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California gal
SS senior field agent

USA
8381 Posts

Posted - 02/09/2012 :  14:14:59  Show Profile
THE NIGHT OF THE DIABOLICAL DOPPELGANGERS

Cucullus non facit monachum.
[The habit does not make the monk.]
—quoted by Desiderius Gerhard Erasmus (1465-1536), Dutch scholar, philosopher, and writer


“Jim, how about we make camp soon?”

Jim West glanced up at the sky then looked at his partner. “We have two or three hours of daylight left.” He kept a straight face, knowing all too well what Artie was feeling and thinking. He was a bit saddle-sore himself, though he would not say that aloud. He would torment his partner a little before agreeing to find a spot for the night.

Artie sighed. He had hoped that Jim would take pity on him and call for a halt before he had to ask. The past ten or eleven days had been spent primarily in the saddle and sleeping on the hard ground, with a short break of one night in a real bed and good food in the home of the sheriff with whom they had worked. He thought that Jim appeared tired. Both were grimy and unshaven. But…

Before he could voice those thoughts, he cocked his head. “Hear that?”

Jim nodded, stiffening in the saddle and staring off toward the horizon. “Seems to come from over that hill.”

“Didn’t sound like a hunter to me.”

“Not when both pistols and rifles are involved. Shall we check it out?”

Both kicked their weary horses to a faster pace and headed off the dusty road up a low hill, slowing as they neared the summit. Jim quickly dismounted and ran to the top, stepping behind some dried brush. After a moment, he waved to Artie, who dismounted and joined him. Below them, on the opposite side of the rise, they could see a lone man who had ducked behind some boulders. He was shooting with a pistol at some men armed with rifles who were hidden behind some trees about a hundred yards beyond.

“Jim!” Artie whispered hoarsely, “that’s...!”

“I know. Shall we go help him?”

Other large-size boulders dotted the hill and they used them for shelter, darting from one to the other as they fired toward the unseen men and made their way to the lone shooter. Obviously the presence of two extra guns made a difference, because the attackers were soon seen and heard riding away at a fast pace.

“Jerry!” Artie cried as they hurried forward, “what the devil are you doing here? What’s going on? Who are those men?”

Jeremy Pike smiled ruefully. “Don't know their names but I reckon they heard about my latest assignment.” He then waved a hand toward the approaching pair. “I wouldn’t get too close to me if I were you. I’m still fighting off a case of the grippe!” His voice was weak and hoarse.

“Thought you looked a bit peaked,” Jim commented. “I heard you were in Utah. What are you doing in Texas?”

“Got an urgent order from the Colonel. Seems no one else was available and he couldn’t get in touch with you two.”

“We’ve been on the trail for days,” Artie concurred, “going to meet the train. Order about what?”

Now Pike shook his head. “I’m not allowed to say. Not even to you! Suffice it to say I’m on my way to Laredo. If I don’t keel over and die from this grippe first!”

While it was odd that an agent could not share his assignment with another agent, it had happened before, so neither Jim nor Artemus questioned him further. Artie mentioned they had been about to make camp, and invited Pike to join them. He accepted with alacrity, though warned them he would not be of much use in helping them set it up. He did point out a grove of trees in the distance where he said he had stopped to get water at a shallow stream, so they headed there to set up.

He looks like death, Artie decided as he unsaddled his chestnut alongside the stream. Pike’s complexion seemed off color. Jeremy had accepted Jim’s offer to take care of his horse, after answering the question of why he was not riding his usual roan with the explanation that that horse had come up lame and he had left it behind on this trip. Jeremy sat on a fallen log, head in hands, while the other two worked.

“I’ll go see if I can gather some firewood from that dead tree,” Artie volunteered, motioning to a fallen tree they could see fifty or sixty feet upstream.

Jim nodded. “I’ll put Jer to bed before he keels over!”

“I’m not that bad,” Pike croaked then coughed.

Artie just chuckled and set off for the fallen tree. He picked up numerous small dry twigs then a couple of larger ones. This’ll get the fire started and coffee made. One of us can come back later for more. He trudged back toward the campsite, rounding a thick copse of bushes that momentarily had hidden the area from his view.

“Jeremy!” he yelled, dropping the wood and automatically pulling his gun. “Jim! Watch out!”

Jim West looked up from where he was kneeling while rolling out his own bedroll, saw Artie’s actions, and started to turn around. Before he could, two shots rang out. One came from behind him and whistled past his ear. Just an instant before that, another shot originated from Artemus's weapon. Jim heard a grunt of pain from behind him.

Coming to his feet while drawing his own pistol, he gaped at the sight. Jeremy Pike was on his back, arms flung out, a growing stain of crimson on his shirtfront. A pistol lay near Pike’s right hand. He gasped and turned to face Artie, whose face was ashen. “My God, Artie! What…?”

Artemus Gordon swallowed hard. “Jim… Jim, he was going to shoot you!”

“What?” Jim looked back at the obviously dead man, then to his partner again. “That’s crazy!”

“I know. I know! Oh my God, Jim. Maybe… maybe he was delirious. I didn’t mean to kill him, but I had to shoot fast. He had his gun pointed at the back of your head and was squeezing the trigger. I didn’t have a choice!”

Jim stepped over to put a hand on Artie’s shoulder. “Take it easy. I believe you. I don't know why Jerry would behave that way but… I believe you.”

Artie had holstered his pistol and now stepped over to kneel down. He picked up the limp wrist, all the while knowing it was no use. How could this happen? Jeremy Pike was more than just a fellow agent. He was a friend. A good friend! He saved our lives in the past; we saved his…

Jim had been standing on the other side, gazing down, and now he abruptly dropped to his knees. “Artie, look.” He touched a finger to the side of the dead man’s head.

Artie leaned forward, peering at the spot Jim indicated, and his gasp was aloud. “Good God!”

He was the one who peeled the mask off: a rubber mask that covered the entire face, from hairline to well below the chin, blending in with the skin. When removed, a countenance was revealed that neither had seen before. Ever. Both were silent for a long moment, staring at that face. Finally Jim raised his eyes.

“Artie…”

“Yeah. This mask is similar to those Voulee created for Braine.” He was now inspecting the mask. “But better—even more lifelike. I swear, Jim, it moved with his… his expressions. His mouth moved naturally. When Leeto wore the mask of my face, you could see it was stiff, and I experienced that when I wore his—and my own.”

Both men got to their feet, faces extremely sober. “Someone created this and sent this fellow here…” Jim murmured.

“To kill you,” Artie filled in. “Both of us likely. That’s why the excuse of the grippe. So we wouldn’t notice the subtle differences in his behavior and voice. The ambush was probably a setup too, to draw us to this spot. That same someone knew where we were—where we would be.” Artie gazed at Jim. “Loveless?” He had to admit he was feeling better with the knowledge that he had not killed one of their best friends. He was, nonetheless, baffled.

“Maybe,” Jim acknowledged. “He certainly has the genius for creating such a mask. And the motive…”

“He also usually has methods to learn things, such as where we are, what we are doing. Setting up a trap like this would be possible for Loveless.” Artie finished. “It’s not his usual method, but everything else has failed so far.”

The clothes of the man revealed nothing other than that he had been attired in a manner similar to what Jeremy Pike normally wore. He carried no identification and nothing to indicate where he had been last. Nothing was on the horse either; the saddlebags contained only a change of similar clothing and spare ammunition, not even any food. He had not ridden far, but that did not mean much in light of the fact that this man had obviously been working in conjunction with the “ambushers,” who could carry any needed supplies.

After saddling their mounts again, the corpse was roped across the horse the imposter had ridden. Jim and Artemus picked up their belongings, and rode to the nearest town, which they reached an hour or so before sundown. The sheriff of that town did not recognize the victim, but agreed to take care of the burial. The town had a telegraph, so they sent a couple of messages to determine the actual location of Jeremy Pike.

Then, to Artie’s great relief and joy, they stayed in the small hotel overnight. Jim admitted then that if he had been aware they were so near this town, he would have originally suggested they head for it, even though it did take them well off their planned route. “And who knows what trouble we might have missed.”

Artie shook his head at that comment. “I have a feeling that trouble would have found us, James, no matter where we were.”

In the morning, responses to the inquiries were waiting at the telegraph office. Jeremy Pike, as they had originally believed, was still in Utah working on a case involving stolen government silver. Because the incident that occurred here would have required a very long telegraph message, Artemus simply informed his superior in Washington that a written explanation for the inquiries would be on its way east at the earliest possible moment. They then continued their journey to the waiting Wanderer on a siding near Amarillo.

W*W*W*W*W

Nos amis, les ennemis.
[Our friends, the enemy.]
L'Opinion de ces Demoiselles, Pierre Jean de Beranger (1780-1857), French poet


Artemus Gordon whistled softly as he mixed the dressing with his hands, lightly so that the chunks of bread would not be crushed, nor become soggy with the liquid ingredients. He was eager to try this new recipe, passed onto him from a chef friend at a restaurant in New Orleans where they had just finished a rather easy—for once—assignment.

The last couple of months have been quiet, he reflected. Not that I’m complaining. A quick arrest of a counterfeiter in Kansas, and then a week or so to find and pick up the man who had held up a stagecoach carrying U.S. government mail. Now this just completed task of locating a man wanted for stealing some government bonds. It had taken nearly two weeks, but neither of them had minded spending time in the bayou city.

Hearing the sharp rap on the outer door of the parlor car, Artie glanced toward the other door that opened into the passage to the second car, where Jim was taking care of the horses this evening. He shook his head briefly, dried his hands on the towel he had tied around his waist, and headed into the parlor. This would be the delivery from the wine shop. Jim would be grimy from his toils, and not likely to have his jacket on either. Entering the parlor, Artie paused where he had hung his own jacket over a chair, retrieving the wallet. He was sure he had enough cash on hand to pay for the wine as well as hand the deliveryman a gratuity.

The surprise came when he opened the door. “Ned! Ned Brown! What are you doing here?”

The large man grinned widely. “Passing through, heard from a mutual friend you were parked out here, and decided to say hello.”

“Well, come on in! Good to see you. I didn’t know you ever left Washington these days.”

“On vacation I do. I’m heading for Baja California to do some fishing with some friends.”

“Sounds excellent.” Artie had stepped back to allow the rotund agent to enter. “You caught us just in time. We’re heading north tomorrow.”

“That’s what I heard. Where’s Jim?”

“He’s in the second car. Why don’t you go on back to say hello? Listen, I’m fixing a good dinner—roasted chicken. Can you stay? There’s plenty.”

“I just might, Artemus. I just might. Be good to spend some time with you fellows. It’s been a while.”

Artie led him through the kitchen, and pointed him toward the passageway toward the other car, while he himself returned to his chore of stuffing the chicken he would put in the oven shortly. He had just finished when he heard an odd sound, a thumping noise from the direction of the lab car. His first thought was that one of the horses had kicked the wall or floor. Then he heard the shrill bugle of Jim’s black horse. A cry of alarm from the animal, along with more noise that this time Artemus was sure a horse was creating, perhaps kicking the stall.

What the devil?

Again drying his hands on the towel, Artemus hurried down the passage by the staterooms, over the link to the next car, and jerked open the door. Both horses were riled now, whinnying and stomping on the floor. For just an instant, Artie froze, unbelieving of what he was seeing in the dim car.

Jim West was on his back on the floor, and Ned Brown was astraddle his body, his knees pinning Jim to the floor as his hands wrapped tightly around the slighter agent’s throat. Jim seemed helpless under the bulk of Brown, his thrashing futile.

“Ned!” Artie yelled. “Ned! Stop!”

The realization hit him then, and he acted instantly, grabbing the shovel that was leaning against the wall. He swung it hard, slamming the flat of the blade against the big man’s head. For a moment, Artie thought he was going to have to hit again, but then Brown—or whoever he was—collapsed, falling partially across Jim, who was now gasping for breath, the throttling fingers removed.

Artie grabbed the large man and pulled him off, then turned quickly to open a small cabinet to retrieve a pair of handcuffs, which he quickly used to fasten the unconscious man’s hands behind his back. He then knelt by Jim, and helped him sit up.

“All right?”

“Barely.” Jim’s voice was a rasping whisper.

Artie got Jim to his feet and took him to his compartment in the varnish car, then brought a tumbler of water from the galley. Jim drank it thirstily as he sat on the bed. It helped, but his throat was still tight as he spoke.

“Another one?” he asked.

“I think so. I’ll go check.” Artie did not bother to tell his partner to remain put, quite aware that the order would be ignored. They both returned to the stable car. Artie turned up a lantern that Jim had not bothered to brighten previously and then knelt by the unconscious man, where he peeled off the mask to once again reveal a face neither knew.

Coming to his feet, Artie stared for a long moment at the manacled prisoner then lifted his eyes to Jim. “What the devil is going on?”

Jim could only shake his head. Between the two of them they dragged the man to the cell in the corner, locking it securely. The train crew would not be returning until morning, so they did not need to alert them. They then went into the parlor car, the fine dinner momentarily forgotten. Artie poured two whiskeys.

