SS senior field agent
Posted - 04/24/2012 : 07:30:13
| THE NIGHT OF THE MYSTERIOUS ISLAND
A limbo large and broad, since call'd
The Paradise of Fools to few unknown.
—Paradise Lost (bk. III, l. 495), John Milton (1608-1674), English poet, scholar, writer & patriot
Jim West started to lift his head and roll over, but allowed his head to drop back onto his arms as a wave of nausea assaulted his system. He realized he also felt hot and feverish, especially on his back and shoulders. A terrific roar seemed to be centered in his ears and brain…
Hearing the hoarse call in a familiar voice, Jim forced himself to move now, pushing up onto his elbows first. The vertigo seemed to have subsided slightly, so he rolled over and sat up.
“What the devil?”
The words blurted from his mouth as he stared at the scene around him. He was laying on white sands, from which the brilliantly blindingly blue ocean stretched as far as he could see, the waves lapping at the sand. Further away he saw some rocks and cliffs where those same waves were crashing. The heat he had been experiencing came from the blazing sun, not a fever.
Remembering the voice that had caused him to move, Jim looked around further. Artemus was lying in a similar position as he had been moments ago, on his stomach, head resting on an outstretched arm. Beyond Artie was green; a very green and verdant forest… with palm trees and brilliantly colored flowers.
Artie started to roll over now, groaning as he did so. “What happen…?”
Artemus Gordon’s words trailed away as he saw the scenery that surrounded him and his partner, who was now sitting in the pure white sand a few feet away. “Jim?” He sat up. Now he completed his question. “What happened? Where are we?”
Jim’s head was clearing rapidly, aided by the anger he was feeling. “Loveless.”
Artie lifted a hand and was going to rub it across his face until he realized it was coated with sand. He rubbed it instead on his trousers. “Loveless? Did you see him?”
“No.” Jim climbed to his feet now, his hand falling to the pistol that was still in its holster at his hip. A comforting feeling as he looked around. Somewhere in the distance an animal roared. He did not recognize the sound. “Remember the picture?”
Artie stood as well, stiffening his legs to help keep his balance for a moment. “Picture?” He looked about him for a moment, remembering. The charming painting of a South Seas island nestled in a crystal blue sea, with pure white sands beaches and verdant forests.
“If you look closely,” Mrs. Timmons had said when Artie admired the picture, “you can see a lovely native girl peeking from behind the tree.”
Both men had stepped toward the painting, more to humor the white-haired woman than out of interest to see a native girl. They had been engaging her in conversation regarding one of her boarders, and it seemed the best way to get information was to socialize with her. She liked to talk, and had already served fragrant tea and cookies.
A tip from a reliable source to the department indicated a much-wanted man was residing in this boarding house in snowy Pocatello. Floyd Burkes had eluded capture when his gang was rounded up a few months before in Texas. The Burkes gang had robbed army payrolls with impunity for several years. West and Gordon were free and relatively nearby in Washington State, so they had been sent to check on the tip.
The neat house with braided rugs and crocheted antimacassars, not to mention the frail appearing white-haired Mrs. Timmons seemed an unlikely place to find a thug like Burkes, but stranger things had happened. When they identified themselves to her, she seemed awed that such famous agents would be calling on her, inviting them into the lovely parlor for the refreshments while they talked.
To warm her up, Artie had commented on a few of the decorative items in the room, the crystal vase on the corner table, a beautiful fireplace screen in front of the crackling fire, and the painting of the island, which indeed was inviting to look at on such a cold day. It had been good to shed their heavy coats in her foyer and accept the hot tea.
“Yeah,” Artie said then, “the picture.”
“He transported us. He must have. I remember now hearing a tone.”
Artie nodded. “A musical tone, similar to that day at Morgan’s ranch. My God, Jim! Where are we?”
“In that painting. Just like before. Only…” Jim was looking around. “I don’t see any other pictures that would give us an exit.” The animal roared again, and sounded closer.
Artie looked toward the surrounding trees. “Wonder what we’ll find in there.”
Jim shook his head. “Could be anything. I’m not sure how the paintings work, not completely.”
Artie nodded. “I have thought about that. Like the town we were transported to. Had he painted layers for the interior of the saloon? If we tried to enter any other buildings, would they have been just… flat?”
“Who knows how many layers he painted here. Somewhere there must be a way out.”
“Do you think so?”
“Look at it this way, Artie. We’re dealing with Miguelito Loveless. He’s not going to be satisfied to simply… exile us this way. He knows whatever he’s put in that jungle. He will eventually give in to his curiosity to check on our fate. And if he comes, he has got to have a way out.”
“Then it behooves us to do some exploring.” Artie reached down to touch his own pistol. “At least we have these.”
“And other weapons,” Jim agreed, thinking of the explosive putty in his boot heels among other items.
“Might need them if that animal is as big as it sounds.”
Jim was looking up at one of the trees. “I’ve heard that natives can climb those trees.”
“Be a good vantage point, that’s for certain.”
Jim began to pull off his jacket, his gaze moving over the several taller trees. Most were various species of palm but he did not recognize them all. Tropical trees. Or something simply created by Loveless when he did the painting? He was aware Artie had stepped closer to him, and did not react when his partner spoke in a low voice.
“Do you suppose Loveless already has spies here? Someone is behind that bush with the yellow flowers.”
Jim did not reply, casually tossing his jacket on the sand and moving as though he was still inspecting the trees to find the best one for climbing. He approached a tall, sturdy palm growing next to the bush with lush dark green leaves and brilliant, large yellow flowers, and put his hand against the trunk for a moment.
He moved in a flash, stepping between the tree and the bush and grabbing the arm of the person crouched there. He was unsure who was more surprised then: himself or the woman he dragged out. Not a native woman, as Mrs. Timmons had assured them they would see, but a woman in a faded calico dress, her glossy black hair trailing over her shoulders. No doubt the “native girl” was just a ruse!
“Let me go!” she cried, pulling against his grip.
“Who are you and what are you doing here?” Jim demanded. Had Loveless actually sent a woman to spy on them?
“My name is Rose Timmons and you know more about why I’m here than I do, I’m sure!” Recovering now, she stood straight, her brown eyes glaring at the two men.
“Rose Timmons?” Artie echoed. “Are you related to the lady at the boarding house?”
“That’s my boarding house! My home!”
Jim exhaled a breath, looking at Artie for a long moment. He released her. “Do you know Dr. Loveless?”
“No, but I know who he is now. The others told me.”
“Others? There are others here?” Artie was more than a little startled.
“Six of us. Are you… were you trapped too?” She looked at each of them in turn.
“You could say that,” Jim replied with a sarcastic edge to his tone. “My name is James West. This is my partner, Artemus Gordon. We are government agents.”
Comprehension appeared on her pretty face. She was in her mid to late twenties and quite attractive with golden brown eyes. The hem of the calico gown was stained and looked like it had been wet. “I’ve heard of you. And Mr. Greave mentioned your name. In fact…” Now she shook her head slightly, her expression rueful. “In fact, he said you would likely be the ones who would rescue us!”
“George Greave?” Artie asked, mentioning the name of a Denver attorney both agents knew well. “He’s here?”
“Just where is ‘here’?” Jim put in before she could respond. “Is it a country…?”
“It’s an island. About a half mile wide and a mile long.”
“How long have you been here?” Artie wanted to know.
“Four days, I think. What is today? Or what was it when you… left?”
“Friday the fourth,” Artie answered.
Rose nodded. “This is my fourth day. It was Tuesday when the old lady came.”
“The one who passed herself off as the landlady, I presume.” Jim remembered the oh-so-sweet and slightly forgetful old woman with snow-white hair and twinkling blue eyes.
“I guess so. She said she wanted a room. I showed her what was available, and when we came downstairs, she asked if she could sit a few minutes. I brought her some tea—first asking if she wanted sugar or milk with it. She said no. But after we sat down and I poured, she changed her mind. She would like some sugar. So I went back to the kitchen for it. We drank our tea, I felt strange… and woke up on this beach.”
“So you did not see the painting, of course,” Artie nodded.
“No. The others told me about it. None of us understand how it could possibly have… done this.”
“I don’t understand the whole concept,” Jim said, “but both Artemus and I have experienced it before. Where are the others?”
“About a quarter mile that way.” She motioned to the south. “There’s another beach, slightly larger, with fresh water nearby. I was out gathering fruit when I heard your voices.”
“Well, I guess we should meet our fellow travelers,” Artie smiled. “Lead the way, Mrs. Timmons.”
Being reminded of her marital status, Jim grabbed his jacket and spoke as they started toward the trees. “What about your husband? Wouldn’t he have been missing you?”
She glanced back with a sad smile. “He died some years ago I’m afraid. I don’t have any near kin, so it’s unlikely anyone is really looking for me. I’m sure the old lady had a facile excuse to answer questions my other boarders might have.”
“No doubt,” Artie concurred as they pushed in through the heavy growth. Loveless would have taken such into account. “He’ll probably even have stories set up in regard to the fact that we had been sent to your boarding house seeking a wanted criminal.”
Rose looked at him, startled. “A wanted criminal? In my house?”
“I doubt it,” he smiled. “We’ll tell you more later. Lead on.”
Despite that they were mostly shaded by the thick growth of trees, both men began to perspire freely, as did Rose Timmons. Artie saw how the back of her cotton dress clung to her skin, and realized that if she had been wearing a corset at the time of her “kidnapping,” she had since shed it out of practicality. He pulled off the corduroy jacket he had worn under his heavy winter coat and carried it, feeling the perspiration trickling down his back and chest, not to mention his face. The humidity was thick, so that while shade at least blocked out the rays of the sun, the air remained heavy and moist. Just the opposite of being in Denver, say, where the air is thin because of the altitude. Both can have a deleterious effect if one is unused to it.
The second beach was, as Rose had stated, somewhat larger than the one they had awakened on. A clear spring bubbled over some rocks and formed a pool just inside the forest abutting it. On the beach, the agents met their fellow “travelers” as Artie called them.
One was George Greave, a Denver attorney with whom they had worked on a federal case sometime earlier. He was about forty-five now, his blond hair showing lighter streaks of silver. He was a bit on the stocky side, but Artie knew that many Denver women considered the widower a handsome and very eligible man.
They were more than a little surprised that a married couple was among the group. Chester and Mina Berwick were in their thirties. He was a tall thin man with almost no hair on his head despite his relatively young age, with a pointed chin that his goatee did nothing to disguise, if that was its intent. Mina Berwick was shorter by a good foot or more, a bit plump, with rosy cheeks and deep dimples. Despite their current situation, she had a broad smile for the newcomers.
The fourth was a youth, probably not more than twenty or twenty-one, Jim judged, with a very boyish face that caused him to appear even younger, and wearing gold-rimmed spectacles. His name was Giles Yost, and by the clothing he currently wore, he was probably a clerk or something similar in an office or store. Why in the world would Loveless want to include this kid?
And the fifth “traveler” was even more puzzling. A minister. The Reverend Elijah Klotz still wore his clerical collar, though he had shed his coat and his sleeves were rolled up above his elbows. He was silver haired, though Artie thought he was likely no more than fifty, and appeared to be in very good health, with a barrel chest and sturdy legs.
A rather large fire was burning at the back of the beach, near the edge of the wooded area, very large for such a warm day. Greave saw Jim looking at it and spoke up. “We put the fire there because it discourages the… the creature.”
“We heard the roar,” Jim responded and even as he spoke, the howl was heard in the distance. “What kind of animal is it?”
Chester Berwick’s face was grim. “We don't know. We haven’t seen it. But it comes near the camp at night. We hear it. It doesn’t come near during the day.”
“Would you like a cup of coffee or tea?” Mrs. Berwick asked.
Artie looked at her in surprise. “Coffee or tea? How…?”
“Your guess is as good as ours,” Reverend Klotz stated. “We keep finding boxes containing supplies and a few tools.”
“It seems Dr. Loveless does not want us to perish immediately,” Greave said acidly.
Now Jim asked, “How are each of you connected with Loveless? Why would he send you here? We know about Mrs. Timmons and her boarding house.”
At Mina’s suggestion, coffee was poured into tin cups and they all made themselves comfortable in the sand, in the shade of the trees, and out of the blazing tropical sun. George Greave told his story first. Three years ago he had acted as a prosecuting attorney in a case against a murderer, who was convicted and hanged. He learned later that Miguelito Loveless was incensed because that man had possessed some information he desired and had been unable to obtain.
More recently, Greave had occasion, as a defense attorney, to refuse to assist another attorney whose client had been one involved in a case in Denver—a case where Loveless kidnapped Artemus Gordon and attempted to kill both Gordon and West. (See The Night of the Deadly Ransom.) The two agents nodded; they had been in Denver to testify at that trial. The man had been convicted and sent to prison for a long sentence.
“Apparently Loveless doesn’t forgive easily,” the attorney stated. “A few days ago a man came to my office, claiming to be the valet of a very ill man who needed my services with his will. Since his employer could not come to the office, would I come to his house? I recognized the name and the address and so I had no suspicions. It was a trap. Loveless was there. I was quite puzzled when he insisted I step over to inspect a lovely portrait of a tropical island. And suddenly I was here.”
“Now that’s odd,” Artie murmured, exchanging a glance with Jim.
Jim concurred. “Loveless is vengeful but we’ve never known him to go after people, like yourself, whose ‘crime’ against him might seem petty by the standards set by Artemus and myself! Mr. Berwick?”
“I own a factory in Omaha, Mr. West. The factory specializes in manufacturing specialty metal parts to order. Quite often inventors, or people trying to improve a product, place the orders and we create the piece they need. Some months ago, we started receiving orders from a ‘Mr. Liefdeloos.’ The items he wanted seemed quite strange but harmless to begin with, but as the orders continued to come in I began to wonder. I did quite a bit of work for the military before and during the war, and still get orders for specific pieces for weapons. These coming from Mr. Liefdeloos were very similar, but I knew that inventors and companies were working on improving weapons all the time.
