in an unmistakably protective stance.

That done, each of those pairs of brothers crossed the prize room together until each Littler was leaning, lying or curled up, sound asleep, next to a Veteran. And finally, each of these trios, with either a Witness or a Veteran carrying their Littler in each case, made their way back across, until each Veteran held his post beside a Defender, and each Defender had taken his place next to a Witness, thus completing the quads.

“So that’s the Watch.” Artie noted, quietly amazed, his dark eyes brightened by unshed tears.

“Yes, I believe we are seeing once more both the purpose and the execution of that brotherhood at the same time.” Miguel agreed. “And if you will allow me, Mr. Gordon, Jemison, there’s something I need to express to you, but somewhat more privately, please.”
SCENE THIRTEEN the same day, Baltimore State Asylum, acute ward

“What was it you wanted to say to us, Doctor?” Artie asked, his curiosity stronger than his bone weariness just now.

Miguel frowned and looked away for a moment, to where, just inside the door of the acute ward, Baronet stood watch over Shad’o, who lay curled up asleep on Cyrano’s lap. Meanwhile that Veteran played a game of cheSswith De Guiche and that D Company member kept an eye on their quad’s Witness.

“I’m not sure I would go so far as to say I wish to say this. I’ve never particularly enjoyed making such admissions, as you may well understand. Antoinette has however pointed out the benefit, if not the outright requirement, for such things in the raising of one’s offspring. So you may want to thank ma cher femme and my little son Micah for this, when that opportunity arises. However, it now seems I perhaps was in error, insofar as some of the charges I leveled against Mr. Gordon during our recent ... discussion. And if that is the case, then I must as a reasonable person, offer my ... apologies.”

Artemus was staring again, this time at the small doctor, his dark-bright eyes wide with surprise. Then he turned to glance at Jemmy, only to find a taut grin on the Raleigh native’s face. “Jemison, old man, if you don’t mind, would you stop grinning for a moment and tell me if you just heard what I just heard the good doctor saying?”

Jemmy struggled to look somber and finally just nodded. He wasn’t about to lecture these two former adversaries again on the benefits of cooperation between them. He wasn’t about to do that, until and unless they made it impossible, again, to get anything accomplished while they went through another such wrangle.

“Well that’s very gracious of you, Doctor.” Artie told Miguel.

“Perhaps so. In any case, I have something to add.” Miguel insisted. “It may be, I say it may even be, I was in error to some extent, in suggesting a compassionate impersonation on your part of, for example, Stephen Arthur West, would not benefit the Torrys. You knew the elder West, I believe, Mr. Gordon, having met him not long after the War ended?”

”Well, thank you, Doctor. I appreciate that. And it may be, it just may be, that I and my “Cossack’s temper”, as my grandfather often called it, went a little bit over the top, earlier. And yes, as a matter of fact, I met Stephen West before that, and visited him, along with James, once Norfolk was retaken. That was in May, in the second summer of the War. So I knew him for a little more than five years time.

And he, Jim’s father, I mean, was an authentic gentleman, a soft spoken, extremely bright, and truly gentle soul. He was already a good friend of both Mac’s, Frank Harper, and James Richmond’s. So I know without any doubt, and it’s had me a bit torn, that I could “bring” Stephen West here for his … sons, if only to … give them some level of comfort…” Artie shrugged, sitting down on one of the other cots in the playroom.

“That being said, I have to say I never met the man until the summer of “62, after Norfolk was back in Union hands. And that was twenty-two years after Jim was born. So there’s always going to be the chance … as in any portrayal of a real person… that I could get something terribly wrong. And what I could get most wrong is my reason for saying “no” to the whole idea. And that’s my other argument against this: The other reason I’ve not made this suggestion myself, before now, as I may have mentioned when my memory began to clear up, I realized I bear a rather marked physical resemblance to… “

“To Stephan Aynsley, you’ve said that more than once, Artemus.” Jemison finished, getting the actor’s attention. “But, if that resemblance was as strong as you think, wouldn’t at least one of Torry’s sighted brothers have raised a ruckus, seeing you here?”

“I don’t know. I don’t pretend to understand all this, even now.” Artie protested. “What if some of them are still too scared to speak up about just that? What if their patterning is still there, the patterning that had Jim…”

“Artie, what’s wrong?” Jemmy asked, when the older man stopped and went wide eyed with dismay.

“Wrong? What could be wrong, Jemison, old man? I only just now recalled something else I should never have been able to forget for an instant! I only just remembered why I can’t even think about enacting Stephen West for these… these children. And it’s something else that happened the week before Jim went to see President Grant, that day in Baltimore, three years ago. It makes it an absolute no-go for me to impersonate his father.´ Artie frowned, shaking his head despite how badly it was still aching.

“ Artemus, could you elucidate on that somewhat, please?” Miguel asked. “ I don’t believe you and I have discussed the events of that week in any detail.”

“No, no, we haven’t. And for good reason. It was a train wreck throughout! It was nearly as much a disaster as the day Jim met with the Man.” Artie sighed, and went on. “We were talking, we were trying to figure out what really happened to him all the time he was gone, you see? At least when Jim could get past the patterning, we were. And at one point that I should have remembered all this time, as if it were yesterday, Jim turned to me, and I knew then, as well as I know now it was James talking to me, not Courier, not… anyone else.
Jim said

“… I’m not a little boy in short pants any longer, partner! I’m full grown, a fully-fledged Major, and I know what I’m doing. I know what I’m saying! And even though I don’t have my father any longer, that doesn’t mean I need or want to be patronized this way! And I absolutely DO NOT NEED ANOTHER POPPA! … PLEASE, ARTIE, DON’t, DON’t “POPPA” ME, RIGHT NOW! JUST DON’t!” So, then I knew Jim was worried half out of his mind what would happen if I pushed any further on just that point. It was in his face and his eyes and his whole posture. He was deathly afraid of what might happen…”

”You almost got that right, PlayActor, but not quite.” Courier called out and got all three colleagues looking his way as he strode towards them, shaking his head. “You came close, though, I’ll give you that much.”

“Well, then maybe you can set me straight on it, Courier.” Artie frowned. “What did I miss? Where did I go off my marks, just then?”

“Well, not surprising, since you’re only guessing.” The D Company member smirked. “That’s where you’re likely to come up short a lot, you see. We always know exactly what’s goin’ on in Oldest’ mind. We kinda have to, seeing as how we call it Home. So, what did you get wrong? That’s simple! OLDEST KNEW, all of V Company and us Ds KNEW what would for CERTAIN SURE happen when you got stupid enough to push that “Poppa” routine too hard! KABOOM! THAT’s WHAT WOULD HAVE HAPPENED! CURTAINS! FINIS! NO MORE FAKE POPPA, NO MORE PATRONIZING OLD MAN, NO MORE PLAYACTOR! AND OLDEST KNEW IT!

So he pushed me and the rest of D Company out of his way real hard, for a moment. And Oldest got that warning out before you could make that mistake once too often. So, you’re still here. So, maybe you should remember to thank Oldest, sometime, when he’s up to recalling it, that is!”

“I’ll do just that.” Artie nodded, still eyeing the young brother skeptically. “I surely will. I always try to remember to thank my partner for saving my life. But now I’m curious. Why would you bother to correct me on that, or anything else, Courier, old friend? Why wouldn’t you just sit back and get a good laugh when we trip over our feet here, trying to help?”

“D Company always pays its debts, Old Man, down to the penny.” Courier replied, scowling, and turned away.

”…Pays its debts?” Artie echoed and then grinned as wide as the Golden Gate. “What debts… oh, oh, you mean the roster, the cipher? That was your way of saying thanks for my figuring that out? Sorry, old bean, you’re thanking the wrong man. It was Jim West who taught me that reverse-numeric, how to make it work and how to break it. So, maybe you should remember to thank James, sometime, when he’s more awake. And maybe you should think about helping us now, to get more questions answered, so you can pay D Company’s debts, down to the penny, like you said.”

“Figure he’s got ye penned on that one, Cour!” Youngest Jaimey called out, laughing, rushing over to join the group, with a very sleepy eyed Babyboy up on one shoulder.”Figure Artie’s got ye figured but good, this time. He had ye figured pretty good that last time, too. He just didn’t know the whole deal, then. Now he does! Now they all do and we’re a lot better off, was ye to ask W Company, was ye to ask V Company and L too, seems to me! D Company always pays its debts, down t’th’ penny, what’s that about, anyway, are ye tryin’ to say th’rest of us don’t?”

“Haven’t exactly heard W OR V Companies volunteering any damn all answers here!” Courier growled. ‘matter of fact, we didn’t hear any of W or V Company come up with writing out that roster! Oh, that’s right, nearly forgot! All of W got knocked out, just coming on to take the Watch last night, and V… gueSs they were all somewhere off in dreamland too, about then!”

“Younges’ J, Couri!!! Yous be no more of fightin’ dat ways! Yous stops ri” nows!” Babyboy ordered quite sternly, considering he seemed to be no more than two years of age. “Yous no be wakdied up us’ns guddes, veryiest own tiredy Ol’es! Yous hep us’ns guddes’frens, us’ns veryiest fyn Jemmee-Cous, us’ns veryiest bestest Mee-gel an’us’ns veryiest guddes ‘temus Poppa wen thems be ask!”

“But YJ started it, BB!” Courier complained, his voice sounding far younger and more plaintive than any of them had heard from him before now. “W has Watch and still he comes at me, plaguing and pestering!”

“Yeah, we’ve got Watch, that’s why I come over, BB!” Youngest Jaimey protested, just as sharply. “Cour was the one started things. He was over here, stirrin’things up! Figure D Company does that when they get bored, bein’ off duty! Figure they can’t find anything better to do! Figure they shoulda been called T Company for all the danged Trouble they’re so good at findin, runnin’ smack into, and makin’!”

“And you’re all being insubordinate and entirely out of order, fellas.” A weary, warmly rueful older voice, responded, bringing everyone’s gaze back to the cot in the far corner of the room. Once again, Jim perched on the edge there, sleepily grinning in the direction of the small group, like a long-suffering father figure or commander, or both.

“And you pulled me right out of th’ mudslide again, for which I’d like to say I’m truly grateful. I’d like to say I’m truly grateful. But I was asleep! And I think I’m pretty far behind on my sleeping, just lately. And unleSs I’ve got it all whopper-jawed six ways from Sunday, V Company’s gonna have Watch next, or maybe right after D… Dunno… Why do I always get that backwards?”

“Oldest, ’m not even sure how you have all that figured a bit, much leSs that close. But you were right the second time, there.” Youngest Jaimey answered. “D Company comes on Watch after W, and V Company comes on Watch after D. Then we start all over, with L Company coming on Watch after V, and W Company coming on after the Ls. It’s this way: Ls Watch for Vs, Vs Watch for Ds, Ds Watch for Ws, and Ws Watch for Ls. Get that?”

“Right this minute, yeah, I think so.” Jim nodded. “Can’t say for how long, though. Seems like I’ve got some pretty fair sized gaps and misfires all along the line when it comes to what I can keep hold of. And even those don’t seem to stay in the same spots, not all the time!”

“Younges’ yous set mees down nows wif us’ns Ol’es!” Babyboy demanded, and the WitneSsmoved to obey with all due haste, settling the child beside Jim. “An’ Ol’es, yous no “posed t’bein all waked up nows. Yous posed t’ be nows many much asleep! Wees told dems no waked you ups!” Babyboy then turned to scold the soldier-agent, shaking one small finger at Jim.

“Now, now, LT, you know I can sleep at the drop of a hat, anywhere anytime… mostly. Learned that trick up at the Point, as they’d call drills and inspections on us, especially on the plebes, whensoever they wanted! And I just … I thought I’d best help stop YJ and Cour’s squabbling, so you could get some sleep too. That’s all.” Jim answered, grinning in the little boy’s direction, and shrugging with a typically Westian innocent air.

“Torry?” Jemison asked, dumbfounded rushing back to his cousin’s side. “Torry, Cousin, you’re …awake?”

“Well, I am now! Jemmy? Say, when did you get here? Oh, wait, you woke me up, a little while back, too. No wonder I’m not caught up on my sleep, yet!” Jim laughed, his blind green eyes restlessly blinking. Then he reached in the direction of his Raleigh cousin’s voice, and pulled Jemison into a familial hug. Jemmy hugged back and then craned his neck back to look a question at Miguel and Artie both. Artie shrugged, just as bewildered as the North Carolinian, but Miguel seemed to have something to add.

“Major West, you do to be seem very much awake and alert. And as much as I’d prefer you also “catch up” on your rest, I do have one question.” The small doctor said, making his way acroSsthe room with the help of his canes and a quick lift from Artie.

“Just one question, Doctor? That’s not like you at all.” Jim chuckled, yawning. “But, hey, shoot… Well, no, don’t shoot. I’m not … not even the messenger here. That’d be Courier, you see. And Courier, by the way, you’re wrong, and you dang well know it. Youngest J didn’t start that last skirmish at all. You did, and you’d do better to just admit it. He’s got Watch and its really bad form to start up trouble for him that way.

Also, Babyboy was just settling in, coming off Watch. And I don’t know, but I’m pretty sure it was a really bad one. So getting a ruckus going is not helping him, very much either. And he’s our L, … we’re all supposed to be more Watchful of him, and you know that too, Youngest. And finally, I’m not altogether sure, but I think we’ve got enough problems without this … clan warfare around here.”

“You could say that, Oldest.The PlayActor just … plagues me something fierce, sometimes, so I … “ Courier started to protest.

“…Plague him, right back again? Yeah get that, figure that, Cour. Stop it, okay? Artie’s my partner. And he’s … not bad at it.” Jim cut him off, but then smiled tiredly.

“… I’m …not bad at it?” Artie echoed, still a bit stunned. “Well, thanks, James, neither are you.”

“Just trying to keep your ego from swelling to fill the whole, entire train, Artemus, that’s all.” Jim quipped. “Cour, Artemus is the best friend and best partner I’ve ever had. Now, are you happy, partner?”

“Bemused might be a better word for how I am right now, James. Doctor… you had a question for this …plaguing partner of mine, I thought?” Artie chuckled.

“Yes.” Miguel nodded. “Major, if you don’t mind telling us, I think Artemus, Jemison and I would all very much like to know how you came to be so well…aware of your … brothers, and in such detail.”

“I don’t know.” Jim shrugged and sighed. “… No, no, I mean that. I don’t know how I know … But, Courier, and Youngest, and Littlest … well, we’re … linked is the best way I can put it. And that spreads out to include all the quads, all the groups of four in the Companies.

We … We’re …sort of a … a team… or a troop or… well, I can’t explain it much better than that… We always have been … sort of a package deal, far as I can tell. And that wasn’t much of an explanation at all, was it? And I’m thinking that mudslide’s on its way back… just any minute. So… what else can I … try to tell you?”

“Oh any number of things, Major, most of which we’ll get to when you’re more rested.” Miguel answered. “I’m learning more, and more in this regard, all the time. But you’ve mentioned this ‘mudslide” at least once before now, is that what it feels like when you lose consciousness of your surroundings, and your …Cohorts?”

“Pretty much feels like swimming upstream in a mudslide, or trying to go out and swim the ponies across the channel when out of nowhere, the weather turns rough.” Jim nodded, wearily rubbing his forehead. “It’s … like knowing you’re about to have your feet go out from under you, and you can’t catch your balance… Artie, you remember, we were out in the Tenderloin that time. And there was an earthquake? It’s like that, sometimes, too.”

“ Yeah, I remember.” Artie agreed, putting one hand on Jim’s shoulder. “We probably looked like we’d gone out on a week long bender. The whole City probably looked that way, for about…fifteen seconds. But you’re alright now, James. You are, really. Just take it easy and we’ll… be okay.”

“Am I alright, Doctor? What do you say to that? “ Jim demanded, albeit very tiredly now. “And how about you, Jemmy? Cause I’m about to go under again, and frankly, that doesn’t make me so sure. Oh, and would somebody PLEASE crack a window? I felt like …nearly choking, when I came around before! There was something …purely awful…”

“I say you’re in fact showing quite remarkable improvement, Torry.” Miguel answered, watching as Jim turned to lay down on his side again. “And you need more rest.”

“…Wait, wait… you … you just called me… Torry…” Jim muttered. “Where did you pick up my bab… my family name?”

“From you, Cousin.” Jemmy chuckled, pulling a cover up over Jim’s legs. “Miguel told me all about the time you regaled him for hours with family stories, including how Great Aunt Jean gave you your nickname. And you are getting better, Torry. That’s nothing but true. And you know I don’t lie to my patients.”

“Yeah, surely! You never told a fella it’s not gonna hurt a bit, or it tastes like licorice, or it’ll be over in just a second. Doctors!” Jim murmured and seemed to doze off.

“Cousins!” Jemmy scoffed.

“Patients!” Miguel added.

“Partners!” Artie groaned, starting to laugh, and then abruptly he grew somber again, holding his forehead once more, as if it was in danger of splitting. For another long moment now the former actor turned away from his colleagues, shaking his head and muttering forlornly. Then Artemus turned his wide, dark gaze back to Miguel and seemed to be struggling to hold back an outburst of some kind.

“Was there something you wanted to ask about this latest exchange with Major West, Mr. Gordon?” Miguel asked, sensing an abrupt shift in Artemus’ demeanor.

“Artemus, if something is troubling you…” Jemmy offered, trying to deflect what looked to be another confrontation between his two older colleagues.

“Troubling me? What on earth should be troubling me, Jemmy?” Artie demanded, scowling and backing away from the Raleigh born doctor. “Why should anything that’s happened here be troubling anyone? I can’t imagine why you’d even ask! Wait, wait, maybe I can. Maybe its because I just heard someone who looks and sounds and reacts entirely like my partner, Jim West, talking about being one these Companies!

I just heard that …someone talking about that as calmly as if he was discussing the weather, when by any and every measure I know of he should be as worried, as confused, and frankly as scared by it as I am again, right now this minute! I just saw and heard … someone I can’t even think of as my friend and my partner, because he’s … he’s not Jim any more than any of the rest of them are! So there’s nothing to be done for Jim West now, is there? Because there’s no Jim West here at all any more, is there! There are only so many scores and dozen of puzzle pieces, fractions and fragments and figments, here now!”

“I came here thinking I’d finally be helping my best friend get well, get back to himself. I came here hoping Jim would somehow get past the ordeal he’s been put through for years now. But that’s never going to happen, is it? That was never even possible, was it? You can stop lying about that now, Doctor, I’ve got it, at long last! I know the truth of the matter! I can’t help James, now! Nobody can! He’s gone for good, just like I thought! Well that being the case so am I! I’m done with all of this, now! I’ve officially had it!” Artie shouted and marched out of the “playroom’, through the infirmary, and down the hall outside to the lift.

“Artemus!” Jim called out, his eyes snapping open as he sat up again. “Artemus, get the devil back in here! I’m still here! And I’m still your partner, and your senior officer, Mister! So you’d better get moving back in here, and on the double quick! Artemus! Damn, why’d he have to go off half-cocked like that again! Damn, Jemmy, why didn’t you stop Artie from blowing his stack that way? It’s bad for his heart!”

“Cousin, you know him better than I do, so you already know the answer. There is nothing and no one in the world who can call a halt on Artie’s temper once it goes up like those sky rockets announcing ‘the ball’s about to open’ during the War! Ever try stopping a sky rocket, once it was lit, Torry? You only get your fingertips singed! Now, if you think you can stop your partner from marching right out of here, I’d be glad to help, as long as you’ve got …” Jemmy protested,

“A stone-capped redoubt to duck behind, immediately after I stop him?” Jim chuckled. “Actually I tried to get Artie to invent a portable one for the Wanderer, and an even smaller one I could pack in my saddlebags. He said he didn’t need to. He said he’d already sound proofed and bullet proofed his whole cabin, so he’d be perfectly safe the next time I lost my temper. Well, now you know what I put up with, all that while. I suppose you already knew, Doctor, but Jemmy’s led a fairly quiet life until just lately, being as he’s of the Friendly Persuasion. Okay, somebody point me in the right direction… Well, c’mon, I happen to be stone-blind here, which way’s the door?”

“Oldest, it was us that really got ol’ Artie so mad.” YJ offered glumly. “So maybe it should be Cour and me that go on out after him, now.”

“It wasn’t you, Jaimey. It was … the whole shootin’ match here. And it was me, running my mouth about the Companies and the Watch, before I engaged my brain, you might say. “Jim answered, turning towards the Witness, and shaking his head. “And besides, you’ve got The Watch, remember? You’ve gotta stay put. Babyboy is already beside himself with all this hollering and carrying on. All the Ls are. You’ve gotta stay by him, and you already know that, you should, better than I do. I’m only a lowly 4th Company type, but you’re a 2nd.”

“Well, it’s not like you could be a Second or Third, or First, now is it?” Courier jibed, and got Jim’s blinking, flickering blind gaze more in his direction.

“And if I could be, I surely wouldn’t choose D Company right now, not with the way you’ve been letting it go almost to pieces, Cour.” Jim answered, frowning. “Not only that, you need to learn some real respect for people you might not happen to like, when they’ve earned it. And Artie’s earned it, a zillion times, just counting how often he saved our mutual backsides! He’s got pride of place anywhere he wants it, as far as I’m concerned, and that’s with no offense meant to you, Doctor.”

“None taken, Major.” Miguel agreed. “I don’t hear the lift moving, perhaps Jemison should direct you to the corridor to find out if our colleague’s fallen asleep out there. He was quite exhausted. Indeed, so are we all, which more than accounts, I would say, for the general shortneSs of temper.”

“Ol’es!” Babyboy called out, his bright eyes brighter still with tears now. “Ol’es yous please go wif us’ns Jemmee, Dockter an fyn us’ns temus Poppa! Him’s no so many maddy, him’s veryiest saddy! Yous go plees nows… go fyn hims, an be talkinup wif hims! Hims does be veryiest guddes’ temus Poppa!”

“And he’s remembering when I told him not to do just that!” Jim nodded, frowning. “That wasn’t well done of you, Courier, to throw that in Artemus’ face. You and I and Artie had a time of it that week, and things could have turned out a hell of a lot worse than they did! D Company did a fine job of getting us all in trouble up to our necks, that time. All Artie did was try pulling us out! In fact in all the time we worked together that was the main thing Artie did, get us all out of trouble!

So maybe you should have listened to him then! And maybe you’re the one who should be thanking my partner for what he tried to do again, that time, saving our backsides, I mean. You know as well as I do, how many times he did that, back in the War, and I know how many times he’s done it since. It’s like a bad habit I’m damned glad he has, and you should be damned glad of it too! Jem, I’m about to blow my stack in front of the Ls, and I don’t want to. Get me out to that hallway now, will you, Cousin? Maybe you’d better come with, I don’t think Artie’s out there sleeping… you know?”

“Get that, Torry. Figured that.” Jemmy answered and moved to help Jim stand up. Then they threaded the maze of tables and cots in the playroom, with some helpful steering from Jaimey, some glum suggestions from Courier, and some good advice from Littlest. Jemmy stayed in the doorway, when he noted the former actor sitting against the wall, beside the lift.

“He’s still frowning. But he seems all right, otherwise, Torry. You’ve got about eight or nine paces down the hall to your left to reach him.” Jemmy said and watched Jim make his way, with the help of a cane he’d borrowed from Miguel.

“Artemus, I know you’re still out here, cause the lift didn’t start up.” Jim called. “Artemus, you’re gonna talk to me. And it’s gonna be now, partner, cause as soon as we’re done talking, you’re hitting the rack. You’re all in, you’re exhausted, in fact, if your voice is any indication. And by the way, about the reason you’re so worn out, rode hard and all that… I wanted to say something first … “

“I’d rather you wouldn’t.” Artie said, finally answering, just as Jim reached him.

“I know. You always hate it whenever I say this. But I’m still gonna say it: Thanks, Artie.” Jim replied.

“I don’t hate it when my partner says that. I like to be appreciated by the people I work with as much as the next guy, I guess. But I don’t want to hear thanks from a stranger. And that’s you, so just turn around, take nine paces back the way you came. I’m in no mood to talk to anyone here. I’m in no mood to talk to strangers, for certain.”

“I’m not a stranger. I’m your badly messed up, a little bit crazy, stone-blind partner.” Jim answered, in the same stubborn tone Artie was using. “Only I gueSs I’m not your partner any more, since I’m not exactly up to par. And if you wanta be angry with that, hey, I’ll join you. I don’t much like it, myself.

But I don’t see how,… Sorry, bad pun… I don’t know if I believe anyone can fix my eyes now. So I guess you’d better find a new partner, Artemus, if you haven’t already brought Ori Hoynes up to speed. This kind of work, you need a good partner and he’s … not bad, for a giant, black haired tombstone from San Antonio by way of Dublin.”

“Ori’s fine. He’s doing great. But he’s got a partner, a young fellow from somewhere near Worcester, Massachusetts, named Chris McIntire, if I remember it right.” Artie answered, still not looking at Jim. He couldn’t. The way he’d stormed out of the “prize room’, and the reason were both too raw, still.

“Which you do, of course. You’ve got one of those memories, that catch and hold just about everything… “ Jim offered, leaning against the wall on the other side of the lift.

“It’s usually called a photographic memory, for that very reason, but the clinical term is eidetic. If I see something, I remember it, and usually if I hear something, it works that way too. And if I concentrate on something I’ll probably remember it till I drop dead! Sometimes that’s a good thing, and sometimes…” Artie shrugged.

“Not so much.” Jim suggested. “Right. That’s something I’ve found with … that’s something I’ve found happens in my … situation. If I’ve forgotten something, and I’m not sure I want to recall it, that’s how sure I can be that one of the D’s or W’s will remind me.”

“I don’t want to talk about that …situation!” Artie warned him. “I’ve never understood it at all, not even when I thought surely I did. And just now, I don’t really want to! It’s not even in the realm of possibility, as far as I can see! No, no, it’s not possible. One human mind can’t be broken in that many pieces!”

“Forty-seven pieces?” Jim asked, seizing the opening he got. “As a matter of fact, yes, it can…”

“Don’t you mean four times forty-seven?” Artemus demanded, finally looking up and across at the younger man. “We read the whole bloody be damned roster and that’s how many names there were… one hundred and eighty eight to be precise! And that’s simply not …”

“…Possible, yeah. You’re right about that.” Jim answered, knowing that would stop the older man short.

“What in the very devil are you talking about?” Artie demanded. “ I deciphered that ledger page myself and I saw each of those names. And if that weren’t enough, when we read the damn thing, each of those names turned up another …”

“Brother. We’re brothers, Artemus, all of us. But, and this is what you need to listen to right now, what you need to hear. What we call The Watch has also been called The Four, and you’ll hear the Ls use that term more than the younger Companies do, in fact. And that’s because from the very beginning till now, there were always four … faces, four forms and four … outward appearances for each one of the core, the brother-selves or … or spirits, as you might hear the Ws and some of the Vs call …ourselves.

We’re not separate beings. We couldn’t be divided up that far, and survive, you’re right. It’s not even remotely possible for one human psyche to split much more than this… and leave any trace, or any spirit behind. “ Jim went on, hoping against hope his partner was really listening.

“And that’s why you see the different ages amongst the brothers… my brothers… It’s just another layer of protective coloring… another set of earthworks…We’ve been living this way for so long, only a few of the Ls really remember anything else, anything different. We’ve done this to survive, not to hurt or to lie to anyone, ever. We’ve done this to fight back in the only way we were left, with the only weapons we had.

All that we are, all that was any part of us would have died, more than thirty years ago, Artemus, if we hadn’t… become the Four. You did a terrific job, by the way, with that cipher… The Ds weren’t sure anyone could break it, and it had to be hard …to break, for our safety. You did great, Artie. We weren’t sure, the Vs, that is, not sure at all you’d see how it worked. You’re really good with ciphers but…”

“Nonsense!” Artie scoffed, not wanting to be in this conversation but too tired to get up and leave, just now. “Once I took a good look and saw the reverse-reverse method you used … And didn’t I just say I don’t want to talk about this?”

“Yeah, yeah, you did. Only, we didn’t believe you. I didn’t believe you. And I was right, or you’d have been in that lift, down and out of here … a good ten minutes ago. So, you want to talk with me about this. In fact, you have a question you’re burning to ask me, right now, this minute. So, go ahead, shoot.” Jim insisted.

“Bad choice of words, pal. Or it would be, if I had my Colt! You think I’ve got a burning question?” Artie tried to laugh, and ended up just shrugging again. “You think there’s something I’m dying to ask you?”

“Yeah.” Jim answered, knowing full well how brevity would draw his partner out. Artie leaned his left elbow on his knee, and his forehead in his left hand now. For a long moment he studied the younger man’s face while his thoughts whorled and roiled like a mountain stream. The younger man’s shoulders were slumping with weariness too, reminding Artie that Jim couldn’t have slept after the attack left him frozen in place. Jim’s face was drawn, following his last bout of fever, and his eyes, despite their blindness, still showed a great deal of what went on behind them.

Artemus Gordon knew that face as well as his own. Without question, this was the face of the man he’d partnered since the first winter of the War. It was older and wearier, with a fine collection of scars, especially those that now circled his bright, blind, green eyes. The already sharp features had been further sharpened by illneSs and neglect before Mac ever found him here. Creases showed more deeply acroSs his forehead and around his mouth than they ever had. This was Jim’s face, and it showed Artie’s dark, perceptive gaze every instant of his ordeal. This was Jim, and Artie did have a question that had to be asked.

“Why?” The former actor finally asked. “Why didn’t you tell me what happened? Why didn’t you tell me, your partner, and your best friend, what you’d gone through? Sorry, that was three questions, I guess.”

”Well, it crossed my mind… It crossed our minds… more than a few times.” Jim ruefully admitted, bending his knees and sliding down the wall to be more at a level with Artie. “And each of those times, Artemus, the consensus was… you’d never believe … us. Sorry, we knew you were going to ask… and that’s the answer. We’ve never told anyone, ever. And it’s almost funny now, to think about the reason for that…”

“Funny?” Artie echoed, bewildered again.

“Yeah. We were …afraid… We were always afraid we’d be … locked up for crazy.” Jim finished, nodding and starting to laugh.

“And how’s that working out for you, James?” Artie couldn’t keep from asking, beginning to chuckle.

“Not… “ Jim answered, just as he began to chortle. “Not very well, not just lately, Artie. May…Maybe … we should … try… a new tact…”

Artie didn’t answer. He couldn’t. He was roaring with laughter for the first time in he didn’t know how long, and so was Jim. And as he went on laughing, somehow the world seemed to tilt back on its axis, the way it hadn’t done lately, either. Then he looked back down the hall, and saw Miguel, balanced on Jemmy’s strong right shoulder, laughing along with the partners. They were still in a lot of trouble, but they were laughing and making jokes about it, as always. And surely that counted for something on their side of the ledger.
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SS novice field agent

610 Posts

Posted - 02/09/2009 :  12:33:43  Show Profile

“Damn the man! Damn that fool, Gordon to Perdition!” Gideon Boudin muttered, pacing
his private suite in his mansion on the outskirts of Baltimore. “How is it possible he is
no longer acting on patterning long since implemented? How is it possible he no longer responds to mesmeric cues we know were implanted as firmly as the foundation stones
in a pyramid? We remember distinctly insisting to our old friend, Stephan that such despicable Hebes as Gordon and Danielson should TAKE NO PART in our Great Work, lest they sully it beyond all hope of redemption!”

Then you are remembering our discussions of that very question with your typical imbedded inaccuracies, Gideon, my old friend. Aynsley’s spectre seemed to say within Boudin’s imagination. It was you, not I, who demanded that young Danielson be used to bait a trap for Gordon, who then in his turn would bait a trap for the only Courier Candidate you wanted for the Work.
You went on at some length on several occasions during that period of renewed testing, on the absolute need to bring Major West into the Work, by the brutal expedient of murdering outright first one and then the other of those very particular young Jews, first Shimon Danielson and then Artemus Gordon. But you remained convinced that only by first attacking Gordon’s informant, young Danielson, and then Gordon himself, could we bring Major West into the Work once more.

And I finally acquiesed, with the caveat that each of those unfortunate persons should be tested like the rest, to determine what potential they held for taking the Great Work forward to its proper ends at last. I demanded that both Danielson and Gordon be brought in turn to my laboratory that winter, Gideon. I demanded that I be allowed to determine if either man, the sixty-first and sixty-second of my subjects held any potential at all for the patterning.
And you agreed. You agreed, old friend. And so it was done. But Danielson expired during the Candidate Testing as all prior subjects had died. And Gordon would have surely died in my laboratory as well, if not for the glimmer of potential he carried for administering the Courier’s coup de gras at the appointed place and time.

“Yes, yes, you may in fact have that correct in part, old friend.” Boudin shrugged as if he merely admitted losing a bet. “We recall the many conversations we held on that very question as if they took place yesterday. Certainly we never objected to reducing the maddening presence of damnable Hebes in the general population. We have not now and never had any objections to reducing the maddening presence of these damnable Hebes in the general population, Stephan, old friend.

What we protested then as now was the time spent on all those others… all those others, Stephan who had nothing like the True Courier’s potential or preparation at that point. How many times, after all did we point out with what ease we could bring our dearest Torry back to his place of heroic Destiny, his Glorious Task, for the Great Work and the One? How many times did you continue with all those other subjects of yours, when we knew Torry was so near at hand?”

When WE knew … when we knew Torry was so near at hand? Gideon, I had no such knowledge until you finally informed me that our best Courier Candidate had survived the Conflict, after all! I recall very precisely Gideon that you only shared that knowledge with me, when we’d spent most of a year and some fifty-three young lives searching for a new Courier, elsewhere! But how like you, how very like you Gideon to put things in just that way! Stephan’s spirit seemed to answer, shaking his head in a familiar melancholy fashion.

How like you to use the ‘Royal We’, especially in reference to your own imagined heritage, your own profound trials and tribulations. I am of Imperial Hapsburg blood, as I declined on many occasions to remind you, old friend. My family is eons old, going back to the Holy Roman Empire, and the ancient Roman world that preceded that august dominion by a good millennium at the very least! Liesl Marguerite could have become a Physician and Advisor to the Emperor, or any other Royal family in Europe, by virtue of her training and her brilliant mind, if she so chose! But you never heard her, or myself boasting of our ancient lineage, did you, Gideon, excepting for those times when you felt the need to boast of your own!

“My lineage is among the oldest, proudest and most revered on two continents, old friend!” Boudin furiously insisted to the bothersome spirit of his former ally. “We trace our bloodlines directly back to the Golden Age of Greece, to be entirely precise! Rome, you say, and its descendants? What was that but the overblown, rampaging of poor, destroyed Troy’s remnants? Aeneas, Homer tells us, crept out of Troy by some furtive means or other, taking with him a few menials and his shattered bloodline! Rome, Virgil tells us was founded by dispirited, defeated escapees from the Achaeans greatest, most renowned Triumph!”

“An eon of blood-lust, degradation and tyranny, that is the heritage of your precious Rome, Stephan, old friend! And all those who ever thought to recreate her so called Glory have found themselves with nothing but a handful of ashes! The same will hold true for all of your Hapsburg, Holenzohleren, and Hanoverian so called monarchies, as long as they refuse to bond with the true-blooded sovereigns of La Belle France and her world wide possessions! From the time of the first Merovingian to the newest born Bourbon, the royal houses of France have held sole possession of L’ Sangre Royale! And that bloodline, which in an earlier, happier age they shared with their Norman cousins, the ones who conquered and held Britain against all comers, is that which produced the heritage I spring from, from that day to this!”

Yes, yes, so you’ve said, time and again, old friend, times past counting. Aynsley’s ghost nodded. Yet, I cannot help but recollect at this juncture that your closest blood ties to La Belle France and her Sacred, Royal bloodline comes from your maternal great grandfather’s marriage to a disgraced, disinherited, exiled French courtier’s daughter, on the island that nowadays we know as L’ Republique d’ Haiti!

And it was there, in a lovely old harbor town called Port au Prince where you were born Gideon, old friend, during the heyday of the very revolutions that tore Haiti from your beloved France forever. Mademoiselle Helene Terese Beatrice d’ Dupree, your lady mother, gave birth to you on the fifteenth instant of May, in the year eighteen hundred and eleven of the Christian era. It was, let me see if I recollect this … yes, it was a matter of merely six weeks before she was recovered enough from that travail to be given in marriage to your late father, Joshua Phillipe Zadkiel Boudin.

“You, sir, are a liar and a dastard!” Boudin shrilled, the fantasy of this conversation becoming unhappily authentic. “Even now, even from Perdition you boast, you lie and you denigrate your genuine betters! For one thing, and it is the most minor of your ugly errors, I was named for my father, Gideon Alexander Remiel Boudin, the Second! Secondly, old friend, you have your dates quite turned about! My mother’s nuptials were held in her family chapel, twenty two months to the day before my birth! Begone with you, I’ll hear no more of your boasting, much leSs your futile fabrications against me!”

Gideon, old friend, I am and I have been gone to my own well earned corner of Hell these three years, as you very well know. If I were not, if I remained among the living, you must also know I would be using my every thought and each breath left in my body to bring you and your ruinous madness to its rightful, violent ends. You proved yourself the worst enemy I could ever imagine, one I allowed into my home and my work and my bereft Liesly’s heart, to work your poisonous wiles there like the craven, groveling reptile you are by your nature! Aynsley’s shade seemed to be saying.

And once there you proceeded with tremendous dispatch, indeed with true celerity, old friend, to ravage and ruin, to devastate and destroy everything and everyone you touched! So, believe this, old friend, if there is in reality any such thing as Ultimate Justice, I swear to you I shall avenge my home, my name and my niece on your pathetic person! And I shall have a great many allies’ assistance in doing just that! I am not, and I was not the only soul ever to learn your deadly nature, old friend, no!

Watch and wait for us, Gideon. Keep close watch at all times and in all places, under all circumstances, old friend. We are coming for you, we are united by our willpower as never before! We are bound by our deep, shared resolve to visit your own malevolence upon you! We are joined by our profound awareness of your iniquity, and our long held knowledge of your transgressions against so many they can no longer be counted! You know our retribution is the Fate that truly awaits you, old friend. You know the Shining Hour of Reprisal and Resurgence you dream of will only appear as your worst nightmare, now! You know you have damaged, have terrorized and destroyed too many souls to ever escape the same doom as you laid out for all of us!

And you know mine is not the only soul who ever knew the depths of your dementia, old friend! But your defeat will come from those you make no provision against, believing them crushed, believing them powerless against you. Your downfall, Gideon, old friend will come from not knowing how many now stand ranged against you. Your destiny will come as surely as another dawn, from not seeing how entirely encircled you are by the ranks of your supposed victims and your former allies! Stephan’s ghost answered, leaving Boudin little, if any, doubt he was hearing his old ally’s bitterest vows.

“Stephan, my old friend,” Boudin retorted, frowning. “I never dreamt you would be lost in the midst of our proud endeavors. I never thought for an instant you might fall by the wayside, or relinquish the Campaign we commanded, together for so very long. I never once intended the poor, mad woman child you cherished so greatly should be genuinely harmed.”

“How, how could I know she would not be the one to emerge from the roiling chaos of that moment when we should have finally triumphed, old friend? How should I have known only a madman with the mind of a blinded, beleaguered child would appear in her place? Surely, he’d been utterly patterned to follow the maze to those stairs. But just as surely as we expected the Butcher’s guards to shoot him down, to gun down the assassin, if in fact he did not exit as originally planned, to meet his Martyr’s Fate at the hands of his own supposed ally?
I arranged that alternative escape route only because I felt somehow, that thick headed Hebe, that Gordon would foil all our planning. I never thought he could be trusted to take the patterning entirely to heart, you see? And in that mistrust, old friend, I have indeed been proven wholly, entirely correct! Once again, the chance came for him to refuse our enemies any further assistance.”

“Once again, Gordon was acting on the patterning you implemented in him, to deny, to refuse, to reject all their bewildering, bizarre theories and stratagems where Torry’s concerned! He should have stalked out of that asylum last week, never to return! He should have wholly abandoned Torry to the misguided maundering of those so called physicians. Gordon should have forsaken the whole matter as hopeless, as futile, as wrong! Gordon should be somewhere preparing the coup d’ grace we meant him to provide our poor Torry, months ago!”

“Our enemies are about to converge on that miserable place even now! Our Great Enemies, both of them are walking back into our hands! All our plans, all our endeavors are coming to fruition at long last, Stephan! And once Torry delivers his dispatches as he should have done …all those months ago, Gordon should be more than prepared to deliver his friend from any method or means of so called damn Yankee Justice, at last!
We are going to have our Shining Hour of Destiny and Retribution, just as we planned, just as we dreamt! We are going to win back our World as it should have been these many years! Stephan, old friend, do you not see how it is all coming round just the way we would wish for? Do you not see how all wrongdoing, all transgressions, and all the dishonor ever done to us will now be avenged?”

Indeed, yes, I see the Hour of your Destiny quite vividly, Gideon, my old friend. It shines like the sun at its zenith, like the diamond myriads of stars lighting the night. It warms my dead heart! The ghostly voice answered. I simply, sincerely doubt we see the same vision now, Gideon. But I am well pleased with mine, so I’ll leave you to yours for now, however deluded.

“Then be gone, you old, obstinate fool!” Boudin all but screamed. “I’ll have no visions but my own and no Destiny I need share with craven quitters and timorous souls, be they quick or be they dead! I’ll have my Shining Hour, and my enemies at my feet, once and forever! I know my Destiny! And it’s about to fall into my hands!
The Butcher will fall at poor Torry’s hands, but not an instant before I see my dear, old Jimmy realize how he made it all happen! And then he can watch, dumbfounded and grieving, as Torry falls in his turn, taking on his True, Classical, Ancient Hero’s Fate as long since determined! What happens then? Oh, that’s surely the best part of all!

Then the poor witless Hebe, distracted by grief and guilt will take his own life, just as we patterned him to do, so many months ago now! And that will be the wondrous moment of moments, don’t you see? For then the Butcher, and Torry and his Hebe friend will all be deader than doornails! Then my dear, old Jimmy will see the New World, the Resurgent South his faults, his failure and his foibles have all wrought! I shall then ascend, albeit with terrible, honorable, dutiful reluctance and misgivings and evident self-doubt to the place of pride, taking the reins of power in these two hands!”

“Then we, as Emperor Gideon Alexander Remiel, shall mend all the ills of this broken, chaotic post-bellum World! We shall bind all wounds and remake this Nation as an Empire stretching as far as our hearts and our minds and our desires can possibly take us! We shall stretch out these hands and see our beloved South Reborn and Thriving! We shall humbly, proudly as is our birthright, take the seat of Washington, in his fair City and make it a throne for the ages! We shall preside over a Second Confederacy whose borders are as illimitable as the stars!

We shall undo all wrongs, all thieveries, all so called Yankee “Peace and Reunion’ as it should always have been! We shall decree and create a new Empire on all Continents, beginning with this dear, beleaguered, Yankee and darky-lover infested homeland! A Pax Imperial will then at once be born that will sweep the World with its majesty and power. We shall order the Languages of our Royal Ancestors to take their place as the Imperium’s only acceptable tongues. Classical, Homeric Greek and Boyian French shall be the only recognized languages of commerce, education, politics, diplomacy, philosophy, Art and Science!”

“We shall banish all filthy immigrants, and exile all thick headed farm boys and tanners, along with their sons to the farthest points of the globe! We shall root out all black, bloody handed Republicans and their scallywag allies from every corner of this land! We shall see every low, mean, heathen Black sheepe of every darky, Hebe, Mick, Moor, and Roman infested nation on earth thrown back where they came from, if they are not held as chattel, if they do not submit to filling their rightful place!

We shall then humbly accept, no doubt by thunderous acclamation, the Imperial throne of a new-born Imperial Age! We shall install in fond memory the Sacred, Royal History of Our Blood! We shall command all children, everywhere to be instructed in the Great, Glorious Story of our Kin. And we shall be, henceforth, forever, Our Excellency, His Exalted, Imperial Majesty, The Eternal One, Gideon Alexander Remiel the First!”
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SS novice field agent

610 Posts

Posted - 02/09/2009 :  12:35:59  Show Profile
SCENE FIFTEEN Baltimore State Asylum,

A soft cry, now coming from Jim’s cot pulled all their attention back to that corner. Jim West, who’d been softly ‘sawing logs’ was thrashing, struggling, flailing, and calling out, in a rasping, rusty voice: “No, Liesl! LIESLY, NO! Mr. President, Sir! Where… where is his hopefully damned and forever G-dforsaken detail?
President’s detail report, report! Get the devil out here, and get around him, on the double-quick, boys! Mr. President, Sir, please, Sir, step back, she’s not … She doesn’t know what she’s doing, Sir. Liesly, no, no, Liesly… he’s not … he’s not …your enemy… Sir! Mr. President, Sir! “

Without stopping to think about it, Artie helped Miguel up and over to Jim’s cot, himself and Jeremy Pike, who’d arrived only the previous morning, moving as one man. All three of them were wary of startling Jim awake. But clearly the soldier-agent was tangled in a memory, swiftly turning into a nightmare of that day in the Maryland House Hotel.

Artie thought of giving a compassionate impersonation of the soldier-President and discarded the idea just as quickly. Jim West knows the Man twenty times better than I do, I’d only need one missed cue. Now, Artie turned towards his friend, swallowed hard and somehow drew on an utterly calm affect, like a good wool coat. “Jim,” he called out putting one strong hand on each of the younger man’s shoulders “James, listen to me, everything’s … all right, partner. Take it easy, Jim. The Man’s fine. He didn’t get so much as a scratch on him. C’mon now, wake up, partner. C’mon, Jim.”

“Artie?” The younger agent finally answered, grasping the older man’s arm, fiercely holding on and gasping like a man pulled from a heavy sea. “Artemus, the President, the President…” He repeated. “He wasn’t budging an inch! He wouldn’t! …And Liesly. Ah G-d! The girl had an Army Colt revolver! And the Man’s detail…”

“They were there in seconds, Jim. They got the Man out of there, as you can well imagine, by main force alone. And you’re right, there was some kind of mix up on that score. The detail somehow got orders to deploy at each end of that hallway, not by his door. But listen to me, now, James. Draw yourself a good, deep breath and listen. The President is perfectly all right. He’s happier every day, in fact, he says, because he’s one more day closer to retirement! You saved his life again, Jim.” Artemus insisted, keeping his hold on Jim’s shoulders.

Breathing harshly as if he’d just lost a footrace, Jim shook his head. “You, you weren’t there! You didn’t see the gun in her hand… the gun going up like a cannon shell, bursting! It … it was rigged, Artemus, just … just like the one I had… the one I … G-d help me, I pulled a rigged Army Colt on the Man! And they were both of them, both revolvers were rigged to chain-fire and explode! That was all part of the damnable scheme that sent me there to begin with!”

“James, now you’re not even trying to listen.” Artie protested. “James…”

“Artemus, you weren’t there, not right when it happened!” Jim bitterly exclaimed, deeply entangled in the nightmare made from a pack of lies woven over and over again into what was already a terrifying memory. “So, for the love of G-d, tell me the truth of what happened that day! Tell me if I killed the President for them, after all! For G-d’s sake, Artie, don’t sit there and tell me exactly, exactly what I most want to hear!”

“I’m not. I wouldn’t. And you should damn well know that, Jim.” Artie insisted a tad more harshly than he meant to do.

“Damn, Artie, ‘m sorry.” Jim finally whispered, ducking his head, and dry scrubbing his face, as if to keep from looking at the older man “Really, partner… ‘m sorry. I know that. I know you’d come clean with me no matter what … I just … I wake up and it’s… real… again, all around me… As if it just … just now happened! You see, I’m not… Maybe I … didn’t mention this… I can see… perfectly well … when I’m dreaming … or … having …another nightmare, like that one… I can see… when I’m asleep, that is… clear as day, clear as ever…And it makes … the dreams I have, and, and yeah, these nightmares…”

“Seem all the more real.” Artemus finished, nodding although he knew Jim couldn’t see the gesture. “It makes them seem real, especially as opposed to waking up here, and waking up … unable to see. I understand that, Jim, anyone would. And I shouldn’t have gone off on you, either. So, I’m sorry. Now, we’ll try that again. And you are going to listen to me, this time, aren’t you, partner?”

“Yeah, yeah I’m listening.” Jim nodded, grimacing. “Go…go on, Artie.”

“Well, first off, you know, we’re really going to have to sit down and talk about the way you only, always get yourself in more and worse trouble, doing that, James m’boy. But the core idea here, what you really need to get, Jim, is the President is fine. And what is more, he saw you looking for him and then looking straight at him, right before the explosion.

So you saw him, standing by the door of his suite, with his detail finally surrounding him, James, alive, well and entirely unscathed.” Artie chided, thinking a light-hearted tone would ‘sell’ the truth of what he was saying, a lot better than a harsh one. It was working. Jim was breathing normally again, blinking, and trying to use Artie’s arm as a fulcrum to lever himself upright. The former actor immediately realized what his partner meant to do and held his arm steady.

“Yeah… .yeah, I did. I saw him.” Jim said, nodding. “I saw him standing over by the … doorway. I know … you’re right. You’re right, Artie. But there was her voice in the back of my mind, waking up… Liesl’s voice, reciting, chanting what the spineleSsbastards who sent both of us there patterned her to say no matter what really happened : “He’s dead, he’s dead, you did it, you did it. You killed the Butcher, Grant, for me, he’s dead, he’s dead, Torry…” “ Jim paused again, shaking his head sadly, and went on.

”Poor sick, scared, maddened little Liesly, who by rights should have been shopping for her coming-out party, and instead was standing in that hallway with a Colt revolver, she could barely lift, much less know how to fire! She was still standing there when I walked out of the suite… When the President and… And I … walked out…and everything just went south from there! But I saw the President, standing back against the doorway, just before the whole, entire sky fell in. So I know, I know. The President’s …fine… He is fine, isn’t he, partner?”

“He is, Jim. The Man’s in fine fettle. In fact, he heard what the girl was saying.” Jeremy added. “And so he wanted us to impress upon you with all due measures of persuasion, the fact that you saved his life, just as soon as you came around. He said, and I quote, ‘tell that young firebrand that I am in fact entirely unharmed and quite well, thanks once more to him. And tell him that having kept me alive yet again, I’ll only ask that he allows us to return the favor.”

“That, that sounds, like the Man.” Jim nodded.” But… Liesly… With the way she must have been wounded… Jere, Liesl died, didn’t she?”

“Later that same day, yes, she died, partner. There wasn’t anything to be done for her, Jim, except some easing, maybe.” Jeremy sighed and fell silent.

“Hey, Jere, I didn’t’ say hello… And I’d say I was glad to see you, partner. But I’m… kind of in the dark, here.” Jim quipped, turning towards the Vermonter’s voice. “No, no, Jere, it’s all right. I already know. I know nobody forgot… forgot to pay the gas bill.”

“Yeah, sorry about that, Jim. Damned sorry.” Jeremy said.

“Yeah, me too. Who’s there? … Doctor?” The soldier agent asked, turning his head as Miguel shifted his weight from one of his canes to the other.

“Yes, right here, Major West.” Miguel answered, carefully preserving their old civility.

“You… you know… didn’t have to … help me. You don’t have any obligation to me, anyway, not from where I sit.”

“No more than you had; to your government, to your courts. It was your duty to take me in, yes, but not to save Antoinette, from drowning, one afternoon on the Sacramento River, Major.” Miguel answered him equitably.

“Just figured both my grandmothers would thrash me soundly, should I ever make it to Glory and see them again, if I just stood by and let a woman drown.” Jim answered, with a shrug.

“Then I will extend my gratitude for your tutelage to those fine, well bred, honorable women, whenever the opportunity arises.” Miguel chuckled, studying the blindman]s expressions, and listening to his voice, intently.

Jim shook his head, seeming to be only half listening to the doctor, Miguel thought . And in the next instant, the former soldier proved the truth of that, shrugging again and muttering. “Well, I already read Braille, so that’s one thing out of the way.”

“You do? When did that happen?” Both Artemus and Jeremy demanded.

“ Yeah, I do. Calm down, fellows. It was years ago. Old Doctor Hi, our family doctor, Hiram Madsen, who delivered most of the babies in N’folk County, was starting to lose his sight, the summer I was eight…No, it was the next summer, so I was nine. And all the kids around N’folk, we decided to help him out. So, that’s one thing taken care of. But what I can’t figure is why ‘m always so damnably tired out, why the devil is that?” The younger man complained, sounding so much like his normal self, and any normally recuperating patient the trio almost burst into cheers.

“Recovery is demanding, often grueling work, Major.” Miguel offered, taking his turn at
the question and answer session. “That’s why we physicians, knowing it’s really a constellation of processes we have little understanding of and no control over, are forced to keep advising our patients to rest. That much about the body’s healing process we do know. Rest and sleep, quiet and calm, are the true healers, not ‘medicine men’ like Jeremy and myself. So if you are tiring, now, I’d strongly… “

“ …Suggest I get some rest.” Jim finished, nodding. “Yeah. All right. Doctors, I’m thinking I’ll be back to losing my handholds, again, going back to swimming upstream, any minute now. And V Company’s not next on Watch. So there are …at least two things I want to … ask. First of all, Doctor, you’re … different now. You’re not nearly as incensed, or as bitter as you used to be, anyway that’s what I seem to be hearing. And I’m … curious, I want to know what happened, what changed?”

Miguel grinned widely, chuckled and then answered with utmost seriousness. “I have a son, now, Major. Antoinette and I have a healthy, strong, very bright and entirely physically normal son who’s nearly six years old. His name is Micah Raul Santo Iago de Cervantes y Marais. But for convenience sake and his still burgeoning gift for languages, we tend to call the boy “Micah Diego”. And he was born almost exactly seven months following that day at the Sacramento River.”

“Seven … Antoinette was expecting?” Jim asked.

“Ma Cher femme was indeed enceinte. But, considering the troubles we’d had in the past, she hadn’t told me as of that day. She wanted to be sure, first. She’d had so much difficulty before, and almost always in the first trimester. And so, at the instigation of your sainted grandmothers, as you said, you saved two lives that day, Major West, the two lives I cherish more than any in the Universe. So the answer to your question is fatherhood; that’s what’s changed me and a great deal of my perspective.” Miguel replied, grinning.

Once more Jim nodded, trying to ignore for another minute at least how he was tiring out, again. “Well, that’s … good to hear.” The solider-agent said. Then he took a deep breath, squared his shoulders and molded his features to something very like the impassive mask they all knew, and knew was meant to conceal any reactions. “Alright, the other question, Doctors… What I’d like… no, no, ‘m not going to like this, that’s certain sure. But you tell me anyway. And tell me the G-d’s honest truth, now: Am I … will I see again, or won’t I?”

“The G-d’s honest truth, Jim, is, at this point, it’s … not likely you will, no. The way you were injured, being in that explosion, didn’t do much to increase the chances. And in the time since then…” Jeremy very reluctantly answered, thinking he’d never seen the soldier-agent show quite this level of courage; not in the War, where he won numerous commendations for valor, or afterwards, while he proved himself over and over in Ulysses Grant’s service.

“My eyesight would have gotten better by now, if it was ever going to?” Jim finished, nodding. “Jere, c’mon, man, don’t take this on yourself. My uncle David in Texas and both his oldest kids are doctors. I’ve picked up a thing or two from them here and there, now and then. And then there’s the little matter of my growing up with breeding horses. A lot of the Littles down to home would trail our horse doctors all around, just about constantly, myself included. Some…things just don’t, just can’t… improve with time.”

“That being said, partner,” Jeremy told him, putting one long hand on Jim’s shoulder. “I hate like hell telling you that.”

“Yeah, I know, partner. All right, that’s Jere’s answer. And he’s always tended to err on the side of caution. Which is fine by me, Jere. What’s your answer, Doctor?” Jim asked, holding his composure, Miguel thought, by main force of will and nothing else.

Miguel de Cervantes sighed and glanced at his colleagues. Five, nearly six months ago, he’d been far more optimistic on this very question. He’d told them so in no uncertain terms. He’d spent hours, days, and weeks scouring medical journals, abstracts, and his own theoretical papers on the subject of restoring vision. He’d gone through every tome his new colleagues brought him, from Galen to the Islamic physicians, and up to the last century’s developments in England and the rest of Europe.

But nothing he read or theorized could deny the simple facts of the matter now. The signs the younger man showed of sensitivity to light, of even partial visual acuity months ago, had by this time, literally, faded. James West’s bright green eyes rarely responded with blinking, with watering or any sign of pain to even the most intense, the most direct light sources in his surroundings. There remained only the very slimmest chance of any change for the better now. And de Cervantes was more than a little astonished himself, by his own reluctance to raise false hopes in his former adversary’s mind, or to deny him any hope at all.

“Doctor, one of the last times I came awake, Thomas Macquillan was here, and Mac said you came here to help me. And I’ve learned over some …fifteen years and more to believe without question pretty much whatever the Prof says.” Jim pressed him, somewhat dourly.

“Well, it won’t help me or anyone if you start hedging bets at this late date. And I don’t even know how late the date is. But we can leave that question for a bit, while you answer this one. I know Jeremy would no more lie to me about this than Mac or Jacques or Artemus. And if they’ve trusted you to help me, then, so will I. And, I expect you won’t lie, either. Many things you’ve done to me, but lying hasn’t been one of them. So, am I … permanently blind, now?”

“I’m … rather reluctant to give you a definite prognosis under present circumstances, Major.” The small doctor finally told Jim, speaking very quietly. “ It may be that you will … not regain your sight. And on the other hand, it may be that in a healthier environment and generally better conditions, with the proper procedures, you may recover some degree of vision.
I was, at first rather more optimistic, frankly. I believed your vision could definitely be in the most part, restored to you. I was and am still, though to a lesser degree now, of the opinion that the worst damage from that explosion was done to your corneas, not the optical nerves. And I in fact … have a highly experimental procedure already developed by which the damaged organs, your corneas in this case, could be surgically replaced …”

“Replaced?” Jim echoed, blinking and frowning in the direction of Miguel’s voice. “My corneas could be replaced with what, exactly, Doctor? What kind of malarkey are you spouting? Hold on! Hold on a damn second! You mean you’d take somebody else’s corneas and put them on my eyes? Well, you can just forget that, right now! I won’t do it! I won’t aid and abet grave robbing for the sake of some fraction of a chance I could get some degree of vision back again! No, doctor! You say you’ve changed, but…”

“Actually, Major it was you who noted a change in me, to be exact.” Miguel interrupted unperturbed by Jim’s outburst. The younger man was taking in a great deal at once and such reactions were only to be expected. “I merely concurred. And as to the procedure I was describing, frankly, it would be faulty medicine and faulty logic indeed to take organs from one total stranger, no matter how healthy they might be, and expect them to function in another, unrelated person.

No, the best chance for any such surgical procedures would definitely be from one close blood relative to another. And of course, the donor would have be quite recently deceased. But, as far as I know, none of your surviving family members presently meet both criteria. Therefore I would not attempt the surgery at this time. And that being the case, Major West, I must however regretfully, concur with Doctor Pike’s opinion. And aside from my own native reluctance to admit such a thing … I’m indeed sorry to tell you that.”

“Surprising as it may sound, Doctor, I believe you. All right, somebody said something about dates. And, so while I’m awake, and in the mood for as much bad news as you’ve got, I want to … I need to know, how long it’s been… No, let’s do it this way. I went out after the people who killed a whole haggle of former Confederates, living on the streets in the District; and who we were sure also beat Artemus within an inch on his life.

That was in December of “69. And I don’t remember much that happened after that, until I saw the President. And that little, not very coherently, afterwards. I was maybe talking to those killers, maybe trying to pull off a costume drill on them…I tend to doubt, now, if that worked so awfully well, though.” Jim drew another deep breath and swallowed. “I likely blew it, wouldn’t you say, Jeremy, Artie?”

“Frank was the one who saw your disguise, Jim. And he thought you’d done a grand job on it.” Jeremy answered. “And from what we know for certain, it’s just as likely it worked quite well for a time. Because you didn’t … leave their captivating company again, till early fall that same year.”

“Captivat… “ Artie half laughed, half exclaimed. “Jere, I can’t believe you used that word! James, what he got right then is that you popped back up in September of the next year. And that was when you met with the Man, as you were just recalling. And that’s when you were injured.”

“When I was blinded, and Liesly died. And now, it’s when, partner?” Jim asked, still more quietly, setting his jaw the way they’d seen him do a thousand times, to take whatever blow was coming.

Artie took a deep breath of his own, now, knowing the younger man would push for the answer until one or all of them fell over, or one of his friends simply gave in. if takes all…yeah, I get that. I’d be willing to bet you wrote that infamous dispatch for the Man, partner. ”It’s the middle of December, now, James.” He finally answered, feeling as though he was stabbing the younger man, albeit at his own request. “But it’s December 14th, of 1872. “

Jim’s eyes widened at this, his mouth grew taut as a guy-wire, and he showed every sign of fighting back a genuine panic. Finally though he let out one long breath and set his shoulders once more. “Well, sounds like I should’ve asked that first off, doesn’t it?” He asked.

“But you are getting well, getting stronger now, pal.” Jeremy insisted. “And you will only get better now, Jim. As long as you don’t plain exhaust yourself with questions.”

“Spoken like a true MD!” Jim chuckled tiredly. “All right. I asked the questions. Artie, you’d best start bringing that ridiculously tall, young Texan, that young Ori Hoynes, up to speed.”

“Ori’s doing fine, Jim. He’s doing great. And he already has a partner, Chris McIntire, who I told you about, from Massachusetts. But really, partner, you…”Artie began, hating everything about this conversation; except that Jim was awake, aware and talking coherently with them, hating most of all the younger agent’s apparently stoic acquiescence.

“Artemus, stop it. Just stop.” Jim abruptly ordered him.

“All right, James.” The actor complied, trying not to let his own fears or frustrations color his words.

“Sorry, sorry partner. I’m not your C.O, and even if I were, that wasn’t called for, not a bit… ‘m sorry. I am, Artie.” Jim said, reaching towards the older agent, who immediately strongly grasped Jim’s hand. “And I’m sorry you’re the one who got the lousy job of telling me what happened to … my eyes, that day. But you… You can’t exactly find the bad guys, when you can’t find the nose in front of your face, now can you?”

“Not without a seeing-eye partner, I suppose.” Artie answered, deciding to joke about an idea he found not the least bit funny. “And I suppose some more rigid Army types we’ve both known would see you as my C.O. And that’s their problem, not mine. And as to that last, I gueSs I’m just lucky that way, always have been.”

“Yeah, lucky… Well, all right. I asked the damn question. And I heard the answers. Thanks for being honest with me. And that’s that. I’m going to need those old Braille lessons. I’m worn out again, and… my head aches like fire...” Jim complained, rubbing at his forehead.

“And for the latter I have a very effective specific, Major, a compound Antoinette discovered. I’ve found it to work quite well on my own worst headaches, although it can make me a bit drowsy.” Miguel told him, and gestured for Jeremy to pour some water into the cup on the bedside table. When that was done, he emptied one of the packets Antoinette had sent by way of Jacques D’eglisier weeks ago into it. And finally, the small doctor reached for, took hold of, and placed the cup in Jim’s right hand. “I’m not going to force you to drink this, Major. But I strongly recommend you do so.”

“Time was, Doctor, I’d have run the other way, or tossed that on the ground, whenever you offered me anything like medicine, food or drink.” Jim noted, dryly.

“ Or cigars? Yes, yes, I’m aware of that. Time was, Major, it’s just within the realm of possibility, you might have had reason for that regrettable caution.” Miguel chuckled. “Nevertheless, I stand by my recommendation. I daresay the differences in our physiologies will negate any drowsiness on your part.”

“And there’s nothing untoward in this?” Jim quipped. “There’s no hemlock, no nightshade, no hallucinogens, no arsenic, no scorpion’s stings, sodium cyanide, snake’s venom or even the least drop of strychnine?”

“Nothing even remotely of that nature, Torry.” Miguel chuckled.

“All right, Doctor. Here’s to the continued, vigorous good health of your little Micah.” Jim said and drank down the compound. “Wait! Did you just call me “Torry”?”

“I did, again.” Miguel admitted, and went back to watching his patient intently.

“I told you … I told you my “family name” was, is Torry” the patient nodded, already feeling effects from the powder and his own weariness. “And you rememb… and thast … was… im… impor… nope, nope, it didn’t …dint… ne… nega … “ Jim said and was asleep in the next instant, lying back against Artie’s broad shoulder. Artemus settled Jim back onto the cot, and sat beside him, watching as the Torrys crowded around again, followed, in Watch order, by Witnesses, Defenders and Veterans. And once more, despite Jim ‘losing his handholds’, there was no sign of any brother-self emerging from within the sleeping man.

“As I mentioned once before, we’ll not need to share Oldest’s “instrument’ again, until and unless we sense a threat to him from someone prepared to make trouble over the Company’s presence.” Athos, looking up from his reading, endeavored to explain.

“The Companies’ work, to a great extent, as I understand it so far, has been to shield your Oldest brother from most if not all traumatic memories.” Miguel nodded.

“ Yes, that has been the greatest part of our mandate.” The elegant Veteran agreed with a sad smile. “And yet, on three quite significant occasions we utterly failed to protect him! And so our brothers, the Littlers, the Witnesses, and the self-styled ‘defiants’ along with Oldest Torry, each paid the heaviest price on each of those occasions.”

“Three occasions, “ Jeremy repeated. “M’sieur l’ Capitaine, let me see if I do understand this. I think you’re referring to the day Jim was blinded, the time before that day while he was held at Aynsley’s lab, and, I believe, to that last autumn of the War, when as usual, our young firebrand volunteered to get himself into a whole lot of trouble?***”

“That’s correct, m’sieur … And it’s been a great source of shame to V Company. We… came to be, for the most part, during that crisis. Thus, we are in fact the youngest of the brothers, the junior partners, if you will. And thus you will find in our ranks brothers who took their model directly from those grown men we most admire. However, we are well aware it may be our own inexperience, our own naïveté, that kept us from in every respect protecting Oldest.”

“And maybe there was no way to do that, no way to stop him from walking into those situations. Knowing Jim since the War, that’d be my best bet. In any case, you’re his brothers. And by that fact alone, my friend, you’re human beings, not perfected ones.” Jere insisted.

“Remerci, m’sieur.” The captain of Musketeers said and walked back to his own post, beside Loyalist.

“Well, I suppose I’ll understand all that at some point.” Artie told him. “Right now I’m not sure what to make of just the last few minutes. I’d have thought I’d feel a lot more encouraged. Jim was … awake again. He was aware, coherent…”

“And very typically Jim, having absolutely no use for… maybes.” Jere added. “Artie, my friend, we’re all of us just as worn out as Jim. What say you, partner?”

“I say, I suspect, I strongly suspect you of coddling me, or trying to. And frankly, gentlemen, at the moment, I’m perfectly willing to accept that, to a limited extent. Just don’t you, Jeremy, or you… Miguel even consider dosing me. As it happens, with Thomas called away again, and James being presently … out of it, I’m senior agent here. “ Artemus insisted, with an emphatic nod.