Jim accepted his, sinking onto the settee. He took a swallow, expecting and experiencing the burn as the liquor slid down his throat. He knew he was going to have bruises. “I don't think I’ve felt hands that strong since Enzo,” he murmured.

Artie pulled a chair close, leaning his elbows on his knees. “Jim, there’s a couple of things…”

Jim nodded. “Someone has inside information about where we are, or where we’ll be.”

His partner nodded. “I hate the sound of that… as though someone in the department…”

“There might be other ways.”

“You’re thinking of Loveless again.”

“Or someone like him. Someone very clever.”

“We’ve met a few of those.” As Jim just nodded somberly, Artie continued. “The other thing… both of them came after you.”

Jim looked up. “We were both present, both times.”

“Yes. But ‘Pike’ waited until I left camp, until your back was to him, before he pulled his gun. He probably expected me to be gone longer, but I had decided not to bring in all the wood we would need right away. This fellow tonight had an opportunity to attack me. I turned my back on him in here when I admitted him and led him through.”

“It still might be coincidental…”

“Maybe. But my gut tells me otherwise. And I think you agree.”

Jim grimaced and nodded. “Makes sense. But why?”

“I’m sure you’ve ticked off a few people on your own, James.”

Jim had to smile at his partner’s dry tone. “Yeah. I guess. But this is a strange way to go about it. Sending… doppelgangers.”

“The second one more believable than the first. You realize, not only does this… whoever he is… know about our movements, but he also knows the other agents. We believed both stories without question initially. Likely they would have given themselves away if we had been able to talk to them for any length of time, so they attempted the murders quickly. You know, now that I consider it, I realize that this guy’s voice wasn’t entirely like Ned’s.”

“But it was close enough,” Jim nodded. “When he came into the stable, I took a moment to wipe my hands on a towel, then went to shake his. I had no doubt after he greeted me with a few words that he was Ned Brown. It was when he grasped my hand that he put me down. The surprise…”

“Yeah. I can imagine. I’m sure I would have felt the same.”

Jim gazed at Artie somberly. “So what do we do now? Treat all our fellow agents with suspicion?”

“Especially if we meet them in some place we don’t expect them to be. I’d better get off a new report to the colonel. I’ll do that in the morning—after we take our new friend to the local constabulary.”

W*W*W*W*W


After receiving the information regarding this latest incident, Colonel James Richmond ordered West and Gordon to return to Washington immediately, but relented when his star agents requested time to attempt to identify the man who had posed as Ned Brown. He also gave them the locations of all the prominent agents that might well be used as decoys—and urged caution.

Artie smiled as he read the last aloud to Jim. “I think we’ve learned our lesson. Any other agents we meet from now on, we ask for the secret handshake.”

“What secret handshake?”

The smile widened to a grin. “You see, if they try to create one we’ll know immediately they are fakes!”

The man was awake in the morning, but he refused to say anything, not speaking at all, simply glaring at the two men outside his cage. The train crew had returned and the situation explained to them. They were warned not to take any familiar government agents at face value.

“Ask them questions,” Artie suggested, “about events that only they would know about. And if it comes to that, ask us questions too!”

Jim heard that comment and wanted to protest, but held his tongue. They had no idea what was going on here other than someone was perpetrating a fantastic ruse in an attempt to kill them—to kill him, if Artie’s theory was correct. In the two months since the incident with the Jeremy Pike double, Jim had done a lot of thinking about someone who might hold a stronger grudge against him than against both of them together.

I know that Loveless wants to kill me, but he also wants vengeance against Artie. I’m not sure if he would specifically target me like this. For all I know, this is something that goes back to before I ever met Artemus Gordon! If Artie is right, that is. Jim was still not one hundred percent certain that the two assassins had not simply taken advantage of a situation. Artie had gone off to get firewood in the first instance; in the second, Jim may have been in a more vulnerable position in the stable car.

Engineer Orrin Cobb had found a horse tethered to a bush beyond the rear of the train and they assumed that “Ned Brown” had arrived on it. Thus that mount was used to transport the man back into New Orleans, where he was delivered to a policeman the agents knew well. Lieutenant Girard Pascoe listened to the story with astonishment, studied the face of the man now in one of his cells then had to admit he had no idea who the man was.

At Artie’s request, a photograph was taken of the sullen man, reproduced, and then distributed among several officers. Jim and Artemus each took a copy and spent the remainder of the day visiting bistros, saloons, and informers, showing the image, and coming up with absolutely nothing. They had to conclude that the man could well be from another part of the country.

Upon returning to the police station, they learned that the man had remained silent, and also refused to eat. Pascoe promised to continue to not only attempt to identify the prisoner, but to get some information from him. He would contact Washington with anything he learned.

W*W*W*W*W


A little over a week after the incident, the agents arrived at the Washington rail yards and traveled immediately to the headquarters of the Secret Service. They were ushered into Colonel Richmond’s office at once, where they gave their superior the details of both events. Richmond listened with growing concern tinged with astonishment, and finally spoke soberly.

“It sounds to me that you’ve been targeted, Jim.”

Artie was pleased with the conclusion. He had not mentioned that in the reports he had composed. He could see that Jim did not like it, but also had to accept it as at least partially true. “Both men came after me, I’ll admit that,” Jim murmured.

“And both had opportunities to attack Artemus as well,” Richmond pointed out. “Have you given thought to who might have particular reason to want revenge on you?”

Jim sighed. “Yeah. There’s Loveless for one. While he’d be happy to get rid of both of us, I’m the primary thorn in his side, it seems.”

The colonel looked at both men. “Do you think it is Loveless?”

“We just don't know,” Artie confessed. “What’s the latest intelligence on his whereabouts?”

Now Richmond shook his head. “He has dropped completely out of sight after being spotted in the Los Angeles area about a month ago. Very difficult to say where he’s gone.”

“That’s for certain,” Jim muttered. “Loveless certainly has the ability and knowledge to create these masks, though as Artie pointed out, they are extremely similar to the ones created by Braine’s assistant, Voulee.”

“We want to track her down,” Artie added.

“That’s easy,” Richmond smiled. “Just last month I signed off on a parole agreement. She served one year of her prison time, and is now teaching young women in a home for wayward girls in Maryland. Her probation will be for five years. A subsequent report I received relates that she’s doing very well.”

Jim was pleased. He had regretted the necessity to charge Voulee Montmartre with a crime, but the fact was she had aided and abetted the insane Braine, creating the masks that he planned to use to replace the President and several other world leaders in his mad scheme to take over the world. She had aided him and Artie in the end, and that had played in her favor, plus the judge shared their belief that Braine had misled her.

“Then we’d better go talk to her,” Artie put in. “The next problem is finding out how our adversaries know so much about the department’s operation.”

Now the department head sighed noisily. “Believe me, I’ve thought a great deal about that after receiving your first report regarding the Pike double. It just doesn’t make sense. We screen the agents and all other employees carefully. And why would any of them hold a grudge against either of you?”

“But it almost has to be someone on the inside, sir,” Jim stated. “Both these doppelgangers not only had the exact facial features of Pike and Brown, but dressed strikingly like those men, and behaved as they do.”

“Not only that,” Artie continued, “someone knew that we were making the trek from the Indian Territory on horseback to meet the Wanderer, and the route we were taking—which we informed this office about before leaving Tulsa. Then we were found at the rail yards in New Orleans the day before we were to leave that city.”

“I know. I know. But who? Who could it be?” Richmond looked at each of them, desperation and despair in his face. He had hired many of the personnel for the field operations as well as in the headquarters office.

“Perhaps we should talk to a few,” Artie suggested. “Not questioning them, but just… talking.”

“You think someone might give himself away?” The colonel displayed doubt.

“No, not necessarily. But it is possible someone might display some… antagonism, jealousy… something that could indicate they aren’t as happy with us as they might be.”

“Might be someone who doesn’t like your long-winded reports,” Jim cracked.

“My thorough reports,” Artie sniffed.

Richmond ignored their banter. “All right. Go ahead. Chat with the clerks and others. That would not be entirely unusual.”

“Might as well,” Jim sighed.

“I’ll contact the delinquent girls’ home in Maryland and arrange for you to meet Miss Montmartre tomorrow. Will that work?”

“That’ll be fine, colonel,” Artie said, getting to his feet. “We can leave first thing in the morning.”

“By the way,” Richmond said, rising also, “I mentioned to Mrs. Richmond that the two of you would be in the city, and she has extended an invitation to dinner. Bradley is in school and both girls are off visiting, so it would be just the four of us.”

“We’d be delighted,” Artie replied before Jim could speak. Most of the time when they visited the Richmond home the younger Richmonds were present, claiming a good deal of their attention. A quiet evening with just the colonel and his lovely wife would be relaxing.

W*W*W*W*W


The time spent at the department offices chatting with the staff proved fruitless, as both men rather expected might be the case. Yet they both knew it had been a good idea. Neither noticed anything different in the attitudes of the men and women who did the clerical work day in and day out, filing reports, handling expense vouchers, all manner of miscellaneous chores that were necessary to keep the department running smoothly.

One unsettling piece of news arrived before they left for the day. A telegram from New Orleans arrived, informing him that the man who had posed as Ned Brown was dead. He had apparently ingested poison, which may have been inside a shirt button. He was found dead in his cell, with a button torn off his shirt. A full postmortem was being performed, but early indications were that it was cyanide.

That evening they discussed what they had observed with James and Caroline Richmond. The colonel did not often draw his wife into office business, but sometimes her slant was valuable. The first thing she asked was whether any of the young women in the offices behaved any differently around Jim.

“I mean, I know, Jim, that the younger females generally flirt with you. Did you notice any that seemed… cool?”

Jim shook his head. “Not particularly. I’ve made it a point to never socialize with any of those girls while in the office.”

“Believe me,” Artie spoke wryly, “it’s been hard on him, as well as the girls.” He knew that Jim had escorted more than one young lady employed by the service to a party or theater; he himself had done the same before reuniting with Miss Lily Fortune.

“I can imagine,” Caroline laughed. She knew that her own daughters were infatuated with the handsome young agent and she was quite aware that if she herself was twenty or twenty-five years younger, she might suffer the same malady. As well, Jim was always attracted to the fairer sex. For him to resist chatting with the prettier office girls must take great willpower on his part, she decided.

“Did any of the men behave in an odd fashion?” Richmond asked.

Artie shook his head. “Magnus Janos seemed a bit ‘off,’ but I learned that he has been under a great deal of strain after the deaths of his father and brother a few months ago.”

“Yes. He took thirty days of leave at the time, but I’m afraid it was not enough. I understand they were a very close family. The accident that took the lives of his father and brother was tragic—and senseless.” Richmond shook his head sadly.

“What exactly happened?” Jim inquired. “I don't think I’ve heard.”

Artie answered it. “They were in a hack in downtown Washington, when a bank robbery occurred. Some policemen, along with Jeff Holmes, who happened to be near, pursued them. Shots were fired, and the horses pulling a beer wagon bolted. The wagon careened into the hack. Mr. Janos, his son, and the beer wagon driver were killed, the hack driver badly injured. I read it in the newspaper, but Jeff told me about it when we ran into him in Denver a couple months ago. He felt extremely badly about it.”

“And now Jeff is dead too,” Jim said softly. That experienced agent had been killed in another robbery attempt, this one of a stagecoach on which he was a passenger near Billings, Montana. He had simply been traveling from one location to another, at the wrong place at the wrong time.

“But that’s neither here nor there,” the colonel stated, pulling himself together. “Did you notice anything else among the office personnel?”

Both agents had to answer in the negative. They had a number of friends among the clerks who helped keep the department running, both male and female. It was hard to believe that any of them were responsible for the leaks that had allowed the two doubles to perpetrate their deadly ruses.

“We can only hope that Voulee will be able to tell us something,” Artie said near the end of the evening. “But unless she knows of someone else who has the ability to create those masks, she may also be a dead end.”

W*W*W*W*W

It's an owercome sooth fo' age an' youth,
And it brooks wi' nae denial,
That the dearest friends are the auldest friends,
And the young ones are just on trial.
Underwoods, "It's an Owercome Sooth," Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894), Scottish essayist, poet and novelist


Leaving the train on a siding near the Maryland town of Clarksburg, the agents rode to the compound that was the home for wayward girls where Voulee Montmartre currently resided and worked. A guard at the gate checked their credentials and admitted them through. A graveled path led to a large gray house; other smaller buildings were visible toward the rear.

Dismounting, they went inside where they were greeted by a wardress who led them to a small, nicely furnished parlor, stating she would fetch Miss Montmartre. Within a few minutes, Voulee entered, all smiles. She was, Jim noted, thinner and paler than he remembered, her hair in a more severe do, a chignon fastened by black combs, and her dress a plain gray with white collar. She was, nonetheless, still lovely.

“It is so good to see you!” Voulee enthused after giving each a quick embrace. “Please sit down and tell me how I can help you.”

“First tell us about yourself,” Artie invited. “Are you well?”