“One day one of our immigrant workers happened to notice the name on one of the blueprints. He laughed and I asked him why. He said that ‘liefdeloos’ meant loveless in Dutch. That of course aroused my suspicions even further. Like many others, I’ve heard of the nefarious Dr. Loveless. I turned the information over to the military and they concurred that the pieces looked as though they could be for a weapon of some sort. We attempted to set up a trap whereby I wrote to ‘Mr. Liefdeloos’ and asked him to come to the factory because I needed information from him. But he never showed up, and no more orders came in.”
“So by interrupting his ‘work,’ whatever it was, you became a target of his vengeance,” Artie said.
“Yes, apparently so. Last week I received an invitation to a meeting in Denver. The invitation indicated that a number of men in similar businesses as I were gathering to discuss ways to make our work more efficient and profitable. As a good portion of the expenses was covered, I thought it was a good idea to go, and Mina wanted to come with me. I saw no harm in it. The first event scheduled was a dinner at a large mansion at the outskirts of town. Although wives were not mentioned, again I saw no reason why Mina should not accompany me. She helps me with my work a great deal.
“We arrived and quickly realized we were the only guests present. It did not seem all that unusual initially; I thought we were simply early. However, then Dr. Loveless appeared and introduced himself. As happened with George, we were encouraged to inspect a portrait and suddenly found ourselves here. How does he do it, Mr. West?”
Jim sighed. “I can only explain the basics. But we’ll go into that later. Reverend Klotz?”
The minister shook his head in bemusement. “I had never heard of Dr. Loveless until I landed on this island. I have a small church in Pocatello. Giles is a member of my congregation. One day I received an urgent message from another member, an elderly lady, who said she needed my help and advice at once. She was living, she said, in a boarding house. Giles was assisting me that day and he offered to transport me in the carriage he had come in.
“So we traveled to the boarding house in questions—which of course was Rose Timmons’ home, although she was no longer there. Miss Lewis, my parishioner, met me at the door and upon seeing Giles waiting in the buggy, invited him in as well. I know now it was because they did not want him to be able to tell anyone I had entered that house. In any case, we went into the parlor, were served tea… and woke up here.”
“And you have no idea why Loveless would do this to you?” Artie inquired.
“None at all. I’ve listened to the others’ tales and thought and thought about it. I have no idea when and where, or if, our paths crossed, and what harm I did him, if any.”
Jim tersely related what had happened to him and Artemus. “It makes sense that Loveless would want to trap us. We have interacted with him often over several years, and have generally been able to foil his plans.”
“But it doesn’t make sense,” Artie took up, “that he would exact vengeance on you for such petty ‘infractions’ against him. Something more is going on here. No doubt it primarily involves Jim and me, and for that I humbly apologize for bringing you in on it.”
“It can’t be entirely your fault,” Rose protested. “This doctor must be insane.” She hesitated a moment, her brown eyes beseeching. “Is there no way we can return to our homes?”
“There might be,” Jim replied. “And should be. We just have to find it. Another painting. Have you explored the island? Mrs. Timmons said you discerned the length and breadth…”
Greave was shaking his head. “Berwick and I paced the perimeter, Jim. That creature—whatever it is—doesn’t approach the camp here during the day, and doesn’t appear to come to the shore at any point, but when we attempted to go through the… the jungle, it did come near. As long as we stay near the shore, it’s all right.”
“That’s why I was safe when I was looking for fruit,” Rose put in.
Artie sipped his coffee. A very good roast, of course. Nothing but the best for Loveless. “What other supplies have you received?”
“Pots and pans,” Mina Berwick said. “Some flour, bacon, eggs, potatoes—other staples. I wish he would send a new dress. These are the same clothes I wore when we were sent here!”
“Hammers and saws,” young Giles added. “And an ax. Nails.”
“As if the doctor expected you to build homes,” Jim noted wryly.
“We may need to if we can’t find the way off,” Artie stated. “Where do these boxes appear?”
“Right here,” Berwick replied. “We wake up in the morning, and they are right there along the perimeter of the beach.” He pointed to the side, where some rocks and scrub brush grew.
Rose nodded. “We never hear a thing!”
“I take it none of you have weapons,” Jim said.
“Just a couple of jackknives,” Greave answered. “I’m very glad to see you have your pistols. I don't know whether they will be effective against… the beast, seeing as we have not seen it and have no notion of its size or anything else. But it’s comforting.”
“Actually, it’s odd that Loveless did not remove them before he transported us,” Artie commented. “Makes me wonder if someone made a mistake.”
Jim climbed to his feet. “Maybe someone did.” He gazed out over the azure water. “I don’t suppose you’ve seen a boat out there.”
“No,” George replied. “Nothing. Just us. I was the first one here and for probably twenty-four hours I wondered if I was going to spend the rest of my life here alone. Then Reverend Klotz and Giles showed up, just as confused as I was.”
“We were next,” Berwick inserted. “When we started discussing the situation, George and I came to realize we had Loveless in common.”
The Reverend Klotz sighed. “And I have no idea why I was selected. Poor Giles simply was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Rose Timmons spoke acidly. “Of course, he needed my house to trap Mr. Gordon and Mr. West. So here I am.”
“Will we have to stay here forever?” young Giles wondered.
“Not if we have anything to do with it,” Artie returned. He looked at his partner. “Jim, what do you say we do some exploring?”
“Just what I had in mind.”
“You mustn’t go into the jungle!” Mina cried. “The creature…”
Jim patted the handle of the pistol at his hip. “This might discourage it.”
“What do you think you’ll find?” Greave asked.
“That’s a very good question,” Artie responded with a wry smile. “Quite honestly, I have no idea. We’ll inform you later what we do—and do not—find. Ready, Jim?”
Jim was looking around. “You don’t happen to have a canteen of any sort do you?”
Rose shook her head. “Only the coffee pot and cups.”
“You may encounter other fresh springs,” Berwick suggested.
“Hope so. Even in the shade, it’s not cool here.”
The two men pushed in through the brush that surrounded the beach and soon found that the going was going to be similarly difficult all the way through. The trees were tall but the ground was covered with brush and vines, making it necessary to step carefully or be tripped. Jim held his small knife in his hand to cut through some stubborn vines, but it was not easy.
“What do you think?” Artie asked after they were well out of earshot of the beach.
Jim shook his head. “Other than it’s another damned trick of Loveless’s, I have no idea. Why would he bring these other people here?”
“That’s almost a bigger question than how are we going to get back.”
“Actually,” Jim said as he paused to saw through a vine that had grown between two tree trunks, “getting back is simple. We just have to find the painting Loveless is sure to have here somewhere.”
“Yeah,” Artie chuckled. Then he sobered. “It’s entirely possible that Loveless is on the island too.”
“That occurred to me. It’s not like him to stay away. We know too well how he wants to be in on the kill, so to speak. He’d at least want to have a chance to taunt us.”
“Jim, have you noticed that while the flowers are different colors, they appear to be pretty much the same species—and a species I’ve never seen before. A cross between a hibiscus and perhaps an iris.”
“Uh-huh. If, as we speculated, Loveless had to create everything, he might not have wanted to take the time to paint specific items. Antoinette may have done the flowers while he created the island.”
“How in the world he does he do it? I know you explained what he told you as best you could, but it really doesn’t make a lot of sense.”
“Metaphysics, Artie. Metaphysics. I’m pretty sure that’s the key to it all.”
“Yeah. And not many people understand that concept well, including me!”
“No use worrying about it now. We do know what to do once we find that other painting. Damn, it’s hot!” Jim had already rolled up his sleeves after divesting himself of his jacket and vest at the beach camp, as well as the tie, and opened his collar. Formalities were absurd here. He rubbed his bare forearm across his forehead and found it did little good to relieve the trickling perspiration .
Artie, who had shed clothing as well, was about to commiserate when a loud roar sounded ahead of him. Both men halted in their tracks. “Well,” Artie murmured, “sounds like ‘the creature’ has a greeting for us.”
“I want to get a look at it.” Jim pushed through the newly severed vine toward the sound. He judged that the animal was some hundred yards away.
“It kind of sounds like a lion,” Artie commented softly.
“Yeah. And also like a bear!”
“Something the good doctor created artistically?”
“That’s what I would like to find out!”
They moved on silently, trying to select areas between trees where little brush or vines were growing, but found that strategy was not entirely feasible. The lushness of the vegetation was astonishing. Of course, Artie mused, apparently Loveless just painted it in with brush daubs. Like the flowers, he likely did not take great care to differentiate leaves and branches.
Artie marveled at the time it must have taken to create the painting. The ones they had seen in Morgan’s home were relatively simple—structures, people, perhaps a landscape. He had probably only detailed areas where he planned to hide the thugs who would exit to commit robbery and mayhem. Inside each painting, however, had to exist another painting that would allow the henchmen to return to Loveless.
I would love to know the details of how this was done. But it is highly unlikely I’ll ever learn. Loveless is not going to reveal it; that is certain!
The creature bellowed again. Jim paused and looked back at his trailing partner. “Sounds like it’s moving away.”
“Just what was I was thinking. Maybe we’d better move faster.”
They did so, continuing in the direction from where the sound appeared to emanate. However, suddenly they emerged out of the trees and were standing on a cliff overlooking the ocean. The drop was probably some fifty feet.
“Now, that’s interesting,” Jim muttered. “Where did it go?”
Artie shook his head. They had heard no sounds other than the animal’s cry. No crashing of brush, no footsteps. Nothing. He stepped out to peer down the cliff toward the surf, and in each direction, which consisted of more steep cliffs; what sandy beaches he saw were very narrow and appeared to have no access. No sign of any animal anywhere.
They reentered the jungle cautiously, and continued to be wary as they surveyed the area for another two hours. As the sun began to sink deeply in the west, they made their way back to the “home beach.” Rose was kneeling at the fire, stirring something in a kettle, and she leapt to her feet upon spying them. Jim could not help but notice that she was now barefooted.
“You’re back!” she cried, superfluously.
Jim smiled. “The beast didn’t consume us, if that’s what you mean.”
George Greave turned from the stack of wooden crates he had been chopping up with the ax. “Did you see it?”
“Nope,” Artie replied, and told them what had happened. “When we made our way back through the woods, we didn’t even hear it.”
“Then where did it go?” Giles wanted to know. He had been sitting with Mina, peeling some potatoes.
“We also didn’t see any tracks,” Jim said.
“That’s odd, isn’t it?” Rose asked, looking from one to the other.
“You’d certainly think we’d find something,” Artie nodded. “However, not knowing what kind of animal it is…” Not to mention the fact that Loveless apparently created it! He looked around. “Where’s Mr. Berwick?”
Greave chuckled. “One thing we did not mention to you, and should have. Of course, we have our, er, needs for privacy from time to time. The next beach down that way is a small one, and we have created a sort of powder room there. We dug a latrine of sorts to be used when needed. The user simply covers that portion over with sand. And to help ensure privacy, see that yellow flag there?” He pointed toward a bush on slightly higher ground in the direction he had originally indicated. “Just lay that out and you won’t be disturbed. Be sure to remove it when you return.”
Jim laughed. “Very clever. Thanks for telling us.” Even as he spoke, Chester Berwick appeared around that bush, picking up the cloth, which appeared to be a handkerchief or napkin, and sticking it on the back of the bush, away from the inhabited beach. He glanced at his partner and saw the thoughtful expression on Artie’s face. I wonder if he’s thinking the same thing I am.
The meal was nothing fancy, but it was filling. Mina and Rose had concocted a stew with the potatoes and other vegetables found in the crates, along with fish that the men had caught in the blue water. Artie was a bit surprised to learn that fish were available.
“How in the world did he do that?” he asked, looking at Jim.
His partner shrugged. “This is Loveless, don’t forget. Who knows, perhaps he sneaks in at night and dumps a bushel basket full in the ocean!”
Greave asked again about the mechanics of the device that transported them, and the agents explained as best they could. Although Jim had received the explanation from the doctor, Artie comprehended it somewhat better. Nonetheless, as he freely admitted, the details were beyond him. “I wonder if even Loveless understands it all.”
“What does he plan to do with us?” Mina wanted to know, finally.
To this the agents could only shake their heads. “Easy to see why he would want vengeance on Artemus and myself,” Jim said, “but this is a new direction for him. I’m sure he’s had others who caused him trouble. There’s more to it, I’m sure. But we just don't know what it is.”
“And may not know until he decides to come and tell us,” Artie added.
Giles eyes widened. “Do you think he will come himself?”
“At some point,” Artie nodded. “Chances are good he has already been here, possibly even to spy on you.”
Chester looked toward the jungle, even darker now that the sun was sinking. “I wonder if we’re the last he’s going to… to send here.”
“That’s a good question,” Jim nodded. “But I don't think it’s something we should worry about for the moment. Our concern is survival. As long as Loveless sends the supplies, it appears we’ll be fine.”
Mina gasped. “You don’t think he’ll stop!”
Artie had to laugh drily. “With Miguelito Loveless, you never know. He’s a very unpredictable man in many ways.”
Darkness now rose,
As daylight sunk, and brought in low-ring Night
Her shadowy offspring.
—Paradise Regained (bk. IV, l. 397), John Milton (1608-1674), English poet, scholar, writer and patriot
The creature awakened the sleepers deep in the night, roaring nearby in the jungle. Both Jim and Artie sat up, but immediately noticed that their fellow campers merely rolled over. After several nights, the presence and threatening sounds from the beast did not bother them. Their “beds” were blankets thrown on the sand. The night was warm enough that no covering was needed. The agents had been told that whoever awakened in the night should check the fire, so both did so, adding wood. Then Jim buckled on his gun and picked up a blazing stick.
“What are you going to do?” Artie asked.
Artemus quickly grabbed his own gun and another burning piece of wood to follow. Neither had felt easy removing their boots, even while noticing that others had taken off their footwear to sleep. Both Rose and Mina were barefoot during the latter part of the day as they completed their chores. Rose had laughed when she saw Jim noticing her bare feet.
“The sand just keeps getting in my shoes anyway!”
The two men skirted the now roaring fire and pushed into the jungle. Just a few feet inside, they stopped to listen. The only sounds were those of the waves lapping on the beach. No breeze stirred the leaves above and certainly no animal was heard thudding around. The makeshift torches did not shed much light in the deep darkness. The nearly full moon made little dent into the gloom.