“Yes, sir, Major… No, wait you did get that promotion just as things were quieting down in ‘65, so its, yes sir, Lt. Colonel Gordon, sir!” Jeremy laughed.

“Only, as Jim likes to point out, as Jim in fact insists on pointing out, whenever the subject arises: I still don’t rank him, since I was in the Volunteer Army. “Artie groaned.

“Yeah I think I heard something about that ... a few hundred times.” Jeremy chuckled. “But to get back to the present, Lt. Colonel. You’ve got to get some rest, Artie. We all ...”

“And I say, again, and for the record, partner, that I won’t be dosed!” The actor told him frowning as darkly as he knew how, which was considerable and still didn’t faze the Vermonter.

“Fine, Artie, fine.” Jeremy retorted, with a taut frown of his own. “Right now I don’t think I’d need to give you so much as a glass of warm milk to put you out, partner, you’re that exhausted. And as we’ve said before, that won’t and it can’t help Jim. And since that’s why we’re here, to help Jim, will you please, lay down and at least try to rest?”

“Never let it be said I don’t know when to take a friend’s advice.” Artie scowled but knew when he was licked. “You’re … encouraged, Jere? You don’t … seem to be nearly as gloomy as I feel, right now.”

“And you just now stated most of my reasons. Jim just spent a good five, maybe ten minutes in coherent, non-amnesiac, completely self-aware conversation.He remembers being told about his eyesight. He remembers the day he was blinded. And, right there up near the top of my list, Jim consciously remembers that the girl wasn’t telling him what really happened.
I’ll add that Jim was in no discernible pain except for that headache. And he was at no loss for words. And he had considerable control over his reactions to what was going on, and what he was hearing. Now, are you going sit there on that cot, which I expect you to be laying on sound asleep at any moment, and tell me that wasn’t the Youngster we all know and frantically worry about?”

“No, no, that was absolutely our wandering, disappearing Youngster.” Artie nodded. “I’m just being hard to please, I guess. And very tired. I’m going to just sack out here, for a little while. I’m just going to take a little time to examine the …”

“The backs of your eyelids for holes, yeah get that, partner.” Jeremy chuckled. ‘thanks for listening to me, for once, Artie.”

“Only to keep you guessing, partner.” Artie nodded, laying back on the cot. “Bring that young Texan up to speed, you said?” Artie muttered at his sleeping partner, not feeling that much cheered by the doctor’s observations. “You’re going to need those Braille lessons, you said? Well, I say to the devil with that kind of thinking, James! I don’t know what could possibly be good about you giving up on that score. And I know you wouldn’t let me think of giving up, should, G-d forbid, we changed places!

Well, I haven’t given up, and I’m not going to. And truth be told, James, I’d change places with you in a heartbeat! And you know damn good and well I can out stubborn, out balk and out persevere you, James m’ boy. I like the younger partner I already have, thank you very much! And I mean to get him, to get you, back! And I’m damnably tired out too, James. So just scoot over, just pretend this is one of those hundreds of awful hotel beds we’ve bunked on.” (that was touching)

Mumbling and muttering, the younger agent turned on his side again, while the older one fell asleep beside him, almost before his head touched the mattress. The pair of doctors only smiled. Seeing the pair of agents sound asleep beside one another was the closest thing to normalcy Jere Pike had seen in months. Seeing both the partners sleeping soundly after the ordeal of the past many days and nights was exactly what Miguel de Cervantes had wished for.

You’re growing on me, my dear … my former adversaries …. indeed, all of you are and I’m somewhat astonished to say that. Not that I’m ever going to say it… That would absolutely abrogate mine and Mr. Gordon’s standing arrangement! The small doctor thought. And if that happened, if that ever does happen, I might have to acknowledge you, in some far more public venue!
SCENE SIXTEEN Infirmary, Baltimore State Asylum,

“Then it’s all settled? Jim’s uncle will be here before the week’s out? And he’s bringing Jim’s cousins Jeanny, Paul and Rob along?” Artie asked Jacques D’eglisier the next day. “And all the court papers will be taken care of by then?

Jacques and Artie were keeping their own sort of Watch on the brothers, from the vantage of the doorway between the infirmary and the Torry’s “prize room’. Miguel, Jeremy, Mac Macquillan and some aides were working files that had been left behind in the proceSs of the former Administrator’s apparent disappearance.

“Oui, Mme. Stuart sent you word, did she not, saying her brothers had already seen to every conceivable legality, sans only M’sieur Randolph’s signature on the needed court documents? Et M’sieur l’ President, will also be arriving then, Mon ami. He’s cleared his schedule of everything excepting this journey south to see our jeune frere.” Jacques nodded, frowning at Artemus, seeing how drawn the older agent was and how profoundly troubled he still seemed to be, despite all recent changes for the better.

“Wait! Now, what’s wrong , Jacques? Why are you studying me as if I were a telescope lens with an odd sort of something or other on a slide underneath it?” Artie demanded, knowing that look and not liking it anymore than he liked the persistent gloom he was still feeling.

“Non, mon ami, that is the question I wish to ask you. What is still troubling you now, when we are, finally, no more than forty eight hours away from freeing James from this nightmarish place?” Jacques asked, still ‘studying” the former actor.

“I dunno.” Artie admitted, shrugging. “Maybe it’s just that! Maybe the closer we get to springing James … and the Companies from this corner of hell, the more I worry that something else will happen, that something, or someone else will throw another monkey wrench into the works! And if that happens, Jacques, G-d alone knows how or when we’ll ever get that … magnet for disaster out of here!

You’ve spoken to Jere and to … Miguel and Jemmy, and Mac, and you know they all agree Jim could die in this place if he’s kept here much longer! Jem went so far as to insist on predicting James and the small doctor could both die if they were caught in another outbreak of fever! And Thomas Macquillan is infamous for his gloomy perspective on what he likes to call Murphy’s Law. You know, the one that says whatever can go wrong at any given moment surely will go horrendously wrong, just when you most need something to finally go right for a change!”

“Par example?” Jacques probed, knowing Artemus wouldn’t voice worries he didn’t have some basis for.

“Par example, Mon docteur ami, we still don’t know who actually left Jim in this hell hole. We only know it wasn’t Stephan Aynsley because he was too busy that day; killing himself and burning his house to the ground! And we don’t know any more because neither James nor I can consciously recall who else was at Aynsley’s lab, besides little Liesl. We still don’t know who really owns this complex. We only know they’re not going to own it much longer, because the county’s about to sell it for back taxes.

We still don’t know who Aynsley’s allies and backers in his plot to kill the President were, or are! We only know he must have had some damn wealthy colleagues to set up the lab and the torture rooms he had in that attic! And despite having Herr Professor Doctor Aynsley’s lockbox in our hands for months now, we still don’t know any of those things because we haven’t cracked his damn ciphers!” Artie answered, counting off his current worries in order.

“O, par example, Jacques, it now seems to me that we’re back to only seeing James awake and aware on a very irregular basis, almost as if the Companies were back to hiding him from us! Et par example, on some of those occasions he seems to be fully aware of what’s really happened, while on others, Jim wakes up wholly convinced he actually did kill the Man that day at the Maryland House! Now, if that’s not enough to have me still worrying, mon ami, I don’t know what would be, aside from the usual nightmares about bringing the President into a pesthole like this one, even for Jim’s sake!”

“Please, excuse me for interrupting, sirs, but please, you must not, you cannot allow that!” An intense, resolute, youthful voice protested, turning both agents’ attention to another of the Companies. This was a swarthy, wide dark eyed, black haired, whip thin, young man in appearance, with a decidedly Persian cast to his features and his coloring, Artemus thought.

Jacques was only now getting somewhat accustomed to the Companies, and usually kept silent, making a somber study of each one he met. But this time the Canadian decided to change tactics. “And you are … I suppose one of D Company, non, m’sieur?”

“Darius of D Company, that’s so.” The youth nodded. “Please, mon docteur ami, m’sieur Artemus, my brothers and I in that Company bear no ill will towards anyone who has been so great a help as you and the rest of Oldest’s friends have been. I hope you will believe me. D Company is not in the habit of lying… not to our proven friends.”

“Mais, I would have thought surely we’d long since proven that friendship, M’sieur l’ Emperor d’ Persis.” Jacques retorted, frowning at the youth’s insistent manner.

“To Oldest, surely you have, time and again, M’sieur l’ Docteur. And just to be clear, I’m only a … semblance in some ways of the historical Emperor of Persia, drawn from stories W Company read growing up, and our own history lessons about Phillip and Alexander and … Darius. My quad is made up of myself, L Company’s Genrls Torry, V Company’s West Pointer and … you might say, my counter-agent, W Company’s Alexander.”

”However it is D that has The Watch just at present, so I believe it falls to us to … well, frankly, to warn you. Your President Grant, or, as Oldest says, the Man, must not come here or anywhere within range of the Companies. We must not be in his presence, not even his vicinity, not until we’re well and truly free of all our patterning. And as that patterning truly took years to implant, beginning farther back than any but the oldest Ls can remember, we are in rather serious doubt that can ever happen. So we must ask, we must plead, we must somehow convince you to prevent the President’s meeting with Oldest, or in fact with any of us!”

“Darius, we’ve been trying to do just that from the moment the President decided to come up here. And we’re getting pretty much nowhere with that. Do you, or your brothers have any idea whatever how hard it is to keep President Grant from doing just as he intends to do, ever?” Artie asked, wanting to laugh at the notion, but holding back on that impulse.

“We’re quite well aware of the difficulty involved, m’sieur Temus.” The youth nodded. “We rely on your renowned powers of persuasion to resolve this impending crisis, entirely.”

“Clearly, you were not paying attention to what happened at Donelson, Henry, Shiloh, Champion’s Hill, or Vicksburg, just to start off the list.” Artie chuckled. “And then came places like Chattanooga, the Wilderness and Spottsylvania…”

“M’sieurs, please let us try to restate our case. We will begin at the beginning. Perhaps that will clarify the issue. We ask you simply to hear us out, and consider what we now tell you. And perhaps, as you put it, we will consider it ‘the good news’ if you will take our petition as seriously as we intend it. We have already in no small measure broken from the patterning, simply by approaching you, now, and by creating the encrypted Company roster. We don’t know, truly, how much farther we can step from the Path we were set on. The nightmare and the patterning have always insisted we would only come to destruction, we would enter oblivion on leaving those boundaries.” Darius offered.

“Well, then I guess we could at least listen to him, Jacques.” Artie suggested, slightly amused at being more amenable to the prospect than his long-suffering, renownedly patient physician-partner.

“Bien sur. I am willing to listen.” Jacques nodded, still eyeing the youth warily. “Commence, s’il vous plais.”

“Remerci, m’sieurs.” Darius nodded again. ‘m’sieur Artemus was just now noting a shift in the amount of time Oldest has been conscious once more, in the past few days. And he is correct in his assessment. The danger we speak of now is the reason we have taken up once more our long practice of concealing Oldest Torry from the Enemy as much as is possible to us.

That Enemy is none of you, m’sieurs, and we are quite well aware of that, now. But that Enemy has not been as close to Oldest in many months time as he came the night W Company was dosed, the night L Company was terrorized by him once again, the night we decided the roster must be written out and left for our new friends to find. And the Enemy has never remained so close by for this long a time without meaning some terrible business or other!”

“Wait!” Artie and Jacques demanded together.Then Artie deferred to his partner, seeing Jacques curiosity lighting his eyes like fire.

“Darius,” Jacques went on, his hazel eyes wide with worry. “Are you telling us that the adversary we have yet to uncover has himself been in this complex, and recently? Are you saying he personally was the one who rendered the Torrys nearly catatonique by the use of his damnable tricks, his loathsome manipulations and his horrendous lies?”

“Yes, m’sieur. And we were all terribly at fault in that instance, despite what Cour said the following day. We all know the cues and the tricks and the means he uses against us! We have memorized, along with every instant of patterning he’s enforced on us every sign and signal in his bag of tricks. So we were all duped that night. We all should have known better! He will never leave the Companies in peace, and the worst part of that is, he doesn’t even comprehend our existence!”

“Non, Sacre Bleu!” Jacques exclaimed, slamming his strong right fist into his left palm. “Non, c’est impossible, vraiment! Cette personne mauvais, this evil person, this insanely malevolent monster caused the Companies to come into being! And yet you tell us he has no understanding of what he wrought by his damnable abuses?”

“No. We believe the Austrian, Professor Aynsley had some glimmering as regards the Companies, but to a limited extent, as a sidelight to his main endeavor, that is, creating his Courier-assassin. But the other… remains unaware of us, which has been our best protection, until l’messieurs Thomas and Artemus arrived at this place and discovered L Company’s presence.
And since keeping our existence secret had been our way of protecting Oldest for such a long while, it seems best to us to continue that practice, at least where our Enemy is concerned. Thus, we have begun to conceal ourselves, and yet to conceal Oldest Torry within our enclaves, once more. We sincerely beg your pardon, messieurs for causing your misapprehension. These defensive measures were not directed against you, not in the present instances.” Darius told them, frowning

“Darius,” Artie started to say, when another brother-self emerged, stepping out from behind him. This was a sturdily built, sunburned, fair haired, dark grey eyed boy, seeming no older than ten or eleven.

“We mostly just call him Dari.” This newcomer announced with a wide grin. “But he mostly hates that, which used to make it just that much more fun. Oh, sorry, hullo, I’m Alexander, of W Company. And I thought I could help ol’dari here out some, maybe making this go a tad bit quicker.”

“I stood in no need of aid, not from W Company.” Darius insisted, frowning at his in fact, older brother.

“Nope, you sure didn’t. Except it was gonna take half the day to get to the point, at the rate you were marchin’, old fellow.” Alexander chuckled. “ I’ve always been faster than you, W Company has all the best foot racers in the Companies, and you dang well know it.”

“Alexander, if you don’t mind a slight interruption for another question I’ve been …” Artie started over, only to be once more interrupted.

“Wees call hims us’sn Alex-brovver, temus Poppa.” A third newcomer, a copper penny red headed child with wide hazel eyes called out as he was carried in, perched on the shoulder of a sharp featured, green eyed, rangy blond in full dreSsWest Point cadet greys. “Mees Genrls Torrys… an dis is us’ns guddes’Wes’ Poynder. Wees camed nows t’ hep us’ns Dari an’ Alex brovvers. Wees sorriest to be camed later. But, Dari-brovver, yous an’ Alex shoulda be waited fer us, shouldn’t yous? An’ Alex-brovver, yous shoulda no be startin’ wifout us bein camed, you knows?”

“But, D Company has Watch, GT.” Darius complained. ‘so this duty, well, it should fall to us … shouldn’t it?”

“Nope!” Alex protested. “GT, you know a quad should always tackle something this thorny together, no matter who’s got Watch, and who’s in bivouac, right?”

“And if you thought the quad should only take this on all together, Alex, whyn’t you wait for me an’GT to get here?” West Pointer demanded, grinning. “Ds and Ws aren’t well known for their patience, sirs. We’d apologize for “em but it just gets their dander up all over again whenever we do that. Go on ahead now, GT, we know our friends will always listen best to L Company, anyway, don’t we, fellows?”

“Fanks u.” Genrls Torrys nodded serenely. “ Jacques, wees firs’ veryiest gladder yous camed to see us’ns Oles’ an all us’ns. Wees did be missed you veryiest many. An’ temus Poppa, wees veryiest sorree wees got yous worryin’ bout us’ns Com’nees be hidin’ us’sn guddes’ Oles’ all over “gen.

Wees no be no enny fraids of us’ns guddest frens, ever! Wees ony be fraids of us’ns Oles’ be reel bad hurted, or us’ns guddes frens be reel bad hurted, like dem most baddest, maddiest, skeerdiest … skeerdy did be sayin! Wees shoulda be teld yous… Wees shoulda be teld yous many much fings… Wees tryin nows to be teld … an iz veryiest hard an’ mos awfully skeerdy, pleese an fanks u, fer nows so long be waitin’ fer us’sn to no be so many skeered?”

“Oui, mon General,” Jacques smiled, nodding to the child. “If none of us were frightened in these circumstances, there would surely be cause to question our mutual and individual hold on anything like reason. Mais, you will recall our bien ami, Thomas’ dictum on that very matter. Courage, he has been known to say, is only a matter of being …”

“Veryiest skeered an’ doin’what’s skeerdy anyhows!” The small General agreed. “An wees finks that’s so. Pleese be came an’ sit down wif us’ns quad an’ wees be teld yous much as wees ken. Otays?”

“Of course.” Artie agreed, and then surprised himself almost as much as he surprised Jacques by interrupting again. “But shouldn’t we bring … Miguel in on this, and Jere, and Mac since they’re just down the hall, trying to figure out some of the records we have gotten our hands on? Don’t stare at me, mon docteur ami.” Artie then whispered, as Jacques blatantly did stare. ‘like the brothers just said, we’d best tackle something this thorny all together, at the same time, rather than over and over again, separately, right?”

“Mais oui, mais certainment.” Jacques answered, still feeling more than a little bewildered.

“Ds have Watch, Wes’Poynder, yous sets mees down wif us’ns Jacs an’ temus Poppa an yous an’ Alex-brovver pleese goes brings us’sn Jer’my, us’ns Mee-gel, an’ us’ns Quiyat Tommy backs, nows?”

“ Yes, GT. Right away, GT.” both brothers answered and marched off down the corridor.

“Artemus, are you feeling quite well?” Jacques took the occasion to ask, while they waited for their colleagues. “Artemus?” The docteur repeated as the older man kept looking into the “prize room.

“Better and better by the minute, Jacques, why do you ask?” Artie grinned.

“Simply because a few moments ago you seemed terribly concerned, indeed almost despondent over the present state of affairs here. But now you are practically nonchalant. This sudden shift of mood, I confess I do not comprehend, Mon ami.”

“Oh, that, that’s easy, Jacques, I just saw Jim waking up in the playroom, if only for a few seconds. But he looked … all things considered, a lot like his old self. And that’s bound to improve my mood anytime I see it, along with the chance to confuse my favorite docteur, of course.”

“Bien sur!” Jacques exclaimed, shaking his head in pure Gallic despair. A few minutes later, all five colleagues were listening to the eldest of this quad explain the matter.

“Dat mos’awfully maddy an’ skeeredy … dat wants us’ns guddes’ Oles’ be awfully bad hurted. Dat wants all us’ns frens, pecially, us’ns gud, gud unc’ Jimmy, us’ns guddes’ Sam-fren, fars aways an’us’ns veryiest guddes ‘temus Poppa mos awfully bad hurted! Yous probly be knowd dat a readys.” The tiny General told them, his eyes wide and shining with tears and bravery.

“Sos, dat awfully skeerdy … maddy, hurtin’ … mans, dat wants us’ns guddes’ unc Jimmy an’ us’ns guddes Sam-fren came heres, den wants us’sn guddes V’s an’ Ds t’ be hurtin’on dem! An’ … is veryiest baddy an’ mos’ awfully skeerdy, hows dat veryiest baddy an’ skeerdy mans wantad … us’ns D’s an’ us’ns V’s t’ make many much baddes’ owwees, on …on…” The child-General stopped in mid sentence and shook his head. “Wees veryiest sowwy, wees dunno if wees can be teld even us’ns guddes’ frens “bout dat part… wees been so many of many much skeered t’ be teld yous … Wees many much of sorree, reely! Dat baddes’ mos’ awfully skeeredy mans… dat be teld us… notelldis, Torry! No nevver be teld dis, no nevver!”

“Mes petites freres, n’ vous disquietez pas, s’il vous plais.” Jacques asked, rubbing the child’s back as he’d seen Miguel do so many times. “What you cannot tell us just now, will no doubt come more easily at some other time.”

“Jacques is right, Genrls.” Miguel agreed. “Whatever you need us to know, the time will come when you can put it into words. There’s no time limit on confidences between friends, so far as I’ve ever heard.”

“On this confidence, there just might be an expiration date, DocM.” West Pointer disagreed, and then turned his attention to the tiny General. “GT, Sir, I’d like your permission to take this discussion forward with Dari, Alex, myself and our friends. All respect of course, Sir, V Company feels it’s putting an unfair strain on the Ls, yourself included to recount and in that way, practically relive this part of the most recent ordeal.”

“Point, you’re taking way too much on yourself, there, boy!” Alexander complained. “What makes you think V Company has high enough clearance to take any such discussion forward without GT?”

“Well, Alex, if you’d actually been listenin’, you’d already know that’s pretty much what I was askin’ the General, just then.” West Pointer answered with a taut frown.

“For once I think the kid’s got something there, Al. Let him at least finish askin’, where’s the harm in that?” Darius offered with a wink at his youngest brother.

“And since when does Third Company give permission to 4th for anything more than tradin’ rations when they’ve got somethin’ worth the trade?” Alexander shouted, both hands on his narrow hips.

“Yous ri” nows be all toppin’ dis arg… arg’ments!” General Torry demanded, jumping down from his place by Jacques to face off with his quad.

“Sure, GT. Yes, Sir, sorry, GT. Yes, Sir, sorry “bout that, GT.” the three younger brothers answered all at once.

“ Dats gudder.” the seeming child nodded fiercely. “Nows, Wes’Poyn, yous be teld mees whys yous be ast dis, plees?”

“I asked this, Sir, because Fourth Company as a whole feels a deep responsibility in this matter. We essentially dropped the reins at the worst possible moment, a little over three years ago, Sir. And it remains our profound conviction that we should make amends whenever an opportunity arises. We see this instance as one of those opportunities, which we ask permission of First Company to take, on your behalf.” The brother dressed in cadet grey answered, standing as if at parade-rest all the while.

“Wees … otay…wees ‘llows us’ns gud Forff Com’nee t’ be taked some of dis answerin’ t’ us’ns guddes’ frens. On’y, Furstest Com’nee be ‘tayd heres, an’ Sekkon’ Com’nee, toos fer if yous be need us’ns helpin… Dari-brovver, yous a’ready be knowd us’ns guddes’ ‘mart Ffird Com’nee does be hav th’ Watch ri” nows. Yous be go.”

“Yes, Sir.” Darius nodded and gave the small General a crisp salute, before returning to his post.

“Wes’ Poyn, yous nows can be teld us’ns guddes frens more of dis … veryiest mos’ awfully skeeredy fings dat baddes’ an’ mos’ skeeredy mans be teld.”

“Yes, Sir. Thank you, Sir.” West Pointer replied and gave a smart salute of his own.” Gents, we think this is likely to be what Mister Mac and Temus sometimes call a knees-bent sort of confab. So, y”know, sit comfortable, and we’ll start up again. First off, we all think by now all y”all have some idea that th’ Original Bastard as we call him likes to scare everybody for a thousand miles around him, as often and as badly as he can. And he uses every dirty trick in the book, and invents more when those run out. Mostly he uses a lot of threats, and a lot of pain, and a few tons of nightmares, some of which are partly … things that really happened.

Well, when he came back this last time… He had some of his thugs cart Oldest outa the main ward, for some more of his lousy “games’, which you probably guessed by now. It was just like Temus and Miguel and Jemmy said the next day, The OB was about to lose his hold on this terrific place and on Oldest, too.
An’ he purely hates to lose hold of anything, y’see? He’s pretty basically a greedy, grasping, damn all possessive … maniac. An’ as you can tell, he don’t care if any of us describe how he thinks or what he says or does. He only can’t stand for anyone to say what he looks like or what he’s called. He won’t abide either of those things. He’s right out killed folks for that, time and again.

Well, when he was last here, he made a big to-do about how our uncle Jimmy was comin’ here, which he already knew. He didn’t even talk about The Man comin’ up t’ Baltimore, not that day, he dint! All he wanted to go on about was what Oldest was s’posed t’ do when Jimmy came here. And that’s a big chunk of what scared the Ls so bad, worse than they’ve been scared we figure since that Army Colt blew up in Liesly’s hands.

But that warn’t all. So I’ll start with that part about Jimmy. The OB loathes our uncle. An’ honest t’ G-d don’t none us know why. He never comes out an’ says what Jimmy done to make him so crazed. He just says round about, Jimmy didn’t come up to his damn all Southron Gent’s Ways, an’ didn’t want to! So the Old Bastard always, always says that Jimmy “betrayed him’, without ever sayin’ how or when or why he’d do it.”

“So, West Pointer,” Artemus started to ask. “This Original Bastard has some kind of violent grudge against Jim’s… against your uncle? And he makes threats against James Randolph?”

“Not in the way you might think, no ‘temus.” The Veteran answered. “That Bastard…he doesn’t have the guts to go after anyone that directly. He’d like it fine if Uncle Jimmy just obligingly fell down dead while he stood by. He’d like it a whole lot better if Jimmy announced to everybody how he supposedly let the Bastard down, ages and ages ago, when they were at ol’ William and Mary down in Williamsburg, and that Jimmy’s damned ashamed of that.

Only Jim honestly dint do nothin’ to be shamed of, y’see? The trouble they had back then, it’s all in the Bastard’s head, y” get that, right? But when he came back here that last time, the Original Bastard said Oldest Torry was to make that old shame absolutely, absolutely clear to Jimmy, next time they get together. And that’s what scared the Ls and … well, all of us almost too much to talk about.” West Pointer said and swallowed hard and looked away.

“WP, figure we’d best help you out with this one, after all, Little Bro.” Alexander said, and Darius, from his post nodded agreement.

“Yeah, yeah, figure that, Xander. Go on ahead.” the youngest of the quad nodded numbly.

“See, we figure this is maybe somethin’ you fellas don’t quite get, as yet.” Alexander said to the team members, as he sat down next to his brother. “The Original Bastard wouldn’t mind a bit if Cour had taken the Old Soldier down that day in Baltimore. He hates all Yankees and he hates the Man a whole, whole lot. On top of that, he’d truly admire to run the whole shootin’ match, the whole danged country all by himself. He talks about that all the time, his Empire, stretchin’ all acrost th’ continent an’ all. So he’ll take as much power as he can get some damn fool or other to give him. He just won’t go for it direct, or on his own hook.

But the real thing about him is, he don’t care about any of that nearly so much as he does about getting his own back on our uncle Jimmy. If y” were to let him, he’d go on for weeks about how Jimmy wronged him, when nothin’ like that ever happened. And if you listen to him long enough… you’d almost believe he’s the one who got the short end of the stick. And so now he still wants what he’s wanted since eleven, no more like twelve years b”fore our First Brother ever was born.
He wants to break Jimmy down so badly the old fellow will want t’ purely lay down an’ die. And if he can’t get Jimmy t’ do that any other way… “ Alexander sighed and dropped his voice, so that he could barely be heard now. ‘then he wants Oldest t’ do what the Bastard calls “wipin’ out Our True Enemy’s [by which he means our uncle Jimmy’s] Great Dishonor with your own life’s blood.”

“Great G-d!” Artie whispered, understanding vividly why the Veteran had taken this narration over. “Alexander, am I understanding you clearly on this question? Are you saying this monster wants to enact his revenge on James Randolph by way of Jim’s committing suicide?”

“As long as Jimmy’s there to see it, yeah, that’s pretty much all of that piece of the damn all nightmare.” Alexander nodded, his eyes flashing. “We figure that ol’ Perfessor Stephan heard the Bastard talk about that real fine idea so often, that he added somethin’ very much like it t’ Couri’s patternin’ when Couri was t’ meet the Old Soldier.”

“Bien sur, so M’sieur l’ President reported afterwards.” Jacques agreed. “ James, or it may have been Courier, made a clearly suicidal gesture during that meeting. Mais, M’sieur Grant prevented him from carrying it out.”

“Which Jimmy Randolph might not have the strength, or the opportunity to do, in a similar meeting.” He’s nearly old enough to be the President’s father, after all.” Artie muttered, and then looked sharply back at the brothers. “Wait, wait a moment here. What did you mean by saying this horror is “pretty much all of that piece of the damn all nightmare”?”

“We meant that he put something even more awful on the Ls, to make them keep shut, he hoped. But they’re braver than a barrelfull of bears, as you’ve found out. But still… “ West Pointer grimly took back the narrative. “Just because the Old Bastard doesn’t understand the Watch, doesn’t really know the Watch exists, doesn’t mean he doesn’t know how to use our worst nightmare of all against us.

So, the last time he was here, he had his goons carry Oldest Torry back to the prize room. He’d dosed Oldest, o’ course. So by that ime all of us were like blue crabs caught up in a net. And he took out his fancy carved ol’ pipe. He lit that damn yellowed, kinda bone colored pipe, and he started it goin’. And then he pulled out some of the threats he likes better than anything, Damn him! And Temus, you need to know, G-d only knows why, The Original Bastard especially has it in for you. So he goes on about how he’ll get to you, and then DocM, Jeremy, Jacques, Mister Mac, Jemmy, and anyone else who tries to help us while we’re still stuck here.

And he pulled every last one of the Ls right back into the time when … when momma died. And then he made it worse than ever, which we dint even guess anybody could! He starts in about how … momma died… He starts in about how we must’ve been lousy, rotten, disobedient kids… an’ that must be why …
He must have gone through that nightmare a thousand, thousand times by now. But this last time he added worse and more of it. This last time the Bastard turned our heads around, so bad, that the Ls still are muddled about it. He said if they didn’t keep shut, if they didn’t obey him… Poppa would be gone, that he’d be sad and hurt and then he’d die and be gone forever, just like momma.”

“Dat does be th’ veryiest mos’ awfully skeeredy!” General Torry called out, miserably now. “Dat does be wut did be skeered us so awfully many, many much! An’ wees sowwee, veryiest sowwee, but wees dint wantad us’ns guddes’ quiyat, saddy-’milin’, torybook readin’, huggin’ guddes’ veryiest own Poppa t’ go t’ be a angel far ways wif us’ns momma! Dat mos’ baddes’, maddiest skeeredy, it be sed wazz gonna makt mos’ awfully owwies an’ saddies on us’ns guddes’ ever Poppa!

Dat skeeredy did be sayd wazz gonna make go ways far an’ far an’ far us’ns veryiest own guddes’ ever, bestes’ Poppa! Wees no wantad no have us’ns Poppa! Wees wants us’ns Poppa! Wees, no wantad no have hims no, no more! Wees wants us’ns guddes’ quiyat, saddy ‘milin, ‘torybook readin’ veryiest own Poppa!” The child finally sobbed and leaned against Miguel as all the Torrys had at one time or another. When the small General cried himself to sleep, his adjutants simply looked to the team members, waiting their questions.

“Are you saying this … person, if he qualifies for that label, used his pipe tobacco, his drugs and his mesmeric tricks to scare L Company so absolutely…”Artemus started to ask and stopped, literally too shocked to go on.

“That notre petit freres now believe Stephen West is still alive now, alive and well, but only as long as these children keep their silence?” Jacques finished.

“Yep.” West Pointer, and Alexander answered.

“Bien sur! “ Jacques called out, fuming. “Mes amis, mes gentilhommes, we must now learn the answer to a central, and yet much obscured question. Qui est cette personne? Who is this somebody, this someone you have yet to name? What is the name of the Enemy we have been fighting all this while? Who is he? Surely the Companies must know who their instigating tormentor, as Miguel puts it, actually is!”

“That’s a very good question, Jacques.” Artie nodded. “What about it, gentlemen?”

“They can’t tell you that, Artie.” Jim West said now, bringing all eyes in the room to where he stood in the prize room doorway. “We can’t tell anyone the answer to that question.”

“Youngster, it’s damned difficult going after someone, when you don’t know who you’re going after.” Mac responded, walking over to Jim, putting one hand on his arm.

“I know that, Prof. I know that, maybe even better than you do. Because for a long while I didn’t know who … the Enemy is. He’s pretty damned good at making you think somebody else is at blame for …everything he’s ever done. With his help, I blamed my uncle, my grandfather, and my Dad for a long while, I even blamed myself … I’m very sorry to say that sometimes I even found myself …blaming my own mother, and sometimes … some of you.”

“James, when you say you can’t tell any of us…” Artie started to say, joining Thomas next to his partner.

“That’s just what I mean, Artemus.” Jim answered, shaking his head. “I could stand here trying, all the Companies could line up and stand here trying for a month of Sundays and it would be no use, just no good at all. He’s made damn good and well sure of that. I literally can’t say his name. When I try, when any of us try, there’s a stonewall. No, there’s nothing.”

“There’s nothing but these really wonderful sensations of watching our whole World go up in flames… while we’re standing there, lying there, crawling there, helpless, choking on smoke! Oh, by the way, the real reason I woke up and came over to join this little confab? GT’s completely, completely right, and so are West Pointer, Alexander and Darius. You can’t bring the President here! You can’t bring him anywhere near us! That’s precisely, precisely what… somebody wants you to do! Do you understand me now? It’d be worth the Man’s life!”

“Someone I can’t name still wants me to be his assassin. Someone I can’t even try to think of and stay minimally sane while I do it, still wants me to kill the President for him! And when that happens he still wants, as he always has wanted, Jimmy to be here to see me do it. And he wants Jimmy to lie down and die from shame for what that someone blames him for, which is all of this! And when that happens he still wants you, Artemus, to deliver the coup d’grace to the mad assassin, me, yours, truly. only if I don’t kill myself! And that someone will get his way if you don’t listen to me, right now, this minute!”

“See, he doesn’t care a damn if we tell you everything he has in mind, “cause he thinks nothing and no one can ever really stop him! He doesn’t care who gets mowed down like wheat, if they come between him and his … Great Work! And least of all does he care what anyone knows about his damned planning, as long as nobody, anywhere, ever connects his name to the Courier-plot! Great G-d! Is that clear enough! Does that tell you enough about the core of every nightmare I’ve had … for longer than I can even remember, now?” Jim fell silent now, shaking with rage and remorse.

“That’s plenty, Jimmy. Thanks.” Mac answered. “I’ll wire the Man right now. And he won’t like it. But he won’t come.”

‘Thanks, Thomas.” Jim whispered, feeling the ‘mudslide” coming just as his knees buckled.

“Whoa, Soldier!” Artie called out, catching his partner with practiced ease.

“Thanks, Artie. Really, thanks.” Jim whispered and finally passed out, his head falling against Artie’s shoulder, all his reserves from several days’ rest thoroughly exhausted.

”Again with the ‘thanks, Artie”?” Artemus jokingly protested as he carried Jim back to his cot. “… Again, it’s a pleasure.” 7

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SS novice field agent

610 Posts

Posted - 02/09/2009 :  12:37:44  Show Profile
SCENE SEVENTEEN A warehouse across the street from Baltimore State Asylum

“You’re certain all is in readiness for the proper moment?” Gideon Boudin demanded. “You’re absolutely certain?”

“Well, since you needed it done on the sly, it took me an’ Saul most of th’ night, but yeah, we got it done. It’ll be a done deal, just as soon as you give th’ word.” Ezra Smith nodded.

“And not one moment beforehand, I trust.” Boudin asked, turning to his other aide, but it wasn’t a question.

“Not so much as a split second b”fore you say so.” Saul Lawson agreed, frowning as the Georgian repeated his questions for the fifth or sixth time this morning.

“And the new guards and others on staff, they remain uninformed? They have no grounds to suspect anything untoward will happen once I give the signal? You issued no warnings? You started no rumors amongst them?” Boudin demanded to know.

“We’re still fightin’ th’ DamnYankees here, ain’t we?” Lawson insisted, scowling at his employer. “We gotta take some causalities to get the thing done right, don’t we? We already got rid of the worst troublemakers for you, includin’ ol’ Percy, dint we? Well, then what d’ you think? Why’d you even ask us that? Are you gonna turn round at this late date, now an’ say me” an’ Ezra have gone against th’ Work or th’ One for a second?”

“Most certainly not. You have my entire confidence, at this “eleventh hour”, as always.” Boudin replied. “You’ve never given me the first reason to think otherwise, unlike so many others. Indeed, if I could only have relied to the same extent on a great many others who were called to support, to carry the Great Work forward, we might have reached this Glorious Day long since! Treachery, gentlemen, betrayal, treason, and disloyalty have barred our way for too long. Humanity’s greatest, most ancient frailty has always been its failure to keep faith! Well, we will have no more of those bearing that ineffectual strain of so called human nature amongst us!”

“Nosirree, we sure won’t!” Smith nodded, with a feral grin on his sun-weathered features. “Only, I did have some curiosity on that one point, ifn you don’t mind it.”

“That will depend entirely on what you wish to ask, my good man. However, I reserve the right, as any prudent officer of the court would do, to decline to answer your questions.” Boudin said.

“Yeah, surely. Well, it’s just this, just this one thing. I kinda had th’ idea you were all set on usin’th’ frailty of some of those fella’s human natures against “em t’get this whole shebang up an’ runnin’. An’ now you’re not takin’ things that way.” Smith went on, glaring at Boudin.

“Ezra, figure you’d best shut it now an’ forget all about that.” Lawson warned angrily, looking worriedly from one of his cohort to the other.

“No, by all means, let him continue, Mr. Lawson.” Boudin insisted, his voice all ice and silk. “Do, please go on, Mr. Smith.”

“See, Saully, he wants me t’ go on.” Smith chuckled. “An’ that’s just what I mean t’ do! So, here’s the thing of it: Did you just finally figure out ol’ Saul an’ me could get all this done better an’ quicker an’ more secret-like for you? Or if it ain’t that, why ain’t those fellas all lined up on our side o” things like they were supposed t’ be?” Smith asked, grinning again. At this “eleventh hour” he’d been drinking heavily, for one thing. And he was sure he could plague the Georgian with impunity about the way Boudin’s plans and plots had changed in just the past fortnight.

Boudin had turned his gaze back to the wide, high window behind him, which overlooked the street and the asylum complex. Now he turned back to face Smith, his color rising, his eyes burning cold. “Is it possible?” The Georgian asked very quietly. “Is it even remotely possible at this juncture that you are mocking me, sir? Is it possible you are showing me this level of contempt now, after all the benefits you have had from our long association? Do you truly esteem the Great Work, our Society and the One so poorly as to make this unmannerly, uncivil display?”

“He’s crazy drunk, that’s all! It’s just his damn Irish whiskey talkin’, not him! “ Lawson called out, striding between Boudin and Smith. “Ezra, how many times have I told you, how many times since we met, right after Pittsburg Landing, to keep off the sauce whilst there was still work to get done, boy?”

“A couple thousand times, I’d have to figure, Saully.” Smith nodded morosely. “Only, when things get real close to th’ edge, when things get real tight an’ I cain’t hardly breathe for all the damn fancy manners an’ rules an’ regs an’ damn all changes t’ plans, I cain’t hardly do nothin’ but reach for a jug! Never did take much t’ changin’ plans, Saul, an’ even leSs t’ havin’ “em changed on me! But here we are, ain’t we? Here we are getting ready t’ ram through another of his damn all changes of plans! An’ ‘m not sure I much like this one. In fact, it pretty much reeks! In fact, it’s pretty much th’ worst he’s come up with so far!”

“But here we are an’ we’re pretty much stuck with it, ain’t we? We ain’t got too much choice, do we, Saul, not knowin’ him, now, do we? So now, whilst he rides back down to his fancy ol’ house outside ‘lanta, all safe an’ sound an’ happy-like, we’re gonna be doin’ just about th’ worst thing we done since th’ Conflict got over! So I reached me a jug or two down from th’ shelf in th’ tavern down on th’ next corner, an’ I drunk “em! Shoulda called you on over, Saully-boy, yeah, shoulda done that. ‘m sorry. Yeah, ‘m real sorry.”

“But ‘m here an’ I can handle anything he’s got left in his bag of tricks, now, cain’t I? He cain’t hardly do for me th’ way he done for all them others, now can he? He cain’t cause he don’t own that hell hole over “cross th’ street any more, now does he? They went an’ sold it off for their damn Yankee taxes, just t’other day, dint they? An’, an’ he cain’t do for me, anyhow, Sauly, cause you purely wouldn’t let him do for me, now would you, Saul-boy?”

“Didn’t I always say if anyone was ever gonna do for you, Ezra, it’d be your own self doin’ for you? And now you come too damn all close to doin’ just that!” Lawson growled.

“Did I, Saul? ‘m real sorry… real sorry.” Smith muttered, and collapsed at his long time partner’s feet, dead drunk.

Only now Lawson turned back to face Boudin. “He’s drunk. He’s crazy drunk, and he don’t know what he’s sayin’. So, I’ll take it real kind if you let th’ boy sleep off his drunk and just forget about his damn crazed talk. He don’t mean a thing by it. Just sometimes all th’ killin’ he done in th’ Conflict, it comes and weighs th’ boy down somethin’ awful, just somethin’ fierce, and he goes for his whiskey. Maybe you ain’t seen ol’ Ez like this b”fore, I have. When he comes round he won’t even know he saw you today, much leSswhatever he said. So, it don’t come to nothing. You can see that, surely.”

“Your faithfulness is truly commendable, Mr. Lawson.” Boudin answered, still frowning, but now only to hide his enjoyment at the desperate way this embittered, case-hardened former Cavalry officer was pleading his friend’s case. “And I will accept your plea on his behalf, this once. Do we understand one another entirely? I will not spare him the rightful consequences of another such outburst against the Great Work or the One. That cannot, and will not be done. Well, have you clearly understood me?”

“I understand, Sir. I understand you very clearly.” Saul Lawson replied, seeing his friend’s doom, and likely his own in the Georgian’s icy, grey gaze.

“Very well, then. You will now remove your friend from my sight and go on with your assigned duties. I shall expect a report on your entire success in that regard to reach me at The Cadmea, through the designated channels only, as soon as you know it to be accomplished. Your remuneration will then, and only then be dispatched to you. Good day to you.” Boudin said and strode back to the window.

“Good day, Sir.” Lawson answered, and grunted as he lifted Smith back to his feet and dragged him out of the room. Boudin had always been devilishly dangerous, moody as a proddy mare and jumpy as a cat. But now Lawson was considering that his hard drinking friend Ezra was right. The closer Boudin got to his “Glorious Day”, the trickier dealing with him became for anyone who tried it; for anyone who came near him, more like.

Well, I’m not gonna cross that crazy bastard, not to his face. But I’m not gonna get close enough again, for him to go after me! An’ Ezra’s right about something else too. I’m not gonna let that madman do for the one friend I’ve got left from the Conflict! Lawson decided. More n’ likely Boudin bought himself right out of ol’ Jeff Davis’ damn Draft, most likely he got some dumb as a hoe handle Mick or Wop or some poor idjit farm boy to go to the shootin’ war for him! So how can he figure what those times meant to th’ boys who DID their own fightin’? How can he go all judge n jury on fellows like Ezra who can’t forget what they saw, what they heard or what they did back then? He can’t!

And he don’t give a flyin’ damn about that kind of trouble… unless he can play tricks inside a fella’s head with those kind of damn all memories! Yeah, him and that Professor! They made quite the pair! Well, that Professor did for himself, is what I hear. He got the only one left his whole family, that crazy little girl, that Liesl, dead tryin’ for ol’ Sam Grant, and then took the easy way out! Now if only somebody could get Boudin to go out that way! Naw, he’s too much the damn all coward! A fella has to have some guts, after all to take himself out, don’t he?

Turning down one street and then up another, Lawson carried his friend back to Smith’s favorite tavern, at the corner of Carey and 12th in the Burnt District. Ezra had a “girl’ there who’d keep him well out of sight and out of harm, while he slept off his drunk. Lawson paid her and the tavern owner a good amount, just to make sure no one would find out where his long time friend was. Then the former Cavalry officer from Baton Rouge took a different route back to the street the Baltimore State Asylum and half a dozen other old warehouses occupied.

Boudin would be watching from his safe vantage the rest of the afternoon for the first signs that Lawson’s “assigned duties’ had been carried out. Saul Lawson knew everyone in Boudin’s employ these days, from the so called doctors in the asylum to the heavy-set mutes the Georgian brought in as additional guards. Lawson knew who could be trusted to take his orders, who could be bribed to do the same, and who he had to avoid at all costs now And he had his own plans now, mostly intended to ensure his own survival. What happened to the inmates of the asylum, he hardly cared. They were all just useless crazies, or drunkards or street scum.

What happened to the guards he’d hired and then rehired himself, that was another matter. What happened to Ezra Smith, and what happened to Lawson himself when ‘the Great Work” as Boudin called it, all fell to pieces if its own weight, was paramount in his thinking. And all it had taken to finally change Lawson’s mind on this whole matter was the sight and sound of Gideon Boudin’s insane rage aimed directly at Ezra Smith, leSsthan an hour ago. Ezra’s own drunken qualms came into the equation, but not as forcefully as the wild rage in Boudin’s freezing cold eyes.

You were wrong to question my ‘loyalty, an hour ago, old man. You were way off base, and off kilter just at that moment. Lawson thought as he strode past the guards at the side entry to the asylum. Cause now you’ve crossed a line you shoulda never even thought about crossin’. And maybe you couldn’t even tell it was there. That don’t matter now. I’m not goin’ your way, not anymore. I’m not goin’ down just to get you what you want. What I done, all right, I done and I’ll face up to it, when and as I’ve got to. But what you have in mind now, old man, no, I won’t go there.

For that , you’ll have to settle for the kind of scum you pretend to look down on from some kinda high claSs pedestal or somethin’! You’ll have to drag the dregs from now on for the kinda low life who’ll do whatever they have to for a gold dollar or some hype or a skinful! And from what I heard from that ol’ Professor, you grew up with just that sort, down in your stinkin’ ol’ Haiti! But you don’t get Saul Lawson takin’ your orders, or doin’ your dirty Work, any more. That’s done, now! That’s over!

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SS novice field agent

610 Posts

Posted - 02/09/2009 :  12:39:00  Show Profile
SCENE EIGHTEEN Baltimore State Asylum Acute Ward

“ ... no, no, no, no, no! wees cain’t, Mee-gel! ‘temus-Poppa, Jermee, wees cain’t! Quiyat Tommy, Jacs, Jemmee-Cozz”n Doccter, plees, no, no, wees no can go ways! Wees cain’t go! Wees fot wees teld you dat! “ One of L Company, a scrawny, copper-penny redhead cried, his wide, green eyes bright with tears.

Artemus thought this seeming-child, who looked to be three and a half, maybe four, might be called either Bedien, Dutafu, Annie’s or Rand. But he was still learning to tell them apart. And it didn’t help that an equally frightened crowd of the Ls was gathering right behind this near-hysterical child, and gathering steam.

“Wees cain’t! Wees no can go ways! Wees cain’t! Wees wuld den be veryiest baddy, an’ veryiest dis’bedien, toos!” The small brothers began to panic and to protest, all together.

“Littles, please, please try not to be so very frightened. You’re all being quite, quite good little boys.” Miguel implored, shaking his head. “And we have talked about this, more than once. We’ve talked it all through, by now. You won’t have to stay here for even a minute, just as soon as your uncle Jimmy arrives and gives us the word. We’re only waiting for him, now. And he has sent word he will be here if at all possible tomorrow, or the next day at the very, very latest.”

“Nos! Nos! Nos!” The children chorused, not soothed in the least. Which was strange enough by itself, considering their strong affection for the doctor, Artie thought. “Nos, wees cain’t! Wees cain’t go wif us’ns guddes’ unc Jimmy! Wees no can go ways wif hims! Wees no can go ways, Mee-gel! Wees did be teld yous dat, wees did be teld dat “gen an’ gen’ an’ gen!” The children went on, reaching out for their helpers, or pulling back, as if too afraid now for even a hug.

“Yes, that’s so, that’s right, you have, you’ve said that before.” Artemus agreed, thinking as quickly as possible of some way to ease them, just as a trio of these abruptly terrified children allowed him to take their hands and slow down their panic a bit. “But, you know, Littles, our Quiet Tommy and Jacs, our Jeremee and even Miguel are getting up there, you know they’re ... kind of old now. So I think maybe they’ve forgotten what you told us, exactly. In fact, I’m not sure I remember it exactly, myself. So, it would be a big help, a ... veryiest big help, right now if you would tell us why you can’t go away from here.

Because, Littles, we know you don’t want to stay here, anymore than we want you to. It’s ... well, as Miguel said before, a vile, a really bad, skeerdey place, isn’t it? It’s too hot in summer, too lonely, and noisy and ... too wet and cold in winter, like now. And when we were telling you about Miguel’s house, remember, Littles? You thought you might like it there, you might like visiting with Ani and Micah-Little...remember? So, can you tell us, can you please tell us, why you can’t “go ways’?”

Now the redhead, the apparent leader of this clutch of little boys turned to face Artemus, with a solemn expression considering his apparent age. “Dint wees be teld yous dat part, temus-Poppa?” The small redhead asked, sniffling, scratching his head and scrunching his small features with evident worry and confusion. ‘dint wees be teld dat parts b”for nows?”

“No, no, I think maybe you were ... I think maybe that part was too scary to talk about then. Don’t you think that’s what happened... Miguel?” Artie asked, turning to the doctor, trying to maintain the health of their current truce.

“Yes, yes, I do think so. Thank you, Temus.” Miguel agreed, taking the hand of the thin red-headed child. “ ‘temus is right, isn’t he? Bedien, that’s your name, isn’t it? Bedien, there was some of the scare-dreams you couldn’t tell us before. You still weren’t sure then that we’d stay here and protect you. You still weren’t certain that anyone would do that for you and your brothers. And I think, I believe you were also convinced that only the Four could ever protect the Four, in any case..

But then all the bad times came and you were too much hurt and scared all at once to do anything but hide from the scare dreams and the hurting, as best you could. And what you may not understand right now, “Bedien, is that we all know what it’s like to want only to hide somewhere, till the hurts and the skeerdys go all, all away. Don’t we, my friends?” The doctor asked, looking around at the team members present, Jeremy, Jacques, Jemison, Artemus and Thomas Macquillan.

“That’s right, that’s absolutely right, Bed...” Mac began to answer.

“Wees mos’ly be jus’ calld hims us’ns Bee, Quiyat Tommy.” Another of the Ls , a thin, grey eyed, dark haired child, spoke up, with a teary smile on his drawn little face. “Same fer wees mos’ly jus’ calld mees Du, but Babyboy Torry hims be called mees Dutafu”...”

“Well thank you, Du, thanks for letting us know that. That’s very helpful, not to say intriguing.” Mac nodded, glancing at his team for a moment before turning back to the redhead. “Now, Bee, what I wanted to ask is, do you remember what I told you months ago? Do you recall what I told you my grandfather told me about being scared and being brave and how that really works out, most of the time?”

Scratching the back of his head, the way Artie had seen both Mac and Jim do a few hundred thousand times, Bedien finally nodded gravely. “Yous gran’poppa hims sed bein’ braves was same fer bein’ skeeredy, on’y goin’ an’ doin’ what fings skeered yous any hows, yes, Quiyat Tommy?”

“Yes Bee, that’s what my Granddad said, time and again. And what I only learned when he was gone, Bee, was that, as usual, my Granddad was absolutely right. So, now, seeing how scared you still are, and how we only want to help you with that, do you think you can try being brave, that way? Do you think you can tell us the rest of this scare-dream? Do you think maybe you can help us help you, that way?” Macquillan asked, putting one hand on each of the child’s arms, the way he’d done time and again when counseling his protégée.

“You’ve already been si brave, mon enfant,” Jacques added, taking his turn, sitting down beside the child, gently grasping his hands. “We are all well aware of your courage. And we know it has been, at times your best defense, even when you were rightfully, very much frightened, even when you did not feel brave at all, that is.

Now has come another of those times when your fears try to... grow too large, and we understand that, mon enfant, truly. So, let’s try another way. Can you tell us only some part of what’s frightening you? Can you tell us, par example, why you can’t go away from here with your uncle who cares for you as much as any of us?”

“Dunno Jacs, dunno nows, Tommy.” The child mournfully answered, hanging his head. “Wees dunno. Wees dunno if wees can be enny of brave, nows. Wees so many much of skeered! Wees jus’ be knowd wees wuld den be veriest dis’bedien to us’ns Poppa. Hims very many big... veriest many strong...did be told us’ns no go ways wifout hims camed here for hims veriest own Torrys!

Hims sed no go ways wif enny of ovver peepls Torrys-Littles, den wuld yous Poppa be veriest skeeredy an’ no knowd wheres t’ be findin’ hims Littles! Den wuld yous Poppa be veriest saddy, too, an hurt veriest bad dat Torrys goed ways with ovver peepls! Den yous Poppa wuld den hurt so bad hims no culd came heres. Hims no culd came heres ever “gen an’ wuld go ways, far an far! Den yous Poppa wuld be so many much hurt an saddy an’ skeered hims wuld be goed t’ be a angel, just like yous veriest own momma done!”

“Den hims told us’ns ‘torry yous stays heres, stay still, stay quiyat! Yous Poppa no can camed an’ bring Torrys on home if Torrys be veriest bad, nogud boys!” An’ wees did be knowd wees wuld be veriest much hurtin us’ns veriest own guddes’ story-readin’, saddy-’milin’, guddes huggin’, guddes’ ever wazz Poppa! Hims wazz no always happy wen wees likd, wen wees goed wif us’ns guddes’ funny story makin’, laughin’ an’ singin’ unc Jimmy. Hims be told us’ns... us’ns unc Jimmy ... no likd us’ns Poppa no ever!”

“Bien, tres, tres bien, mon enfant. C’est formidable.” Jacques told the child, hugging him close before he turned back to the team.

Now we’re getting somewhere! That’s two things we knew to some extent but that THEY haven’t told us before now! Great job, Jacques! Artie signed to the Canadien and the team.

D’accord, mon ami. Jacques signed back. Thomas, I believe I once heard something from Jim as regards a long term dispute between his namesake, ton oncle James and his pere, do you know something of that?

I do. But I’d rather not get these little boys worked up all over again. Come across the room and I’ll tell you all I know about it. Macquillan replied, and gestured for his team members, presently including Miguel, to cross the room with him and talk this over, hopefully out of the children’s ear shot.

Jemmy demurred. I’ll stay with the Torrys, gents. I don’t think I have anything to add to the story of my two older cousin’s feuding. The Raleigh native signed. “Bee, it’s all right, little Cousin, you don’t have to be so much afraid now. We’re here to help, not to hurt and not to scare you. No one here is going to make you do anything, just not anything at all that scares you so much. Now, we’re just going to drop that whole talk right now. And instead... I’ll tell you a story about some of my cousins from east Texas, wouldn’t you like that, Bee?” Jemmy told the redhead.

“Wees wuld, veriest much!” Be’dien nodded, and so did his little brothers. “Izz dey us’ns cozzins toos, Jemmy Doccer Cozz?”

“Well, surely.” Jemmy agreed, deciding it would only confuse the children, no matter how old they really were, to try understanding the intricate family ties in their extended families that stretched from Frederick south to San Antonio and from Norfolk west as far as Wyoming territory, these days.

Jeremy helped Miguel to cross the room, and when they were sure that Jem had the children distracted, Mac went on, noting that some of the ‘older” Company members were listening in. ‘Stephen West met James Randolph nearly three years before he met Annie, that is Jessamyn Anne Randolph, James Randolph’s sister, who became his wife and Jim’s mother. They were different as two men could possibly be, Stephen being quiet natured and slow to anger, James Randolph being fiery and rowdy as hell back in the day. But those two, both very interested and very involved in their family’s horse breeding enterprises, got on quite well, at first. In fact, they were great friends for a while, years back.

But there was a hard falling out between them around the time Anne West died, one that barely got mended before Stephen passed on himself, six years back. After Annie died, the two men disagreed again and again over how Jim should be raised, where he should go to school, even who he should be friends with, all that sort of thing. For a while, Jean Randolph, Jim’s grandmother was the only one who could keep peace between those two. And she wore herself out doing just that, I’ve often thought, since she passed on. And now it seems clear that whoever left our young firebrand and his brothers here, my friends, knew all that about his family and probably, much more.”

“Thomas, that has been my own hypothesis for some time.” Miguel agreed. “Indeed the only question I have at this point is, are you quite certain it WAS Herr Professor Doctor Aynsley who died when his home and laboratory burned? Because, as we’ve already also surmised, that would mean there was AT LEAST one other conspirator involved in the Courier plot as you’ve called it.
And the few facts we have, added to the literature, meager as it is at this point, regarding dissociative ‘disorders’ such as the Torrys have suffered, also strongly indicate there MUST BE at least that one other. Herr Aynsley had no means and no opportunity, surely, as an immigrant coming here from Austria during the War, to know at first hand about Torry’s childhood or family history, did he? Therefore, we must look to someone who supplied him with at least enough knowledge to brutally terrorize these children by twisting their memories of the time their mother died.”

“No, Doctor. What we know is that a tall, powerfully built man died in the fire and explosions that destroyed Aynsley’s house and lab. And we have a rough understanding at this point of when that fire started, which was no more than a couple days after Jim met President Grant at the Maryland House.” Jeremy answered, at a nod from Mac.

“And we know that Aynsley left a lot of his own journals, records and correspondence in an iron strongbox. Our analysis department has been at work on those documents ever since Artie, Frank and Ori found that box. And they’ve barely scratched the surface in all this time. They haven’t got any further because Aynsley used some of the most intricate cyphers and other encryption devices we’ve ever seen, in just about everything he left behind! It’s as if whoever wrote those documents wanted nothing so much as to confuse whoever found them, at least for a while.”

“Well, I hate to say this, gentlemen, “ Artie suggested, frowning as he glanced over at the Torrys. “But could that someone BE Jimmy Randolph? I’ve read some of the journal articles the doctor’s shown us, about this ... business of dissociation... And it seems to me those articles indicate the originator in many cases IS, as horrid as that sounds, a family member. And who else, after all, COULD know so much about Jim?”

“With all respect, and care for our recently re-established armistice, Mr. Gordon, I must at this point, disagree.” Miguel said.

“All due respect in return, doctor, why?” Artemus asked.

“Because Be’dien only now told us of another injunction their tormentor left them with when they were abandoned here. We already heard they were not to leave here, unless their “Poppa” came for them, unless he permitted them to go. And now, we hear that in particular the Torrys were ordered not to leave this place, not to go anywhere at all, in fact, with their uncle and namesake, James Randolph. Since we know it isn’t possible that Stephen Arthur West was the monster who left these children in this corner of hell, and would never have done so, were he still in the living world, then the question of that perpetrator acting on their old feud goes by the board.”

“Well, it does, DoctorM, and then, then it really doesn’t.” Another of the brothers said, striding over to join the team’s discussion. Turning, Artemus saw a wiry, whip thin, well dressed man in his late forties, with thick, greying bright auburn hair, sharp ‘randolph-stamped’ features, and wide green eyes, identical to Jim’s. “I’m sorry, gents, I know it’s awfully rude of me to interrupt. Gramma Jean would pin back my ears pretty darned well if she heard me. And how I wish she was still here to do just that! Except of course it would break her good old heart to see the Ls here, much less Oldest.

He’s always been kinda her pet, as you might guess, especially after our momma died. But I purely had to come over. You see, all y”all were gettin’ so close there, ridin’ right up to it, just then, just for a minute. And then it seemed you pulled up, as if you couldn’t quite keep hold of the reins, or get your mount to follow your leads. And as a horseman from my earliest days, modeled on another lifelong horseman, I know just how that feels. Well, a lot of us have been learnin’ that feelin’ ever since we got dumped off HERE.”

“And you’re ‘modeled on’ Jimmy Randolph, am I right?” Thomas Macquillan asked.

“I am that. I’m called JTKR, and I’m from V Company. We tend to just use initials for the names of family and friends, as you might have guessed from the Watch rotation listing. And, I apologize again, my manners have sadly deteriorated in the present circumstances, gentlemen. You’ll want to know what I meant by what I said at the start, I’d imagine...”

“As a matter of fact, yes, I would.” Miguel nodded, frowning at the Veteran. “Please, explain yourself.”

“Surely. That’s why I came over. What I meant to be sayin’ was that of course our Poppa never didand never would have abandoned us all here, or anywhere else for that matter. That is, surely he had a rough patch to get through after momma passed on, but that was something we could well understand... as we got older, ourselves. And he’d surely never do something like that to spite Jimmy, or tell us not to let Jimmy help us, if Poppa couldn’t. We feel it quite strongly that Poppa regretted their quarrels as much or more than our uncle did.”

“But on the other hand,” Artie prodded. “You seem to be suggesting we’re missing something. We came close but we’re still not quite there, as far as the connection between their quarrels and the troubles we’re trying to deal with right now?”

“Well, yes, Temus, that’s pretty much it, exactly!” The Veteran nodded, grinning very much like Jim West did when he got someone to see his point. ‘that connection IS the person who left us here, the one who showed up here, a little while back, to scare the life half out of L Company, threatening not only all y”all but also Poppa. He’s the one who hates Jimmy so terribly that he went and started this whole nightmare circus rigamarole!

And so you see, that person’s been around long enough and plenty enough to know about any troubles between Jimmy and Poppa. And he’s the bastard who let that damned Herr Professor in on the whole shootin’ match! He doesn’t want anyone around Oldest who gives a flying fig for th’ boy. And he especially doesn’t want Oldest Torry bein’ close to, or trustin’ our uncle Jimmy, except and unless HE thinks he still can control what will happen.

You see, control, that’s what he loves more n’anything else, more than anyone except for his own damned self! He wants to control everything and everyone around him, that’s ALL! He wants the whole, entire world to go his way, as a matter of fact! And he’ll do his worst, time and again to get just what he’s after!
And when he’s at his worst he can get a fellow turned around, all bollixed up, and completely, completely whopper jawed, six ways from Sunday. And that’s pretty much just what he managed to do to all of us but L Company for a damn all long time now, too! And he’s BEEN at his worst as long as we’ve known him... which has been ... too damned long, all together!”

“Speak for yourself, JTK!” Another brother angrily called out, as its owner, a slim, dark-red-haired, grey eyed member of D Company, rushed over to join in the fray. “Or at least, stick to speaking for V Company, little brother! Anyway, what in the very devil makes you think you can do ANYTHING ELSE NOW, you damn all young fool?”

“And when the Ls came under attack TWICE in just the past month now, ‘rance, what in the very devil makes you think we have TIME for the Companies to go back to our old wrangles, this way?” The Veteran demanded, fuming.

“He’s lost control of this place and all of us, don’t you get even that much, BIG BROTHER? He’s desperate, now! He wanted the Old Soldier, the Man, as Oldest calls him, back in our sights and that’s NEVER HAPPENING, now! He wanted Jimmy up here to see Oldest all bunged up, sick and hurt, WEEKS AGO and you know we can’t let that happen, either. He’s got to be going more crazed than ever over that. Can’t you understand that, you old fool? He’ll do ANYTHING NOW to get back his hold on every last V, W, D and L on the roster.”

“AND HE DON’T EVEN KNOW WE’RE HERE! At the most, he thinks Oldest turned into a little boy called Torry, when we were at ol’ Stephan’s damn all lab an’ then again, when Liesly died! That twisted old bastard doesn’t know, doesn’t gueSs he brought us all into being, and personally, brother, I’m just fine with that! But what I’m not fine with is you, ‘rance, startin’ up another fracas, when the Ls are already plenty worked up. What I’m not fine with is you keepin’ to all the old squabbles an’ quarrels and brawls between Companies, just when we’re about to get sprung! What I’m not fine with a bit is ...” Suddenly, the Veteran stopped stock-still in mid sentence, turning his head from one side of the ward to the other.

“Companies! Form up at once, and evacuate your charges, and on the double-quick, boys! W Company, pick up your Ls and get moving! Don’t scare “em, but don’t let them argue the point, just do it, now! V Company, you get the Ds who are still too bunged up to walk outside. And D Company, you know which Ws need help after that last fever bout, so c’mon! No more time for quarreling about quarrels, boys!” A third brother, a gangly strawberry blond boy from W Company called out, hurrying over to scoop a tiny, sleepy blue eyed golden-towheaded child up from the cot next to Jemmy. “C’mon, Shinin’, your Tidewater-brovver’s got you safe, now, Little.”

“Evacuate, fellows? Evacuate where? What do you mean?” Jemmy asked, confused, then he looked at Artemus and both men realized what was going on. Mac, Jeremy and Miguel all were starting to cough, as wisps of smoke came up through the floor. And in the next moment, a chorus of cursing, shouting, panicking men’s voices from the main ward reached their ears.

“Great G-d, the building’s on fire!” Artie exclaimed and rushed to where Jim lay, acroSsthe ward, coughing and gasping, not even a little awake. “Jim, wake up! James, c’mon, partner, we’ve got to get you the hell out of here! Jacques, are you alright, can you get Thomas and Miguel outside? I’ll make sure of Jim and Jere, myself. Jemmy, are you okay to get out on your own? AND WHERE IN THE DEVIL IS OUR BACKUP TEAM, ANYWAY?”

“They’re all down in the main ward and the damn all treatment rooms in back of it, Artie, trying to get those poor devils out.” Ori Hoynes answered, running into the acute ward, with his partner, Chris and Travis Madsen running right behind. ‘trav, you help Jem, and the two of you can help Mac, and Chris, you help Jeremy out. I’ll give Artemus a hand with Jim and ...”

“WEES CAIN’t GOES! NO, NO, NO, WEES CAIN’t! WEES CAIN’t GOES, CAV! WEES CAIN’t GOES NOWS, EFFY! WEES CAIN’t! WEES CAIN’t GOES! WEES DID BE TELLIN’ US’ns GUDDES’ FRENS! WEES NO CAN BE GOIN’ WAYS WIFOUT US’ns POPPA CAMED HERES! US’ns GUDDES’ VERIEST OWN POPPA, HIMS GOTS CAMED HERE AN’ BE TELD US’ns WE CAN CAMED ON HOME!” A trio of hysterical little boy’s voices cried out, bringing the attention of every one in the ward to where three young Witnesses stood trying to keep hold of their wards from the Ls. And as Artemus and the other men watched, those three children were joined by dozens more, until nearly every member of L Company stood, sat or knelt together, linking hands, elbows and arms, wide eyed with absolute terror, resisting their brothers with all their combined strength.

“Well, that tears it, I guess.” Artemus muttered, forming a lightning decision. Then he turned back to his partners, and Miguel, and began signing again, even though his hands were shaking a bit with nerves at what he was about to suggest.
I can impersonate Stephen West for them pretty easily, in fact. I’ve been practicing … for just such an emergency. And it may be the only way to get Jim and his brothers all out of here before the fire brings the whole place down! And I know, before you say anything that there will be hell to pay when Jim finds out I did this. I just don’t see where I have any choice in the matter at this juncture. So, what about it, gentlemen, do I “go on’ as Jim’s father, yes or no?

Mais oui, certainment. Jacques signed back, and reached to help Miguel towards the door.

You’re right. It’s the best shot we have right now, old friend. Do it. Macquillan answered in the same way, as Travis stubbornly began to nudge him and Jemmy Singer out the door.

You’ve got my vote, too, pal. Go for it. Jeremy signed, just as Chris McIntyre indicated they needed to get out of the room, down the stairs and outside on the double quick, with an expressive gesture.

I entirely concur, Mister Gordon. Miguel signed, nodding for emphasis, taking Jacques’ arm but still watching Artemus and the children.