“Better than you might expect,” she beamed. “I love it here, believe it or not. I love teaching these young women that there’s more beauty in life than they have experienced. Some are very talented artists, and I hope that helps carry them to a new future. Perhaps if I had had more guidance…” She shook her head slightly. “But that’s in the past. I’m very happy. I have the freedom to go into town when I wish… and I have met a young man who likes to walk with me. He’s a teacher here with a background similar to mine.”

“That’s wonderful,” Jim smiled, noting the glow in her dark eyes.

“Now,” she said, “what has brought you here?”

Artie’s face grew serious. “Voulee, we recently encountered two men who were wearing masks similar to those you created for Braine.”

Her own countenance grew paler, eyes widening. “Oh! I did not tell anyone about that!”

“We’re not accusing you,” Jim said gently. “I guess what we want to know is where you learned how to create those masks. Braine claimed to have…”

Voulee was shaking her head. “I know Mr. Braine claimed credit, but my grandfather invented the initial process. He was a chemist—and a scientist—in Quebec. He taught me, but I also learned a great deal from my father and uncle—who also learned from Grandfather. I met Mr. Braine when he came to my uncle.”

“Are any of them still living?” Artie wanted to know.

“My uncle. Grandfather died when I was in my teens, and my father was killed about a year later in a fire. I suppose I actually learned the most from Uncle Philippe.”

“Philippe!” Artie sat up straight. “Philippe Montmartre?”

“Yes.” Voulee gazed at him. “Do you know him?”

Jim was looking at him as well and Artie nodded. “Not well. I met him once, before the war. I never connected the name for some reason. Are you aware of his whereabouts now?”

She shook her head doubtfully. “The last I heard he was in Chicago. I’m afraid we became estranged.” Now she smiled slightly. “He wanted me to marry the son of a friend of his when I was about seventeen. I was having none of it! That was when I ran away from home and… fell in with bad company I’m afraid. I eventually encountered Mr. Braine again and he told me of his… his wonderful plans. I was quite naïve and desperate at the time.”

“Chicago was where I knew him,” Artie said, glancing at Jim. “He had an establishment that created prostheses for stage companies. You know, large noses, big bellies, even a wooden leg that one strapped a knee on to portray a peg-legged pirate. He also supplied makeup, and certain costume parts. I bought a couple of items directly at his store when I was playing in Chicago just after the war. And I also purchased via mail order. However, the last time I wrote, the letter was returned as undeliverable. I assumed he had retired from the business. That was at least three years ago, possibly four or more. I have since learned to create many of my own fake noses and the like.”

Voulee’s expression was sad. “I’m afraid I lost all contact with my uncle. I did write him a letter once, but he never responded. He was very disappointed in me, and not a forgiving man.”

“But he created these lifelike masks,” Jim put in.

She nodded. “Oh yes. He was very skilled.”

“He could have passed the information on to someone else,” Artie spoke slowly, “an apprentice, perhaps. The thing is, Voulee, the masks we saw were a great improvement on those you created, and extremely lifelike. We were fooled, twice, into believing the wearers were friends.”

“Are you saying someone… tried to commit a crime wearing a mask?”

“Tried to kill Jim,” Artie responded grimly. “Twice. But I was fooled as well. I had no doubt that these men were who they appeared to be.”

“Oh, that’s terrible. I’m so sorry!”

“Voulee,” Jim spoke gently, “it is in no way your fault. We know you did not share your expertise. It had to have come from your uncle, or someone to whom he taught the method.”

“Which,” Artie sighed, “may be a big problem to trace. We’ll need to attempt to find him, learn if he is still alive. And if he’s not, we will have to find whoever worked for him, learned from him. The length of time since he was seen or heard from last may work against us.”

They visited with Voulee a while longer, changing the subject to more pleasant topics, asking about her “young man,” and urging her to tell them about her promising students. She seemed relaxed by the time they left, and delighted that they promised to visit again, perhaps take her to dinner in town—along with her suitor.

Back at headquarters late that afternoon they told the colonel what they had learned, and also sent some telegraph messages to Chicago. Not expecting any replies until at least the following day, the agents went to dinner in the hotel where they were staying, and then attended a performance at a nearby theater, hoping it would be a distraction.

It proved to be far from it, for the play was a comedy, with the characters wearing obvious prostheses of big noses, big bellies, outlandish wigs and the like that were all too remindful of their current situation. Artemus did take the opportunity afterwards to go backstage and speak to actors of his acquaintance regarding their prostheses.

“Nothing of help,” he told Jim when he joined his partner in the lobby. “They’ve either had them for years or got them elsewhere. I talked to the stage manager with the same result.”

“I think we’d better plan for a trip to Chicago.”

James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: "Thanks Artie"! Is that all you can say to me? I've just come back from the grave, risen like Lazarus, and that's what you say? "Thanks, Artie"?
James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: It's a pleasure.
- TNOT Pistoleros

California gal
SS senior field agent

USA
8381 Posts

Posted - 02/09/2012 :  14:15:50  Show Profile
W*W*W*W*W


Two days later the Wanderer set out toward the west again, and arrived at the Chicago rail yards on a rainy summer day. Leaving their horses in the car, they took a hack to the downtown police headquarters to talk to a Captain Miles. An exchange of telegraph messages had indicated Miles possessed some information to pass on about Philippe Montmartre, and what he told them was interesting.

Miles was a white-haired veteran of many years on the Chicago police force. He had once had the beat in the theater district, and remembered Artemus Gordon from his stage appearance there. He also remembered Philippe Montmartre. “As you likely recall, Mr. Gordon, his shop was on the northern edge of the district. I met him when a robbery occurred in the jewelry shop next door. Mr. Montmartre witnessed the thief running away, so I talked to him for a description. As you might imagine, he had an eye for detail.”

“I do remember that talent from my lone meeting with him,” Artie smiled. “He told me exactly what kind of nose I was looking for to portray the character in question, and made only a couple of measurements before producing a marvelous proboscis that fit not only my face but the character!”

“Have you any ideas about where he went?” Jim asked. They had learned from the telegraph exchange that Montmartre had closed his shop and left the city; no information indicated he was deceased, though that was still a possibility. He would be in his sixties now.

“Headed west is about all we heard,” Miles said. “I located one of his apprentices for you since our last exchange, a man named Charles Garvey who now produces similar products and has his own shop a couple of blocks from where Montmartre had his.”

“You indicated in your telegrams,” Jim spoke as they got to their feet, “that so far as you knew, Montmartre had no criminal connections.”

“That’s correct. Nothing ever implicated him.”

“But?” Artie looked at the officer, brows lifted.

Miles smiled slightly. “He made disguises, Mr. Gordon. About a dozen years ago, three men robbed several banks while wearing false faces—very lifelike false faces. We realized that only after one of them was shot and killed. The other two disappeared. We had no proof of his involvement, but Philippe Montmartre was questioned at the time, given his expertise. He made and sold the masks but we could not connect him to the actual robbery.”

They made the trip across town to the shop of the current purveyor of theater supplies. Charles Garvey was a heavyset man who spoke freely of his time with Montmartre, whom he considered a genius. He shook his head when asked if Montmartre had had any criminal connections. “If he did, he kept it secret from the rest of us. We made noses and false faces for actors, not crooks.” As to where Montmartre went, Garvey professed no idea. Why he left was another matter.

“He wanted to get out of the business,” Garvey stated. “He said he was tired of it. He wouldn’t tell us where he was going because, he said, he was afraid we might tell someone who would hound him to create another prosthesis or a special makeup. I have a notion he went west, but I have no idea how far.”

“With nothing other than his slight connection with Mr. Gordon, Montmartre would seem to have no reason to exact revenge on us,” Jim sighed as the agents relaxed with the police captain over beers in a saloon. “He’s not close enough with his niece to want revenge for her imprisonment.”

“It’s got to be someone else,” Artie nodded. “Biggest question is who. You said you were unable to track down other apprentices, captain?”

Hill nodded. “Sorry to say, that is the case. Garvey knew of at least three others beside himself. One I know is dead. The other two just vanished. Either they are not in the business any longer or changed their names or… who knows?”

“Keeps coming back to Montmartre,” Jim murmured. “My gut tells me we need to find him.”

W*W*W*W*W


When a man bearing the face of Jeremy Pike entered the Wanderer three days later as it waited in the Chicago rail yards, the agents were pretty certain they had the real thing. But they remained guarded until Pike answered a couple of “personal” questions about shared experiences in the past, plus he allowed Artie to inspect his face for signs of a mask.

“Pretty weird feeling knowing there could have been someone out there looking like me,” Pike admitted as they relaxed in the car with whiskeys.

“Consider this,” Artie said. “If ‘you’ had been successful in killing Jim, and I had not been near enough to even stop the escape, you, the real Pike, could have been charged with his murder.”

Jim shook his head. “The real Pike was in Utah.”

“That’s true,” Jeremy conceded, “but it would have been a hellish situation in any case. I imagine I am almost as glad as you two are that the plot failed. And then Ned Brown!”

“I think that was a stroke of genius,” Artie nodded. “Who would expect anything foul from good old Ned, who is not even a fulltime field agent. Even after the original experience with your double, I did not suspect—until I saw him throttling Jim.”

“I gave Blackjack extra oats that night,” Jim smiled, “and some sugar. If he had not raised a commotion…”

“I find it very interesting,” Pike commented, “that the man committed suicide.”

“Not only that,” Artie added, “he was prepared ahead of time to do so, with a special button to swallow, obviously filled with cyanide. They found the button in his stomach, along with traces of the poison.”

“Have to wonder if my doppelganger had a similar button,” Jeremy mused. “If he had been captured instead of killed…”

“Good thought,” Jim nodded. “He’s buried down in Texas. If necessary, the body could be exhumed and his clothing examined.”

“But right now, our attention is on finding Philippe Montmartre,” Artie began, halting his words as the telegraph key clattered. He rose and moved to the desk, pulled the key from its covering book disguise, tapped out an acknowledgment then prepared to copy the message. His pencil froze as he heard the words, staring at his fellow agents, who were also deciphering the incoming code.

“Arcularis,” Jim’s voice was nearly a whisper.

Jeremy Pike saw the stark expressions on the faces of James West and Artemus Gordon. He had been told what these two men endured at the hands of the man known as Doctor Arcularis, how Jim came very close to committing a horrendous crime because of the way Arcularis had been able to take control of his mind. Later, Artemus had attempted to kill his partner for the same reason. Aware of the strength of will each of these men possessed gave Pike a clue regarding the evil and devious power Arcularis possessed.

Artie was shaking his head. “Escaped months ago! How…?”

“I can imagine Colonel Richmond is spitting nails,” Jeremy said. “To have not been informed…”

“I know the warden of that prison,” Jim got up from the sofa and walked to a window, staring out. “He’s a conscientious man. He would have informed the department immediately.”

Artie stood up. “This is Arcularis, remember. What he can do to men’s minds is… extraordinary. It’s as though he can wash away all one’s own feelings and thoughts and replace them with his own. I know he could not have used the bells, the lighthouse beam, and the chill of the wind in prison, but I’m afraid he’s entirely capable of some other Machiavellian methods. Perhaps hypnotism.”

Jim turned from the window. “I agree. The explanation that the colonel receives will be interesting. The next question is—is he involved in what’s been happening with us? The doppelgangers?”

“Yes,” Artemus nodded. “We don’t want to start concentrating our thoughts and energy on him if it’s merely a coincidence.”

Jim met his partner’s gaze. “Is it a coincidence?”

“Jim, I don't know!”

Jim West sighed, nodded. “I know, Artie. I’m sorry.” He smiled slightly now. “Sometimes I get so accustomed to you having the answers that I assume you have all of them.”

“Well, thanks for the confidence. I guess all we can do is wait until the colonel gets more information to pass on—and continue the thread we’ve been working on. Philippe Montmartre.”

“That’s a very tenuous thread,” Jeremy offered. “How do you plan to find him? He’s been gone from Chicago for quite a while.”

“Someone he spoke to, someone he at least hinted to about his plans, his destination, should still be in the city.”

Both Artemus and Jeremy looked at Jim after he made this statement, and Artie grinned. “You see, I don’t have all the answers after all, James. Every once in a while you actually come up with a good idea. I suggest we talk to the merchants in the establishments around where he had his shop, in the area of his residence, and also at the theaters. It does not appear that Captain Hill tackled that chore.”

“You take the theaters,” Jim said. “I’ll take the shops. Jer?”

“Residence it is. Meet back here on the train this evening?”

“Jeremy,” Artie said, glancing at Jim. “I think we need a password.”

W*W*W*W*W


And if, to be sure, sometimes you need to conceal a fact with words, do it in such a way that it does not become known, or, if it does become known, that you have a ready and quick defense.
—Niccolo Machiavelli (1469-1527), Italian philosopher, statesman, diplomatist and writer

Jim closed the door behind him as he stepped out onto the sidewalk, hearing the clang of the same bell that had sounded when he entered the tailor’s shop. Another dead end. He grimaced as he glanced around the area. He had talked to shopkeepers a full block on either side of the building where Philippe Montmartre once had his establishment. Many of the current owners or employees of these shops remembered Montmartre well. Almost to a man, they described him as “eccentric” or just plain “strange.”