Jim started to move and Artie followed. Again, they had to watch the ground ahead of them to avoid vines and branches and keep from tripping. No sounds except their own movements were evident. After about fifty feet, Jim paused again.
“What do you think?” Artie asked softly.
Jim shook his head slightly. “I don’t understand why we didn’t hear it crashing through the brush.”
“Yeah.” They again stood in silence for long seconds, listening, gazing around. Then Artie spoke. “Jim, were you thinking what I was when George was telling us about the ‘powder room’?”
“Probably,” Jim responded, still keeping his eyes on their surroundings. “That would be a perfect opportunity for one of the stranded to communicate with someone from Loveless’s gang.”
“Yeah. If we have a spy among us. It could be almost any one of them, especially because the only one we know is George.”
“That doesn’t rule him out.” Artie grimaced with the thought.
“Right. I wonder when we’re going to hear from the good doctor.”
“That’s a good question. We might as well…”
Jim stopped his words as Artie suddenly gripped his arm with his free hand and nodded toward the left. Looking that way, Jim saw what his partner did, a shadow moving among the trees. Instantly Jim dropped his torch and set off at the run, drawing his pistol. He didn’t need to look behind him to know that his partner was right behind him.
“Where’d he go?” Artie gasped as they halted some hundred yards later, after weaving through the trees and shoving through vines and bushes.
Jim drew a deep breath and let it out. Perspiration was pouring off his forehead, even during this slightly cooler nighttime temperature. “I don't know. Last I saw him was right in here.”
The two men looked around, breathing deeply to get their wind back. The humidity played havoc with their stamina; that was certain. The terrain here looked no different than what bordered the beach—palm and other trees, heavy brush and vine. Very little bare ground was visible. No sites where the man they pursued could have dived in a whole or behind a rock. No rocks in this part of the island.
“Guess we’d better head back,” Artie muttered after a few minutes. “You don’t suppose it was someone from the camp.”
“I have no idea. I’m not even sure if it was male or female.”
They walked in silence, more aware now of the darkness around them, after disposing of their torches. Jim tripped once when his boot got caught in a vine, and was saved from falling when Artie grabbed his arm. Both were a little surprised to find their “torches” were still flickering. They picked up the burning sticks and made sure that nothing on the ground had been ignited. It was damp but some dryness existed among the dying vegetation.
When they stepped out onto the beach, Giles Yost sat up. “Did you find anything?”
“Nothing,” Artie replied, and Jim did not dispute him. Although they had not discussed it, both knew it was a good idea to not mention the shadowy figure. All the beach residents were present, and it seemed unlikely that any of them could have run the distance that he agents had chased the person, and still made it back here to a blanket without being noticed. Especially if Giles was awake the entire time.
Unless of course Giles is in on it, Artie sighed inwardly as he removed his belt and lay down again. We’ve been here only a few hours and except for George Greave, known these people for only that length of time. We have to accept their stories. Who knows whether they are all true or all false? Caution is the word. Caution and continued diligence to try to find Loveless’s exit. It has to be here. We know that.
Cum quod datur spectabis, et dantem adspice!
[While you look at what is given, look also at the giver.]
—Thyestes (CCCXVI), Seneca (Lucius Annaeus Seneca; 4 BC-65 AD), Roman philosopher and moralist
A new crate was waiting at the edge of the beach in the morning. The agents inspected the area around the box and saw no sign of human presence. Artie wondered to himself if Loveless had invented a way to move objects like that to a pinpointed spot.
The crate contained more food, including canned goods, and also some women’s clothing. Mina inspected one of the dresses with some disdain. “I don't know who picked this out. Probably some man!” It was a brown and green plaid trimmed in yellow. She sighed then. “But it looks like it will fit me. Be nice to have something different. Rose, look at this.”
As the two women sorted through the new supplies, George Greave turned to Artemus. “You went looking for the creature last night. Giles said you didn’t find anything.”
“That’s right,” Artie replied. “It vanished as soon as we entered the jungle.”
“Without a sound, or a sighting.”
“What does that mean, Artemus?”
Artie shook his head. “We’re not entirely sure and don’t want to jump to conclusions. Miguelito Loveless is a very clever and devious man, as you well know. The presence of an awful beast in the jungle would surely prevent us castaways from searching through the jungle.”
The lawyer cocked his head. “Search for what?”
Artie chuckled. “George, I don't know. It’s only experience in dealing with Loveless that makes me very curious about the whole business.”
“You can’t think this island doesn’t exist!”
“Oh, no, it exists all right. Jim and I were around when Loveless unveiled this particular invention. We ended up in an unknown town. I had to use one of my disguises to take the place of a gunfighter Loveless was bringing in with the hopes of gunning Jim down.”
Greave nodded. “I remember hearing something about that. Jim finally outdrew the real gunman, right?”
“Right. So it seems that these… these ‘painting sites’ that Loveless creates are real enough. As we’ve said previously, we have a general idea of how he creates them, but not the details. I think only Loveless knows, and possibly understands, that.”
“But the creature… is it real?”
“That’s a damn good question, George. The noise certainly is real. But why didn’t we see it, or at least signs of it? Animals leave tracks, bits of hair, feces. We haven’t finished searching the island, of course, but so far we’ve seen nothing like that.”
The lawyer sighed. “Well, I just know that that roar is enough to keep me out of the jungle!”
“It’s intimidating all right. We’re going out exploring again today. Who knows what we’ll find.”
Chester Berwick had been standing nearby, listening, and now he spoke up. “Mr. Gordon, are you saying the beast doesn’t exist?”
Artie shrugged. “I’m saying we don't know. That we did not find any sign of this creature… other than its roar. Reasons may exist for that. And as I said, Jim and I are going to explore this island thoroughly to try to solve the question.”
Giles Yost turned from helping Mina and Rose with the supplies. “I’d like to go with you, Mr. Gordon.”
Artie smiled. “Thank you, Giles, but I think it’s best if you remain here with the others. You are not armed, and if we encounter trouble…”
Disappointment appeared on the young man’s face, but he nodded, moving to take a bag of flour from Rose. Jim had been exploring the area in the opposite direction from the small beach labeled as the “powder room,” and now he walked toward them.
“Artie, we probably should get started while the sun is reasonably cool.”
Artemus glanced up at that golden globe, still rising in the east. “Right you are. Anything interesting off that way?” He jerked his head toward the beach Jim had just investigated.
“Just like George said, a narrow beach. Nothing of note.”
“Uh-huh. Okay, let’s head out. I don’t suppose the good doctor thought to provide us with canteens yet.” Artie looked toward Rose.
She shook her head. “No, your mental thoughts did not reach him.”
“Well, we did find a little water yesterday. Let’s go.”
They were well into the jungle when Artie glanced at his partner. “What did you find on that beach?”
“Am I that transparent?”
“To me, you are.”
Jim grinned briefly, then sobered. “A footprint.”
Artie paused and gazed at him. “There are human inhabitants on this island, after all.”
“Yep. But this was of a boot with a broken down heel.”
“Ah. I don’t believe any of the known population is wearing such a boot.”
They started moving again, pushing through the brush, today veering toward the north end of the island. “Do you suppose it was a person who brought the crate of supplies?”
“I don't know, Artie. I can’t figure that out. How would they get that near to us without waking someone? The boot print was heading away from the camp site.”
Artie was silent a moment. “I was theorizing to myself that Loveless has refined his invention to the point where he can… deposit… the crates at any given spot. You know, I have not asked anyone else whether they landed on the same beach we did.”
“Yeah. Might be a good idea to find out. I actually roamed further than that beach this morning. I circled around and came through the jungle to look at the area inland of the ‘powder room.’ I didn’t see any footprints, but I noticed some vines that had been disturbed.”
“As if someone came there to meet one of our number.”
“I can’t help but think someone is a spy, Artie. Mina Berwick commented about not having different clothes to wear, and new dresses arrived in the next delivery.”
“I noticed that.”
“It still doesn’t make any sense why Loveless would have brought all these people here, other than his spy… except…” Jim stopped again.
Artie snapped his fingers. “If he had sent just one person here along with us, we would have been very suspicious of that person. By electing to send five, seemingly with reason, no matter how petty…”
Jim frowned deeply. “What about the reverend? Did Loveless run out of people and choose at random? Or is he a real preacher even?”
“Rose told me she sometimes attends his church. Which would be a minor connection. Since she’s here only because Loveless wanted her house to trap us…”
“Or so she says.”
Artie sighed as once more they moved on. “Unless one makes a slip, or steps forward to confess, we’re just going to have to be careful what we say and do. Maybe we can eventually set up some kind of trap.”
A half hour of trudging through the brush and vines brought them to an abrupt clearing, in which a bulky rock edifice was centered. Both men stopped and stared at it. The rock was perhaps thirty feet high, and forty feet across. Without speaking they continued toward it, Artie going to the right and Jim to the left. Minutes later they met on the opposite side.
“Looks solid,” Jim commented.
Artie nodded. “I didn’t see anything upon initial inspection that resembled a door.”
Jim stepped back and craned his neck to look up. “Wonder how we could get to the top.”
“Sorry, forgot to bring a ladder.”
Jim chuckled softly as he moved closer again, putting his hands on the surface of the rock. “It’s pretty smooth. Be difficult finding foot- and handholds.”
“Look at it this way, James. If this is some kind of stronghold and Loveless is in there, either a door exists on the perimeter, or an easy way for him to get to the top.”
“And I don’t see either,” Jim sighed, now casting his gaze on the ground. “Nor signs that anyone has walked around here. Then again, knowing Loveless he would be particularly careful.”
“For now, we’ll just make a note of it. We have a lot of island to explore yet. Who knows? The crafty little doctor could have created this simply to throw us off.”
“Or… he made it knowing we would think that it was a trick to throw us off, when actually it’s his headquarters.”
Artie laughed out loud. “Right. Let’s go. I’d like to be back at camp for lunch.”
The island appeared to be in the shape of a narrow oval, and they made their way to the northern tip of the island. As they had discovered the previous day, the side opposite from where the beach camp was located consisted primarily of rugged cliffs, where the water slammed up against the rocks, creating spray and much more noise than on the other side.
On the return trek they walked the beaches, occasionally venturing a few yards into the jungle to look for signs of human disturbance, finding none. At one point, the agents cut inland further, until reaching the large rock once more. There they crouched in the dense undergrowth and watched the area for more than hour, before deciding it was an exercise in futility.
“If Loveless is using that for some kind of headquarters, and it’s hollow, he no doubt has a method to keep track of our movements. Could be he is aware we are in this spot right now,” Artie muttered.
Jim glanced at him as they rose and headed for the beaches again. “You seem to be giving Loveless godlike powers.”
Artie chuckled mirthlessly. “After what we’ve experienced in the past with him, why not?”
Jim sighed. “He is a genius, no doubting that at all. He seems capable of coming up with any type of gadget he wants or needs. I guess it’s no surprise he improves some and reuses them.”
Artie held a large hanging vine aside for his partner to pass by then slipped through himself. “Perhaps we should be grateful he didn’t decide to populate this island with poisonous snakes and insects, not to mention dangerous animals.”
Jim shrugged, his greenish eyes glinting in the gloom of the growth surrounding them. “Well, that would make it interesting, wouldn’t it?”
“As if it’s not interesting enough. James, where do you come up with these ideas? Reading too much pulp fiction, no doubt.”
“Including the ones you bought.”
Both men laughed as they continued on. This sort of repartee was what helped make their tense, dangerous lives bearable, and cemented the friendship between them. They knew the desperate situation they were in, pretty much at the mercy of their worst enemy, with no idea with the insane little man had in mind for the future. If Loveless stopped sending supplies, could they survive? The foodstuffs available naturally were limited, just some fruit and the fish.
Artemus involuntarily thought of the infamous Donner party. No, he assured himself. It wouldn’t come to that. It couldn’t…. He shook himself mentally. No; nowhere close to such a situation. He and Jim were going to find a way out. They had defeated Miguelito Loveless numerous times. They would again.
James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: "Thanks Artie"! Is that all you can say to me? I've just come back from the grave, risen like Lazarus, and that's what you say? "Thanks, Artie"?
James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: It's a pleasure.
- TNOT Pistoleros
SS senior field agent
Posted - 04/24/2012 : 07:33:39
The next day Jim and Artemus explored the other end of the island, finding nothing that indicated Loveless’s presence. They returned to the rock edifice as well, but still failed to locate any entrance—if one existed. It was frustrating, yet they retained their patience. Experience had taught them that eventually Loveless would show up. It was not in his nature to remain in the shadows. His ego also caused him to make errors.
That evening, Artie was wading in the shallow surf with Giles and Rose, looking for crabs and any other edible creatures. Jim stood at the surf line, smoking his last cigar, watching them. Artie had removed his boots, of course, and had his trousers rolled up to the knees. Giles too was barefoot, as was Rose Timmons. She had tucked her skirt up, displaying very shapely ankles.
Jim glanced at the cigarillo he held and smiled slightly. He and Artemus had managed to plant a couple of traps for the possible spy, or spies, in their group. Earlier Jim had mentioned to Reverend Klotz that he had just one smoke left, and how he would miss them. After another supper of fish and potatoes, Artemus had quietly commented to Chester Berwick that he would give a small fortune for a steak or roast beef about now.
Rose came out of the water then, shaking her wet hands as she smiled. “Maybe we’ll have something different than fish after all. Mina’s husband told her Mr. Gordon was already heartily tired of fish—for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.”
Jim smiled back despite the annoyance he was experiencing. Obviously that part of the trap was not going to work. “And we’ve been here only a couple of days.”
“Of course crabs are still seafood, but they have a different taste. My husband and I went to Baltimore for our wedding trip, and I remember the delightful dishes we ate there.”
“How long has your husband been gone?”
“Since Shiloh. He was with the Fifth Minnesota.”
Again Jim disguised his thoughts. “I was at Shiloh. So was Artemus.”
Rose sighed, staring out over the water. “Of course I did not want Adam to enlist, but I understood. And we all thought it was going to be over in a matter of weeks, didn’t we? We had been married just a few weeks at the time. I was only seventeen when I married.”