Thank you, all. Artie signed back, and turned to face the frightened children.
“Well, that’s alright,now, Torry Little.” The former actor said, taking on the Tidewater-south Texas lassitude and the relaxed tone and stance he’d known Stephen West to employ, especially when Jim’s father was particularly tense. Then he went on striding over towards the ‘schoolhouse full of little boys’. “Because your Poppa’s right here, Torry, son. I’m right here, now. Poppa’s here.”

Torry Little sat bolt upright on the cot’s edge, and so did the rest of the Ls on the cot. They knew that stern, soft, melancholy, voice beyond any doubt. They knew that voice and named its owner with a chorus of glad cries.

“Poppa!” Torry Little flung himself in the direction of that much loved voice, tripped and fell, headlong. But he wasn’t deterred in the least. “Poppa! Poppa!” He called out as Artemus crossed to him, lifted and carried him as easily as a featherweight, back to the cot. “Oh, Poppa, Poppa, Torrys missded you so veryiest much an’ much! Poppa, Torrys waited and waited and... Oh Poppa, Torrys wanted you to came heres so veryiest much an’ much, Poppa.” The child laughed and kissed and clung to Artie’s neck.

“Poppa’s here, Torry little. Poppa’s here, now. And I missed you too, veriest many, many much. Now, try, Torry, try to get calm again. I’m here. And we need to get all y”all right on out of this place. And we need to do that, right now, this minute, Torry.” Artie as Stephen West answered, keeping the pale, thin, sandy haired child wrapped in his arms. “You’ve been stuck here much too long now, as it is. Now we’re getting on out of here, c’mon with me, son.”

“Torrys don’t have to stay heres, Poppa? Not no mores?” Torry Little asked, as if afraid somehow, despite his father’s presence, he’d be denied.

“No, Torry, you don’t have to stay here a minute longer. In fact, I need you to come with me on out of here, right now, son, you and... your brothers and all of our good, good friends. I’m so very glad, so very happy they could stay with you here, Torry all this while. But now we need to go. So, c’mon, Torry-Littles, we’ll ... go down th’ stairs and on out the door...” Artie said, and suiting action to words, scooped up yet another of the Ls from the cot, the dark redheaded child who’d said he was called Du, and walked out of the ward, with both children clinging hard to the man they now firmly believed was their father, Stephen Arthur West.
SCENE NINETEEN The Gemstone Hotel, in Augusta, GA, three days after the fire at the Baltimore State Asylum

“How many?” Aubrey Edmonds Lanier, Gideon Boudin’s current attorney of record, repeated, in shock. He was a tall, grey haired man with wide grey eyes and heavy eyebrows that seemed to jump upwards now. “How many of them did you just say escaped?”

“Well, sir, that rightly depends on what ye’d mean by escapin’.” Lanier’s informant, a reedy, fair haired, hawk nosed Baltimore street beggar, nervously replied. “A whole, whole lot of those poor crazies got carted on outa that ol’ asylum, whilst it was burnin’ down t’ th’ ground. But some of “em was already done for, from all that there smoke, an’ some others of “em got real bad burnt up, too bad t’ make it ... for very long, sir. An’ some others of “em nigh onta drowned cause they dint have enough sense t’ get outa th’ way when them fire station fellows came with all them newfangled water pumps an’ such, ye” see?”

“I see that you still fail to answer my question!” Lanier darkly frowned. “I will ask, just once more and you will answer precisely, my man or I will surely gain the answers I require in some other way! PRECISELY how many inmates of what was the Baltimore State Asylum escaped the terrible fires you’ve told me about, with their lives?”

“Oh, well, that’d be the most of “em then, sir.” The informant grinned. “There was four hundred’ seventy three fellows kept in there, accordin’ t’ what th’ County records say. An’ there was a hundred an’ twenty seven of them poor devils found dead in the wreckage, after th’ fires was put out. So that gives ye three hundred an’ forty six of them nut-cases that got out alive.
An’ then, just in th’ past week, what I found out for ye, sir, is that, another fifty-seven of them ol’ crazies up an’ died from gettin’ burnt, gettin’ too much smoke, or mebbee just bein’ too far gone b”fore that fire ever got goin’, y” see. So that’d leave ye with no more n’ two hundred an’ eighty nine of them loonies that was still alive, when I come down here, t’ give ye th’ word. An some of “em could go, any time, is what I heard some of them docs an’ folks at that ol’ County R”ceivin’ Hospital, there.

“And it was that main facility of Montgomery county which took ALL the survivors in, is that also your report?” Lanier asked, glancing over his shoulder at the French doors closed between him and the Royal Suite.

“Yes, sir, that’s it. Guess some few dozen of “em got shunted on over t’ th’ County jail by this time, as th’ hospital ain’t got nearly enough space they can keep that many crazies shut up in. Guess those’d be the worst of them loonies, y’see, that couldn’t be kept where there was y” know, reg’lar sick folks.” The blond added, shrugging.

“You GUESS that SOME of those two hundred and eighty nine survivors of the asylum fire are now incarcerated wherever it is that Montgomery County keeps it’s criminally insane?” Lanier demanded, his thick grey eyebrows flying up in dismay. “You’re bringing me mere conjectures now? How dare you, my man? I require EXACTING figures. I require EXPLICIT reports! I have paid you exceptionally well for the information I require and you bring me speculation? You bring me surmise?”

“Umm, no, no, sir.” The informant frowned, scratching his head. “I brung you what I found out from th’ fellows I know who clerk for th’ constables up there, an’ from fellows who work orderly duty for th’ County, too. Oh, now I get it, you’re wantin’ t’ know how many of of them real bad off crazies went from th’ hospital t’ th’ County hoosegow up there? Oh, that’s easy, th’ County jail ain’t got room for more n’ sixty fellows t’ be held, most of th’ time. An’ when it comes t’ dangerous loonies like these, they could only take in forty-six, an’ that there, that many was pushin’ it some. So that’s th’ rest of what I brung ye, today.”

“Th’ rest of them real bad off loonies, th’ touchiest ones of th’ lot, they got took all th’ way down t’ some kinda clinical place over in Richmond, I found out. An’ that’s the craziest part o” what I found out for ye, sir. Cause some of them orderly-boys an’ some of them clerks they told me that this place is some kinda ... shrunk down hospital... only they used some other kinda ... they called it a hospis, that’s it! An’ then they told me th’ danged craziest part of the whole crazed shebang!

They told me th’ fella that runs this place, this hospis place down in Richmond, come all th’ way from Californy to Bal’more, nigh onta two years back. An they told me this same fella ain’t even full grown, like he’s a troll or a danged imp or somethin’! An’ then they told me somethin’ even nuttier than all that! They said this little fella was a real honest t’ G-d Doc, but he… he’s got some kinda odd name… some furrin-like sorta name… somethin like Day Sirbantees…

I don’t know none of that furrin talk, so I cain’t “xactly get m’ mouth around stuff like that. And this here, this is the most crazed thing they told me: This Day Sirbantees… they said he was locked up that asylum, himself there for nigh onta two years, an’ he told em’ t’ lock him up there! Like he wanted t’ be shut up inside that place! Now how could anybody b’lieve a thing like that, I ask ye?”

Lanier sighed, glancing over his shoulder again, grimacing at this confirmation of another report he’d had from informants in both Baltimore and Richmond. Doctor Miguel Raul Enrique de Cervantes de Olvidad y sin Amor was a well known and very troublesome figure to himself and his major client, but this street buffoon had no need to know that. “And how many of the former inmates of the burned out asylum, PRECISELY HOW MANY were taken to this supposed hospice in Richmond, my man?”

“Oh, they only took twenty eight of them loonies down there. I heard tell that fellow that runs th’ place wanted to take more of them crazies outa th’ County-lock up. But them damn fools up in Bal’mre wouldn’t let loose of any more nut cases till he proves he could do somethin’ for th’ ones he just took. Now, that’s all I got for ye, today, mister. So now, can I get th’ rest of my pay?” The blond answered, wondering who was behind the French doors his employer kept glancing at.

“I have it here for you, my man. There is only one further question, well only one, that is, if you’re able to read.” Lanier replied, and held a sheet of paper out for the informant to see.

“I can read good, plain English, if that’s what ye got.” The blond grumbled, glancing at the list of names on the paper. “So what?”

“Watch your tone with me, you fool, or I will arrange for you to be locally incarcerated. Look at this list and tell me if one of the two names at the bottom are the names of former inmates sent to this supposed hospice in Richmond or not. The two names at the bottom, my man!” Lanier demanded, pointing out what he wanted his informant to read.

“Jo...Jawnathin... North Trayhirn?” The blond read aloud. “Nope, he warn’t on th’ list I saw at th’ County hoosegow. “But that last one, I seen his name, for sure. Yep, one of them crazies that got sent t’ that place in Richmond was on th’ list I saw as bein’ called Jaymes Torrins Keeren West!”

“Very well. Take your pay and begone. I will send to the usual place, General Delivery in Baltimore, if there is any further need of your resources, my man. You, on the other hand will not contact me, or even acknowledge our prior business arrangements. To do so, my good fellow would be well worth your pitiable life. Am I entirely understood?” Lanier asked, holding out a pouch heavy with cash.

“Oh, yes, just entirely, yes, sir.” The blond grinned and took off for the nearest tavern. He was drunk as a lord within an hour. He was dead as a doornail within two.

“That was well done, Aubrey, I am quite genuinely pleased.” Gideon Boudin told his protégé when word came back to the Royal Suite of the evening’s business being concluded.

“I’m always delighted to be of service, Dearest Sir.” Lanier replied, bowing to the man who both funded and formed his antebellum succDubbyuhs in the booming regeneration of Atlanta. “I will admit, I was concerned, on learning that young madman had been entirely removed from Montgomery County’s facilities. I was delighted to find you were not ... discomfited over much by that news.”

“It occurred to us to be ... concerned, just at first.” Boudin agreed. “But having achieved most of our other goals as regards that crumbling old compound, we found ourselves more than a little relieved. Not only have the Federals been cheated of making any use whatever of our former property there. But the fire ensured they would find not so much as a trace of any records that might otherwise have come into their grasping Yankee hands! And we had come to the point where all the efforts we made to keep things as they were became ... terribly enervating.”

“Well naturally it was, my dearest friend!” Lanier exclaimed, bowing again and grinning widely. “You are, after all, a Southron gentleman of the First Water, a true born aristocrat, a nobleman, a king!”

“An as yet unthroned, uncrowned king, my dear.” Boudin smiled back, nodding. “But even though it might seem to ourTrue Enemies that I have been thwarted once again, kept back from achieving our Shining Destiny, that is not the case. Even now, both our dearest Torry and our True enemies very likely believe they are done with the Great Work once and for all, and with the One.
Now, even though they know us not, they will release their fears. Now they will relax all the vigilance they’ve exercised, they will let down their guard. And once we’ve fought off this bothersome enervation will come back to my Work, renewed, reinvigorated, and ready for a Final “Campaign’, as it were. And I will prevail. Oh, yes, dear friend, we will, as surely as wealways knew our Destiny to be inevitable, inexorable, and ultimately triumphant, prevail over them all!” 8WWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW

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SS novice field agent

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Posted - 02/09/2009 :  12:40:51  Show Profile
SCENE TWENTY Washington DC Train station. Four days after the fire.

“Wees be goin’ on home nows, Poppa? Wees can came on home, nows? Poppa? Wees reelly can?” Another of the Ls, called Wondrin’, asked Artemus as the whole team left one train for another on their way south to Richmond. But as he’d done, during this entire journey this child-spirit, was once more speaking and acting within the thin frame of their ‘oldest’ brother, Jim West. And that shift back to the way he’d seen and talked to the Companies for most of the last year had Artie a bit unnerved.

“Well, no, Torry, I’m sorry, no, not right away, we can’t...” The former actor admitted, rolling his eyes and wishing he’d not promised these same children he wouldn’t lie to them, months ago.

Suddenly downcast, the child began to tear up, shaking his head and finally sobbing, rocking himself in pure, abject misery. In another moment, before Artie, Miguel or anyone else in the group could say another word, Wondrin’ was wailing, curling his arms tight against his chest, tears falling like a summer rainstorm.

“Torry, don’t, child, don’t cry so, son.” Artie as Stephen asked, putting one big hand on each of the child’s shoulders, his wide, dark eyes bright with tears. “Torry, we already talked about where we’re going today, don’t you recall? Maybe you just got too tired out with all this traveling, that’s all, and too excited... But, Torry, son, have you forgot what Poppa said?”

Incoherently at first, not really seeming to understand the question, Wondrin’ mumbled, sniffled and finally sobbed out the source of his despair. “Poppa, Poppa, Torrys cain’t came on home nows? M’ sorry, Poppa, m’ reelly sorry, don’ wanna cry like babies... But, Poppa, Torrys does be wants so veriest many much to came on home! Plees, Poppa, plees, why Torrys cain’t came home? Wees wanna be gud boys nows, Poppa! Wees wanta be “bedien, be quiyat, be steil... be gud boys... so can came on home, plees! Poppa, why Torrys cain’t be came on home nows you camed t’ fyn yous Torrys? Plees, Poppa, why cain’t? Torrys wazz nogud, veriest bad boys “gen?”

“No, Torry, that’s not it, not it at all.” Artemus/Stephen said, hugging the child and trying to reassure him. Then he stepped back, just the least bit, and led the child inside his best friend over to the closest bench in the station. “Son, that’s not it. And that’s what Poppa thought he told you when we first got on the reelly trains... So, now I’ll tell you all over again, that’s all, that’s easy, Torry. But can you ... can you take a big breath, sit down here with me, mebbee blow your nose, and listen really well, really listen good to your old Poppa, now?”

“Wees can, Poppa.” Wondrin’ nodded, sniffling and rubbing his whole face vigorously with the handkerchief Artie gave him. “Wees be lissen... “

“There, there, that’s my good, good boy.” The older man smiled, surprised again by how these children brought up a wellspring of affection in him.”Now here’s the thing, Torry. You know it’s still wintertime, now, don’t you, son? Yes, of course you do. Well, Torry, it’s been... a very hard winter, down to home we’ve already had lots and lots of windstorms, that’s all, and we’ve had to close up and we’ve had to board up your Gramma’s and your uncle Jimmy’s house, and the little house down by the harbor, too.

Now, we’ve done all that before lots of times, Torry. So, you’ll remember, how funny Gramma’s house looks with those big wooden boards on all her windows and acroSsthe doors, I know. But it keeps the house safe in those winter storms, and to keep you and me and ... all your cousins safe from those storms, we used to go on up to your Aunt Joanna’s house in Alexandria, every other year. But this year, we’re going to Miguel and Antoinette’s house, because your Aunt Joanna ... went visiting down to Raleigh, to see her sister, there, that’s all.”

“And, well, there’s something more, son, and it was going to be a surprise for you, but ... well here’s the thing, Torry. When the storms let up this year, your cousins and our friends down to home are going to do a lot of work on Gramma’s house. You see, we decided, your Grampa Jaimey, Jimmy and I, to build it up all new, again, Torry, instead of just piecing and patching and spackling, the way we’ve done before.

So we’re building on some big, airy bedrooms downstairs for the summertime. And we’re fixing the whole porch up, just like new. And Torry, we’re putting a new staircase inside, with a wonderful, shiny, curving banister just the kind you and Pauly and Jeanny like so much to slide on. And your uncle Jimmy’s even making the summer kitchen much bigger for us, with its own porch all around, for parties and such in ... warm weather. Now how does that sound to you, son?”

”Gud, Poppa, it souns gud.” Wondrin’ agreed, with a teary smile. “Wees wuld like dat. An’ wees can hev a new swing fer playin’ ... on th’ porch, yes, Poppa? An’ wees can’ be play tens’ an’ sojers dere, on dat new porch fing, when it wuld be rained, yes, Poppa?”

“Yes, you surely can, when you feel better, Torry. You always liked to sit out on the veranda when it’s raining, don’t you, son? You like the way the rain clears the air and makes everything fresh and green, again, don’t you?” Artie as Stephen asked, recalling how Jim in fact liked very much to go tramping in the kind of misting rain that came down off the hills behind his grandmother’s home or the fog that rolled in off the Chesapeake.

“So for now, we’re going to Miguel’s house for ... a while. It’s warmer there, Torry and quieter, and ... well, just nicer, that’s all. Wouldn’t you like that, Torry?”

“Mee-gel has him a house, Poppa? Mee-gel has hims own veriest own house, Poppa?” Wondrin’ asked, his bright eyes wide again.

“Yes, he and Ani have a fine big house down near Richmond now, Torry. Our good, quiet Tommy went to see it, only last month, and Jacs has been there quite a lot. They told me Miguel’s house has lots of huge rooms, high windows, great big fireplaces, Torry, a greenhouse and ... a little zoo, I heard. Is that right, Miguel?” Artemus asked, his own eyes twinkling.

“Mee-gel!” The child exclaimed. “Yous gots a reelly zoo?”

“Well, yes, Torry, I suppose you could say ... that it’s a zoo, a rather small one.” Miguel grimaced, not too pleased with Artie’s description of his four-legged housemates as a “zoo”.

“So while Gramma’s and Jimmy’s houses are all closed up and while they’re under repair, Torry, you and I will go on down to Richmond, and stay with Antoinette and Miguel, that’s all. And whenever they can come, Tommy, and Jacs, Jeremy, and Jemmy, all our friends will come to see us, there. And while we’re there, son, we’ll help you get all better, too. We’ll all help you get stronger, Torry, so you can run and play, again, like Littles should.” Artie grinned.

“But Poppa, how does, how’m gettin’ stronger?” Wondrin’ asked, as always coming up with more new questions. “Wees still be lots of tiredy, an’ still gots skeeredys, still gots skeer-dreems, an’, den wees no be many much of sleepy, an’ den wees no be much of hundry, mos’ly...”

“Well, I know that, Torry, I surely do.” Artemus answered, nodding to Miguel and Jacques as they all recognized the cycle that kept all the brothers ill for nearly three years now. “And we’ll just have to find a way, son, that’s all. We’ll just have to. We’ll just... bring you things you’ll like to eat, Torry, that’s all. We’ll get some late apples, and mebbee some of your Aunt Joanna’s fine peaches and plums that she always puts up, and her plum-cakes, of course... And... I think Antoinette will surely know some things little boys like ... Do you remember how much you liked those scuppernong grapes your Carolina cousins grew, and made their best jams with, when you were ... littler, Torry? Do you think you still like them?”

“Dunno, Poppa.” The child shook his head, clearly tired out. “But finks wees does still liked some of ovver stuffs.”

”Well, let’s go on, get on the train and make ourselves a list of eatables you’d like, Torry. And what would be best for you to have. C’mon, son, we’ve only got this one more train to catch...” Artie urged, and once more helped the child-man board the train, heading south from Washington to Richmond. As he had for days now, the child spent the train trip half asleep, either curled up next to Miguel, or leaning on Artemus’ strong shoulder. Like most children he tended to resist genuinely sleeping. Unlike most children, it was the terror of dreams his companions heard him cry out in time and time again, that were plaguing this child-man more and more now, that kept him awake.

“Torry, son, let’s try that list again, now.” Artemus/Stephen suggested, as the child seemed unable to rest at all on this last leg of their journey. ‘sometimes just tryin’ to recall that sort of thing can make you sleepy, son. C’mon on, now, Torry, won’t you tell Poppa what you’d like us to find ... what foods you’d truly like?”

“Wees liked crackers, Poppa, an’ sugared cookees, wees liked pea soups, an wees liked dem crahdadds, an’ rices, an’ stews an’ muffins.” Wondrin’ answered, with a weary smile. “An’ wees liked rice puddins’, an’ peach pies, pecan pies, wif whipped up creems, an’ popovers, wees liked dem veriest much... Wees liked crunchy sweet omyums, Poppa, an’ applees, an’ johnny cakes, an’ chops an’ maters, an’ PLUM-CAKES!

Wees liked fried up chickens, smashed tatoes, wif gravees, an’ saniches, wif butters, applees butters an’ appleesaus, an’ carrits, an’ NOODLEES, an BEEEN SOUPS, an’ oatmeels wif raisins in, an’ toasts wif butters, an’ RAISINS BREDS, Poppa, An’ wees likd many much lem’nades, an’ milky teas, an’ lem’ny teas, an’ cohfees! An’ Poppa, Torrys wuld veriest much liked eatin’ some of birfday cakes like Gramma Je maked, wif chocolates all drizzled over top, an’ yella cakes an’ rice puddins insides... Torrys Littles had us a birfday, Poppa, wees did! Wees an’ fi” nows, no fourahalf, not no more!”

“Not fourahalf, no, no you’re not.” Artie answered, turning away for just a moment. Once again, the affection he once denied feeling for these children welled up like a geyser within him. They’d given him their highest trust, and for all the best reasons he could think of, he was essentially, breaking that trust in pieces.
But what choice do I have? What choice did I have, when there was no time left to talk about how we’d get them safely out of that ... madhouse? There’s going to be HELL to pay, when this is over, IF it’s ever over. But what choice do I have? Someone else, not just Aynsley, but someone else these children, and their brothers STILL CANNOT NAME already impersonated their father, and then abandoned them to a living hell! I can’t do what those monsters did! And I won’t!

“Torry, son, I’ll work a deal with you.” Artemus finally said, the way he’d heard Stephen West say, a few hundred times at least. “If you will eat what Poppa, and Ani, Miguel and Jacs and all our friends bring that’s good for you, and will help you get strong again, that will help us to help you sleep better and chase off those scare dreams. And if you will do your best to rest when you get tired out, and to tell us when you have a scare, if you will do all that for Poppa, then I think we can probably ask your Aunt Joanna to make a little cake, the kind you like best. Now, what do you think of all that, Torry? Will you work that deal with me?”

The child-man made a pinched face and sighed very deeply, clearly mimicking Artie’s somber manner. “Haveta eats dem ol’ lyma beens, nows, Poppa?”

“No, no, Torry.” Artie laughed. “No lima beans. I don’t ... I don’t much care for those, myself, truth be told. Now, how about our deal?”

“Wees makt dis deel, yes, Poppa, wees weel, but may bees t’morry, Poppa, wees veriest many much of sleepees, nows.” The child nodded, and once more leaned against Artemus’ strong left shoulder, finally falling asleep.
SCENE TWENTY ONE Isle d’ Tresor, Antoinette, Micah, and Miguel’s home and clinic, near Richmond.

“Maman! Maman! Mon pere est venu, il est arrive maintenant, et avec lui sont a venir Jacques, Thomas, Temus et Torry!” Micah de Cervantes, all of five and a half years old called out to Antoinette, too excited to remember he was becoming nearly as fluent in his third language, English, as he already was in his first and second, French and Spanish.

“Oui, mais oui, ils sont ici, mon petit. Alors, s’il tu plait, Michee, mon cheri, descends de ton perche dans cette fenetre, et sont aidez-moi saluer ton Papa, et tous nos amis. Ils doivent en effet, etre fatigue, non, apres un si dur voyage? And please, Micah Diego, try to remember that not all of our friends speak L’ Francaise ou Espanol, so we will speak to them in their English.”

“Oui, maman... Yes, mommy, Micah Diego will that remember and speak l’ Anglaise Americaine with our friends.” The strawberry blond, wide grey eyed little boy nodded, and rushed down from his watching post on the landing. He was grinning from ear to ear, Antoinette thought, exactly the same way Miguel did when he was especially proud of one accomplishment or other. Watching her husband using two canes to come up the walk to their home, and still struggling, Antoinette didn’t think Miguel looked either proud or happy, or accomplished, just now, only exhausted.

And as always, when Miguel reached her, and pulled Antoinette into his arms, it seemed he could read her thoughts as clearly as words on a page. “Ma plus cher femme, I am not on the point of collapse, only somewhat road-weary.” Miguel chided her before she could chide him. “It has taken a full day longer than I hoped or expected it would, just to come home, and ...”

“And I would be just as glad, mon plus cher mari, if you had taken yet one more day, rather than driving yourself in this manner.” Antoinette scolded, in turn. She would have continued her text quite a bit longer, too, if Micah Diego hadn’t chosen that moment to launch himself at Miguel, hugging his father rather fiercely.

“Papa, Papa, I’m awful glad you’re home again!” Micah exclaimed, holding onto his father. “I was missin’you awful, Papa. You won’t be away so awful long, again, will you?”

“I have no plans to go anywhere, not for a very long while, m’ijo, don’t worry.” Miguel answered, chuckling at the little boy’s awkward English, and hugging his son in return, just as fiercely, despite his weariness. In fact coming home seemed to have lifted the bulk of his exhaustion entirely off his shoulders. “Instead, I’ve brought some friends to stay here with you and your madre and I. Thomas and Jacques you already know from their visits here while I was away. But you haven’t met Torry and Temus who’ve come with them from Lord Baltimore’s City.”

Suddenly struck by shyness, Micah drew back, and whispered to his parents. “But Papa, when you sended your letters to maman, you said Torry was a little boy, like Micah Diego. And I only see grown folks that came with you, now. Where’s Torry? Where’s he?”

“I’m Torry, Micah.” Jim West said, bending down on one knee, to be more at the small boy’s level, having emerged from the brother’s latest nap on the Richmond bound train. That’s what my grandma called me, starting when I was very little, much littler than you are now, in fact. From what I hear, you’re going to be thirty-six, and open up your own clinic, on your next birthday, isn’t that right?”

Micah giggled, sounding to Jim very much like his father. “No, Torry! I’m going to be SIX on my birthday, that’s in July! And I’m going to have a mic...micra... a ‘scope for seeing the tiniest things ever, like maman has, and a tel...tela... a ‘nother ‘cope for looking at stars, like mi padre, too!” Now the little boy turned from smiling at Jim to staring up at Artemus. “Well, if HE’s Torry, then you ... Are you Temus?” Micah demanded to know. “Are YOU the one mi padre used to fight with so much?”

‘Micah Raul Santo Iago de Cervantes y Marais!” Antoinette gasped, reaching for her son.

“No, it’s alright, Antoinette, it’s okay.” Artie said, kneeling down to look Micah in the eye, as Mac helped Jim get back to his feet. “Micah, I used to fight a whole lot of people, including your father. But we made an agreement not to fight any more, your father and I, an armistice, something like General Grant made with General Lee, a few years back. So, right now I’m only here to help my friend... Torry, if that’s alright with you and your maman, of course.”

“But you don’t call your friend Torry, do you?” Micah probed. “You stopped and started again, and maman says that means ...”

“Micah Diego, this is not the time or the place! For one thing it’s far too windy and cold out here on the stoop to start questioning our friend Temus .” Miguel protested, frowning at his son and yet delighted by his quick perception.

“No, no, I think we’d better settle all this, right now, Miguel.” Jim answered, shaking his head. Then he knelt again, and reached out in the direction he’d heard Micah’s voice, until the little boy grasped Jim’s hand. “Micah, you’re right, my friend Artemus usually calls me Jim. That’s because when I was born, I was named for my uncle Jimmy. So I have more than one name, like you do. My name, which you might have heard from your parents before now, is James Torrance Kieran West. And the truth is, I used to fight the same people Artemus did, until a few years ago. We both ... disagreed with your Papa, at the time.
But, after I got pretty badly hurt, and needed a lot of help to get well, that’s when Thomas and Jacques and Artemus, and a few more of our friends asked your father to help me get better, again. And your father agreed. And with all of their help I AM getting better, now. And we’re not fighting with him, now. We’re not going to, not anymore, ever. And I owe you a lot...especially because while he was helping me, your father stayed in Baltimore, instead of staying here with you and Antoinette. And I hope you and I can be friends, because it was very good, and very brave of you, to share su padre with me for such a long while.”

Micah was still staring at Jim’s scarred, blind green eyes, and being a child he couldnt keep from blurting out even more questions. “No puedes verme? Estas ciego, Torry? Sus ojos duele?”

“No, Micah, no puedo ver. Pero no, mis ojos no han herido a ... un buen tiempo.” Jim answered, and shrugged. “It’s been quite a while since my eyes hurt at all. Which is... well, I suppose it’s good news, in a way.”

“O, lo siento mucho, Torry.” Micah said, patting Jim’s hand, that easily held both his own. “And I’m glad to be your friend. You should come inside, now.”

“Oui, vraiment, mon petit! Gentilhommes, bien venu a Isle d’ Tresor. Entrez, s’il vous plait.” Antoinette laughed, then turned more serious as Jim stood up again, with Artie lending a hand, this time. Taking Jim’s arm, as if he were helping her inside, rather than the other way around, Antoinette leaned closer to the young agent. “It is I and mon cher mari who remain in your debt, I believe.” Micah’s mother quietly told Jim. “We would not have our petit fils, our Micah, if not for your intervention some years past at that riverbank, near Sacramento. So, no more talk of you being our debtor, s’il tu plait? In truth, we are yours. And that is Miguel’s sentiment, Torry, as much as my own.”

“Well, that’s what he told me... just a few weeks ago. And I was raised never to argue with a lady, so I won’t. Thank you for opening your home to ... all of us. From what I’ve heard, it’s really something.” Jim answered, thinking he must sound like a mealy mouthed bureaucrat.

“It’s very pleasant and quiet, and I think we’ve made it comfortable, too. For now, please come into the library, mes amis. It’s just over to your right about seven paces, Torry. We’ll have the l’ grande tour, when you’ve rested.” Antoinette smiled, as they walked into the foyer. She was thinking her former adversary and Miguel’s was trying as hard as he could to be truly pleasant and charming under extremely difficult conditions.” But there is one question I’m too curious to hold back.”

“Ask away.” Jim smiled, listening to the way the smooth flooring made their voices echo. “I’m all ears, these days.”

“Please, gentilhommes, make yourselves comfortable.” Antoinette said before she went back to her question. “You are our guests here, and I promise you, there are no dangerous implements or devices within these walls. We are at peace, and mean to remain so.”

“As do we, Madame.” Jacques answered, at a nod from Mac.

“Let us have peace.” Artemus added, quoting the President. “What was your question for James, if I may ask?”

“I suppose mon mari already knows the answer. But, Torry, you speak Spanish really quite well, so I am curious to know how that came about?” Antoinette asked, lightly touching Miguel’s arm, as if to reassure herself he was home.

“Oh, that’s easy, really. My grandfather Daffyd West emigrated from Caerlon in Wales to Texas, as a young man. He raised my father, and his brothers and sisters near San Antonio, in fact. And most of that side of my family still lives in that region. My uncles Davey and Morgan, my aunts Jenn, Merey and Eleri all live nearby. And my cousins Dai, Tegan, Denny, Evan, Taryn and Rhianna live on and run the horse-breeding ranch my grandfather started down there, together, when they’re not working as almost the only doctors and horse doctors in the county.
And when Granddad got there, of course, it was all still part of Mexico. Well, my grandmother West, Grandma Merey, was a schoolteacher, with a pretty good ear for languages... I think she just naturally picked up Spanish and taught it to ... all her kids and grandkids. DID you know that part of my biography, Miguel?” Jim chuckled, turning in the direction he could hear Miguel playing with Micah.

“Some of it, surely.” Miguel grinned. “But new data is always welcome additions to your dossier. Now, please excuse me, friends. I am going to take my son, who I have missed a very great deal, upstairs for a while. Micah Diego also needs to show me all his latest inventions and theorems, you see. Antoinette, ma plus cher, et plus belle reine Anne, I assume you wish to remain with our guests, in order to revive your shameful flirting with Thomas and Jacques from their previous visits?”

“Oh, mais oui, mon cher roi Louis! But you seem to forget my stated intention of flirting quite SHAMELESSLY in fact, with l’ bon Duc de Buckingham, et M’sieur Capitaine-Lieutenant Athos, equally as much as with their confreres, Messieurs Porthos et Aramis.” Antoinette laughed, gesturing to each of the newcomers in turn.

Jim chuckled at this announcement, shaking his head, while Artie peered at Antoinette for a moment as if she’d started speaking one of the very few languages he didn’t have by heart, and then started to laugh, himself. Mac Macquillan sighed, seeing where this conversation was headed. And Jacques, always the courtier at heart, swept Antoinette a true Musketeer’s bow.

“Wait, err, that is, pardonez moi, ma cher reine,” Artie finally said, when he stopped laughing. “I thought when all that Musketeer role play first started up, which was a good six or seven years ago, at some kind of fancy dress costume ball...I had D’artagnan, not Athos? Jim had Athos, in fact. And Frank, Frank Harper got Porthos ... for the obvious jibe. If I may ask, just when, and why, did the roles get switched around?”

“Well, Frank’s a little busy, up in the District, just now, Artie.” Mac said with a chuckle. “He’s working just as hard as he can to keep the President from making him the next Director of the Service! But I really don’t think our Quaker’s going to win THIS skirmish.”

“I wouldn’t give very good odds on that one, myself.” Jim smiled and shook his head, while his partners, as well as Miguel and Antoinette all watched intently, to see who would emerge. “Anyway, Temus is right, MrsDocAni, flirtin’ and playin’ parlor games wasn’t the reason all this Queen Anne” an’ King Louie, an’ ...Musketeerin’ talk got started. DocM, you were just havin’ some laughs back then, weren’t you?

You were usin’ it to plague Oldest and Tinny, and ...oww! TM, will you please go somewhere and grow a sense of humor, already? Oh, m’ sorry, forgot I oughta be introducin’ m’self, I’m just, I’m just called Boy, from W Company, mostly. But some of the Ls say it used t’ be I was called Pretty Boy... Anyway, DocM, weren’t you kinda makin’ fun of Oldest’ an’ Tin, and ... Temus an’ them fellas, when you started this up. And there was somethin’ else ... somethin’ more to it than just that, am I right?”

“There was indeed.” Miguel grinned. ‘there was to be a MAGNIFICENT jewel heist, far, far beyond the dreams of avarice, was putting it mildly. You see my legal fees at that time were rather stupendous, and not likely to get any smaller. So when Antoinette and I found ourselves in upstate New York that winter which was actually more like eight years ago now, we needed a ... new source of funds. And so we invested a great deal of time, energy and so forth making friends in that region, the playground of the infamous “400”. And of course, one of those friends was the governor of New York at that point, a man whose name I cannot seem to recall. In fact, ma cher femme and I were making a great show just then, of becoming as entirely legitimate, beneficial, ordinary citizens as we are in fact, today.

And together we devised a scheme by which the rather top-heavy economic structure of the entire East Coast establishment would have been turned quite upside down, with a single night’s work. It was meant to be the crowning wonder of my career as a master criminal... as I was being described just then. And more important, it was intended to keep Antoinette and myself in the manner to which we had rarely been accustomed, for any great length of time. Oh, indeed, it would have been glorious, and glorious fun!”

“But it didn’t happen that way. Not if I’m remembering it right.” Artie added.

“And you are. And it was not your Service, or any other agency of the crushing local, county, state or federal government which put the quietus to our grand plan. No, it was those wretched, avaricious, profligate robber barons and baronesses! And I can tell you, Antoinette and I were terribly disillusioned. Those, those ... so called high society matrons and industrial titans, those playboys and heiresses and ... modern age moguls, all were as fraudulent, all as spurious, and all as false as I had ever been in my entire career, up to that painful point! In other words, they were, all and each of them, economically as well as morally, bankrupt, and in debt up to their paste earrings and tie clips!” Miguel frowned.

“Wait!” Mac exclaimed. “The 400? You’re saying the richest families on the East Coast, were ...broke? Are you sure you aren’t exaggerating there, a bit?”

“A bit perhaps.” Miguel agreed, grinning again. “However, they were also so egregiously penurious as to refuse to wear decent jewels to their fine cotillions, their balls, operas, horse races, yacht clubs and banquets. It was quite frustrating.”

“I’d have to guess so.” Boy offered, chuckling at the story.

“And you’d be right. Those cheapskates, those ... liars and cheats, always wore paste, as I said. They only wore paste diamonds and aquamarines, paste topazes and emeralds, paste sapphires, rubies and opals, all of it, nothing but dried glue!”

“So, how DID you recoup the expenses of your plot to steal all the diamonds, topazes, etc, etc, of those rich families?” Boy asked.

“Antoinette is the one who came up with the answer to that. And so she shall explain. Go ahead, ma cher.” Miguel urged.

“Merci, mon cher. It seemed quite simple, when I came upon the solution. I realized there was only one way those small minded, ungenerous people could be persuaded to make a showing of their genuine, however ill-gotten jewels. And that was a charity auction, to be held in the midst of a brilliant, extraordinarily inventive costume ball. And as soon as I realized what must be done, I saw that the ball I envisioned would have to have the most opulent, most amazing of settings:
It would have to be a superb re-creation of the court Queen Anne of Austria, and her King, Louis XIII of La Belle France, as portrayed in the novels of Dumas pere et fils. And so we arranged it. And the ball, and the whole enterprise was such a succeSsthat those prosaic, pedestrian New Yorkers have tried to reconstruct my Grande Ball every year since then.” Antoinette smiled. “And knowing that at least a few of our “friends’ from the Secret Service were quite likely to attend my ball, Miguel and I duly sent out very special invitations.”

“Now, those invitations are what I remember best.” Jacques smiled. “Because they were in the form of Royal orders, calling each of the Musketeers into attendance. Mine was addressed, within the envelope, to M’sieur Lieutenant-Capitaine Aramis, of Her Majesty’s Musketeers, ordering his attendance. Frank’s, as Artemus pointed out, called for him to come to the ball in the role of Porthos...”

“Yeah, and the invitation Oldest got demanded he come as Capitaine-Lieutenant Athos, of Her Majesty’s Musketeers.” Boy added.

“And my invitation ‘ordered’ me to appear as D’artagnan.” Artie finished, rolling his eyes.

“And at the “charity auction’ in the middle of that ball,” Boy offered, “you ‘auctioned’ as many of those genuine pieces of priceless jewelry as you could, right into your own bank account?”

“Oui, precisement.” Antoinette nodded, smiling at him.

“But the Governor of New York, at that time wasn’t just a friend of yours, Doctor. He was pretty much in your back pocket, isn’t that right?” Artie asked.

“Very uncomfortably so, yes. We were quite glad to be rid of that bothersome fellow, I assure you, once we returned to my grandmother’s estate, Los Miraboles. And he was indicted for mail fraud and numerous other kinds of malfeasance soon afterwards, as I recall.” Miguel agreed.

“And because the others, the 400 willingly ‘sold’ their jewelry at auction, they couldn’t press charges against you two?” Mac asked.

“Oh they had not one leg to stand on, in a criminal case. Some of them actually had the nerve to sue us, in the aftermath. But those suits failed, just as they’ve failed, in every succeeding year to recreate Antoinette’s ball.”

“So, to go back to my question,” Artie prodded, “why have you changed our roles in that whole Dumas, pere scenario?”

“Because we all have changed considerably, in the interim, have we not, M’sieur Gordon?” Antoinette asked.

“Well, yes, I suppose so.” Artie shrugged, unsatisfied.

Boy frowned and shook his head wearily as another of the brothers emerged, with a courtier’s bow to “Queen Anne”. “Pardonez moi, ma cher reine, I’m known as Athos, Capitaine-Lieutenant of Her Majesty’s Musketeers, from V Company. And I’m still not sure I entirely understand. You’ve given Oldest Torry Buckingham’s role now, which I’m sure my confrere amongst the Veterans will protest. But as already noted, that was not your first choice for ... Oldest.”

“Non, m’sieur,” Antoinette agreed, watching the change with great interest and no small pity. “When this particular “play” began, Torry was cast as the saddened, skeptical Athos.”

“She’s flattering you, m’sieur, or flattering Oldest Torry, I should say.” Miguel protested, chuckling. “He was cast as Athos because he often seemed entirely disinterested in courtly manners and mannerisms, at that time. The main objection however at the time to his taking on the role of Buckingham was a certain deficit in his ability to counterfeit an English accent, and the fact that he’d somewhere acquired a decent smattering of French. Jacques, mon docteur ami, you were the one who taught Torry French, isn’t that so as I’ve long conjectured?”

“Non, mon ami. Jim first learned French, enough to speak it fairly well in boarding school, and to read technical armament manuals in French and German while a cadet at West Point.” Jacques grinned and tapped Athos on the shoulder. “However, during some of earliest assignments, I was able to coach our mutual friend on the finer points of our Quebecois colloquialisms. He was, in fact, quite an apt and willing student in that regard.”

“That’s right, I remember that!” Artie chuckled. “Jacques, being the low, depraved old roue that he is, taught Jim all the right phrases to use when you want to … ahem, make a pretty girl smile at you, up in Old Quebec!”

“Mon ami, are you implying that I neglected somehow to share the same ahem, cultural information with you, when we had work to do in Mon’real?” Jacques laughed.

“I’m implying no such thing. I already knew all I needed to know as far as that sort of culture is concerned, before I was twelve years old.” Artie grinned. “But we got off the subject again. Now that you’ve explained how Jim went from playing Athos to Buckingham, what about the rest of us? How did you make those “casting decisions, I’d really like to know.”

“Bien sur. “ Miguel agreed, and went on. “Our friend Jacques was given the role of Aramis, because of his profoundly poetic, spiritual nature…” The small doctor continued, only to have Mac and Artie roll their eyes and groan. “And of course, that choice was also made because of his ill luck in the old game of cherchez les femmes. Since that time, we’ve heard nothing to dispute the reasons for that decision, j” regret, mon ami.

And as you said, the absent Mr. Harper was our Porthos by way of making a jibe at his persistently spare frame. We’ve given that role to Thomas now, as befits a man with his renowned epicurean tastes, and classic New England temperament. And as you were the newest team member just then, Mr. Gordon, we cast you as D’artagnan. We felt you had a similarly daring quality, and a keen eye for beauty as well.

But our feeling is now, that the changes we’ve seen make it more appropriate you should take on Athos. That’s meant as a compliment, by the way, Mr. Gordon, to your skill in adopting a courtly manner at the drop of a ladies’ handkerchief. Of course you could take on one of the more interesting, fine, swashbuckling roles of those stories: such as the friend of Mme. de Winter, de Roquefort, the Captain of the Cardinal’s guards, or that balefully clever Richelieu.”

” De Roquefort always seemed like a fun-loving kind of guy to me.” Artie quipped, rolling his dark eyes. “So I’ll accept a turn as Athos, and then have a go at ‘milady’s friendly henchman’, on condition I can try out for Richelieu, too, when my turn comes around. He’s the real mover and shaker in this story, unless of course you’re going to take the whole thing forward a few decades, and go for the Man in the Iron Mask. Then we’d need a Mazzarin, a Fouquet and a Colbert! Also, M’sieur Capitaine, as I’ve been wanting to point out for a little while now, it’s hardly fair for one person to take over ALL FOUR Musketeers, AND Buckingham.”

“Ah, now that you will have to take up with L Company, mon ami.” Athos laughed, a bit sadly. “They found it a good idea at the time. And when you consider Buckingham’s historical sad fate, as well as his impossible love for Queen Anne, and then Aramis’, a failed priest, Porthos, a hedonist in truth, and my own taste in women... After all, “I” married ‘Milady de Winter once, that’s not much of a bonus. And of course, when D’artagnan, meaning our brother, m’sieur, starts up with that horrid Gascony accent and astonishing naivete, someone MUST be there to clonk the poor country lad on the noggin, which we do, on a regular basis. However, we are still left with the question of WHY you moved Oldest Torry from the role of Athos to that of Buckingham, ma plus belle reine Anne?”

“Par ces’t que, Torry, everybody, always, always loves maman!” Micah crowed, beaming as he looked from one of the grown folks to another. “And papa knows that, so he says everybody must be in love with maman, just like Papa and Micah Diego. And maman readed me some of those old, funny stories, with sword fightings and queens and miladies, and everything, and there was that old Bucking...Duc, he loved Queen Anne, and THAT’s maman!”

Athos nodded, smiling directly at the little boy who all the Companies knew they owed a huge debt to. And then another of the brothers emerged, making a profound bow to Micah, Antoinette and Miguel in turn. “You’re right, of course, Your Royal Highness, in one way, I am, as I long since accepted the role of Buckingham, Queen Anne’s greatly devoted servant. I must be that, owing Her, King Louis, and yourself, Mon Dauphin, as I do, a debt far, far beyond my... shoddy capacity ever to requite. But to do or say anymore, My Prince, would be to vastly dishonor my Fair England, my good King Charles, and La Belle France. So that I NEVER shall do, my oath on that, Your Royal Highness, if you will accept it.”

“Well, that’s very gracious, and very well spoken, indeed, Mon Duc,” Miguel answered, as his small son scrunched his ruddy features and peered up at Buckingham. “And of course we will accept your solemn oath in this regard, and any other, won’t we Micah Diego?”

“Oui, papa.” Micah nodded, plainly still unsatisfied and confused.

“What’s wrong, m’ijo? Aren’t you glad to have your Papa home? I’m very glad to be home with you.” Miguel asked, dropping his voice and hugging his son close.

“Papa, I’m so very happy you came home, to our new house, here.” Micah whispered, hugging back. “I missed you so awful much, so awful long! But I miss... our old house, Papa, and our ... peoples there. I’m sorry, lo siento mucho, Padre... But you don’t want Micah Diego tellin’ awful fibs, do you, Papa?”

“No, I’d hope you would always tell me all the truth, m’ijo. So now, why don’t you finish up telling Papa what’s putting that big frown on your little face, instead of a smile for Papa?” Miguel probed.

“Si, Papa... I ... kinda told you... b”fore, Papa, I ... you were goin’ t’ bring some little boys home, here, to our new house ... you WERE goin’ to bring little boys to play with Micah Diego, weren’t you?” Micah complained, but looked ashamed to say it.

“Su padre promised to bring “a schoolhouse full of little boys’, and their brothers home with him, My Prince.” Buckingham answered, striding over to the father and child, when Miguel glanced his way, wordlessly asking if the Companies felt they could reveal themselves to his son. Then the Veteran knelt beside Miguel’s chair so that once more he was face to face with Micah.

“I know. Because I read over his shoulder when he was writing you that very letter. Not very polite I know or diplomatic, and I should have asked, before I did that. And the truth is, Mon Cher Dauphin, that’s just what your father did. He brought me, and my brothers home with him, to stay and get strong again, and to come to know you, to come and play and read and ... do all sorts of fine things. And I know you’ve been waiting for nearly a whole week for us to come here, but the train trip took almost two days longer than we thought it would.” Buckingham told Micah, finding the way the little boy studied him, out of wide grey eyes very much like his father’s.

“And the thing is, My Prince, we’re pretty well tired out from coming all that way. We could use some sleep, a lot of sleep. In fact, my brothers, for the most part, ARE sound asleep, this very minute. So, I was hoping you would agree to wait until tomorrow to meet my brothers, to play with all those little boys. We know you’ve been waiting so awfully long for your father to come home, and HE’s been wanting to come, but he stayed ... He stayed there, helping us. very, very much, to get well, again. So, what do you think, Micah Diego?”

“I think, Torry, you are only the third grown folks I knew my whole, whole life, that asked Micah Diego what me thinks!” The little boy announced, wide eyed. “AND I think maman was right, b”fore you came, she says Papa will be awful tired, after comin’ on so many big, noisy ol’ trains. Micah Diego and maman must see him asleep, almost right away. But maybe, just maybe Papa and our friends who came home with him now, very much need to have some gingerbread and tea b”fore sleepin’. You said maybe they would, oui, maman?”

“Oui, mon cher. “Antoinette agreed. ‘mes amis, if you are, like my bright, growing boy here, more hungry than tired, please, gentilhommes, come into the dining room, just over here to the left of the foyer. Micah and I and Cook have a small repast ready for you. Then, we’ll show you to your rooms. And Micah Diego, you will allow Torry and all our friends to rest as long as they choose to in the morning, non? They will be visiting us for some time, now. So we won’t hurry them about, or hurry them about anything at all, will we, cheri?”

“Non, maman.” Micah nodded so glumly that Artemus felt moved to take a moment from watching Jim, as he’d been doing intently since they left the asylum, to say something to this little boy.

“Micah, I’m sure your maman is very wise, and she knows most old folks, like Thomas and Jacques and ...well, me, need to sleep as much as we can. But, with our friend, Torry here, that’s not the case at all. You see, he went to all sorts of military prep schools as a boy, and then to West Point. And after that he was in the REGULAR ARMY, as I’m sure he’ll tell you, many times himself. And in the REGULAR Army, you see, Micah, my old friend Torry learned that if the Army wanted him to get enough sleep to stay healthy, they’d issue it to him. Otherwise, he’s up at dawn, blowing reveille for all he’s worth, IF the Army issues him a bugle, that is. Isn’t that right, Mon Duc?” Artie asked, tiredly chuckling.

Buckingham pinched the top of his nose, with a long suffering air, and shook his head, allowing Jim to reemerge. ‘that’s exactly right, Artemus. But you see, Micah, Artemus was in the VOLUNTEER Army, a few years back. And so there’s a lot he doesn’t understand about how Armies function. And that VOLUNTEER Army, Micah Diego, was very badly needed, at that time. But, not anymore, in fact, it doesn’t even EXIST, anymore.” Jim said, with a taut smile and a stiff nod in his partner’s direction.

“Now, did somebody say something about gingerbread? Because, if I’m remembering right, Antoinette, your Cook made the best gingerbread I EVER ate, and I’m famished!”
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SS novice field agent

610 Posts

Posted - 02/09/2009 :  12:47:27  Show Profile
SCENE TWENTY TWO Isle d’ Tresor one week after Miguel, Jim & Co arrive in Richmond

There seemed to be no help for it, Jim was the center of everyone’s attention in a room just outside Miguel’s library, and soon he wished he was anywhere else. After sitting for most of the day in the middle of a circle of doctors, in fact, Jim wished he was any number of other places he didn’t much care for. He’d never much liked doctor’s examinations, and the ones he remembered getting from the ‘doctors’ in and asylum in Baltimore hadn’t helped in that regard.
More and more as the day wore on, Jim found that he wanted to do anything but talk about his health right now, and that was all these doctors wanted to talk about. Jim soon wanted very much to ask them if they would like to trade places, so that he could poke and prod, probe and repeat himself a dozen times, finding absolutely nothing new and getting absolutely nowhere.

Mainly they seemed to be fixated on his vision, or total lack thereof. Mainly they seemed to be obsessed with taking every imaginable observation and making every possible test on his eyes. And mainly, especially the newcomers to his case, they seemed pretty well indifferent to the observations and opinions Jim offered on that subject.

“I thought this whole thing was settled, before we ever got out of that real fun place up in Baltimore.” Jim complained whenever he saw the chance to get a word in edgewise. “I thought the whole question was pretty well moot, by now. I’m stone-blind now, and I’m gonna stay that way, was what seemed to be the conclusion, then. So what the devil am I sitting here for now?”

“Major West,” one of the doctors Jim didn’t know began again, his whole tone of voice and manner so unctuous it made the former soldier squirm. “We’re here today because conditions in that horrid place were not at all conducive to a proper examination of your eyes. At least that’s what your uncle, Mr. Randolph, wrote my colleagues and myself, asking us to make these tests and observations, and for the latter, we need to ask you a few more questions.”

“And you agree with them, and with my uncle now, Miguel? You agree, when you said before… You said I had no chance to see again, didn’t you?” The former soldier demanded.

“Yes, that’s what I said. And that being said, I can’t in all honesty disagree with their assessment of that corner of hell in Baltimore, Torry.” Miguel sighed. “It may be … although I’m not much in the habit of admitting it, it may be I was premature in giving you that prognosis.”

“Circumstances alter cases, yeah, get that, figure that!” Jim muttered, very much disliking the idea of hopes being raised again to no purpose. Then he turned in the direction he’d last heard Macquillan and Jacques. “What about you, Prof, and you mon docteur ami? What do you think of all this rigmarole?”

“Mon enfant, I’ve never known you to turn down a risk, if the benefit to be gained counterbalanced that risk to any great extent.” Jacques answered, clapping one hand on Jim’s shoulder. “And having already read most of Miguel’s research on his technique, that is, his procedure for replacing your corneas, I must admit, it might be worth the attempt. This procedure could make a substantial difference to your vision, restoring it to at least some extent, even to a significant degree, or none at all, depending on a great many variable factors.”

“Yeah, not to mention it’s a tad bit gruesome, to think about taking something from a dead man and attaching it to someone who’s alive… in this case, me.” Jim shrugged. “And what about you, Mac? What do you really think of this whole idea?”

“Well, Youngster, for one thing, it’s a step up from the first way they tried this, back in the time of Galen.” Macquillan chuckled, thinking he could lighten up their talk. “They tried using pig’s corneas, back then.”

Jim shuddered and made a wry face. “Yuck. Alright, Mac, you had your joke, and I think I remember reading that they really did that. Now, tell me what you really think.”

“I really think it’s dangerous as hell, and still might be worth trying, Jimmy.” Mac replied. “But it’s still up to you. It’s still your life. You’d be the one taking a fairly good-sized risk, not us.”

“Major West,” the first doctor interrupted, silkily, making all Jim’s nerves jump at once. “Your uncle expressed a deep concern that you have not been and are not now getting the care you truly need, which would go a long way towards effecting your recovery. I mean no offense to present company, as I am only relating what Mr. Randolph wrote. He simply feels, as he wrote to my colleagues and myself, that being with your remaining family, your aunt, your uncle and your cousins, would better facilitate your recuperation And that recovery is surely the key concern of all involved, as it would provide you the health and the spirit to undergo whatever procedures seem both practicable and promising.”

“And for some reason known only to G-d and my uncle, he’s not here to tell me all that, himself? Or do you know why he didn’t make the trip, or even write to me, when he decided to send you fellows? He knows I’ve been reading Braille since I was nine. He learned it, along with me and Pauly, Jeanny and the other kids, that summer, to help out old Doctor Madsen. I’m a grown man, after all, not a child, and not an invalid either, which I thought he surely knew by now!” Jim fumed, liking this stranger and his colleagues less and less by the instant.

“Major West,” another of the strangers said, in a similar oily tone.

“Mister West will do just fine and dandy, thanks. I’m pretty sure I’m well and truly RETIRED at this point.” Jim frowned.

“Mister West then, the letter I had from your uncle indicated his grave concern for your overall health and well-being, sir. And only as one element of that profound concern did he mention the trouble with your sight.”

“Well, there’s YOUR problem, in a nutshell, Doctor. There’s NO TROUBLE WITH MY SIGHT. I DON’t HAVE ANY.” Jim growled, standing up and rubbing at his aching forehead. “So, you gentlemen are just wasting your time and my uncle’s money. And as generous as he can be, my uncle was also raised by my grandmother Jean Torrance Randolph who thought it was damning sin to throw good money after bad! So maybe you should write my uncle, and tell him I decided to send you packing. Yeah, that sounds like a fine solution to the whole danged problem.”

“Mon enfant, you’re getting another headache?” Jacques intervened.

“You could say that, mon docteur ami, a really fine and dandy one. What of it?” Jim asked, still rubbing.

“ Nothing really. Only that this makes the fifth ‘dandy” headache you’ve had in just four days, Torry.” Miguel answered, as Jacques went on studying their friend. “That’s either a very good sign, considering what these gentlemen have come to find out, or a very bad one, from my perspective, considering the increasing strength and frequency of this pain.”

”Have you considered a good old-fashioned decapitation, as a certain means of treating the problem, yet, Miguel?” Jim asked, with a taut half-grin.

“No, James, we haven’t. But we have had some very serious conversations on the subject of trephination.” Artie chimed in, joining them. “You know, that’s drilling holes in your head, to …”

“To let the evil spirits out.” Jim finished. “And that sounds really good to me, about now, pal. But what I don’t understand is how these headaches of mine, whether they’re dandy or they’re fine or they’re just a damn all nuisance could be a sign of anything but my old allergy to too many doctors in the room.”

“That’s simple, Torry.” Miguel answered, taking his turn back from Artemus. “You could be suffering these headaches because having improved your environment by a magnitude, including the kind and amount of your exposure to light, on a daily basis here, means you have retained some of the visual acuity, some of the visual field I thought you’d lost. That would be a positive development indeed. Or you could be having headaches as a delayed response to the multiple beatings you suffered during the period of your incarceration before Thomas and Artemus discovered you in that so called asylum. That would not be a particularly good sign, as it could indicate…”

“Brain injuries you can’t do anything about… yeah, get that, figure that.” Jim replied, reaching up to pinch the bridge of his nose. “I still don’t like sitting here all day being poked and prodded, and probed and tested. Can’t we just let it go for now, Doctors? I’m pretty well used up, right now.”

‘Maj…Mister West,” the third of the unfamiliar doctors said, sounding even more like someone’s toady than the others. “We could put off our examination and tests for a period of time, of course. However, putting off the answers to these questions, the resolutions to these tests can only delay any hope of changing your condition, much less easing your ongoing ordeal and that easing is what your uncle expressly asked us to achieve, if it’s possible at all. Your continuing recovery from what you’ve already endured, and your prognosis … are both in what seems quite clear to be increasing jeopardy whilst we delay. Don’t you concur, Doctor?”

“I do indeed.” The fourth doctor agreed. “Delay is the last thing we should advise at this juncture, sir. As we were given to understand the case, there has been far too much time elapsed following your severe injuries already… Mister West. To wait any longer could make any treatment plans we may devise, of little effect, at best.”

“Well that’s damned depressing.” Jim sighed, and sat back down. “All right! All right! Let’s get this over with! I don’t intend to do this again, tomorrow, or any other day, Doctors. I don’t care what you find or what other parts of me you want to check. You get me for the rest of the day, and then, I’m done!”

Jim felt over-done by the time they proceeded much further. He began to feel very much like a bug of some kind under a microscope’s lenses, being examined by these scientist types, to determine if he was a healthy, helpful kind of insect, bacterium, germ or virus or whatever they were called, or a deadly, dangerous and on the list for eradication kind, the latter of which Jim began to hope for, in a self deprecating fashion. They wanted, they said, to rule out any further biological or pathological or physiological or as far as he could tell, anthropological, philosophical, chemical, sociological or anthropomorphically, and otherwise completely insanely illogical factors having to do with the relative health of his mind, his brain, his body and his senses. He wanted to rule out doctors in general, physicians in specific and specifically four out of the seven of these eagerly examiners ... permanently, but clearly he was not in charge here. They were.

So Jim settled for the first few hours for counting how many ways he could imagine of deactivating, deconstructing, decapitating and defenestrating his present tormentors, for the second few hours ways of alienating, disassociating, asphyxiating and drawing and quartering them, and for the rest of the day, only imagining ways he could fly, jump, run, skip, tunnel or fight his way out of their clutches. But he didn’t. Instead, he sat on a chair in the middle of a room, being probed, prodded and poked, and questioned until Jim wondered when the Chinese water torture device, or the latest style in racks or isolation cages would be wheeled in. And he would have wished himself away, Jim thought, gleefully, the way the small Torrys did so well, except even then, they wouldn’t stop asking him questions.

These physicians, only four of whom Jim knew, those being Miguel, Rob Harper, Frank’s son, and Jacques, in fact kept asking him questions, probing and prodding his head, his eyes and his memory for hours. After awhile, they seemed to Jim to be asking the same questions over and over again. And they weren’t giving him enough time to invent new answers. On top of that they kept warning Jim that their next test or probe or empirical trial might be painful; while he in fact became more and more numb as the day wore on.

“Can you see in this much light, Major?” Was the first question, each time; to which Jim unfailingly answered No, or No Doctor.” Stoic would have very much liked to ask something on the order of “In how much light, Doctor?” or “Is there some kind of light in here?” But he didn’t.

Next came: “Does this level of light cause you any pain, Major West?”

And at this, Schoolboy frowned as the light knifed into his eyes, and flatly answered, “Just some.” He would have far rather answered “Just enough to make me feel like my eyes are a new kind of pincushion!” or “Define any please. It hurts like the very devil and I think that’s probably not a good sign. What do you think?”

Third always seemed to be: “Have you had any increase or decrease in your visual acuity since you were injured, Mister West?”

And while he heard Miguel trying hard not to exclaim, or laugh, or both, Loyalist answered. “Not that I recall, no, Doctor.” Jim wanted to laugh along with Miguel and then tell the unfamiliar doctors that he purely didn’t remember or want to remember whole chunks of the last few years, and to ask them why they hadn’t bothered to read his dossier to find that out!

Fourth question came from Mac, or Miguel or Jacques by turns and went like this: “Jimmy, Torry, James, do you recall any time in Baltimore when it seemed that your eyes hurt less than they do now?”

To which Effective kept on saying: “Maybe, on what may have been cloudy days, or when it stormed, especially during the winter, yes.” And he wanted very much to tell them that he was still not sure when it was cloudy, foggy or rainy, except by the sound of the rain on the roof, the chill of a foggy day, or the swift shifts from some warmth to less, when there was cloud cover of some kind.

And last but not least, they asked: “Mister West, are you willing to undergo surgery on your eyes, when the odds are rather high that your vision will not improve, that you have will a painful recovery and that you may in fact not survive the operation?”

To which Jim kept saying: “No! And Yes! Damn it, I don’t know! But it’s my life, and my sight! So what the devil are YOU so worried about?” That was pretty much all he wanted to say at that point, only with a few more colorful phrases thrown in from the Quebecois he’d learned from Jacques, the Yiddish he’d picked up from Artie and the Spanish Miguel was fond of exercising his temperament in, when he was riled.

“Your life and your sight, Jim.” Rob Harper answered, as quietly as Jim was loud.

“Yeah, I kinda got that, Rob. Sorry doctors. I’m afraid you’re getting the short end of the stick as far as a patient, in this case. Are we done, or is it going to be my turn, anytime soon to ask questions?”

“Ask away, Jimmy.” Mac said.

“What are the odds? You all keep saying they’re not so good. But what are they? “Jim demanded.

“That you’ll see again?” Macquillan asked.

“For starters, sure. What are my odds?” Jim asked, wondering if he wanted the answer, knowing Mac would never hold back the truth.

“Frankly, Youngster, not good. I wouldn’t handicap that race, to tell you the truth.” The Boston native answered, sighing.

“Okay. And what about you, Jacques, mon docteur ami. What are the odds that I’ll get nothing more than a few more bad headaches and some serious bed rest from this surgery?” Jim challenged his friend, knowing he’d only get an honest assessment here, as well.

“Not good at all, mon enfant.” Jacques told him.

“So far, so bad.” Jim quipped. “How about you, Rob? What are the chances I could die during or soon after this kind of surgery?”

“High, Jim. It hasn’t even been attempted in human subjects. And the laboratory trials have had only temporary success
so far. In other words,” Rob faltered.

“In other words, I’m much more likely to stay alive, if I say no to these operations? You said there would have to be at least two, one on each eye, right?” Jim asked.

“Yes, Torry.” Miguel answered. “What else would you like to know?”

“Why do you think I should chance it, Miguel? Why, when the man most able to perform it, most skilled in the technique, maybe because he invented it, can’t do the surgery now? He can’t do it now, because he spent two winters in a damp, cold corner of hell with a schoolhouse full of Littles named Torry?” Jim asked, swallowing hard, because he knew Miguel had no reason, or motive now to tell him anything but the facts.

“On the chance you might see again. You’ve never turned your back on a chance before now, Torry. Why start with this?” Miguel asked in turn.

“Because I’d rather be alive, and relatively sane, thanks, or at least as sane as I am now. And I’m not a big fan of lots of pain for no sure returns. Any other reasons I should change my mind?” Jim demanded.

“On the chance that you might see and get your life back again. The life you seemed so much to enjoy, once upon a time.” Miguel suggested, and Jim could almost feel his gaze.

“I can’t honestly remember much of it now, Miguel.” Jim shrugged. ‘so… here’s my answer. No more tests. No more questions. No more observations. Go home, or go see my uncle, and tell him that’s what I said: no, doctors, no deal and no surgery. Thanks but no thanks.”

“But, Mister West!” All four of the newly arrived doctors chorused.

“Well, at least you finally got my ‘title” right.” Jim smirked.

“Please, Mister West,” the fourth doctor went on, almost as if he couldn’t keep from finishing his complaint. “Your uncle was most emphatic in his wish that you should seriously consider this surgery, which surely the good doctor could first instruct and then supervise other surgeons to perform!”

“I’ve already agreed to teach the technique to some of our friends, Torry, to Jacques and Thomas, for example, to your cousin, Jemison and young Robert, as well.” Miguel advised. “But not to anyone you don’t know, and therefore wouldn’t trust, of course.”

“And I would be glad learn such a technique, as would MY colleagues, if it could help my friend and, possibly, still others, in similar difficulty.” Jacques added.

“For once, despite the damage to any earlier agreements to disagree, I’m with the doctor on this point, James m’boy.” Artie added. “Surgery of any kind is nothing to fool with, as MOST of us learned, in the War. No offense, Mac, we all know you and the other field surgeons and medics did all they could. It simply was never going to be enough, in far too many cases.”

“No offense taken, Artemus, because you’re right.” Macquillan agreed. “We had no idea, to start with, what we were getting into, and most of us had minimal training before we got there. We learned along the way, of course but…”

“But that is certainly not what Mr. Randolph wishes, Sirs!” The third doctor argued. “He’s determined that physicians of his choice, those being my colleagues and myself should take charge of his nephew’s care, including this vital surgery, from this point on! He was quite exacting on that point. And you may take the argument up with him, of course. But our understanding is that Mr. Randolph holds legal guardianship where Mister West is concerned, according to the expressed wishes of the late Stephen Arthur West. That being the case, we have come here in the role of Mr. West’s physicians of record. We have all the proper documents, and the European training … “

“You can take those proper documents to court and try to make your case there, gentlemen.” Mac insisted, glaring at the quartet. “You tell them, Jimmy… Youngster! Jimmy, what the devil’s wrong?” Mac demanded as Jim shuddered hard and stood stock still.

Jim didn’t answer. He was caught up in a memory from four years ago.

“I am Herr Professor Doctor Stephan Johannes Sebastian Aynsley of Vienna, Madrid, Paris, Amsterdam, Zurich and Munich, Sergeant.” The scientist replied, giving his full title as it would be if he were in Vien. “And I can do much more than fill your belly and cover your back. I can make you a focus of history. And I can, under certain conditions, restore your sight. But that will come later, as your reward.”

West froze where he stood. He was certain Aynsley’s promised restoration meant surgery. And anything remotely like surgery would expose his sham in two seconds flat, and likely kill him outright. But the beggar he counterfeited couldn’t know anything of the kind. “Wah, ye’re crazed!” West shouted, in character. “You cain’t do that! Nuhbody can! Them docs, them docs at that field hospital said as much, all them years ago. An’ b’sides, you’re no doc!”

“But I am a physician, young man. And having trained not in this benighted country but in Vienna, Munich, Madrid, Amsterdam, Zurich, and at the Sorbonne in Paris; I am far better equipped and far more knowledgeable than those jumped up barber-surgeons could ever be!” Aynsley insisted, to West, he sounded coldly angry, as if his pride had been stung.

“ ‘m sorry, seh, it was wrong, real wrong of me to holler thataway. Them field docs, they hardly knowed a thing, that’s certain sure.” West answered in a suitably cowed tone, hanging his head and slumping his shoulders for emphasis. “ But they tol’ me, seh, they said mah eyes was plumb ruint. They said mah eyes were so much burnt -- nothin’ could get me seein’ ever agin.”