“He was more interested in the dimensions of a man’s face than his soul,” the tailor had complained.

But not one had any notion of where he had gone. Montmartre, it seemed, had simply closed his shop and departed. The fact that he had not given his own employees and apprentices more information should have been a clue, Jim decided. But he knew that quite often the owners and employees of these types of small businesses formed a cadre, commiserating during bad times, celebrating during good times. They shared failures and successes. The two or three block area was like a small town.

The current owner of the dry goods store across the street had told him that when his father, the previous proprietor, had decided to retire and turn the business over to his son, a party was held, attended by the people from the other businesses. Not, he admitted ruefully, by Philippe Montmartre.

Nonetheless, Jim had just spent nearly four hours talking to these people and learning next to nothing. The middle-aged seamstress, Rebecca Wheeling, who lived and worked above the tailor’s shop across the way, had provided possibly the most helpful information. She sat by the front window doing her fine sewing, and thus had a view of all the activity on the street. She had, she claimed, a perfect memory for details. She also had been residing in the same rooms for more than a dozen years.

When Jim had shown a photograph of Arcularis to her, she was sure she had seen him go into Montmartre’s shop. However, she also said that the sighting had been over five years ago, April 1861, she thought. “I believe it was shortly after the firing on Fort Sumter because I remember thinking that their agitated conversation might have concerned the situation that was confronting the nation.”

Jim asked Miss Wheeling if she heard any of the conversation. No, the weather had been raw and her window was closed at the time. She was certain they had been quarreling; her idea that it had been about the war was pure speculation. The disagreement had spilled out onto the sidewalk as the visitor departed.

He looked up and down the street, mentally tabulating the stores he had entered. All but the two that were closed, one with a sign stating the owner was ill, another because it was undergoing a change of ownership. Maybe he would come back to talk to those people, but he had the sense such a conversation would be as futile as the ones he had just had.

With a sigh, he started walking along the sidewalk. He had seen a tavern around the corner. A beer would taste fine right about now. Then back to the train to meet Artie and Jeremy and see what they had learned—if anything. I just hope one of them had better luck that I did.

He almost collided with the man coming the opposite direction, opened his mouth to apologize and then stared. “Jerry! What are you doing here? Did you finish already?”

Jeremy Pike grinned. “Yeah, I finished and thought I’d come to see if you need any help, Jim. How’s it going?”

“Frustrating. I was about to go get a beer. Join me?”

“Sure.”

Only as they started striding toward the building with the sign designating it as a tavern did Jim remember. “How’s the general?”

“What?”

Jim halted then, grabbing the arm of the man alongside him. “Who are you?”

He saw the hard determination in the man’s eyes, and how his hand dipped inside his jacket. Jim hit him then, hard, on the chin. The man staggered back against the building wall. Someone yelled nearby. Though stunned, the man with Jeremy Pike’s face continued to reach inside his coat, his hand coming out with a small pistol. As he started to aim it, Jim hit him again. This time the man slid to the sidewalk, head sagging as he leaned against the wall. Jim grabbed the gun from his hand, and turned to face the several men who had come running up, pulling the leather folder from inside his coat and flashing the shining metal inside.

“I’m a law officer. Go find the nearest policeman and bring him here!”

W*W*W*W*W


Artemus entered the police station with long and quick strides, pausing just a moment at the tall desk in the lobby to ask a question. The officer there pointed him toward a hallway and was still telling him where to find the room while Artie hurried away. He found the door easily, rapped and opened it.

“Are you all right, Jim?”

Jim nodded, half smiling. “I almost forgot to ask the trick question, but when I did, it became quickly apparent this was another one.” He looked toward a sullen man seated in a corner chair. A uniformed officer stood beside him, and another man in a business suit was behind a desk nearby. “Captain Hearne, this is my partner, Artemus Gordon.”

Hearne was a ruddy-faced man with thin graying auburn hair and blue eyes that lit up. “Sure. I saw Mr. Gordon on the stage here in Chicago years ago. How do you do, sir?” Hearne pushed his bulk up from the chair to lean across the desk and shake Artie’s hand.

“What happened?” Artie asked then.

“Pretty much same as before. I encountered this fellow on the street wearing a mask that made him look like Pike. This one did a good job on imitating Jerry’s voice, which might be why I was initially fooled. But then when I asked ‘how’s the general?’ he realized it was a secret code and went for a gun.”

Artie looked at Hearne. “Any idea who he is?”

“Not a bit, Mr. Gordon. He hasn’t spoken a word since Mr. West brought him in. I’ve had a number of officers take a look at him. No one has seen him before.”

“Same as the other,” Artie murmured, then looked at Jim. “Ideas?”

“I’ve asked the captain to provide the gentleman with a complete change of clothes before locking him up, and also to keep a constant watch on him. I’m thinking of giving him a night in the cell, then coming to talk to him in the morning.”

Artie nodded, fairly certain of what Jim had in mind. Allowing the man to rest in unfamiliar surroundings might help matters. He had been alarmed when a courier brought a missive to the train, where he had just arrived, telling him to come to this police station immediately. Pike had not returned to the Wanderer yet. Thank heavens we set up that special question that only the three of us knew how to answer correctly.

“Someone must have been watching us,” he offered then.

Jim nodded. “Or else had access to the message you sent to the colonel before we left the train.”

Artie grimaced. “Yeah.” Richmond had asked to be kept apprised of all their moves, so he had sent a telegraph message informing their superior of their plans. That really sounds like someone in headquarters is the informer. But who? And why?

W*W*W*W*W


The man lolling on the sofa in the parlor car sat up as they entered. “I hope you two had better luck that I did.”

Artie glanced at Jim. “How’s the general?”

“Enjoying curds and whey.” Jeremy Pike grinned as he got to his feet. His smile faded as he observed the sober expressions on the countenances of his fellow agents. “What happened?”

Jim quickly told him as Artie poured whiskeys. Pike shook his head. “I’m not sure whether to be flattered or insulted that my image has been used twice. Thank the Lord Artie thought to set up that password.”

“I suspect, Jerry,” Artemus said as he put the carafe back into the cupboard, “that the choice of your face might be due to two things. One, I’m sure it’s well known that you are a good friend of ours. And the other could be that, like me, you are of average height and build. Finding other men of similar physique would be easier than, say, a string bean like Frank or one of Ned’s heft. Obviously, Arcularis—or whoever is behind this—did find a ‘Ned.’ But he has at least two Jeremy Pikes so far.”

“If it is Arcularis,” Jim said slowly, holding but not yet tasting his liquor, “he’s doing something more than what he did to you and me, Artie. More than to India and the others in the lighthouse.”

“What do you mean?” Pike inquired.

Artie took it up, ensconced on a chair now, his legs extended and crossed at the ankles. “Those people at the lighthouse—as well as Jim and I—were like… zombies, unable to express or show emotion. If they had been out in the public much, their behavior would have been noticed. The duplicate of Ned in particular was just as bluff and hearty as he is, which certainly fooled both of us. The first doppelganger of you, Jer, covered himself well with the supposed case of the grippe. It was convincing. He did not have to show us much of your actual personality.”

“The guy today probably would have shot me at first opportunity,” Jim put in, “before giving me a chance to notice discrepancies.”

“My thinking is that hypnotism is involved,” Artie added. “Between the two methods, he is able to convince them they are someone else, with a mission to kill Jim, and behave much more naturally.”

“So how do we find Arcularis?” Pike wanted to know, looking from one to the other.

“I’m hoping that the fellow in the jail cell will tell us,” Jim stated.

W*W*W*W*W

And o'er the past oblivion stretch her wing.
The Odyssey (bk. XXIV, l. 557) [Pope's translation], Homer (“Smyrna of Chios,” fl. 750 BC or earlier), Greek poet


The three agents returned into town the following morning and went straight to the police building. Captain Hearne was not on duty yet but he had left instructions with his replacement, a younger man. Lieutenant Mancino greeted them somewhat diffidently, and Artie saw suspicion and resentment in the man’s dark eyes. He did not like the federal government interfering in what he probably considered Chicago’s purview. Nonetheless, he escorted them to the cellblock and ordered the turnkey to let Jim into the prisoner’s cell.

It has been agreed that Jim would go in first. They particularly wanted to save Pike as a “shock tactic.” Seeing the man the prisoner had been portraying might shake him up, if Jim’s methods did not work. The lieutenant was very annoyed upon being told to stay out of sight.

The prisoner gazed at Jim with dull eyes, but did not move from the cot where he was sitting with his knees drawn up, arms around his legs. He was garbed in a faded gray prison uniform. Jim could only wonder if the inability to take his own life, as probably instructed, affected the man at all.

“My name is Jim. What’s yours?”

No response.

“What did Dr. Arcularis do to you?” Jim wondered if he saw the slightest flicker in the brown eyes. “What was your life like before Arcularis took it away from you? Do you want it back?”

Now the prisoner turned his face toward the wall.

Jim experienced a tingle of exhilaration. I got through a little. Just a little. “I know what you went through. I know what he did to you. I experienced that myself. But I freed myself and you can too. I saw others free themselves. You have to want to be free. Do you want to be free?”

The man turned back and pressed his forehead against his knees, a long shuddering breath emitting from his chest. But still he remained silent.

“You want to go back to your life, don’t you? Have you a wife? A sweetheart? Children? Your own home? A job? A business? Where do you live? What is your name?”

The head came up, and he looked at Jim. “William…”

Now Jim caught his breath to control his excitement. “Hello, William. What else? What do you remember?”

The eyes remained on Jim, but Jim felt the man was seeing something else. “A… a house. My garden… my… my wife!” For the first time, emotion appeared in the gaze. “My wife! Louise!”

“Where is she?” Jim asked gently.

William changed his position, swinging his feet down to the floor, now leaning his elbows on his knees, pressing his hands on either side of his face. “I went to… went to… the man said to come… said Louise was hurt…”

“I had that same experience,” Jim said, unable to keep the harshness from his voice. That moment in the hospital room when he had been told that Artemus had just died, then being asked to identify the body was something he would never forget, and was a clue to Arcularis’s cruelty.

“That wasn’t… she wasn’t hurt. They wouldn’t let me go. The noise… the lights… I couldn’t stand it!”

“Where did the man take you?”

William gazed at him. “I don't know.”

Jim tried another tactic. “Where did you live? What state?”

“Idaho.”

“Do you remember your last name now?”

William nodded. “Greer. William Greer.” His eyes were clearer and his voice was stronger, although Jim saw the confusion remaining in the gaze. “I lived outside Boise. Had a farm with my wife.” Suddenly tears welled. “She was going to have our baby!”

“We’ll send word,” Jim reassured him quietly. “We’ll make sure she’s safe, and let her know you are all right. Why don’t you lie down and rest awhile? We’ll talk later.”

When he stepped out into the corridor he could see that the others had heard everything. “He’s from Boise,” Artie said thoughtfully. “Is that where Arcularis is, or did he just pick Greer up and take him elsewhere?”

“I was afraid he was going to break down if I pressed him further,” Jim said. “We can talk to him again later, see if he can tell us more.”

“That was quite impressive, Mr. West,” Mancino said as they walked down the corridor, after reiterating instructions to the guards to watch the prisoner closely. “You seemed to know exactly what to do to bring his memory back.”

“That’s because I endured the same treatment he did, Lieutenant, as did Mr. Gordon. The man we are seeking is vicious. He’s using innocent men to achieve his end. Two have died already because of him. I’m glad we were able to help this one. But he still needs special handling.”

“Jim,” Artie said a short while later as the three agents left a nearby telegraph office, heading for a restaurant, “you don’t suppose Arcularis is nearby.”

“It’s possible. I hope Greer is able to tell us more later.”

As it turned out, William Greer was a font of information when they returned to the police station after a good meal in a Polish restaurant. Captain Hearne was on duty by then and had been filled in by Mancino, who appeared to have amended his opinion of federal officers and greeting the trio cordially. “I understand the fellow ate a good meal just now. The first he’s eaten since he was brought in.”

That was a good sign, Artie decided, as they made their way to the cells again. This time all three agents went in. Greer stared at Pike for a long moment, almost as though he felt Jeremy was someone he should know but could not place him. He looked better, his whole demeanor more alert and normal as he answered questions.

He confirmed that he was from near Boise, and had been returning from delivering some of his farm’s produce to a store in that town when a man who said he was seeking Greer to tell him that his wife had fallen ill accosted him. “I’m not sure now why I believed him. I never saw him before in my life. I guess I was just so concerned about Louise. We have waited a long time to have a child, and I didn’t want anything to happen.”

“We sent a message to the officials in Boise,” Artie reassured him. “As soon as we have any information about your wife, we’ll let you know. And they’ll also tell your wife you are safe.”