“So you lived in Minnesota? How did you end up in Pocatello?”
“An aunt and uncle moved to Idaho some years earlier. My uncle died, and then my aunt. They left the house to me. This was shortly after the war ended. I had been supporting myself clerking in a store in St. Paul. I moved to Pocatello and started the boarding house for income.”
Artie came out of the water then, followed by Giles. Artie was beaming as he held out the pan. “Look at this, Jim. We ought to be able to conjure up a nice stew or soup with these. Not as large as what we might find in San Francisco or Baltimore, but still nice.”
“Mr. Gordon tells us he is a fine cook, Mr. West,” Giles put in. “He said you would confirm it.”
Jim frowned. “Well, he does make pretty good coffee.”
They all laughed then. Artie handed the pot to Giles who went with Rose to where Mina was sitting with her husband in the sand. “Something up?” Artie asked then.
“Let’s take a stroll.” As they moved onto the smaller beach where Jim had seen the footprint, he told Artie what Rose Timmons had just related. “The Fifth Minnesota was not at Shiloh, Artie.”
“She could be misspeaking as far as the regiment is concerned.”
Jim shook his head. “A wife ought to know her husband’s whereabouts in the army. I’m sure she wrote to him.”
“Yeah, you’d think so, wouldn’t you? Could she be the spy?”
“Loveless has used pretty women before.”
They fell silent for a long moment before Artemus spoke again. “What about a trek to the big rock in the middle of the night?”
Jim nodded. “Not a bad idea. Someone was prowling that first night. Who knows what we might find?”
“We should try to sneak off without anyone knowing we’ve gone. Giles seems to be the light sleeper. Maybe we can throw our blankets farther from him.”
“Then let’s get back. I want to instruct those ladies on how to properly prepare the crab.”
The clouds dispell'd, the sky resum'd her light,
And Nature stood recover'd of her fright.
But fear, the last of ills, remain'd behind,
And horror heavy sat on every mind.
—Theodore and Honoria (l. 336), John Dryden (1631-1700), English poet and dramatist
“Ready,” Artie whispered back, sitting up. Both had been lying awake, waiting to be assured the others were sound asleep. He looked beyond the still blazing fire, and none of their fellow stranded moved as Jim climbed to his feet, strapping on his belt. Artie followed suit.
As they did that first night when they pursued the roar of the jungle creature, they picked up blazing wood from the fire before heading into the depths of the forest. The creature had not sounded yet this evening. What that meant, neither could hazard a guess. Although the inhabitants of the beach had discussed that no physical sign of the animal had been found, none were quite willing to state flat out that only the roar existed. That sound was fearsome. Artie wondered if the great dinosaurs or saber-toothed tiger might have sounded similar.
They veered to the north as they traveled deep into the jungle. No use trying to find any of their previous routes. The jungle seemed to have closed them up soon after the humans had passed through. That meant pushing and cutting the vines and bushes. Jim’s shirt already had a couple of small tears that Artie could see, and he wondered if his own might reveal snags if he took it off.
A full bath would be really nice! Hot water was available to shave—using the instruments Dr. Loveless so kindly provided—as well as soap. But thus far the castaways had not figured out a way to devise a bathtub. Water soaked into the sand as soon as poured in. Without a sizeable ax, cutting down a tree to hollow out was not feasible. The small ax provided worked fine for chopping up the crates and a few small branches for firewood.
After about twenty minutes, Jim paused as they entered a clearing, some twenty feet across. “I don’t remember this before.”
“We are probably not on the exact same path, Jim.”
Jim let out an exasperated breath. “Yeah, probably not.” He looked up. “Can’t see the moon from here.” Although the moon had not changed its phase from the first night—and according to the others not since they had arrived—it at least helped give them a sense of direction, along with the sun. The half moon did not provide much illumination; very few stars were seen, and none were in familiar constellations. Artemus had even pointed out one cluster that almost appeared to be in a formation that described Loveless’s profile!
Artie remained where he was at one edge of the clearing as Jim moved further out, peering towards the tops of the trees to find the moon, which had not yet reached its zenith for the night. He had just found a spot to spy it between two trees when the roar of beast thundered nearby—and through it Jim heard his partner’s cry of pain.
Jim whirled to see Artie on his knees, bent over and clutching at his right shoulder. Even in the dimness Jim could see the dark liquid oozing between the fingers. He sprinted across the clearing, drawing his gun.
“It’s gone, Jim,” Artie gasped, as Jim was about to shove through the undergrowth behind him. “I heard it leave.”
Aware that he would have little chance of finding anything in the dark, Jim turned back, dropping to his own knees and prying Artie’s hand away. “My God!”
“It attacked me,” Artie muttered, forcing himself to remain coherent despite the pain and nausea he was experiencing. “I didn’t hear anything… just suddenly… hit me.”
Jim held the torch close to the arm, seeing the deep cuts. He then put the blazing wood down, and stripped off his own shirt, using it to wrap around the arm. He helped Artie to his feet. They had nothing with them to treat such a wound, and probably nothing in the camp either, other than water. But cleaning it would be of paramount importance, Jim was sure.
The shirt bandage was soaking through and Artie was reeling by the time they got back to the beach. The others woke up and both women set to taking care of the wound. They had no actual bandages but the women had shed some of their undergarments, the heavy petticoats in particular, early on because of the humidity, and those were torn into strips to make highly suitable wraps.
When Artie was lying down—at Jim’s insistence and Rose’s recommendation—Jim explained what had happened. In the firelight, he saw the wonder, and fear, that appeared on the other faces. Young Giles expressed it.
“So the… the monster exists!”
“Something exists,” Jim replied quietly.
Reverend Klotz leaned forward. “The wounds… they were like claws. Four deep and one somewhat shallower! It must be an animal of some sort.”
“I didn’t hear anything before it struck,” Artie put in from his blanket. “Also didn’t see, or even smell, anything.”
“But it has to be an animal of some sort!” Mina exclaimed, leaning closer to her husband as her gaze was drawn to the deeper darkness of the jungle. “We need to make the fire bigger!”
George Greave spoke quietly. “Thus far the blaze has been adequate. We must not panic. That could be what Dr. Loveless wants.”
And it could also be another indication that Loveless is informed of our conversations, Artie mused. He had had that talk with Greave and Berwick about whether the beast actually existed. This attack would appear to confirm it did. His arm still throbbed but the tight bandage seemed to have stemmed the bleeding. The cold water from the spring that the women had used to clean the wounds as best they could also helped stop the flow of blood.
He kept remembering the moment. Nothing. He had heard absolutely nothing until an instant before the claws struck. Just a slight sound of movement, he thought. Something brushing against leaves. Afterwards, he was sure he heard something running away. Something? Or someone? He did not want to bring this speculation out loud yet. They still had to be careful what they discussed or revealed to the others.
“We’d better go back to bed,” he heard Jim say. “Tomorrow I’ll go take another look at the spot where it happened.”
Not alone, Artie wanted to say, but found that exhaustion overpowered his will to speak aloud. He would make the protest in the morning…
Artemus was still sleeping soundly when Jim rose from his blanket. He had not slept particularly well himself, his mind filled with the incident in the jungle. Why had they not found any physical signs of the creature previously? How could it have sneaked up so easily to wound Artie? Why just a quick wound? Why not simply attack him, overpower him? For that matter, if this was a vicious, carnivorous animal, what was it feeding on to survive?
Rose handed him a cup of coffee, pulling her gaze away from his naked chest. No men’s shirts had been provided in the crates yet. “Mr. Gordon needs the sleep,” she said softly.
Jim nodded. “He would never admit it, but the wound and the trek back to camp was wearying.”
“Are you really going back into the forest?”
“I need to. If it really was an animal, there will be some signs.”
“But what could it be if not an animal?”
“That’s what I have to find out.”
“Jim,” George Greave said from behind him, “you really should not go alone.”
Jim turned around. “It’s best, George. It’s what I do. I’ll be fine.”
Others tried to dissuade him as they ate breakfast; Giles once again wanted to go along, this time saying he could take Gordon’s weapon. Jim smiled at that.
“Artemus is pretty particular about that gun, Giles. I actually need to get on my way before he wakes up or I’ll have to fight him off too.”
“Do be careful, Mr. West,” the reverend urged. “We don't know why we are here or what this Dr. Loveless has in store for us.”
“Which is a good reason to keep exploring. Don’t worry. After last night, I’ll be particularly cautious.”
Having finished his meal—more fish and potatoes—Jim set off. He soon realized an advantage to wearing a shirt, even in the moist heat, as branches and vines seemed to grab at him, and he acquired several scratches and nicks. Nothing compare to what his partner had endured, however, so he ignored them.
Finding the site of the attack was not as easy as he anticipated as once again tracks and signs seemed to disappear in the lush growth. He eventually located it, and spent time inspecting the area where Artie had been standing. He did notice some bushes that had been disturbed, and some marks on the ground, but they were not distinct enough to discern whether made by man or animal.
“How is Mr. Gordon this morning?”
The sudden, yet familiar, voice in the silence of the jungle was more than startling. Jim spun, gun in hand, to gape at the small man standing on the opposite site of the clearing, a wide grin on his face, quite aware of the entrance he had made. Loveless was as usually nattily attired, this time in a near white suit and boots that might be affected by explorers in the tropics. He held a pith helmet in one hand.
Jim lowered the gun but did not holster it. “I wondered when you were going to show up.”
“What kind of host would I be if I did not greet my guests? You are well, I surmise? I’m a little surprised that a gentleman such as you would go about half naked in the presence of ladies.”
“No doubt you know what use I made of my shirt, seeing as you inquired about Artemus.”
“Terrible thing. I’m sure he’s lucky it was only scratches. That beastie gets hungry.” Loveless’s smile widened. “So how are you enjoying your own little paradise?”
“A nice place to visit,” Jim replied drily.
Loveless chuckled. “Yes, I know that saying. I trust your companions are compatible.”
“We understand why Artemus and I were selected, as well as Mr. Greave, Mr. Berwick, and Mrs. Timmons. But why Reverend Klotz and the boy Giles?”
“Well, the lad of course was an accident. We could not leave him behind to perhaps call in the authorities when the reverend went missing. You see, next month the good pastor is due to testify in a trial in Boise. I do not want the man he was to testify against convicted. That man has some information I need.”
“You’re slipping, Loveless. I would have thought you’d simply break that man out of jail.”
“Oh, I could have. Easily. But I rather enjoy my toys. I’ve made great improvements in the paintings. Have you noticed?”
“I noticed. How long are we to remain here?”
The little man shrugged. “Who knows? I haven’t completely decided yet. And I may find some new companions for you. Eventually you might have a population large enough to set up a new society. Quite an experiment.”
“Is that what it is, an experiment? You rip people away from their homes, their family and friends, without their consent, and it’s an experiment?”
Loveless seemed surprised to hear the anger in Jim’s voice. “Well, really, Mr. West. This is so much better than cold and snowy Idaho or Colorado. Isn’t it?”
“Perhaps. If it was a matter of choice. You seem to forget, doctor. You do not rule the world.”
“Not yet. But with you and Mr. Gordon out of my hair, I may well achieve that rank. Then I may allow you to return and learn what a better place it can be. But of course, I have other things in mind first.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t want to ruin the surprise. I’m sure you, in particular, will enjoy it, Mr. West. Well, as nice as it is to visit you, I have to be going. Ta-ta.” He planted the hat on his head, turned and began to stroll toward the thicket surrounding the clearing.
Jim lifted his pistol again and drew the hammer back. “Loveless!”
The little doctor barely glanced back at him. “You won’t kill me, Mr. West. I am the only key to you ever returning to the real world. Good day.” He shoved his way into the brush.
Jim hesitated just an instant, then lowered the gun and sprinted after him, knowing innately the futility of the effort. Loveless vanished, of course. No signs indicated he emerged from the thick bushes. No footprints, no disturbed greenery. Nothing. He had entered into the thick growth and vanished.
That big rock has to have something to do with all this. There is no reason for it to be on the island, otherwise. With that thought in mind, Jim continued toward the large feature. As before, he walked slowly around it, inspecting the surface, looking for… anything. And he finally found it.
At about the center of one side, three and a half feet or so off the ground, he saw a thread. Grasping it, he found it was inserted securely into the rock. Minute inspection did not reveal any cracks to indicate it was an opening, but the thread, apparently from a blue shirt, was there. Someone had passed through the rock, somehow, and the thread had been caught.
Jim stepped back and as he had done the previous visit, stared up toward the top. If only he could get up there. He was unsure what he would find, but had a sense that the “roof” of this rock was important, especially if people were inside. They would need air vents if not illumination. I need a ladder, he decided after glancing around at the trees that surrounded the rock. None appeared amenable to an easy climb. The trunks were smooth, even on the palm trees that usually possessed rather rough bark.
With a sigh, Jim shook his head and turned away. In a day or two, Artie’s arm would be healed enough. Perhaps they could fashion a ladder from some of the pieces of crate. They had a few nails, and they could use vines to tie the pieces together as well. What they could accomplish by gaining the top of the rock remained to be seen. But at least they would not be sitting around waiting for… whatever Loveless had planned.
Artemus glared at his friend as Jim entered the camp again. He climbed to his feet as the others began to pepper Jim with questions about what he did and did not find. Jim did not reply, heading for his partner. “How are you feeling?” He eyed the bandage on Artie’s arm; Artie was also shirtless now.
“Why didn’t you wake me up? Are you crazy, going into the jungle alone? Who knows what you might have run into?”
Jim bit back a smile. “Not what. Who.”
Artemus was startled. “Loveless?”
Jim nodded, hearing the gasps from the others who had come to be near the two agents. “Somehow he knew I was out there alone. Really makes me think he has a way to observe us, although I don't know how, without us knowing it.”
“What did he say?” George Greave wanted to know. “Did he say when we were going to be returned to our homes?”
Jim glanced back. “No, I’m afraid not. Loveless doesn’t usually announce his plans. Reverend Klotz, you were supposed to testify at a trial in a few weeks, correct?”