“And they were both wrong and ignorant, just as you say.” Aynsley replied.

“James!” Artemus called out, putting one hand on each of Jim’s arms, trying to bring him back to full awareness, again.

Shuddering again, Jim shook his aching head and came around. Or rather, as his friends had learned to note, another of Jim’s brothers came aware, and with strangers present, within the former soldier’s wiry frame.

“Thanks, Temus, thanks. And thanks, Miguel, Prof, et mon docteur ami, merci, mille fois que merci, aussi.” This brother, Blind Beggar from V Company said. None of the Watch trusted these strangers. They’d arrived with half a dozen letters supposedly from Jimmy Randolph. But none were in Braille. And that fact alone had been setting off small alarms in all the brothers’ minds, every minute.

“See, gentlemen, the doctors I want handling my case and helping my recuperation are all right here in this room, excepting only my cousin Jemmy, who’s back in Raleigh, just now. And my uncle’s guardianship is what would have got me out of that damned asylum, if it hadn’t burned down before he could even get the writ! But that being said, and my love, respect, and gratitude to my g-dfather goes without saying, as always, that guardianship was established just before my ninth birthday, when my Dad was deathly ill.

He got well again, to our great relief. So, that agreement between my Dad and my g-dfather was never enforced, or even put to the test, until I was committed to that hell hole in Baltimore under false pretenses, and a false name, to boot. So what are you saying now, Doctors? Has my namesake decided I should’ve been locked up for crazy, after all? Or has he just forgotten I’m not a little boy in short pants, anymore?”

“Well, no, of course that’s not the case!” The second stranger insisted. “But Mr. West, there’s something here I’m not sure I quite understand. What namesake of yours, and what g-dfather do you have reference to?”

“Beggar” froze in place, his bright, blind gaze almost directly on that stranger’s face. “Well, that does it.” He said very quietly, in a tone almost as cold as his eyes were in this instant. “Who in the very devil sent you bastards here? Because I didn’t think it could POSSIBLY be James Torrance Kieran Randolph, my uncle, who’s also my g-dfather and my namesake. And you just proved me right!”

‘Major… that is, Mister West, you much misunderstand…” The first of the strangers tried protesting. “We were asked to come here, asked to help you by a gentleman who corresponded with us, we never met the gentlemen … Well, it must have been another of your maternal uncles, then.”

“Well, if that were so, that would be a very neat sort of a trick, wouldn’t you say, James, m’boy?” Artie asked his partner, grinning fiercely at the now cowering quartet.

‘Sir, I’m afraid I don’t understand that remark at all.” The third stranger said.

‘Tell him, Artemus. Tell all these damn all fools just what you meant.” Beggar suggested.

“Thanks, I think I will.” Artie laughed, but with very little humor. “Doctors, if you really are doctors at all, it’s simple, really. Jean Torrance Morrissey Randolph bore her two husbands a total of twelve children. And of those eleven, Danny, Victoria, Ian, Bess, Jimmy, Andrew, Jessamyn, Rachel, Rebecca, Leah, Sarah, and Timothy, only Daniel, Victoria and Bess Morrissey from her first marriage and ONLY Jimmy Randolph from her second, are still alive today. So if you’ve been corresponding with another of Jim’s maternal uncles, you must have been holding séances. Young Andrew and Timothy Randolph died during a cholera outbreak, along with their sisters Leah, Rachel, Sarah and Rebecca when the boys were… I’m sorry, how old were they, James?”

“ Drew was the oldest, he was fourteen and a half that year, Timmy was only eight. Leah Alys was twelve, the oldest girl, Sarah Jael was nine and a half…” Beggar recited the sad litany, like that of so many other families from that long past. “Rachel Micaela was my uncle Jimmy’s twin, they were both six years old that year. My momma, Jessamyn Anne was only four, and Rebecca Jean was the youngest, she wasn’t yet two years old, when she died. Momma, Becky, Jimmy and Rachel all seemed to come out of the outbreak alright. But Rachel died a few months later when whopping cough took a lot of the kids who were still getting well, and Becky … little Becky Jean, died leSsthan a month after her. So, just which of my dead uncles did you say you got those letters from?”

“Well, I … well, that is, we weren’t actually in correspondence directly with any Mr. Randolph, you see… “ The fourth stranger sputtered. “It was actually an attorney… an attorney, yes, by the name of Aubrey Dupree… or perhaps the last name was Lanier, or … my word, I’m not sure now I recall the name!”

Beggar almost laughed, except he could feel his brothers building up to a panic now. And that only fueled his anger more. Focusing on the quavering voice of the last intruder to speak up, he strode acroSsthe room until he was standing only a foot away. Then he raised one fist, as if he’d be glad to knock the stranger off his feet, without any further provocation. ‘stop this doctor’s colleagues, will you, fellows? I hear them trying to make a break for it. I think they’re heading for the door.”

“No problem, James.” Artie laughed, and strode after the other three ‘doctors’. “Gentlemen, I believe your presence here is going to be required for awhile longer, thanks.” The former actor said, moving between the trio of strangers and the wide, high doorway of the mansion.

‘Thanks, Artemus.” Beggar said and turned his attention, and his bright, blind gaze almost directly on that intruder’s blanching face. as that fourth “physician’ gasped

”Now, back to the real questions left unanswered, here. For example, the addreSsyou have for this … attorney, the bona fides you have from him, where are those? Do you know anything about him, or his supposed client, my supposed uncle, at all? In other words, my first question still stands, ‘doctors’! Who in the very devil sent you here? And since they were not in any way, shape or form anyone related to me, or connected with my uncle Jimmy, how in hell do they know where I am? How do they know what happened to me?” He demanded.

“I could not say, Mr. West. I give you my most solemn word, I could not begin to tell you how that could possibly be.” The intruder answered. “I have only… my colleagues and I have only the correspondence from this … solicitor, or attorney, nothing more. I see you believe we misrepresented ourselves here, but that is not the case. We were told … by way of our correspondence with this Lanier, or Aubrey or … whomever he may truly be… that your uncle, a certain Mister Randolph, required our services, on your behalf. It never once occurred to myself or my fellow physicians, Mr. West, that there should be anything wrong in that.”

”We have quite a lot of patients amongst us, and often take on just this sort of consultation for them, or for their acquaintances, at need. It never appeared to be anything out of the ordinary, at all. The gentleman’s identity as such is truly none of our affair, under normal circumstances, at the least. The gentleman’s attorney related to us that his client was … unable to addreSsthe matter in person, pressing busineSsmatters requiring his presence … urgently requiring his presence, elsewhere, just now.”

“Yes, I’ll bet they did. I’ll bet I know who that client is… But that’s none of your affair, you just said as much yourself! And I’d hardly call it a consultation, ‘doctor”, when you already stated you’d been retained as my new physicians by this man you never met, this man you don’t know at all, not even his real name. I’d hardly call it consulting when you talked as if you’d been given charge over me, and any future medical care I might need. And I surely wouldn’t call it a consultation when you went on for hours, pressing the idea that I absolutely should, I absolutely MUST have experimental, high risk surgery I’m not sure I even want!” Beggar said, his temper rising so fast and furious he was all but shaking with his rage and the terror this afternoon’s session suddenly inspired.

Suddenly he was sick with anger to his core, realizing what these men came to Miguel’s house to do. Suddenly Beggar knew, and with him, so did all the Watch, who had reached for them, who had tried yet another flanking maneuver against them, another preemptive strike. A mile wide block remained in place, he couldn’t say their worst enemy’s name, he couldn’t bring their bitterest adversary’s face to mind. But that didn’t change a thing.

There was no doubt any longer who wanted Jim West fully under his control, or wanted him finally dead. “He doesn’t even know we’re really here.” Beggar whispered, more to himself, and to his brothers, than to anyone in the room. “Damn him! He doesn’t know he’s the one who brought us all to birth! But he’d be glad to be the death of every last one of our brothers, and all our friends! He’ll still use anything at anytime, and anyone, anyone at all, TO HAVE HIS WAY!”

Artemus stood closest to Beggar and the stranger-doctor and now the former actor moved between them. Once more, he put one hand on each of his best friend’s arms and lowered his voice. “James… well, that is, I’m not sure which of V Company I’m looking at right now… but…”

‘Torry Sojer named me, I’m called Blind Beggar, or just Beggar, to save time.” The Veteran answered, with a crooked grin, just as quietly. “Thanks, thanks again. Thanks for stopping me, Temus, I was about to act a lot more like one of D Company used to … and stomp that damn fool right into the floor!”

“Well, let the rest of us have a go at him, first, Beggar, alright?” Artie joked. “And I’d love to hear how you got named, another time. But I’m right now, I think I’m just going to try scaring some more of the truth out of this poor cretin. Just believe no one here will allow anyone, not anyone to harm you or your brothers, again, no matter what claims they try to make. That just isn’t going to happen, not on our watch.”

“We believe you, Temus. We all do. Go on, and let him have it. Maybe he does know something more, and maybe he’ll be able to tell us what that is… That’s only if our “non-uncle” didn’t get within arm’s reach of this stupid bastard. But if he did, all that really matters will be locked up tight.”

“Behind a mental stone-capped redoubt?” Artie asked. “Yeah, I ran into one or two of those, myself. I think they’re all gone… with Jacques and Jeremy helping and with … if you solemnly promise not to repeat this… the small doctor’s help.”

“I promise. We promise.”

“But thank you, just the same.” Miguel giggled, walking up beside the pair of friends. “Beggar, I’d like you to sit back down again, you’re shaking like the willow trees in Ani’s garden do in a high wind, just now.”

“Surely. Get after him, will you, Temus.” Beggar said, sitting again, but in a far more comfortable, winged Windsor chair by the fireplace, across the room.

“I’m getting, already I’m getting.” Artie laughed. Then he turned somber himself, even grim, as he looked at the self styled physician. Mac and Jacques already had the other three under guard, duly bound, cuffed and gagged.

“Well, now you’re going to talk to me, ‘doctor”, if you really are one, which I doubt.” The former actor began. “And in case you weren’t advised, I’ll tell you now, I’m a special agent assigned to President Grant’s security detail, and taking my orders from the Man himself. My name is Artemus Gordon, which your contact, this supposed lawyer may or may not have included in the dossier he gave you on my friend, James West. That doesn’t really matter now.

What matters now is this: What you were unquestionably sent here to accomplish is at the least, what around these parts we call the attempted murder of a Federal Agent. And we don’t like that very much, being Federal agents, ourselves, you see. And there’s really no use denying that’s what you came here to do. You spent all afternoon pressuring and pushing James with your lies and your fraudulent claims that his uncle urgently wanted him to have this high risk, experimental surgery.”

“You spent hours and hours insisting this non existent, unknown, unavailable uncle, whose actual name you don’t even know, wants YOU and your so called medical colleagues to perform this tricky procedure. You talked yourselves almost hoarse in fact, peddling the notion that YOU AND THESE OTHER THREE DIMWITS should take my friend and colleague, James there, put him under some kind of anesthesia, and then cut into his eyes, or whatever your unknown attorney’s unknown client REALLY ORDERED YOU TO DO.

And all the while, while we were listening and trying to understand why this was SO important, so damnably urgent to you, I was standing here thinking that you said nothing to show any medical knowledge, training or expertise at all.” Artemus took a deep breath, reaching for and letting his own outrage inform his words, his voice and the stance he took, glaring at the shaking and quivering alleged doctor.

“In fact, I was standing here, most of the day, listening, and thinking you four don’t know a hawk from a handsaw, no matter which way the wind is blowing, much less a scalpel from a syringe! So no matter what you were ordered to do to James, it would end up with him dead, not much doubt about that, is there? And that wouldn’t be attempted murder any longer, you see… if we’d been mad enough to let you even try… that would be premeditated murder, ‘doctor’, murder in the first degree…

And for that, of course, you’d all hang. And that murder, the murder of my friend James West, that’s what you were truly sent here to accomplish, isn’t it? His so called uncle is no kin and no friend of James, or of anyone, anywhere at all, and he wants my best friend stone cold dead. That’s really what he told you he wanted done …oh, sorry, that’s what his supposed, unknown lawyer told you this non existent uncle of James wanted done! I’m right about that, aren’t I, ‘doc’?”

“Your services were retained by someone so cruel, so murderous and so damn cowardly he sent you four cretins to do his murder for him, didn’t he? And that’s exactly what you came here to do, isn’t it? You’re all accomplices before the fact, as of this moment, now. You might as well admit it. You might as well tell us what you actually know about this utter coward. You were ordered to come here to Richmond, to this house and murder Jim West! Now that’s the truth, isn’t it? So just admit it, man, tell us the truth, and maybe you’ll only get a life term!”

“Bu-b-b-but, no one said anyone was to die!” The intruder almost shrieked, collapsing onto the settee behind him. “No one … no one said anything of the kind!”

‘Really? Well, what did they say?” Artemus demanded, keeping his manner stern, but turning to wink at Jacques.

‘That Lanier, or Edmonds, or Dupree or Aubrey fellow, that lawyer! He said … he said this … this … young man… this young … Mister … West was a … He said this young man was a … a perjured… material witness against… against his client… Yes, yes, that’s what he said! And he said this young … Mister West, was … not always… Now, please, I’m only repeating what he said… which was that Mister… your friend, Mister West was not always … entirely .. well, compas mentas… if you see what…what I mean…” The stranger said.

“Yes, we see very well indeed. What else?” Artie probed.

“What…what else? Well… well… And … well, he said this … supposed surgery … that was just another fraud… He said this alleged surgery … if it were done … done as his client … wished, would … result in … that young man being… unable… you see, unable to return to … testify … falsely, you see, against … his client… There was nothing said about anyone, anywhere intent on taking a life! There was nothing, absolutely nothing said about … this young man’s death! He only … he only … well, he might have said…”

“He might have said what?” Mac demanded, taking his turn. “What else MIGHT this lying excuse for an attorney, who if I find him will be at the very least, imprisoned and disbarred… have said?”

“He said we should remember, and remember to tell anyone who asks… if the question should, unhappily, arise, that as with any surgery, any surgery in which the use of anesthetics is … required… the risk … the risk is there… as any … any surgeon knows… any surgery patient might … expire… And it can’t be held against the physician… it simply can’t… everyone…everyone knows that… “

“But he was wrong, so he was either misinformed himself or he was lying to you, Doctor.” Miguel added, joining the partners in their interrogation.

“No, no, that’s not true!” The now terrified physician insisted. ‘surgery is always quite dangerous, surgery patients can often suffer fatal complications… “

“Indeed they can. But those complications, if they are not the work of pure chance, can be traced back to the surgeon or physician who caused them, by means of a well organized, competently handled autopsy.” Miguel argued, smiling as he somewhat exaggerated the facts of the matter.

“Any well trained pathologist or coroner can readily find the telltale signs of sloppy surgical methods, much less the evidence left behind by the wrongful use of anesthesia. I’m surprised, sir. I’m astonished, really, that with all your European medical training you don’t know that. Wherever did you receive your medical degree, in some backwards, backwater principality or duchy that no one ever heard of?”

“I don’t have to answer that!” The intruder shouted. “I don’t have to say anything to you, you… That’s what the attorney for this… this other Mr. Randolph told me! You’re not a physician, it’s not even possible you could be! You’re just a fraud yourself, a fakir, a charlatan, pretending to be some sort of scientific genius! You’re a …”

“A freak?” Miguel asked, laughing. “Come, come, you claim to be an educated man, surely you can do better! You could say I am an aberration, or a chimera, for example. You could call me an abnormality, a midget, or an alien creature. I’ve heard all those, and worse. You could claim I must be some sort of walking deformity, or per chance some sort of gnome, or troll, or a gremlin. If you wanted to be erudite you could say I would surely have to be called a lusus naturae, a monstrosity, or a mutant, in simpler terms. And if you wanted to show off your knowledge of the world, you could call me an ogre, a demon, or an archfiend.”

“But in fact,” Artemus said, coming back to the discussion after getting a better hold on his own temper. “If you were really a physician, you would already understand that what Miguel deals with every minute of every day of his life, aside from severe arthritis in his hands, his shoulders, and his hips, is a condition called hypochondroplasia. It’s an autosomal dominant genetic condition, that results in short stature, with disproportionately short arms and legs, but as you can see, a “normal’ head size.
It’s a fairly common form of dwarfism, sometimes referred to as chondrodystrophy, which in turn is one form of skeletal dysplasia, a problem with bone growth or formation. No doubt you read up on that, at some point during your “European training”. Right?

Oh, and as regards those other slurs you tried casting at Miguel? He’s not pretending in the least. He IS a genius. And he IS a remarkable physician. My best friend, James, who’s sitting over there, trying to pretend we didn’t just get into a discussion of mortality rates in surgery, pathology and autopsies involving the very worst case scenarios any of us can think of, wouldn’t be alive, or sane, or particularly well today, without the doctor’s intervention. And … it’s just possible that … I wouldn’t be, either.”

Miguel listened to Artemus, and managed to do no more than blink in surprise at the agent’s calm, quiet, entirely serious manner and tone of voice. Thomas Macquillan scratched at the back of his head, and otherwise gave no sign he’d heard anything the least bit odd. But Jacques rushed over to the former actor, peering at Artie as if he’d somehow sprouted two more heads from his neck, four more arms from his torso, or an extra pair of feet from his wrists.

“Mon ami, are you entirely well?” Jacques couldn’t keep from asking. “Have you a fever, perhaps, or some type of infection? Non? Then perhaps you simply haven’t been sleeping that well?”

“I’m fine, Jacques, maybe a little bit tired.” Artie grumbled, turning away from his friend for a moment. “I just … all I did was acknowledge what you’ve been after me for some time to… well, admit. He did, and he’s still doing what he promised, which is to help James recover. And when I had that one heart seizure, last year… he helped… He gave me those capsules… The ones Ani sent for, from one of her biochem students in England. The ones I kept joking were really meant to blow me to …”

A loud crash, followed by a series of smaller shattering noises, and then two more loud crashes, coming from the study just off the upstairs landing, another slamming crash, and then another stopped Artemus in mid sentence. And when Jacques would have joked that perhaps little Micah was moving furniture, he was stopped cold by seeing that Jim was no longer fuming in a Windsor chair by the fireplace. Instead, as they could all clearly hear, the former soldier was upstairs himself, shouting and cursing and slamming things around. As the team, except for Mac, hurried up to the study, they could hear several of the brothers voicing their anger and frustration, in multiple languages, ranging from Maryland-Virginia tinged English, through Quebecois French, with a minor incursion by an interesting Yiddish phrase, and more.

“Damn, Damne le, Damn, damn and damn! That’s it, I’ve finally had it! Je n’y crois pas! Maudit! Pissieux! Salaud! Tu deconnes ou quoi? Cobarde! Sacrament! Cabochon! T’es pas game! Va te jeter en bas d’un pont! Chieux! Pissieux, encore! Tu es completement debile! Salaud, encore! Im hatipshut hayta etz, ata hayita chorshat kakal! “ Jim shouted, not so much pacing the room as he was marching in a stomping, furious style, and thus knocking into and knocking over nearly everything he touched. The middle of the room was littered, barricaded by this time, with four upturned rugs, three overturned tea tables two small bookcases, with all their contents, a tall, narrow cupboard, and half a dozen chairs.

” Gealtan!” The former soldier went on, venturing into his maternal grandfather’s Irish Gaelic, “ Go mbeadh cosa gloine fut agus go mbrise an ghloine! caillteacha!Damnu ort! gaotaire! Do chorp don diabhal! caoch! Go stroice an diabhal thu! Titim gan eiri ort! Go n-ithe an cat thu, is go n-ithe an diabhal an cat! Go mbeire an diabhal leis thu! D’anam don diabhal!”

“Not on my watch, James.” Artie answered, reaching the high, wide cathedral doors of the study. “Anyway, the devil I’m talking about already had his chance and lost.”

”Go the hell away, Artemus! I’m busy building up a real good head of steam, right now! And blind as a pile of rocks I may be, and I may stay, indefinitely, I guess. But I still don’t need any help cursing a blue streak about it or those damn all fools downstairs!” Jim shouted, and sallied into yet another language, the Welsh he learned from his father’s parents. But then as he turned away from the direction of Artie’s voice again, Jim’s right foot caught in one of the carpet’s and he toppled, too, still painting the air around him blue. “Alla t gwna ddim! Fi m am ‘r darfod chan ‘m ffrwynglyma! Rwy”n barod I roi’r ffidil yn y to!”

“Oh, no, oh great! That’s old Pend, and Mord’s probly with him, they’ve both been spoiling for a skirmish or two ever since we woke up in that damn all nuthouse.” Courier groaned, joining the team outside the study. “I thought the Vs were in bivouac, trying to work out the logistics of most of “em not bein’ able to see the noses in front of their faces! Now Oldest’s saying he can’t do anything? What got them all stirred up, again? What woke them up? Wait, you fellas weren’t going at Oldest and the other Vs about that surgery idea again, were you, not again?”

“As it happens, Courier, yes, we were.” Artie grimaced, striding across the obstacle course and reaching down to Jim, who was just now struggling to regain his feet. Across the room another Veteran, with bright blue eyes and black hair down past the collar of his antique Roman style costume, stood muttering decidedly Welsh imprecations, but otherwise, crossed his powerful arms across his chest and ignored the scene. Next to Jim was a sturdily built, angrily glaring D Company member, with thick, dark blond hair, molded features and wide grey eyes. This Defender turned to Artie, looking a lot uncomfortable all the while he also reached to help Jim stand.

“Cour’s right, I’m called Mordred, of D Company, and thanks Temus. But you have to know Oldest purely hates a helping hand.” He said.

“AND Oldest REALLY hates being talked about as if he’s not right here in the same room, ‘dred! I’m still right here! “ Jim growled, and finally got up again, when Artie took his hand and pulled the younger man to his feet.

“Well, I guess we don’t have to ask what happened in here, partner.” Artie offered, trying hard not to chuckle. “And you look like you’re okay. But when did you start cussing in Welsh?”

“Am ‘m fam-gu s ben-glin! Buais am “n dri ar y pryd! Beth wnaeth I ti ddod?” Jim and the other Veteran both answered, frowning darkly. “Rhywun s yn ystrancio arna!” Mae eisiau berwi dy ben! Jim added.

“At your grandmother’s knee? I’ll bet she never taught you some of the words you’ve just been hollering loud enough for Mac’s maiden aunt and his sister to hear, up in Brookline! Oh, and I’m here because I heard my best friend yelling his head off. And no, thanks just the same, I just had my head boiled last month, James. Na ‘ch re jyst I lawr I mewn ‘r iselder ysbryd.” Artie laughed at the surprise in Jim’s eyes as he answered in the same language.

“Bydew “na “I wedi bod am ‘m dad-cus ben-glin! Allai dyngu at gwna’r odiaeth “n sathredig fordwywr ai llong capten e bob amser cyffyrddedig chocha!” Jim growled, once more in Welsh.

” Oh, okay, your grandfather West taught you to cuss like a longshoreman. Okay. But nobody’s playing tricks here, James. You’re just down in the dumps right now. And after what those fools posing as doctors tried to pull, I’m not blaming you in the least. But you just tripped and fell over the carpet, partner, that’s all. Hey, you could have been hurt a lot worse, if you’d fallen down that staircase, for example. You could have broken your neck, Jim.”

“Do, fi m gostega “n fyw a Ca na ddrychfeddwl beth da sy. Gwisga t ddeud ‘m gwisga “ t sylweddola fel “n ffodus Dwi! Bopeth ydy “n amwyll a fel wi!” Jim answered, still grimacing, as the other Veteran just shook his head.

“Na, “ch re mo “n orffwyllog, Huchgapten. Canfyddi, hynfydais, myfi, a Fi erioed lifia “ch mewn ‘r chyfyl. Yes, I will say you’re fortunate. But no, you’re not going crazy, Major. I’m quite sure of that. I’ve been there, numerous times myself and never…” Miguel answered, walking into the study, with Jacques help.

“And you never saw me in that neighborhood, Doctor?” Jim interrupted, still angry. “Maybe you just weren’t looking down the right streets or in the right madhouses at the time. It seems to me that with everything that’s happened, what I recall of it, I have every right to an insanity defense, about now!”

“If you’d committed any crimes during that time, I suppose that could be. As it happens, you didn’t, and you’re certainly as sane as anyone here, Major.” Miguel insisted, beginning to laugh. “But I need to add this new piece of information to your dossier, too. You’re multilingual, combining this with the French Jacques taught you, and I should have realized that. I knew your father’s parents emigrated from Wales. They journeyed from Ludlow and before that, from Caerlon, as I recall, but not that you learned their native language as well as my own from your paternal grandmother. Now, with that settled, can you tell me why you decided against using that particular set of china, for this afternoon’s tea?”

“I don’t like the color scheme.” Jim answered, finally starting to chuckle himself. “It’s too dark.”

“And I agree.” Antoinette answered, joining the group. “They were a wedding gift from my stepfather’s sister. And I love her dearly, but she has no color sense at all! But are you truly alright, Torry? And monsiegneur Pendragon, and you, M’sieur Chevalier Mordred, are you also unharmed? “

“Only my pride seems to have suffered, madame la reine.” The black haired Veteran answered, bowing to Miguel’s wife as if she were a queen.“I fear most of us in V Company are still … literally feeling our way around, in these greatly changed … circumstances. We were in far more limited … surroundings, for quite some time. We’re profoundly grateful to be freed in more ways than one, whilst we stay here. And we’re not showing our gratitude to you and the doctor by wrecking your furniture, your belongings and your home. We would tender our deepest apologies, mum, if you will accept.”

“And so will I, for myself and D Company, ma tres, tres cher reine Ani.” Mordred replied, sweeping Ani a truly profound courtier’s obeisance. ‘tu est tres gentil, et…”

“S’il tu plait, m’sieur Chevalier,” Ani, as some of the brothers had begun to call her, blushed and shook her head. “You must not turn my head with so much flattery. Our good king Louis might take objection… and banish you from Court. In any case, furnishings, carpets, china sets and such are entirely replaceable things. And I do not believe, in fact I know from what I heard of the discussion, that neither the carpets, nor the china roused your anger, mes cher amis. Non, it was those unfeeling fools sent by our Adversary.”

“ Adversary, that’s a damn fine title for the old bastard, don’t you think so, gentlemen and Ani?” Jim asked, frowning tautly, still tense as a coiled wire from the confrontation just ended. “He sent those cretins down here, to convince me to let them cut my head open… or at least my eyes for his damn all amusement! He sent those dullards down here, as if he really gave a damn what happens to me. Great Glory!

He’s the worst fraud of all! He always has been! He lies the way most people breathe, just to keep his damnable games and plots all up and running! He makes every demon, monster and devil in the world look like the Saints in Glory! And then, on top of everything else he’s done to date, he set the whole, entire debacle that went on here today in motion, simply by telling those idiots that he’s my uncle Jimmy! That’s the only joy I can take in the whole rigamorle, actually.”

“Torry, j”n’l’ comprend pas ceci, j’mescuse. What do you mean? Why would you take any joy in such a difficult situation? And why don’t you look very joyful if there is some reason for elation amidst all these trials? Did something happen before I joined your meeting?” Ani asked. “Was something said or done that you believe will so much disturb our Enemy?”

“Oh he’s already plenty disturbed, ma plus cher reine.” Jim nodded, his smile growing wider. “But the answer to your last question is yes. And our Enemy is the one who did it! The core of all the lies those so called doctors told us was that the man who sent them, who hired them claimed to be my uncle, Jimmy. And that has already galled that Chief Liar more than anything I could ever do against him! He must have nearly choked on it by now, in fact! Why?

Because, Ani, that Enemy, that Adversary, that old devil who really sent those damn fools here to plague me, ABSOLUTELY, ABSOLUTELY HATES MY UNCLE JIMMY! So it had to be like swallowing wormwood for Remy Boudin to pretend he’s Jimmy Randolph, for Remy Boudin to even…” Jim answered. But then he went pale as milk, and froze where he stood.

“Jim? Jim, what’s wrong…” Artemus demanded, and then he stopped and stared at the younger man. “Wait, James. Did I just hear you say what I THINK I heard you say?”

Vividly struggling, with a feeling of breaking through a block of ice, Jim turned towards his partner’s voice and nodded stiffly. “I … I did… I did… I said… Rem… Remy Boudin… I said that old bastard’s name! Ani, you’re pure magic! You have no idea! You couldn’t! I said that monster’s name aloud! Ani, you’re wonderful! You can’t even imagine how HUGE that is!”

“That was then another of his barbarous mesmeric injunctions?” Antoinette guessed, as Jim reached towards her and clasped her arms.

“That was pretty much the strongest one, in fact, ma reine.” Mordred answered. “The old madman has a kind of phobia, I guess you’d say, of having anyone use his name.”

“But most of all, he wants no one to use his name in any connection whatsoever with his own vicious plots.” Pendragon added.

“Jacques? Artemus? Go back downstairs.” Jim insisted, grinning tautly. “I want at least one of those damn fools up here, as fast as they can move, as fast as they can be carried, carted, or dragged. Just get them here! And don’t let Mac turn you down. I said I knew who sent them here and I do. But now they’re going to hear it from me! Now they’re going to get … a real earful!”

“No problem, partner!” Artie laughed and headed back down the stairs. A moment later, the former actor was back with all four strangers in tow, like a bunch of calves roped for branding, with Mac Macquillan close behind.

“Gentlemen,” Jim said, frowning darkly in the direction he heard them. ‘take a seat. I have a something to tell you, something that you’re gonna turn around and tell the man who hired you, if you don’t want to wind up in Federal prison for quite a long while. And I mean by that you’re going to take this message directly to the man who ACTUALLY hired you, not some middleman, not some spear carrier and none of his supernumeraries, of which he’s got quite a few.”

“But, Mister West, as we said before, we were hired by a person who identified himself as your uncle’s attorney.” The first of the quartet of intruders interrupted. “And he… the person who approached us was very firm in his insistence that we would have no direct contact with his client. Aside from that, we only came here on this attorney’s assurance that our help, our consultation and our expertise as physicians was required. In short, we were informed, quite compellingly, I might add, that you stood in need of medical care, and that your uncle was determined you should receive the advice and help you need.”

“Oh, that part’s right.” Jim nodded. “He wants to help me. He wants to help me back into an asylum, where he put me to begin with. Or he wants me under his control, or both. And failing both of those, he wants to help me end up dead, as dead as a coffin nail, as my Welsh grandfather used to say. But he’s not my uncle, as we already explained. He’s no blood to me at all, I’m really glad to say.

So, this person lied to you. And I’m gonna set the record straight, right now. You see, I’ve known him now for more than thirty two years. And in all that time, he’s pretended to be a very good, close friend to my uncle Jimmy, who’s my g-dfather and my namesake, as I mentioned before. But, in all that time he’s done all he could to get back at my uncle through me, for what reason, I have no idea. All I really know is that this person, the man who sent you here, very deeply hates my uncle. For almost all my life he’s been trying one thing or another, one way or another to use me for some kind of revenge against Jimmy Randolph. Well, that’s done. His business with me and with my uncle, that’s all done. That’s all over now. And that’s a fairly big part of what you’re going to tell him, from me.”

“Here’s the rest: This is what you’re going to do- You’re going to go down to this “gentleman’s’ home outside Atlanta, that’s at what was his grandfather’s plantation, called the Cadmea. And if you don’t find him there, you’re going down to the islands, down to Haiti, and find him there. It’s January now, so I guess you should look there first, because he almost always spends the winters there where he was born, in Port au Prince. And when you get there, you’re going to say you have a message from James Torrance Kieran West, a message for the man who’s paying your salary, these days- He was named for his grandfather, just as I was named for my uncle, so his name is Gideon Alexander Remiel Boudin, the Second.”

“That’s right, you might want to note that down, as soon as you get the chance. I said his name is Gideon Alexander Remiel Boudin, the Second. But from the time I was just beginning to talk, he himself taught me to use a nickname my uncle gave him, more than forty years ago, to call him “Remy”. You tell him that you heard me say his name aloud, his name, Gideon Alexander Remiel Boudin, aloud, three times in the space of less than two minutes time, without breaking a sweat! And you tell him, for me, you tell Remy Boudin that Jim West, or Torry West if he prefers, is not playing his game, not now, not ever, not any more.”

“And if you do that, ‘doctors’, and if you don’t get lost somewhere down in those islands on your way back, THEN I’ll ask my friends here NOT to bring charges against you. I’ll ask Mac and Artemus and Jacques NOT to arrest and charge you with nine or ten kinds of fraud, forgery, intent to commit perjury, gross misrepresentation, and practicing medicine without a license. Oh, and on top of all those, I’ll ask my friends NOT to charge you with conspiracy to inflict grave bodily harm on a Federal agent. You see, I haven’t formally retired from the Service… not officially, not yet. That’s it. We’re done. You understand now what you need to do. That’s all I have to say. Get these bastards the hell out of Ani’s house, will you, fellas?”

“It’s as good as done right now, Youngster.” Mac answered, taking two of the quavering, quivering quartet with him back down the stairs.

“Allons y, mes idiotes.” Jacques added, chuckling and taking hold of the other two. “Apres vous, l’ deluge, as I believe l’ bon roi Louis Quinze once said.”

“No, I think that was Madame de Pompadour who actually said that.” Artie shot back, grinning widely. Then the dark haired, dark eyed agent turned back towards Jim. “Is there something else you wanted to tell those idiotes, James? Jim?” Artie asked again when the younger man stood wordlessly shuddering.

“No, no.” Jim finally answered, still shaking a bit, feeling a huge release of long held tensions, and a new worry that seemed to take their place. “If they get away from Remy alive, they’ll have done me a huge service, and I’ll get the bonus of asking them to describe the look on his face. No, there’s something else, partner, something else I should have … known.”

“Well, what is it? What’s wrong? Jim, you just faced down and beat one of the biggest … barriers you had. So what’s the matter, now?” Artie asked, crossing the room to put one hand on Jim’s shoulder.

“It’s something I’ve known for more than thirty years and somehow still manage to forget, from time to time.” Jim grated. “No matter how much he seems to lose in any given round, Remy always wins something. There’s always something he gets the brass ring on! And this time… it’s the Ls. This time they paid the price for the breakthrough… more like a breakout, really, all of you helped me make, just now, today.”

“Pero, que es mal, Torry?” Miguel demanded, too worried at the moment to use his second, third or fourth languages. “Que pasado hasta esos ninos pequenos?”

“Nada pasado hasta Miguel. Ese no ella. Qué mal es qué creen , qué Remy causado ustedes crean, acaecer si cualquier de la Compañía cruzado el línea! Y son así derribado por ese , son ocultación. No , no comprendéis mi amigo! Esos ninos pequenos son ocultación , pareja de mí , derecho ahora! Pensan nuestro Papa justo maligno por muerto!” Jim replied in Spanish.
“ Ese estado Remy’s más reciente amenaza hasta nosotros todos , olvidó el? Pozo mis hermanos pequenos pensar YO haber olvidado ese ! Ahora , El Ls pensar nuestro Papá es ahora muerto! no son seguro! fueron ahora mismo huérfano! Nosotros deber hallazgo them! Hemos contado. juego cosas derecho! Ah, Dios! Justo cuándo Pensaba YO recogido algo derecho , por una vez! Son ocultación! Son aterrorizado!”

trans 1 [ French, Quebecois French, Yiddish]
Damn it, I don’t believe this! Damn! Coward! Bastard! Are you crazy? Coward! G-d damn it! Imbecile! Go kill yourself! Coward! Coward, again! You’re a total imbecile, and a bastard! If stupidity were a kind of tree, you’d be a forest!

trans 2 [Irish Gaelic]
Lunatic! May you have glass legs and may the glass break! you’re worthless, damnation on you! miserable creature, wind bag! a blind fool! May the devil tear you! May you fall without rising! May the devil take you with him! May the cat eat you and may the devil eat the cat! Your soul to the devil!

trans 3 [Welsh]
Alla t gwna ddim – I can’t do anything//Fi m am ‘r darfod chan ‘m ffrwynglyma – I’m at the end of my tether//Rwy”n barod i roi’r ffidil yn y tô. (I’m ready to put the fiddle in the roof / = to give up.)//Beth wnaeth i ti ddod? Mae eisiau berwi dy ben. -(What made you come? You need your head boiled / = read.)//Am ‘m fam-gu s ben-glin! Buais am “n dri ar y pryd! – At my grandmother’s knee! I was about three at the time!//Bydew “na “i must wedi bod am ‘m dad-cu s ben-glin! Allai dyngu at gwna ‘r odiaeth “n sathredig fordwywr ai llong s capten e bob amser cyffyrddedig chocha!//Well then it must have been at my grandfather’s knee! He could swear to make the foulest sailor or ship’s captain he ever met blush!//rhywun s yn ystrancio arna - someone’s playing tricks on me//na “ch re jyst i lawr i mewn ‘r iselder ysbryd - no you’re just down in the dumps

Do , fi m gostega “n fyw a Ca na ddrychfeddwl beth da sy – Yes I’m still alive and I have no idea what good that is. Gwisga “ t ddeud ‘m gwisga “ t sylweddola fel “n ffodus Dwi – Don’t tell me I don’t realize how lucky I am.//Bopeth ydy “n amwyll a fel wi – Everything’s crazy and so am I
Na , “ch re mo “n orffwyllog , Huchgapten. Canfyddi , , Hynfydais , myfi , a Fi erioed lifia “ch i mewn ‘r chyfyl -No, you’re not insane, Major. You see, I’ve been there, myself, and I never saw you in the neighborhood,

[ trans 4: [Mexican/Norte Americano Spanish]
Nothing happened to them, Miguel. That’s not it. What’s wrong is what they believe, what Remy made them believe would happen if any of the Companies crossed the line. And they’re so knocked down by that, they’ve gone into... No, you don’t understand, my friend! Those ‘little boys’ are hiding, even from me, right now! They think our Poppa just fell over dead! That was Remy’s latest threat to all of us, did you forget? Well, my ‘little brothers’ think I must have forgotten that, myself! Because the Ls think our Dad just died! And that means they’re not safe! That means they’re orphaned! We have to find them! We have to ... set things right! Ah, God! Just when I thought I got something right, for once! They’re hiding! They’re terrified! ]

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SS novice field agent

610 Posts

Posted - 02/09/2009 :  12:49:09  Show Profile
SCENE TWENTY THREE – the next day, Isle d’ Tresor

“W Company, fall in, report in! But soft-foot it, and on the double quick, boys.” Auburn haired Youngest Jaimey called out in a stage whisper. And as they had been doing for a very long time, W Company fell into line, one by one.

“Scout, present.” a scrawny, sandy-haired mop-top Witness answered, taking first in line.

“Attache, present, YJ.” a wiry, dark haired brother answered, coming next.

‘travis, present, Jaimey-boy.” a grey eyed boy with light brown hair responded next.

“Gascon, presente, mon Capitaine.” a thin, dark eyed, dark haired brother replied, stepping up.

“Alexander, present!” was the response of a sturdy, bright-eyed, golden-blond.

“Galahad, I’m here, YJ, An’ I’m just now hearin’ about this, why?” asked another of the Witnesses, his long dark hair falling in his wide hazel eyes.

“Never mind that right now, Gal. Dad, present, Keep it goin’, boys.” a grey eyed, dark haired serious looking boy answered.

“AWOL, which I ain’t, by the way, present, YJ.” the next boy in line called out, his green eyes full of laughter, his thin features topped by thick, coarse, copper-penny hair.

“Innocent, which I ain’t been in some time, boys, present, y”all.” a dark hazel eyed towhead answered next.

“Prince of the Welsh Marches, present, and ready for whatever’s the trouble.” the next boy in line called out, a bright eyed youngster with a headfull of coarse, curly hair as black as pitch.

“We got enough trouble without lookin’ for more, Prince! Black sheep, present, YJ.” another thin framed boy answered, his grey-blue eyes stern and sad.

“You can say that again, but don’t! Brutus, present.” the next Witness replied, a wiry brunet with wide dark eyes.

“JimmyR” present, stop gripin’, we’re all already worn down to a nub!” Another copper-redhead said, rushing up to join the line.

“Cavalry present, yeah, I know I shoulda been watchin’ the Ls, same as all the rest of us!” the next brother called out, his green-hazel eyes snapping, rubbing one hand through his long, bright chestnut hair.

“Vraiment, we are all at fault, mes freres…Emissary, presente, m’sieur.” another bright blond brother answered, a frown deep in his wide, grey eyes.

“Baronet, presente aussi, YJ” a second towheaded mop top boy called out, with bright blue eyes twinkling in a long face.

“Partisan, right over here, YJ… uh, sorry, mean to say, present.” a wiry, sandy haired, hazel eyed brother responded, coming up next in the line.

“Orphan, if anybody gives a flying fig, I’m right here, Jaimey.” A sad, green eyed, dark haired boy grumbled.

“ “phan, you can be down in the dumps later, we’ve got Ls to find, right now…Oh, Horatio, present, m’ lord… ummm, that is, Jaimey.” the next boy on the roster, a scrawny lad with wide grey-blue eyes and long, dark sandy hair, insisted.

Kiery, here and … yeah, present, that’s the same thing, ain’t it?” called out the next brother, a boy with wide blue eyes and bright chestnut hair.

“It means the same, Kier, but you still have to answer the roll proper. Telemachos, present, YJ” The boy next in line responded, a thin youngster with grey green eyes full of laughter, under a mop of sunny bleached hair.

“Gallant, worn out already with lookin’ but I’m here!” A dark-hazel eyed, dark chestnut haired brother called out, coming up next in line.

“Mon enfant, presente, aussi.” the next brother, a sturdy boy with wide, clear brown eyes and thick sandy hair responded.

“Schoolboy, present for the roll, let’s get this done, boys.” another sandy-blond, with wide grey blue eyes called out in his turn.

“Caballero, estoy presente para el servicio, senor” An aristocratic looking, dark haired, dark eyed boy answered next.

“Effective, present as called for, YJ.” A stocky youngster with clear grey eyes and a mop of dark sandy hair called out.

“Foursquare, ‘m here an’ I t’hought V Company had Watch for th’ foreseeable, what th’ heck happened?” The next boy, a sturdy lad with thick light brown hair and wary blue eyes asked.

“We never stopped the Watch rotation, Four, not till the Ls took off, anyway. Missing, actually, not missin’ at all, I’m right here next to Four, YJ.” A pale featured, wide blue eyed blond brother answered.

“Darnay, presente, YJ.” The next brother in line, a wiry, bright haired blond with wide grey eyes called out.

“Cadet East, present for duty, YJ.” A green-eyed towhead lad next in the ranks called, snapping off a sharp salute.


Before any of W Company could answer, the rest of D Company stormed in behind Courier, clearly spoiling for a skirmish, if not an all out battle. This was nothing new to the Companies. Like any siblings, they’d been at odds, sometimes, until their recent incarceration, even at cross purposes, it seemed. But without knowing these brothers existed, and certainly without any conscious intent, Gideon Boudin had radically changed their perspective as a whole, and within each Company, as well. So now, instead of taking Courier’s provoking manner and angry tone at face value, Young Jaimey took a moment and a deep breath before he answered his younger brother.

“Figure we know he’s already started up again, Cour.” Jaimey answered, nodding. “Else the Ls wouldn’t have spooked and gone for whichever deep hidey-hole they’ve found themselves this time. And as for calling up D Company, much less sending up an alert, it was Oldest who gave US the word on the quiet, so that nobody would spook L Company any more than they already are. Now, W Company has the Watch, so we’re in charge of this damn all search. And we’re taking the roll, so WE KNOW the whole of W Company’s here! So, mind your tongue and follow orders, Cour! We had to just ORDER the rest of V Company to bivouac, cause they were getting purely frantic, coming off Watch to find no Ls in place for them to hand off the Watch! We’ll do the same with D, Cour, if you don’t set yourselves right now this minute to keeping those hotheaded, heedless, fractious magnets for disaster in line for once!”

Courier looked as if he was going to answer Jaimey’s rising temper with more of his own for a long moment. Then the leader of the Defenders shrugged. “Hold on to your own hot head, YJ, and listen up a minute. I’ve got a compromise offer. We’ll set a third each of my Defenders and your Witnesses to keep a good, close eye or ear on the Veterans while they’re in bivouac. Then the other two thirds will pair up, just as usual, and get to finding the Ls. That way, D Company is already on alert, helping all y”all search, ready for S to hand off the Watch to us, and at least two of the Companies will be situated the way the Watch calls for, AND nobody else has a chance to go wanderin’. Now, you’re still voted-in Captain for W Company, so you can make this call. What’s your choice?”

“You’re making a lot more sense than you used to, these days, Cour.” Jaimey grinned crookedly at his younger brother, knowing he hated being tweaked that way. “So I’m gonna take you up on that compromise, and I’m gonna go you one better. If this search takes longer than W Company’s turn at Watch, I’ll hand it off to D, and take your post keeping Watch on Oldest. And if this search takes that long, or longer, I’ll add this notion to the mix: that we trade off which fellas are guarding V Company in bivouac, and which are out chasing down our Ls, at the halfway mark during each Company’s turn at Watch, to make it fair all ‘round. Done?”

“Done.” Courier answered, and without another word, saluted the Witnesses current “captain, with only the least touch of mockery in his eyes and his manner. In the next instant Courier’s long term authority within D Company showed clear as day, as each Defender took his place either beside the Witness he would search with, or beside the Veteran he was temporarily charged to watch and to watch over.

“Let’s finish the roll and get back to searching, boys.” Jaimey called out, sighing with huge relief. D Company was also known as Defiants, and for good reason. Until their recent troubles, that third-born command among the brothers defied their elders on a regular basis.

“Refugee, presente, mon frere”. The next Witness, a thin lad with coarse, thick dark hair and bright hazel eyes called out next.

”Adamech Avishai, present, and I’d love to know what the …” A dark eyed, dark haired moptop lad began to say.

“Not now, ‘mech, not now. Pony present, and ready, no cracks from the sidelines.” The next brother, a green eyed copper redhead interrupted.

“Footracer, bout run off m’feet already lookin’… oh, sorry, present, YJ.” The next boy, a chestnut haired, wiry hazel eyed lad, coming into the line called out.

“Bedwyr, present, can’t we get some horses, YJ and start looking further out?” Another wiry boy with unruly jet black hair and eyes asked.

“We don’t need horses, we’ve got Pony, ‘llero, an’ Cav! Steadfast, present, but tired out already.” A sandy haired, sturdy, green eyed brother answered, with a crooked grin.

“He said no cracks, so could ye just shut it? Matchless, which this whole thing ain’t, present for duty, YJ” the next brother, a scrawny, haze eyed boy, just coming into line answered, shaking his head of long, dark hair.

“He always says no cracks, it was just a jibe, calm down, Radical, present but not making trouble, YJ.” The boy striding up behind him, a hazel eyed, strawberry blond, protested.

“Colonel, present as ordered, YJ, and we’ve got somebody else making all the trouble we need, boys.” The next brother, a somber towhead with bright grey-green eyes answered.

“Cripple present, and no, whoever asked, ‘m not on the sick list, I’m here to get in the search.” The next boy, a thin brunette with deep set dark hazel eyes insisted.

“You were lookin’ a bit wobbly, C, that’s why somebody asked, 12th of 45, present, YJ.” the boy just behind him, another green eyed brother, with thick, curly dark brown hair answered.

“Boy, for all the good it will do looking for the Ls when they really want to hide, present, Jaimey.” The next brother in the line, a reedy, sandy haired boy with huge grey-blue eyes called out glumly.

“Tidewater present YJ, we’ve always been able to coax “em out as needed before… relax, fellows.” The next boy, a “carrot top” with wide green eyes replied.

“Preacher, present, Jaimey, and it won’t hurt, so I’m already ‘talking to the Man Upstairs about this.” The brother coming up next, another copper penny redhead with deep set hazel eyes reported.

“Witness, yeah, prayin’ sounds pretty good, when all else falls apart! Sorry, Witness present as ordered, YJ.” One more thin, dark haired, bright eyed brother called out.

“Emrys present, when all else falls apart, W Company’s always the one puttin’ it all back t’gether, your turn now, Jaimey.” The brother closest to Jaimey, a dark mop top with wide dark eyes answered.

“Thanks, Emm.Youngest Jaimey, voted-in Captain for the winter encampment, present as called on for search-duty. Let’s get to it, boys.”

“Attendre, attendre s’il vous plait, mes chers garcons.” Antoinette called out, walking into the attic room. “I thought you wished for my help in this morning’s effort to find your jeune freres. But instead Torry told me you were up here, already seeking them, so I have come looking for you. We are becoming friends, non?”

“Oh, oh, surely! ‘m sorry, missus DocAni, real sorry, we’re just so used t’ keepin’ things shut, still, its what we’ve always done… to get by… ‘m sorry. You’re havin’us all in your house now, without even gripin’ … An’ DocM , he came and stayed at that real awful crazed people place… all to help us, an all… just, it’s hard for any of us to know … it’s just hard to…” Jaimey told her, looking downcast.

“To believe you are protected now, by genuinely faithful friends, that you are not going to be hurt, not going to be lied to, or left hungry, sick and abandoned again? Oui, j’l’ comprend ceci, tres, tres bien. So, with that understood, we can work well together. Come, mes amis, and tell me first of all, where have you already been searching?” Ani asked, sitting down, and gesturing for the brothers to gather around her while they briefly conferred.
The situation was too urgent, all the searchers felt, to spend much time sitting and discussing tactics. So they studied the rough floorplans Ani sketched of the old mansion’s two wings, attic, cellar and the two floors in between. And even that quick conference was cut short when Micah climbed the wide, heavy attic stairway and rushed up to his mother.

“Maman! Maman, Micah Diego wants the playing with Our Torry’s Littles! P”quoi they don’t come play with Micah Diego like mon Pere promised they would when they camed here? P”quoi, maman? Do they no like to play, no like to have fun, no like Micah Diego?” The little boy demanded to know.

“Non, mon petite, non. They already like you quite a lot, of that I am sure, because already our Grown Torry, our cher ami likes you very much, cheri. Mais his little brothers are all very shy. I think they only want you to ask them to come out and play with you, mon petite. In fact, our plus cher ami Jaimee asked us to help him and his jeune freres play a sort of hide and seek game to bring out his small brothers.” Antoinette said, framing the search they would make in terms her small son would understand quickly.
“And I told Jaimee we would gladly help, because you and I already know all the finest of hiding places in our new home, don’t we, Micah Diego? So we can be of much help in such a play, non?”

“Oui, maman!” Micah agreed, bouncing happily at the prospect. “Jay- mee, Micah Diego plays seekinhidin very much good with maman, and papa, and sometimes they have the very hard times to find Micah Diego!”

“Well then, lets get this “game” goin’!” Jaimey agreed, mouthing thanks to Ani, as he hadn’t wanted to frighten her small son with the serious side of this “game”. ‘micah, where’s the best hidin’ place you’ve found in this big house? I think that’s where we should start lookin’ for those Littles.”

“I know!” Micah giggled, sounding very much like his father. “I know, come, Micah Diego will show you!”
SCENE TWENTY FOUR The cellars at Isle d’ Tresor the same day

Working from a verbal list of suggestions Ani and Micah gave them, the already paired brothers from both Companies split into three teams for their task. As agreed, one third kept Watch together, hoping no one else would note their diminished numbers on that detail. Another third spread out through the top floor of the old mansion, following Ani’s idea that the Ls would be fascinated by the many rooms in the mostly unused east wing and the attic.
But Ani led the last group, down from the attic, through the kitchen, the pantries and the cellars, divided by numerous weight-bearing walls, into long ignored, narrow rooms and darkened, cobwebbed passageways. A long two and three quarters of an hour passed while their search went on, each unit somberly reporting back their lack of findings. Then Scout, and Tin Man, both brothers bending down to look into what Ani said was a kind of sub-basement and storm cellar, called to the other searchers in paired stage-whispers.

“There they are! I saw “em stirrin’, right over there!” Scout called out. “We found “em, YJ! Get the rest of the teams on down here!”

“Dang, we almost went right past “em!” Tin Man added. “Cour, get on over here with that lantern, will you?”

Jaimey and Courier arrived in the blink of an eye, with Ani and Micah, and a good many of the other searchers right behind. “Where?” Jaimey demanded.

“They’re all right back there, YJ.” Scout answered and pointed. ‘look, they’ve curled up tight as newborn kittens back against the farthest wall of this cellar.”

“Great Glory!” Courier exclaimed, trying to keep his voice down, somewhat. ‘they’re hiding back there, curled up in a pile in the farthest corner, the same way they always did while we were stuck in that pesthouse, before Mac, Temus and the rest of “em showed up! They’re all bunched up, even sound asleep, as if they still needed to keep out of the drafts and the wet, and away from the scurvy creeps that passed for guards up there.”

“You’re right. Good work, good scoutin’, boys.” Jaimey acknowledged. “Now, soft-foot it, troops, and head on over. Let’s not get our L brothers jumping as high as they are tall by our clompin ‘round them. Umm… sorry, Missus Ani, you ain’t gonna fright them none, didn’t mean t’say you would.”

“No, of course not, mon cher.” Antoinette answered, and knelt to address her own son. ‘micah Diego, we must be very quiet now, while les Petites are awaking. Something has alarmed them, and we would not add to that, oui?”

“Oui, maman.” Micah nodded, wide eyed already as he watched the brothers interact.

“Mebbee it’d be best if we keep shut a while, YJ,” Travis Lee suggested, ‘so th’ Ls don’t get th’ idea we’re some of them danged guards from that rotten place up in Bal’mr.”

“That’s a good plan, as far as it goes, Trav.” Jaimey agreed. “But we still have to take care we don’t spook “em more.”

“Hey, YJ, I know we already took the roll. But with a good third of the fellas keepin’ Watch in place of the Ls right now, shouldn’t we do something to make sure we’re all… singing from the same page while we figure all this out? The last thing we need now we found them, is for some one of the fellas to say just the wrong thing, or make the wrongest move.” Preacher added.

‘Somethin’ like that, Preacher, but not exactly. Fellas, listen up” Jaimey said, an alternate idea vividly coming to live in his eyes. “ I’m just going to signal all y”all on the QT, while we take up the flanks and roll up the center to make it secure for the Littles again. Brothers, when I give you the pass-sign, not a sound out of y”all, just give a thumbs up, a high sign or a wave, mebbee. Then fall out of marchin’ column proper, step out and flank the Littles. And like I already said, soft-foot it, leave room for D Company to take their spots, and for the love of G-d, don’t step on their toes!”

Now, with the ease of long practice, each Witness and Defender made their way across the cellar, and settled into place sitting or standing behind, beside or in front of each Littler in the far corner. At first, there was little reaction among those “youngest’ brothers. But gradually, some of them began to stir, to look up, to reach for and snuggle close to their protectors, while some only managed to lean against their brothers, and a few gave almost no sign of knowing anyone was there at all. Without a word spoken, the Witnesses returned the open affection of the more active, more aware tykes, and encouraged whatever response they could get from the more diffident little boys.

Some of the youths pulled lengths of string from their pockets with which they quickly held their brother’s attention, playing “cat’s cradle”. Others quietly offered the children a piece of cornbread or a more rare bite of sour candy, tempting those small boys to give an even more rare smile. And the youths who sat with the most frightened, most timid children in the younger set only waited, as always, for those little boys to pick up the cues they needed to know they weren’t alone in the big, dark place.
Still the youths said nothing more aloud, and the smaller boys remained silent too, the more active ones glancing around themselves and their brothers worriedly, the more withdrawn ones seeming to just barely emerge again. Their hands were busy though, as Antoinette and Micah entered the cellar proper, signing and finger-spelling to each other, and to the small ones.

Ani and her son watched, fascinated, as this flanking maneuver got under way. They stopped beside a rough divider, made of old packing crates and barrels, and kept as quiet as any mother can keep an active little boy.

“Silence, mon coeur,” Ani admonished Micah, when he began to wriggle, as they waited and they watched. ‘remember, mon petite, we do not wish to frighten these little ones more. They are very dear to us, just as their brother, Torry is. And they have been very brave for such a long while, now, Micah Diego, just as you were mon si brave petit fils, when you had a fever, this autumn, not long before your Papa came home, do you not recall?”

“Oui, maman.” Micah whispered back. ‘micah Diego remembers that mucho. Micah Diego’s be-brave got so sleepy, then. Did Torry’s Littles petits freres be-brave get also so much sleepy, now?”

“Yes, that’s what I believe, cheri. And I think your Papa and our friends believe that, too. Don’t you, mes cher gentilhommes? “ Ani nodded, holding up her lantern, as she heard footsteps. Then she smiled, seeing her husband climbing into the cellar, with help from Jacques, who then turned around and lent a hand to Jim, coming up just behind them.

“I do, I do indeed. But what is all this sub rosa searching about, m’ijo?” Miguel quietly asked his son, with a broad wink and a wide, bright grin. “Why was I not invited to go spelunking for our Littlers with you and your cher maman? And how well you did without me, for here they are.”

“Mes Torry et Jacques amis, you should no be bring Papa down here as now. Maman told Micah Diego he was with too many worry all night with no being sleepying. This is tres much mal, tres, tres much mal.” Micah first scolded the two agents, somberly shaking his head.

“I know, Micah, and I’m sorry.” Jim said, just as seriously, reaching for the little boy. “But you see, I know the reason the Littles came to hide down here. I … well, something happened yesterday evening that scared them, a lot. And it was my fault. I need to apologize to them, and make things right, if I can. So I’ve been worried all night myself, and so has Jacques and of course, that worried your Papa. So, when all us grown folks thought about it for a bit, we realized that this is your home and so you would know JUST where to look for my … my little brothers. And you did, you did real well. And so maybe you should scold me, and not your father.”

“No, Papa is a grown person, Torry, all grown. So he really knows better. And he’s a very, very smart Doctor-person, almost as very smart as maman.” Micah protested and turned to frown even more grimly at Miguel. “You were too many no sleepy-ing, Papa. Et you were with too many worry. Et our Jaim-ee did said we must come find the Littlers-Petits as quick as quick.” Micah explained bluntly, with a near identical grin. “You stay up too many when you shouldn’t. Maman says Micah Diego gets wore-out-and very much sick with achy-fevres, when I’m too many staying up and no sleepying. You must not also get very much sick, Papa! You must go be now asleep!”

“Well, your maman is extremely wise, Micah Diego. And she’s often right about what makes one wore out with achy fevres.” Miguel agreed. ‘so I shall certainly go be asleep, just as soon as I make sure the small Torrys are also not too wore out, or too many no sleepying. They remain under my care, you see. And a doctor cannot simply go and nap a nap, m’ijo, while his patients need him. Est ce que t’ n’ comprends pas ceci, mon cher fils?”

“Non, j’l comprend bien, Papa. You may then stay down here a little while more. Only a little while, s’il t’plait. Then you must have to be come back to the upstairs and I must have to be read you a sleepying times story, Papa.” Micah nodded emphatically.

“Well, that would be most gratifying and I’m sure, very helpful in advancing the cause of my napping.” Miguel grinned. “Now, let’s see how we can help Torry and his brothers. Are you going to approach them at once, my friend or wait and see what the Witnesss and Defenders can come up with?”

“Well, I’m not sure.” Jim admitted, frowning and shrugging. “It was me, after all, who caused them this fright. In fact, in a lot of ways I’m the one who caused them to be locked in that … nightmarish place, what’d Artemus call it? That nightmare circus up in Baltimore? So I’m hardly in good standing with the Watch, or at least I don’t think I should be! V Company supposedly ‘took the reins’, as some of the older brothers call it, around the time the War started. So we were, allegedly, in control… when the most recent part of the whole lousy fracas began. So, how do I go to my brothers now? And what do I say? “Hey, I decided to finally, finally defy our Tormentor?”

And fellows, I have to tell you --for about a half a minute there, finally doing just that felt so fine! Only then I realized, only then I remembered what Remy threatened. And I remembered that he got through to you, to my oldest brothers, who’ve done so much, who’ve fought so hard, and who’ve been stuck in this fracas the longest…

And I remembered that you were so worn down by then, so wearied out and so plain exhausted you couldn’t fight off his lies, not any longer. And now here I am. And now, I have to help you understand just how much of a damnable lie that really was. Now I have to tell you… Remy made damn sure that one of the very worst days in our whole, entire lives would happen to you, all over again. Now I have to tell you the truth, that our …” Jim stopped, pressing one hand across the lower part of his face, covering his mouth, because this truth was surely the hardest he’d ever known.

“Mon Enfant, j’mescuse, mais, I do not agree with your assignment of blame in this case.” Jacques quietly responded, putting one hand on Jim’s shoulder, while Ani drew Micah and Miguel to one side. “You never chose what befell you, something over three years ago, Jim. most certainly did not decide to be so viciously harmed as a very small child. And you assuredly did not order our team to investigate the murders of former Confederates in and around Washington which began this phase of the nightmare, j” crois, anymore than you chose the time or the place or the means by which any one you cared for ever died.

And to come back to the point of this discussion, you did not lie to your juene freres about your pere. So, you are once more, perhaps taking too much on? That, my friend, that IS a deeply engrained character flaw of yours, a serious failing indeed, one you should work to amend, non? And in the meantime, let your brothers continue doing their duty, as they have already done so well, so far, n’cest pas?”

“Non, et oui.” Jim answered succinctly, frowning tautly, but not arguing further. “Where’s Artie?”

“Ah, for once he listened to his own instincts and common sense, and when those failed, to the rest of us. Artemus then agreed it would be better he not confuse les Petits more, by making an appearance just now, in the role of your late father.”

“Yeah, figure that.” Jim nodded. “Alright, you’re saying I should stand back now, and let my brothers fix the problem I caused for them? Jacques you know me pretty well by this time. So do you have any idea how much I hate that suggestion, and how much more I hate that you’re likely to be right?”

“A very annoying trait on my part, oui.” Jacques chuckled. “On the other hand, mon enfant, when I am in the role of your docteur and theirs, better I should be right more often than otherwise, non? Now, try to think of it this way: clearly the searchers came down here with some plan for easing the fears of the ones they sought. And clearly they’ve had much the same task to perform numerous times before now. You were explaining the protocols you and your brothers follow to Ani and myself, just the other day, Jim.

You know the reasons better than any of us, j”crois, for the way they cling to, they insist on those procedures and as Miguel put it, the algorithms that extend out from the ways in which the Watch operates. You said, ‘the Companies’ always do what works. We do what’s kept us alive and … until just lately, fairly safe. It’s pretty much that simple, well, if having forty six brothers could allow for anything being simple. So, I would have to guess that you know almost exactly what the Witnesses and Defenders are going to do in this, or any other given situation…”

“So, if that’s so, and … as a matter of fact, it is, why am I still so worried about what happens next?” Jim asked. ‘that’s simple too, mon docteur ami. As far as I can remember, and my memory’s been getting better lately, I’ve never been the person who terrified my oldest brothers so badly that they hid from me! So, I don’t know the algorithm in this case. I don’t know it, at all. What if they don’t trust me now, Jacques? What if they can’t?”

“C’est impossible, mon enfant.” Jacques insisted, once more setting one strong, squared off hand on each of Jim’s shoulders. “You have spent your lifetime protecting them, mon ami, as much as they have done for you. And this I learned from THEM. You kept them more than “fairly safe” during the War, when it would hardly have done for a ‘schoolhouse full of small boys’ to be in the heat of battle, non?
You have indeed, held the reins, held the Companies entirely safe from a world that would be hard pressed to comprehend their existence. If that were not the case a great many people would have supposed something was “up” with my friend James West. If you had not carried out your duties to your brothers, mon ami, literally shielding their existence from that … excreable personne… surely he would have found the means to imprison you, some time ago.”

“Or if not Remy, surely someone else would have done it. Someone else would have decided ol’ Jim here wasn’t just mercurial by nature. Yeah, I knew, we knew there was always a chance of that. We just didn’t know it could go from being the off chance to being damn all real. Well, there’s Jaimey and there’s Courier right with him. I should go… “ Jim exhaled sharply. “I have to go talk to them… that’s assuming they are talking to me!”

“That’s gonna have to wait, Oldest.” Courier growled, striding over to Jim. “We’ve got damage control running down here, now. You don’t want to make it worse. You really don’t want to do that. I think! Course, that’s a bit hard to say these days, when it’s always you an’ V Company making things harder, ‘stead of easier on the Watch!”

“I already said I know this disaster is on my own head, Courier. But hold on a minute. What are you really saying here? Are you saying you don’t want me set things right with the Ls, or even try to? Is that what you’re telling me, now, Cour?” Jim demanded, frowning tautly. “You’d rather I stay on the outs with our oldest brothers, cause then they’ll have to pay more attention to D Company, right? So, is that what you’re hoping for out of this last debacle?”

“Since when did D Company EVER want, or need or hope for attention from ANYBODY, Oldest?” Courier protested. “You’re kinda mixed up there, aren’t you? Yeah, you’re mixed up six ways from Sunday! V Company’s made up of the great babies amongst us, after all! And what do babies do, cause they hardly know any better? They get into one kinda trouble after another, after another, so all the grown folks PURELY HAVE TO pay them heed!

”Cour, stop it!” Jaimey hissed, frowning darkly as he joined his younger brothers. ‘the last thing the Ls need from us right now is another wrangle! And before you think I’m taking your side here, Oldest, don’t. You were being pretty danged brave t’other day, yeah, congrats on that. You made a breakthrough when we really needed one. But you were being pretty danged thoughtless, and not a little selfish, at the same time, cause you lost your temper. And those fools deserved it. But we all know what happens when your temper goes up and your common sense goes right out the window with it, don’t we?

So now, you want to make things right with the Ls? And that’s no more than I’d expect any of the Companies to say. But, what I say, bein’ voted in Captain for the Witnesses, and being W Company has Watch right now, is it’s not up to you how this gets put to rights, if it can be. An’ it’s not up to Courier, and it’s not even up to me. It’s up to THEM. It has to be that way, and all y”all know that. An’ there’s one more thing…”

“There’s ALWAYS one more thing, YJ, what’s it THIS time?” Courier demanded.

“This: all three of the younger Companies are at fault here, not just V and not just Oldest, either. So we might just as well admit it.”

“And just how do you figure THAT?” The Defender protested.

“Easy. We ALL let the Ls go on thinking Dad was still alive, after the Original Bastard made them believe that damn-all lie. Or at least I didn’t hear any one from D, or V Companies arguing the point! And even though none of us was gonna argue for a second, when it came down to Temus getting the Ls outa that corner of hell by taking on the part, it’s been, what… more than a month now since we all got safe away.
And none of us has so much as suggested he should let that go. None of us has so much as offered to wean the Ls slow and easy off that lie. And so here we are, and there they are and it’s the Ls payin’ the price, again. Now, if that’s alright with you, Cour, maybe YOU should be the one to explain to our oldest brothers, who’ve always borne the brunt of all our troubles, just why it is they got pummeled, again!”

“No, Jaimey, like I already said, that’s my job.” Jim insisted.

“No, James m’ boy, as Jacques was just about to explain, it’s mine.” Artie said, standing up at the back of the cellar, with dozens of the Ls holding onto his sleeves, his arms, his coat tails, his legs and his hands.