They were not surprised to learn that when apprised of the current date, Greer informed them he had been kidnapped over six weeks ago. The man who had met him offered him a drink from a flask, saying it would steady his nerves as he headed home to check on his wife. That was the last Greer remembered before awakening in a room, strapped to a chair, where bright lights flashed in his face.

“My memories after that are very… confused. I remember the lights, loud noises, like bells, so close and loud that they seemed to be tolling inside my head. And Dr. Arcularis telling me that I needed to kill a man named James West. He also showed me a photograph of you, Mr. West.”

Greer could not say where he had been held for the “treatment.” He never saw the exterior, and remembered only two rooms, the one where he had awakened in the chair, and another where he was taken to rest periodically. Both had windows that were blocked. He thought, however, that it could not have been too far away from where he had been picked up. “Not more than two days, say. My beard grows rather rapidly, but I’m pretty sure it was not more than two days’ worth that first time, when I was still aware of my surroundings.”

That still leaves a lot of questions, Artie mused as he listened to Jim question Greer, but it’s a start. Depending on the mode of transportation, as well as the landscape through which they passed, this location where Greer was “treated” could be fifty miles away, or a couple hundred! Nonetheless, it was more information than they had before.

Greer described what he remembered of Arcularis, confirming the identity of the man. He could not say that he had or had not been mesmerized. Once the brain-numbing treatments had been initiated, his memories were clouded and befuddled. Both Jim and Artemus understood. While treatments they had been subjected to had taken place over a few days, likely Arcularis had extended, and perhaps improved and deepened the methods he had used previously.

William Greer was perfectly content to remain in the Chicago jail for now, concurring with the agents that he was likely safer there until everything was straightened out. They promised to bring word of his wife as soon as possible.

W*W*W*W*W


Upon returning to the train, the three agents settled in to discuss the situation. Artie pulled down the map and the three of them studied it, admitting their frustration. “If only we knew which direction Greer was taken out of Boise,” Jeremy sighed. “Two days of travel could mean hundreds of square miles to search!”

“We can send authorities in that general area a picture of Arcularis,” Artie began then stopped, a bemused expression on his face. “You know what? We have been forgetting our original purpose for coming to Chicago: Philippe Montmartre. With all that’s been going on, I haven’t told you what I learned in the theaters!”

He had encountered several persons who he knew from his days of “treading the boards” in Chicago, one of which was now a stage manager. “He was just an errand boy when I knew him,” Artie smiled. Franklin was a talker as well as a good listener, and he often seemed able to encourage people to tell him more than that person might otherwise.

“He got to know Montmartre pretty well, apparently. Franklin said that Montmartre once told him his dream was to move to the mountains, and he had his eyes on the Bitterroot Range. He feels that’s where Montmartre has gone.”

“Ouch,” Pike murmured. “That’s still a big area!”

“That’s true,” Jim nodded thoughtfully. “But if we send a description of Montmartre along with the picture of Arcularis to law agencies in the region…”

“It might help pinpoint it!” Pike finished with enthusiasm.

W*W*W*W*W

Treason, which begins by being cautious, ends by betraying itself.
—Alphonse de Lamartine (1790-1869), French poet and historian


Colonel James Richmond stood at the door of his office, gazing out over the people working at the desks scattered throughout the large anteroom. All were busy, perhaps only because they knew he was watching. Yet he knew he had a good group of employees here. Amelia Case, the widow he had hired a few years ago against the advice of more “sage” men, who said women could not handle the stress of regular employment in such an environment, glanced up and smiled, before bending back to the task of copying a report an agent had submitted.

If only we had some means of copying these reports and other written material. Cameras are too clumsy and expensive. The only way to do it these days was to have an amanuensis with excellent penmanship, such as Mrs. Case, copy them by hand. Otherwise only one copy would exist and that was not a good thing. Three employees currently did this task, but Amelia was certainly the best.

Beyond her, Magnus Janos was involved in a somewhat similar task, only he copied telegraph messages that had been sent and received. The originals were placed in folders with the agents’ reports, but time had proven it wise to have cross-files of such documents. Janos was very efficient at his job…

Richmond abruptly turned back into his office and closed the door. He took a deep breath. As Mrs. Case had, Magnus Janos had glanced up from his work. But Janos had not smiled before ducking his head again. What did I see in his eyes? Almost like fear or even panic. That cannot be so. Magnus Janos has been an employee of this department since its inception, a loyal and efficient employee, moving from “office boy” to his current position.

Yet he could not forget or dismiss what he had just seen. Was it possible? One thing was certain: Richmond knew he could not initiate any sort of inquiry directly from this office. He could not send a telegram to the three agents now currently in Chicago. Picking up his hat, he stepped over to the door that adjoined his office to that of his personal assistant.

“Miss Perlman, cancel any appointments I have for the remainder of the day. Something extremely urgent has come up.”

The efficient young woman at the desk merely murmured, “yes, sir,” even though questions were in her blue eyes. She had held this position long enough to know better than to question the colonel’s activities.

W*W*W*W*W


“Magnus Janos?”

Artie was the one who echoed the name after Jim read aloud the message he had written down and brought to the lab car where Pike and Gordon were. The latter two looked at each other then Jeremy took the slip of paper from Jim’s hand, unsure he had heard it correctly.

“Seems the colonel is going on a hunch,” Pike murmured then. He glanced at the other two. “That’s not like him.”

“That’s for certain,” Jim returned. James Richmond normally preferred facts above intuition. The message had astonished him as he transcribed it. “But it makes sense that we are not to contact the department telegrapher directly henceforth.”

“I think Cranston and Brown are excellent choices for the go-betweens,” Artie nodded. “Bosley in particular is always running errands and for him to be coming and going will hardly be noticed. Both are definitely trustworthy.”

“It occurs to me, “ Jim said then, “that we might be able to use Janos to set up a trap for Arcularis. Could take a couple of days and a few messages to get it set up.”

“I agree,” Artie got up from his chair. “Let’s work this out carefully.”

W*W*W*W*W


The following morning Jim went back to the police building in order to deliver a message to William Greer, one that caused the locked-up man to smile broadly. His wife was safe and happy to learn her husband was also safe. The baby had not been delivered yet.

“Maybe I’ll get home in time,” Greer said.

“We’ll try to arrange that,” Jim smiled, then sobered. “Have you remembered anything else that could be useful?”

“I’m not sure how useful it can be. I’m pretty sure I was held in a two-story house. I remember hearing noises above me, like someone walking.”

Jim nodded. “That does make it sound as though you were on the ground floor. Any other sounds from outside?”


“Nothing that I can remember.”

“I see. And you were kept in this one room?”

“Most of the time. There were lights, bright lanterns, concentrated with mirrors, I think.”

Jim grimaced. “I dealt with a lighthouse beacon.”

Greer’s eyes widened. “That must have been worse!”

“Perhaps that’s why the ‘treatment’ was effected more swiftly. He apparently was able to… to transform me to his way of thinking within a week. Seems as though it took longer for you.”

“I was taken to another room for the noises, but always blindfolded and tied to a chair in that room so I couldn’t see anything while the bells were rung. In a way, the bells were worse than the lights. They were… they seemed to become part of me. And I couldn’t make them stop!”

“I understand completely.” Jim’s face was grim with the memory. He had fallen unconscious under the assault of the noise on his mind and body.

“I wish I could be more help.”

“You’ve been a great deal of help, Mr. Greer. We have a lot more information that we had before, and we believe we have a method to find Arcularis now.”

“I don’t understand why he wants to kill you, Mr. West.”

“Because I pretty much stopped his grand plans a couple of years ago. And perhaps proved to him that his methods were not foolproof. It does seem as though he’s improved on them now—but you again have shown that they can be interrupted. We think he used the torture and also hypnotism to cause you—and others—to carry out his will. Obviously you are not normally a murderous man.”

Greer shook his head in bemusement. “My wife has to kill the spiders and mice in our house.”

“I don’t care much for rats myself,” Jim grinned, getting to his feet. “Just be patient a little while longer, Mr. Greer. We’re going to do our best to finish this up so it will be clear for you to go home to your wife… and child.”

James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: "Thanks Artie"! Is that all you can say to me? I've just come back from the grave, risen like Lazarus, and that's what you say? "Thanks, Artie"?
James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: It's a pleasure.
- TNOT Pistoleros
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California gal
SS senior field agent

USA
8381 Posts

Posted - 02/09/2012 :  14:17:09  Show Profile
W*W*W*W*W


The next two days were busy ones for the three agents as they communicated with Colonel Richmond and planned the strategy that they hoped would bring Arcularis out in the open. All telegraph messages were sent to a Western Union office that was near to the home of the colonel, and they were addressed to Mrs. Caroline Richmond, to be delivered immediately.

In turn, Richmond deployed his two most trusted in-office employees, Ned Brown and Bosley Cranston, to act as couriers between the department office and the Richmond home. All manner of excuses were devised to explain their activities, and as far as Richmond could determine, no suspicions were being aroused. For office staff to run errands was not unusual. Sometimes it was necessary to carry messages between various government departments, and all knew how closely the Secret Service worked with President Grant. He liked to be apprised of goings on. Reports were sent to the Commander in Chief regularly.

Word arrived from a law officer in a small town in western Montana, in the foothills of the Bitterroot Mountains. That sheriff not only recognized Montmartre’s description, he knew the name. Philippe Montmartre lived in his jurisdiction, he stated, as something of a hermit. However, recently he seemed to have a lot of visitors. Artemus immediately telegraphed back to ask the sheriff to watch Montmartre, and his visitors, as closely as possible without them becoming aware of the surveillance.

On the morning of the third day, a telegraph message was sent to the department office: WEST TAKING WANDERER TO FOLLOW UP LEAD IN ALTA, MONTANA TERR <STOP> GORDON AND PIKE REMAINING TO FINISH BUSINESS IN CHICAGO <STOP> WILL JOIN WEST IN ABOUT A WEEK <STOP> MORE REPORTS TO FOLLOW <STOP> ARTEMUS GORDON <FINAL STOP>

Pike and Gordon left the train, shaking hands with Jim West on the platform and wishing him good luck. Carrying suitcases, they checked into a hotel in downtown Chicago. A while later, shortly before the Wanderer pulled out of the rail yards, two grubby, elderly men were seen wandering through the yards, arguing and making nuisances of themselves. A railroad bull finally accosted them to send them on their way. They were last seen shuffling around behind the Wanderer just as the engine got up steam and chugged away.

Another three days later the train slid into a siding some twenty miles from Alta, Montana, the closest the tracks ran to the small town. Jim took his black horse from the second car, mounted and rode into the small town that obviously served surrounding farms and ranches as well as the trappers who still sought prey in the majestic mountains. Jim saw representatives of all three on the board walkways as he rode down the main street, looking for the sheriff’s office.

They had sent out queries regarding Sheriff Sean Neary, and all replies received back indicated that Neary was an honest, hardworking lawman, thoroughly trustworthy. Jim hoped such a reputation might make his task easier. Being straightforward with a fellow lawman was often the best way to go.

He dismounted in front of the town’s only stone building, tied off the horse and stepped up to the door, which was standing open. “Sheriff Neary?”

The man at the roll-top desk off to one side twisted around to peer at him. “Yes, sir?”

“I’m James West.”

Neary jumped to his feet, extending his hand. He was a sturdily built man with a round face and carrot-colored hair, probably in his late thirties. Jim suspected the weathered tan of his face covered quite a few freckles. His eyes were bright blue, his gaze direct.

“Mr. West! Glad to meet you. Sit down. Would you like some coffee?” When Jim assented, Neary went through a door and came back minutes later carrying two porcelain mugs of coffee. “Hope you take it black. I do myself and don’t tend to keep any milk or sugar on hand.”

“Black is fine.” Jim settled into a wooden chair. “Sheriff, I want to get right down to business. You are certain that the man you know as Philippe Montmartre is the man in the photograph you received.”

“Definitely. Can’t be any mistake about that. Funny old cuss. He’s been hereabouts maybe four, almost five years, and I can honestly say I never exchanged more than a half dozen words with him. Usually a ‘howdy’ if I come across him in the trading post. That’s the only time he ever came to town, to pick up supplies, every four or five weeks.”

Jim cocked his head. “Has that routine changed?”

“Yep. He built himself this big old house up in the nearby hills. Claimed a few acres of land around it. Mostly, we figure, to give him some privacy. Never farmed it or raised stock or anything. This house has two stories, and though I’ve never been in it, I’d say six or eight rooms. Always thought it was strange for a hermit like him. Anyway, six or seven months ago, he started coming in to buy supplies more often. Eventually word got out that he has fellows living up there with him.”

“How many?”

Neary shook his head. “I’m not sure. I’ve seen maybe a dozen different men who came into town to the Red Hat Saloon that were pointed out to me as from Montmartre’s place, but most of them I saw only once. Makes me think they either aren’t staying around or they are goin’ somewhere else for their refreshment. And believe me, I checked all my wanted flyers every time I saw one!”

Jim smiled briefly. “I take it you didn’t find anyone’s picture.”