The pastor’s eyes widened. “Yes, that’s true. Last month I visited my widowed sister in Boise and we went to her bank on some business. While we were there, it was robbed and a clerk was killed. I got a very good look at the leader of the robbers, and was able to identify him from a poster. He was arrested about two weeks ago. I am the prime witness against him, as others in the bank did not get as good a view as I do. Why do you ask?”
“Because Loveless has a reason for wanting that man found innocent, and released. What is his name?”
Jim looked at Artie, who shook his head. “I’d remember a name like that. Did the doctor say why he is interested?”
“Only that Fincher has information he wants.”
Rose was nearest Jim and she put her hand on his arm. “But we are not to be allowed to go home… ever?”
Jim could only answer honestly. “He did not say that. Nor did he say we would never be returned to the real world. If you knew Dr. Loveless as well as we do, you would not be surprised at his ambivalent responses. He likes to control people, and often to do that he keeps them guessing.”
“Did he offer any assurance that he would continue to send us supplies?” Berwick asked.
“Pretty much,” Jim responded. “I don't think he wants us dead… yet.”
“He is probably enjoying his control over us,” Artie remarked. He suspected Jim was not revealing everything.
The others apparently felt that Jim had told them all he could. They broke up and returned to their previous activities, some pausing to talk between themselves for a moment. Jim looked at his partner. “Your arm is better?”
“Much. Rose and Mina changed the bandage. They also washed our shirts so we should have them back, although I can’t guarantee they are going to look the same as if washed and starched and ironed by Ying Mee.”
Jim jerked his head slightly and walked down to the surf line. Artemus joined him. “What happened?”
“Not a lot. As I said, Loveless did not give any specifics about when and if anyone was going to be allowed to return. He mentioned he might even send others and joked about setting up a new civilization.”
“He also hinted he had something special in mind for me.”
Artie was silent a moment. Loveless’s hatred of Jim was deep and specific. He wanted both agents—and the entire Secret Service—out of his hair, but he always planned the worst punishment for Jim West. “Anything else?”
“I didn’t really find any signs of the beast. Just like before. Artie, I don't know what to make of the attack on you. The wounds certainly resemble claw marks…”
“But other implements could make similar wounds. An amputated, preserved bear claw, for instance. Or a small rake.”
“Yeah, my thoughts exactly. I also went to the rock again. I saw a thread protruding from the rocks.”
“Looked like something from a blue chambray shirt. I could not find the actual opening, but it has to be there. Somehow the rock opened enough for someone to go through. He had a loose thread, and it caught there. The inside of the rock must be hollow. Perhaps it’s where Loveless is keeping the machinery, similar to what he had in the hidden room at Morgan’s mansion. At the least, a painting.”
“So how to get in?”
“I think the top must be the key. We need to figure out how to get up there. I was thinking we might be able to construct a ladder…”
“Of course! The slats from the crates would work perfectly. However, one problem with that is we won’t be able to do it secretly.” Because the crates were being used for firewood, others would notice if they took pieces, Artie realized.
“I know. We may have to just take our chances on that spy.”
They went back to the group and Jim explained how they had discovered the large rock formation, and what they thought it was, as well as their plans to investigate it further. Artie watched the faces of the five as Jim spoke, and he saw nothing to indicate alarm, suspicion, or anything else. All showed surprise and then interest.
“Do you think,” Berwick wanted to know, “if we get inside we might be able to go back home?”
Jim shook his head. “I just don't know, Mr. Berwick. In our previous experience with these paintings, the doctor had a mechanism, a machine that seemed to power the transferring properties. Whether it’s inside the rock, we don't know.”
“If nothing else,” Artie added, “it might contain the painting that would transport us back to our present time and place—where we were previously.”
“It might also put us right in the middle of Loveless’s laboratory or whatever he’s using,” Jim warned. “But first we have to get inside that rock, and I think the start is to get to the roof and see if there are openings for air or light.”
Greave nodded eagerly. “So the next crates will be devoted to creating a ladder!”
While you here do snoring lie,
His time doth take.
—The Tempest (Ariel act II, i), William Shakespeare (1564-1616), English dramatist and poet
No new crates of supplies were delivered the next two days. To the agents it meant one thing: the spy had informed Loveless of the plans to construct a means to ascend to the top of the rock. They were being deprived of the material needed for the ladder.
Both had tried to catch someone communicating with an agent from Loveless during the night, but had been unsuccessful. Artemus had been able to follow George Greave to the “powder room,” but reported that the lawyer took care of his business and returned to his blanket on the beach. Jim had the same experience with Chester Berwick. Neither felt comfortable following one of the ladies, though Jim had crept out soon after Rose Timmons returned and went back to sleep. He had searched the outer area but found no sign that anyone had been there.
“Jim,” Artie mused as they both stood barefoot in the surf with fishing poles, the need to find food greater now without the usual supplies, “do you suppose Loveless has rigged up some sort of telegraph system?” At least they had their shirts back to protect their skin from the blazing sun. As Artie predicted, no starch, no ironing, but reasonably clean after being scrubbed by the women. His had rips in the sleeve.
Jim looked at him with surprise and admiration. “Now why didn’t we think of that before? Only question then would be, where is it?”
“Could also be a spot where a note is cached and someone picks it up when all are asleep. However, I have not noticed anyone with writing paper.”
“True. But that doesn’t mean some isn’t hidden somewhere.”
Artie sighed. “We’d have to take the island apart.” He pulled up his line. They had been using bent stays from Mina Berwick’s corset as hooks, and pieces of leftover fish and meat as bait. “I need some more bait. These fish are as smart as the ones back in the creek near my home in Michigan.”
Jim’s line jerked on the makeshift pole. “I might have something.”
The fish they caught in this ocean seemed to be a cross between a salmon and sea bass. The flesh was pink and meaty but the form was more like a bass, if larger than any they had seen before. “Something the good doctor bred,” Artie had commented when they first saw one. The one on Jim’s line was about ten inches long. He unhooked it and carried it back to put in a pan of cold water from the spring to keep it fresh.
Rose saw it and smiled. “At least we won’t starve tonight, especially if the reverend and Giles find some fruit.”
“Loveless must have gotten distracted,” Jim commented. “I’m sure a crate will arrive tomorrow.”
He did not like to worry the women in particular. Despite the lushness of the island, food was fairly scarce, with only the fish and fruit available. The fruit was not easy to find, especially when they were all even more leery about going deep into the forest now than they had been before. Although Jim and Artemus had mentioned to the others the possibility of the wound being caused by artificial means, they were not truly convinced.
“Can you think of anything Loveless said that would cause him to stop sending supplies?” Artie asked when Jim returned to the shallow surf.
Jim shook his head. “He seemed quite pleased to realize that he was the sole source of our support. Maybe this is his way of proving it.”
“Yeah. With Loveless, who knows? He could be up to anything—something we don’t have a clue about.”
Alone! that worn-out word,
So idly spoken, and so coldly heard;
Yet all that poets sing, and grief hath known,
Of hopes laid waste, knells in that word—Alone.
— The New Timon (1846), Part ii. Lord Edward Robert Bulwer Lytton, 1st Earl of Lytton (1831-1891), English statesman and poet
Jim opened his eyes and closed them immediately against the brightness of the sun. He lifted a hand to put it over his eyes, and felt the sand on his palm. His hand must have slipped off the blanket during… no, wait. Putting his hand back down, he felt the solid sand under his body. What happened to my blanket?
His head felt strange, unclear, and he was having trouble thinking, remembering. After a moment, he opened his eyes again and pushed himself up on his elbows, looking around. The beach was empty. No humans, not even their blankets spread out. The fire had died down. That was odd. Attention to the fire was paramount in the minds of the stranded others.
Now he sat up, closing his eyes against the momentary vertigo he experienced. It passed, and he rolled to his knees, continuing to look around. “Artie?”
The only sound was the usual one, that of the water lapping against the sand. The vertigo had dissipated but his mind was still fuzzy. Remembering what had happened was impossible. No, wait. They had gathered for supper. Now he saw the tin plates on the sand near the fire. All of them still had some food in them. One was tipped over. The one he had held.
Slowly it came back. He had been eating when an odd, numb sensation began to overpower his brain. He had tried to speak to Artie, sitting next to him. Artie had called his name, in concern, had reached a hand toward him… that was it. That was all he could recall.
I passed out. Why? Glancing up at the position of the sun indicated to him that he had been unconscious for more than a dozen hours. What happened, and where was everyone?
Jim stepped over and picked up the overturned plate. A little food remained. He sniffed at it, and did not smell anything untoward. He knew, however, it had been drugged. Next questions—how and who? Why did everyone leave?
“Artie!” he yelled. “Artie!” No response.
His head clearing, he began to look around. The first thing he noticed was how pristine the sand was, undisturbed, all around him. No footprints; not even those he would have made walking to the fire to eat the meal. Only the plates revealed anyone had been there. Someone had taken great care to smooth the surface.
To Jim, that indicated just one thing: others had been here. Others that someone did not want him to know about. That someone had to have been Loveless. Artie and the others had been taken away. Where? Why? Why had he been drugged? Had the others been drugged as well?
Jim thought about the meal. The usual procedure was for Rose or Mina to dish out the food from the pots on the fire onto the tin plates, which were then passed along from one to another, among the others seated by the fire. Artie had been the farthest, and Jim had handed him a plate before accepting the next one from Reverend Klotz, who had been beside him.
But that meant that his plate had touched every hand, including that of Rose who had been doing the dishing out, and Mina. Anyone of them could have slipped something into his food once becoming aware that that particular plate would end up in his hands. Useless to speculate on that right now, including what devious narcotic Loveless had devised that had been odorless and tasteless. Jim had not noticed anything amiss with his food.
Loveless took them. Why? Why? Why not me? He looked around, toward the ocean, toward the dark, lush jungle. He took them off the island and left me behind. I’m alone here now.
Or had the others been taken completely off the island? Were they perhaps inside the rock? Jim walked slowly toward the spring on the other side of the fire, his thoughts bleak. They had not started to construct the ladder because of the shortage of materials. With no supplies arriving, wood from the crates had not been available. The alternative was to use wood from the trees. Jim knew he could do it, but it would be more difficult, especially by himself.
Dropping to one knee beside the spring, he used the cup that was always there to take a long drink, and then splashed the cool water on his face. It helped tremendously to clear his head further. Rising to his feet, he pulled the pistol from the holster at his hip. At least he had the weapon, and it was still loaded, along with the bullets in his belt.
The next thing he did was to inspect the ground surrounding the beach. There he did find signs of movement, although he could not always discern whether it had been made last night or previously by one of the beach residents. The broken twigs did not dry out quickly in this weather.
Finally, Jim decided he had to make the trek to the rock formation. That could well be what Loveless expected him to do, and a trap could be waiting. Nonetheless, he had no choice. He could not merely sit in the sand and mourn the loss of his companions or fret about his own future. He had to act.
Realizing that he had not eaten since midday yesterday, he found some bread and an apple in the crate that had been used as a cupboard, and set off through the jungle while eating them. As usual, the lush forest was quiet; the only sounds were those of his footsteps and the vegetation he pushed through. Once he thought he heard an echo of those steps, but when he paused to listen, heard nothing further.
Nearing the rock edifice, Jim halted and stood quietly for several minutes. At one point a voice seemed to come from the area near the rock, but it was very brief, so he had to wonder if he actually heard anything. He resumed his trek and entered the clearing. Immediately going to the spot where he had seen the thread, he found that strand was now lying on the ground. That meant that the door—wherever it was—had opened to release it, and now closed again.
Jim spent some time again trying to find the cracks that would define the opening, but failed once more. The construction of the rock was seamless as far as he could see. Even if he had found it, he knew, he would not know how to open it. Was the mechanism only inside? With a sigh, he walked slowly around the rock, once again glancing toward the top several times. That ladder was imperative. He had to construct one, somehow.
Approaching the beach again, Jim harbored the faint hope that he would find his companions there, perhaps as confused as he was. He could come up with no reason why Loveless would remove them for a short while, however, and thus was not at all surprised that none were present when he emerged from the jungle. However, the beach was not unoccupied.
Miguelito Loveless looked at him from the crate he had turned over to make a chair. “Why, Mr. West. I’m again surprised at your manners. The host should always be on hand to greet guests.”
Jim stepped onto the sand. He did not draw his gun, but kept his hand ready near the handle. “I thought you were the host, and I the guest.”
Loveless chuckled. “It’s a moot point, anyway.” Now he stood up from the box. “So, how do you like your kingdom?”
“Is that what it is?”
“Your own kingdom, Mr. West. Yours and yours alone.”
“Where are Artemus and the others?”
Loveless clasped his hands behind his back and rose up on his toes for a moment. “Back home, one might say.”
The little man displayed exaggerated, affronted shock. “Why, Mr. West! How can you ask such a thing? Of course, they are alive!”
“But not free.”
“Not yet. I am making special arrangements for them.”
“Such as?” Jim held onto his anger, experience with the little doctor informing him that he was being baited.
Loveless turned slightly to gaze toward the azure sea. “Isn’t that lovely? I devoted a great deal of time developing just the right color for the ocean. What do you think?”
“What do you plan to do to the others,” Jim persisted.
Loveless barely glanced at him. “I plan to set them free… in a sense.”
“What does that mean?” Jim’s tone was harsh.
The doctor giggled. “Well, not what you think, most assuredly. I’m sure Mr. Gordon will give me no problem. Once he realizes that you are lost forever, I believe he’ll lose all interest in the Secret Service.”
Don’t count on it. “So you’re going to convince him that I can’t be returned to the real world?”
“Yes. And quite persuasively. I created a duplicate painting of the island, you see. Perfect in every detail—except it is merely a painting. I will destroy it before Artemus Gordon’s eyes. As far as he will be concerned, that will be that. You are marooned on the island. Goodness, I won’t even be able to send supplies to you!” Loveless snickered with his thoughts.
“But you do plan to feed me.”