“Artemus!” Jim frowned darkly in the direction of his partner’s deep, warm voice. “I thought Jacques just told me you were staying out of this!”

“Nope. Jacques told you that I wasn’t about to come down here in the role of your father. That show has closed once and for all. I’m here as… myself, the one who lied to these little boys, by claiming to be their Poppa, knowing none of them could see that I’m not Stephen West.” Artie sighed. “So, I’m the one who had to set this right. And I think I’m making some progress here. We were just at the point of coming to look for you, when the invasion started. So, the rest of you can stay or go up and have brunch or something. And James, I know you’re staying, so that last didn’t include you. But Micah, why don’t you come over and meet the Ls, they’re more than ready to get to know you, now.”

“Can Micah Dieg… May Micah Diego go and make meeting with Torry’s Brothers Ls, maman? May I go right away?” The little boy pleaded, grasping Ani’s hands.

“Mais oui, mon coeur.” Antoinette agreed and let her son rush off to where Artemus stood, still surrounded by boys more or leSshis size and age, in appearance.

“Ani, excuse me, they really want to meet you, too.” Artemus amended, gesturing to Micah’s mother to join them. ‘they’re already calling you their Ani-momma. I think your gingerbread, hot cocoa, and bouillebaise have been a tremendous hit with the “younger set’.”

“Bien sur.” Ani laughed and quietly joined her son. ‘m’sieur Jaimee, you will introduce us, s’il t’plait?”

“Yes, ma”am.” Jaimey nodded. ‘right, Okay, L Company, which of you are awake now? Oh, all of you, I should have guessed. Well, we have two folks for you to meet, two friends. These are Missus Doc Ani, Doc Miguel’s missus, an’ their Little Micah Diego. Now, no, y”all don’t have to talk up right away. Just hold out your paws and nod polite like.
All y”all know how to do that. Missus Doc, Missus Ani, I’m fraid they’re like to natter your ears plumb off, the ones that’ll talk up, that is. And the ones that won’t, they’ll likely shake your arm loose. An’ a good number of the Ls hardly ever talk, some of “em not at at all. But they’ve got that finger spelling down pat, that we all learned from Mac. So, fair warning, okay?”

“J’suis enchantez d’ faire votre connaisance, messieurs.” Ani said curtseying to the crowd of boys.

“Maman says she’s very much happied to know you.” Micah duly translated, bowing his curly head.

“Alright. L Company, alongside your W Company brovvers fall in, front and center, now.” Jaimey requested. “Each of you, c’mon up and smile at the pretty lady and shake hands with Micah, too. Oh, sorry, BB, you wanted to say somethin’ too, didn’t you?”

“Fanks u.” The small, light redhaired, wide grey eyed brother nodded very solemnly, considering he appeared to be less than two years of age. “Alls us’ns Ehls, now be ‘tan up an be like rolls wens us’ns guddes’ Jaimey be sayin yous name!”

” Thanks you, Babyboy, you’re head of th’ line, like always, and here I am, Jaimey brovver’s right here with you, like always, too. And Littlest, your Emrys W-brovver is right here with you, come on and open those sleepy green eyes a minute, there y” go. Littler, you’ve got your Witness W-brovver with you, don’t be so standoffish now. These are our friends, just like they’re Oldest’ friends, that’s right. Annie’s there, your Preacher W-brovver’s got a good grip on your hand, and you’re not skeered a bit, not with ol’ Preach right there. We all know that.
Shinin’ tar, c’mon for a little bit, and meet our friends, they’re helpin us all, so much. Yeah, now see, your Tidewater W-brovver’s he’s right behind you, see?” Jaimey paused as a group of eight brothers, four from L Company, Littlest, a carrot-haired tyke with a sunny grin, Littler, a plump, dark chestnut haired tiny boy, Annie’s, a light golden towhead with bright blue eyes, and Shinin’ tar, a young toddler with short reddish brown hair and a grey gaze, and four from W Company, took their place in front of him, like soldiers at a review.

“ Okay, don’ be skeered, See”krit, c’mon now, your Boy-W-brovver’s got you righ there with him, that’s it, smile your pretty little smile. Now, Watchfu”, you’ve got your 12th of 45 W brovver right there, can you just maybe come and nod “hullo” to Missus Ani and Micah? There y” go! Okay, Fin lookin’, here y” are. and right beside you’s your Wounded brovver, no he’s alright, that happened a long time ago. Ain’t you just livin up to your name this mornin’, you look real pretty, Little. Noddin’, c’mon on over, there y”go. An’ your Colonel brovver’s right behind… Noddin… hold on, now. You can play hide and seek after supper, with him and Micah, how’d that be?” Jaimey asked as eight more brothers stepped into line, L Company represented by Seekrit, a child who looked to be almost four, with clear blue eyes and shining straw colored hair, Watchfu” a tyke who seemed to be three years old, with sandy brown hair and wide hazel eyes, Fin’ lookin’, another golden blond child, and Noddin’ a sturdy toddler with pale blond hair down to his collar and sleepy blue-grey eyes

“Now, C’ntraree, now, don’t be like that. Everything’s okay now. The skeeredys are all gone. Honest. And here’s your Diehard brovver, brave as all get out, here tappin’ your little shoulder, see? Alright, Towhead, Tow, here you are, but your hairs standing up like a haystack upside down! Oh, it’s okay, you were already playin’ with your Matchless brovver… Yeah, we think he’s better than just that, too. An’ Fassest, you’re the quickest one of all… ain’t you? But no worries, your Steadfast brovver keeps up with you just fine mos’ the time. Steady, where th… oh, there y” are. Alright, Huggin, Huggin Torry, don’t cry, Little… there, right there next to y” is your Bedwyr brovver, ready to get some of your hugs, just any time. An’ I bet Micah Diego here would take some, too.” Jaimey paused and nodded as another two groups of four took their places.

The Ls in this doubled-quad were Contraree, a dark haired worried looking tyke with dark hazel eyes like Jemmy’s, Towhead, a child who seemed to be two and frowned warily with deepset grey-green eyes, out from under a headful of pale golden hair, Fassest, a strawberry blond toddler with bright green eyes, who rushed to hide behind his W Company brother, and Huggin’, a smiling child with unruly sandy hair and blue eyes that turned towards each of the grown folks in turn as if choosing which one he’d hug first.

“Now, Rand, Rand Little, c’mon and show these nice folks your nice manners, yeah, just like you taught your Footracer brovver right here, an’ he’s finally got “em down pat. Then here y” come, Prinslin, no, these are really nice, good people, Little. These are Doc Miguel’s family. So you ain’t gotta be skeered a bit, especially with your good Pony brovver, runnin’ right beside you.

Now, Wis’fu, Wis, there y” are, peepin out from behind your Adamech Avishai brovver’s legs. AA, do I have to read out your whole enormous long name to get your attention? That’s better. An’ Wis’ it’s okay now. You don’t have to go wishin’-away anymore at all. These are our good friends, honest. So give “em a little hullo, won’t you? And No cryin’, see how nice our friends are, to come lookin’ for all y”all with us? Yeah, so you can smile just a tiny bit at “em can’t you?
Sure you can, here’s your Cadet brovver, all ready the way he always is, to wipe your little nose.” Jaimey grinned, watching the fourth group of eight brothers step up together. The L Company brothers in this doubled quad were Rand, a sunny strawberry blond child with bright hazel eyes, Prinslin, a copper redhead with wary grey eyes, Wis’fu, a dark haired boy with poignant hope shining in his wide blue eyes, and Nocryin, a dark haired tyke with heart breakingly doleful green eyes,

“Alright, Torry Hidin’, come on out and see our friends here, yeah, it’s alright. We don’t none of us have to go hidin’ anymore. And you’ve got your Darnay brovver, who don’t look it, but can be as brave as a whole regiment, you know. Okay, have I got this right? Yeah, Hushin’ Torry, here you are, Little. And nope, your Missing brovver is right behind you, Miss… could y” maybe sing out for him? Yeah, that’s it. Don’t none of us have to go Missing anymore, either.

Wondrin’, Wondrin’ Torry, there y” are, Little. Okay, can you hold off your game of twenty questions with your Foursquare brovver just long enough to say hullo to Missus Ani an’ Micah Little? An’ Four, could you stop standing there like you’re spoiling for a brawl? These are our friends! Thanks. Now, Bedien, Bee, c’mon, you know you’ve been wantin’ to say hullo to Micah and his momma a while now. You don’t gotta be worried, Little, not when your Effective brovver’s holdin’ your other hand. That’s th’ way!”

Jaimey paused again, glancing at Micah who looked as if he’d explode with curiosity and delight. The Ls who stepped up now were Hidin, a thin framed child with golden blond hair and sharp hazel eyes, Hushin, a very young toddler with light red hair and bright blue eyes, Wondrin’, another towhead with curious grey eyes, and Bedien, a still scrawny copper penny haired boy of three, with wide green eyes.

“And Pocket, you’re cute as a bug’s ear today, and you know it, doncha? Yeah, c’mon, that’s it, and bring your lazy Caballero brovver along with you. Hey, Cabi, we’re waitin’ on you, shake out those cobwebs, okay? Alright, special Little, here y” are, chatterin’ away already with your Four, lookin’ bright as a copper penny. Now, it’s okay, SL, it’s fine, here’s your Schoolboy brovver standing right in line with you now. There’s that grin!

And where’s… there y” are, P’tectin Torry, brave as bears, ain’t y” now? And there’s your brovver, Mon Enfant, with his nose in another journal, or is that a poem book, Mon? Next up, that’s you, Dreamin’. Here y” go, here’s Missus Doc Ani and Micah Little, c’mon an’ smile friendly at “em. That’s it, bring your Refugee brovver on up to the line with you. Good job, Ref, he’s not even duckin his head. That’s fine, Dreamin’, that’s it… You can smile real nice. Naw, she ain’t gonna mind a bit that you’re missin’ a tooth there, right in front.”
Once more Jaimey stopped, mostly to draw a deep breath and wink at Ani. The row of brothers grew again, to include Pocket, a young toddler with wide hazel eyes and dark brown fuzz on his head, special Little, a curly redhaired child of three, with lively grey-blue eyes, Ptectin’, another light-redheaded boy with an independent lift to his chin that was very familiar to everyone looking on, and Dreamin’, a dark haired tyke with smiling light brown eyes.

“Alright, up now is our Saddest Little, Missus Ani, who only smiles when Temus or his JimmyR brovver’s around. JR, you’re workin on that, we know. You’re both doin’ fine these days, lots better in fact. Now, here’s another of our oldest Ls, Missus Doc, here’s the one who called himself Nobotherin’. He’d set back all the time and hardly say a thing, if it weren’t for his Gallant brovver there. Good work on that, Gally. Okay, we’re getting down the roll pretty well this mornin’, one more in this batch…

Horsy’s Torry. Horsy’s, hey, c’mon Little. We all know you’d rather keep on gallopin’ round down here, like as if you had that stick pony Jimmy made us, a long while ago. And I’d bet your Telemachos brovver will make you one, real soon now, won’t you, Telly? So, c’mon, Horsy’s dismount now and bow to our friends, like a real swell. Great. Here comes our Natterin’ Torry, hey, Little, you’ve got your Torry-brovver right alongside. So we know you’re feelin brave enough to meet folks. Ain’t these nice people?” Jaimey encouraged the next doubled quad to come forward, including Saddest, a curly headed pale blond with mournful grey eyes, Nobotherin, an anxious faced blond tyke with wide blue eyes, Horsy’s, a chestnut-redheaded boy with cheerful green-grey eyes, and Natterin’, another strawberry blond, with curiosity shining in his blue eyes.

“Alright, where’s Torry Fourahalf? Oh, I see you, Little Four, it’s okay, c’mon over, here y”go. These are Doc M’s family, Little Four, and they’re here to help you feel at home. That’s right you bring your Horatio brovver with you, he makes you feel safer, we know. Good job, now here’s Torry all fi” nows, right behind Little Four. All, you’re lookin’ like you feel better this mornin’. That’s good. Yeah, you’ve got your Orphan brovver, right there, keepin’ at your side. Figure we’re all orphans now, ain’t we? Yeah.

Alright, here’s one of our bravest Ls, ever, Genrls FraanciSsMari in, here y” are. You’re not skeered a bit are you, GFM, especially when your Partisan brovver’s next to you. Parti, that’s fine, you got him to grin. Now, here’s our Torry Shad’o, he’s real good, the best of the Ls at hidin’ from all of us, in fact. But you don’t haveta hide here, not now, Shaddy. This is a good, real safe, comfy place. And you’ve got your Baronet brovver keepin’ his eye on you, y”know. Bari, Shaddy, show Missus Ani how nice you can bow. There’s the way.”

Stepping up with their brothers now were four more Ls, Fourahalf, a curly haired strawberry blond with a confident, typically Westian grin in his clear hazel eyes, all fi” nows a shyly smiling sandy haired child with bright green eyes, Genrl Francis Marion, a toddler with shaggy red brown hair and laughing grey-blue eyes, and Shad’o, a dark haired boy of four with wide hazel eyes that seemed to want to take in everything around him, despite their blindness.

“Next up is our Notelldis Torry. And we figure you already figured how he came to take that name. He don’t say a word out loud, never has. We figure the cute little tyke either can’t speak or just doesn’t figure he needs to a bit. C’mon, NTD, here y”go, bring your Emissary brovver right up with you now. You can show Missus Ani and Micah how good you’ve got that finger spellin’ workin these days. And there’s Dutafu”, yeah, here y” come, Du. You’re lookin’ real nice, all natty today to meet our friends. Nope, we know you ain’t skeered, you’ve got your Cavalry brovver right with you now. Cav, hey, Cav, snap to! That’s better, bro.

Okay, here comes another of our real quiet Ls, here y”are Nohearin’ Torry. Hey, c’mon and let Micah see how fine you do those finger letters. Yeah, that’s right, Little, you and your Brutus brovver have got that goin’ fine. Now, Torry Runnin’, we all know how quick you can be. But just hold on a sec or two, alright? Missus Ani and Micah Little came down to see you and say hullo, same as the rest. Now, don’t be shy, Runnin, you’ve got your Black sheep brovver, which we all know he ain’t, he’s right there half a step behind you, like always. He won’t let you fall down while you’re racin’ about.”
Now another doubled quad of brothers took their place, the Ls among them being Notelldis, a bright redhaired boy, with wide, clear brown-hazel eyes, Dutafu, an auburn haired child with watchful green eyes, Nohearin’, a bright blue eyed boy with a mop of chestnut hair, and Runnin, a brown haired tyke of four with smiling grey eyes.

“And Foal, that’s right, Little, show the pretty lady here and Micah Little how nice you can bow, see you even taught your Prince of the Welsh Marches there beside you, how t’ do it better than b”fore. Alright, alright now, Yowlin’, don’t get worked up, you ain’t gotta start in right now. You ain’t gotta be so skeered anymore. We’re all here. And we’re all just fine, now. Now, just look here, here’s your Innocent W-brovver with his arm ‘round your shoulders. Everything’s gonna come out fine.
Next up, is you, M’hundry, and we all are, “bout now, so we’ll get some chow real soon, promise. You hold onto your AWOL-W brovver, hold onta that fella real good, he’s doin’ fine, but we know he’d like to take off for home just anytime. Here we go, fellas, real close to finishin’ the roll, Torry Wrigglin, come on over, Little, there y” are. That’s right, you’re takin’ hold of your Dad W-brovver, just right. You’re real good at getting him to laugh now and then.”
The L Company brothers taking their places now were Foal, a long haired towheaded tyke with bright green eyes full of cautious hope, Yowlin, a sandy haired child of three with wide, still scared grey eyes, M’hundry, a sturdy boy who seemed about four years old, with dark chestnut hair and searching wide blue eyes, and Wrigglin’, a tiny redhaired toddler with smiling hazel eyes.

“And here y” are, Sojer, lookin’ just fine this mornin’ too, all natty-like. Sojer, you know we’ve been holdin’ off meetin Micah Little and his momma, Missus Doc Ani, but here they are, so c’mon up with your Galahad W-brovver and give “em that smart little salute you do, or just a big ol’ grin, that’s fine. Alright next up is you, Torry Skeered, but we all know you’re plenty brave, come on up and smile at our friends, Little. They’re real glad to see L Company is doin’ okay. That’s right, you bring your Gascon W-brovver right with you and let him do some that Frenchy talkin’ with Missus Ani. That’s fine.
Now there y” are, Genrls Torry, marchin’ right up. Y”know, you’re braver than most of the rest of the younger three Companies rolled into one. And you’ve got your Alexander W-brovver right there, so he can learn all the ropes.” Jaimey grinned, as six more brothers stepped up.
The First Company -L brothers in this doubled trio were Sojer, another golden blond child with warm grey eyes, who stood remarkably straight and strong, considering he seemed to be no more than four, Skeered, a blued eyed towheaded tyke who kept so close to his W-Company brother he seemed to have grown there, and Genrls Torry, a sandy haired. green eyed boy with a brave demeanor they’d already seen affecting all his younger siblings more than once.

“Just three more t’ go, boys. Fine job, all y”all, I’d say. Torry Noseein’, y”all just keep your Travis W-brovver’s hand, and help each other on over. Here y”go. You look to be in the pink again and that’s fine. Notalkinup Torry, here y” go, that’s really good how you’re learnin’ your Attache W-brovver to finger spell. He’s doin’ real well. And on the tag end we’ve just got you steppin into the line, Torry Whisperin’. You’re feeling better today, too. I can tell. There’s your Scout W-brovver, listenin’ close so you don’t need to worry about bein’ quiet-like. Here’s Missus Ani and Micah Little, real glad to see all y”all.”

Six more, the last in the group now stepped up, the Ls in this last batch being Noseein’, a dark haired tyke who was trying to smile, all the more poignant to the lookers on because his wide green-hazel eyes were wholly blind, Notalkinup, a dark sandy haired boy who stood pressed against his Witness-brother, finger spelling and only once or twice peering towards the group with bright brown eyes, and Whisperin’, a round faced tyke with thick sandy blond hair and wide blue eyes. ‘missus Ani ma”am, Micah Little,” Jaimey said, turning back to the young mother and her son. ‘that’s all of us. That’s how we shape up these days, Ws and Ls together.”

“Ehls Com’nee, yous be dissmiss all nows.” Babyboy added. And in the next instant Micah and Antoinette, Miguel, and Jacques were inundated by the eldest of Jim’s brother-selves, and happily enduring dozens and scores of hugs and giggles, shy, boyish kisses and day bright grins.

“Thanks, Jaimey,” Jim now nodded in the direction of the Witness in his own quad. “And thanks, BB. Thanks all of you Ls, that was very smartly done. But now it’s my turn to speak up here. So if I can humbly ask for your attention, this won’t take very long at all, I’d have to guess.”

“Ol’est, yous no gots ask Ehls fer dat.” the child called Babyboy Torry instructed his brother firmly, crossing his chubby arms across his chest. “Wees give it enny times. Iz some much of wut Ehls does fer us’ns V-brovvers. Yous did be knowin dat, yes, Ol’est?”

“I used to know for absolute fact a lot of things I’m not as sure of anymore, BB.” Jim answered, shaking his head. “And one of the things I’m not sure of at all is just…” Jim sighed, and reluctantly went on. “why you all have already given me so much to this point, when I’ve fallen down on the job so often. I mean just ask Courier when I ever did anything to watch out for him in all this time? Just ask Jaimey when I ever made it easier for him to speak for the quad, instead of opening my big mouth? Just ask yourself, BB, when I ever made it easier for you to keep me out of trouble? The answer’s the same, all around, and you know it. I never have.

And then, just when I thought I was getting ready to take the reins back into my hands… I did the worst harm anyone but the Original Bastard in all this ever did you, twice! I panicked, when I saw Liesl struggling with that Army Colt that day in Baltimore. So, I couldn’t think straight, so, I couldn’t stop her from sending off the explosion that blinded all of my oldest brothers at once! And just when you should have felt safer than you have in years now, I let loose with … his name, the one person’s name that would terrify you more than any other.

I know you can’t, and I know you wouldn’t do this if you could. But if it were humanly possible, right now I’d be telling you to banish me and find yourself a much, much better brother. But you won’t do that, Sir. As I said you wouldn’t do that, even if you could. However, I feel obliged to add that according to every element of the Watch’ structure, V Company was envisioned, was purposed to take over the reins, to take the point, to stand as the shield-wall for all our older brother-Companies, when it became clear the late War was about to start. And we did that, for a little while, BB.

But we failed, Sir. We failed our Brothers many, many times, in the one duty at which they never failed us, even once. So what I wanted to tell all y’all is just this, Sir: If you will once more entrust V Company with their sworn duty to the Watch, we will hold the reins with all our strength, and all our will and all our hearts, against all comers. We will take back the Watch and keep it as it should have been kept all this time, more than a dozen years, now, firmly in our hands and safeguard it with our lives against any and all enemies. And that’s what I came down here to say, and … ‘m terribly, terribly sorry. That’s all I wanted to tell all y”all. I’m … I’m just gonna go upstairs now and … “

“Ol’est yous stop ri” nows!” “BB” ordered, his reedy child’s voice nevertheless full of command authority. And it worked. Jim froze where he stood, taking on the stiff pose of a soldier called to attention on the parade ground. “Yous lissen guddesn’ nows, and no be talkinup till mees tells yous. Yous be march over heres an’ keeps all quiyat till mees tells yous be ansirr.”

Jim nodded and without another word, obeyed his oldest brother, as if he’d done so all his life. Artie watched in no little awe, knowing how badly his partner usually took to accepting unwanted orders.

“Dats bedder.” Babyboy nodded as Jim once more took up a stiff backed, shoulders squared position in front of the child. “Yous gots too many much of takin’ on stuffs yous no gots to, Ol’est. Yous allus be done dat. An yous be many much of rongs bout dat, allus. But mos’ly fer dem gud reesins, mos’ly. On’y, more times nows… wees Ehls a’most be thinkin’ yous no unnerstan wut Ehls “posedta be done, what Ws “poseta be done, what Ds posedta be done, an pecially no unnerstan wut Vs posedta be done. But you does be knowd dat, yes, Ol’est Torry?”

“Yes, Sir.” Jim nodded.

“Yous nows be telld us’ns what Us’ns Guddes’ Watch be fer doin, an’ how it be doin dat, so wees knows yous unnerstan’ dat, Ol’est.” Babyboy commanded.

“Yes, Sir. L Company, First Company watches for V Company, V Company, Fourth Company watches for D Company, D Company, Third Company watches for W Company, and W Company, Second Company watches for L Company. Only in the most extreme emergency situations or conditions will this order of the Watch be altered in any particulars. Therefore under most circumstances there will be no change in the responsibilties as designated for each Company and each brother.

The Watch rotation therefore operates as follows: Ls hand the Watch over to Ws, Ws hand the Watch over to Ds, Ds hand the Watch over to Vs, and Vs hand the Watch over to Ls. In that way, no Company of the Four, also called the Watch, is ever left unguarded or handed the Watch when they’ve just come off the line. That rotation protects all quads equally and does not allow any one Company, much less one individual brother to bear the burden of protecting an entire Company, much less safeguarding the whole, entire command, for a period longer than one quarter of any given day, Sir.” Jim recited and fell silent, still at full attention.

“Dat’s bedder, toos. Yous be now a”eez, Ol’est.” the child ordered and Jim immediately went from attention to parade-rest, head still up, gaze rigidly forward, chin out but his hands folded behind his back. “Yous now tell Ani-momma, Micah Little, Mee-gel, Temus Poppa an’ Jacs-dokker wut dat means fer peepuls no be in us’ns Com’nees.”

“All due respect, Sir, I don’t believe any further explanation is called for, just at present.” Jim demurred. “It’s fairly clear that our friends understand the Watch as well as any one of us do…”

“Then yous b’leivin’ somfing all wrong, Ol’est Torry!” The child concluded sternly. “An yous now be teld us’ns guddes’ frens jus’ like wees be orderin’ yous.”

Jim sighed and swallowed hard but obediently turned back in the general direction of the onlookers. ‘that means L Company believes I’m not responsible for any more of the Companies than the members of my quad. That means my elders in the Watch believe I’m only responsible for them when V Company has the Watch. L Company, together with W Company when they came along determined pretty early on that the Watch would never work if they didn’t set up very strict protocols and procedures. So, according to those protocols, I wasn’t on duty the other day, when I … broke the injunction … So I’m not held responsible for the way L Company instinctively reacted.”

“An’?” the child asked, clearly waiting for Jim to complete his response as ordered.

“And BB wants me to acknowledge that I’ve … fairly often taken responsibility for events and actions which did not properly belong to me as a member of the Watch. And he’s right. Which all y”all already know perfectly well.” Jim finished, frowning tautly.

“Oh, good for you, James!” Artie chuckled. “ That was well said, now let’s all get some breakfast…”

“Temus-Poppa, plees be waited.” Babyboy called out. “Wees wantad say somfin fer yous, plees nows.”

“The Ls want to say something to you, Artie.” Jim pretended to translate.

“Umm, alright, BB, what was it you wanted to say?” Artemus asked, suddenly a bit unnerved.

“Wees wantad be sayd fanks u, very many, many, many much!” L Company chorused.

“Yous did be fibbed, but yous did be fibbed fer makin’ us’ns brovvers all be sayf from dat bad, awful, skeeredy place!” Babyboy continued as the Ls crowded around both Artie and Jim, hugging and giggling. “Yous no wantad hurtin’ us’ns, Temus-Poppa. Wees did be knowd dat, allus. Same fer us’ns Guddes’ Ol’es.On’y yous did be no havin brovvers to take parts of bad fings fer yous. Wees veriest, veriest many much sorried yous no gots brovvers, Temus-Poppa.”

Artie clapped Jim on one shoulder and Jacques on the other and shook his head. “BB, I have brothers, two of “em are standing right here beside me. Then there’s Mac and Jeremy, Frank and … well, yeah, Ori, and Jemmy, for that matter. After all we’ve gone through together, if the lot of us aren’t brothers, I don’t know who could ever call themselves that. Now I don’t know that Miguel and Ani would necessarily care to be included…”

“We’d be delighted, mon cher frere.” Ani answered, while Miguel simply inclined his head towards Artie. “Gentilhommes, the hour is long past when I would ask Cook to present l’ petite dejeuner. But I would be glad to offer you une nouvelle Americain la clientcle. J”crois que s’appelle a la fourchette, ou la brunch, oui?”

“Precisement, ma plus cher reine du tout les coeurs.” Miguel agreed and held out his arm to Ani, like a born to the manor country squire.

“ ‘m hundry!” the L Company member of that name declared, getting everyone’s attention and a warm chuckle all around as the whole troupe headed back upstairs.

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SS novice field agent

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Posted - 02/09/2009 :  12:50:59  Show Profile
Isle d’ Tresor Antoinette and Miguel’s home outside Richmond –

More than a fortnight later, with the last big rainstorm of the winter hitting Richmond, Artemus Gordon walked into the library at Isle d’ Tresor, weary, sodden and glum. He’d spent most of his time just lately training back and forth between Richmond and Washington, with a side trip to check leads around Atlanta. He’d been in meetings with Frank Harper, James Richmond, Jeremy Pike and the President, for most of the second half of his trip. And he had no good news at all to share with Jim, Mac, Jacques or the de Cervantes about the team’s ongoing investigation of Gideon Boudin. The Haiti born Georgian had gone to ground somewhere well out of their reach for now, they were all certain. And they all expected him to take at least one more shot at regaining control of ‘his Courier’ otherwise known as James T. West.

Just as he’d expected, Artie found Antoinette singing and laughing with Miguel while she rubbed her husband’s forehead. Mac Macquillan was carving yet another plaything for one of the Ls, that looked to be a small rocking horse. And while he did so, he and Jemmy Singer were avidly listening to an excited batch of those brothers, talking about what they’d done today. And they were probably telling that tale for the fourth or fifth time, Artie guessed. Jacques D’eglisier was poking the fire, but turned and laughed merrily at Gordon’s soaked condition, despite the coughing jag his laughter brought on. Jacques’ asthma had been plaguing him badly this winter, or Artie knew he’d have gone along on this last jaunt to Washington and Atlanta.

“What, what have you been doing, mon ami?” the Canadien asked. “Were you standing under a waterfall?”

“No, I was coming back from yet another day of meetings that led absolutely nowhere, and guess what, it began to storm Where’s Jim?” Artemus asked, realizing he hadn’t seen or heard his partner as he walked in. Before Jacques could answer, a very Westian shout of anger from the small study next door did the trick.

“NO! No, Jimmy, you’re not even listening to me! I WON’T DO THIS! I WON’T LET YOU DO THIS! I said no and I meant it! There’s no way in holy hell I will let you do this or anything of the kind! And on top of all that, you shouldn’t even be up here. You never should have made a trip like this, right now, Uncle. And I don’t understand how Aunt Jo, or Bea or Jeanny LET you do it!” Jim was shouting, loud enough for half the street outside to hear him now.

“Torry, son… you’re just not thinkin’ clearly right now. And I can surely understand that.” Jimmy Randolph’s soft, Tidewater-slurred voice replied as Jim charged into the library, keeping to a well marked, well learned path between tables full of Ani’s china and etageres full of oddments from Miguel’s travels.

“Understand it?” Jim echoed, turning back in the direction of his uncle’s voice, as that gentleman strode into the library a few slow paces behind him, with two women around his age accompanying him. “Understand it? Uncle, I don’t even want to understand this! And on top of that there’s the little question of why I didn’t already know about … about what you’re… going through right now! Jimmy, I’m not a little boy, well, not in the way you seem to think!
I’m a grown man with a clearer understanding of what I owe you right now than I had the whole, entire time I was growing up! And I don’t go back on my word, and I don’t welch on my debts! You taught me not to do both those things, Uncle, that was you! And more than anything else, I don’t go back to someone I owe and ask them to do more, to give more, to give up even more than they already did for me! Now that’s my last word on this! My very last! I will not ever change my mind. And you know that, too, or if you don’t, you purely should!”

“Because Randolphs are too hot headed, too hard headed and too many to fight.” Jimmy nodded and recited something Artie had heard Jim explain a few thousand times before.

“Too many to fight when we’re on the same side of an issue, anyway.” Jim added, glumly. “Guess I never thought we’d be on opposite sides, ever again, not after the War.”

“We weren’t then, and we’re not now, Torry. You only think we are.” Jimmy suggested, smiling at the younger man a bit sadly because he knew his nephew couldn’t see him smile. “I broached the whole subject way too abruptly for you, nephew, and for that I’m profoundly sorry. I should have let us go through all the usual amenities first, as your Grandma Jean taught us both to do.”

“Grandma Jean would have absolutely no truck with what you want to do, Jimmy. You surely know that’s true.” Jim insisted, still frowning fiercely in his uncle’s direction. “She’d call it what I call it, a pointless desecration, a worthlessly cruel mutilation, maybe even an absolute abomination if she were standing here right now. And G-d, I wish she was!”

“Well, so do we all, Torry, dearling.” a small framed older woman, standing on Jimmy’s right, with shining dark gold-grey hair and wide grey eyes said, stepping up beside Jimmy. “Your grandmother was a wonderful woman, and a light to all who ever knew her in the least.”

“But what, Queen Bea?” Jim demanded to know, turning towards her voice. “I heard a very distinct but at the end of that last sentence there.”

“But Missus Jean knew nothing about the kind of procedure we’re talking about attempting for you, Dearling.” Beatrice Parry answered, just as Artie realized from seeing some dauggerotypes Jim had, that she was Gideon Boudin’s sister! “So we don’t know for certain what she’d say. We can’t. We can agree she loved you more than her own life, can’t we? We can agree she’d want you to have the life you worked so hard, you fought so hard to achieve, can’t we, Torry?”

“Queen Bea, you know I was raised never to argue with a woman.” Jim frowned. “You know both my Grandmothers, bless “em would tan my hide, right here and now if they heard me doing any such thing. So, can you please let me settle this with Jimmy? I don’t ever want to fight with you.”

“So, I can take it that you don’t want to fight with me, either, is that right, Torry?” The woman on Jimmy’s left, a petite, brightly smiling silvered blonde asked Jim.

“No, Aunt Jo, of course I don’t. Truth be told, I don’t want to fight with anyone right now, with the possible exception of someone I can’t get my hands on!” Jim insisted, turning now towards his Aunt Joanna Randolph, Jimmy’s second wife.

“And that would be my brother, Remy.” Beatrice Parry nodded, crossing to hug Jim. “I’d be glad to help you throttle the man, myself, dearling. But you know that. He’s caused such terrible harm already. And G-d knows, knowing my brother, he’s not done yet.”

“Excuse me for interrupting, Mrs. Parry, isn’t it? I’m Artemus Gordon, Jim’s partner.” Artie couldn’t help asking the darker haired woman. “Do you mind if I ask you one small question?”

“You want to ask if I know where you can find my brother, don’t you, Mr. Gordon?” Beatrice asked. “And sadly, I can’t say for sure. He’s purchased estates all throughout the West Indies in just the last few years, at least one in Rio de Janiero, one on Capri, another near Mykonos, and I believe one in the Azores.”

“Where we would have a great deal of trouble extraditing him. Yes, I can see where he would try that tact.” Artie replied, grimacing at another lost chance.

“I’m sorry to be so little help to that element of your investigation, sir. I want Remy stopped as much as anyone here, I assure you. He’s dangerously, violently insane.” Bea Parry answered. “But it may be I can help you in some other way. You don’t know that much about Remy at this point, I believe, from what Torry’s said. And I’ve of course known him all his life.”

“We’ll be glad to know whatever you can share with us, Mrs. Parry.” Macquillan said, getting up to join the group in the middle of the library. “But that wasn’t your purpose in coming here. And we have no reason to interrogate you, none at all.”

“Thomas!” Artie whispered, turning to glare at the Bostonian. “She’s that bastard’s sister! I don’t even know how you even let her in this house, old friend! But now you’re not even gonna let me ask her about …”

“This isn’t my house to let anyone in to or out of, for one thing, old friend.” Mac answered, glaring back. “And for another, the Youngster was really glad she came up with his aunt and uncle. He’s been pretty well in the dumps, just lately. Maybe you didn’t catch on to that.”

“I’M RIGHT HERE IN THE ROOM, FELLOWS! AND I’m BLIND AS YOU MAY NOT KNOW, NOT DEAF!” Jim shouted, just as angrily as his friends. “Also, I’ve known Bea Parry longer than I’ve known anyone else in this room, except for my uncle! So if you want to not trust me now, on whether Bea can be trusted, Artemus, you’d best come over here and say that to my face!”

“James,” Artie started to say, approaching the younger man.

“Don’t handle me, Artie. Don’t work me, damn it!” Jim insisted. “I’m not mentally impaired! I’m not crippled, and I’m not an invalid! Also, I’ve about had it with being kept at arm’s length from these trips, these meetings and these decisions that are apparently being made all around me without a word to me! You don’t get to decide things about my life, not now, not anymore! None of you get to do that, is that clear? Do we, can we, finally have that cl…” Jim shouted and then shuddered as if one of his old bouts of malaria was coming back.

“Torry, Torry, dearling, it’s alright. It’s alright, dearling boy.” Beatrice Parry immediately told the younger man, reaching for his right arm. “You’re not my brother, you couldn’t ever, ever possibly be. And if you happen to recall the way Remy habitually expresses himself sometimes, that’s hardly a surprise, now is it, love?”

Jim surprised everyone by drawing Bea into a hug. “ ‘m sorry, Queen Bea. It just … it catches me up pretty short when that happens… And … there is one member of D Company… who can carry off a pretty darn fine impersonation of … Remy, so we call him that.” the former soldier sighed, stepping back a bit.

“Well, I seem to have come in on the middle of something.” Artie shrugged. “Would someone like to fill me in?”

“I’ve been corresponding with Doctor de Cervantes, with both of them, in fact for more than two months, now, Mr. Gordon.” Jimmy Randolph answered tiredly, leaning on his wife’s right arm. “And I came up from N’folk today to tell Torry the conclusion I’ve come to at this point.”

“You what?” Jim demanded furiously, turning in the direction he last heard Miguel’s voice from. “ Miguel, you’ve been writing to my uncle about this, all without one word to me? Miguel, I told you, while we were still up in Baltimore that I had no intention of making use of grave robbing, which is what you’re both really talking about here, for the sake of an untried procedure that may or may not help me see again!
And back then I was talking about the gruesome idea of going to a morgue, I suppose and picking some stranger’s body to take corneas from! What in the very devil makes you think I’d even consider making such macabre use of my own uncle’s eyes? Well, to be absolutely clear, I never will do anything of the kind! And you both should… no, you all should know me better than that by this time!”

“No, Torry, it was I who first made this suggestion, not Dr de Cervantes.” Jimmy protested tiredly, walking over to his sister’s son. “And it is no more than your Daddy or your angel-momma would do in my place for Sarah Jean, Paul or Robby. You know that as well as I. When I learned how you were injured, as you know I was still in Europe with these ladies, little April and Sarah Jean.
So I took the opportunity to consult with some doctors on the continent. And they were all very much enthused about the good doctor’s articles and extracts as regards this surgery, with the caveat that the best chance a candidate for this procedure would have must be a donor as they called it, from within his closest kin. That being the case, nephew unless you have some secret progeny I don’t know of, your best chance to regain your vision certainly lies with me.”

“Uncle.” Jim said, frowning tautly, and shaking his head. “You know I … understand what you’re saying. You know how much I owe you already, for everything you’ve done for me. I may not be acting as if I’m aware of that, but I surely am. I just… I can’t … Uncle, I really can’t do what you … what you want me to. If it worked, of which there is no guarantee at all, how could I look your children, and grandchildren, my cousins in the eye, ever again? How could I go down to N’folk and play with little Joanna and Rachel, or their brothers? How could I sit and talk with Aunt Jo, when all the time she’d have to be thinking... they’d all have to be thinking… Torry’s looking at us with Jimmy’s eyes!”

“ But Torry, don’t you think this could be another way, a fine, giving way for your uncle to live on with all of us?” Joanna asked, very quietly, stepping between the Jim and his namesake.

“Aunt Jo, I …” I can’t do this. I purely can’t.” Jim said, and then turned towards the last place he’d heard his uncle’s voice. “Jimmy, you asked me to hear you out, and as far as I can tell, I did that. But now you won’t hear my honest answer, because it’s not the one you wanted. That’s not the fair state of mind you taught me to keep to, Uncle, and you know that as well as me. So, please, just hear me out now.”

“Very well, Torry.” Jimmy Randolph agreed. “Go on ahead and tell me why you’re refusing what little help I can still give you now.”

“Because, all due respect, Jimmy, you’re wrong about the reason you gave me for doing this.” Jim insisted, folding his arms across his chest. “You have NO unpaid debt to me, you never did. Of the two of us, I’m the one who’s the debtor. What you’ve done for me, my whole, entire life, Uncle, I can no more repay you for than I could jump the moon. You helped Dad and Granma Jean raise me after… after momma died. You helped me get into every school I ever wanted to go to, including, ultimately, West Point.

All that being the case, you have no unpaid debt to me, Uncle, no matter what you may believe. And on top of that, I don’t think momma or Grandma Jean would ever forgive me for taking your offer. Also, I’m not sure Dad would say it’s right. And I’m not sure Aunt or Bea would stand here agreeing with you right now, if you weren’t so danged good at pitching to a jury… So, let’s … let’s just let that go, alright? I’m… I’m gonna go … soak my head it’s kinda achey… I … I’m glad you’re all here. I just … don’t feel so … hospitable right now… I … shouldn’t have hollered at you all. ‘m sorry. Truly.”

“No, Torry, wait, please. I’m sorry.” Jimmy Randolph said, and put one hand on Jim’s right arm. “I should have come up here to see you a great deal sooner. It’s not as if I only found out this winter that I’m not in the best of health. After all, I’m not a spring chicken, any longer. I’m sixty seven, as you well know, nephew. So I’m awfully close now to the ‘threescore and ten’ The Book gives us. I was born three years ahead of your dear Daddy, Stephen. Now, please, sit down, won’t you, Torry?”

“I …I can’t say no to you as far as sitting and talking, Jimmy.” Jim nodded, and walked with his uncle over to a settee by the library window.

“I was hoping for nothing more than that, Torry, nothing more, really then the chance to sit and talk with Jessy-Anne’s son, again.” Jimmy smiled as they sat down, together and began to talk more quietly. Artemus noted how rigid Jim’s posture still was and glanced at the team, seeing that they all recalled the terrible plan Boudin had in mind for this nephew and uncle.

“Mrs. Randolph,” Artemus said to Joanna Randolph, as he watched Jim a moment longer. “ I hope you won’t take this question the wrong way. I’m very, very sorry to hear that Mr. Randolph is so very ill, now. But I’m not sure I understand what your husband hopes for by offering Jim this … this chance.”

“That’s very simple to answer, Mr. Gordon. And I don’t take it wrong at all. What we both, along with our dear friend Bea hope for is that Torry will see again.” Joanna answered, making a point to draw Beatrice close to her.

“And for some small measure of redemption.” Bea Parry added. “Perhaps y’all would like me to explain that a little bit further, Mr. Gordon. And as a kind of rehearsal for having the same discussion with Torry, I’d be more than glad to do that.”

“Bea, this isn’t necessary by any means whatsoever.”Joanna protested.

“But I do need to practice what I hope will persuade Torry to let Jimmy do this for him. And these are Torry’s truest friends. Isn’t that what you’ve told me, Jo dearling?” Beatrice asked her long time friend.

“Yes, I’m afraid you have me, there, old friend.” Joanna shook her head and chuckled. “I’m afraid I’ve been praising all of you to the skies, to anyone who would listen, down to home. I know Torry would have surely died in that horrendous place without your help and your friendship.”

“Well, thank you, Mrs. Randolph. The truth is we all know Jim would do the same for us, and in a heartbeat. And just being honestly curious, Mrs. Parry, I for one would like to hear what you intend to tell my partner.” Artie admitted with a shrug.

“Will you come and sit over by the fireplace, madames, mes amis?” Antoinette asked, getting up while Miguel hurried to her side. “I’ll have Cook send in some tea for us. Please excuse me while I see to that.”

“Ma cher, ma vrai coeur, are you quite well?” the small doctor demanded to know. “Antoinette?”

“I’m completely well, mon cher.” Ani told her husband, embracing him. The couple kissed and embraced again as if no one else was in the room with them, and their evident joy seemed to lighten every face and voice around them.

“Looks like there’s some good news on the way, at least, old friend.” Artemus whispered to Mac.

“You’re turning into something of a gossip, aren’t you, old friend?” Mac jibed back. “Maybe we should wait till Ani actually tells us.”

“If you wait for that kind of thing you never catch up, old friend.” Artie grinned, and then turned back to wait for Joanna and Beatrice to take their seats on a divan to the left of the huge fireplace.

“First of all, “ Beatrice Parry said when everyone had settled and she knew Jimmy had Jim fully engaged in conversation across the library. “You gentlemen clearly already know that my brother, Gideon alexander Remiel Boudin is in large measure responsible for the terrible ordeal Torry and you as his friends have come through in the last few years. I’m told by my dear friend Joanna that Torry was able to confirm that appalling fact for you.

I don’t know that Jimmy’s nephew is at all aware of the alleged reasons my brother maintains to defend his actions. And let me add that Remy has never admitted any of his awful deeds. But he’s never been loath to complain about the supposed wrongs that drive all his ambitions and actions. In that way, and sadly, in many others, my brother very much takes after our mother. She was Helene Terese Beatrice Dupree, of Athens, Georgia, before she married our father, Joshua Phillipe Zadkiel Boudin, of Port au Prince, Haiti. Together they amassed a considerable fortune, building on the estates left by both my grandfathers, and had five children, only two of whom survived to adulthood, myself and Remy.

However, maman was never the most stableminded of people. She was a great beauty in her youth. And she was considered quite brilliant socially and politically in her day, but also … quite given to extremes of emotion. And when papa’s estates on Haiti were threatened by the revolution there, by the Republique, maman suffered a nervous collapse, the first of several I know about. I’m not sure she ever recovered fully from, well, from any of them. But it was after the second one, that happened when I was …umm… nine and a half, so Remy was just turned seven, that I saw, that I noted definite changes in moman. From that time forward, the main theme in all her conversations and all her instructions to us, was betrayal.

Betrayal, maman always said, whether on a national, a social, a political or a personal level was beyond the Pale, never to be forgiven. Betrayal, by which she meant any failure in loyalty, faith, support, respect or affection, was the true Original Sin, maman declared, time and again. So, she accused our relatives in Haiti of betrayal whenever they failed to adequately account for family resources there.
She accused father of betrayal, whenever he opposed her will, her plans or her actions. She accused me of betrayal when I went to live with father, after she drove him out, and when I married, twice to men she’d never approve of, Michael McTiernan and Rhys Elian Parry. And in the only such occasion I know of, she accused Remy of betrayal, when at thirteen, he elected to spend a year’s term at William and Mary, hundreds of miles away from maman.

So, in practice, betrayal meant to maman failure to love her as much as she demanded to be loved, which was entirely, witholding nothing from her, ever. Love, as her madness warped and corrupted it, was to be given all to one, and only one, none other, ever. And of course, in maman’s perspective, the one to be loved that all consuming way was not the Deity, as we are taught, but herself. Well, Remy took all that poison, all that bitter fear and raging jealousy in with our mother’s milk. He believed everything she ever said, as far as I can tell. He adopted her doctrine as his own, without a moment’s questioning.

According to maman’s and therefore Remy’s world-view, I was not ever to love any man more than I loved my own brother. I was to defer to Remy, two and a half years my junior in all things, always. And I was, while she still lived, to defer to maman’s iron will as regards every aspect of my life. I don’t doubt for an instant that Remy believes that deference should have transferred to him, when maman passed away. And so in that sense, I’ve grievously ‘wronged’ both of them, you see. And in that sense, of not being entirely devoted to Remy, Jimmy stands indicted for the same ‘offenses’. And that’s what I fear lies at the root of all these troubles.” Mrs. Parry said and began to weep.

“Bea, dearest, that’s just absurd, it’s … well, it is pure madness.” Joanna protested, hugging her friend. “For one thing, everyone who’s ever known our Jimmy just loves him to pieces. Robby, Pauly and Jeanny have the same, exact gift. So does young Jemison Singer and his brother Ben and so does Torry. They all came by it honestly from their grandmothers who were the closest of sisters, Jean and Margaret Torrance, who came by it from their father, Aidan Torrance. That’s why where I come from we call it ‘the infamous Torrance charm’. It’s … inescapable, really. And there’s nothing to be ashamed of in being charmed that way, dearest Queen Bea, just nothing.”

“No, dearling. No, I know I’ve done nothing wrong, nothing at all I’m ashamed of as far as Jimmy is concerned. But from Remy’s viewpoint I have ‘betrayed him’ on at least three separate occasions, when I fell in love with three wonderful men. Those men were in reverse order, Rhys Elian Parry, Michael Andrew McTiernan, and James Torrance Kieran Randolph.” Bea shook her head, smiling tearily.
“So, what I fear, what I should have known enough to greatly fear all this while is that Remy, in his own, embittered, mad, poisoned way once loved Jimmy, too. That would most likely have been all those years ago, when they were both at William and Mary. And it turned out to be a much harder year than Remy expected, staying there. So, maman sent me to bring him home in that spring, of 1832. And so, I met Jimmy.

“And that year, the year we met, Jimmy Randolph was a prodigy, surely, just by virtue of being admitted early to the college. But all I knew at the time, and Joanna, I trust you not to ever repeat this to your dearling husband, all I knew was that Jimmy Randolph was the most handsome, glorious, charming, wonderful seventeen year old boy on the whole, entire planet! And of course, yes, we fell very much in love for a time, back then. And now, I fear Remy’s doing everything he can to punish Jimmy and myself, for our separate “betrayals’. And what is worst of all, I fear my brother chose to make Torry pay the forfeit for our ‘sins’!”

Now Mac Macquillan had a question or two and he visibly hesitated to ask the pair of friends anything, which Joanna noted. “Thomas, you’re our dear friend, too, just as you were Stephen’s friend for so many years.” Jimmy’s wife encourged him, as she sat by Bea, holding her friend’s hand. “You can ask anything you want of either Bea, myself or Jimmy, if it will help Torry.”

“Alright.” Mac said, scratching his left ear. “Alright, Joanna. I’m just sitting here in shock all over again, because what you’re describing as Boudin’s so called motive in all this is something that happened and ended around forty years ago. So, I’m wondering, do you honestly believe this man is insane, or is he consciously responsible for his actions? I’m asking that as an attorney, of course, because I have no wish to prosecute someone who’s legally and mentally incompetent to stand trial. That being said, there are few people I can think of I’d like to indict, try and convict more than Gideon Boudin, if he’s capable of being tried.”

“My brother has always known precisely what he was doing, Mr. Macquillan.
And he knows the Law, he is an attorney, also. That much I am sure of.” Bea answered. “What’s mad about Remy is why he does these nightmarish things. He believes he has every right and that in fact he is the true victim in each and every case. He has no compunction, no empathy whatever when it comes to tormenting those he’s decided are his ‘enemies’.”

“A case in point being a great many of those wretches held in the asylum in Baltimore, until it suddenly burned to the ground.” Artemus suggested.

“Yes, tragically, that’s exactly correct. I believe it was you, Mr. Gordon who personally made sure of Torry’s escape from the same fate as more than a hundred men who died there.” Joanna noted, smiling at Artie. “And I’m … we’re all more than grateful to you for that, sir.”

“Thank you.” Artie answered. “And I’m sorry, ladies, and especially you, Mrs. Parry, for being inhospitable before. I’m afraid it’s becoming a conditioned reflex of sorts when I meet … when I simply react without thinking things through ahead of time.”

“Mr. Gordon, you have nothing to apologize to me for, I assure you.” Beatrice told him. “ I know my brother all too well. And so I know he targeted not only our Torry throughout this ordeal, but you as well. He learned a great deal from maman, and aside from a natural bent for sadism, one of her lessons was in a truly virulent collection of prejudices. The painfully absurd part of that in this case is, Remy has no way of knowing your nationality or…”

“Or my beliefs?” Artie agreed, shrugging. “No, no he doesn’t. As far as I recall we’ve never met. And if we had, it wouldn’t be under any conditions where I would be discussing either my politics or my religion. My Aunt Miriam thought very badly of people who did that and I almost always agreed with Aunt Miri. From what I hear, Mrs. Randolph, the same holds true of James and you.”

Joanna laughed at that, shook her head, and grinned brightly. “I’m sure Torry exaggerated somewhat on that score. It was his grandmother, Missus Jean as most of three counties around always called her, who Torry would never think of disagreeing with. That’s just one of the hundreds of reasons I truly wish she was here right now, to help us convince the boy. You see, I don’t agree at all with Torry on that question. I think Jean Torrance Randolph would tell him to do anything he could to get the life he so wanted for so long, back again.”

Across the library, Jimmy Randolph was still tryiug his own arguments with his namesake and nephew. “Torry, I was pretty darned hamhanded in the way I approached you with this idea of mine, I know that. But the clumsy way I put it, nephew, that doesn’t change one single iota of the core truth of the matter. I can help you now, I know that, and so do you, Torry. So as far as I’m concerned either you’re just bein’ too prideful right now to take help where’s it’s offered you freely, or you truly are angry with your old uncle, because I brought Gideon Boudin into your life and left him there to have a free hand with my sister’s son. So, I’d like you to be honest enough to tell me which of those is the case now, nephew.”

Jim rubbed at his forehead, which was still aching and shook his head before he answered. Then he set his features sternly and turned back towards Jimmy. “Uncle, do you not know after all this time that Gideon Boudin bitterly wants you dead? Do you not know that if he ever had his way, it would be for you to … to take your own life while he looked on with tremendous glee?”

“I can’t say I knew precisely that to be the fact of the matter, Torry, no. But neither am I very surprised that he’d tell you such a thing, hoping you would in fcct, inform me of it. My …former friend Remy thinks I terribly wronged him long ago. And what you may not know is that ‘wrong’ was falling in love with his sister, our dearest Beatrice, when I was just seventeen. I’ve known Remy since… let me think, the fall of Eighteen hundred and thirty one, to be exact. He came to William and Mary for a special program intended for exceptional younger students, and surpassed the rest of his class with tremendous ease.

I was taking a year to work on my own pre-Law studies at the time, and first met Remy there. And the next spring, he introduced me to our dear Queen Bea. Well, Torry, his way of seeing things has always been rather melodramatic. So it’s hardly a shock that he’d like me to convenience him by removing myself from this worldly stage we all tread on, as Mr. Shakespeare says. It also fits neatly into the plain fact that Remy will take an ‘enemy’s life, but only at second or third hand if he can help it. But there’s something more, Torry, I can see it in your face. What more does that old dastard want from me, after all this time?”

Jim’s backbone stiffened and he raised his chin almost as if he’d been called to attention. This was the very last question he wanted to hear from Jimmy Randolph, much less answer. “Jimmy, I don’t … I don’t give a flying fig what Boudin wants. Didn’t we just get done establishing that he hates you? Why should I give him another moment’s thought? And why should you?”

“Because he’s made himself a genuine enemy to you and me, Torry, to all our kin and all your friends, here. So we really do need to know as much as we can, in order to protect the people we love from this dangerous adversary, wouldn’t you say that?” Randolph asked.

“Jimmy,” Jim said and hesitated again before he went on. “I hate to even mention some of the things Boudin’s had to say to me, over time. I just plain won’t mention some of them, to anyone, and especially not where Aunt Jo or Bea might hear. I.. I take it you know he has a … a lot of strange ideas about things he believes are entirely proper, at least for him. And he has a lot of crazed notions about the way ‘ a Trueborn Southron…”

“… the way a Trueborn Southron Gentleman behaves and thinks, yes, I heard quite a bit about that, while I still had some business associates in common with Remy.” Randolph agreed. “And all of those truly grotesque and medieval ideas he got directly from his mother, Miss Helene Terese, as he always called her. But, nephew, I can tell you’re still trying to stall me, here. And I … “

“You don’t have time for that, now.” Jim finished, glumly, his shoulders slumping. “You really don’t, do you, uncle?”

“And no doubt Remy will be ecstatic when he learns I’m pretty well living on borrowed time, at the present. So what else does that perverse, obessively jealous maniac want from me, Torry?” Jimmy asked.

“He’d … “ Jim said and sighed profoundly before going on. “He’d like it very much as long as you were there to see it, if I ever convenienced him, as you put it, Jimmy, by … removing myself … from the world … He says that would be what is needed to wipe out…” Jim finally muttered, holding his head down, as if he would avoid his uncle’s gaze.

“ wipe out my great dishonor with your life’s blood!” Jimmy angrily finished, astonishing his nephew. “Gideon Boudin has always been obssessed with two things, his bizarre notion of a Southron Gentleman, and his outlandish theory of Honor and Dishonor.”

“Uncle, you know I’d never do any such thing to you!” Jim exclaimed. “You know that, don’t you?”

“Not to me or to yourself, Torry. Why, of course I know you wouldn’t!” Jimmy answered, and pulled Jim into a hug which the younger man didn’t protest a bit. “But frankly, I had no idea that Georgian had become such an utter fool as all that! After all this time and all his terrible dealings, I can hardly credit it. But it’s absolutely, absolutely clear to me now. Remy Boudin still doesn’t know the first thing about … about either one of us!”

“Well, I … I guess you’re right. He surely thinks he does, though. And there’ve been times when I nearly believed him. ‘m purely sorry about that, Jimmy.” Jim sighed, but he was shaking with relief.

“Torry, listen to me, now, boy. You have nothing, nothing whatever to be sorry about, where I’m concerned. And that’s, that’s what I was doing such a poor job of sayin’ to you, earlier on today.” Jimmy said, sitting back a bit. “I have known Boudin for forty two years, as of this fall. That’s ten years more, Torry than you’ve had breath in your body.

And if I had not so completely misunderstood the boy Boudin was when I first knew him, I don’t even want to think how much of this ordeal you would surely have been spared.. I can’t help thinking if I had not continued a business acquaintance with Boudin, he would never have met you. Or, If I had once understood the lengths that lunatic would go to, I can only believe now you might never have been harmed by him, at all.”

“No, uncle. Absolutely, absolutely no. I don’t agree. So, hear me out, on this point. Mac and his team, which I’ve been part of since … October of ’61, as well as a lot of other agents we know, have found out, time and again what an obsessed person will do, what lengths they will go to. We’ve found out in fact, that a person like that, in this case, Boudin, will literally stop at nothing, push past any obstacles, and do whatever they must to reach their goals.” Jim replied.

“They will do all of that, and do it again, again and again, until some other person or agency stops them. They move from obsession right into mania, and from mania on into delusions of grandeur, or revenge or both, sometimes. And when that happens, I know of people who’ve done things that otherwise were impossible to them. That’s not very comforting, but it’s all too true.”

“And so we come round again to the notion that I don’t owe you any sort of debt, Torry, for what’s happened to you?” Randolph asked. “And you insist that your momma and your Daddy, both would take your side of the argument, is that so?”

“Yes, sir. I believe they would. And you don’t agree with me on that, do you?” Jim responded, with a tired half grin on his face.

“I do not, and for this reason: I stood up for you, Torry, when you were baptized in the room you were born in, because your momma greatly feared another tragedy could happen, as one did with your sister Cynthia Anne and your brother Arthur Andrew.” Jimmy answered. “And at that moment, I swore to G-d, and to your dear parents, that I would watch out for you, if ever they could not.
Well, Torry, you know all too well, how long your angel momma’s been gone from us, now. And Steven, who I’m glad to say I made friends with again, has been gone these six years, nearly seven. And my strong feeling so far, in all this trouble, is that I failed them, and I failed you. And now I have a chance to spare you a lifetime of darkness, nephew. And I feel I do owe you that chance, Torry. I do feel I owe that to you, and to both your parents.”

“You’re trying to wear me down here, Jimmy. And you’re not doing too badly.” Jim admitted, sighing. “ But I … I can’t unmake a decision like this one on the double quick. And the truth is, especially since that batch of fraud posing as doctors came up here… I’ve had it fixed in my mind that I have to take things as they stand and live my life out… the way I am, right now.”

“Well, I see I’m gonna have to ask you in moment about these fraudulent doctors, Torry.” Jimmy said. “But right now all I want to ask is why you would come to that conclusion.”

Jim frowned and bit at his lower lip. He’d known someone would ask him this and he wasn’t ready with an answer. He wasn’t ready with an answer he liked much, at least. “Well, for one thing, there’s no guarantee Miguel’s procedure will give me back any vision. He’s been thoroughly honest about that. And I understand it, and I .. just have to say no, I’m not doing that, uncle. Because we could go through all this for no good result. You can figure that now, can’t you?”

“No, no, Torry, you’re just stalling me again.” Jimmy answered him bluntly. “ And it maybe you just need more time for this. So, I’ll give you what I can, nephew, of course. And as things stand, I can give you, well, from what young Doc Hi down to home has been kind enough to be thoroughly honest about with me, I can reasonably give you until some little time after your cousin Pauly’s birthday. You remember how we used to sometimes celebrate both your birthdays together, Torry?”

“Pauly’s is the 31st, and mine’s the 2cnd of July, so we’d … we’d have a big to-do in the middle of the month, to be … to be fair… “ Jim replied, numbly, squeezing his eyes shut. “Jimmy, uncle, I was wrong. I said I can’t unmake my decision on this quickly. But the more I … try to think this through, the more I know I can’t go back on what I’ve decided, not now, not ever. And I want you to try to understand my reasoning on this, please, just try.” Jim said, holding one one hand in a familiar, emphatic gesture.

“I’m not… I didn’t lose my sight because of anything Boudin did to me, Jimmy. He had nothing to do with why that happened to me. So, even if I thought you had a due bill where I’m concerned, it doesn’t have my … blindness on it. I lost my sight because of my own recklessly angry, dangerously boneheaded mistakes. And if you don’t believe me, you can read my partner’s reports on what did happen that day in Baltimore.

What happened is that I went out on a case while I was in a raging temper. That’s damned recklessness. What happened is that I tried to use a cover disguise that was way too easy to be literally seen through. That’s dangerously stupid. And what happened is that I completely botched my job TWICE that day, which is to protect the President’s life. In the first instance, the Man saved his own life, and mine. And in the second, a sad, sick, young girl died. Liesl Branoch died because somehow, despite years of training for just that kind of situation I couldn’t get a an Army Colt revolver out of her hands and toss it out a window, or down the hall somewhere. And that’s when that same Colt, and the whole case literally blew up in my face, Jimmy.

So, all of that is on my due bill, Uncle, not yours, ever. So like I said before, I have to learn to accept this, the way things are with me, right now. I have to just acknowledge my failings and live with the consequences. I have to do that, if I’m gonna claim to be a grown man and not a dependent child or an invalid, forever.
And that’s what you and Grandma Jean and Dad all taught me. So, we’re … we’re fine, except for two little problems: I’ve got a raging headache again, and that’s getting really old with me, lately. And my uncle, who I love with all my heart, my uncle, who helped to raise me and never did me the least harm in all his life, my uncle, who is all I have left of my mother and my grandparents … is … “ Jim swallowed hard and still couldn’t say the word.

“Dyin’, yes, Torry.” Jimmy finished for his nephew, putting one hand on each of Jim’s shoulders. “And I won’t go against your wishes, nephew. You are a fine, fine, brave young man. Your momma and Daddy, your grandparents, they’re all terribly proud of you, Torry, just as I am. Now I know that’s true, so you surely must know it, as well.”

“Sometimes, I think I can hear momma, whisperin’ to me.” Jim said, very quietly, so that only his uncle heard him. ‘sometimes, especially when I was first aware of being stuck in that … place in Baltimore, I could almost see her. And it … it’s like an ache, but …a good one… And I think you … Jimmy, I think you understand that, better than just about anyone I know… But I think I’d better let you rest up from your train trip … I’d better … I’m sorry to … to disappoint you, Jimmy. I am, truly.”

“Torry, it’s not possible for you to disappoint me, not one bit, ever.” Jimmy protested. “But if you’ve still got that headache, nephew, I’d think you should get some rest as… Torry, Torry, boy, what is it? Whatever’s the matter?” Jimmy exclaimed when Jim turned pale as damask and reached for his chest, with both hands.

“Torry! Jimmy! James!” a chorus of voices called out, as Jim’s knees buckled and he toppled towards the library’s thick carpets. His headache seemed to abruptly drop to his chest, squeezing off his breath and driving his heart into frantic, lopsided pumping. His head and stomach whirled sickeningl, and he could no more keep his feet than he could walk on water. Sounds grew horridly sharp around him and his own throat seemed to close up on him. He would have collided with the heavily carved library table beside him, except that Jimmy and Artemus both caught Jim and broke his fall.

“James, what on earth?” Artemus called out. But his partner was barely conscious, still gasping, now face up on the floor. “Miguel, Jacques what in the very devil’s the matter with Jim?”

“I’m afraid I may know more about this than your friends, Mr. Gordon.” Jimmy Randolph said, as the doctors worked to help Jim. “Jessy Anne, Torry’s momma had an attack like this around the same age he is now. And old Doc Hi said it was caused by a heart murmur, a heart murmur she had after a girlhood bout of rheumatic fever.
He later said that might have grown worse and taken my sister’s life at some point in her late thirties or early forties. But of course she died in that awful fire when my nephew had just turned five years old. And when he was eleven, after a bout of scarlet fever, Torry was sick again for months with the same rheumatic fever. A dozen or more of his schoolmates took sick as well that summer, and five of those children passed away. It was not long after that, with all the cares and worries he’d been struggling with, that we nearly lost Stephen and I formally took on Torry’s guardianship.”

“Torry, this is a digitalis tablet, the same kind as one of the medications we gave Artemus last year.” Miguel was sternly telling his patient. And you’re going to take it down, and you’re going to keep still a little while longer while it does it’s work. I’ll hear no arguments, and no complaints from you on this question. You’ve been pushing too hard now for weeks, learning the geography of Isle d’ Tresor, romping with Micah Diego, preparing your own report of recent events for your superiors, and working to ‘hold the reins’ of the Companies, or at least of V Company’ once more. So now, just blink to show you understand your doctor’s orders.”

Jim blinked and gave a small, weary smile as he complied. “I …I just want… to … know…” Jim whispered. “… who… sat that ele… elephant… on… my chest.”

“You did, partner.” Artie answered, frowning darkly at the younger man. “Now shush!”

“That medicine, that’s foxglove, isn’t it, Doctor?” Bea Parry asked, looking worriedly at her friend’s nephew. ‘my first husband was a chemist of sorts in Glasgow. He sometimes explained to me the compounds the doctors asked him to make for their patients.”

“It’s a derivative of that type of plant, Mrs. Parry, very effective in improving or steadying a patient’s heart rate, not just edema or swelling in the muscles, including the cardiac muscle.” Jacques answered, and turned back to frown at Jim. ‘mon enfant, as your long time physician and friend, I am not pleased at all to find you so neglecting your health of late. After all, this presente malaise comes as no surprise.”

“No surprise?” Artie echoed, staring at his friend from Montreal. “Jacques, you knew about Jim having … what, a heart murmur? He’s had this kind of attack, this kind of collapse before now? And if so, why didn’t I know about it? Why wasn’t James’ partner told?”

“Be… Because… partner… I … didn’t… col…collapse b’…fore…t’…day.” Jim replied shaking his head at Artie. “Just… had… a … tiny … little… tiny little twinge… some… times.”

“Silence, mon enfant.” Jacques chided his patient and then turned to answer Artemus. “As Miguel points out the challenges Jim faces have not decreased of late, only changed.You were not told, mon ami, because it was a matter of patient-doctor confidences. Also, Jim was and is still astoundingly healthy considering what he’s recently endured. That being the case before today’s event, there was no reason to sound a general alarm. ”

“No… no reason?” Artie frowned. “ Jim’s saying some little twinges? I know all about that kind of down-playing, Jacques. He’s had a significant heart problem all his life and … nobody bothers to tell me, his partner to watch out for it? Mon docteur ami, this, this is nothing like what you said or did when I had either of my little heart problems. Just why is that?”

“Artemus if you wish me to say in this company that you could have died on either occasion that you had your ‘little heart problems’, I will. And if you wish me to go on the record stating how many years older…”

“I most certainly do not.” Artie protested, pursing his mouth and glaring at the Canadien.

“You… you … tell him… mon… tell …him, Jacques.” Jim whispered, grinning in something much more like his usual day bright style.

“ Encore, silence, mon enfant!” Jacques ordered, and was surprised when Jim did as he’d been told.
SCENE TWENTY SIX Isle d’ Tresor –

“Madame? Madame Ani?” Mariamne and Zuleika, Antoinette’s companions since her childhood at her stepfather’s mansion in Marseilles called out, one after the other, from the doorway of the nursery Ani was just beginning to decorate.

“Bon jour, mes chers? Se que est-ce que c’est vous souhaiter? What is it you wish?”Ani asked them.