“Nope. Mind me asking why you’re so interested in this Montmartre? And what was the other fellow? Aculus?”

“Arcularis. Arcularis is an escaped criminal, and a very dangerous man. We think Montmartre may be complicit in a plot to kill me.”

The sheriff’s eyes grew wide. “Kill you! Then why are you here alone?”

Jim smiled. “I’m not alone. Let me explain the situation.”

Sean Neary’s eyes remained wide open as he listened to Jim West’s narrative of the events that had led them to come to this remote Montana town. He suspected he was hearing a bare-bones story. Mr. West did not appear to be the type of man to go into much elaboration, even in a story that concerned his own safety.

“Mr. Gordon and Mr. Pike accompanied me on the train,” Jim concluded, “although they are staying very much out of sight for the moment. They will appear in a day or two, disguised as drifting cowboys.”

Now the sheriff grinned. “I might have to haul them in, Mr. West. We have an ordnance here to discourage saddle bums.”

Jim chuckled. “I urge you to at least approach them, as you would any strangers that come to your town.”

“So what’s next on your agenda?”

“I noticed a small hotel down the street. I’m going to get a room, and start asking some questions in town and nearby. Depending on circumstances, I may go out to Montmartre’s home.”

“What if this Arcularis is there?”

“I don't think he’ll accost me in the open. I’ve had experience with men like these, sheriff, men who believe their own genius far surpasses that of normal men, and thus they can do no wrong. That he was arrested once doesn’t play into it—other than to cause him to seek vengeance against me for disrupting his plans. My comrades and I believe he will continue with his original plan of substituting fakes for my real colleagues. We hope that we have instituted safeguards to prevent any of us from being fooled again.”

“You could be wrong.”

“I have been in the past. However, I’m all but certain that should we attempt to storm Montmartre’s house, we will not find anyone or anything incriminating. Arcularis knows I’m here, and he will have taken measures, perhaps moving his own activities to another location. But he still needs Montmartre’s expertise with the masks.” Jim got to his feet. “As I understand it, you don’t have a telegraph here, and the nearest is about twenty miles north.”

“That’s correct. There’s a couple of fellows who make extra change by picking up and delivering any messages that come in.”

“Can you point me to those fellows?”

Neary did so. One was the teenage son of the proprietor of the trading post, and another was a fellow who worked part-time at the hotel. Leaving the sheriff’s office, Jim led his horse down to the small hotel and procured a room on the first floor. An inquiry revealed that the man the sheriff mentioned was not there and would not be at work until the next day. He lived on a farm outside of town. After stowing his gear in the room, he took the black steed around back to turn it over to a young man for care then headed for the trading post across the street.

He was in luck there as he found the youth tending the counter and alone, providing an opportunity to ask the freckled youngster a few questions about his trips to the telegraph office. Leaving there, Jim strolled to the nearest saloon. He wanted to make his presence known, and the best way to do that was to hang around the local “watering hole” for a spell.

It wasn’t much of a place. The mirror behind the bar was cracked and discolored. Pictures of boxing and hunting scenes on the wall were faded, as was the obligatory portrait of the fleshy nearly naked woman reclining on a silken couch among pillows. Then again, the saloon was not that different from dozens of others Jim had entered over the years. Even the stale odor of beer, smoke, and perspiration was familiar. He did notice from the name on the keg behind the bar that they carried a good brew, so he bought a glass, asked the bartender for a deck of cards, and seated himself at a table in the far corner.

Over the next hour or so Jim played solitaire and sipped his beer, eventually getting a refill. Townspeople drifted in and out, looking his way with curiosity and interest, but none approached him. A grungy, dusty cowpoke shuffled in, went to the bar and dug deep in his trouser pockets to come up with a couple of coins to pay for a beer. He leaned against the bar, despondently staring down at the drink which, like Jim, he nursed—obviously to make it last.

A hard-edged woman came down the stairs, spotted Jim and joined him without invitation. After about ten minutes, she seemed to realize he was not going to be a customer so she wandered off to sit with a pair of older men who were engaged in a game of gin rummy—after first casting a long glance at the drifter before deciding he was not going to be interested in her services either. Or at least could not pay for them.

Jim was just considering changing locations, going to a café he had noticed further down the street, when three men entered the saloon. Although they barely glanced at him at first, Jim knew intuitively that these were the men he was waiting for. Their garb was rough, but they did not have the look of cowhands. They also wore pistols at their sides in a manner that indicated they were well versed on the use of the side arms. So he waited.

They went to the bar and ordered whiskey, one of them shouldering the drifter aside, even though plenty of space was available. The cowboy shot an angry look their way, but then seemed to sigh resignedly, moving further away with the remnants of his precious beer. Jim continued his solitaire game, surreptitiously keeping a watch on the trio at the edge of his vision. They held a murmured conversation, and Jim also saw that they were eyeing him in the cloudy mirror. He also noticed that the bartender was edgy about their presence as well.

After a few minutes, one of the men, a skinny fellow with oily dark hair that draped lankly over his thin forehead, turned around. His narrow eyes swept the room, and landed on Jim. He pushed himself from the bar and swaggered over. “Whatcha doin’, mister?”

Jim barely glanced up. “What does it look like?”

“How about you play a man’s game? How about some poker? My friends and I would like a game.”

“No thanks. I’m just killing time.”

“Sissy game,” Skinny taunted, jerking his head toward his companions, who sauntered over, grinning. “Look at this little boy, playing sissy games.”

“My mama, she plays that game all the time,” a burly blond-bearded man sniped.

“He says he don’t wanna play poker,” Skinny went on. “Too much of a man’s game.” He looked around. “Hey, Dora! Come on over here.”

She came reluctantly, obviously having had experience with these men before. “Whatcha want?” she grumbled.

“Dora, look at this fellow. Ever see an uglier man?”

Dora hesitated then shrugged her thin shoulders. “I’ve seen worse.”

Skinny grabbed her arm. “Come on now. This is the ugliest fella you ever seen, right?”

“I guess so.”

Jim glanced up with a slight smile. “I have to agree with the lady every time I look in the mirror in the morning.”

Skinny’s scowl revealed he did not like that his gibes were washing off the stranger’s back. “Why don’t you come with us, fella? We’ll show you how to be a man!”

Jim placed a red jack on a black queen. “No, thanks. I’m happy where I am.”

Although the next move was not entirely unexpected, it was a surprise. Skinny lifted his foot and slammed it against the back of Jim’s chair, causing it to skid back slightly and then topple over. Jim was on his feet instantly. “I take it that was an accident.”

“What if it wasn’t?”

Jim kept his voice mild. “Then I’ll have to ask you for an apology.” He did not miss how the other two men moved, positioning themselves on either side of him.

“Maybe you’re gonna need to make me apologize.”

Skinny’s next move was not unexpected either. He went for his gun. Instead of drawing his own, Jim emulated Skinny and kicked, the hard toe of his boot striking the underside of Skinny’s hand as it came up. The gun flew from the hand and Skinny yowled in pain.

“You broke my hand!” he wailed. “You broke my hand!”

The other two men did not wait for instructions but closed in rapidly from either side. Jim adroitly stepped back, seized the right arm of one and the left of the other, used their own momentum to swing them into each other, and then shoved both into the still wailing Skinny. Only then did he lift his own pistol from its holster.

“How about that apology?”

Skinny was still clutching his badly bruised right hand. “Go to hell, you son of a…”

Jim lifted the pistol higher. “I said apology!

The other two men had climbed to their feet and were standing slightly behind Skinny, their faces filled with hatred, but also a bit of awe for the man who had so easily handled the three of them. Skinny continued to glare, but his eyes flicked to the menacing shiny pistol. Finally, he sighed loudly.

“All right, all right! Sorry I knocked your chair over. It was an accident.”

Jim’s smile was cold. “I thought so. Why don’t you boys head on home now. Getting near your dinnertime and your mama will be looking for you.”

Throwing black glances over their shoulders, the trio shuffled to the door and out. The scruffy cowboy at the bar stepped over to the window to watch, and then glanced back and Jim, nodding slightly. Jim resumed his seat and his game. He was pretty certain that word of his presence had been taken to Arcularis, and these men had been sent to accost him, possibly even take him back to wherever Arcularis was hiding out, whether at Montmartre’s home or not. He was fairly sure they had no intention of killing him.

Hearing a movement near his table, Jim glanced up. “Something I can do for you, mister?”

The cowboy dug his hands in his pockets, shoulders hunched. “Well, I wondered if you might have a spare dime that a man could buy a beer with.” In a softer voice, “Looks like the word is out.”

Jim stood up and pulled a coin out of his coat pocket. “Here you go.” Then quietly, “Didn’t take long, did it, Jer?”

“Now for Artemus to have some success!” Jeremy Pike grinned briefly, and spoke loudly. “Thanks, mister. You’re a real gent!” He wandered back toward the bar.

W*W*W*W*W

We all wear some disguise, make some professions, use some artifice, to set ourselves off as being better than we are; and yet it is not denied that we have some good intentions and praiseworthy qualities at bottom.
—William Hazlitt (1778-1830), English critic and author


The rather small but sturdy buggy made its way down the rutted road toward the front of the large two-story house that was situated in the midst of some thick woods. Four men who were lounging on the porch slowly got to their feet, staring. One said something and went in through the door.

The buggy halted, and a well-dressed man climbed down. He was not overly tall, with a thick middle that bulged under his snowy white shirt. The beard on his jaw was closely trimmed, and primarily outlined the edge of his chin, while the rich mustache tumbled over his mouth. Both the beard and mustache, along with the shiny dark hair under the bowler hat, were sprinkled with silver. He was holding a gold-headed cane that obviously was for show rather than use as he did not lean on it.

He paused at the base of the four steps that led up to the porch and bowed slightly. “Bonjour, messieurs. Je cherche ... Oh, excusez-moi. Je vais parler en anglais.” He bowed again. “Excuse me, messieurs. I seek Monsieur Philippe Montmartre. This is his residence, non?”

One of the men on the porch, a stocky man with some intelligence in his stare, spoke. “Who are you, mister?”

Oh, excusez-moi! I am Lucien Jean-Pierre De Courcey, with the company of De Courcey and Damron, Avocats en droit… er, barristers. Attorneys. Our offices are in Montreal, Quebec. May I speak to Monsieur Montmartre, s'il vous plaît?”

“What do you want with him?”

Monsieur De Courcey bit back a sigh, and once more bent slightly at the waist. “I have the legal business with him, concerning his inheritance.”

The man standing just behind the stocky man tapped him on the shoulder. “Money, Mort.”

Mort nodded. “What kind of money are we talking about?”

Monsieur De Courcey drew himself up stiffly. “That, messieurs, is what I wish to speak to Monsieur Montmartre concerning. Comprende? I will say it is a substantial amount.”

The door opened and a man stepped out. Artemus held himself carefully so as not to display a reaction. Despite the clean-shaven face, Arcularis was easily identifiable. By his glittering eyes if nothing else. He came to the edge of the porch and Mort stepped back. “Sir, may we be of assistance to you?”

Artie bowed once more. “Monsieur, I very much hope so. I seek Monsieur Philippe Montmartre. These gentleman have not been of assistance.”

Arcularis smiled. “They, like myself, are here to protect Mr. Montmartre.”

“Ah, I see. Excellent. Excellent. May I speak to him? It is of utmost importance, especially to him. Time is running out.”

“What do you mean?”

Artemus glanced up at the bright early afternoon sun. “It is warm out here.”

“Forgive me, sir. Please come inside. Sanders, go get some fresh water for the gentleman.”

The last thing Artemus Gordon wanted to do was to spend time with Dr. Arcularis. In fact, that had been Jim’s greatest objection to the plan. He wanted Jeremy to do this part, but Artie had been adamant, and his partner finally gave in. Jim’s contention was that Arcularis was a very brilliant man, one who studied human behavior. He worried that Artie, despite all his skills, would do or say something to give himself away. While Artie perfectly agreed, he also wanted to be the one to carry this out, this dangerous play-acting. He felt he could not ask Jeremy, who was there simply to assist them, to do this. The fact that Jim’s part in the plan was even more perilous convinced Artie even more that this was something he had to do.

Nonetheless, he was here now, encountered Arcularis, and had been invited inside. That was the first important step. Thus far, Arcularis had not displayed any indication that he recognized the French-Canadian lawyer as a fake. So he followed the doctor in through the front door, entering a rather spartan living room, with a few pieces of very plain furniture and no ornamentation, not even any pictures on the wall.

Arcularis waved Artie to a chair as the man he had sent for water returned with a glass full of clear liquid. Artie accepted it with a “Merci!” and lifted it high to peer through the clear liquid. “Ah, Monsieur, a sip of spring water can be like a sip of the finest wine, non? One should savor the aroma, the taste…” He passed the glass under his nose, and then allowed himself the smallest taste. “Excellent.” If the water was drugged, something odorless, colorless, and tasteless had been used.

“Can you explain to me why you need to see Mr. Montmartre?”