“Why, of course! My life will be so much more pleasant with the knowledge you are alive here. Alive and perfectly healthy. And helpless. Completely under my will. I might even visit you from time to time to ensure that you are well. Did you ever dream there might come a day when you would pray to see me, Mr. West?” Loveless smirked. “And Mr. West, when you do say your prayers at night, make certain to include me. Because when I’m gone, the supplies will halt. You would have the fish and fruit… for a while. They are in limited supply you see. So eventually… eventually… you are going to starve to death here in paradise, lost for eternity.”
“You have such pleasant ideas.”
“Don’t I?” Loveless giggled again. “I have been planning this for a long, long time, almost from the moment I escaped from the painting on your train. I always wished I could stay around to watch your faces in the morning. But I had to be going. All the while I worked on other projects, I fiddled with this one, making sure it would be perfect. And it is.”
“It would seem so,” Jim replied evenly, far more evenly than he felt. He was aware now that they were not alone. Loveless must have circled around somehow, with several men, to reach the beach while he was investigating the rock. Of course, Loveless would have realized that that would be the first thing he would do. And I complied, damn it! None of the men had stepped into view yet, but they were there, in the trees. Any thoughts of holding Loveless here, keeping him as a hostage, were futile. “What next?” he asked.
Loveless strutted around a little, pretending to inspect the array of pots and metal eating utensils that were near the fire, poking at the stack of folded blankets nearby. Then he turned nonchalantly. “What did you say?”
Jim clenched his jaw then forced himself to relax. “I asked what’s next.”
Very pleased with himself, Loveless again rose up on his toes. “Why I should think that’s obvious. Nothing. Nothing at all. You have an eternity to reflect on your misdeeds, Mr. West, to regret all you have done to me. You have this lovely island as your home… and not a soul to talk to as soon as I leave. As I said, I may return to visit. Then again I may not. I expect you’ll be talking to yourself soon, merely to hear a human voice. I have heard of solitude driving men insane. Solitude, Mr. West! You will be alone. Alone! For the rest of your life—and you are a young man so I expect that will be for some time—you will be alone. Enjoy the silence. Good day.”
Any thoughts Jim had about seizing the little man dissipated as Loveless turned slightly, waving a hand. Four men emerged from the jungle, all holding weapons, one a shotgun. They pointed them at Jim, who could do nothing but watch as Loveless strutted past them into the jungle. Then, one by one, those four men followed him, keeping their eyes on the man on the beach as they did so. Jim knew they would be watching for him to pursue them.
Instead he sank down on the beach, drew his knees up, and pressed his forehead against them.
The name of the Slough was Despond.
—Pilgrim's Progress (pt. I, ch. II), John Bunyan (1628-1688), English clergyman and author
Artemus Gordon paced the small room, unable to stop moving. Neither the cushioned chair nor the mattress on the small bed tempted him. His brain was moving right along with the activities of his body, racing from one thought to another, grasping at straws and rejecting them instantly. Of all the things they had considered might happen, this had never come close to being one of them.
Loveless is a monster! Perhaps they had never quite realized how deep his hatred had become. To leave Jim alone on that mysterious island, locked in a painting…. No, not locked. I have to find a way to get to that painting and bring Jim back. That’s all. We did it before…
This was not the same situation, however. Loveless had lost some control at Morgan’s ranch. Here he held it all in his grasp. Jim West was stranded somewhere in limbo, and Artemus Gordon was Loveless’s prisoner. Artie had instantly had thoughts about picking the lock on the door, especially when he spotted the cushioned chair, which might have springs that could be torn out… until he realized that his side of the door had no handle. No keyhole. Nothing. It could only be opened from the outside.
He remembered the horror he had experienced when he saw Jim collapsing on the sand while they ate. From Jim’s pallid complexion, he had been momentarily certain his friend had been poisoned, but after a moment’s inspection, realized that Jim’s pulse was strong. He was unconscious, drugged. Then before anything else could transpire, Loveless and six armed men had emerged from the jungle, ordering all the other captives off the beach.
They had watched as a couple of push brooms were produced and the men carefully smoothed away all footprints from the entire beach. Artie had protested when they were ordered to enter the jungle ahead of the gunmen, demanding that he be allowed to carry Jim. Loveless had laughed. “Mr. West is not included in this little party.”
They were taken to the rock structure, where further surprises awaited. First, one of the men moved to a dead bush at the edge of the clearing and pulled down on a dry branch. A portion of the rock wall slid aside, allowing entry into the interior, where a painting was hanging on one wall; however, none of the mechanism that they had believed might be present was visible.
One by one, starting with the women and then Giles, they had been ordered to stand in front of the painting of a large gray building. One by one they vanished into that picture, with Artemus being the last one sent through. He had found himself on snowy ground in front of a structure resembling that in the picture, grabbed by two men and hustled inside, up some stairs, and shoved into this room, the door locked behind him.
He had tried to get a look at his surroundings but had not had enough time. This room had a small barred window that required him to grip it and pull himself up to peer out. He had tried that, and saw only gray skies and snow-covered fields, with some trees in the distance. It could be anywhere. He was not even sure what time of day it was, although it did not appear to be near evening as it had been on the island.
What now? What now? What now?
The question would not leave his head. What in the name of heaven was Loveless planning now? Why leave Jim on the island and bring the others back to the real world? Assuming that was where they were now! Artie simply had no idea. Even if he escaped from the building, he would have no notion which direction to head.
Had Loveless gone back and murdered Jim, left his body on the sand? Artie tried to tell himself that that was not the way Loveless worked, but in truth, he knew he did not know for certain. While they knew the doctor better than anyone, both had admitted from time to time that he could still surprise them. If Jim was still alive, what plans did Loveless have…?
Artemus stopped in his tracks, the cold truth hitting him. The only thing the doctor had said was “Mr. West is not included in this party.” Because Jim was being left stranded on the ethereal, unreal island. Left by himself!
My God! I’ve got to get back there and rescue him. Now that I know how to get into the rock, I could do it!
That sounded simple, only he knew that “getting back there” was not going to be. First off, he had to find out where he was now, and where the painting of the island was located. For all he knew, he was the only one in this building now. Perhaps this was going to be his exile—and his place of execution, one way or another. Locked in this room to starve to death, as Jim would eventually do on the island once the food gave out?
No, Loveless would not have sent Antoinette—along with two armed men—to clean, salve, and bandage his injured arm if the intent was to allow him to die here in this room. Something else was in the works. Being released was not one of the options, Artie knew. Loveless had plans, but those plans would not be known until the doctor chose to release them… or implement them.
He abruptly sat down on the bed. All speculation was useless. He had to have faith that at least one aspect of Loveless’s nature would play out, the need to boast of his accomplishments and plans. Whether Loveless was here in this building now, he would show up, or else he would have Artemus Gordon taken, one way or another, to wherever he was. He would need to strut and show off, proclaiming his success. He always did that, in one way or another. And always prematurely as West and Gordon were able to overcome and defeat his plans.
Hearing a sound, Artie looked toward the door. He saw a small panel at the bottom suddenly open, and a tray was slid in, a tray laden with food and hot coffee. The panel immediately closed, and like the door, did not appear to have a way to open it from the inside. Artie sighed and went to pick up the tray. The aroma of the roast beef and gravy and the fragrant coffee was alluring. A slice of apple pie was in a small dish alongside the plate, and a small container of thickened cream next to it. A veritable feast compared to what they had been eating the last few days.
He heaved a deep sigh. Whether or not, he was going to have to eat it. Because of the interruption on the island, they had not eaten their evening meal. He was hungry. And he needed to keep his strength up. He would have to trust that Loveless had other plans than drugging him at this moment. He could have had that done on the island.
…then black despair
The shadow of a starless night, was thrown
Over the world in which I moved alone.
—Revolt of Islam—Dedication (st. 6), Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), English poet
As soon as he was certain Loveless and his men were out of sight and hearing, Jim leapt to his feet, and began running down the beach to the north. His plan was to reach the rock before Loveless could, especially because the little man could not move very fast. Seeing the location of the door to the interior of the rock, and how it was operated, was vitally important.
He was breathless and perspiring by the time he cut through the jungle near the far end of the island to gain the rock formation, where he ducked behind a large thick bush and waited. And waited. After about a half hour, he began to wonder. Perhaps Loveless needed to stop and rest, he mused. But when another half hour elapsed, Jim began to realize that somehow Loveless had outfoxed him.
Maybe he had one of the men pick him up and carry him, as he sometimes has Voltaire do, Jim mused as he rose to head back to the beach. No use doing any further exploration here. The rock and its surroundings had been examined many times with no success. Loveless had mentioned “improvements” in the mechanism of the paintings. Perhaps he had established a method of being transferred elsewhere other than standing in front of a particular painting. Or maybe he had a painting hidden in the jungle, portraying the interior of the rock, say, and he was able to transport himself and his men via that painting.
Reaching the edge of the island, Jim paused to watch the waves roll up against rocks, spray flying into the air. I hope Loveless bought my little act of utter despair as he left me on the beach. His ego will very likely believe he has defeated me. I may be down, but I’m not out. I’ll continue to try to find a way off this island. And Artie is on the other end…
If Artemus was still alive. Jim had to believe he was, knowing Loveless as he did. Loveless had said that Artie would likely lose all interest in the Secret Service without his friend and partner. Just shows how well Loveless knows Artemus Gordon! As long as he’s alive, Artie will not give up. Whether he could be successful… well, that was another story. Jim then remembered Loveless’s gleeful plan to make Artemus believe the painting was destroyed. Loveless would enjoy any anguish that belief would cause in Artie. Would Artemus really give up? Would he believe the ruse?
He walked slowly along the beaches, taking time to inspect each one, unsure of what he was looking for. He only knew they had not yet paid much attention to this area, concentrating on the jungle, the so-called beast, and the rock formation. Could Loveless have a headquarters disguised by a sandy beach, while the rock edifice was a smokescreen?
When he finally reached the beach that had been the castaways’ “home,” he took stock of the foodstuffs and calculated that if he could catch a few fish, he had a week’s worth. It would be like the little doctor to delay sending any more supplies immediately just to cause worry.
It is dangerous to abandon one's self to the luxury of grief: it deprives one of courage, and even of the wish for recovery.
—Henri-Frederic Amiel (1821-1881), Swiss philosopher, critic, and writer
The breakfast slipped under the door had been equally as good as the dinner the evening before, but Artemus found he did not have much appetite now. He could only wonder how long he was going to be imprisoned in this small cell, not to mention worrying about his partner and the others who had been on the island. He still did not understand why all of them had been sent to the island, and now brought back. Had Loveless changed his plans, or had this been his intent from the beginning? Were the stories the others told true?
He knew that George Greave had gotten under Loveless’s skin in the past, so his story seemed legitimate. But what about the others? Were they now incarcerated in this building, or were they free to return to their previous lives, whatever they had been? Rose had confirmed that the reverend was actually a preacher, but what did that mean if she was one of Loveless’s minions? Jim had caught her in a lie about her husband’s military service and death.
Artemus stopped the pacing he had been doing without even realizing his movements, and heaved a large sigh, staring at the door. Not even any hinges to try to undo. I can’t get out until someone opens that door…
Even as the thought ran through his head, he heard the click of the lock on the outside. He stiffened, wary and ready. If given a chance he would try to make a break for it. Last evening the door had opened and a man stepped in to pick up his dinner tray. Being unprepared and lolling on the bed, Artemus had not been in a position to act. This time he was ready.
When the door pushed open, however, he found himself looking at four men and three guns. The man without a gun in his hand was the same one who picked up the tray last night, and he slipped in to collect the breakfast tray. A brute of a man with a black beard motioned with his gun.
“Come on, Gordon. The doc wants to see you.”
“My pleasure,” Artie smiled. “But I will offer a piece of advice. Don’t let the doctor hear you refer to him in that manner, or he’ll practice surgery on you.”
The big man prodded him with the pistol, so Artie stepped out into the hall. It was a stark setting, a long narrow passage with a number of doors, small windows at either end that provided scant light. This had been the route by which he was brought in yesterday, and he knew a stairway was at the far end. That was where they headed, one man moving ahead to lead the way, the other three following, two armed and one carrying the tray.
The hallway on the first floor was slightly wider, as well as carpeted, and had lamps in sconces on either side. The man leading went to a doorway about halfway down, opened it, and stepped back. Artemus moved by him into a room warmed by a large fireplace. Three people were already in the room. Loveless, Antoinette, and Giles Yost, the latter two seated in chairs while Loveless stood by the roaring fire.
Artie glared at the grinning young man, who held a cigar in one hand and a glass of wine in the other, attired in a natty suit. “So you were the spy.”
“Isn’t it always the least likely?” Loveless purred. “Good morning, Mr. Gordon. I hope your accommodations are comfortable.”
“The bed is softer than the sand. That’s about all I can say for it.” Artemus stared hard at the little man. “What’s going on, Loveless? What are you planning for Jim West?”
“I told you that already. He is going to remain on the island, alone, for the remainder of his natural life. I have to wonder how long that will be.”
“What do you mean?”
Loveless’s smile was mockingly sad. “Because when I last saw him, Mr. West was sunk in deep despair, sobbing into his hands.”
That’s something I certainly do not believe! “Where are the others? Are they safe?”
“Very safe, ensconced in private rooms upstairs, similar to yours. Of course, Mr. and Mrs. Berwick are sharing quarters.”
“For how long? I can’t imagine you intend to free us.”
Loveless snickered. “Well, yes, in a sense that is exactly what I plan to do. You see, I was so pleased with the results of the tropical island that I’ve created another painting. Or I should say, I am creating it. Not quite finished. Once it is perfect, you and the others will be sent to inhabit it. And as time goes by, others will join you. An ideal way to rid oneself of enemies without a guilty conscience, eh?”
“If you can rip people away from their homes and families with no scruples, I guess that is a measure of your ethics.”
“Oh, Mr. Gordon! A fine one to speak of ethics when you and Mr. West have been depriving me of my dreams for so long.” Loveless shook his head in mock sadness, making a clucking sound with his tongue. Fury flashed in the blue eyes at the same moment.
“Speaking of Mr. West, is he to be transferred to this new place?”
“Oh, no! I would never do that to him. It would be too cruel.” Again Loveless snickered. “After all, he has his own kingdom to rule over now. All by himself. Which reminds me. Coburn.”