“ Bon jour, Madame Ani. Madame, a delegation of ladies from this …comment t’on dit? Ah oui, from this neighboring district, has arrived to discuss with you the Ball to be held here next month.” Zuleika answered.

“Mais, madame, we can send them away for now, since you are quite involved with things far more important.” Mariamne suggested.

“ Non, non c’est bon, ma cher. I was expecting such a visit.” Ani nodded. “But not necessarily today. Ah, well. My purpose in part regarding the ball is to return the many gestures of friendship Miguel and I have received since we relocated to this graceful old town. Mari, please ask Cook to send tea and cakes up to my drawing room. And Zulei, please ask this delegation of ladies to wait for me there. I’ve been rushing around so this morning. And I want to make a good impression on them.”

“Oui, madame.” both young women answered and left on their separate errands.

Less than a quarter of an hour later, Antoinette greeted a dozen of her neighbors, some of whom had come to Miguel’s clinic with one minor ailment or another, the rest having met Ani at their local markets, soirees and festivals. All were elegantly fashionable, their families or husbands well off enough with the rebuilding boom in the region to enjoy all the latest styles from Godey’s, Paris Mode and other sources of haut coutre.
All were cultured, if not highly educated women, very much involved with and interested in the ways their town, their state, their region, and the whole South was still changing, almost eight years after the War’s end. And all of them were brought up much as Antoinette had been, in a culture that did not allow such refined ladies to leave their homes without their ‘lady’s companions. But where Zuleika and Mariamne were free-born granddaughters of freedwomen in Europe, the lovely ‘negresses’ who accompanied her neighbors were less than a decade away from slavery.

“Signora de Cervantes, I’m so glad to meet you at last. I’m Alexandra Tobias, and I’ve been away from Richmond, traveling with my husband this winter. But our friends and neighbors have told me so much about you I feel that we’re also friends.” A tall, slender bright auburn haired woman said, standing up as Antoinette entered her drawing room.

“Enchantez, Madame Tobias.” Ani said, taking the redhead’s hand.

“Signora, please, call me Sandy, all our friends do so.”

“Gracias, Sandy, in that case, please call me Ani. Now, mes amis, what did you wish to know about the Grand Balle I have I mind?” Antoinette asked.

“We’re so excited about it, Ani.” The next woman in the group, a willowy blonde named Jessamyn Buchanan smiled. “Are you still planning it as a masked, costume ball?”

“Vraiment. They’re more elaborate, but in a way, more relaxing. One can be so pleasantly …anonymous, in one sense. One can be another person entirely for one evening, like the story of Cinder-Ella I loved as a girl. Now, my main theme when I’ve held such affairs in the past has been The Court at Versailles, the Courts of Louis XIII and Louis Quatorze as in the stories of Messrs. Dumas pere et fils. But you need not limit yourselves to that era, of course.” Ani explained.

“Oh, but that era is so romantic!” Another visitor exclaimed, a dark haired younger woman, Alexis Edmonson, who’d become Ani’s friend along with her mother, Rebecca. “All the silks and satins and fans… all the rapiers and duels and … Oh, how silly I must sound! We … we just haven’t had a party like this in some time.”

“Well, rapiers were more used in later times, Ally.” her aunt, Althea Chamberlain, a fair haired, bright eyed older woman noted. “You may be thinking of the court of Louis Sixteenth, my girl. Ani’s suggesting the time of the Sun King and before him, the period of the Four Musketeers, I believe.”

“That’s so.” Ani nodded. “But as I said, you’re free to dress according to your favorite period or story, mes chers. I know that Zara, and Eleanor, Alys, Eleora and Leah, par example, most favor the time of Elizabeth I and Mister Shakespeare.”

“You’re right about that, Ani. The costumes from Elizabethan times are either much fancier or a whole lot simpler to design.” Leah Cooper, a tall honey haired widow, still in late mourning clothes answered. “And as much as I still cherish my dear heart’s memory, and always shall, I will be glad to dress up for an evening, very glad. And so will my cousins, won’t you, ladies?”

“Oh, we surely will!” Zara Fairholm, Leah’s cousin, Eleanor Cooper, Leah’s sister in law, Alys Bromley and Eleora Burnham chorused, laughing.

“Ani, we also noted you’re holding an auction for the benefit of our Richmond veterans, their families and the work needed on the Hollywood Cemetary, where so many of our lost beloved boys are laid to rest, now.” Thea Woodson, a slight, soft spoken fair haired woman, and Ani’s first friend in Richmond added. “Well, Rowena and I are going to suggest something that will be somewhat more controversial, but may very well raise more funds. Rowena, love, why don’t you tell Ani our idea?”

“Thanks, dearest, I will.” Rowena Fairholm, another slender blonde and the acknowledged leader of this informal Ladies Society agreed. “Ani, we actually know of something like this being done more than once during the Conflict. And as much as it raised some eyebrows, it worked very well at raising much needed funds. The idea then was to allow the gentlemen present at a party or a dance to bid for a dance with one of the women in attendance. But our idea is to reverse that, which I know some of you will find even more shocking. Our idea is to let the ladies at Ani’s Grande Balle Royale bid to dance or to have supper with one of the fine gentlemen attending.”

The whole group broke into nervous giggles, and then hushed at one glance from Rowena. “Well, I can see all y’all like the idea. Ani, do you agree that it might help the cause even more than auctioning off our plain old supper baskets or jewelry or other, less interesting items?”

Antoinette glanced sharply at Rowena for a moment, wondering if somehow the story about her first ‘Balle Royale’ had made its way to the gossip circles of Richmond. But the widow Fairholm had no reputation as a gossip, and in fact often declared she abhorred that ‘ loathsome activity of bored, generally useless and envious people’.

“Rowena, ma cher ami, I believe you have hit on an excellent notion.” Ani agreed, looking directly at the older woman. “Of course it would never have occurred to me to ask my friends and neighbors to auction their gems, even for the best Cause. After all, some unscrupulous person might try to abscond with items of jewelry they foolishly believe have more than sentimental value in this sad, modern age.”

“Yes, of course you’re right, Antoinette dear.” Rowena nodded, smiling tautly. “It’s so incredibly difficult these days when one is forced to actually hire additional help for a party or ball. Haven’t you found it trying, seeking for trustworthy persons willing to take on temporary service? One almost gives up the idea of having parties under such conditions. Did you have similar problems out in the western territories, before you came here?”

“Non, non, not at all, Rowena. But then, we lived most often at Los Miraboles, mon mari’s grandmere’s estate near Santa Barbara. And there the staff were descendants of the servants who came with that grand old lady when she came from Spain to married in old Mexico. So theirs were the families, along with our own, who had been part of that beautiful old estate for close to four generations.” Ani answered, hiding a frown. If her most influential neighbor was in the act of proving herself to be a terrible snob, it was best she find it out now.

“And to be honest, I’ve had no trouble whatever in finding additional staff here in Richmond whenever I had need, either for my lab or Miguel’s clinic or our home. Indeed, while I was hiring additional household staff to help our guests, to get us through the holidays, and in preparation for the ball, I was shocked to hear some of them had actually been turned away. They’d sought honest employment with numerous households in this old city, only to be turned away because of some entirely unfathomable bias against mulattoes, Creoles and quadroons.”

The group of ladies gasped, except for Rowena Fairholm and Eleanora Cooper, and Antoinette nodded to herself. Then she had to work to keep from giggling outloud, when Eleanora’s cousin Leah blushed bright red and tried to explain their reaction.

“Ani dearest, I’m afraid we’ve given you exactly the wrongest impression you could have. But I’m afraid you might not understand the connotations carried by certain … ways of referring to … well, certain groups of … of persons. You weren’t raised in the Lower South, after all and in that region, especially on the Delta and in N’Orleans one particular … umm… social grouping … well, they have always lived rather a sub rosa existence. So it can be a matter of no little controversy… “

“Because in New Orleans and most of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama,” Ani interjected, a bit coldly. “Quadroon is a term used in particular to describe and demarcate persons with a …multi-racial heritage, non? And similar abritrary, but codified social divisions have existed for more than one hundred and fifty years regarding mulattoes, octoroons and even persons of French and Spanish Creole lineage. Unfortunately, I’m all too well aware of such conditions in this country, as my own maman would have been considered French Creole by those who insist on denigrating persons of multi-national descent. And she would have happily accepted that label.
Because in her time, it merely meant a person with native born French parents, who was born in one of the French Empire’s many colonies, including those in the West Indies, and maman was born in Haiti. Indeed, at that time, the term Creole as used in Louisianna purposefully excluded persons of color. And I’m sure you’re all aware that more recently the term creole has been extended to describe almost anything having to do with N’Orleans. But I beg your pardon, mesdames. I did not intend to deliver a sociological or historical lecture this afternoon.”

“No, that’s alright, Ani.” Jessamyn Buchanan insisted. “But you were saying Miguel’s family was in California for four generations, really? Why how fascinating. That would mean … I gather, a household, and a family going back to the Spanish … explorers. Oh, hello, how are you today, Doctor de Cervantes?”

“ Muy bueno, gracias, Senora Buchanan. And my family does go back to Los Conquistadores, you’re quite correct.” Miguel said, walking into the room. “Pardon the interruption, dear ladies. I find I’m in grave need of ma cher femme’s sage advice.”

Ani glanced at her husband, who wore one of his most best ‘entirely innocent’ expressions, which told her he was up to all sorts of mischief. “Please excuse me, my dear friends. This should only take a moment or two.” Antoinette said and followed Miguel into his study, conveniently next door.

“Mon vrai coeur, what is the matter? I thought you abhorred the gatherings I hold with my new friends here in Richmond, especially those like today where no gentlemen are invited.” Ani asked, when her husband took the unusual measure of closing the door behind them, thinking Miguel suddenly looked far too serious to be playing one of his pranks.

“I do, ma vrai coeur, and I hate people who interrupt social gatherings the way I just interrupted yours.” Miguel nodded, frowning. “However, there are several matters I’ve become increasinly concerned with in the few weeks since James Randolph visited with us and Torry. And yet, you’ve shown no comparable concern, so I’m forced to ask myself, and ask you if I’m worrying about nothing at all.”

“Very well, Miguel. What troubles you?”Antoinette probed, hiding a smile because she knew what at least one of his concerns was.

“My dearest, my first concern is that in the time period under discussion, you’ve started to avoid eating almost all your favorite meals. Cook was the one who brought this to my attention, fact. And she’s understandably bewildered, as you’ve always loved her quiche Lorraine, her arroz con pollo, her eclairs, her crème brulee, her porridges and her boullebaise. Yet as I noted myself once Cook spoke to me, nowadays you turn away all of those dishes and many more when they’re presented in her best style and finest execution. That then is my first concern, ma plus cher femme. Can you alievate it somehow?” Miguel demanded.

“Bien sur, mon plus cher mari, but let me know all of your concerns, s’il tu plait, so I can rid you of them all at one stroke.” Ani suggested.

“Oh, very well. My second concern dearest wife is that you have more and more often in the past few weeks closeted yourself in one of the guest rooms down the hall from our … boudoir. It is no more than five yards down that hallway on the right. I see Mariamne, Zuleika, Mered and sometimes Persis as well as the newest members of the household… Marisol, Teleri and … young… Jessy I believe is that youngster’s name… the one with bright blue eyes…” Miguel hesitated, uncomfortable at the prospect of getting household staffer’s names mixed up.

“Vraiment. Well, mon mari, you see these members of our household, what do you find unusual in that regard?” Ani asked.

“As I was just about to tell you, Antoinette, ma cher.” Miguel protested.
“ I see these young women trudging in and out of that small room, which I have always thought was far too small for a guest room, anyway. I see them carrying baskets, basins, and buckets of almost every description, as well as what look to me like rolls of paper or fabric, and numerous large crates as well. But I see nothing coming out again when any of those women leave! And I begin to think you’ve made some bizarre new addition to what Mr. Gordon wrongly labeled our ‘zoo’. I begin to wonder if you’ve brought into our house, this house we share with our only son, some creature that subsists on fabric, wallpaper, cans of glue, willow baskets and slats of wood!”

Antoinette couldn’t help giggling now. Miguel’s wide grey-blue eyes were as wide as demi-tasse saucers, and his voice was at its highest pitch. ‘mon mari, mon vrai coeur, non, non. N’t’ disquiet pas, mon cher! The small room you mention, my ladies and I are preparing for an equally small personne, Miguel. And now I see that I must relieve your mind on these two questions before I ask what more has you worried. Come, mon cher, and sit with me un moment, s’il tu plait.”

Miguel frowned and looked to his spouse as if he was about to refuse her invitation. He peered at Ani as if he had her under his microscope for a long moment and then sat down as abruptly as if the carpet had been pulled out under his feet. But then he grinned and whooped like a schoolboy granted an unexpected recess. “Antoinette! Ma plus cher, et plus belle … ma vrai coeur! Est ce que tu c’est enciente, encore?”

“Oui.” Ani nodded, grinning back. “We shall have another child, my dearest heart, most likely from my own calculations, this coming September And if you do not mind too much, Miguel, I am very much hoping for a daughter, this time. Well, have you nothing more to say, nothing more to ask me, my loyal heart?’

“September? This coming September?” Miguel echoed. “A daughter, Ani? A little girl?”

“I am sure of the month, my dearest. I can only wish for a daughter and pray for either our new daughter or son to be whole, sound and just as healthy as Micah Diego has been, since his birth.” Antoinette said, and kissed her husband happily. ‘mais, was there some other concern you wished to discuss with me this afternoon, Miguel?”

“No, no. Nothing whatever, dearest one. I am only concerned now for your health and that of l’ enfant. You must cease a good half of the work you’ve been doing, Ani. You must rest and take your ease with only such things and people that please you and wish you entirely well, my love.” Miguel insisted, shaking his head,and kissing her back warmly.

“Mon cher, I am not made of porcelain. Nor do I wish to have your worries kept from me, mon cher mari. We are still a well working team, are we not? We still do far better when we put our heads together, non? Also, I do not need to become bed-ridden. Indeed, I believe we learned from the time of waiting for Micah Diego, that the less I do, the less content and healthy I and therefore the baby will be, est ce que t’ n’ comprends pas ceci?” Ani demanded.

“Oui, ma vrai coeur, j’l’ comprend bien, tres bien.” Miguel sighed. Never once had he been able to deny her, much less keep any secret from her more significant than a birthday present.

“Then sit back down with me and tell me the rest of your worries, or I shall be quite annoyed and spend the rest of the day with those chattering, gossiping, medieval minded snobs in the next room!” Ani told him, laughing.

“I thought those snobs with the medieval mind set were your cherished new friends here in Richmond.” Miguel offered.

“So did I. Now I am not sure, well, not sure of some of them. No doubt Le Grande Balle Royale will help to sort them out. Yes, I believe we will learn a great deal about our neighbors and the rest of our friends on that evening.” Antoinette predicted. “Now, Miguel, cheri, what worries you so much about our friends that you don’t wish to tell me about it?”

Miguel sighed again. “You can read my mind, after all, can’t you, my love?”

“Non, non. I can read your eyes after all this time, and quite well. But they are, and always have been so eloquent, mon cher. So which of our friends who used to be our adversaries … Miguel! It is Torry, is it not?”Ani exclaimed.

“Yes.” Miguel sighed. ‘torry’s having so much trouble sleeping since his uncle’s visit he even admitted as much to Jacques and myself. He’ll give us no specifics, no matter how we pressed the issue. But he is suffering a new siege of frightening dreams, to the extent that he doesn’t sleep at all, some nights. And I’m afraid Torry would sleep even less, if he knew what the rest of his friends have planned for the week of your Grande Balle.”

“Bien sur. They mean to bring M’sieur Grant to see Torry, non? They mean for L’ President to encourage his protégé regarding the surgery Torry is still refusing.” Ani nodded, surprising her husband yet again.

“This new house of ours seems to be filled with the same old gossips, ma cher.” Miguel complained. “But you are right. President Grant fully intends to make an appearance before, during or soon after your costume ball. And that is why Thomas, Jeremy and Artemus have been so insistent that one of them sit in on the hiring of new staff for Isle d’ Tresor, and for the ball, especially. “

Someone knocked on the other door to the study, and Ani went to answer it, while she wondered what her neighbors and friends were discussing in her absence. “Bon jour, mes amis.” Ani smiled as Jacques and Artie appeared in the back hallway. “You wished to speak with us about more …comment t’on dit?… security issues regarding L’ President’s visit to Isle d’ Tresor, non?”

“Bien sur.” Artie answered looking somewhat bemused. “Thomas asked us to ‘brief’ you two, but it’s just a formality, really. You already know what our concerns are. So we’re just here to tell you how we’d usually handle social events like this masked ball that the Man means to attend if at all possible. In fact he’s already clearing his schedule, as he told Frank and Colonel Richmond. And when the President says he’s clearing his schedule, that means he pushes anything and everything aside that falls short of a national disaster. So he will be here sometime that week, if not on the same night as your ball.”

“Grant takes Richmond, encore.” Miguel quipped. “But, why are you worried about the President finally visiting with Torry, Artemus? Surely you know we are no security threat to Mister Grant at this late stage in our truce?”

“Of course I know that, Doctor. We’re not worried about you, or Ani, or the President. We’re worried about our increasingly touchy,increasingly monosyllabic, not to say withdrawn young partner. Jim’s stated numerous times that he still doesn’t believe the President should meet with him, again, ever.” Artie answered.

“Torry’s saying that, even though he’s constantly making strides away from the inhuman patterning Messrs. Boudin and Aynlsey gave him?” Antoinette took her turn to ask.

“Vraiment.” Jacques nodded glumly. “James is not yet convinced and G-d alone knows when or if he ever will be convinced that he presents no danger to M’sieur l’ President at this point.”

“So you’re not planning on telling Torry that Grant may call on him sometime soon, until and unless you feel required to do so?” Miguel guessed. “He won’t much like that, my friends.”

“Vraiment.” Artie and Jacques answered, both frowning.

“That magnet for disaster I call my partner, Jim West doesn’t have to like it. But I’m hoping to G-d he’ll feel like he still has to take the President’s direct orders on this.” Artie added.
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SS novice field agent

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Posted - 02/09/2009 :  12:52:34  Show Profile

“ Torry, mon cher,” Antoinette called out softly from the doorway of Jim’s room. “Ca va? How are you this morning, Torry?”

“Pas mal…” Jim started to answer and shook his head. “No, no, I’m mal, alright, Ani. I can’t sleep for these nightmares. And I wish I couldn’t make heads or tails out of them. But I can. They’re only showing me that I’m an absolute, absolute failure and … a bloody coward!”

“Non, that I will not believe, mon cher ami.” Antoinette insisted, carrying a breakfast tray into the room and putting it across Jim’s legs. “You’ve only had a bad night and are in dire need of my coffee and nutbread. Luckily, I have brought you both.”

“Ani, I’ve had a bad night, almost every night for weeks now.” Jim protested, even though the coffee smelled great when he picked up the cup, and the nutbread felt warm to his touch. “If it isn’t wishing I hadn’t quarreled with Jimmy and going through all that all over again, it’s dreaming about that awful day in Baltimore when Liesl died and I nearly killed the Man. And if it’s neither of those two, it’s the times I thought Artemus … died in the line of duty… or it’s the boys who really did die all around me in the War. And there’s more, a whole lot more, besides those that just keep coming.”

“Mon mari seems to believe that an increase in dreams of any kind infers an increase in what he calls mental acuity, mon cher. And you do seem to be remembering more of what truly happened to you, Torry, rather than being confused by our adversary’s many lies. That is an improvement, non?”

“That is an improvement, oui.” Jim agreed, and sipped some coffee. Ani had a way of making the brew that he wanted to figure out, because it seemed to enliven his mood at times and at others to distinctly relax him. “And there is one other piece of … better news. I’m the one … or rather V Company are the ones having these dreams, so the Ls can actually get their rest these days.
Well, V Company has the reins back in our hands for now, you see. But that was the way things were supposed to be, ever since the War started. And G-d knows, if there are nightmares we have to get through, it’s time and past time V Company was the one dealing with them.”

“Micah Diego tells me your small brothers are quite happy to have real play time, despite the fact that they worry for you.” Antoinette said, putting slices of nutbread on Jim’s coffee cup’s saucer. “And they like this nutbread almost as much as mon ami Artemus does. How are you this morning, mon cher ami?” Miguel’s wife asked, turning around as Artie walked out of the adjoining bedroom.

“I’m sorry, Antoinette.” The former actor said, stopping in mid-step. “But did you just call me your dear friend? And if so, why?”

“Bien sur. Par ce que you have proved yourself to be just that.” Ani nodded. “Miguel related to me how you …comment t’on dit? Ah, oui, how you told off those false physicians some weeks ago, when they attempted to deride his physicality and his skills as un docteur. Also, Micah Diego is tres enchante with the stories you’ve taught him in languages neither Miguel or myself have your fluency in. I would add that Cook, who has been known to be rather irascible at times is genuinely delighted with the recipes you’ve shared since your arrival.”

“And the Lady of the House seems to like your singing, quite a lot.” Jim chuckled. “Maybe you should take on Buckingham, partner and give me back Athos.”

“No, no, thanks, just the same, James. I make a practice not to make a practice of flirting with local royalty, as their royal spouses could abruptly decide to send me to the block!’ Artie chuckled, reaching for a piece of nutbread.

“Hey, Ani brought that for me, partner!” Jim protested laughing himself now, and pushing Artie’s hand away. “Go get your own breakfast.”

“Why should I when I can always nab some of yours, James m’boy?” Artemus laughed. “And what’s this I hear about you having yet more nightmares?”

“That? Oh, that’s about you eavesdropping on my conversation with Ani, partner. And Mac and Jacques and Jeremy when he’s down here all do the same. Didn’t any of you fellows ever hear of a fellow’s personal privacy?” Jim complained.

“Personal… Jim, in case you’ve forgotten, we’re all spies!” the former actor snickered.

“Yeah, get that, figure that, pal!” Jim frowned, and folded his arms across his chest. “But I’m not a suspect, a traitor or a bigwig of some kind you’re supposed to either spy on. So, how’s about letting a fellow talk to one of his doctors, which Ani also happens to be, even if she’s mainly a bio-chemist these days, in private, Mister Gordon?”

“No, sorry, no can do, James m’boy.” Artie insisted, still chuckling. “Because as it happens these nightmares that you don’t want to talk to me about very likely have to do directly with the case I’m working right now. See, this friend and partner of mine got roughed up, beat up and then locked up for over two years’ time by some really poisonous bad guys.

And that partner and friend of mine is still the one who knows the most about those particular bad guys. So, I’m just here following up the best leads we have, per my orders from Mac and according to protocols set up by that same partner of mine, fellow by the name of … What WAS his name, now? East? No, North? No, that was a cover name he used once. Nope, I just can’t seem to recall his name.”

“Hold on a damn all second, Artie. Did you just say that Thomas Macquillan ordered you to question me? Cause I don’t believe that!” Jim exclaimed.

“Hold on yourself, Jim. Mac did no such thing. So you’re right. He ordered me to run down any lead I come up with. And the way I figure it, that noggin of yours is still crammed of things we still need to know about this case. So, here I am. And I was talking to Ani about that partner of mine. So let me finish, will you?” Artie laughed.

“He’s a real funny, kinda crazy guy. Maybe you’ve seen him, Ani. He’s got a freckle-face and absolutely unruly kinda brownish red chestnut colored hair, a chin that sticks out a mile with a nice little scar across it, cause he loves a good brawl from time to time. And he’s got these sort of strange eyes, that seem to change color depending on who’s looking at them, kinda wiry build on him and … a short…”

“ARTEMUS, STOP RIGHT THERE!” Jim shouted, holding his temper with both hands.

“Temper.” Artie finished. “He’s got a pretty darned short fuse on his Black Irish/Welsh temper, especially for a former REGULAR ARMY officer. See, Ani, in the Regular Army, from what I hear, if the Army wanted its officers to have a hot temper, they’d issue them one, but only for limited periods of time.”

“Antoinette, will you please excuse Artemus and myself for a little while?” Jim asked, turning in the direction he’d last heard Ani’s voice. “I need to clarify a couple points with him, which I don’t think will take very long. Then I’ll come down and Micah can read me that story he mentioned about Coronado and Cortez and Mexico. Would that be alright?”

“Bien sur. Don’t be too hard on Artemus’, mon cher Duc, s’il tu plait. He’s dealing with a great many … changes, just now.” Antoinette smiled at Jim, and shook her head somberly at Artie.

“Your wish is my command, as always, ma plus cher reine.” Jim answered, bowing his head like a Duke would, as Ani left the room. “I promise not to decapitate or defenestrate M’sieur Capitaine-Lieutenant Athos any time soon. That should be left to King Louis, after all, this is your Kingdom, La Belle France, n’cest pas?”

“Oh, gee, thanks, Jim.” Artie protested. ‘there are days when I’m not sure … Miguel wouldn’t still be glad to do either of those things to me, you know.”

“And there are days like this one, Artie, when I’d be damned glad to help!” Jim snarled. “Especially when I hear you talk as if you still don’t want to so much as say the man’s first name!”

“You’re in a fine temper this morning, James m’boy. What the devil is wrong with you?” Artie asked, knowing he’d get either another explosion or some answers from the younger man or maybe both.

“What’s wrong with me?” Jim echoed. “Just how long a laundry list do you have time for, pal?”

“Share your nutbread and coffee and I’ve got all the time you need, partner.” Artemus said, promptly sitting on the winged chair Ani vacated beside the bed, and reaching for Jim’s tray.

“I thought you were told ‘no coffee’ after that last heart seizure, Artie.” Jim hedged.

“And I know you were told to act as though you’re still part of Mac’s team until Mac, or James Richmond, or the President tell you differently, Jim. Besides, that last little problem of mine was more than a year ago, now.” Artie grinned, sipping some coffee. ‘so, spill. What’s got you sleepless, or having nightmares or just edgier than hell these days?”

“Well, I’m blind as a pile of rocks,now.” Jim quipped albeit half heartedly. “Can’t say as that’s much fun, especially now that Ani and I have got the mansion mapped out and … aisles cleared for both my left feet. I still trip over things in the garden and the greenhouse really well though. So at least that adds some excitement to everybody’s day, right?”

“Right. Great fun that, picking you up off the grass or the pavement. Go on.” Artemus prodded.

“My aunt and uncle aren’t speaking to me, just because I said no to his corneas. And he’s … my g-dfather, my namesake and all, so I don’t much like making Jimmy angry with me. And I especially don’t like doing that when he’s … ill. Then, Joanna would like to wring my neck for talking back to Jimmy, and so would Queen Bea. Which reminds me, my best friend doesn’t really trust my uncle, or our long time friend, Bea Parry. So, that’s kinda got me down, too. You can tell him that for me.” Jim frowned, and grabbed the last piece of nutbread before Artie could take it.

“If I run into the guy, sure, Jim. What else should I tell him?” the former actor asked, hoping he could keep this discussion going.

“Tell him a partner trusts who his partner trusts, that’s what!” Jim scowled. “What’s the use of being partners at all if you … if one of ‘em doesn’t trust the other, anyhow? And while I’m on that subject, pal, a partner doesn’t question his partner’s judgment of people his partner’s known for thirty years! That’s … that’s just uncalled for. Also, a partner doesn’t make wisecracks about his partner’s trust for someone JUST BECAUSE his partner’s aunt let slip that there used to be a crush involved when his partner was still in short pants!”

“Yeah, that was probably pretty rude of him. I think he’s pretty sorry about that, by now. But I’m wondering, honestly, if these disputes with your partner have that much to do with what’s keeping you up, or waking you up these days. So, what about that? C’mon, James, here’s your chance to tell me I’m a thousand percent wrong, this time.” Artie probed.

Jim sighed. Artie was good at this, very good. Why shouldn’t he be, when Jim and Frank and Mac all trained him to ask the best, most probing kind of unavoidable questions? “You’re … you’re 550 percent wrong, this time, Artemus. You’ve gone down in the wrongness quotient from the last time I measured.”

“Well, that’s a kind of progress. Now, listen to me for a minute, will you, partner? I have some… uncomfortable things to say. But you’re gonna like it.” Artemus promised. “First, I shouldn’t have a hard time saying the Doctor’s first name any longer, you’re right about that. I did at first, but… I should be past that. Miguel saved your life, Jim. And like I told those fools Boudin sent here, he likely saved mine, too.
Second, if you trust Mrs. Parry, and your uncle, you’re right again. I should trust your judgment. So I will. I’ll trust them. And last, for this session, I’m sorry I eavesdropped, not this morning so much as a week ago, when your Aunt Joanna was saying something about … how you … how much you’ve always liked Mrs. Parry. That was none of my business and you’re right to call me on it.”

“Okay, Artie. We’re done for now, then?” Jim asked, hoping against hope to drop the rest of this ‘discussion’ like a lead balloon down a coal mine’s shaft somewhere in West Virginia.

“Nope.” Artie swallowed a chuckle that would only raise Jim’s Irish again. “We’ve only just got past the surface problems, James. Now we’re back to these nightmares you’re having. Tell me about them, that is, unless you no longer trust me, partner.”

“Damn all, Artemus, you know I trust you.” Jim glowered, rubbing both hands back through his hair.“I just don’t… I just don’t know what’s happening with me, these days. So how can I tell you?”

“Well, one way would be to go at it from the opposite direction, I’d guess. I’ll tell you what I see and hear from you, Jim. And you tell me if I’m getting any of those …signals clearly or not. And if you need me to not get some of them, just say… y’know, back off from that one, Artemus.” the older man offered.

“And people used to say I’m stubborn.” Jim quietly complained.

“People still say that, my friend. But you know I can out-stubborn a caterpillar in a cocoon, so I’ve got you on that one.” Artie laughed, and then turned serious again. “And I thought this was going to be my turn at the conversation.”

“Go right on ahead. I’m all ears.Fire when ready, Gridley.” Jim smirked.

“Thanks, Admiral Faragut, I think I will, sir.” Artie quipped right back. “Okay, like I said, you’re really edgy lately, James. And that by itself would have told me you’re not sleeping. And that by itself would have me thinking there’s something pretty disturbing keeping my best friend and partner awake nights. So far, so good?”

“So far.” Jim nodded.

“Good. Now, you came right out and said you are having nightmares, so I don’t even need to put that on my list of guesses. Okay, so what else have I observed? You’re not eating like you normally do, by which I mean like a house afire, only nothing ever sticks to you. And Ani’s Cook is pretty darned talented, so it’s not the food here. And it’s not like you’re craving Army field rations or even my cooking when we’re out on somebody’s trail. And a loss of appetite has already been shown to match up just great with that not-sleeping problem. So something, and it’s not just the idea of this surgery has you off your feed and sleepless. I’m right again, aren’t I, Jim?”

“Right.” the younger man admitted.

“So, we’re back to this new siege of nightmares again. So I guess I’ll have to play twenty-more questions with you, James, to find out about them. Are they like the ones we both had about the War, after our separate stays with the delightful, late Dr. Aynsley?” Artie prodded.

“Partly.” Jim nodded.

“Well, at least that was two syllables instead of one. Are these dreams like ones we’ve both had after some friendly type or other drugged or gassed us, Jim?” The former actor asked.

“Not that much, no.” Jim muttered.

“Alright, partner. Are you dreaming these days about the months and months you spent in Aynsley’s lab, with his charming niece and those really amusing isolation chambers?” Artie asked.

“Sometimes, part of them … go back there. But mostly I dream about Liesly dying in that hallway in Baltimore.” Jim agreed, sadly.

“James, you know I’ve never told anyone what you told me after that cave in down in West Virginia. I’ve never told another living soul that you got claustrophic down there. And I won’t do that now, I gave you my word, remember, pretty much as soon as you came around back then and we talked about it? So, are these nightmares revisiting that mine cave in from seven years ago, when you were the last one down there and half the tunnel collapsed on you?” Artemus questioned.

“And you came down on a rope and leather kinda harness and got me and my busted leg outa there, Artemus? No, tell you the truth, it’s been a while since I dreamed about that one. But I’ve got a question, if you don’t mind an interruption, partner.”

“Not a bit. Shoot.” Artie chuckled.

“Yeah, right.” Jim grimaced. “It’s just something I’ve had occasion to wonder about a few…thousand times. Artie, didn’t you ever get really, really tired of pulling my backside outa the fire?”

“Tired of … no, no, can’t say I have, Jim. As far as I’m concerned that was just my part of the deal, sometimes and sometimes it was your part. Don’t make too much of it. It’s what a partner does when his partner’s in trouble.” Artie shrugged. “Any more questions?”

“Not right now. But you’re a total fraud, Artemus Gordon and you know it.” Jim chided his partner.“You saved my hide and Frank’s and Jere’s, not to mention the President’s life more times than the rest of us saved yours, all rolled together. So, I owe you, so go on with your … questions.”

“Fine. Fine. You said you dream sometimes about Liesl Branoch dying. But Jim, you know now that you were gone … you were out of that hall, and out of the hotel itself before she passed away. You know that, right?”

“I know it up here, Artie.” Jim said, tapping his forehead. “Not in my gut, not down here. Maybe I will, some day. Can’t tell. And by the way that makes only fifteen questions you still get, pal.”

“On this turn, right.” Artie agreed. “Jim, when Mac and I found you in Baltimore, and found your brothers were the only ones who could even try to talk to us, when they weren’t completely terrified. What they had most of their nightmares about was … your mother. Are you dreaming about her now, and the way you lost her?”

“Yeah.” Jim nodded. But just when Artie thought the younger man had nothing more to add, Jim went on. “And about my Uncle dying, and about my grandparents passing on, I dream about all of them, a whole, whole lot, lately. I dream about Jeanny’s husband Tim dying on Cyprus, leaving her and April alone there, and about my great grandfather Aidan Torrance losing most of his family in a hurricane… And killing himself, not too long afterwards. My grandmother Jean and her sister Meg were the only family he had left.

And they both were… so sad, so sick with grief and so furious with him, even I could tell. And I was … eight and a half, that winter. “ I dream about the way my great grandfather Aidan cut his arm open, and lay In what amounted to a cell in a madhouse, and died there, all alone. I dream about my aunt Sarah dying off in Chattanooga, and I never really knew her at all. I dream about the aunts and uncles I never knew, because they died when they were Littles. Yeah, I dream a lot about people dying.”

“Who else?” Artie softly demanded, thinking he could almost read the answers in Jim’s bright, blind eyes now.

“You probably have dreams like the next batch, too. Anyone who came home from the War probably has these: They’re about all the boys we knew who went with us ‘to see the Elephant’, and never came home at all. They’re about the boys we went to school with and the boys we fought with in school, who marched alongside us, or on the other side, then. They’re about the men who led us, and the men we led into battle after battle, who fell leading a charge or defending against one.

They’re about the friends, brothers, uncles, nephews, fathers and cousins we’ll never see again because they went to that ‘Boy’s War’. They’re about all the blue carpets and the grey mounds of dead and dying heroes, thirteen thousand at Fredericksburg, just on our side and five thousand Confederates, twenty four or twenty five thousand in one day at Antietam, thirty five thousand total in the siege of Vicksburg, and on and on and on, till we had six hundred and twenty thousand of them!” Jim said and turned his face away as if he could but didn’t want to see the same memories in Artie’s wide, dark eyes.

“And other agents who didn’t make it to the end of a case…” Artie added but not as a question. “And partners who came far, far to close to dying, far too often. Yeah, get that.”

“Figured you might.” Jim offered. “Funny thing, though.”

“There’s something funny?” Artie asked.

“Kinda funny. I haven’t once in months and months dreamt about … dying myself. And that was … that was pretty much the finishing touch on Stephan’s patterning. You should be glad, pal, they didn’t take you quite that far.” Jim shrugged. “Well, I’m glad they didn’t. So it seems kinda odd, especially with my memory improving… fairly well, now.”

“Jim, this is definitely something I haven’t heard you mention before this morning.” Artie told him, putting one hand on Jim’s left arm. “What does your memory getting better have to do with this ‘finishing touch’ on the patterning?”

“Well, I …I’m not sure I know the answer to that, Artie.” Jim shook his head. “Stephan’s whole, entire deal was to twist and turn and shatter, and then rebuild a man’s memory. He did that … we all know, with me … with the night momma died. And Jacques said Stephan tried to do something like that to you, about … “

“Ima, dying of pneumonia, yeah.” Artie nodded bleakly. “So, what does that damnable ‘memory Work’ have to do with dreams you said you’re not having about…James!” the older agent exclaimed as Jim stiffened his back and stared rigidly at something Artemus couldn’t see.

“ A precaution… a precaution, only.” Courier recited, caught up again in three year old patterning. “A precaution only… Courier. Our lesser enemies surround us in this place, as you well know. Courier they will press you, ceaselessly. We do not doubt to break your Artemusantine loyalty to the One. But they will seek any smallest crack or fissure in your resolve to keep the Great Oath.
That being their treacherous intent, you must be fully prepared for any and all assaults. That preparation also lies within the framework of the Great Oath to the Work and to the One. You will therefore recite the rest of the Great Oath in our heAning, now. Recite for us precisely the precautions built into the Oath to prevent even the tiniest defection or betrayal.

I am the Courier of the Great Work, Sir. I carry the Well of Fire within my core, lighting always and only the Faultless Path which I must tread. Needing only to keep to my Duty, I need only keep in mind the Well of Fire at all times. I must forget all else as regards The Great Work or the One, as if I never knew either to exist. I must remember only the Well of Purest Fire, nothing else and nothing more to carry out my Duty on the Faultless Path.”

“And if you chance to forget the Well of Purest Fire, Courier, what will become of you, according to your Oath?”

“If I forget the Well of Fire, I will be lost beyond any hope of recall. I will wander the boundAnies of oblivion where you found me, Sir. Therefore I will forget all but the fire, as if it never existed. I will forget, all but the fire.”

“Courier! Stand down!” Artemus ordered, in the best parade ground Commander’s voice he could muster. For some reason he couldn’t put his finger on, Courier’s recitation sent bitter chills down his spine, and Artie knew he had to stop it. ‘stand down. Stand at ease, Courier. Your orders have been rescinded in this matter. I have new orders for you.”

“Yes, Sir?” Courier replied and then blinked and shook his head, visibly relaxing. “Well… well, thanks for that, Actor. I guess you just learned more than you really wanted to know about the whole, entire nightmare.”

“If it keeps Jim and his brothers alive, and yes, I mean all his brothers, I’ll learn anything, anytime, Courier. I think you know that, by now.” Artie answered. “For example, what is this damn all Well of Fire, or are you going to go back into a mesmeric trance if I ask about it?”

“No. I can hold it off, most the time now, really.” Courier insisted. “In fact, you did kinda ask for that little … recital, there, Gordon.”

“Well, not on purpose! Okay, okay, I’m not going to waste my time losing my temper at you. What else do you know that I need to know to help all of us?” The agent probed.

“Gordon, honestly. The total tonnage of what I know that you don’t would stun a team of oxen in its tracks.” Courier jibed. “Alright. Take it easy, old man. The Well’s a very big, very bright kinda stone, set in a heavy ring that … He wears… all the time. You know who I mean. And he gave little crazed Liesl a ring pretty much like it, only in a size she could wear. And it’s … damned bright, like the color of a … bonfire.”

“So it’s an orange citrine or an oddly colored topaz?” Artie asked.

“Don’t think so. It’s … the girl, Liesl said it was a ... kinda sapphire, but … orange colored. That’s not my field, y’know. It’s just what she told us. She flashed it at us, when we were stuck in the ol’ Doc’s attic. And He… th’ other one, used it before then, and after. It’s a damned dangerous thing, Gordon. If you see it, don’t let anyone flash it at you.”

“It’s a Ceylonese sapphire, also called a padparascha, meaning lotus. And I don’t want to look at it, because it was used in the patterning to plant, or even trigger post hypnotic compulsions?” Artie suggested.

“Good job there. You’re catching on pretty well, old man. Gotta go, D’s got next watch. Take care of my little brother now, will you?” Courier said and left Jim leaning his head against Artie’s right shoulder.

“No problem.” Artie replied to the brother who wasn’t there now. “Jim, James, c’mon, Jim. C’mon, wake up and blink those baby greens at me.”

“What? What goes on?” Jim asked somewhat peevishly, twisting his neck to get the kinks out. “Who ordered that mudslide?”

“Well, in a way, I guess I did, Jim. Sorry.” Artemus admitted. “But it got me something more to follow up on. Quite a few somethings, really.”

“Like what?” the younger man demanded.

Artie hesitated a moment too long, and he knew it. But could he safely ask Jim about what had just been ‘added’? He needs me to trust him now,as much as ever. So, I have to do that. “A ring, a ring set with an orange gemstone, a ring that Liesl Branoch got from …”

“…from Boudin.” Jim finished, rubbing his left arm as if it ached now. “And she was very flattered, because he wears one so much like it. It’s okay, Artie. If I’m only thinking about it, I don’t think I’ll … y’know, go under.”

“Jim, I’m even more … concerned about something else that came up just now. But I’m pretty sure you know about this consciously. Because we were starting to talk about what you called the finishing touch on Aynsley’s patterning.” Artemus said, watching his friend intently.

“Oh, oh, yeah. That… that’s mainly … Boudin’s contribution. He can’t abide loose ends… And so far, I’m still a really loose one.” Jim nodded. “ ‘m sorry, Artie. You sound like this session really shook you.”

“Naw. I grew up in earthquake country, James. You’ll have to do better than that to shake me.” Artie joked. “But I think I’ve used up my twenty questions and then some. You should go and read with Micah.”

“Yeah… No, wait a second. Artie, you want me to get into all this, and I will. I promise. But you don’t have to do all the prodding and probing yourself, partner. That’s … that’s not fair. You’re the one who best knows how many layers there are to the cocoon I’m in now. But Stephan tried to build one around you, too. So maybe you shouldn’t be the one in here cutting at my layers.” the younger man suggested.

“Jim, you’re not a caterpillar.” Artie argued.

“No, no, maybe …Maybe that’s just what I am now.” Jim disagreed, with a tired half grin. ‘something hidden away … half asleep, and changing into G-d alone knows what when it’s all over. The caterpillar pretty much disappears, as I understand it. Something wholly, entirely …other comes out and flies away. And I am, or I used to be that caterpilar. That is it, Artie. But you know that already, don’t you? You know better than I do how different I am, even now from … whoever Jim West used to be. And it’s not over, not yet! So, what do I do about that, pal? Any ideas on that one?”

“You talk as if the whole kit and caboodle was entirely out of your hands, Jim.” Artemus suggested, somberly now. “And maybe that’s the way you ‘see’ it. But I don’t, and I don’t think anyone else, not even that caterpillar-Jim West sees it like that.”

“Sure, you don’t. But you’re forgetting a key element here, aren’t you? I can’t see my nose in front of my face any longer!” Jim argued. “And I can’t take the only shot I might have, somewhere in the realm of possibility to change that plain, hard fact. It makes me physically ill to even think about it.” Jim stopped and groaned and frowned and started over. “ Artie, G-d help me if I don’t tell you this now, I don’t deserve your trusting me a bit. But it’s … not easy to say or probably to hear… either.”

“So tell me, Jim. Go ahead.”Artemus urged.

“And you won’t repeat what I’m telling you now? You won’t put it in a report or a case file or anything like that? You won’t, Artemus, because this is me, your best friend and partner asking you not to, right?” Jim demanded.

“Absolutely right, James. Go ahead.” the older man agreed.

“I … don’t think that’s something I can … Artemus, don’t get your temper up when I say this, because you wanted to hear my answers. And these are MY answers, not Boudin’s or anyone else’s… But, one thing’s pretty damn all sure, as far as I can ‘see’, Artie. Either I’m changing into one, or I always have been an absolute, unqualified coward. No, hear me out! I’m almost done here. The thing is, the main thing is, I’m … I’m … scared, damned scared now.” Jim finally whispered, knowing full well Artie could hear him.

“I’m scared because these latest dreams are all about … when I’ve failed in all the worst possible ways, and how I could so easily pull disaster out of the jaws of victory, again. I’m scared because I see people I’ve lost. And its as if I’ve just lost them all over again, now. And … and … “

“People you haven’t lost, yet?” Artie asked just as quietly. “But you see them dying all around you in these nightmares. You see them, each and every one dying, because you can’t so much as reach for them. You can’t even speak a word, not one syllable of warning. Its as if there was a foot-thick, glass wall between you.”

“Artemus, you’ve had … those dreams?” Jim asked, astonished and chagrined because he’d never asked his best friend that question before now.

“ I have. They seemed to come up every single time I saw you, James, saw you in that asylum and couldn’t help you.” the older agent reluctantly answered. “I see Zeyde Yakov and Bubbe Leah, out in the City, and right next to them, ima… and tante Miri, and her husband, my uncle Zalman, too, all too far away for me to reach and all … falling …mayn shves’terkind, my cousins, too.
Yeah, and then there’s the others in the same category… Thomas and Frank, Jeremy, Jacques and you, Jim… all out of my reach and all …dying. And of course the President figures rather largely in that ‘batch’, too, along with Shimon Danielson and his wife Zarah, along with a lot of the ‘Second Team’, more recently. Yeah, I’d say those dreams were enough to scare anyone, partner.”

“Yeah… they are.” Jim nodded. “Figured you’d understand that part.”

“Is there a part of this you think I won’t or I can’t understand, James?” Artie demanded. Jim turned to his left, away from his partner. But Artemus stood up and walked over to Jim’s left. Then he cleared off and sat down on the bedside chest there. ‘this is me. C’mon and tell me what’s going on inside that overly clonked noggin of yours.”

“Cause if I don’t, you’ll clonk it?” Jim quipped.

“Damn right I will.” Artie chuckled.

“Okay, okay… There’s a part you might not even believe is true, or coming from me, not Stephan, or Liesly or … Boudin.” Jim sighed. ‘there’s a part I might not have believed myself… say four, or five years back. See, I’m stuck. I’m good and stuck here, right where I am, now. I’m stuck because … I’m scared to go forward where I have a tiny, tiny ghost of a chance to go now, where I might … get some part of my life back.

And I’d be just plain insane if I even thought about going … backwards. And I’m beginning to pretty much hate where I am now. Yeah, just when I thought I’d at least got used to that, used to the way things are with me, now. So… so, I’m not sure… not sure at all… that being stuck this way… being stuck here, unable to move in any direction… is something I … is something I can…deal with.”

“Well, if that’s all it is.” Artemus said, with a lot more lightness in his voice than he felt, right now. He was shocked and somewhat bewildered, because he could tell this uncertainty was coming from Jim, not any outside influence.

“If that’s all …?” Jim repeated, wide eyed. “What more do you want there to be, pal?”

“That’s not what I meant. And now its my turn, so hear me out, James m’boy. Just hear me out. You’re stuck, the tunnel fell in on you, at least half of it. And I get that. I do. So this is where I get out my rope and leather trapeze artist kind of harness, and thread the whole megillah through a good strong pulley set up. Then I put the harness on, I come down the mine shaft and pull you out.

Because you’re right about one thing, friend. You can’t get out of there under your own power. And that kind of trouble, James, has always been kind of a shock to your system. I know that. And that’s where I come in. That’s what a partner does for his partner, when his partner’s trapped somewhere, or when his partner’s got his head turned around six ways from Sunday.” Artie answered.

“…not to mention just entirely, entirely whopperjawed?” Jim finished, sounding and looking almost hopeful again.

“ …farmisht, is what my grandmother called it. In English it means…” Artie sighed. “Whopperjawed. Now, lets get downstairs and get some more nutbread before Micah eats every bite. Cause I’m hungry.”

“Varr meesht?” Jim repeated roughly what he’d heard Artie say. “I think I like that, partner. I like that. Let’s go.”

Artie pulled Jim to his feet and the partners went off to the lift, laughing and joking as they hadn’t done in weeks.
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SS novice field agent

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Posted - 02/09/2009 :  12:54:39  Show Profile

“Mister Jim? Mister Jim, suh?” a young woman’s clear, West Indies accented voice, coming from the hallway outside his room reached Jim as he tried for the seventh time to start a letter to his cousins in Norfolk.

“Who’s there? Is that you, Jessy?”Jim called out.

“Yes, suh, it’s only me, Jessy. Missus Ani asked would I come up and see ‘bout anythings you may need again this evenin’, suh. Hope I don’t intrude, suh.” Jessy, the newest and youngest of Ani’s housemaids answered.

“No, of course not. C’mon in, Jessy. I’m just wasting my time right now trying to write a letter.” Jim sighed, listening as the young maid walked in, her footsteps telling him she carried a heavily laden tray again tonight. “Just set that down on the first flat, cleared off surface you find, Jessy. I’m afraid I’ve been trashing the room pretty well the past few days… and nights, and getting nothing done.”

“Mister Jim, ‘scuse me, suh, you ain’t still not getting your good sleep?” Jessy asked, putting the tray down on the low dresser by the fireplace. “Well, then it’s good I brung you some of Cooks real good kinda stew, with garlics, olive oils, t’matoes, an’ all them little chunks of fish an mussels an’ such. My momma usedta say a body cain’t hardly go t’ sleep on a empty stomach. no suh. This here stew, Mister Jim, Cook’s got a real funny name for it, too… “

“Bouillabaisse.”Jim supplied, holding out both his hands. “And you’re right, Jessy, it’s really good. I’ll drink it down before it gets too cooled off. Just hand the cup to me, like you did the other night.”

“Oh, yes, suh. Figure that’s why Cook puts it in this kinda tea cup for you, suh. Easier… oh, m’ terrible sorry, Mister Jim!” Jessy cried out, sounding as if she was afraid she’d cut Jim to the quick.

“Jessy, it’s alright. It’s perfectly alright. Putting soup or stew in a cup does make it easier for me. So it’s just a thoughtful thing to do. Don’t worry a minute about that.” Jim tried to reassure her. “I’m fine. I’m getting the knack of things pretty well.”

“Oh, yes, suh, that’s xactly what Miss Mari an’ Miss Zulei, an’ most th’ other girls here hev said. You do really fine, suh, really. Here… here’s your … umm… supper, Mister Jim.” Jessy said, putting the warm cup in Jim’s hands.

“Thanks.” Jim smiled in the girl’s general direction and began to sip at the cup. ‘this is wonderful stuff. I could eat it every night. Oh, well, I guess I have been doing just that lately. Have you tried it, yet?”

“Oh, oh, no suh, Mister Jim, I wouldn’t never be drinking outa … “ Jessy stopped and started, giggling. “Oh, oh, yes, suh, mean t’ say I had me some of that stew for m’ own dinner, suh. It’s terrible good.”

“It is that.” Jim agreed and drank more of the bouillabaisse. “Jessy, I thought you and I agreed you don’t work for me and so you don’t have to always say sir, or Mister Jim. You can call me Jim, the way most of my friends do.”

“Oh, oh no, suh. Mister Jim! Was my momma here, she’d wallop me good for such a thing. Why, weren’t for you, I might maybe not have this here new job. Some of them other gen’lmens they dint want me comin’ to work for Missus Ani. Don’ hardly know why that was. But you … Mister Jim, suh, I know this is so, Miss Zulei and Miss Teleri both done told me! An’ I’m real grateful for that, suh. An’ I wanta t’ do it up proper, all th’ time.” Jessy explained.

Jim frowned, remembering the day Jessy was talking about. He’d argued some with Mac and a lot more with Artemus over this youngster who came to the kitchen door looking for almost any kind of honest work. “Thomas, I know you’ve all of a sudden decided to be worked up about security in and around Ani’s house.” Jim recalled telling his mentor. “But this really takes the cake!”

“Well, Youngster, I’m not sure I know what you’re talking about. So why don’t we walk this back a step or two and you can tell me what’s on your mind.” Mac Macquillan suggested.

“You’re not sure? Thomas, this morning I went into the kitchen a little while after breakfast, to find out if there was some coffee left. And while I was in there, I heard someone crying, sobbing actually, outside the kitchen’s back door, the one that opens into that alleyway. Well that seemed pretty odd to me, odd that someone would be outside in the rain and cold, so I stepped outside.” Jim answered, not a bit happy with what he thought had happened here.

“ And then, it got even odder, from my perspective. Prof, there was a girl of no more than seventeen or eighteen out there, bawling her eyes out! And when I asked her why, and she calmed down a bit, she told me she’d been refused a job in Ani’s house, refused by ‘some ol’ genl’mans’, who told her ‘to be on her way!’ And Jessy, that’s her name, was shaking so hard I thought maybe she was feverish.
But the fact is, Thomas, little Jessy was feverish and half starved! And I think somebody should have seen that, especially those of you who can see, these days. And I think somebody owes Jessy a second chance to work in the kitchen or somewhere here. And it might have been true once that I MIGHT HAVE been influenced by her looks. But you know that’s absolutely, absolutely not the case, now. So, I came to ask you to give the kid another try-out.”

“Torry, this is a surprise to me, as well.” Antoinette said, joining the agents. “Where is the child? I’l send Mariamne or Mered to fetch her in.”

“Ani, I knew I could count on a reasonable answer from you.” Jim nodded. “She told me she’d wait just inside the cloak room, back there, so I could find out what could have gone wrong. And Mac, I hope to G-d you’re not gonna make an issue of this, an issue out of me helping a starving kid. You’re not gonna do that, are you, Prof?” Jim demanded, sticking out his chin and planting his feet wide, ready for a fight.

“Nope. Not me, Youngster.” Mac answered.

“Wait. Wait a second, it wasn’t you who was doing the vetting this morning, was it, Thomas?” Jim demanded. “No, you and Jere went to another of those meetings you’ve been having somewhere out of the house, lately. So it was Artemus who …” Jim frowned tautly. “It was Artemus who told this kid, half dead from hunger to go back on the street and …”

“I hardly think Artie would have put it that way, Jim.” Macquillan offered. “But look, why get angry about that now, when Ani’s all ready to take this young Jessy in and help her?”

“And so I am, Torry will you come now? Come and show me where the child is waiting? I certainly won’t send her away. J’regret, I don’t know how I could have missed seeing how badly off she was. I did have to make sure at one point that Anetra’s children weren’t getting her out of bed …” Ani said, putting one hand on Jim’s arm.

“And that must be when my partner told the poor kid to get lost! Where is he, Thomas? Where is Mister Gordon right now? I want to have a little sit-down with him! Artemus? Artemus, get down here! Get down here on the double quick, Mister!” Jim turned around, calling at the top of his voice.

“Well, I was looking up some more articles on … never mind that now. What are you so hot and bothered about this time, James m’…” Artie asked, peering out from the door of the library, tome in hand.

“Don’t patronize me, Mister!” Jim scowled. “Get over here. You and I need to talk about something I almost can’t believe you did just this morning. But Mac wasn’t here and Ani had to look in on one of her house people. So it was you, alright.”

Artemus strode over to stare from Jim to Ani to Mac, thoroughly confused. “ Due respect. Just what charges are you bringing me up on, General West, Sir. if I may ask?” The former actor asked with all due sarcasm.

“Oh, oh, now I get it!” Jim growled. “You’re going for the amnesia defense right out off the starting line, aren’t you? Well, that one doesn’t work around here. That dog won’t hunt in these parts, just lately. And what you did was toss a hungry child out onto the streets of Richmond to starve, that’s what, Major Gordon!”

“Toss a hungry child…? James I don’t have the least idea… Oh,” Artie said and suddenly nodded, sitting down on the chair Mac just vacated.

“Your memory’s back, I ‘see’.” Jim scoffed. “Artemus, you were hungry growing up, more than once you told me. How in the very devil could you ever have done this?”

“Jim, there is a huge misunderstanding going on here. In fact it seems to be going in several directions at once, here. I never told that girl… Jessy’s her name right? I never told her to go back to the streets. I told her she looked to me as if she was coming down with a fever and there are young children living here who could catch it from her. So, I told her she should go on over to the clinic… Miguel’s clinic behind the house and get some soup or medicine or something.
That’s what I told her, and I told her to come back for the job when she’s well again. It sounds like she didn’t understand me even a little bit. And it sounds like you did believe I’d send a child away to starve. And that really … astonishes me, James. In fact, it stings, pretty badly, if you must know.” The former actor added.

Jim sighed and rocked back on his heels a minute. “Damn, Artie, ‘m … well, I’m being a complete ass, lately, aren’t I? ‘m sorry, partner. Jessy… I don’t think she … I’m sure she didn’t understand what you said.”

“Well, if she’s still here, I’ll be glad to try again, James.” Artemus said. “And by the way, she IS quite a lovely child, a mulatto, I’d guess, with big, bright blue eyes. I should have thought to try speaking French or Spanish with her as she might very well be from the West Indies or N’Orleans’

“Well, maybe that was the problem, she doesn’t speak English all that well. ‘m sorry, Artemus, I shouldn’t have pinned your ears back that way without at least asking you some … reasonable questions.” Jim frowned and shook his head.

“You’re pretty cranky lately, that’s undeniable, Jim.” Artie quipped. “Now, let’s both go and see what we can do for this little Jessy you’ve already adopted, shall we?”

“Yeah.” Jim agreed. “Ani, I apologize to you, too. It’s not particularly good manners to shout like that in a ladies’ presence or in her home.”

“Which of course is something Miguel has never done.” Ani giggled, getting a laugh from all three agents. “Allons, mes amis, we have an orphan of the storm to rescue.”

“Wait a second.” Mac protested, but he was chuckling at Jim. “Don’t I rate an apology from you, Youngster?”

“ Oh, yeah, Mac. ‘m sorry, Prof. I guess I … it used to be you’d never accept an apology … that was mostly when I was in your classes up at the Point. Guess that was just the way you followed Honor Code up there. Anyway, I do remember what you’d always say whenever I … messed up, Don’t apologize, Youngster, …”

“Just improve!” Mac and Artie chorused.

“Yeah, that was it.” Jim groaned.

Jessy had been working for Antoinette for nearly a fortnight and doing very well, by all accounts. She showed her gratitude to Ani, Artemus, Thomas and Jim in dozens of little ways. And although Artie tried to plague Jim about it, the younger man didn’t mind at all when the young housemaid did him one favor or another. She almost seemed to have adopted Jim, rather than it working the other way around. He wouldn’t stand for hovering or cosseting from any of his friends these days. But Jessy had a way of making Jim feel as if he was doing her favors, not the other way around.

“This boullyah… this here stew, Mister Jim, it helps you feel more like restin’ now?” Jessy asked, retrieving the cup from the agent’s hands.

“Yes, yes, it surely does.” Jim nodded. “Thanks a lot for thinking of it, again. It helped the other night, as well. Maybe if I can get some sleep I’ll be able to figure out what I can possibly say to my cousins in this danged letter. I … Their father, my uncle Jimmy … He’s very ill….he’s dying, now.”

“That’s terrible sad, Mister Jim. ‘m sorry t’ know that, suh.” Jessy answered. “Mister Jim, suh, would you want to be stretchin’ out on th’ chaise there, right there b’side your desk now, like you done t’other night, suh?”

“Yes. Yes, that’s … that’s not a bad idea.” Jim agreed, and turned to his left, reaching for the carved wooden frame of the chaise. For some reason he’d been able to sleep better on this velvet covered chaise lately than on his bed. Artie plagued him about that too, saying Jim was still too much of a soldier and still couldn’t adjust his habits or his body to civilian comforts one bit. But tonight, Jim couldn’t seem to think of a sharp enough come back, so he let it go, sitting on the chaise and nearly falling asleep, still sitting up.

It felt good to just let the big and small troubles of the day lift off him and let him relax. It felt good to blank his mind pretty well completely and let all those annoyances and worries fall away. He couldn’t even find the energy right now to worry about why it seemed someone was lifting his legs onto the chaise. And the tiny concern somewhere at the back of his mind that had to do with being wide awake and sleepless only five minutes ago, was just too far away to matter now.

Why should that or anything else matter when he was this exhausted? Why should he worry about anything now when all he needed was some decent sleep? After all, wasn’t that what Artemus and all the others had been telling him, constantly these days? Wasn’t he supposed to be concentrating on his own recovery and letting them do… whatever they were doing just now? Weren’t they always telling him to let things go he couldn’t change and just work at getting well again?

Why should he work himself up over a letter he knew he didn’t want to send; a letter he knew his cousins didn’t want to read? Why should he fume and fuss over Ani’s servants when she’d been running one household or another for more than thirty years, to Miguel’s demanding specifications and her own rigorous taste? What did it matter that he was jittery one minute and asleep the next, when nobody wanted him to jitter anymore? There was something they didn’t like about the way he used to jitter, jabber and just dash around. He wasn’t sure what that could be. Weren’t they all just a lot of worry warts, anyhow? No, he’d just catch up on his sleep and let them worry about something else for a change!

Jessy watched ‘Mister Jim’ fall asleep’ and noted that once more he didn’t sleep very soundly. Instead he was turning and thrashing on the chaise within minutes of laying down there, muttering and murmuring more unhappily and more loudly by the second. Sighing, the young mulatto woman collected and covered the dishes on her tray and went to kneel beside the troubled young man. As she’d done ever since she came to Isle d’Tresor, Jessy knelt beside the chaise Jim West slept on and did once more, what she’d been sternly ordered do.

She hated what she was doing to someone who’d been her defender here since the first minute he found her outside the kitchen door. But she’d been given no more choice in the matter now then she’d had while still held as a slave along with her brothers, her husband, and their children, as of eight years ago. Her actual, current employer made that absolutely clear. There was no escaping her new orders, not without losing everyone she loved forever. So Jessy sadly obeyed her orders to bring herself to ‘Mister Jim’s’ attention. She obeyed her orders to add things to the food she brought him when he couldn’t sleep. And finally she obeyed her orders, albeit with tears in her wide blue eyes and in her low soft voice, to recite the things she’d been told to memorize and repeat to this kind young man.

“They jes’ didn’t want you to break your heart, that’s all, Mister Jim.” Jessy whispered.”They only didn’t want you to break your poor heart over what did happen. Ain’t nothing could be done about it, after it was over and done, y’ know? Y’all can understan’ that, surely. So they went and told you some … they went and told you some awfully big fibs, Mister Jim, just sos you wouldn’t get all down-hearted whilst you was already low in your mind.

But they meant well by it, suh. Surely, they surely did. An’ y’all can understan’ that, yes, suh. Knows you can. Mister Jim, they’s all your good, real, real good friends, ain’t they? They’s all your real good long time friends. So y’all can figure why they’d keep what truly happened from you all this while. Surely you’d have done th’ same for them, was they in this kinda fix. Surely. You’re a good, good, real kind hearted gen’lmans, Mister Jim, so you surely wouldn’t want them to go an’ break their hearts over this here trouble. No suh.”

“N-n-n-no.” Jim whispered in his drugged sleep, shaking his head. “N-no, Jessy, they’re my best … my best friends. I won’t … wouldn’t lie to them…They don’t … They won’t lie to … to me.”

“They woudn’ ever wish t’ do that, Mister Jim, that’s nothin’ but true.” The girl agreed, following the ‘script’ she’d memorized. “They surely wouldn’t wish t’. But wouldn’ you druther tell a fib sometimes, if it wouldn’t let your best ol’ friends break their hearts? Surely. Surely you’d druther keep ‘em from hurtin’ so when there was nothin’ t’ be done after all this here time went by. Y’all can figure that, surely.”

“After… after all this … time?” Jim muttered, his arms flailing in the air, until Jessy caught and held his right hand. “After all? … Jessy, I’m not following you one bit. I … I’m half asleep here and muddled as all get out… What … what are you … what d’you mean?”

“Mister Jim, suh, I don’ entirely know, suh. I only know I heered it’s been some time since all y’all fust got into this here trouble.” Jessy answered. “ I only heered it’s been all over way too long for anything t’ rightly be done... done ‘bout it now. After all, suh, ain’t nobody can call up what’s dead an’ gone fo’ever. Ain’t nobody walkin’ th’ Earth can do that, anyhow. That’s left up t’ th’ Good Lord an His Justiss, suh, is what my momma allus said.”

“Well, that’s what…all my aunts and both… my grandmothers always told me, too.” Jim murmured, half sitting up. “But I still don’t understand. Jessy, what is it that’s been all over for too long? What … what is it that’s been dead and gone for…” Jim stiffened on the chaise and nearly slid off the velvet upholstery. Then he shook his head viciously from side to side.

“No, no, no, Jessy, Jessy, that’s … that’s … you…you … you heard something … really, really wrong! You … ‘m sorry, but you must’ve … you couldn’t … have understood … You heard them wrong. I know you did! Jessy, you… don’t always … exactly understand what … what some of my … my friends say. Remember, Jessy? That very first day, you thought … you really thought Artemus told you to … just go off somewhere. You remember that. And he didn’t say that, did he? No, he just wasn’t clear in what he said. He wanted you to … get well and then come to work here. That… that’s all.”

Jessy caught both Jim’s hands now and pressed her face against them, her tears flooding down. This was a wicked thing she was doing. She knew it and she knew her family stood to die, or to be sold into some South American or Far Eastern plantation if she disobeyed their captors, now. Never in her eighteen years had she known anything like genuine freedom. Having freedom of choice was still something far beyond her ken.

Like so many other freedwomen and men in the South, she’d gone from chattel slavery to share cropping to begging on the streets of Richmond to keep her own small children alive. Then she and her husband, whom she still couldn’t legally wed were caught taking day old bread from bins behind a Richmond bakery. And after a terrifying stay of three days and four nights in a Richmond pauper’s cell, Jessy learned the price she would have to pay to keep her family from further harm: A young Yankee gentleman was seen as threat to some very powerful people, even though that young man was ill these days and stone blind. Jessy would have to halt the process that might lead that young Yankee to speaking out by precisely the means she was ordered to use.

“Jessy, Jessy, don’t cry, you don’t have to cry.” Jim gently insisted, mostly awake again, he thought, wishing not for the first time that he could see her face. “You only… You didn’t understand what you heard, that.. that’s all. So…why don’t you tell me what that was? Why don’t you tell me what you think you heard, so we can all sort this out?”

“Oh, Oh, no! Mister Jim, Suh, you ain’t gonna be tellin’ them other genl’mens what I said? Mister Jim I don’ think they’s mean but I don’ figure they’d understand! Mister Jim, suh, please, please don’ be tellin’ them what I said. I’m just a foolish woman-child! Please, please…” Jessy cried and pleaded, terrified that he’d bring his friends into this when her employers sternly forbade anyone else learning of their plans.

“Alright. Alright, Jessy. Try, try now and calm down a bit. I won’t call them in, not Mac, not Artemus, not Jacques… “ Jim agreed, feeling badly that he’d frightened the girl, almost into hysterics. “I won’t. But, maybe we should let Antoinette know, she really likes you very…”

“OH, NO, NO SUH! MISSUS ANI SHE’S SWEET AS PIE BUT I CAIN’T I CAINT BE TELLIN’ HER … I SHOULDN’T HAVE BEEN LISTENIN’ TO THEM OTHER GENTS A BIT!” Jessy cried out. “An, an, I never meant to, Mister Jim! I never meant to at all. I was takin’ … t’other day, I was takin’ some tea up t’ Missus Ani to settle her stomach… An, an I just walked past th’ libaree… downstairs. Oh, oh, Mister Jim, suh, I never meant to listen… them big ol’ doors they was standing wide open, them doors like some ol’ churches got? Oh, please, suh, don’t be tellin’ Missus Ani… she’s so kind’ an’ good an’ all…”

“Alright. Okay. It’s okay, Jessy. Jessy, it’s alright, now. I won’t tell Ani or the others one single solitary word you’re telling me, now. Let’s …let’s just see if you and me can figure all this out ourselves. Alright? Jessy, calm down for me, and just tell me what you heard… my friends were talking… about.” Jim asked, keeping his hands in Jessy’s, but with a feeling like ice wrapping itself around his core.