Artie turned a puzzled gaze to the man now seated across from him. “Pardonnez-moi, monsieur, mais je ne crois pas que je sais qui vous êtes.” He saw the frowning confusion on Arcularis’s face. Good. “Oh, forgive me, monsieur. I have this… tres mauvaise habitude… er… very bad… habit of using my native language in a land where English is primary. I asked if you would tell me who you are.”

“Oh, of course. My apologies. I am Dr. Frederick Archer, Mr. Montmartre’s personal physician.”

“He is very ill?”

Arcularis smiled. “He is an old man. Currently he suffers from a cold only, but at his age, even a mild cold can be dangerous.”

Mais oui,” Artie nodded. “I understand. It is however, very important that I speak to him as soon as possible. I have labored for many months seeking him, and time is growing short. Much money is at stake.”

“May I inquire the source of this… money?”

Now Artemus smiled. “The legendary long lost relative, monsieur. A cousin that I believe he has not seen since childhood. The cousin traveled to Europe, made a small fortune, and then increased that fortune… considérablement…ah, very much. Very much indeed. The estate is now worth over one million dollars American.” He was not surprised to see the glitter in Arcularis’s dark eyes with the mention of this figure. “Unfortunately, unless I present proof that I have found Mr. Philippe Montmartre within three weeks, he will lose it.”

The smile on Arcularis now seemed pasted on. “Well, we certainly would not want that to happen, would we?”

M. Montmartre semble être le plus proche parent vivant du sang et à moins que ...” Artie shook his head, chagrinned. “I beg your pardon, monsieur. I say that Monsieur Montmartre seems to be the closest living blood relative. I have not found any other. If he does not claim the inheritance within the deadline, it will go to the province of Quebec. We surely would not wish that to occur!” He was pretty certain now that Arcularis did not comprehend French.

“No indeed, sir. No indeed.” Arcularis was thoughtful a moment. “Mr. Montmartre seemed much improved this morning, and I’m sure he will be even better tomorrow. Could you return tomorrow?”

Certainement! I will be glad to. I most assuredly do not wish to endanger M. Montmartre’s health. May I ask one favor, doctor? Please do not reveal to M. Montmartre my visit or its nature. I wish to be the one to tell him, after all my labors.”

“My pleasure, sir. I will enjoy viewing his surprise and pleasure.”

W*W*W*W*W


Jim opened the door as soon as he heard the light tap from the other side. Artemus, still in his guise as the French-Canadian barrister, stepped into the darkened room. “Where’s Jer?” he asked quietly.

“Right here,” Pike replied, stepping out of a corner behind the room’s bureau and holstering his gun.

“How’d it go today?” Jim asked then.

“Pretty well. Arcularis did not recognize me—or at least did not give any sign that he did. He claims Montmartre is ill but with dollar signs gleaming in his eyes, he will allow me to speak to Montmartre tomorrow. I plan to go around mid-afternoon.”

Jeremy nodded. “I’ll time my arrival around that time. Perhaps Jim will precede us.”

Jim smiled slightly in the dimness. “I’ll certainly make myself available.”

“Jim…”

Jim cut his partner off. “I know, Artie, but I feel I am right. Arcularis is not going to deny himself the pleasure of seeing me die by having his men kill me from ambush. They will pick me up and take me to the house.”

“This is a pretty crazy idea,” Pike murmured.

Artie sighed. “But we couldn’t come up with a better one. The sheriff is ready?”

Jim nodded. “He has a dozen trusted men ready. I’ll tell him in the morning about the timing. The timing is extremely important.”

“With any luck, I’ll have the explosives planted,” Jeremy averred. “I hope I’m right about the chores those fellows would like to get rid of.”

Artemus laughed now. “If they are anywhere near normal, I think you are correct, Jer.”

“According to the kid I talked to who picks up and delivers telegrams, he has seen the men the sheriff believes work for Arcularis receiving messages at the same telegraph office. Undoubtedly that’s where Janos has been sending the information about our activities. With any luck, Arcularis believes I am here alone and you two are still on your way.”

“We can only hope. I’d better get back to my cozy bed of straw in the livery stable,” Pike said, with a longing glance at the comfortable bed in the room. He headed for the window and pushed it open. As he stuck a leg out, he looked back. “Good luck, both of you.”

Artie nodded. “We may need it!”

W*W*W*W*W

Conspiracies no sooner should be formed than executed.
Cato (act I, sc. 2), Joseph Addison (1672-1719), English essayist, poet, and statesman


Jim rode out about mid morning. He headed in the general direction of the Montmartre homestead, and was very aware that he was being followed. The watchers had been in town early, two even coming into the restaurant for coffee as he breakfasted. They tried to be nonchalant, but could not keep their eyes from fastening on the man in blue, especially when he rose to pay his check and strolled out of the café. He counted at least five, but knew that more might be involved.

He almost laughed when he heard the noise in the brush on either side of the road. The men were attempting to get ahead of him. He decided to make it easy for them and halted the prancing black horse on the pretense of checking for a stone in a hoof. Mounting again, he rode on slowly, alert, but keeping his demeanor relaxed.

They showed up in the exact spot he would have selected for an ambush himself. The road bent sharply around a rock formation, and five men were waiting behind the rock, emerging with guns drawn to surround him. Jim immediately held up his hands, protesting that he did not have any money to speak of.

After a terse “shut up!” his pistol and derringer were both removed, and his hands tied behind his back. For the moment, Jim was relieved that they did not take the knife in his jacket, nor the lock pick under his lapel. Of course they did not know about the small containers of both acid and explosive secreted in his boot heels.

They rode on in silence, with one man leading Blackjack, and every man continuing to hold a weapon in his hand, keeping Jim closely surrounded. Arcularis must have given them specific instructions, Jim mused. The premise they were working on was that although Arcularis would want to arrange a particularly painful death for Jim West, or possibly subject him to “the treatment” again that would cause him to commit some horrific crime. But the agents also believed that the doctor would be very engrossed in procuring Montmartre’s inheritance, and thus would delay any plans he had for West.

That was the part that had concerned Artie so much. They believed they had a good idea of how Arcularis thought, but they could be wrong. He might be satisfied with seeing the agent who foiled his grand plans simply shot down in front of his eyes. But it’s the chance we have to take. And in some sense it is no more dangerous than Artie walking in there in disguise, taking the chance that Arcularis might recognize him despite the beard and accent. Apparently that had not happened. At least Arcularis did not give any signs of seeing though the deception. So they had to hope that this part of the plan worked too.

At the big two-story house, Jim was pulled off the horse and escorted inside. Arcularis was seated and did not rise, smiling triumphantly as he gazed at the prisoner. “So, the knight has another quest, eh?”

“If you mean I’m planning to stop you from using those doubles any further, you are right.”

“I suspect you really meant to say you planned to stop me, Mr. West. But as might be expected, I have outmaneuvered you. I know you are here alone, that your fellow agents will not be present for at least a week. By that time, you will be long gone.”

“Dead, you mean.”

Now Arcularis rose from the chair. “Dead? Oh no, not immediately. You will be much more useful to me alive. I had planned to use a mask to create a new Jim West, but now I have the real one. That’s even better.”

“And what is it you have planned for me to do this time? Kill another chief?”

“In a sense. The great chief. You see, I plan to demonstrate the efficacy of my program by having you assassinate President Grant. You will have no difficulty gaining his presence, will you?”

Jim did not have any problem showing his anger. “You bastard!”

Arcularis laughed. “I’ll take that as a compliment. Unfortunately, because of other recent events, we cannot start your treatment today. But very soon. You can look forward to more lights and bells, and even more interesting presentations.” His voice sharpened. “Take him upstairs to the prepared room. You can untie him, but I want a guard outside his door at all times!

All five men guarded Jim as they took him upstairs. From what Artie told him, Jim knew that the door at the top of the stairs was Philippe Montmartre’s room. The door was closed. His escort took him two doors down, shoved him inside before cutting the ropes on his wrists and quickly exiting, slamming the door shut. A key turned in the lock.

Jim went to the window first. It had been nailed shut, and even if it had not, it would not have been an easy escape route. No trees were nearby so likely it would be a straight drop to the ground. Well, that was not the plan, anyway. Peering out the window he saw three men striding toward the barn. One of them was a grungy, ragged drifter. Jim smiled. Jerry had only to proclaim his willingness to clean out the stables in exchange for a meal. Arcularis’s men were no different from any others. They would gladly pass such a chore onto another.

He next walked back to the door and crouched to inspect the door lock. He smiled again as he stood up. He would have no problem opening this door. Finally, he went to the bed and stretched out on it. Too bad he didn’t have a book. The next few hours might be long ones.

At least their projections about Arcularis’s behavior were correct. He wanted his revenge and he wanted the man he viewed as the one who foiled his grand plans to suffer. Jim could not suppress a slight shudder as he remembered the treatment he—and others—had endured at the hands of the insane doctor. He would not wish that on anyone, not even his worst enemy.

W*W*W*W*W


The sturdy black buggy moved briskly down the lane and halted in front of the two-story house, whereupon the dapper man jumped out, smiling broadly. “Bon soir, messieurs. The doctor is expecting me, non?” He carried a briefcase this time.

One of the four men on the porch rose reluctantly and went in through the door. Moments later he returned with Arcularis at his heels. “Good afternoon, Mr. De Courcey. Please come in.”

Merci, merci. It is a lovely day, no? Wonderful day for springing a great surprise, yes? How is M. Montmartre, Dr. Archer?”

“Improved, but I’ve still commanded him to stay in his room, out of drafts, and to not exert himself.”

Tres bien! Il est un homme chanceux d'avoir un médecin traitant ... Oh, forgive me! In Quebec, I speak the native language very much of the time.” Artie did not miss the flash of confusion—and annoyance—in Arcularis’s glance. “I say, M. Montmartre is very lucky to have a doctor who is so attentive. May I see him now?”

“Of course. I told him to expect a visitor, but I did not say who it would be.” Arcularis started for the stairs.

Artie followed. He was sure that Arcularis warned Montmartre to not say anything about his condition here, whether he was a prisoner or not—and Artie was fairly certain he was. Otherwise, why not allow Montmartre the freedom of his own home? Getting the message to Montmartre was going to be tricky.

Arcularis tapped on a door then opened it. Artie stepped inside with him, but did not miss the man sitting in a chair outside a door further down the hall. Without a doubt, that’s Jim’s prison. Good. They didn’t put him in the basement or in an out-building.

Philippe Montmartre had not changed a great deal from the man Artemus remembered. He was older, of course, somewhat thinner, his hair grayer. But the face was little altered; he had few lines and wrinkles for a man his age, which Artie believed would be around sixty now. He certainly was not the ailing elderly man Arcularis described.

He gazed at Artie with a deep frown. To forestall the possibility that Montmartre might recognize him from so long ago—he was an expert on faces, after all—Artemus launched into a rapid dialogue in French. He chose his words carefully so that none might be recognized by a person who spoke only English, and threw in words like Québec, l'héritage, and un million de dollars, that Arcularis might pick up on. Among those words he explained how he was an agent here to rescue him and that Montmartre should display surprise and joy—which Montmartre did quite well.

Finally, as Artemus knew would happen, Arcularis interrupted and asked—demanded—that the conversation be in English. Artie apologized profusely, blaming his excitement in having at last located the heir, and hinting at the “finder’s fee” it meant to him. He continued to lapse into French from time to time, however, in order to give Montmartre more information about the plan, and begged the good doctor’s pardon each time.

Finally he withdrew some papers from the briefcase and displayed deep chagrin. “Monsieur le docteur, I am most embarrassed. I did not bring pen and ink! M. Montmartre must sign these papers for the… the legality. Oui?”

Arcularis was irked, and clearly torn. He of course wanted these papers signed so that the funds would be transferred to Montmartre, and thus into his own hands. He finally nodded. “I have some in my desk downstairs. I’ll be back in a moment.” He departed, leaving the door standing wide open.

Aware of the man down the hall, Artie spoke French again, telling Montmartre that he should be ready for some explosions outside. When that occurred, agent James West would arrive at his door to escort him out and away from the house. Would he be ready? Montmartre certainly would! He had a million questions about this but realized now was not the time.

“Not the time at all,” Artie smiled. “Once you are safely away, we’ll explain the whole matter, including how your niece Voulee assisted us.”

He saw the surprise and interest in Montmartre’s eyes just as Arcularis returned with a pen and a bottle of ink. M. De Courcey thanked him profusely, then set about having Montmartre sign some very legal looking papers—which Artemus Gordon had taken the time to prepare beforehand; he even had “Dr. Archer” witness the papers.

Then, gathering everything into his briefcase, barrister De Courcey thanked both M. Montmartre and Dr. Archer and took his leave after assuring M. Montmartre that he would be hearing from Canada soon, and that the funds would be on their way post haste. Dr. Archer in turn assured the Canadian lawyer that M. Montmartre would soon be on his feet and able to enjoy his newly discovered largesse.

W*W*W*W*W


Jeremy Pike stepped out of the brush as the buggy approached. Artie halted the vehicle and jumped down. “Everything ready?” He pulled off the beard and mustache.