The large bearded man stepped over to the fireplace and reached above it, taking down the island painting whereupon he handed to Loveless then moved back alongside Artemus. Loveless held it and gazed at it for a long moment, smiling in a pleased manner.
“A masterpiece. I spent a great deal of time on this painting, Mr. Gordon. I’m sure you’ll agree the island was perfect in every respect.”
Loveless looked up at him, eyes wide with amazement. “No? What was missing?”
“Freedom for one thing. Food sources for another.”
“Oh dear. And here I thought I had created the ideal situation. Oh well. No use keeping this then.” With a sudden move, he shoved the painting, frame and all, into the large fire.
For one instant, Artemus was frozen, caught completely off guard by the movement. The realization of what it meant hit him and he yelled “No!” starting forward. He was seized immediately by Coburn and the other man, who held him securely. At the fireplace, Loveless giggled as he watched the oils on the painting sizzle and burn.
Finally the doctor turned toward Artemus. “My, my, my. I forgot. That was our only means to rescue Mr. West, wasn’t it? The only way to send him food. Well, I’m sure a resourceful young man like James West will be able to survive… for a while.” His blue eyes glinted with insane satisfaction. “Don’t worry, Mr. Gordon. You’ll soon have your own island home. Take him back.”
Once back in his cell, Artemus threw himself on the narrow bed, lying on his back, with his arm thrown over his eyes. His body and brain felt numb. He’s won! Loveless has won! Jim is gone forever and I can’t help him! That last thought was the most painful. Not so much that Jim was as good as dead, because that was something both men almost expected in their day-to-day lives. They were prepared for that eventuality. But that he, Artemus Gordon, could not do anything about it. I’m sorry, Jim. I’m so sorry! I’ve failed you!
He did not how long he lay there, his mind reviewing everything that had occurred since they entered Rose Timmons’ home in Pocatello so long ago. At least it seemed like a long time ago. Artie doubted a week had elapsed. They had been slickly lured to that house, and trapped, having no suspicions about the involvement of Miguelito Loveless. Waking up on that island…
Artemus sat up, swinging his legs over the side and putting his elbows on his knees, hands over his face. At this moment, he cared little about what plans Loveless had for him. Nothing seemed to matter. Not even thoughts about Lily Fortune seemed to shake him from the painful lethargy he was experiencing. She was safe, anyway. She would mourn his disappearance but she was alive. That counted.
With a gusty sigh, he stood up and looked about the room. This was going to be his home, obviously, until the mad doctor completed his next step. It sounded as though this island destination, at least, would not be a complete dead end. Loveless planned to keep it open so that he could send future “enemies” to reside there. And of course, he would send supplies as he had to the tropical island, and want to visit from time to time to…
Artemus Gordon straightened his slouched body, his eyes opening wide. Oh my God! I’ve been allowing my grief to overshadow the truth! That could not have been the real painting that Loveless destroyed. Miguelito Loveless needed to be able to gloat. He would want to return to that island where he had exiled Jim to be able to observe how Jim West was doing, whether or not he confronted his prisoner or not. He would not want Jim to die too soon, so he would need to send supplies!
Another trick, and I almost fell for it!
Now he had to plan some tricks of his own. First of all would be to convince Loveless that he believed Jim was lost for good. That would not be too difficult. Loveless often saw what he wanted to see, so a continued lethargy and disinterest in the world at hand would work just fine. He would have to display a decreased appetite for the very good food Loveless was providing, eating just enough to support his health and energy.
Most importantly, he would have to learn where the genuine painting was kept. Not knowing exactly how the paintings worked, he tried to call on his memories of the situation at Morgan’s mansion. Artie began to pace the floor again, considering the possibilities. The painting that sent them to the town where the gunfight was to occur was upstairs from the main mechanism. However, Loveless had had that painting in the museum where the jewels were displayed and from where they were stolen. The museum was some distance from Morgan’s ranch.
So, it stood to reason that somehow Loveless created something allowing the paintings to connect with the machine over long distance. They had not sought to disconnect and destroy that apparatus until after Loveless escaped from the painting in the train. Artie would never forget their surprise when they saw the damaged crate, nor how Jim swore in anger and astonishment. Loveless had escaped from them once more.
I’m betting the mechanism is in this building… wherever it is. All he knew was that it was located somewhere that snow occurred, which could be a huge portion of the United States and Canada. Logic indicated the location was somewhere in the northwestern portion of the country, because everyone who had been involved had been snatched from Colorado or Idaho.
Artie paused and looked at the closed door. This morning had been an aberration, he decided. Last night just one man had come for the tray, and chances were good that would be the case after the next meal. I can’t just jump on that fellow immediately. I need some more information. Knowing Loveless, he’s going to bring me out to talk some more. Jim is all right for now, of that I’m certain, and Loveless is not ready to send me to the next destination. I have time; I just have to use it wisely.
James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: "Thanks Artie"! Is that all you can say to me? I've just come back from the grave, risen like Lazarus, and that's what you say? "Thanks, Artie"?
James: Thanks, Artie.
Artemus: It's a pleasure.
- TNOT Pistoleros
SS senior field agent
Posted - 04/24/2012 : 07:34:17
Fish and visitors smell in three days.
—Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), American philosopher and statesmen
The first days went by rapidly. Jim rose in the morning, and after a sparse breakfast, set out to explore the island almost foot by foot. He was more and more certain another site existed that allowed Loveless to come and go, a spot other than the rock. He tried to keep himself busy during the day so that when he returned to the beach he was fatigued enough to sleep well, not lying awake considering his predicament.
That was something he was determined to not allow to overcome him. Nighttime was the time when it was easy to fall into a morose state, realizing how alone and helpless he was. The aloneness was the most difficult to comprehend and battle. Time and again during the day he would want to tell his partner and best friend something and be faced with the realization that Artemus was not there, and might never be.
At night he would recall those moments and needed to fight against the melancholy and defeated thoughts that crowded his mind. Being in such a state was not normally Jim West’s nature, but he had never faced this situation previously. Periods of solitariness always ended after brief lengths of time. He did not know if this one would.
Each morning he looked for a crate of supplies, but none arrived. Not that it surprised him. Knowing Loveless, Jim was aware that the little doctor would want to torment him, perhaps wanting him to believe he had truly been deserted. But Jim also knew that Miguelito would not let that event occur yet, not until he had more chances to crow over his captive.
On the fourth day, however, the crate arrived. Jim was bemused to find it simply resting on the edge of the beach when he awakened. As before, he looked for tracks but found none. Somehow, Loveless had devised a way to transport items to specific spots…
Moving the crate aside, Jim used a small shovel that had been provided in an earlier delivery and dug beneath the spot where that crate, and others, had always appeared. He laughed out loud when the shovel struck something metallic about a foot deep, but did not attempt to go further, lest he damage whatever it was, refilling the hole and moving the crate back over it. For now he would be satisfied to know it was there; later it might be useful. He wanted to continue to receive the food and other supplies.
Similar devices must be buried around the island, so that Loveless can direct where he or any of his men will land. Possibly the devices also control the sound of the “beast.” He’s a genius all right. Just too damn bad he didn’t devote his talents to help mankind.
He opened the crate then, found food supplies as well as a new razor and shaving soap. They had had just one razor among the six men, and it rapidly dulled with no strop available. Had someone—the spy?—told Loveless about that?
Hearing a slight sound, Jim turned, his hand falling to the pistol he wore constantly. To no surprise, Loveless strolled out of the jungle.
“Good morning, Mr. West. How are you this fine day? Bearing up, I hope.”
“Oh, I’m having a delightful time. I always wanted an island all my own.”
“Did you? Then I’m happy I granted your wish. I take it the silence and loneliness is not too oppressing.”
“Actually rather nice,” Jim replied easily. “It’s relaxing to not have to be watching for someone waiting to ambush me every second of the day.”
Loveless scowled briefly; that was not the response he hoped for. “You are not your usual natty self, Mr. West.” He eyed the torn and stained shirt Jim wore. “I assume that was Mr. Gordon’s blood.”
“It was.” Jim could not keep the ice from his voice. “I hope you have tended to that wound.”
“Oh yes. Immediately. It is healing nicely.”
“What did you use? An iron claw?”
“Something of that sort. I was not surprised to learn that you and Mr. Gordon determined that the creature was not real. Nor was it astonishing that the two of you explored the island despite the presence of the ‘beast.’ It was futile to believe that the attack would change your minds.”
“It did make the others nervous.”
“Well. Small success. By the way, you’ll be happy to know that Mr. Gordon is quite distraught over the destroyed painting.”
“Is he? He’ll recover. He’s very resilient. Thanks for the new razor, by the way. I’m sure this one will last longer, but you night consider a whetstone or strop in a future delivery.” Jim kept his tone conversational.
Loveless did not stomp his foot, but he made a noise that one might associate with a pettish move like that. “Really, Mr. West. You don’t seem to realize the situation. You are going to spend the rest of your life here. Alone.”
“Oh, I know that. It’s certainly not the manner in which I expected to live out my days, but I recognize that you have the upper hand. I can’t even kill you, because it would do no good—and in the end be worse for me because you would not be able to send me the needed food and other supplies. You’ve made that quite clear. You have won, doctor.”
Now the little man smiled smugly. “Ah, how nice to hear those words from your lips, Mr. West. Now don’t you wish you had surrendered a long time ago and stopped harassing me?”
Jim chuckled. “Well, I’m not sure about that!”
The flicker in Loveless’s blue eyes revealed he was still a trifle uncertain of the situation here. He cleared his throat. “I suppose if you asked—begged—I might send you some company. Mr. Gordon, for instance.”
“Oh, no. That would not be fair to Artemus, nor to the people he cares for, and who care for him. No, don’t worry about him. He’ll be fine. As you suggested, he may turn to another career. Perhaps return to the stage. I’m sure he won’t be bothering you much.”
Loveless folded his arms across his chest and gazed up at Jim, eyes narrowed. “Why do I have the sense that you are… are flummoxing me?”
“I have no idea,” Jim replied, smiling. He reached down into the crate beside him. “Look here! How thoughtful of you to provide tinned peaches. That’s something I truly enjoy. It will remind me of the nights Artemus and I made camp in the mountains or on the prairie while pursuing you or some other villain.”
Now the doctor pointed a stiff finger at him. “See here! I know you! You still think you can trick me in some way and gain your return back to the real world. It won’t happen, I assure you.”
“I already told you I have conceded the battle, doctor. I don't know why you are so mistrustful.”
Loveless fumed silently for a long moment. “Perhaps I will transport a new companion or two for you… perhaps a lion or a grizzly bear. How would that suit you?”
“It would certainly make things more exciting,” Jim replied mildly. The best way to annoy Loveless was to not react.
“Well, maybe I will! You certainly do not seem to appreciate my visit! Perhaps I’ll not come again.”
“That’s certainly your privilege.” Jim fought to prevent himself from smiling. Miguelito Loveless’s greatest joy was when he astonished or frightened people. When they did not act in response to his threats or boasts he became frustrated.
Loveless mouth tightened as he stared at Jim for a long moment. “I am leaving. Take care, Mr. West. I may be the last human being you will ever see.”
Jim did not respond, merely retaining an implacable expression. Loveless steamed for long seconds before he spoke again. “I was not going to tell you this, not wishing to distress you further, but I think you deserve to hear. I am not going to free Mr. Gordon, Mr. Greave, or any of the others. I’m preparing a new sanctuary for them… and others.”
Now Jim stiffened. “What do you mean?”
Loveless smirked, delighted that he had finally gained the upper hand. “Not an island like this, not a ‘paradise,’ but one where people can be self-sufficient. With farms and perhaps small businesses. But where they will be out of my hair. One by one, I will remove my enemies from this soil, and place them where they can no longer bother me.”
“You can’t hope to succeed…”
“Why not? I succeeded with you and Mr. Gordon by a simple ruse. No one will connect me to the disappearances. And as I dispose of these… these roadblocks… I can continue with my plans to correct this world. One day—and one day soon—it will be the world I know it can and should be.”
Jim regained his aplomb, cocking his head. “Perhaps you’ll even let me come see it.”
“No!” Loveless boomed. “You will never leave this place!” He nodded then, his gaze going behind Jim for a moment.
Only at that instant did Jim realize that someone had come up behind him, quietly on the sand. He started to swing around, and felt a sting in his shoulder. The man he saw was lowering a blowpipe, grinning broadly. The numbness set in as Jim attempted to reach the dart that had pierced his skin. He sank to his knees, fighting to stay conscious. Loveless’s voice came from far away.
“I know you attempted to follow me last time, Mr. West. Have a nice nap.”
Tametsi prosperitas simul utilitasque consultorum non obique concordent, quoniam captorum eventus superae sibi vindicant potestates.
[Yet the success of plans and the advantage to be derived from them do not at all times agree, seeing the gods claim to themselves the right to decide as to the final result.]
Annales ([XXV, 3), Marcellinus Ammianus (Marcellinus Ammian or Mammianus Marcellinus; (?-c. 395), Antioch Roman historian
Being invited to dinner was not a complete surprise. Loveless liked to boast. He needed someone to whom to boast, and who better than the man he had conquered. Or believed he had conquered. Artemus knew that his best “disguise” at this moment would be that of a conquered man, shattered by the knowledge that his best friend was lost forever, and that he himself had no hope of escaping.
Finding Rose Timmons at the table in the small but nicely appointed dining room was a surprise, however. Like himself, she had obviously been given fresh clothes to wear, a gown that might have been one of Antoinette’s castoffs. The shirt and jacket brought to him were decent fits, although tight across the shoulders.
“Ah, Mr. Gordon!” Loveless cried gaily. “Our party is complete. Please sit down. Antoinette has concocted dishes fit for kings! And queens.” He nodded gallantly toward the downcast Rose.
Artie took the chair opposite his fellow captive. “Dr. Loveless, you really have no grudge against Mrs. Timmons…”
“No, not initially. But now I’m afraid she is part and parcel to the rest of you. I was just telling Mrs. Timmons of the comfortable and wonderful life I am setting up for you.”