“Ye..yes, yes, suh.” Jessy agreed, wishing she could get up and run out of the room, out of the mansion and as far as her strong legs would go. But she’d already done this ‘play’ with the handsome blind Yankee eleven nights out of the fourteen she’d been working here. She’d already sold her soul for what she was no longer sure was the absolute safety of her children, her brothers and her man. She wasn’t sure they weren’t dead already. But she felt she’d be glad to join them soon, if that were so.

“Mister Jim, you’s so kind t’ me. I wisht I never heard … Mister Jim, those genl’mans, an’ Missus Ani’s doctor Miguel… they was shakin’ their heads and they was wishin’ they coulda kept from doin’ what they done. They was all sad like an’ sayin’ how they was even more sure now that you just plain couldn’t hold up very long, was they to … give up on the lie, the Big Lie.”

“The … lie… The … Big…Lie.” Jim sighed, enunciating each word as if each syllable might choke off his breath. He had to fight to keep from shuddering now. He had to hear the rest. And he would have rather buried himself in the garden outside Ani’s kitchen but he had to hear it, now. “What … what … Jessy, tell me, now, please, what… is …what is… that Big Lie? Jessy, you’re my good friend, too. And you know it’s wrong to lie, and worse to lie to your friends. So, please, as you’re my friend, tell me the absolute, absolute truth, right this minute, now.”

“Yes, suh.” Jessy nodded. “Those genl’mans, Mister Mac, that nice Doctor Jacs, Missus Ani’s Doctor Miguel, an’ that real p’lite Mister Gordon, suh… They was sayin’ they figured it would be like killin’ you dead now, was they to tell you … Mister Jim, that …that ol’ Mister Grant up in’ Wash’n’ton, he’s been dead an gone all this while, nigh onta four years or so. They said it would be like puttin’ a knife in your own heart, suh, was you to know … how it was he truly … truly died.”

Jim dropped the girl’s hands, and clenched his own into fists as hard as rocks, planted on his hips. “… All… all this time… “ he echoed. “ … Dead and… dead and gone… gone all … this time….How… how… how… he … how it … it was he… he truly… “ Jim began to shiver and then to rock back and forth where he sat on the edge of the chaise. The hypnotic catalyst the girl had been given to add to his food for more than a week now no longer allowed him the leeway to disbelieve anything she said.

“He’s … he’s … he’s… dead… he… he’s dead…. He’s… dead… you …you … you… did it…you did it… He’s dead… he’s… dead…” You did it. You did it. Torry, you did it. He’s dead. You killed him for me. You killed him for me. Torry, you killed the Butcher, Grant. You did it, Torry, Torry, Torry… Torry… Torry… Torry, Torry…” Jim started chanting and believing once more the words a maddened, dying girl was given four years ago to send him straight to hell. Then he toppled off the chaise and curled up on himself unconscious, unable to make any other defense against the worst ‘memory’ of his adult life.

Jessy got up, covering Jim with a quilt from the bed. She knew she couldn’t stay and watch over him now. In fact, she knew she had to leave the house tonight. She’d done all that was demanded of her. The kind young blind man was lost and helpless against the people who hated him beyond understanding. “ ‘m so terrible sorry, Mister Jim.” The girl whispered, as she walked out and looked back just once more. “If’n I coulda told you why I done this, ‘m knowin’ you’d truly understand. G’bye now. Hope y’ don’ suffer so much any more.”

“What happens to West is not now and was never your concern, my girl.” Zara Fairholm, Rowena’s sister in law told Jessy, from the doorway across the hall.

“You’ve carried out your task as required. You are free to go, my girl. So go.” Eleora Burnham, the Fairholm’s cousin added. “He neither realizes nor requires your sympathy any longer. Moreover he does not deserve it. He is a traitor to and a great enemy of The Southron Cause.

“Yes, ‘m.” Jessy nodded and turned to flee. Then she stopped and turned back. ‘missus… Missus ma’am… may I go to my boys, now, may I please?”

“Surely. Why shouldn’t you?” Fairholm asked, with a smile that did nothing to warm her ice blue eyes or Jessy’s hopes. “You will find them just where you left them, my girl, two weeks ago. You will not come back to this place or ever dare to approach us ever again. Is that entirely understood?”

“Yes, ‘m. Figure I understand all y’all just fine.” Jessy said and ran down the hall and on out of the mansion, into the chill, late winter night.

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SS novice field agent

610 Posts

Posted - 02/09/2009 :  13:01:56  Show Profile
SCENE TWENTY NINE Isle d’ Tresor, Richmond VA

After finding Jim barely conscious, and the girl named Jessy vanished from the de Cervantes’ mansion, Artemus held his temper back with both hands and took turns questioning anyone who might know anything about Jessy, and sitting watch untill Jim came around again. That latter event didn’t happen for nearly two hours, worrying all of Jim’s friends.

And they weren’t much comforted by the younger man’s waking condition, either. When he awoke Jim was nauseous, badly disoriented, talking without making much sense and hardly aware of his surroundings. All they knew at first was that Jessy had become Jim’s regular late night visitor while she stayed in Ani’s home.

Ani’s first quick analysis of the bouillabaisse yielded few answers beyond the fact that it had been chemically altered. And Jim’s whole manner and affect made all his doctors wonder if he’d suffered some kind of brain damage. As if he were suffering a high fever, but without any such febrile symptoms, Jim seemed painfully confused most of the time, and sometimes nearly delusional. He was almost maudlin, full of compunction and close to desperation, whenever someone or something challenged his radically altered beliefs.

Only rarely was Jim willing to hear his companions out on various touchy subjects. And for reasons they had yet to establish, those times when he was cooperative began to be few and far between, not less and less. While there were some flashes of his familiar anger at times, more often Jim was rueful, remorseful and quietly despairing. What he wasn’t doing was fighting or arguing with or listening to them. He took on an air of fatalism, of acceptance that varied greatly with his native resilience and determined spirit. He openly announced he’d decided to accept his fate, along with any and all of the punishments he knew he deserved.

His only dispute with his friends was on that question. They wouldn’t yield to his patient resignation. They wouldn’t acknowledge what he now considered immutable facts, and their inevitable consequences. And Jim wouldn’t accept their objections. That came to a head, the next afternoon, when Jim openly, calmly at first, charged the team members, including Miguel and Ani of however compassionately, lying to him for at least a year. He made it crystal clear, finally that he ‘knew’ Ulysses Grant had died four years ago at James West’ hand.

“You need to stop protecting me from the truth, all of you, even if it is the worst truth of my whole, entire life. You need to give up the Big Lie, and let me hear the facts of the case from you, from at least one of you, if not everyone. I’d like it a lot if all of you would get in on that, though, especially since all of you were in on this damned deception.” Jim insisted.

“James, I don’t know who told you we all lied about this.” Artemus began to respond. “And I surely don’t know who told you the President …”

“Was assassinated by me, Artemus, four years ago just as Aynsley and Boudin planned?” Jim finished. “I told me. I remembered. It’s just that simple, and just that hard to accept. But I have to. I’ll go mad as a hatter if I don’t do that. And I’d honestly think you’d be glad to let that particular performance close down, by this time.”

“Youngster, it’s not possible that you’ve remembered something that never happened.” Thomas Macquillan tried his turn at moving his unusually immovable protégé. “The President is alive and well. And all of us have told you that, time and time again. Only now, after being drugged by this little girl for something like a fortnight, you don’t believe us. So I’m left to wonder if our poor orphaned Jessy is the one who planted this idea in that thick Black Irish-Welsh head of yours. She put something we haven’t quite figured out in the food she brought you, nearly every night while she was in this house, after all. And when Ani figures out what that was, we’ll be a lot closer to learning where she got it.”

“The President’s alive and well? Great, that’s great, if you need to go on trying to get me to believe that, Prof. That’s great.” Jim frowned, belying his own words. “Because, his being alive and well would surely explain why I’ve heard nothing from him, or why the lot of you have had only a few wires, communiques, dispatches, letters and not any courtmartial papers for me, from Ulysses Simpson Grant!

The man wrote all his own dispatches throughout the War, Thomas, I’m sure you remember that. He wrote Julia and the children at least twice or three times a day. He wrote and rewrote and then rewrote a good half of all his speeches in office. And he kept in constant contact with his chief advisors whenever there was a critical matter that needed to get resolved on the double quick.

Now, I’d think a case where the President of the United States was ALMOST assassinated by his Chief Security Advisor would surely call for a whole lot of communication back and forth from Washington to wherever that former CSA, me, and the present one, that’s you Mac, I assume, are staying. And I’d think he’d be in touch with Artemus as often or more often now than he was when we had assignments all over the country. And I’d think he’d surely be in touch regularly with the doctors who are trying to help the poor, deluded nutcase who tried to kill him in cold blood!”

“And you know for a fact that M’sieur l’ President hasn’t done that, how exactly, mon enfant?” Jacques asked, a little more hotly than he’d meant to.

“Oh, no, no, you misunderstood me, just then, mon docteur ami. I’m completely, completely sure that the current President has kept you all hopping while you were trying to keep me out of a Federal penitentiary or away from the nearest firing squad!” Jim shot back.

“But you’re not really answering Jacques’ question, Jim.” Artie tried, taking another turn. “How could you know whether or not anyone, including President Grant has been ignoring us or burying us in just those sorts of communications?”

“That’s easy.” Jim answered. “If he had, you’d have been running to me all the time with all this proof that the Man I assassinated was still alive. You’d have made all that a central element of your damn-all Big Lie for what is it now, almost four years time? And you haven’t. That much I’m sure of. I’ll add to that the plain unvarnished fact that whenever I made a point of telling you not to allow the President to come within fifty miles of me, not one of you fine, stubborn fellows even argued!

But now I’m suddenly very tired of this whole, entire discussion. You have no intention of being honest with me about this, do you? None of you want to ‘break my heart’ by telling me I murdered the Man I respected and revered as much as my own father, do you? None of you want to put a knife in my heart by admitting that I killed Ulysses Grant, do you?

Well, fine, then! Keep it up as long as you want, fellows! Just don’t bring any more of this conspiracy to protect a confessed Presidential assassin anywhere near me! I did it, okay! I killed him! Liesly wasn’t lying to me! Liesly was the one telling me the truth! And apparently, she was the last and only person anywhere around me who would do that!” Jim shouted, sounding more like himself in a way, but not in any way his friends welcomed. Then he whirled on his heels and strode out of the upstairs study the team had taken over for work sessions.

“Torry,” Miguel started to say as the younger man slammed the door to his own room, down the hall. “Torry, this is going backwards, not getting better. Ani, ma plus cher genie, my dearest genius, have you found an answer, and better still an antidote, to this destructive substance our friend was given?”

“Oui, mon cher, mes amis, it is a dangerous alkaloid, called mescaline, derived from lophophora williamsii.” Ani told them.

“From a kind of cactus?” Artie asked. “And just how would that be found anywhere near Richmond?”

“The top of the cactus, the crown which appears above ground, is made up of disc shaped buttons that are cut off and dried. Then it can be either ground into an easily transported powder, or the ‘buttons’ can be chewed or soaked in water to provide a potable, or injectable substance. It has its name from the Mescalero Apaches who amongst other tribes in the region, use the compound in their religious rituals.”

“Apaches.” Artie muttered and then looked up. “Oh, sorry, Ani, please go on with what you were telling us.”

“Bien sur, mon ami. When mon mari described it as destructive, he was entirely correct, gentilhommes. Just in general terms this alkaloid and others like it cause anxiety, a racing heartbeat, which of course concerns me greatly,irrationality of the thought processes, perception impairment, sensation impairment, disorganization of thought, loss of a sense of time, a feeling of dying or annihilation, dizziness, nausea, headaches, false euphoria, or the fear of losing normal mental function, and persistent hallucinations.”

“And it was introduced only into the food this young woman brought to Jim?” Jacques asked next. “No one else in the house was ‘privileged’ to receive this dosing?”

“No one.” Miguel answered, as his wife sat down beside him, evidently exhausted. “And as I now understand the type of substance, I can tell you that as with most alkaloids, unless they are constantly administered or ingested, all these untoward effects should disperse within a relatively short time.”

“Can you pin that time frame down at all, Miguel?” Artie asked the doctor. “I’d like to know how long Jim has to put up with this poison working in his system.”

“The most noticeable effects have to some extent already faded, Artemus. Torry isn’t dizzy or nauseated, he isn’t suffering from that increased heart rate Antoinette mentioned as a source of real concern. And he seems to be quite well aware of his surroundings.” Miguel answered.

“But…” the former actor probed. “What else do we need to watch out for, Doctor?”

“What we have been watching for in Torry every time the question of his last meeting with the President arose. Depression, melancholia, and as Ani said, recurring hallucinations, especially those he now believes to be ironclad facts. But without knowing more about who wound up and aimed that child at Torry, we cannot be sure there is not more to their heinous plotting.” Miguel replied, frowning.

“Well, that’s easy enough. We just have to find one eighteen year old mulatto woman somewhere in Richmond, if she was foolish enough to stay here.” Artie grumbled. “And if the people you’re referring to haven’t … permanently silenced the poor kid. No wonder she was scared half out of her wits when she thought she couldn’t work here! Whoever sent her … why am I saying whoever? We know who it has to be! This scheme has Boudin’s filthy, rotten fingerprints all over it. We just don’t know who his current batch of thugs and go-betweens are.”

“Well then, let’s get to looking for them, shall we, old friend?” Mac asked, glad for something to do and for the team to work on.

“I’m with you on that one, old friend.” Artie nodded. “I’m way ahead of you, in fact, because I think we might know, or Ani might know where to start that search for Boudin’s accomplices.”

“Mais, who would I know, who would I even deal with, mon ami of such a vicious nature?” Ani asked.

“Ma cher reine, I’m not thinking of anyone you think of as a friend.” Artie answered. “I’m thinking more particularly of some of the local society ladies you don’t feel that close to, and who might just return the favor.”

“Rowena Fairholm, then, her sister in law Zara, and her cousins, Eleora Burnham and Tavia Dunstan.” Ani nodded. “Those ladies I would suggest as distinct possibilities. They are, comment t’on dit? Old style Southern snobs of the first order.”

“And that puts them right up Boudin’s dark alley!” Mac agreed. “Jacques, you want to go out with Artie and me. But I need you to stay with that trouble-making, trouble-finding, trouble-falling-over Youngster, right now. I’ll trade you places, later on.”

“I’ll have your word on that, Thomas.” Jacques frowned.

“You’ve got it.” Mac and Artie chorused and laughed as they headed for the cloak room to start their new search for new and old enemies, right here in Richmond.
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SS novice field agent

610 Posts

Posted - 02/09/2009 :  13:03:44  Show Profile
Their search went on all week, with all the team members duly taking turns to comb through whatever information they could get on Rowena Fairholm’s social circle. Ori Hoynes ‘Second String’ came down to help, when other cases let them. So did Frank Harper and James Richmond as the time came closer to the mid February date set for Ani’s ball. It was still President Grant’s firm intention to attend that event and once more meet with his protégé, Jim West there.

And only Jim, so far as the team knew, was not aware of that particular ‘plot’. Jim gave every sign of wanting to withdraw from just about everything his friends were doing lately. But with this most recent scare, that was the last thing his friends would allow. They sat and read or talked to Jim. They played chess or played music. They brought in newspapers and books in Braille, and all the Washington, Richmond and Norfolk gossip they could find to pique his interest. And finally Ani tried discussing whether or not Jim would wear a costume suitable to the Duke of Buckingham to her Grande Balle Royale.

“No, sorry, Ani. I’ve done my last costume drill.” Jim responded, with a tiny weary smile. “It’s not my strong suit… oh, sorry, didn’t mean … anyway, it’s not anything I’ve ever been much good at. Kinda hard to say these days what I might have ever been good at, I’m afraid. Wow, what a gloomy gus I’m turning into.”

“Non, non, mon cher. You’re still a bit tired from this last bout of fever. I suppose I should have discouraged you from taking a walk out in the rain the other day, but…” Ani shrugged and chuckled.

“Randolphs don’t get sick from walking out in the rain, Ani.” Jim told her. “We get sick from staying holed up indoors for months at a time. I’ve been sick less since we came here than I was in the two or three years before that. You know that. And I thought I’d told you how much momma, Jimmy and I and Grandma Jean always loved to walk out in a cool, misting rain coming down out of the hills, running down to the Chesapeake. There’s really nothing better.”

“You’re homesick, Torry. You should go down to Norfolk in the spring.” Antoinette offered.

“Nope. Nope, I can’t. I’m persona non grata down there. Jimmy’s … not one bit happy with me. Neither is Joanna, or Queen Bea, and neither are my cousins. And … I’m not that happy with myself, as things stand right now.’ Jim shook his head and sighed. “And I guess even my brothers don’t have much truck with me, just lately, after the way poor little Jessy duped me. I’m not mad at her, though. I don’t even want to think what kind of pressure was used against her! She was … she was crying, so much of the time. She was terrified of someone, Antoinette, and terrified to talk about it. And how well I know that feeling.”

“The Companies have been unusually quiet lately, oui.” Ani agreed. “But perhaps they are just taking a late winter’s nap.”

“I … I don’t really know.” Jim answered, shocking his friend more than she wanted him to realize. “They’re … very quiet. I guess I … let them down, again. I guess they’re confabing now to decide if they can go ahead … and do without me, after all.”

“Torry, mon cher ami, c’est impossible, vraiment.” Antoinette insisted, swallowing her first impulse to cry out. “You’re only down hearted at the moment. Perhaps I should share my good news with you now, and see if it will cheer you, also? Besides, that would allow me to ask you a rather significant favor.”

“Good news is always welcome, ma plus cher reine.” Jim agreed with a weary nod.

“Bien sur. Well, mon tres cher Duc, there is to be another heir to the throne of L’ Isle d’ Tresor, or if you will, of La Belle France. And I greatly hope you will be the child’s g-dfather. S’il tu plait mon bon ami, will you not agree to do that?”

“Ani!” Jim started to get up and give her a celebratory hug. But then he set Antoinette back on her chair with infinite care and frowned. “Ani, that’s the best news I’ve heard in … I’m not even sure how long, now. But, ‘m sorry to .. ‘m truly sorry, I can’t… I can’t take that on. I hate refusing you, of all people. You’ve done so much. You’ve given up so much, your home at Los Miraboles, your life out there… that beautiful countryside and the ocean… not to mention two years with Miguel that you can’t get back, no matter what.

But… I can’t. I’m … terminally single, and I’m … blind… And, what really matters in a case like this, is… some days again, just lately, I’m not so sure I’m … in my right mind. And I’d really appreciate if you didn’t bother mentioning that to my thundering hoardes of doctors. Alright?”

“She won’t, Torry.” Miguel answered, chuckling as he walked into Ani’s sewing room and kissed his wife. “I have my own sources.”

“Yeah, all doctors are talented eavesdroppers by avocation.” Jim retorted.

"This from a professional agent provocateur?” Miguel laughed. “No, my friend. All doctors learn to listen closely whenever their most stubborn, reclusive and terminally taciturn patients think they’re not, not listening, that is. So, what is this about you being less than sure about your state of mind? And what school do you have your degree in ‘alienation’ from exactly, Torry?”

“Alienation?” Jim repeated. “I’m sorry Miguel, you just lost me on that one.”

“It’s simply a clinical term being applied, mostly in Europe, to the quasi-science of the human mind and its processes, but in particular its emotional reactions.” Miguel answered. “Now, I’ve answered your question. Be good enough to answer mine.”

“ …well that’s pretty simple, really. I know I killed the President and everyone else seems to know I didn’t. Just how do you reconcile those two opposing positions with my less than solid grip on sanity these days, Doctor, as long as we’re being clinical and all that.” Jim answered, frowning.

“As long as we’re being clinical, sanity is not a medical term or concept whatsoever, Major.” Miguel replied. “It is in fact a legal construct invented and solely supported as having anything to do with authentic human function, by trial attorneys and prosecutors.”

“So, if I understand this correctly, Miguel, “ Jim offered. ‘some years back when you were … shall we say, more creative in your scientific and socio-political endeavors, you would not have accepted a defense at trial … You would not agree that at that time you were likely insane?”

“No, not by any definition he would ever accept, James m’boy.” Artemus answered from the doorway, recalling as he saw Miguel was, their own conversation on the subject.

“I thought you were among the group that isn’t talking to me, this week, Artie.” Jim protested half-heartedly at best.

“No, no, this week that group only takes in the Congress, the Cabinet and two thirds of the standing Army.” Artie jibed. ‘so, why are we talking about Miguel’s sanity here? Or are we?”

“We were.” Jim argued, but he was smiling just a bit. ‘then you came busting in the door, partner. So maybe we should be talking about this problem you seem to have, just lately, this tendency to be impulsive, hasty, impetuous, and otherwise foolhardy.”

“Reckless, devil-may-care, rash and generally heedless of all good, common sense, is that what you’re implying, James?” Artie chuckled.

“Implying? No, I’m saying it flat out, Artemus. You’re becoming imprudent, incautious, shortsighted, irresponsible and probably misguided.” Jim insisted. “Well, no, no, wait; I guess I’m going to have to keep that shortsighted problem for myself.”

“If that’s … the way you want it, partner.”Artie agreed, but he wasn’t laughing any longer. “Jim, you know I was out all day today and most of yesterday, looking into this possible lead we have about Ani’s acquaintances, right?”

“And you’re still looking for Jessy, right, Partner?” the younger man demanded, and waited a moment before pressing the issue. “Artemus, you are still looking for Jessy, knowing just how much trouble she must have been in, and how much more trouble she’s likely to be in right now?”

“No, no, I’m not.” Artie shook his head and sighed. “I’m not looking for Jessy, Partner.”

“Well, then Mac has Ori and Jacques, Jere maybe and half the second string out looking for that scared little girl, right Artemus?” Jim asked, squaring his shoulders and jutting his chin out, ready for a blow.

“No, James. He doesn’t. No one is looking for…” Artie admitted.

“Well, then stop stringing me along, damn it! You found Jessy. You found her and she told you what Boudin threatened her with to make her … come and break that bad news to me. Am I right? Am I?” Jim harshly interrupted the older man.

“You could… you could put it that way, Jim. Yes.” Artemus agreed, sadly. “Ori and I found Jessy, this morning. And we found a letter she got a friend to write. She got a friend to write you a letter, partner, in Braille. But we didn’t find her…”

“No.” Jim shook his head, his face getting hot with anger his friends could readily see. “No, don’t tell me that! Don’t say that to me. I don’t believe you. I don’t believe that, not for a minute! You found the wrong girl. You’re wrong about this. You’ve got it wrong. You have to have this wrong, Artemus. Because after what happened with little Jessy, I know you’re not going to start up lying to me, not again!”

“The letter’s addressed to you, James.” Artie responded, a little stiffly now, putting a double folded, long sheet of paper covered with Braille symbols in Jim’s hand. “You tell me if I’m wrong. Tell me if I’m lying. Go ahead. Read it.”

“NO!” Jim shouted, letting the paper fall to the carpet, feeling like a bad mannered, scared little boy. “No, it’s another pack of lies. You’re lying again, despite all the trouble we’re having about all y’all lying to me lately. I don’t believe you. D’you hear me? I don’t believe you for a second! You didn’t want the girl in this house. Well, now she’s gone and now you have no interest in finding her, knowing all the while, like I just said, who will be going after her!
Gideon Boudin is after Jessy, Partner! And he will kill her, Artemus. He will send his thugs or his fancy dressed surrogates and beat her to death or poison her or … hurt her and then take her life! And if he’s following HIS usual pattern, Artemus, which has nothing to do with patterning and everything to do with his cowardly, sadistic nature, Boudin will have her murder made to look a suicide. Or are you trying to tell me that’s what he’s already done to that terrified little girl?”

“That’s exactly what he’s already done, Jim.” the older agent told him, very quietly, picking up the letter. “We found Jessy, far too late to do anything but find Christian burial for her, and for her family. They’re all dead, now. And they were Boudin’s leverage with the girl. That’s what her friend, who wrote that letter for Jessy, was brave enough to tell Sean Oriel and me. We found her a safe place to hide out until we’ve run the thugs who did Boudin’s killing for him this time, to ground. And I wish to Heaven we’d been able to do that for Jessy, too. Believe me or not, that’s entirely up to you, now. Just like reading Jessy’s letter is, all up to you, James.”

Squeezing his eyes shut as if they pained him, Jim reached for and took the letter when Artie held it out near his right hand.Then he moved as stiffly as a wooden soldier to one of the small tables in the sewing room and laid the sheet of Braille out flat.

“Mon cher, mon si brave Duc.” Ani whispered forlornly, handing Jim a ruler to aid his reading down the page.

“Merci, ma plus cher, et tres gentil, tres belle reine.” Jim answered hoarsely, and turned back to the letter Artie brought.

‘mister Jim.” he read aloud, hearing Jessy’s voice clear as day. ‘mister Jim, you was real good and kind to me. And so was Missus Ani, and all your friends, after I first got there. So I thank you all very kindly, the way my momma taught me to. And I’m sorry for any hurt I put on you, terrible sorry. I shoulda known, I known it was wicked, what was told me to do. I known cause I could see it in your face, your good, kind face, what I done told you … what it done to you, deep inside. Now, I’m lost. And now I can only tell you I wisht I’d known better things to tell you. I wisht there had been something good and fine to tell you, Mister Jim. I wisht I’d been strong enough to tell you how my boys were bein’ held to scare me. Well, they’re all angels now. My Man, My Miller, what got named for his ol’ master, my brothers David and Adam, what got named by our momma from the Good Book, and my boys, my own Jesse-baby, Samuel and Isaac, they’re all gone to Heaven, they’ve all just run on ahead of me. If you’ll only think kindly of me onct in a while, that would be so fine. That would be more than you should rightly do for me. But if you’ll see my boys proper buried in th’ little churchyard in the District, at the Freedman’s little Chapel… That’d be the greatest kindness. They was always good boys. They never done anything wicked, less it was to eat taffy or dance on the Sabbath, onct in a great while.

I wisht sometimes I never seen you, Mister Jim. And then I wisht I’d known you a good long while. Don’t make no sense at all, but it’s so. You made yourself my friend, when you had no call to. You never did me any harm at all. But me, I was a coward, tip to tailbone, and did what those ladies what used to hold My Miller and me, and my brothers, back in the day, what they told me. They said that tellin’ you that truth would end up bein’ a kindness, Mister Jim. But I ain’t rightly sure. They said you purely needed to know the truth of the thing, and I don’t know that I truly understand that, either.
I only know it cut you deep. And for that, I’m always gonna be real, real sorry. I only know the dried up powder stuff they told me was medicine for you, real bad muddled up your head. And for that I’m always gonna be a whole lot regretful. And I only know you’s as brave as any one I ever seen and a whole lot more than most, includin’ little Jessy. And for knowin’ you, Mister Jim, I’m always gonna be a whole lot glad, expect I got no right, but I’m gonna. Jessy-that is, Jessamyn-Talitha Miller, even if my Miller an’ me we could never get our rites, I’m his Woman, his wife forever, as G-d surely knows…. As G-d surely knows.” Jim repeated in a whisper, his bright blind eyes brightening even more with tears that did not fall.

“Jim,” Artie said, putting one hand out to tap his friend’s shoulder, only to have Jim pull away as if burned.

“Not now, Artie. Don’t do this now.” Jim insisted. “Or do you think I don’t know what you’re ready and … and practically eager to say, even after you heard her … heard Jessy’s letter? I know you, Artie, I know you pretty damn well by this time, I’d say. So, don’t start second guessing, start patronizing and most of all, don’t start pushing me where I’m not about to go!
In fact, don’t come to me with any more of your damn fool ideas about this girl who’s dead now, murdered along with all her family! Because I won’t hear it, Artemus. I won’t listen to one single, solitary word. For one thing, I was taught never to speak ill of the dead, and especially, especially when they are barely in the ground. And for another, there is nothing in that letter that contradicts the plain, hard facts of this case, no matter how badly you want to interpret it that way.

So, I’m gonna say this one more time and it will be the last thing you will hear me say about Jessamyn Talitha Fairholm Miller for the rest of my natural life. She was coerced to come here. She was coerced to give me that drug. She was coerced to tell me what she told me, while I was as good as hypnotized, so that I wouldn’t reject it out of hand. But there is nothing in that letter, nothing, not one word to support your notion that she didn’t tell me the truth of what I did, four years ago in the Maryland House Hotel. That’s all there is to it. You don’t like it? You don’t want to believe it? Well, my G-d, Artemus! Do you think I do?” Jim asked and shook his head.

“I’m going for a walk out in the garden, now. Jessy liked it back there. Well, she liked it a lot, after that first day. Take it easy, Ani. And don’t let this big guy off the hook as easy as you let me. Okay?” the younger agent asked and strode out the door, brushing past Mac and Ori Hoynes on his way without a word.

“It’s raining, Jim.” Artie said, knowing the younger man didn’t mind that sort of weather. Then Artie turned to the rest of his friends.“Well, that was a genuine disaster. What the devil do we do now?”

“If you are directing that question to me, Artemus,” Miguel answered. “Then I will say that we must bring the President here to see Torry, or take Torry to meet with Mr. Grant, even sooner than we planned. All due respect to your talent, Artemus, I would not want to risk a performance, under these dire circumstances. Torry must become absolutely convinced the President is alive and well.”

“You’re right about that.” Artie agreed, surprising Mac and Ori. “I’ve considered ‘bringing’ the President to see Jim more than once, lately. And each time it’s occurred to me that all I’d need is one misstep, to bring the whole thing crashing down around our heads. I’ve impersonated President Grant on occasions that called for him to be seen in a carriage, on a dias, or from the back of the train, nothing more. Clearly I took that kind of chance with impersonating Stephen West. But just as clearly, my target audience knew almost right away what was really going on. I won’t take that sort of risk as things stand now.”

“Well, we can train up to Washington with the Youngster, sometime in the next week, I’d think.” Mac Macquillan offered. “ I have no doubt the President will make time to see his favorite ‘firebrand’.

“But, Thomas, how will you explain making that sort of trip to Jim?” Ori asked. ‘right now he’s solidly convinced he killed the Man himself and that he should be in prison … or worse for doing just that.”

“Well, I can’t exactly tell Jimmy the mansion is on fire, so we have to evacuate, again.” Mac answered, with a tired shrug.“What have you got in mind, Antoinette?” The Bostonian asked when he glanced her way.

‘the First Lady is very much in favor of parties and balls, non, mes amis?” Ani asked in turn.

“Yes, she enjoys them about a hundred times more than the President does, or ever will.” Artie agreed. ‘so what’s your idea, Ani? Don’t keep us in suspense.”

“I would only suggest that either we invite Mrs. Grant down here, to help with the planning for our Balle, or that we take our party to her beautiful home. Either way, I’d think the chances would greatly increase of a seemingly inadvertent meeting between M’sieur Grant and our perplexed young friend.” Ani told the group. “Que pensez vous, mes chers?”

“Ani, I think you’re the real genius in your family.” Artie announced, with a sidelong glance at Miguel. ‘that’s a wonderfully clandestine Idea.”

‘she is la vrai genie here, Artemus.” Miguel agreed, chuckling. “I learned everything I know about stealth from ma plus cher femme.”

“Well, that explains all those last minute getaways, I …” Mac started to say, when a series of increasingly loud crashes reached them from the back of the house. “Jimmy!” the Bostonian exclaimed and headed towards the kitchen door.

“Ori, how many of your team are in the house today or out on the grounds?” Artie asked, while hot on Macquillan’s heels.

“About half the boys are here with me. Why, Artie? Do you think Jim is back there bouncing them off the gardener’s shed?”Ori asked, following his friend and mentor.

“I don’t think Jim’s in much shape to knock anyone around. But, I also think Jim’s in no mood to ask for introductions first and practice the right hook I taught him, second.” Artie answered. “And don’t look at me that way. I grew up in the Tenderloin, my friend. We learned to fight out there almost before we learned to walk, in those days. C’mon, let’s go find out what the damages are, this time.”

Ori’s long legs got him first to the kitchen garden and the now dormant rose garden just behind it,next to Miguel’s clinic. Artemus was a close second, although slightly out of breath. And Ani, Mac, Jacques and Miguel brought up the rear guard, consisting of Terry Hawks, Chris McIntire, Tommy Harper, Thad and Micah Kuenle, Travis Madsen and Mairtin Macquillan, the first and last of those seven agents looking something like elongated bookends, holding their five comrades in place. Ori was mildy relieved to see that none of his ‘boys’ were in a melee with Jim West, whose training as a field agent was still pretty well intact. But Ori and all the others were shocked to see that Jim was struggling to subdue a trio of scrawny men in worn blue uniforms. And the apparent soldiers were getting the worst of it, although Jim’s left eye was already swelling shut and getting purple.

“Attention!” Artemus ordered sharply, in his best parade ground Inspector General style. It worked. All four combatants stopped in their tracks and stood as if at a Grand Review. Artie wordlessly signalled for Ori and his cohort to take the men dressed as soldiers into custody and that was accomplished with no trouble now. They look to be drunk out of their minds. But at least they know when they’re thoroughly outnumbered. Artie considered. And that doesn’t tell us why they’d attack an unarmed blind man walking in a private garden. Deferring to the senior agent present, Artie turned to Mac and shrugged.

“Alright, Youngster, maybe you can tell us what happened out here.” Macquillan asked Jim. “Cause these three idiots look to be a few sheets to the wind, to say the least.”

“Don’ ask him, Mister! He won’ tell you, but we surely will! We came at him cause we just lately heered tell what he done and nigh onta got clean away with!” One of the blue-clad trio, a tall, whip thin red head sneered, at which charge Jim stiffened even more.

“We heerd, all right! And we figured nobody had done nothin’ about what that there bastard done, cause he’s got him so many high an’ mighty friends, even after what he done!” The second ‘soldier’, a wiry fellow with a thatch of greying light brown hair called out.

“You weren’t asked that question, soldier.” Terry Hawks told the second man, holding him back away from Jim. “You weren’t asked anything at all, not yet, that is.”

“Naw, you folks don’ wanta hear our answers, do you?” The third attacker, a burly, balding man insisted. “You folks already know all them answers, don’t you? Only you all set out to bury ‘em, right alongside the best Genrl’ any Army ever had! That fella there, the crazed lookin’ one you want to hear answers from, he went and shot down ol’ Sam Grant, nigh onta four years ago now! That’s what he done! That’s how his eyes got burnt up. He’s no better than that Wilkes Booth that shot down Ol’ Honest Abe!”

“An’ from what we heerd that crazed fellow there he’s been off his nut for so long now he probly couldn’t tell you!” The first man shouted. “We heered he got his head turned around six ways from Sunday whilst the War was still goin! Why, it come to us that this here West woulda gone t’ one yer Federal pens, or gone straight onta face a firin’ squad back then, but it got all covered over how he nigh onta kilt th’ Genrl back then! It was told us that West got in it up to his neck with folks that just hungered to do away with Genrl Grant and a lot more big brass b’sides, sometime in th’ last two years of th’ War. But it got buried, that’s what we was told! An’ you don’ want that put about now as th’ plain fact of the matter, do you? No, you don’ want no more scandal an’ troubles doggin’ you and the rest of the damn fools up in Washington’s City, do you?”

“Well, what about it, Genrl?” the first man in the rough hewn trio shouted. “Ain’t y’ gonna make no answer to them charges? Ain’t y’ gonna say yes or no? Ain’t y’ gonna sing out thet you be inn’cent er guilty? Confessin’ Genrl’, if you ain’t heered is s’posed t’ be right good fer a fella’s soul, I heered. An’ then onct y’ go on an’ give it up what y’ done, all y’ gotta do is finish off the problem. C’mon y’ gotta know what I mean by that! C’mon even y’ damn all higher ups gotta know bout what happened t’ fellas like this blind ol’ Genrl here?

Ain’t y’ even heered what happened t’ them boys from the 18th North Carolina? You surely know what they done, right? You surely know them boys shot ol’ Stonewall Jackson plumb off his horse, right after that fight at Chancellorsville, don’t ya? Well, them boys in that ol’ 18th they figured a hex got put on them that made ‘em do that. They figured they done th’ Cause its mortal woundin’ that time. And some of us Yankee boys, we figure maybe they did just that. And so most of them 18th North Carolina boys they picked themselves off, one after another after another as time went on… till there’s practically none of ‘em breathin’!

So me an’ my boys here we heered you was still walkin’ the earth and still free an’ clear, no jail time, no trial, no trouble about what you done t’ our Genrl Grant! An’ we come by t’ ask this here question: Genrl, why ain’t you already done fer yourself when it’s been four long years since y’ put Sam Grant in the ground? What’s been keepin’ you, huh, Genrl? Why ain’t you in th’ ground somewheres, too? Why ain’t you down in th’ deepest part of Perdition by now, is what we don’t get? Why ain’t you offed yourself, Genrl? You warn’t too yella to kill ol’ Grant, but now you’re too damn yella t’ kill your own self?”

Jim still stood wordlessly silent. But now he went pale as damask and shuddered, his blind gaze fixed on a memory-nightmare scene he’d just regained. He stood shaking with a bout of malaria, leaning heavily on a crutch, in the middle of some kind of crowded office, something like a doctor’s office, only it was lined with men half in and half out of uniform, and men in suits from years ago.
He stood chanting something he couldn’t hear, reciting it desperately as if he could only forestall disaster that way. And when did I ever manage to talk my way out of trouble? That’s Artie’s gift, not mine! Then, for an instant, Jim could hear his own voice in this vision, this image of some private patch of hell. And he was shaking even harder now, because standing next to him was a group of sixteen boys, not one of them older than fourteen, the youngest of them looking no more like eight years old!

“I can’t. I can’t. I’ can’t.” Jim heard himself whispering hoarsely, as if he’d been saying this for hours. “I tried… I tried… I did. But I can’t… so I … yes, yes, I know I’ve failed you. And … you’ve … you’ve been so patient, really. Only… I am… I was an officer… I am… I was a soldier… And there are … Codes of … of Military Justice …But… but, you know I am … I’m … ready to do … to follow your… your orders… And so… I know, I know that you… don’t want these … these children… harmed… Because I …I’m prepared, now. I’m prepared and I have to do what you want… I can only do what … you want! So you can’t… you don’t… you don’t …”

“Torry!” Antoinette called out now, seeing how Jim froze in place and stared at nothing she could see.

“James!” Artie shouted. “Jim! Come out of it, Partner, come on, c’mon, wake up now.”

“What the?” Jim answered, shaking his head as if he’d just come up out of a river. “What’d I do? Oh… I guess I … went out for a minute there. What’s wrong now, Artie?”

“Well a whole lot of things, James. But for right now I wanted to point out that these men are crazy drunk. We all can hear that. We all can …smell that on them.” Artie insisted, stepping closer to his friend. ‘they won’t know what they did or said in the morning. You, on the other hand are going to have a really nice shiner on your left eye. Let’s go and put a cold compress…”

“No.” Jim shook his head. “No. I want them to tell you every word they started to tell me, before they decided they wanted to throw some punches at a man they thought had no way to fight back. Thomas, I have the right to hear my accusers, don’t I? I at least have that much, as of now, right?”

“Yes, you do. But this is neither a court of Law, or a courtsmartial panel, Youngster. So I’m not sure any of us should ask these drunken fools any more questions at all. It could prejudice our case against them.” Macquillan answered somberly.

“What case against them, Prof? They were told I murdered the best man any of us will likely ever know. Can you honestly stand there and tell me you would never … you have never wanted to knock the people responsible for that murder flat on their well tailored, well protected backsides? Can you, Mac?”

“I cannot. But none of the people responsible for that attempted assassination of the President are…” Macquillan started to say,when Jim shook his head and put up his right hand in a sharp, cutting gesture.

‘Thomas, you are the fairest man I know, the fairest man still in the living world.” Jim said, very quietly, so that everyone had to listen closely. “And these men here say they don’t believe you want the truth of this matter put about. These men say you don’t want the facts of this case to be known. But I don’t believe that. I only believe you’d still really, really like to protect the son of an old friend who’s not here to do that now.

And I don’t want you to protect me any longer. And I don’t believe my Dad would want you to protect me, not if it meant perpetrating a useless, pointless lie. You’ve never been a dishonest man, Thomas. You’ve always been completely, completely fair and truthful, even when you’d rather not. Please, be the man I know. Please be a real friend to my Dad. Please let me be a grown man again and accountable for what I’ve done, taking what I have coming to me. There’s nothing else I can ask you for. Nothing else I want.”

“Jimmy, you just said your father wouldn’t wish me to perpetrate a lie. You’re right. Stephen would never want you to be shielded by a wall of lies. But, what these men say they were told, what that sad little girl was told and passed on to you, that’s the lie here.” Mac insisted tautly. “And if you really believe I would lie to you about something this crucial, then I don’t know what to say at all.”

“I don’t know what to believe.” Jim admitted sadly. “I only know what I’ve remembered doing. So I’m not going to pursue any charges against these three soldiers. And I don’t want anyone else to, either. I used to be a soldier, once myself. So I know we come to love the men we follow, as much or more than our own fathers. Now, I need some time, folks. Please. I just need some time to myself right now. Can you give me some time to figure something out here, to at least try to?”

“Alright, Jimmy.” Mac answered.

“Surely, mon cher.” Ani said.

“Go ahead, James.” Artie agreed, albeit reluctantly.

“Well, thanks for that.” Jim nodded and walked back into the rose garden, around the corner and into the clinic’s small building. Miguel was only seeing a handful of regular patients this winter, and with tomorrow being the Sabbath, he’d closed his doors early on.

Artie frowned and turned his attention back to the three drunken soldiers for a minute, before looking over at Mac. ‘thomas, old friend, I tend to think these gentlemen could still tell us something we might find useful, such as where they got this … damnable story and who gave them the money to get drunk on this early in the day.”

“Artemus, old friend. I think you have a fine, well deliberated point there.” Mac agreed, with a fierce grin. ‘let’s find out the source of their information and their income, shall we? I can’t help wondering myself if they aren’t one and the same.”

“You fellows don’t happen to know someone named Lanier, or some other people, mostly ladies, named Fairholm, Dunstan or Burnham, do you?” Ori asked, poking each soldier in the ribs as he asked. “And sure as shooting you don’t by any chance know someone by the name of Boudin?”

“We don’ know any body like that at all!” the third soldier shouted, while Mairtin held him back. “We only got leave th’ other day and come on down from …”

“Will you shut your damn all face for once?” The second man said, struggling in Terry’s strong grasp to reach his companion.

“Why should he, boy?” The first attacker demanded. “We’ve had it now! We’ll at th’ least go on report, fer drunk and disorderly1 An’ even if that blind fellow don’t bring charges, we’re in a heap of trouble without him.” The red head turned to Mac and sighed, shoulders slumping. ‘mister, we just got inta Richmond at th’ tail end of last night. We’re s’posed to back at City Point for reveille, Monday mornin’. Well, we went t’ a couple a taverns we heerd about. An’ one of ‘em was chock full of fancy ladies and … some of those fancy ladies had some rich lookin’ fellows on the string, or so it seemed.”

“And some of those ladies or fellows had this particular story to share with a tavern full of strangers, including men from … what Regiment or what Brigade are you?” Artie probed.

“7th Infantry, West Virginia.” The third man volunteered. “We was 3rd Brigade, 2cnd Division, 2cnd Corps, that last year of the War, Mister. An’ b’fore that, 1st Brigade, 3rd Division, an’… mostly always in th’ First Brigade … till Iike I said, around March of ’64.”

“Your fellows were pretty busy throughout, I’ve heard.” Terry Hawks offered. ‘sorry if I roughed you up.”

“We seen a lot of parts of that ol’ Elephant, certain sure.” redhead nodded. “Anyway, Mister. Them fancy dudes and their fancy women they surely did have a lot more cash in hand than we’ve seen lately. An’ they swore up and down and back and forth they was givin’ out a story that got all hushed up… An’ since we’d never heerd it, the boys and me we kinda figured that story must be so.”

“You kinda figured the President must have been assassinated because you hadn’t heard about it?” Artie couldn’t help scoffing. “Just when was it you heard the Man had died? That is, don’t you think that would have made the papers?”

“Well, it surely might’ve, Mister. Thing is, the boys an’ me, we don’t … read much.” The balding man admitted glumly. “Well, thing is, we don’t read a bit.”

“So you only heard that President Grant had died, and that he was assassinated… you only heard that last night at this tavern?” Artie asked, rolling his eyes. “And what tavern is that, exactly? Oh. And could you please explain how you knew where to find our friend?”

“We only heered about it then, yes, sir, Mister.” The thatch haired soldier agreed. “ And it was …well, it was one of them older tavern places out on … out near th’ … Burnt District, I reckon. Yeah, figure it was up on Cary and Gov’nor Streets, Mister, weren’t it Todd?”

“Well, great! That’s just great, Davey! Now you went an’ told ‘em my name! Next up, you’ll be rattin’ out poor ol’ Sonny, right over here!” the redhead groaned and then rolled his eyes, plainly realizing what he’d said too late.

“Alright, Todd.” Mac grinned. ‘there’s still one question hanging fire here. And that’s the one that worries me the most about what you did today. Do you know what you actually could be charged with, if our friend should happen to change his mind, not to mention if our host and hostess here should choose to file a report of your breaking and entering here with the Richmond constables?”

“That other fellow, that one who’s stone blind, Mister, he ain’t chargin’ us with nothin!” The man called Sonny complained.

“But he’s been known to take his friend’s advise, from time to time.” Artie chuckled. “And if he did that now, you’d be charged with assaulting a Federal agent, with intent to do grievous bodily harm. And you’d be charged with defamation of character of that same Federal agent. Oh, by the way, that reminds me, I was in the White House just three days ago, Sonny, old friend, old pal. And President Grant is perfectly healthy these days, thanks for asking.

So who was it, my friends who told you where to find James West? Because that’s the man you attacked out here. And that’s the man you charged with a killing that never happened. And anyone in this city, very likely knows that. And anyone up and down the eastern seaboard, most likely, all the way out west, at least as far as Galena, Illinois, knows that President Grant is alive and well.

But whoever it was who sent you gentlemen over here wants our friend James to believe the story they filled your heads with. They want that because they tried and failed to make James break all his oaths and trample his deepest loyalty, which is to this country and immediately after that, to Ulysses Simpson Grant.
So now these genuine traitors, these cold hearted, cowards and bastards want our friend to believe a lie that could destroy him once and for all. Now, I’ll ask you again. Then we’ll let, Mairtin, Terence and Sean Oriel here get the answer some other way. Who sent you to this house this morning? Who sent you to lie to Jim West? What is that bastard’s name?”

“What happens to us, Mister, should we rat her out?” the soldier called Davey by his friends demanded to know.

Artie raised one eyebrow and glanced at Mac who only cocked his head shrugged. “What happens is you put yourselves on report for being drunk and disorderly while on leave from City Point. After that, what happens is up to your C.O.”

“Okay. Okay then.” the redhead nodded. ‘she wasn’t in th’ tavern, exactly, Mister. Figure she was some kinda real rich lady, and had herself took over th’ whole, entire upper floor there, t’other night. An’ you should know we ain’t th only boys who she had her little confabs with. Only most of them other boys, they come back down and they took off, lookin’ kinda sick and scared. An we come t’ hear she was givin’ out whole chunks of cash. An’ she was!
But she only give out that money if a fellow said he’d … come on over and knock some sense into this… this other fellow… this West. An’ we warn’t s’posed to get her name at first, y’know? But figure she thot we was already too drunk to pay that part much heed. So after a time she got all snooty an’ said to Sonny, me an’ Davey-boy, that we’d best not try comin’ back t’ find her for more of that cash. She said ‘You’re Yankee trash right outa th’ gutters and jails of half the dying towns and villages of th’ Old World. So don’t you ever try bringin’ this back on me! Cause I’m Rowena Victoria Rebecca Edmonson Fairholm, an’ nobody dares defy me!”

Ani rolled her eyes and swallowed a curse. She’d allowed this same wealthy viper into her home and nearly seen her friends destroyed. She’d allowed Fairholm and her poisonous hatreds in her door. And now a young family had been murdered, Ani did not doubt at this person’s command, or the command of Gideon Boudin. And soon, when her Balle was held, Ani knew she must admit Fairholm once more to Isle d’ Tresor. But this time the master-trap laid would be of Antoinette Elise Marais de Cervantes’ making. This time she would catch a ‘King Spider’ better known as Gideon Alexander Remiel Boudin, and his malevolent current surrogate, Rowena Fairholm.

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SS novice field agent

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Posted - 02/09/2009 :  13:05:18  Show Profile
SCENE THIRTY Isle d’ Tresor, Richmond, Virginia. The same day

Jim stood in his room, running his fingers again and again down the letter Jessy left behind for him.

“They said that tellin’ you that truth would end up bein’ a kindness, Mister Jim. But I ain’t rightly sure. They said you purely needed to know the truth of the thing, and I don’t know that I truly understand that, either. I only know it cut you deep. And for that, I’m always gonna be real, real sorry. And I only know you’s as brave as any one I ever seen and a whole lot more than most, includin’ little Jessy. And for knowin’ you, Mister Jim, I’m always gonna be a whole lot glad…” Jim read over and over, shaking his head and drawing his mouth taut against the useless curses rising in his throat.

“And for knowing you, Jessamyn-Talitha Miller, I’m always gonna be a whole lot glad.” Jim sadly promised the image he’d constructed of that young mother in his mind. “You were as brave as anyone I’ve ever known, and a whole lot more than most, including me.”

He was almost sick, and chilled through, with reading that young mother’s last words. But by now it was as if Jim could hear her dictating that letter for him. So he had to ‘listen to her’ as many times as he could stand it. He owed Jessy Miller that much! And how many other Jessys were out there, lost in Richmond’s booming post-War rebirth? How many struggling, frightened freedwomen and freedmen were out there all through the country, Jim pondered, doing all they could for their families? How many Jessys had ended up by now like the one he knew, selling their weary, desperate souls just to keep their kids alive!

Keeping kids alive, that was the bleak theme of the other partial memory he’d recovered, just today. Somehow Jim knew without understanding that he’d been in that muggy, crowded room once, years ago. He’d been in that deadly dangerous patch of hell, filled with anxious, defiant kids and angry, desperate men, and cold eyed monsters… monsters walking upright on two legs, like Minotaurs.

Two monsters ruled that darkened, dismal space, and the complex around it, built of red brick, black cast iron and grey stone. One of them talked constantly it seemed, in a dozen languages, most of which his hearers couldn’t understand. That one was the broad shouldered, heavy eyed monster of the pair, with ironic humor always playing in his eyes. That one had a European accented voice as hard and stern and bitter as quinine. But he was not so covertly enjoying himself as he played with mens lives and minds. All he wanted from them were their spirits and their wills. And that was Herr Professor Doctor Stephan Johannes Sebastian Aynsley of Vienna and Newport News.

The other fiend-in-charge there was sickeningly familiar to Jim now, but veiled from his memory then. He was as thin and long limbed as a spider, and ten times as poisonous as a Diamond back. His voice was high and commanding in its own way, icy cold enough, Jim would always remember thinking, to freeze a grass fire on the prairies. There was no humor in him in this memory. He was all ice and rage, ready to devour the world he hated, if that would restore the world he wanted. Control was his drug of choice and power was his only diet. This was Gideon Alexander Remiel Boudin of Atlanta and Port au Prince in Haiti.

Until today, this memory had been walled up as solidly as if a master mason did the work. There’d been no sign, not even one of anything living behind those walls. There’d only been a sense ghosts whispering somewhere barely within earshot, of fragments, shards and slivers from a lost time. Now an angry,drunken soldier broke down that wall and hell came flying out like bats out of an attic or ravens out of an abandoned barn.

“An’ from what we heerd that crazed fellow there he’s been off his nut for so long now he probly couldn’t tell you!” The first man shouted. “We heered he got his head turned around six ways from Sunday whilst the War was still goin! Why, it come to us that this here West woulda gone t’ one yer Federal pens, or gone straight onta face a firin’ squad back then, but it got all covered over how he nigh onta kilt th’ Genrl back then!

It was told us that West got in it up to his neck with folks that just hungered to do away with Genrl Grant and a lot more big brass b’sides, sometime in th’ last two years of th’ War. But it got buried, that’s what we was told! An’ you don’ want that put about now as th’ plain fact of the matter, do you? No, you don’ want no more scandal an’ troubles doggin’ you and the rest of the damn fools up in Washington’s City, do you?”

Jim West stood in his room down the hall from Mac’s workroom at one end, from Miguel’s small research laboratory at the other. But even though one part of his mind knew this was a Saturday in early February, 1873, he was losing that awareness from minute to minute. He was falling back into a time he had every reason to forget. A time he counted as very nearly the worst calamity of his War years, the weeks after he saw thousands upon thousands of men fall to War in the beginning of the Overland Campaign.

“Jim,” Artemus said, knocking the door frame of Jim’s room, where the younger man had left the door wide open. “James, we’ve got those three fellows all square away now, sleeping off their drunk. You really did a fine job on them, partner. I think you may have broken the red head’s hand on that iron jaw of yours…Jim!”

“What? What’s the matter, partner? I was just … I was… “ Jim hesitated, losing the nightmarish memory as if it were only a dream he’d woken up from, again.

“You were just ten thousand miles away, partner, for the second time today.” Artie finished. “What’s going on? Is it Jessy’s letter? Is that it?”

“What else would it be, Artie? She’s dead, her brothers, her husband and her kids all are dead, all murdered. And all for what? So somebody could give me some more bad dreams? I’ve got plenty of those without any help at all. So, how was that possibly, possibly worth seven lives?” Jim demanded, squaring his jaw and his shoulders.

“I don’t know.” Artemus answered. “And I’m sorry that I doubted her. I truly am, James.”

“She knew that. She said so. We were all kind and good to her, she said.” Jim sighed and shook his head. “But not good enough, huh, partner? We didn’t really help Jessy did we? We didn’t think to even ask if she had a family anywhere around. We didn’t ask her if she was scared of us, because we were Yankees, or scared of working for us because some folks around here are still fighting the War.
We didn’t ask if she had a last name, a brother, a husband or a child. No, we just … gave her a job to do, and… so did someone else. And that someone murdered Jessy Miller. And I’m really a lot more interested in who that was right now than in whatever three drunks wanted to tell me. Can you find that out for me, partner? Can you do that for Jessy? I’d do it myself. But I don’t think enough of the local records are transferred into Braille quite yet. We have to do this for Jessy and her family, Artemus. We have to. What good are we anyway if we don’t, if we can’t?”

“Not much good, Jim. I’ll get right on it. I think I might find a County clerk still working …” Artie offered.

“No, you can’t. Not this evening. Tomorrow’s Sunday, remember? They’ll be all closed up by now. Monday will have to be soon enough, for Jessy… “ Jim said, turning his head away.

“Well, I really came up to tell you Ani’s about ready to ring the bell for dinner, anyway.” the older agent said. “Why don’t you…”

“No. I’m not… not exactly hungry.” Jim answered, shaking his head again. “What? Why are you staring holes right through me all the time these days? I swear, Artie, I can almost feel it!”

“Why am I? Alright. Alright, I’ll tell you, Jim. You drift off for minutes at a time. You seem to forget what was going on around you when you …drifted. You shake your head, or turn away or just shut down so completely lately that I keep thinking one of the Companies is about to pay me a visit. But they don’t. They haven’t.” Artie told him. “And I’m beginning to think there’s not a very good reason why that would be the case. Can you help me out here, James?”

‘sure, Artemus. Which way did you come in?” Jim quipped, without any humor.

‘very funny, James. But that joke has a beard a mile long. What’s going on with you and your brothers?” Artie asked.

“Nothing.” Jim shrugged. “What should there be?”

“What should there be?” Artie echoed. “Are you serious? There should be a good two dozen L’s right here, clamoring for their dinner, and especially for dessert first, if they can get it, which they can. There should be at least that many D’s arguing with me and Mac and Ori’s boyyos about how they could have, and they did handle those three drunks just fine all on their own. And the Ws, well, I’d think there would have been some of them coming to watch that little skirmish. And V Company…”

“What about the Company I have lead position in, Artie?” Jim demanded, frowning and folding his arms across his chest.

“As I understand it they’ve taken over the reins of the whole organization, since that little confab down in the cellar,Jim. That being the case, I’d think the Vs would have been out in strength today, out in the garden and maybe even here arguing with me, right now. But none of those things are happening. So, I’m still left to wonder what they are doing nowadays and why?”

“They’re resting, Artemus. Why is that so hard to understand? They pretty much had a rotten time the past two years and a little more!” Jim retorted. Then he began to laugh, with a harsh edge to his laughter that Artie couldn’t miss. It had always meant Jim was about to lose his supposedly unflappable temper.

“What’s so funny, James? Or do I want to know?” the former actor asked, grimacing.

“You, Artie. You are. And I’d think you’d get the pure irony here as much as I do.” Jim said. “Aren’t you the one who couldn’t even believe the Companys really existed, something over a year ago?”

“I was and it was one of the dumbest lies I ever believed, myself.” Artie admitted, frowning. ‘So, what’s going on with your brothers, James? Why do you keep on ducking that question?”

“Why should I answer your questions, pal, when you surely know all the answers yourself, being you’re such a …genius?” the younger man shot back.

“Not all the answers, but some, yes, I’m more and more sure that I do.” Artemus answered. “And it has something to do with the reason why some people decided I must be a genius, years ago. I remember what I see. And I remember what I hear just about exactly, both, just about one hundred percent of the time. And right now what I’m remembering is what you told L and W, and D Company, that day in the cellar, when we’d been looking for the Ls for most of two days. You said:

‘I know you wouldn’t do this, if you could. But if it were humanly possible, right now I’d be telling you to banish me and find yourself a much, much better brother. But you won’t do that, Sir. As I said you wouldn’t do that, even if you could. However, I feel obliged to add that according to every element of the Watch’ structure, V Company was envisioned, was purposed to take over the reins, to take the point, to stand as the shield-wall for all our older brother-Companies, when it became clear the late War was about to start. And we did that, for a little while, BB.

But we failed, Sir. We failed our Brothers many, many times, in the one duty at which they never failed us, even once. So what I wanted to tell all y’all is just this, Sir: If you will once more entrust V Company with their sworn duty to the Watch, we will hold the reins with all our strength, and all our will and all our hearts, against all comers. We will take back the Watch and keep it as it should have been kept all this time, more than a dozen years, now, firmly in our hands and safeguard it with our lives against any and all enemies.’

And that, my angry friend is exactly what you’ve been exhausting all your own resources trying to do for your brothers, ever since that day! You’ve somehow mixed up guarding them with locking them away, somehow, somewhere inside your head. And it’s just about killing you, Jim, keeping them there. You haven’t slept, you’re plagued with nightmares, again.
So you’re losing your appetite, so you’re not eating. So you’re losing weight again, leaving your health at risk. You’re leaving yourself open to liars and murderers and their helpless dupes. And you’re closing yourself off, pulling away, and locking yourself up at the same time! Now, who do you imagine would be really, very glad to see you doing this to yourself, and to your friends, and to your brothers, who?”

“Oh, do I get to answer something, now?” Jim scoffed, looking more worried to Artie’s gaze than angry.

“With impunity, General West, sir.” Artie shot back.

“Great. Let’s see, the question is who would want…who would be glad, very glad to see me all locked up inside my own head, again? Well, let me think! Who was it, a year or so ago, who kept declaring that the Watch … aren’t you the one who kept declaring that the Watch was just someone trying to make your partner look completely, completely insane. And of course your Faultless Partner couldn’t be nuts, now could he, General Gordon, sir!” Jim answered and once more turned away.

“Jim, the President is alive. President Ulysses Simpson Grant, he’s alive and well.” Artie insisted, for what felt like the thousandth time, pushing his own temper down. “And whoever wants you to think differently is doing a real bang-up job these days, I’ll grant you that much. But they’re lying. They’re paying people like those three soldiers, and they’re coercing people like Jessy Miller to repeat and repeat and repeat that lie. Now, Mac was pretty plain in what he said about his lying to you, about you believing he’d do that for any reason whatsoever. And you’ve known him longer than you’ve known me by about… “

“By almost ten years.” Jim finished. “Mac met my Dad when I was twelve. What’s your point?”

“Just this. Poor sad little Jessy had a reason for what she did, for repeating this lie. She was threatened with her family’s life. And she knew the people who made those vicious threats well enough to know they’d make good on them. Those three soldiers admitted to us they had a pratical reason for repeating this lie. They were each paid more money than they make in a year to do that.” Artemus explained.

“And the woman who paid them is one Ani’s very least favorite persons from her Richmond social circles. She’s a woman who’s been here often enough to know the layout of the house and garden, to know who you are, so she could describe you to them, and a woman who held slaves all her life, along with the rest of her family here around Richmond, until the War ended.All we need now is to link her to Boudin, which shouldn’t be all that hard, and that’s the ballgame, James.”

“And what’s your point?” Jim demanded. But Artie could read his friend’s face damn well by now and saw the ice breaking.

“My point is that no one on the team, no one in this house, no one in the Service and certainly none of us who have been your friends for more than ten years has any reason at all to lie to you, and certainly not to lie over and over and over again. So I’d appreciate it if you’d believe …us and not a lot of … strangers.” Artie said, wondering if he’d just touched off Jim’s temper again.

“You say that as if you think I want to believe … strangers.” Jim answered quietly. “I don’t. I don’t want to believe I did the worst thing I could possibly imagine doing. Would you want to, in my place, Artemus? No, I don’t think so. And you … you talk a good game, but you still don’t get the dynamic between me and my brothers. No, you really don’t.

So I’m gonna make one more stab at explaining it to you, and then I’m gonna … I dunno, give up on it as a bad job, all around. I’m here now, because of my brothers. I’m minimally sane now, because of the Companies. I’m … alive and more or less intact now because of The Watch, because of the Four. I OWE THEM! I owe them the protection they were supposed to get from me for the past … twelve years now. So, that’s what I’m doing, these days, Artemus, when I’m not dodging your questions or Jacques’ penchant for dosing me to the gills!”

“Jim,” Artie began again, but Jim held up one hand in a clear negation.

“Did I say I was finished explaining this to you? No, I didn’t. So, shut it and LISTEN, for once!” The younger man said, no longer trying to hold his temper that much. “You’re right about one thing, and only one. It’s a damned difficult maneuver, keeping the Companies safe this way. But it’s the only way I could figure, okay? And I’ve tried it before. And it seemed to work then. And you weren’t there, Partner. So you don’t get to tell me I’m wrong, not this time.

The last fall of the War, when the Overland Campaign was suspended for that season, you might remember we’d been getting reports for months about a prison no one had heard of, between Richmond and Fredericksburg, in that countryside. And when I say no one had heard of it, that included a lot of our contacts and double agents in Richmond, then. So Thomas, Frank and James Richmond started sending volunteers behind the lines to find out what went on. They sent five soldier-agents, none of whom got a single, solitary message back to them. And one of those five was Frank Harper, Jr.”

“Okay, I do remember that, Tommy Harper practically told his Dad and Mac and the Colonel they had to send him, next or it would look pretty bad on the Bureau.” Artie nodded, ignoring Jim’s harsh manner for now. “And that’s when you stood up.”

“That’s when I jumped up and got in that idiot boy’s way.” Jim agreed. “And I made a pretty damn good case about how I’d do a better job, being I grew up in northern Virginia. So, I got the job. And the fact of the matter was, I wasn’t in the best shape I’ve ever been in, just then. It’s kinda funny to me, now.
I had the life I ALWAYS WANTED. I had exactly what I’d wanted more than anything else I knew, more than raising horses with Dad or building ships with Jimmy, or anything at all. WHAT I WANTED FROM THE TIME I COULD REMEMBER, I had then. And it was empty, Partner. It was empty and half dead, like that old oak by the stables at home, and like me. I was half dead, then, myself, after The Wilderness and … Cold Harbor and Spottsylvania … and the Crater…”

Jim shook his head when Artie coughed, an old signal between them to ask if the younger man was done with his spiel for whatever bad guys were listening and it was Artie’s turn to crank up ‘the game’.

“And I … sometimes I think… my brothers WERE lettin’ me down easy…. Sometimes I think some of us MUST have lain down and died there… Because we were already half dead from the War… We were already numb, from seein’ the boys killed and cut up and dyin’ … by their thousands… by their tens of thousands… blue.. Blue carpets of our dead Union boys… Grey mounds of dead Confederates, piled like cordwood, tangled up in each other… bleedin red stains, dark red stains on blue coats… and butternut grey… And … we were so, so far from anything like the stories we loved… Roland and Arthur, Geraint, El Cid, and Lancelot, Mordred and Galahad…

We couldn’t find anything to love about the very life we’d worked and struggled and pushed and pulled every string we could find to get! So I took this new job, and I thought… I really thought I could maybe find something… to give a flying damn about, again. And then it just got worse… because we walked inside those gates… and we … the truth is, in some ways, we never came out again…” Jim was shuddering now and couldn’t seem to stop. Artie put one hand on each of his friends’s shoulders and gave Jim a moment to at least save his voice.

“Jim,” the former actor stated, not asking a question. ‘this is what you remembered while we were out in the garden with those …drunken dunces, isn’t it? This is about that place Mac and I and Jacques rode down to later that fall and found you and hundreds of prisoners who’d been ‘unaccounted for’ on all the rolls and rosters for months. And the people who ran it …”

“Were our friends, our very best non-friends, Herr Professor Stephan Johannes Sebastian Aynsley and Gideon Alexander Remiel Boudin.” Jim nodded. “And because of what Remy Boudin knows about me and Jimmy and our family, Stephan also knew just what to do with me, back then. And it didn’t help that I came down with malaria, and I got shot in the leg, or else I fell and broke it. And it didn’t help that I was half dead inside. And as I say, Stephan learned from Boudin how much I hated … how much I feared being trapped in close spaces, alone. And that was what worked against me and my brothers better than anything else they ever did.”

“Of course Boudin knew about that … difficulty. He helped to create it, damn him.” Artie frowned.“But maybe you need to stop talking about this right now, Partner, at least for a while.”

“…’m not sure I can.” Jim shrugged with a tired half grin. “Of course you already know Stephan used his isolation cages or boxes or whatever he called them five years later in that old house outside Baltimore, too. I guess I never asked if he treated you to both of them.”

“I only remember one, that was a like a … a coffin stood on its end.” Artie answered, shivering.

“The other looked like a cell, most of the time. It had iron bars on four sides, and a key lock, well, what looked like a key lock. I think it was more complicated than that, cause I couldn’t get it to open with anything I tried. But then, then it had these metal shutters, that he could open or close with what looked like a railroad track switch.” Jim went on.