“The sheriff has his men surrounding the place. The blasts should occur within about fifteen minutes.”

Artie grinned. “If you set the fuses right.”

Pike laughed. “I did! I did! They won’t be more than a minute off either way.” He sobered. “The biggest worry is whether someone might have gone into the barn and spotted them burning. I hit them pretty well, but…”

“Well, nothing happened while I was there, and as far as I could see, Arcularis’s boys were loafing on the porch or out by the corral.”

“Yeah, that seemed to be their favorite pastime while I was there. Did you see Jim?”

“No, but I’m pretty sure he’s being kept in a room a couple doors down from Montmartre’s. He’ll be ready.”

Jeremy exhaled a loud breath. “Well, we can only hope that everything happens as planned now.”

James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: "Thanks Artie"! Is that all you can say to me? I've just come back from the grave, risen like Lazarus, and that's what you say? "Thanks, Artie"?
James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: It's a pleasure.
- TNOT Pistoleros
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California gal
SS senior field agent

USA
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Posted - 02/09/2012 :  14:17:51  Show Profile
W*W*W*W*W


When the first blast sounded from the barn, Jim heard the man outside his door curse loudly, and then loud, hurried footsteps sounded, heading away from the door, and down the stairs. Jim immediately pulled the picklock from his lapel and knelt by the door, working it in the keyhole. As he had surmised, the lock gave easily. He waited a moment then, hearing no sound, he opened it and stepped into the hall.

All the noise seemed to be coming from outside, as more blasts followed the first. They were not large explosions, but certainly large enough to pull attention away from the house and toward the outer building where they were located. He could hear shouts out there as well as well. He walked swiftly to the door he had noticed before and opened it. The man at the window turned around swiftly.

“Mr. West?”

“Yes. Come on. We’ve got to move fast.”

Jim paused only a moment in the front room when he saw his guns, including his belt, on a chair. Grabbing them, he urged Montmartre out the door, and across the space toward trees that surrounded the buildings. He was not surprised to find Artemus waiting there.

“Where’s the sheriff?”

“Over there, about fifty yards,” Artie motioned in a direction that would put the lawman near the barn.

“Take Mr. Montmartre to somewhere safe.”

Artie did not argue, taking the older man’s arm and hurrying him back toward the road where the buggy still waited. A young man was at the reins, and as soon as Montmartre was seated, they headed in the direction of town. Artie then turned and hurried to join his partner and the sheriff. Just as he did, Jim was stepping to the edge of the woods, his hands cupped around his mouth as he yelled.

“You out there! You’re surrounded! Throw down your guns and surrender!”

They did not think it would be easy, and it was not. Immediately gunfire came from the area of the barn, and several men raced back toward the house. Jim and Artemus estimated about eight men were with Arcularis, but knew there could be more they had not seen. From the weight of the fire that was emanating from the barn and house, both figured they were nearly correct.

“Arcularis must be paying them extra to defend him,” Artie muttered as he reloaded his pistol behind a tree.

Jim glanced over from the next tree. “Can’t think of another reason… unless he used his treatment on them, and the ones I saw didn’t act like that had happened.”

“Yeah. I agree. Where do you suppose Arcularis is, house or barn?”

Jim got off a shot then paused to reload his own weapon. “I didn’t see him among those running from the barn, but I don't know. I rather doubt he’s firing back at us.”

“No, that is not his style,” Artie observed with some acid in his tone.

After about an hour, another group of men arrived from town, having been notified by the man who took Montmartre there that they might be needed. As the firepower from the trees increased, that from the house and barn decreased, and just as the sun was lowering in the west, a white cloth dangled from a window in the house.

At Jim’s signal, Sheriff Neary yelled for his men to cease fire, whereupon another white flag appeared from the barn. Neary ordered those men in the house and barn to throw down their weapons and come out with their hands up.

The first thing the three agents noticed when the men began to emerge was that Dr. Arcularis was not among them. Several of the men had wounds, but none appeared serious. The sheriff took charge of them while West, Gordon and Pike raced first into the house and then searched the barn. When they found no sign of the doctor, they questioned the men. None had seen him since just after the first explosion went off.

“He came out here to the barn,” one man said—the skinny man who had attempted to best Jim West in the saloon—“but I don't know where he went.”

“Are any horses missing?” Artie asked.

Those horses in the corral, including Jim’s black one, were milling around restlessly, unnerved by both the explosions and the gunfire. Another man said he thought that a roan was gone… no, there it was. After a few moments, it was decided that all the steeds were accounted for.

“He’s on foot somewhere,” Pike said grimly.

“Or at least he left here on foot,” Artie amended. He looked at Jim. “We need some help in cordoning off the territory.”

Jim nodded. “I’ll get back to the car and telegraph the fort. They should be able to get some men out in short order.” In the first place, Jim’s horse was the fastest, but also Artemus's horse was back in town. Artie could borrow one, but it seemed needless at the moment.

W*W*W*W*W

Every man is his own greatest enemy, and as it were his own executioner.
Religio Medici, Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682), English physician, philosopher, and writer


Upon reaching the train, Jim put his horse in the stable car, pulling off the saddle, and reassuring the lathered beast that he would be cared for shortly. He then hurried to the varnish car, lit some lamps, and sat down at the telegraph key. He had just started the message when he heard a step from the direction of the galley, and then the door there pushed open.

“I thought you…”

Jim’s words stopped as he instantly realized that although the man who entered bore the countenance of his best friend and partner, this was not Artemus Gordon. Beyond the fact that the physical build was wrong, this man was dressed differently… and held a gun. Jim got to his feet slowly.

“You might as well take off the mask. I know it’s you, Arcularis.”

Arcularis moved toward him. The voice that spoke was all too familiar. “No, the mask stays. I want your trusted friend’s face to be the last thing you see when you die, West. I should have killed you when my men brought you to the house! You’ve interfered with my plans for the last time.”

“There will be others,” Jim said mildly. He would go for his gun. He might not have a chance against Arcularis’s already drawn and cocked weapon, but he would try.

“Too late. I have already proven that I can manipulate men to get them to follow my orders. With the masks and Montmartre’s expertise, I will garner a fortune.”

“You don’t have Montmartre any longer.”

Arcularis shrugged his shoulders slightly. “That is a mere inconvenience, short-lived. He will be back with me. You don't think I allowed him to remain untreated, do you?” He lifted the pistol slightly. “Look at my face, Mr. West. Die with the horror of your best friend murdering you…”

Jim tensed, prepared to throw himself to the side while he attempted to pull his own gun. But before anything occurred, a sharp voice sounded. “Hold it!”

Arcularis pivoted toward that voice, lifting the pistol even higher to aim it, but before he could, a shot sounded from the doorway. The doctor’s pistol went off harmlessly into the ceiling as he staggered and fell. For a long moment, all was silent.

“Thanks, Artie,” Jim said softly, lifting his gaze to his partner. “What are you doing here?”

Artemus holstered his pistol, coming forward, his eyes on the man on the floor of the parlor car. Arcularis was on his back, arms flung out, staring sightlessly through the mask that still covered his face. “Just after you left it occurred to me that the first thing Arcularis would want to do would be to get you. He apparently had a horse hidden that no one knew about. I guess with the explosions, he knew the jig was up. He followed you, and I followed him.”

Jim let out a long sigh. “Thanks,” he said again.

“You can thank me by removing that damned mask from Arcularis. It’s a little disconcerting to see myself laying there.”

Jim complied, also brushing his hand over the open eyes to close them, and both agents stood in silence for a long moment, staring at the bared face of Dr. Arcularis, the man who had administered such pain and horror to the two of them and many others. Finally Artie shook his head slightly.

“It’s too bad he didn’t put his mind to something legal. He was a brilliant man. His methods might have helped people.”

Jim looked up. “He said he used his methods on Montmartre.”

“I heard that. Apparently he did not do it as forcefully, perhaps only enough to cause Montmartre to be unable to refuse to make the masks. But he is gone now and cannot control Montmartre or anyone else. Interesting that he had one of my face made. I wonder what his original use for it was going to be.”

“I don't think you want to know, pal.”

“I think you are right, James my boy. Very right.”

Epilog

Fan the sinking flame of hilarity with the wing of friendship; and pass the rosy wine.
The Old Curiosity Shop (ch. VII), Charles Dickens (1812-1870), English novelist


Philippe Montmartre was able to tell them quite a bit about Arcularis’s activities and plans. Montmartre had originally met Arcularis before the war, when the doctor purchased several masks from him. Montmartre later learned that the masks had been used to rob a bank, and when Arcularis returned for more, the theater makeup artist had refused to help him. That had been, Jim realized, when the seamstress had seen the two men quarreling.

Upon his escape from prison, Arcularis had learned of Montmartre’s move to the mountains of Montana, and had pursued him, taking control of his homestead as well as his behavior. As Artemus surmised, the doctor had used his torture on him, but only enough so that Montmartre would continue to obey him to avoid further pain.

Arcularis had bragged to him how he had used this expertise to hypnotize guards at the prison to not only help him escape and forget what they did, but to then believe they still saw him in his cell, and thus not report the prisoner as missing.

Although the doctor planned to sell his methods to other criminals, and possibly to heads of other countries who might want to control certain other highly ranked and respected citizens, his first order of business had been to gain vengeance against James West, the man he perceived as having stalled his path to fame and fortune. To that end he gained an insider at the Secret Service office, one Magnus Janos.

Janos had been arrested as soon as word was sent to Washington confirming the end of Arcularis. The young clerk had broken down in sobs to tell his story. He blamed the Secret Service for the deaths of his father and brother because one agent had been involved in the chase that resulted in the tragic accident. He had met Arcularis while on a journey during his leave of absence and revealed his bitter story to the doctor. Arcularis had arranged for the death of agent Jeff Holmes, and then persuaded Janos to further his revenge by helping to destroy the Secret Service through the use of the masks and his brain-changing methods.

Janos sent him information about the agents, their personalities, whereabouts, families, anything he could gather from the files and his own interaction with them through the telegraph messages he copied and filed. Once James West, and probably Artemus Gordon too, were disposed of, Arcularis had planned to kidnap other agents to bend to his will. They would commit crimes that would bring the department crashing down.

William Greer, released from the Chicago jail, was able to reunite with his wife a few weeks before their daughter was born. When Jim and Artie passed through Idaho some months later, they called on the Greers. William had suffered no aftereffects of his treatment at the hands of Arcularis, other than some bad memories, which were fading. He was particularly grateful that he had been stopped from committing murder and probably taking his own life with the poisonous button that was found on his clothes.

The two agents visited Voulee again in Maryland to tell her what had occurred, which was done over dinner at a local restaurant along with her bespectacled gentleman friend. They were able to tell her that her uncle was not only well, he planned to visit her.

“He realizes,” Artemus smiled, “the value of family now. Had you not been able to point us toward him, we might never have connected Arcularis with him.”

As the Wanderer rumbled back toward Washington and their next assignment, Jim found Artemus sitting at the desk in the parlor, pen in hand, studiously writing on a sheet of paper. “Writing to Lily?”

Artie barely glanced up. “No. Louise Greer and I were talking about cooking chicken. I’m sending her my recipe for coq au vin and she plans to send me one for that chicken dish with noodles she served us.”

“That was good,” Jim agreed as he sat down and picked up a newspaper lying on the divan. Then he looked at his partner again. “Artie, you’ve never made coq au vin! At least not that I’ve eaten.”

“Haven’t I?” Artie continued to write as he spoke. “I guess I made it for Lily. Or maybe it was that time when you were on vacation and I invited the Colonel and Mrs. Richmond to dinner here on the train.”

“Artie, I think my feelings are hurt.”

Now Artemus raised his eyes, saw the sour expression on his partner’s face. “Jim, I’m sorry. I guess I didn’t realize you liked coq au vin. You never ordered it at a restaurant that I can recall.”

“That’s because I don’t like it.”

“Then why are you complaining?”

Jim smirked. “Just to annoy you.”

Artie sighed. “Of all your many skills, that is the one you are most proficient at.”

“Thank you, Artemus. I try.”

“And to reward you, I will prepare coq au vin at the first opportunity.”

Jim sighed. “Thank you, Artie. You are too kind.” He lifted the newspaper to cover his face, not wishing his partner to see his wide grin. Eventually Artie was going to remember that he prepared the chicken dish some three years ago for his partner’s birthday, who ate with relish.

Almost on cue, Artemus lifted his gaze again, frowning. “Wait a minute, Jim!”

THE END

Friendship is the unspeakable joy and blessing that result to two or more individuals who from constitution sympathize. Such natures are liable to no mistakes, but will know each other through thick and thin. Between two by nature alike and fitted to sympathize, there is no veil, and there can be no obstacle. Who are the estranged? Two friends explaining.
—Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), American naturalist and author


James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: "Thanks Artie"! Is that all you can say to me? I've just come back from the grave, risen like Lazarus, and that's what you say? "Thanks, Artie"?
James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: It's a pleasure.
- TNOT Pistoleros
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