“And if he wasn’t satisfied with my ‘Memory Work’ or if Remy wasn’t happy with my ‘Loyalty to the One’ the same thing always happened. Stephan would say ‘You’re not taking the Work forward this way, Torry. You’re not memorizing, or working as hard or as quickly as I know you can. So, we’ll say auf wierderzehn for now, and resume Work when you’re read to take the Great Work forward to its proper ends. Then he’d crash those shutters closed and there’d be no light, no sound, no warmth for … I don’t know how long.

And if Remy wasn’t pleased with my … responses, he’d laugh in my face and start talking about how many others he could have chosen for HIS Courier in HIS Great Work. He’s start yammering about how privileged I was to bring about HIS Shining Destiny. So I should far better appreciate my Place in the Work, and do better, when our Lessons began, again. Then he’d have someone throw that switch and down those shutters would clang.

Later, in both places, someone very strong would drag me out, like a kitten, by the scruff of the neck. And someone would throw me face down on the floor. And the light in that room was like knives in my eyes, even then, and the noise was like enfilading fire. And …and… I couldn’t move or think or talk at all. But I could feel just one thing. I felt like I’d die, or go raving mad, if they put me back in those boxes, ever again. AND I KNEW I’d … do anything at all not to go back inside.” Jim shuddered and stopped. ‘that’s all I’ve remembered from back then.”

Artie thought there might be something more but also thought he’d pressed Jim far enough for now, maybe too far. “Okay, Let’s stop for now at least. That was … a lot to get through. You’re not coming down for dinner, right? Ani will send something up for you, I’m sure. Get some … “

“Rest.” Jim finished. “Yeah. Artie…you were right to prod me, just then. And you know how I hate to admit that. But you were right. I needed to tell you about that … place… that place… during the War. You may be the only other living person
who … knows what it felt like.”

“Yeah. Yeah, Jim. It’s okay. I won’t tell anyone you’re agreeing with me. One armed truce at a time is my limit. And I’ve still got that one going with Miguel.” Artie joked.

“Really? Well, maybe the two of you should negotiate a formal peace treaty sometime soon.” Jim quipped.

“Nope. Nope. No can do, James. The world as we know it just might come to an end if we ever did.” Artie laughed and reluctantly left Jim on his own.

“The world as we know it might come to an end?” Jim repeated softly to himself, as the door closed between him and his partner. “Partner, you still don’t understand the core truth in all this… all these nightmares. The world as we knew it burned to the ground and disappeared, years ago. It died, Artemus, while we were busy looking the other way, I guess. It’s been gone so long, I’m not sure I can remember what it was like a bit.

And besides, you never got far enough along to recieve the last injunction Stephan Aynsley gave me, the one Boudin put in my head again, just months ago: If I remember what is forbidden to me, I must die. If I BEGIN to remember what is forbidden, I will die. If I begin to remember what is forbidden to me as the Courier of the Great Work, rather than betray the One, I must die. Rather than betray the One, I will die. Rather than betray, I will die … by my own hand. If I begin to remember… “

Then Jim froze in place, and couldn’t move an inch for a long moment as a harsh realization came. After months, after years of being forbidden just these memories, just the ones that would trigger his ‘final precaution against betrayal’, his mind and memory, his heart and spirit were flooded with them day to day and night to night. He was being signaled, via decades old codes and prompts, to take up the Courier’s endgame at long last. He’d done all that was demanded of him by the Great Work and the One. He could take the hero-martyr’s coup d’grace if it was offered, or administer it himself, if it was not.

He wasn’t being tormented by the past. The past was complete, unreachable and unchanging. He was free of past torment and of the future both now. He was being given due notice. He was receiving his termination order. He could take his place as the Cherished Southron Achilles, the Beloved, Immortal Southron Liberating-Martyr. He could lay down his arms with honor and know his place secure, his duty discharged, his struggle won. Nothing more was left him but his own proper end. And that was all prepared, now. He’d only lacked the bitter words of a drunken soldier to light his final path.

Ain’t y’ even heered what happened t’ them boys from the 18th North Carolina? You surely know what they done, right? You surely know them boys shot ol’ Stonewall Jackson plumb off his horse, right after that fight at Chancellorsville, don’t ya? Well, them boys in that ol’ 18th they figured a hex got put on them that made ‘em do that. They figured they done th’ Cause its mortal woundin’ that time. And some of us Yankee boys, we figure maybe they did just that. And so most of them 18th North Carolina boys they picked themselves off, one after another after another as time went on… till there’s practically none of ‘em breathin’!

So me an’ my boys here we heered you was still walkin’ the earth and still free an’ clear, no jail time, no trial, no trouble about what you done t’ our Genrl Grant! An’ we come by t’ ask this here question: Genrl, why ain’t you already done fer yourself when it’s been four long years since y’ put Sam Grant in the ground? What’s been keepin’ you, huh, Genrl? Why ain’t you in th’ ground somewheres, too? Why ain’t you down in th’ deepest part of Perdition by now, is what we don’t get? Why ain’t you offed yourself, Genrl? You warn’t too yella to kill ol’ Grant, but now you’re too damn yella t’ kill your own self?”

“No, not anymore, boys.” Jim whispered to those soldiers and all the others he remembered as loving Ulysses Grant as much as he ever had. Jim walked to his bedside table, a small secretary, actually, built the old way with dozens of cubbyholes and drawers, and hidden doors. Tapping here and tugging there, pulling this knob and pushing that latch, he opened one hiding place after another. From one of the larger cubbies, Jim drew a fifth of bourbon, pilfered from Ani’s kitchen. From one of the smallest drawers he took a scalpel, stolen just today from Miguel’s small surgery behind the house. He set both items on the small desk’s drop down writing surface. Those tools would aid one of his planned escapes, if such furtive measures were needed.

From a hidden shelf Jim next drew a packet of snowy white powder that Miguel used only for patients in the most devastating pain, and another of the same brownish compound Jessy Miller had been given, that Ani and Miguel had been analyzing together. Either one of these would dispatch him the former soldier knew from listening to his friends and reading certain odd Braille journals he’d collected. He had a choice then, and the certain means of confusing anyone who tried to learn what James West died from. Only when all these alternatives were lined up within easy reach, did the agent sit down at the desk to go through a handful of cherished, familiar objects.

His grandfather David Arthur West’s pocket watch, that had come with that gentleman horse breeder from Ludlow, Wales, sixty years ago was the first cherished item. Jim didn’t need his eyes to know its engraved brass casing gleamed even the low light of his room. He didn’t need his sight to bring to mind the inscription Meredydd Jennet Howlys West placed inside. ‘For my own Davey, so you’ll always know when to come home to –your Merey’.

He’d polished this watch himself with much use and tremendous daily care, for two decades. A horseshoe nail, the gift of his own canny, dry-witted grandfather Jaimey Randolph was the next of Jim’s belongings to appear. It had become a family tradition in their branch of Virginia Randolphs for fathers or grandfathers to gift their offspring with these practical, significant objects. It became even more important, and more memorable to Jim, when it went with him to West Point and beyond, where the chant would always start up, as soon as a classmate saw the nail: ‘for want of a nail the shoe was lost, for want of a shoe, the horse was lost..’ His first year nickname soon became ‘Cadet Lost’.

Next in the row were two battered tin soldiers in Continental Blue and Buff from the Revolutionary War. Feeling their hinged sides and time-smoothed details, Jim heard his grandmother Randolph telling him over and over again that: ‘Randolphs? Torry, all the Randolphs, like your Granpa Jaimey are fine lookin’ people, well set up, nicely conformed, handsome as the day is long. But this is why they need Torrances and Singers, Monroes and Ashtons and all the rest of their extended family to multiply and multiply and make a lot of sensible second cousins for them to marry: They haven’t had a lick of sense amongst them, since the Revolution. Now you remember that, Torry-Little when time comes for you to find a bride.’

‘M sorry, Granma, ‘m truly sorry, I don’t think that’s likely gonna happen, now. Jim considered, twenty five years later, as he picked up the last object on the desk in front of him. This was a daguerreotype case, with a worn velveteen cover and two pictures inside. On the right was an image of himself in his Second Lieutenant’s Uniform, taken right after graduation, which Jim was fairly glad he couldn’t see tonight. On the left was an older image, one he wished he could look at forever, of his mother, Jessamyn Annabeth Randolph West, taken on her last birthday.

He knew every detail in it by heart. She wore her favorite silver-green moire silk dress with creamy, fragile lace at the collar and cuffs, and a cameo brooch in soft green and cream, showing a portrait style image of a mother and her infant child. His mother’s glossy dark chestnut hair was styled in a way he’d heard his father liked quite a lot, with ringlets high against her neck in back, ribbons woven all through of the same moire silk, and soft curls flowing down by her face. And her bright green eyes that Jim had been told a thousand times were identical to his own, were smiling at someone behind the picture-maker. His imagination always suggested to Jim that either he or his father was the one who made her smile in quite that day-bright way.

“Momma, you’re so, so pretty, momma! Like a fairy-angel, Momma! Torry loves you so veryiest many much an’ much!” Jim whispered to the image he couldn’t see, and the woman he’d never forgotten. He heard himself speaking like a child of three or four, and couldn’t understand why. But it didn’t matter now. Soon it would never matter, ever again. Momma, it hurts so veryiest much you’re no here! Why’d you go t’ be a angel, Momma? Whyn’t you could be stayd heres with your Torrys-Littles, please? Whyn’t mees could be keeped you heres, Momma, why? The little boy he’d been whispered.

There was no answer. There never had been one, except in the furthest stretches of a lonely boy’s imagination. He was alone. He always had been and that was only as it should be. He’d owned some comfortable, comforting delusions now and then of being sheltered, of being welcomed, of being needed in the world. They all were dead now. They were only empty fancies of a disordered mind, in any case. He was a singleton, a loner, and an outcast. That was as it must be, because there was something wrong, there was something cold and empty and lethally poisonous wrong with him. He knew it. He knew it without question now because he destroyed or scattered, maimed or shattered everyone he held dear, everyone he wanted close to his heart, ever.

What had been tormenting images from the past were only instructional engravings on his mind, now. Sightless in all other venues, in his battered imagination he could see what those nightmares were meant to teach him, finally. No longer bewildered he could embrace these lessons and he did. At long last he knew why he’d had to live alone all this time, why he’d soon die alone as well. In the darkest corners of his spirit, in the emptiest reaches of his heart, in the bleakest moments of his existence, lay the answers, patiently waiting for him.

His enemies, so-called never formed him, never changed him. He made common cause with them, time and time and time again! His tormentors, so-conceived never broke him, never marred him. He was just as base, just as deformed as they were, from his beginnings! His adversaries, so-designated never hated, never despised him. That self loathing was his native air and soil, that contempt was the root of his existence. All his raging and protesting against them was absurd to the point of pain, now. He was only hiding from the mirror they held up to his own failings. All his diatribes and accusations were smokescreens and duck-blinds for his own remorseless nature. He was only dodging, only running from himself. And no one can really do that, ever.

I felt like I’d die, or go raving mad, if they put me in those boxes, ever, ever again. AND I KNEW I’d … do anything at all not to go back inside. That’s all I’ve remembered from back then. He remembered telling someone, not too long ago. And he was lying. And the friend he told it to, likely knew that, very well. All he had to do this instant was close his blind eyes and the scene rose all around him. Sixteen ragged, angry, defiant, frightened boys ranged around him like a color guard.
A dozen men in fancy civilian suits stood in one corner of the sweltering room, while thirty or so men in every possible variation on a worn, patched and fading Union soldier’s uniform crowded along the other wall and out the single doorway. He was the center of their attention now, the focus of every pair of eyes around him. He was the one they came to watch there. He was the protagonist/antagonist/fool of this little drama, this morality play they were staging. So
he put on quite a show, hoping his whole audience would approve it.

Leaning on a makeshift crutch, because in an escape attempt or some other foolish effort, he’d fallen and busted his right leg in several places, he performed for his widely divergent ‘patrons’. Trembling with the effects of his malaria, dizzy and sick with exhaustion, he held that ‘center stage’ for minutes, for hours, for days, it may have been. Soon or late one blended blurrily into another and another. And there had been some purpose to all this once. He felt sure there had been. But it was well and truly lost now, and so was he.

‘I can’t… so I … yes, yes, I know I’ve failed you. And … you’ve … you’ve been so patient, really. Only… I am… I was an officer… I am… I was a soldier… And there are … Codes of … of Military Justice, there are… Manuals of Arms that … that cover … so much more than that… there are Rules … of ..of Engagement.. which… you might… might not … know… And they say… they clearly say … they don’t allow for … children … or… or civilians… I know, yes, yes, I know, you may not … may not understand… but these boys here… these … hostages…they ... can't... they oughtn't even be here...’ The prisoner recited.

‘I can’t… I can’t… So I can’t… do what you … what you … wanted… because… because they’re children! They’re just children… and … So, I know now, I know… yes, yes, that you were … you have to test me… here. I know that… I understand. So, I understand… that you really don’t… you really don’t want … Because you know I am … I’m … ready to do … to follow your… your orders… And so… I know, I know that you… don’t want these … these children… harmed… Because I …I’m prepared, now. I’m prepared and I have to do what you want… I can only do what … you want! So you can’t… you don’t… you don’t …’

Then his director, manager, producer and co-star in the small production read his lines, in an icy voice the man on the crutch would have known in a blizzard, in a hurricane or in a firestorm. ‘And what if we still require of you what was already asked, Courier? What then? Will you dast defy us, even now?’

‘No, no, no, no, no, sir, sir, sir, sir, sir…’ the prisoner on the crutch at center stage eagerly answered. ‘I can’t. I can’t. I can’t defy you… I can’t defy you, no, no, no, I can’t and so I … I know … You… see… I can’t defy you, so I know… you don’t… You only … only need to… to test me… here… I know that… I know that… ‘

‘Then you ‘know’ this incorrectly, Courier. You must revise your data, we would think, as it seems quite, quite faulty.’ The long limbed, icy mannered, icy voiced other said. ‘You were given an unmistakably direct order, Courier. And yet we stand here sweltering in this miserable place, awaiting your compliance with our wishes! Must we, at this late stage begin again to find a properly obedient Servant of the Great Work and the One?

Must we now dispense with someone we have fruitlessly, it seems expended all our wisdom, all our insights, all our comprehension of the world on? Must we thrust you back to the boundaries of Oblivion on which we found you wandering, Courier? Or will you now properly, deferentially and categorically obey us? Those are your only choices, Captain. Those are your sole alternatives, Torry. You will now choose one or the other, Nothingness or Compliance, Nonexistence or Submission, Isolation or Obedience. Do we, can we finally have that clear?’

‘Clear, clear, clear, clear… ‘ the prisoner, one Captain James T West tried to answer. But his throat was closing on the words, his mind was shattering once again and his wiry frame, covered only by his uniform trousers, cut away on the right for a makeshift splint there, was finally collapsing. The rough floorboards of that ‘office’ rushed up to srike him in the face, the crutch crumpled under him and he fell, flailing and screaming into absolute darkness.
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SS novice field agent

610 Posts

Posted - 02/09/2009 :  13:07:23  Show Profile
SCENE THIRTY ONE Isle d’ Tresor, Richmond Virginia, the same night

Oldest Torry/Jim became aware and found himself face down on his bed in the room Ani gave him, upstairs in Isle d’ Tresor. The carved frame chaise was gone. His friends and hosts seemed to believe somewhat superstitiously, he thought, that it would give him nightmares.

They still don’t understand, do they, fellows? Oldest asked his brothers. Everything gives me nightmares, these days.

Oldest, this isn’t the way! Most of D and W Companies cried out inside his head where he’d ensconced them. This only does what the Original Bastard wants done! And besides, you never should have stuck us in this … makeshift padlocked dormitory. We’re s’posed to help you, not hide like babies!

No, this is the ONLY WAY! We can’t, we can’t undo what we’ve already done, what we didn’t do, what happened because of both those things. We can’t unmake the life we lived, the life we always thought we wanted more than anything. All that’s turned to ashes in our mouths, now. Can’t you taste them? That’s almost all I can taste, now! It’s too late, it’s far too late to worry about doing what Remy wants now! We already did anything and everything he wanted!

He used us! He used us like a mindless thing, a tool, a puppet, a weapon in his hand! And he’ll never stop using us that way, unless we stop the whole insane fandango, right now! He’ll never stop going for the ones we love, the ones we swore to protect who are still alive to be protected. He’ll never give up on using us as his own personal automaton, until we take ourselves out of his long reach, for always. So, we have to get out of his reach. We have to win free, finally free of all the nightmares. We have no choice left now. This is what has to be done. Oldest Torry/Jim answered bleakly.

Oldest, this will only take us all out of the world, all of us that have survived so long... and we know, we do know just exactly how hard it is to stay on, to hold on...and we won't let go, we won't let you go... we won't...

We have no, I have no choice, now... I have only one oath left unbroken, and I WILL KEEP IT! Don't you see, they 'll never stop, they never have, they 'll go on, coming back, coming back, coming back, lying and teasing and offering ...anything, anything at all...when there's purely nothing we have any right to...anymore... We threw it away! WE THREW OUR WORLD AWAY! And you don't get that back; you don't get a second chance... WE PURELY THREW OUR WORLD AWAY TO GIVE THEM WHAT THEY WANTED! WHAT THEY WANTED TOOK TH’ PLACE OF EVERYTHING AND EVERYONE WE EVER LOVED OR SOUGHT FOR...OR DREAMED OF... DON'T YOU SEE? CAN'T YOU SEE?

We see that you're in pain so deep you can't feel or think or see anything else. We see that you're in a darkness so far down that you don't know anymore there's a way out...a living way out...And we see that you are in fear so great that you can't really hear us anymore, But we won't give you up, we won't... you're our brother, our starting point, our reason...our home.

No! Jim, snatching the role of Courier back cried out. No, a monster on two legs, and his monstrous friends were our starting point and even there we have no more handholds, no more hiding places, no more ... belonging... We failed the Work, We failed the One...We failed and they will come back, they won't ever stop coming back.. And we can't...we told them we can't... and they won't stop, they won't believe us. They won’t stop coming back, unless we give them no place to come back to!

The monsters, the monsters on two legs that we let take us over, take our lives and our world over ... they won't stop unless we're gone! So we have to be gone.. And gone where they can't reach ... You do, you have to understand this, now. You have to.... understand there's nothing more ... nothing else... no one else. THEY 'LL PURELY SEND US NEXT AT EVERYONE WE LOVE! AND THEY DON'T EVEN KNOW WE LOVE THEM, BECAUSE THE MONSTERS TOOK THAT TOO! THE DAMNED MONSTERS, STEPHAN AND DUPREE TOOK EVERYTHING!

ARE WE SUPPOSED TO STAY AND LET THEM SEND US NEXT TO MURDER EVERYONE WE LOVE? ARE WE SUPPOSED TO STAY AND LET THEM SEND US NEXT TO BETRAY AND BETRAY AND DESTROY AND DESTROY ALL THAT'S LEFT OF THE WORLD AND THE HOME WE LOVE? NO, NO, NO! Gulping some bourbon, Jim wondered who would tell his cousins and their kids down in Norfolk. He wondered who would break this news to his dying uncle, for that matter, when it would be like to kill Jimmy Randolph outright.

Then stop, Oldest, stop, now. He loves you so terribly, so terribly... Do you want him in the grave next to yours, a double funeral to put paid, to put an end to a man you cherished, a man who helped your father raise you? A new contingent, this one from his own V Company asked Jim.

No, no, I don’t. But I’m empty. I’m completely empty now and they won’t stop for that. They won’t stop as long as they can send me at the people I give … the people I cherish. I’m their damned Assassin, aren’t I? And just how, how do you imagine Jimmy would stand up under my courts martial, under my trial for treason, under my … hanging? He’s already dying. Am I supposed to put the last nail in the man’s coffin? No! So, what choice is there left anymore, fellows? How else can I protect … all of them? How else can I keep them safe?

If we knew, Oldest, we'd surely tell you, what are you doing now?

Leaving a note while there’s still some time ...Isn't that what you're supposed to do in these ... circumstances? Anyone got a good, clear hand? Anyone know how to take dictation?

We do, Oldest. School and Vicar answered him.

Then will you write this down for me, my hand’s kinda shaky? And I have to decide who it goes to... who it goes to take it to the rest...and who asks them to for...forgive me, for making such a mare's nest of all...of everything?, Artie feels the lack of his own family too much these days, the more he hangs around mine, And Jacques is madly in love with Jeanny, and only a little less so with April, so he'd hate this errand, and so not Jacques. Ori is a grand fellow, a great guy, but he's purely going ta have his hands full with Artie, I’d have to guess. G-d! Artie's gonna want to take my head off by the ears...They all are... And Mac, if I leave Mac detailed for this, he won't be too thrilled, but ... He gets along with all of them, and especially Jeanny and Uncle... so it's Mac, then. School, Vic,' are you ready for me, now?

We're ready, Oldest.

Good, Mac, ... you're gonna hate this, you are, I know it, and you're gonna be even more pissed off with me, then you were when I resurfaced in Baltimore that week... in 69. But as almost always, you're the best man for the job that has to be done, now. You purely are. So try to think about...not stayin' mad at me, too long, Prof, please. Mac, the daguerreotypes, they should go to Robby and Steph, or to my Uncle, aunt Jo had them put together for me. I never have had a picture of Uncle, or his parents, or I'd leave them for uncle Jim's kids and their kids, too. My class ring, well, whatever you think, now, Mac, keep it, if you want or give it to Dani’s boys, and GrandDad’s watch well, it’s...I think one of Steph's boys was really admirin' it.... Tommy, mebbee. So he should have it.

The tin Continental, that's for one of the Texas Wests, as it came from their grandfather, uncle Jimmy, long since, and the horseshoe nail...well, April loves to ride and she knows so much about soldierin' on... she should have remember her lost cousin Torry by...Anything else I have of uniforms and such purely belong to Dani and Steph's boys now, of course. You’re something else, you’re one of a kind, Thomas, one of the best mentors and teachers, one of the few almost doctor/lawyers I know, and one the few partners who could ever get on with me, take it easy will you, Mac? And Prof, please, for the love of G-d, don't let anyone else give my eulogy, they 'll put the whole place to sleep! I would never have had... a tenth of the life I did, Mac, without your help and your occasional kick in the butt. And I wish I could have learned the kind of quiet courage we've always plagued you about.

Jacques, Mon docteur d'ami, for pity’s sake, don't read you blind, comprends tu? I know a little about that now, and I don't recommend it, not a bit. Try to help Jeanny lean on you, mon ami, she's gonna try so hard to let everyone lean on her...and she can only do so much...And she loves you, as folks in my family always do, so terribly... why, I couldn't, I could, it's because you let her see how kind and strong, how profoundly good and what un vrai gentilhomme you are, I promise to say bon jour to Jeanne, and tell her how well you and Eugenie are doing when I see her.

Jacques Merlion Etienne D’eglisier I just wanted to say tu est un ami incroyable, if only for putting up with me for so long, patching me back together and keepin' my secrets, when need be, even from me.... Mais, damné le, Jacques will you stop tellin' those greatly exaggerated stories about how clumsy I used to be? I'd purely appreciate it, even if you're going to ream me a new one in gran Gallic style when you see this... don't forget for and instant, you taught me nearly everything I know about civilian life, including cherchez les femmes... I wonder why it worked so well for me and not so well for you? And Jacques, please keep our elder statesmen on track, they 're going to be quarreling all the time, now, I can almost hear it, I can almost see it... thanks.

Artie, you're my big-brother, Artie, the one I needed and never had, growing up, take Ori on as your partner, now okay? He's learned my trick for getting you to put up with stealth, secrecy, sheer cussedness, steely-eyed determination and me. Turns out I had a big brother, who lived to be all of five months old. Turns out he looked kinda like Grampa Drew... Turns out I'm the one who had a mort of brothers... But you were the one I purely would have ... asked for, if there was a place to ask that kind of thing. Keep Jacques and Mac under close watch, and come around sometimes and cuss me out good for cavin' this way... I wish...I purely wished to hell ... I could see anything else to be done, now... Artemus Alastair Lachland Gordon, which never was the name you were born with...

Damn it, Artie, you're such a stubborn old grifter, and you like plaguin' me so much I ...and you did things for me that nobody should have been asked to do, that nobody purely asked you to do..and I wish like hell I'd asked you your favorite question...why, Artie, why? Oh, and Artie please, tell the ladies, especially Charlotte and Hildegarde, I said goodbye to them, too. Blackjack’s yours, Artie, I've had Robby, the best horse trainer-handler in the family, not to say in five states around, training him to let you and only you ride him, now.

Sean Oriel Liam Hoynes, we haven't known each other long, and yet I still am glad we do, because it lets me do two things, now, one, thank you for ... watchin' Artie's and Mac's and Jacques' backs while I was 'away', and two, to ask you to go on doing just that, I would go down to Georgia this minute and tell old Pete, that is, General Longstreet that you're purely overdue a promotion to Major or Colonel yourself, Ori, for service far, far beyond the call of duty, just for managing not to throttle us old guys...And ... I have and in with old Pete, you see... he's friends with the Man I used ..To work for.Since I can't purely make that trip now, I'll just say thanks again

Au revoir, Antoinette, ma plus cher reine Anne, tu et tres, tres belle et tres gentil et une vrai puissant reine de coeurs. You made happen the strangest and best and least expected changes in my entire life, just by not knowing how to swim…for urging Miguel to help me, when he had no reason, no reason at all to do it. I pray, Ani, and I hope you and your enfants terrible are always happy and well. J’t’ adore, Antoinette. I don't understand much these days, but I know you took in a scared, sick, lonely and badly busted up little ... and the rest of my brothers and me, into your warm, wide heart...

And I don't, I purely don't think it was just returning a favor, or repaying any kind of debt... And I wonder ... if I'll ever understand how you and your worse half decided to help a ramrod up his back idiot like yours truly... I know that Torry little and his small brothers, my small brothers fell madly in love with you on first sight... I know that David and his M's think you're the neatest, finest thing since chilled butter in the summer, since warm socks in the winter... since...just about anything...
And I know that Miguel, or good King Louis is right to be jealous of Buckingham, Athos, D’artagnan, Porthos and Aramis, who all fell madly in love with you... and that's not likely to change anytime soon. Since I won't get to meet him or her, please tell your new baby he or she has purely got the plus brave, plus belle et plus, plus cher maman anyone ever had ... excepting mebbee mees.

.. And Miguel, I have a favor to ask, despite the fact that I owe you about a thousand by now. No, make that a hundred thousand. I hope you live to be a hundred, and make sure that you snag all of Ani’s nut breads and ginger breads before Micah or the new baby, or Artie can eat them up. Still I have to ask this: For the love of G-d, don't name that new baby Torry, he won't thank you. . But I will thank you, for always, for trying so hard to help someone who had never thought of helping you, until that day at the Sacramento River... And that was purely the way I was raised, you see, not to sit by and let a lady drown...
Miguel... you crippled your hands and your legs even more stayin' in that asylum to help me... to help us, and you had no real obligation, and we all know that.

So I wonder, I wonder more and more what made you think a regs quoting, cold, indifferent, diffident, aloof, scared, angry, bitter, scared, scarred sob like Jim West was worth your time and your trouble? You could have purely died with fever at least twice in Baltimore, you could have been beaten and hurt the way all the ones there who were sick and scared ... but you were purely never once scared .how weren't you? Ani's worth a brigade of Jim West's I agree, completely, completely, and Micah's gonna be so much like her... and I still don't understand... mebbee there'll come a time when I do... with your help.

Uncle, I hardly know how to tell you that I have been so wrong, so awfully wrong for so many years now, thinking …before anyone ever suggested or tried to persuade or to brainwash me to think, that you blamed me when momma died. I know better, I do, now. And it’s almost as if I could hear momma whispering in my ear, the way she did when I’d fall asleep in that corner of her room, in the mornings .
It’s almost as if I could hear momma telling me how much you love me…and that I purely should have seen that…myself long before now. I wish I could have , I will always wish I could have understood and returned that love, long before now…when it’s just too late, I will always wish I could have been the nephew you wanted... the nephew you needed.

Lastly, please, please know that none of you failed me this time, or ever, I failed you, all of you, and a lot more. You deserved better from me. Much better than I ever gave or ever could conceive of being able to give in return for your loyalty, your love, your trust, you’re patience, and your friendship. I do...I do love you all, and for always, and I'm leaving this, by way of a totally inadequate apology.
James Torrance Kieran West, Saturday, January 18th, 1873, Richmond, Virginia’

“That’s all down now, Oldest.’ Schoolboy said. ‘But don’t you think..”

“ I think all we need now is for someone with the right equipment to come upstairs with a supper tray and we’re home free, boys.” Jim answered as calmly as he could. “And I’m not about to leave that last part to pure chance. That would only slow the process.”

Now the blind man stood up and walked to the pneumatic tube set against the south wall of his room, pulled it down and blew into the device to clear it. “Can somebody bring me up some coffee and dessert. I forgot all about supper.” Jim said when one of the kitchen staff answered. “Tell one of the younger guys to do it, will you, Mered? I don’t want Ani carrying a heavy tray up here. Yes, thanks, just a pot of coffee and some pie … or … something like that will do fine.”

Putting the tube back in place Jim sat by his desk and steepled his fingers. No one would get hurt up here tonight but the one who still hadn’t been punished for so many wrongs. He closed the desk up, hiding all the other means of dying he’d collected. He had a better, quicker and far more honest plan to reach his only goal now. It was just simple and just bizarre enough to buy him the brief time he’d need. “That’s it, boys. That’s it.” Jim murmured to his still protesting brothers. “You can all take it easy now, boys. Very soon now we’ll all be home free at long last.”

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SS novice field agent

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Posted - 02/09/2009 :  13:09:37  Show Profile

“Mon enfant," Antoinette offered, no more than half an hour later, tapping on Jim’s door. "I have some coffee here, and some tarte.."

“DamnI” Jim whispered. “ No, it wasn’t supposed to be Ani! Ani, I changed my mind … I’m not, not really hungry. Give the tarte to Micah, or to Artie, maybe. He can’t get enough.” Jim called back, hoping he’d discourage his friend and hostess.

“Artie’s still enjoying one of Mac’s stories and one of Miguel’s cigars from Havana downstairs, Jim.” Ori Hoynes answered from the hallway. “So I came up with Ani to hear that story you promised about the time we nearly met up in the Shenandoah.”

“Ori that wasn’t me. That must have been one of … one of Frank’s tall tales or Jeremy’s. And I’m … I’m bushed, really. I’ll… catch up with you two, later. I need to … I need to … rest, now.” Jim said and swore under his breath as the door swung open on its hinges. Damn all! I forgot to lock it!

“Well, I was pretty sure you were the one who said he nearly fell into a picket line ol’ Jeb Stuart’s boys set up for just the purpose of snagging some of Phil Sheridan’s boy’s boots and pistols.” Ori insisted, following Ani into the room and setting down the tray.

“Et aussi, mon cher, you truly musn’t go without eating. It does you no good, no good at all.”Ani scolded, pecking Jim on the cheek.

“Well, maybe I did go through the Shenandoah, once or twice, Ori.” Jim shrugged. “Did you get any of those pistols, or those boots? I think now I do remember waking up at a cook fire of my own one morning, only to find my boots and tack and saddle all pilfered in the night!"

“That would likely have been my wife's cousin, Andy Brightwell. He was always scrapping and pulling tricks, on us, much less Yankee outriders like you must have been then.”

"I was a courier" Jim started to retort and then felt like choking on the words. "I was sometimes a … Courier as it were" he finished and laughed,sharply. "But you didn't answer my question, Ori, did you come away with any of those fancy cavalry pistols we had for awhile?"

"Well, I don't rightly recall oh, Yeah, I have one I mounted and gave to my father in law, Judge McConnell down in San Antonio. Prettiest little firebox you ever did see that was. Its all over engravings and gilt and a totally useless thing as far as shooting anything, I'd guess." Ori laughed.

“That would have depended on how far apart the shooter and the shootee, as it were, were." Jim grinned."A few yards, Yeah, they couldn't hit the broadside of a stables, a few steps, and they could hit the eyelashes on a flea. But if something went wrong; if the powder magazine clogged or the trigger jammed. Bam! You could get the nastiest little explosion.. But you know, Ori, I've hardly ever known a Texan who didn't go armed, what've you got on you?" Jim asked.

"In Ani’s house? Ori asked, "Nothin', Jim. Why would I?"

“To go hunting some rabbits for dinner tomorrow? We used to all the time when I was ... when ...I remember bein' a kid...we'd chase rabbits , and wild turkeys and bright, copper red foxes.. And my GrandDad would say when he was a boy; there were still bears in the backwoods. Listen, you two, I'm wearin' down. Give me a hand up, will you, Ori and I'll go up to bed, now." Jim said, holding out his left arm.

“Sure, Jim. Surely." Ori crossed to the older man and helped him stand. But instead of leaving his hand on Ori's strong left arm, Jim reached for the taller man's waist and grabbed the pistol he'd noticed when the Texan moved past him in the garden. Within seconds he was twisting away from Ori, as Antoinette cried out

"Non, Torry! Non! Non,cheri! Miguel! Jacques! Artemus! Thomas!"

"Get her out of here, Ori!" Jim demanded, still gripping the gun although Ori was fighting him for it now. "Get Ani out and stay the hell out yourself. Lock that damned door behind you! I said get! NOW GET OUT!"

"No, sir. No, I will not! Antoinette, go on, and bring all of them, I think he's gone plumb crazy!"

‘’I did that years ago, Captain Hoynes. That's old history, now, haven't you heard? I want you both out of this room, and I mean it." the older man growled. " There's nothing interesting, or pretty, or amusing to see when a man points a gun at his own throat and pulls the damn trigger, So get on out! I'm only interested in taking one of us out, Sean Oriel, and it isn't you, and it sure as hell isn't Antoinette!"

"James!" Artemus cried, running in just ahead of the others.

"Artemus, will you take Ani, and this Texan out of here, and yourself as well. I don't need an audience for this! And I don't need any damned more doctors! I'm only finishing the job that got interrupted a few years ago by an explosion in Baltimore. I don't need anyone in here for that, and it won't be much fun to watch! This is only. Only what purely should have happened when that damned… when I left the President to die on the carpet of his hotel room, and we all know it! Take your new partner out of here, now, Artemus. I have an assignment to complete!" Jim demanded. Struggling and surprising Ori with his strength, Jim kept control of the pistol still and was moving its barrel towards his throat, as promised.

"Youngster!" Mac shouted. ‘do you understand that you may be acting on a post hypnotic compulsion to do just this? Do you understand that you may be throwing away our best chance to put paid to all this, to take the bastards who put this damned idea in your head...'

“Thomas, I honestly don't know and I purely don't care where the suggestion that I should have died when I killed the President came from. And honestly, right at the moment, i don’t even much care what started this whole nightmare…nightmare circus. I just…want…out. And even though I can get my brains to understand that all y’all think the best way, mebbee the only way to do that is to talk it out, work it out…figure it out…I can’t. I can’t do that. Any time I even…think about trying to…”Jim complained.

“What, Jimny? What happens in that whirling-dervish brain of yours when you think about trying to work this through, talk it out, figure it out?’mac demanded in his turn.

“This, Mac! This, what’s happening now, what’s happened over and over again in the past six months or more, only I was too sick or too scared to go there, much less talk about it! My mind and my gut and my hands and everything else I can get to work at all, go into lock step. I can’t…I’m not exaggerating here, folks. I mean exactly what I say …I can’t think of anything else…I can’t think of anything but jumping off roofs or diving into an arroyo, or drinking or swallowing something bitter or sweet or sharp as long as it’s lethal…or just swallowing this revolver …Because it’s not …It’s not going to go away…It’s not…It never has…I just…I just didn’t…know it, remember it…I didn’t remember that I was purely …set up to kill…set up to murder…Mac, do you think a man could be set up like that to murder only one other person? Does that make even the least amount of sense you can think of? It doesn’t. It doesn’t. Not at all. So I know…I purely get this now….” Jim tried to explain.

“You get what, Youngster?” Macquillan asked.

“I get what all y’all still refuse to …get…That this…all of this…all this nightmare …It’s never going to stop…never…and if it…. doesn’t…I could kill …any of you…all of …you…. I could…because if I could kill that man…that …fine, good, quiet, shy…brave, wonderful, … incredible man…I could kill anyone…. I get that, now. That there, there is only one way it can…stop …and this is purely it…Because I should’ve died that day…I should’ve blown my own fool head off, or “fallen on my sword’…I …think I actually had my dress sword on me…And that would have …worked…But I ran! I murdered the best man any of us will ever…ever possibly know…and I ran… I ran and hid inside a four and a half year old little! No, no, even better, I hid in a schoolroom full of little boys! And it wasn't even the first damned time, it turns out! No, no, turns out ol' Jim here has been hidin' in one or another ... piece of himself all his damned life! Hidin', always, always hidin'... always. lyin'... And all y'all have heard me say a thousand times how much I hate liars!
Well, turns out I'm one of the worst of the breed, and a lunatic to boot! Turns out I'm so damned good at lyin' I can even lie to myself! ...And I did, and I have and now the lies stop, they stop here and now, tonight! You see, I get that the Torrys were protectin’ me from just that. They’re damn brave kids, you know… well, Yeah, you do know that… you knew before I did… And they deserve a better… much, much better big brother than yours truly. Because right now, the *only* redeeming feature I can find in ol’ Jim North is that I purely don't want anyone else hurt so will you please get the hell." Jim sighed bitterly.

"Jimmy, listen to me, now." Mac interrupted again. ‘this is not the way to get past what happened. In fact, doing this makes sure you never will. And we all went through the War, We’ve all worked some bad cases, rough ones, and we all have enough lousy memories to make us want to go hide... and we all find different ways to do it...And you know, Jim, you and Jacques, Artemus and Frank Harper all know the way I found, for a damnably long time... down inside a bottle of gin, or bourbon or ... really it didn't matter what after awhile, as long as it blocked out what I wanted blocked... what I needed blocked. I still have some rough patches now and then with the whole thing, But this isn't the way to handle, them. I know, because I've considered it too."

“Mac." Jim sighed, straining now to hold the gun out of Ori's long reach. "I know I wouldn't EVER have made it this far along without your help. And I'm sorry, I am. But you've always had ten times the courage of any man I know, myself included. I can't ..I can't live with this. And please, please, Thomas, don’t tell me that you think I could purely live with killing you or …Artemus, Miguel or Ari, Ori or Jacques…Jeanny, April or Dani or Steph, their kids... my Uncle, Robby, Pauly, i…no, no, Please …please don’t…go there…Mac, I…. there’s just no way."

“Mon enfant.." Jacques began in turn, knowing Jim was in no frame of mind to listen. "You are about to take your own life because of a damnable lie. Does that seem the least bit reasonable to you, Jim? Does that seem anything the President would wish you to do?"

“Mon docteur d'ami, j'mescuse, But I knew.. him better than you and he was, well aware of the necessity of an officer's adherence to Code. More than that, he was a West Point graduate, just as I am, and the Code there is, if anything, even more rigorous. I've breached them both in about a hundred ways and there's no getting around that. I’ve shattered prett much every promise, every vow, every oath I’ve made in …thirty years and more. I’ve disgraced all of you, the Army, the Service, the President…my Uncle…my grandparents…my name…
I fought for something like half my life to make something of myself, to make something worth…something of my life and my name…What’s that line you’re always saying everyone gets wrong from Hamlet, Artemus…‘ that, this too, too sullied flesh would melt?’ And they keep saying too, too solid…Well, I understand both those ideas…now. And getting it to melt, thaw and resolve itself into a dew…that seems purely the only thing I can do to this sullied flesh here.” Jim said, more quietly, now.

“ Because I lost myself …not four years ago, folks, a long, long time before that. I lost any and all sense of who Jim West is or was And I tried over and over to fill in the blanks but they’re still there and just as blank as ever. And I don’t even know what was there before. I don’t even know what could have been there. I know what my 'brothers' have told me, I know what you've all said... since I woke up, that it can only get better, now cos it's already been the worst it could be... But I'm not so very sure of that, not any more. And you all like to tell me that small Torry and the other Littles know these things. And you all like to say that they can get me back there.
But you don’t know what I’ve finally figured out. So listen up. Please. There’s no going back for me. There never was going to be. I was supposed to die that day in Baltimore, one way or another, I was supposed to be dead and buried four years ago. Because after I studied and worked, and fought and worked and studied and fought all I accomplished was the death of the best …the absolutely best man any of us is ever likely to know. Because after I planned and dreamed and believed I’d finally, finally put the lie to everyone who ever doubted me…my ability, my courage, my honor and my loyalties…I did what somebody told me I’d been destined, I was fated to do all my life.

I don’t know who said it, folks, so don’t ask, all right. It doesn’t matter who said it. It only matters that they were right. It only matters that I proved them right and me wrong. I single-handedly destroyed the life and Th’ Place and the world I wanted more than anything, or anyone! I did that. Me! After fighting my way through every school I went to, including the Point, Mac, you’ll remember how often I’d get into a fight there. And walked the parade ground for hours for it, and got up the next day and fought again, to show them just how much I belonged there. When the plain truth is, I belonged nowhere at all! I wasn’t a Southerner, not to the Southerners I knew. But then, I wasn’t a Northerner, not to the Northerners I knew. I wasn’t at the top, or the bottom of the class, no, Patrick O’Rourke and George Custer got those slots. I wasn’t valedictorian or salutarian or any of those torians or tarians I wasn’t the best horseman, or the best at rifle drill. I wasn’t the fanciest dresser, when we were off the post, and I wasn’t the tightest penny pincher, the tee-totler or the class drunk.

I wasn’t even supposed to be at the Point for another year. I was seventeen. I was seventeen years old and I pushed and I whined and I begged Jimmy, to push and pull and get me into West Point. And Jimmy, in those days, he had a lot of pull. And I had a lot of drive. And he’d wanted to go there himself, or to VMI, and didn’t. So I was going to live his dream, and mine. Kinda funny how that turned out, isn’t it? Because I purely made come true the one thing I was more afraid of all my life than anything else, or anyone else in the world. I cut myself off ... from the law, from the Code, from the Service, from the Army, from the government, from all of you…
I cut myself off from my family and my home, their home, Th’ Place that’s been their home for more than a century, now…and from all of them, too. Because I have no family now, no home, no cousins, no father, no Grandparents, aunts or uncles, I have no neighbors and no …place I belong, not now, not ever. I gave that all up. I gave all of them up. I gave that all up for Glory, for Heroism, for Fame, Prestige, for Place and Pride and Power…I gave that all up for Ambition and Cachet and Stature and Rank. For Duty, Honor, Code and Country.' Jim acknowledged and fell quiet once again, still holding the gun.

'Torry,' Jimmy Randolph said, walking in and standing as close as the others would allow him, to his son. 'Torry, you haven't lost your family, son, you purely haven't. We know how much family means to you. We know that without a word being said. Because we know what it cost you to leave. And we know now, why you truly felt you had to go and stay away... as much as you hated prep school, we know...’

'Uncle,' Jim whispered, amazed to hear his uncle’s voice, and took a half step in the direction of that rich, clear Tidewater accented voice. But then he frowned and shook his head and stepped back. “Artemus, that’s about the dirtiest pool you’ve played since you tried to make those trainees at the Academy think you were the Ghost of Prince Albert from England! Don’t do that, Artemus. Don’t ever pull that on me, again. D’you hear me? I may be stone blind but I’m not the village idiot around here!”

“It’s not me, Jim. I’m not that good at Tidewater these days. And I’m over here to your right.” Artie answered, surprising Jim again.

“Okay then, Jeremy, I don’t know when you got down here to Richmond but the same thing holds…” Jim insisted.

“I’m over by the door still, Partner. And I only got here tonight in time for Ani’s flan.” Jeremy Pike said, from the center of the doorway.

“It’s me, Torry. It truly is. I hated the way we left things, nephew. So I came on back, entirely against Jo’s wishes.” Jimmy Randolph told Jim. “And now I see I was right to come on up. Torry, this is wrong, boy. This is terribly wrong and you know it. It’s wrong because we Randolph’s we just don’t give up on a fight, not even when the rest of the county, the rest of Virginia, or the rest of the world says we should And it’s wrong because some devil on two legs is the one who pushed this awful situation on you, now.”

“Jimmy, for one thing, I hated how we left things, too. I was wrong to … treat you that way. I love you, a lot. You were a second father to me. You … still are.” Jim answered, not for an instant letting go of the revolver in his hand. “But for the rest, you were one of the people who taught me that a man, no matter what his last name is, or where his family came from stands up and takes responsibility for the choices he makes, for the … things that he does, the good things and the terrible things that he does. A man stands up under whatever he’s done and takes the consequences of what he chooses to do.”

“ Yes, yes we taught you that. And the thing is, Torry, I know as well as you that you never once chose to...' Jimmy protested.

'Due respect, sir, that's not the way I remember it. It's purely not. I chose to leave Th’ Place, I chose to stay in the Army ... I chose to fight ... how did someone put it... to fight all of y' home, my family, my ... cousins, my friends, my neighbors... Why? Why didn't I come home along with Jack Pelham and James Longstreet, Pierre Beauregard and Joe Johnston, Thomas Jackson, a mortal lot of our cousins and neighbors and of course, Robert E Lee? Why didn't I wait another year and go on to VMI? Can I really blame all that on what one man did ... years and years ago? No, that's not what I was taught to do, either...And I ...I’ve done things that ... can't be set aside... They purely can't...not now I recall them..' Jim admitted.

“And can nothing I say now convince you, Torry that you might have recalled those things ...not exactly as they were?" Randolph asked.

'No, sir, no... Because I know you'd all tell me the harvest moon was made of cheddar, the way Grampa Davy used to say... if you thought now you could change my mind... And
that's good, that's loving and I can't even ... try to tell you what that means... But what it does mean now, only tells me how I've ... ruined it all, beyond... so far beyond repair, beyond hope....Because after I chose to leave all y'all behind here... for all those high ideals and brave adventures and honor and glory I wanted so much...' then I gave all of that up, too. Didn’t I? I sold my soul for all of those empty, shallow, worthless things. And then I gave them all up too, which leaves prett much nothing. Nothing.
That’s what treason means, you know. That’s what cold blooded murder means, too. Not in a dictionary, in a man’s life. It means he cuts himself off from the rest of the world. He turns his back and makes the choices that lead him to a prison cell, a trial, a gibbet, and an unmarked hole in the ground somewhere. And even while he’s making those choices, he knows. He knows there’s no turning back from it. Ever. There’s only madness and treachery, a little remorse here and there, and the piper to pay when you’re done. Only that last job is left to be done, which is to pay that piper, in the only coinage he’ll take. That’s a life for a life, isn’t it? Well, ISN’T IT?” Jim demanded.

“Oui, mon enfant. Mais…” Jacques started to say.

“Mais, Non, mais rien, mon docteur d’ami. I was there, that day, Jacques, and you weren't, till it was too late. And I think I'm glad. in a way, except that maybe you could have knocked me out before I..” Jim cut him off. “And you weren’t there before that, not until it was too late … in the fall of ’64, at that … privately owned patch of Perdition… And that time, by the time you and Artie and Mac were there…sixteen children … boys no more than fourteen years old, and the youngest about eight and a half, were all lying dead… lying dead at my feet, because their deaths were the test for the post of Courier that I had to pass! Those boys were my final exam!”

“Youngster, you’re getting a lot of things all mixed up in your head, now. And your uncle’s right. you’re not remembering these two cases the way they happened at all. So, even though you won’t necessarily listen right now, I’m gonna tell you those boys, all sixteen of them who Boudin and Aynsley held as hostages, were all alive and well when we got there. And what they said to us was that Captain James West saved all of their lives!” Thomas Macquillan challenged Jim. “ So, you’re remembering things the way Boudin and Aynsley, and probably this Rowena Fairholm would be very glad to hear. They’d be glad because you’re exonerating them of the horrors they created starting at that so-called prison, during the War. And of course Mister Boudin would like nothing better, as he’s a former trial attorney, than to hear a man he coerced and abducted and tortured take all the blame in this, on himself!”

“Prof, I’m not gonna argue the fine points with you any more.” Jim grated, obviously still shaken by Jimmy Randolph’s arrival. “I never read the Law. I s’pose I could’ve but it didn’t … I only ever wanted to be a career Army officer back then. And y’all can see how well that plan worked out, can’t you now?”

“Torry," Miguel said sadly. "You are worn to a nub, You simply are not capable right now of thinking this out clearly, or, apparently, understanding what we've tried over and over to tell you. That being the case, there can be no justice of any kind in what you’re attempting now. There is not even the lowest common denominator, retribution. involved when the person making the accusation is the person whose life is in jeopardy under this precious Code of yours. Are you taking revenge on yourself? Is that the reason for this grandstand play? Or are you just trying to escape a nightmare that will clearly take a deal more time to get free of, in the way we have worked so far? Because if you pull that trigger now, Torry, there will simply be no more time at all for you to win this battle. And if that happens, then Aynsley, Boudin, Mrs. Fairholm, here in Richmond, and their entire bloody handed cohort will win. Is that what you truly want?"

“Excuse me, Doctor, excuse me, my friends.” Jimmy interrupted. “I need to ask Thomas a question here. And yes, it’s important enough, I believe to ask all of you, and my nephew to allow for it, now.”

“What is it, Mr. Randolph?” Mac asked, sounding to Jim as surprised as the younger man felt.

“It’s simply this, sir: First you and now the Doctor have mentioned a Mrs Fairholm, and you specifically said her given name is Rowena. Also, the Doctor indicated she’s residing here in Richmond. Did I understand all of that correctly, gentlemen?” Jim’s uncle asked.

“Yes, yes you did. She recently coerced a young Freedwoman to do some very tricky business for her.” Macquillan agreed.

“Well then, I’m hopin’ this will help all y’all and Torry, and your case in general. Rowena Victoria Rebecca Edmonson Fairholm has been a friend and an associate of Remy Boudin’s for nearly as long as I was, myself. And that would be forty three years now this past autumn, all told. As a matter of fact, Remy introduced ‘Rowe’ as we called her back then, to me, in the winter of eighteen forty six, in his grandfather’s home outside Atlanta. And yes, gentlemen, I do have correspondence from both parties documenting what I’ve just said.” Jimmy explained.

“Got him!” Artemus whispered, only to find Miguel looking his way briefly and showing the same quiet satisfaction.

“Jimmy, what does it matter who else that old bastard knows, now? The point in question here is that I know him, and that I chose to do terrible, unforgivable things, that he wanted done.” Jim tiredly complained, ignoring Artie. “And Miguel, I appreciate what you’re saying. I appreciate all of you, more than I know how to say. So this is what I’m asking you to do for the sake of your family and our friends and my uncle, right now: Turn around now and walk on out of here. And if she hasn’t left yet, will you please take your pregnant wife with you? You two have a small son, and another child on the way, to worry about now. So, take her out of here, please! Ori, you need to let me go and take my uncle and Mac out of this room with you now, and I mean on the double-quick, Captain Hoynes. Jacques, you and Jere have to leave too. I’ve had all the doctors the past three or four years I can reasonably stand. Makes me downright glad Jemmy isn’t here now to add to the fuss! And Artemus, you get moving on out of here, too. There isn’t ANYTHING you or anyone else here can say that will possibly, possibly change my mind now. Not anything. You’ve done all that you could and a whole lot more.”

Now, Artemus waved the others to silence, feeling sure he would either stop Jim's attempt in the next few moments, or lose his best friend for good. "He's right, friends. Please excuse me for interrupting you, Mr. Randolph but I think Jim's right. Ori, Thomas, Jere, Jacques, Antoinette, Miguel, Leave me with our friend for a moment. Go on. James and I have to have a little talk."

"Artemus!" Ori protested. "What the hell?"

“Don't contradict me, Captain." Artemus insisted, his gaze on Jim, gesturing for Ori to move away from Jim, but not towards the door. "Just move, and move, now."

“See, Artemus?" Jim laughed, harshly. "I knew you’d purely find out someday how much fun giving the orders can be. And I have one more order to give you. Evacuate the area, Mr. Gordon, and do it now! I want to hear all of you, leaving. I mean that. Do as I say right now, damn you! Get the hell out of here! I have an execution to carry out! Mine!" Shaking and laughing tensely, Jim kept hold of the pistol, as Ori released him and moved away.

“They're leaving, Jim, and so am I. I just want the answer to one question. Just one, before I go." Artie lied.

"You…you mean before I go, don't you? And I know what the damned question is, Artemus. The same as always. “Why, Jim?' " Jim laughed, having done a brief, pitch perfect impersonation of his partner's voice.

"Yes, that's the question. Why, Jim?" the older man agreed.

"Because I know no one else will?" Jim laughed, just as harshly, with a clear edge of hysteria. "Because instead allowing my superiors to execute me as the law and the Code of Military Justice provides, None of you will stand for that. I can see the hearing now, honestly, Artemus, I can! You’ll call in one of Mac’s chums from Harvard Law School, or one of Jacques’ friends who are experts on the Napoleonic Code, or g-d knows who to stand up in front of a courts martial board and say: No, of course, don't execute poor ol' crazy blind amnesiac, lost lied to, missing in action, misplaced, mistaken, misquoted,misguided, misapprehended, used tricked trapped, baffled, incredibly bemused bewildered, befuddled rode hard and put up wet, hurt, beaten starved confused hopelessly depressed and sick to death of all those excuses Jim! He purely didn’t mean to do it! He never meant to walk in the gates of that compound down between here and Fredericksburg that August, back in ’64. He never volunteered to go in there and fall flat on his face with malaria, not to mention falling down and busting his leg, so that he’d be the next best thing to useless in there! He never once meant to go in there and become a part of that death factory, No! Not our ol’ Torry. He never onct intended doing all that!

And then, you can extend that on to the next thing he never meant to do in his life, can’t all y’all gentlemen of the Jury, officers of the courts martial board? Ol Jim, he didn't mean to walk into that hotel suite in Baltimore, and pull a gun on the best man he ever knew. He didn't mean to shoot the finest general we've ever had! And he surely, surely didn't mean to leave him lying there to die, and run like the absolute coward that he is! Jim purely never meant to run and leave the President in his own blood on the carpet, to run and run and keep running for nearly four years! You see ol’ Jim, he couldn’t help himself that day. He wasn’t even in control of his own thoughts that day. He wasn’t even in control of his own actions that day. He wasn’t … No, not at all ! No, some folk who wanted him to be their assassin, who wanted him to do their killing for them, were in control of his thoughts, his actions, and his words.

And Jim, ol’ Jim here? .He doesn't even know who some of 'em were. But they knew him, didn’t they? They purely knew ol’ Jim inside out! He can’t even get close to remembering them without wanting to jump off a roof somewhere or drink poison or blow his damned useless head off! And maybe, like someone said, Mac, that was you, wasn’t it? Yeah, like Mac said, those folks wanted ol’ Jim to get purely suicidal at the idea, the idea of recalling them. Cos…then they’re safe from those memories, then he can’t betray them the same way he’s been betraying everyone else …prett much all his damn farcical life! Now, all y’all might maybe not have known that about ol’ Jim.
But there are more than enough folks that know it. Yeah. He got started on that road when he was a week past his fifth birthday, and he just kept goin’…just kept runnin’. And hol’ Jim here, y’all know he’s damned good at runnin’. He used to brag in fact that he never lost a footrace in his life And it might mebbee be that ol Jim, purely doesn’t know how ta do anything else. You see, ol’ Jim here, isn’t just your run of the mill, garden variety Presidential assassin, oh no. Ol’ Jim worked his way onto the staff and into the confidence of a man who’s known throughout the world for his loyalty and his native …compassion…for others, even those he’d fought. He became that man’s security chief. And when he got there, Jim bided his time.

No, Jim he just bided his time and wouldn’t you know it, some folks came along and found out ol’ Jim was the best and easiest way they could take the life of a man who was…bone deep so compassionate a person that when he was trying to make a living as a farmer, couldn’t bring himself to discipline, much less whip the slaves his father in law sent to work the land his father in law gave him! And he was …oh what the hell does it matter, now? It doesn’t, does it? You see, ol Jim, he’d spent four or six or more years, tryin to stop crazy types from takin down the best man in any generation, ever. He worked on it naht an day, he did. Honestly. And when they figured that out, this last batch of bad guys knew they could just waltz into ol Jim’s weary old brain and waltz back out with a traitor and, and an assassin! An that, Gennelman of the Jury, is purely what they did.
Jim, you see, ol Jim over here, He wasn’t even a little bit sane, that day, and don’t you see? After all, what sane man would walk into a hotel room surrounded by the President’s
own guards, plus the security detail that not so sane man picked himself, and shoot the President of these United States? So, please, oh for G-d's sake, don't shoot ol' Jim, Don't hang good ol' Jim! Just lock him up. Just lock him up! Lock him up again! And this time, be sure you throw the damned key in the James River, the Elizabeth, the Charles or the Rappahannock, the Rapidan maybe or the Big Black, the Tennessee, the Ohio, the Appomattox, the Colorado, the Mississippi, the Platte, the Rio Grande, the Potomac, Yeah, make it the Potomac, will you please"

Ori watched as Jim lifted the pistol back towards his own throat. Now the Texan looked to Artemus, trusting the older man's longer knowledge of West, and trusting Artemus implicitly in everything.

“The Potomac it is, then, Jim.” Artemus agreed, nodding to Ori to get ready on his next signal to move. “ And when you die of utter and complete claustrophobia in that new asylum, Jim, we'll scatter your ashes there, Or do you want a hilltop plot in Arlington?"

"For a confessed traitor, Artemus, a confessed Presidential assassin, Artemus? I hardly think so." Jim laughed bitterly at the idea. " They didn't exactly bury John Wilkes Booth in Arlington, did they? No, they shot, him running out of that damned burning barn in Virginia, and they just shot the man down. After all, he was just another Southron traitor, right? Just another failed Copperhead traitor. Well, he didn’t fail to kill the Man, did he? So, since I didn’t’ fail to kill the Man when my turn came, Artemus, maybe we should go find a barn that’s on fire somewhere in Maryland or Virginia or the Carolinas, and …start firing…make sure there’s a sharpshooter or two in with the s who come after me, right? The rest will be easy…I mean they didn’t waste any ceremony on Booth…did they? They just shipped his corpse up the Chesapeake, to …I have no idea where… Then they buried him G-d alone knows where, in a ditch in Washington's my guess, or maybe a sewer in Baltimore somewhere, where I think he grew up?”

“He’s buried in an unmarked grave in Baltimore, in his family’s plot next to an old …Episcopal church, I think, Jim.” Artemus answered. “But you …you maybe would rather have your ashes scattered off the breakers outside Norfolk’s harbor?”

“No, no, not there. Not there.” Jim muttered, clearly wearing down now. ‘that would be a real pollution of the Chesapeake, if you ask me. No, you just need to find. I dunno, maybe the potter’s field outside Silver Spring, so I can go back where I started…that’s purely where I started from …you know? But what I don’t’ know…what I purely don’t know… And it makes me wonder, Artemus, is why didn't they " Jim drew a deep, shuddering breath now, his eyes brightened with tears and went on. "Why didn’t they shoot me, when I'd done exactly what Booth did? Where WAS The Man’s damn all detail, anyway? I picked them, you know. I trained them to shoot to kill anyone, anyone, well surely any crazy bastard like yours truly who so much as singed a hair on the Man’s head! So why didn't they kill me, Artemus? Why?"

“The hallway was too crowded, Jim. There were far too many civilians around." Artemus answered, fighting to keep his tone calmly conversational. "I was on my way down the hall just then, and you couldn't move an inch. I was on my way to find you. I was worried, Jim. You’d left our hotel rooms almost in the middle of the night before. And you were… you hadn’t been yourself at all that whole week… before the President arrived. And I should have caught on sooner, partner… I should have… been there sooner.. I’ll never stop being sorry I didn’t get there in time to help you, James. " Artemus answered, and nodded to Ori.

The Texan, who moved more quietly than most men his size could, then came around to Jim's right and without warning, knocked the blind man off his feet. Ori held the pistol again in seconds and Jim under one arm, despite Jim's flailing and fighting. In the next moment, Miguel held a hypodermic against Jim's arm and sedated his friend and patient. The smaller man's wide blue eyes were as sad as Jim's had been a moment before.

"I'm sorry, Torry." he murmured. "I'm sorry. We brought you back to this. I didn't want this for you. I'm terribly sorry."

“Don't be Miguel. You never… You never brought me to this I did And I was … I trained to" Jim whispered, almost grateful as the drug began to effect him. " …take responsibility you… know So ..I " Jim trailed off, letting the drug take him down into a different, softer kind of darkness.

While his uncle and all his friends took turns keeping watch, Jim slept off the dosing Miguel gave him and showed no sign of needing another. He was barely responsive as he woke up, and generally in a much quieter, but still deeply remorseful state of mind. And nothing they said or did would move Jim from the entrenched belief that he’d murdered not once but multiple times, not only one profoundly revered man, but a smaller ‘schoolhouse full of boys’.

“Mac, Mac, did you… did… were you at his… were you at his …services?” Jim asked his mentor a few days later. He was flat on his back again, struggling with another late winter lung infection and the fever that came with it. “Did you go? Were … were there … a lot of people? I…I think I dreamt …dreamt about it, again. Did they… did they give the flag… to Julia or… or to the Colonel? Was Julia able to be there that day? Did she look,. Did you talk to her?"

"Jimmy, I ..I haven't talked to Julia lately, no." Mac answered, finding as much truth as he could offer his tormented friend.

Jim turned then and grasped Artemus’s arm, as the San Francisco born actor/agent sat down next to his friend.“Artemus, Artemus, have you …have you written to, or have you heard from …Mrs. Grant…Have you?”

"Not in the past week or so, no, Jim, why?" Artie asked, wishing he could shake this nightmare off his friend’s mind and spirit.

"I just wondered if you thought… If I …If she would accept. .If you would write to her… or if you thought that… if you thought, that … after so much … so much time she … I don’t think she’d even so much as …look at something I… No, no, I don’t think she would… but maybe… the Colonel… No, no, that wouldn’t be … be right.” the younger man rambled on.

"Jim, listen to me for a moment, will you? Julia’s always been fond of you. I know that, and so do you. So, sure, she’d be glad to hear from you.” Artie insisted, wondering how far he could go with the truth of the matter now. Jim didn’t even seem to take note of the difference between what he was asking and what his friends replied.

“Yeah, at one time. Yeah. But, Artie, I was just wondering… I guess I was dreaming about … the services again… And she looked… like she would be … fine in some ways. But… really, she was … she was lost, almost… almost like Mary Lincoln, almost. So… I don’t think… I don’t believe … I don’t know how she could … how she would ever… find it in herself … “ Jim shook his head and pressed one shaking hand against his mouth.
“If I thought she would ever, ever think of … forg… No! No! How could she? How could I even think it! I mean, talking about Mary Todd Lincoln, would anyone… anyone ever dream of asking… asking Mary Lincoln such a thing? No, of course they wouldn’t! It’s crazy. It’s crazy. Some things… some things can’t be… can’t ever be… Some things oughtn’t ever be forgiven. And when you leave a man … leave a man to … When you leave a man like him …to die…”

“Youngster, stop. You’re just hounding yourself with this now, and for no good reason that I can tell.” Mac told Jim, with no small frustration in his voice.

" I just don't understand it myself, I don't. I can't.. How, How could I leave him dying How could I run from him, dying ..How could I be the one who How, I don't .." Jim asked his mentor. And Mac sighed, having no answer his friend would accept.

“Torry, you must stop this, and stop it now." Miguel insisted, joining them as Jim shook his head, unable to grasp what they kept trying to tell him. “You did no murder. You did not assassinate anyone, let alone Mr. Grant.”

“No, no, Miguel. You want to … keep this off me… I get that. But, I have to … I have to try to … try to understand. Maybe I can’t. But I have to try. He treated me, he treated all his staff officers … like his own sons. And all of us, all of us who ever worked with him, served…served with him, would have walked through fire… through fire, for that Man. We would, because he’d do the same… the same for us. None … none of us, not one thought twice about following… his orders… and sure, he was in Command but that’s not … that’s not it. We all know there are leaders who you’d follow in a heartbeat and leaders you follow because nobody else is …even standing up. So there… it wasn’t anything, not anything at all to do with rank. It surely wasn’t anything to do with the grandstanding Little Mac and … some other generals liked so much.

He…the President, the General, he never felt the need for cockaded hats or gold braided uniform coats. He walked into the McLean House in Appomattox Courthouse dusty and in a corporal's uniform blouse with only his stars to mark his rank, his rank as Lieutenant General, the first Lieutenant General in the whole blamed country since Washington! And …the story went around the camps for weeks afterwards that one of the Rebel officers took him, the Commanding General, US Armies for a clerk! He didn’t parade; he didn’t ride up and down the lines.
He didn’t make promises he couldn’t keep, either. And he gave terms for peace, or peace after four nightmare years that no one, south or north ever expected. And he made them stick. He made his plans and then sat, as calmly as if he were at home or at a staff meeting in Cairo or Memphis or Petersburg or …Chattanooga or City Point, writing out his dispatches, with one of those cigars clamped between his teeth. He never had to show us who he was or what he made of. He never had to say anything to the boys, or the junior staffers like me. We knew he wasn’t going to and he didn't share his plans through the ranks, He didn't have to, we all trusted him because he… He completely trusted us. HE ABSOLUTELY TRUSTED ME. And I can’t get it into my head how I could have killed him."

“And whether you will listen or not, and whether you will accept it as truth or not, James, there’s a reason, a perfectly godo reason why you can’t get that into your head, now.” Artemus took his turn insisting. “You can’t get it into your head beause you couldn’t and you didn’t kill President Grant. No one’s killed the President. It never happened. He’s still very much alive. And you’re the one who keeps insisting differently, or until lately, the one who kept insisting we couldn’t let the Man ever meet with you again. And you are killing yourself, but slowly this time over a brutally calculated lie.”

“Do you think I want to believe this?" Jim demanded. “Do you think I want to remember this? I'd rather walk into a cannon barrage! I'd rather stand in front of a Gatling gun going full throttle or a line of siege guns on a ridge, I'd rather be back at Antietam, the Wilderness or Chancellorsville, at Cold Harbor, or G-d help me, Fredericksburg!"

“Stop, mon enfant." Jacques begged his friend. "You are not. I am only telling you the truth, as we all are. And you are clearly not well enough to comprend that, just now. We pushed you on this far too quickly and I regret it terribly, Mon enfant. But the truth is, James, we do need your help now, to end this nightmare for you as much as you need ours. You were there, that day, as you said, as most of us were not, not until some days afterwards, in my own case. You do know what truly happened. But this ..Maze of lies and illusions, fears and twisted truths is preventing you from reaching back to that genuine memory. Please, Jim, try to understand me."

"Why, Jacques, if you won't try to understand me?" Jim asked. “ can't help myself out of a nightmare that really happened. And everytime you insist it didn’t I'm more convinced it did. Because you always want a w