“It may or may not be comfortable,” Artie returned, “but it will not be wonderful. Not if we don’t have the freedom to return to our homes and families.”
Loveless was undaunted. “You will have homes, and I suspect, eventually new families. I will be certain to provide a fairly equal number of males and females. And think of this, Mr. Gordon, you will not have Mr. West on hand to compete for the ladies.”
“I can hold my own against Jim,” Artie growled.
Loveless giggled. “I’m sure you can. I’m sure you can. But shall we dine? Antoinette?”
The lovely lady at the opposite end of the table began to pass around the dishes. The aroma was wonderful, Artie had to admit, as he recognized a French chicken dish, as well as small new potatoes and crisp lettuce. Where had Loveless obtained them at this time of year? Foolish question, Artemus! He probably used one of his paintings!
“Dr. Loveless,” Rose finally spoke, “Will you allow me to send notes to my mother and sister…?”
“No,” the doctor replied sharply. He then smiled. “You must understand, Mrs. Timmons, that secrecy is highly paramount in my plans. I know your family misses you, but secrecy is so important. In the long term, when you realize how my future plans will improve your family’s lot in this world, you will be grateful.”
Artie gazed at him. “Then this time you don’t have plans to poison the entire populace or shrink them to the size of mice?”
Loveless chuckled. “No, not initially. Not if my other plans play out as I expect them to. Once I’ve exiled all the people who might cause me trouble, well, the remainder will be the proverbial cinch.”
Artie fell silent then, concentrating on his food for a few minutes. He finally looked across the table. “Mrs. Timmons, might I ask you a question?”
“You told Jim that your husband was with the Fifth Minnesota regiment.”
“That’s correct.” Her pretty face showed puzzlement.
“You also said that he died at Shiloh. I know that regiment was not part of the battle at Shiloh.”
“Oh! Adam was a special courier. He had taken some reports from his commanding officer to General Grant and thus was present when the fight began. Apparently he took up a rifle and joined the fray. He was like that.” She smiled in fond, sad memory.
“I see.” Now Artie smiled. “I’m afraid that seeming discrepancy caused us to wonder if you were the spy.”
“And it was our good friend, young Giles. I never suspected.”
Loveless laughed then. “Which is why I chose him. With such an angelic face and demeanor, who would suspect him? I paid him well to befriend Reverend Klotz and be present when the good reverend received the summons to Mrs. Timmons’ boarding house. A drama well planned and well played. I’m sure you appreciate that, Mr. Gordon. I expect Giles to be of great assistance to me in future endeavors.”
“And the elderly lady who posed as Mrs. Timmons?” Artie inquired. “I assume she was also the Miss Lewis who summoned the Reverend Klotz to the boarding house.”
“Excellent deduction, Mr. Gordon. You are always so bright! Yes, indeed. Aggie Burch is an acquaintance of longstanding. She has assisted me previously, and of course I rewarded her well. She loves these play-acting games, having once aspired to your former profession, though unsuccessfully. She is spry and intelligent, although up in years. She played both parts perfectly.” Loveless smirked, no doubt remembering how the agents were completely duped by the sweet-appearing white-haired woman.
You hold all the cards right now, doctor. Artemus concentrated on cutting a piece of the chicken on his plate. But now that I’m certain you did not destroy the island painting, I intend to find it, rescue Jim, and stop you again. The big problem was not only finding the painting but also getting out of his room.
He had been very passive each time the dour man arrived to retrieve his tray an hour or so after each meal. The same man also brought a pitcher of hot water early each morning. Artie made no move that could be construed as threatening, let alone having an interest in escape. The last couple of time the man had simply walked in, picked up the tray, and departed with barely a glance at the prisoner. Artie thought that a guard or two was in the passageway, but if so, none came to the doorway. He probably remained out in the hall as each cell was visited.
Overpowering the man who delivered and picked up the trays would be easy, but contending with an armed guard might not be. Beyond all that, Artemus had no knowledge of the layout of the building other than what he saw on his arrival and then today as he was led from his cell to this room. He had not seen much except closed doors! Above all, he had no idea where the island painting could be.
The primary obstacle, however, was the fact that if it was discovered that he had escaped from his room and found the painting, then had probably passed through the painting to the island, Loveless would undoubtedly truly destroy it, thus trapping both agents on the island. Artemus saw only one remedy, and that would be to take Loveless along… which made the task doubly or even triply more difficult and dangerous.
Each time the door to his cell was opened, Artie surreptitiously studied the locking mechanism, which was a simple bolt that was pushed to the side and into the doorframe each time. He thought he knew a way to attempt to overcome it, but he did not have the material… until now. The lovely linen napkin that had been beside his plate and now rested on his lap. The trick now would be to take it with him without discovery, and then to hide it in his sparsely furnished quarters if anyone came seeking the missing item.
Obviously feeling his oats, so to speak, Loveless chattered on throughout the meal, elaborating on his plans. Artemus realized that the new island the doctor was creating would be more habitable than the first, as far as being self-sufficient. But it would still be a prison and he had no intention of allowing it to be completed, let alone going there.
It is late before the brave despair.
—James Thomson (1700-1748), Scottish poet
When Jim roused from the drugged sleep, he was angry. He knew now that the previous time Loveless had come to the island, he had not used a different escape route back to the real world, but had merely hidden until Jim left the area of the rock. Knowing that the only way off the island was through whatever was inside that rock was of no help if he could not find the entrance. He would not cease trying to find that door, but previous experience there told him that success was not going to be easy.
To work off some of his frustration, he stripped off his clothes and plunged into the ocean waters. He knew from experience that the water was not terribly deep, even further out from the island, probably less than ten feet. It was also a very comfortable temperature, neither too cold nor too warm. He had experienced the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico and this was of a cooler temperature.
After swimming briskly for twenty or thirty minutes, he returned to the sand and lay in the sun until dry, when he brushed away the sand that had stuck to him before dressing again. He continued to don his boots at all times because he wanted to be ready to enter the jungle at any time if reason arose, such as the appearance of Loveless or any of his minions.
Not having eaten breakfast before Loveless’s visit, Jim opened one of the cans of peaches with his knife and ate them, drinking the syrup they were in. He then shaved, heating some water over the fire. One little part of him asked, why bother to shave? Yet he knew he needed to retain some semblance of civilization for as long as possible. The time might come, if he and Artie were both unsuccessful, that shaving and bathing would no longer interest him, beyond a swim. But for now, he would shave every day.
He had also begun an exercise regime a couple of days ago, and he set off to follow that now, heading for a narrow beach north of this one that was about two hundred yards long, a good length to run and walk briskly several times, back and forth. Between the swimming and this running, he hoped to keep his muscles toned, and above all, ease boredom. Without company, or even books, the days were incredibly long. Finding something to keep his mind occupied was paramount. He would persist in exploring the island and visiting the rock structure, but even that, he knew, would eventually pall.
He continued to wonder why Loveless allowed him to keep his weapon, and eventually a niggling thought began to rest in the back of his mind. Loveless expected him to one day reach a point of total desperation, driven near mad by the solitude and loneliness. That day would be a long time coming, he decided grimly. Jim West was not that sort of man.
Artemus was not surprised when, about an hour after he was returned to his cell, Loveless and two men appeared, demanding the missing napkin. Artie shook his head. “I put it properly beside my plate when I rose.”
Of course Loveless did not believe him, and a thorough search of the sparsely furnished room was instituted. They found nothing, even after turning over and inspecting his mattress, as well as searching the prisoner thoroughly. Artie portrayed bemusement.
“What in the world is so important about a missing dinner napkin? Is it of sentimental value to Antoinette? Part of her trousseau?”
Loveless just glared at him, a glare that deepened as the search turned up nothing. The doctor appeared satisfied that his suspicions about Mr. Gordon had proved fruitless, but angry that he had been put to such trouble—and made to look ridiculous. He did not apologize for the accusations and search, stomping out and leaving his men to close and lock the door.
Artemus sat down on the bed, grinning in the dim light the lone candle provided. Loveless’s men had patted him from neck to toe, even commanding him to remove his boots, but it had not occurred to any of them to lift up the insole of his right boot. The napkin was neatly and flatly folded there and it would stay there for now, until he was ready to experiment with it.
He did not attempt anything until the following evening. Mr. Sourpuss came to pick up the tray, and Artemus had the napkin folded in the manner he wished on the cot under his thigh. As had been his habit, the man stooped to grab the tray from the floor, never even looking at Artie. He then turned back to the door, holding the tray in his left hand while he reached back with his right to grab the edge of the door and pull it shut behind him, his back to the door.
That was when Artie moved. He grabbed the napkin and just as the door closed, he stuck it in between the door itself and the frame, right where the bolt would be jammed shut. He muttered a little prayer that the man was no more attentive than usual. Artie had never noticed any sounds that indicated the fellow checked the lock once he slammed on the bolt.
And that was what happened this time. Artie felt the tug on the cloth, and he held his breath, pressing his ear to the door. Plainly he heard the hard-heeled boots striding away down the hall. Still he waited, unsure whether the other trays had been collected yet. He would not want to open the door just as someone was passing by. He went back to the cot and lay down.
Other nights he had heard sounds downstairs that indicated people were moving around up to a certain time, doors opening and closing, the murmur of voices; once something glass that apparently fell and shattered. There had been a shout of anger after that. Artie had been sure the voice was Loveless’s. Maybe Sourpuss dropped a favorite goblet.
He put out his own candle at its usual time, unknowing whether anyone patrolled the hallways to check on such things, and remained in the darkness, having no trouble staying awake, his nerves on edge. Was the trick going to work? Had the bolt been turned so that it could not be moved? He thought not. He did not believe the cook’s helper or whoever he was ever bothered, and Artie had heard no sounds subsequently to indicate anyone else had noticed.
Finally at an hour he thought must be well beyond midnight, he rose from the bed and made his way to the door, not lighting the candle again. Once again he pressed his ear to it, then hearing nothing but his own breathing and heartbeat, he carefully grasped the protruding part of the napkin and pulled it. Slowly. Ever so slowly. Now he was holding his breath. This might be a crackpot idea. I have no idea whether the moving cloth will force the bolt back into its barrel…it might need some tension from the other side as well…
But it worked. It worked! Artemus released the breath in a long sigh, caught his fingernails in the now slightly opened door, and carefully drew it toward him, continuing to listen. No one yelled. He folded the napkin and stuck it under the mattress, then picking up the candle, moved back to the door, opened it further, and stepped out into the dim hallway. Oil lamps in sconces provided scant light. He used one of those lamps to light his candle. His supply of matches in the room was rationed and, he thought, counted!
Knowing where the stairs were he headed that way quickly, experiencing a slight regret that he could not stop at each door along the way to make contact with his fellow prisoners. Of course he did not have time, but he also had a nagging worry that Giles was not the only spy. At the stairs he descended slowly, listening after each step. So far so good!
In the lower hallway Artemus paused. His intent tonight was to explore. He thought that Loveless and Antoinette had their rooms down here; he had no clue where the other men slept, not having been able to see much of the outside area, only that brief glimpse before he was brought inside. A bunkhouse could be out there somewhere.
He systematically started checking the rooms, starting with the two familiar ones, the parlor and the dining room. The painting was in neither. He’s got to have a studio, or a laboratory, Artie decided. The next room down was the kitchen; Artie spent only a few seconds in there. Loveless would not put his precious artwork in a kitchen.
He hit the jackpot when he opened the next door. There he found several easels, as well as the complicated mechanism with the flashing lights similar to that he had seen in Morgan’s mansion outside of Denver. This one appeared larger and more elaborate. No doubt due to the “improvements” Loveless bragged about. Best of all, the painting of the island hung on one wall!
He had to fight the temptation to grab the hammer to strike the gong that hung nearby to transport himself to the island to be able to reassure Jim. He could not take the chance of Loveless discovering his absence and drawing the correct conclusion. No, when he went to the island, Miguelito Loveless had to be alongside him.
An extra large canvas displaying an unfinished painting rested on one of the easels and Artemus knew immediately that it was the new island of exile Loveless was designing. What I wouldn’t give to learn how he does it! Artie held the candle close, trying to see something different in the way the paints were applied, but saw nothing. Just as those in Morgan’s home, these paintings appeared perfectly normal. He could see broad fields dotted with cattle, a forest of pine trees, along with a lake and a number of buildings. Loveless was including all he thought would be necessary to sustain his prisoners. He would not want to need to ship supplies to the numbers he was planning to send there.
One last thing Artemus noted with satisfaction: his own gun belt, complete with the walnut-handled pistol, hanging from a hook on the wall. Knowing he could not touch it at this point, he left the room and checked other doors, not opening them, but listening. At two he was sure he heard breathing. Doors right next to each other. Loveless and Antoinette had separate rooms, he decided, but probably connecting. Now I have to decide which one is Loveless’s!
Jim broke the piece of wood in half after chopping partway through it with the ax, and laid it on the small fire. He had stopped creating the blazing bonfires that the original “settlers” thought necessary to keep the alleged beast at bay. For one thing, he was not receiving supplies as often as they did, primarily, he supposed, because he was only one man as opposed to more than a half dozen. But he had to conserve the wood. That from the trees was very green and took a long time to dry, even in the hot sun.
If he was remembering correctly, this was his sixth day as the sole resident of the island. He had thought about trying to create a calendar, perhaps notching wood, but decided against it. Doing so would not change a thing. And maybe after a while, he would not even want to know how much time had elapsed…
Jim shook his head, smiling slightly. No, he would not give up on Artemus so soon. Artie was working alone. Jim knew that his partner would be sage enough to not trust any of the others who had been here on the island, even if he was told that one in particular had been the spy. Any and all could have been. Loveless said he was sending them to the new colony; he would want spies there too.
But Artie would have to be very careful and move slowly. If he knew Artie, more than likely his partner was playing possum, convincing Loveless that he was helpless, perhaps in total despair. Loveless’s massive ego would cause him believe it because he wanted to believe it.
For just one instant, Jim West thought he was hallucinating, hearing voices. He spun around toward the jungle and there he was. Artemus Gordon, grinning widely as he strode toward the beach. He was holding a pistol, and a scowling Dr. Miguelito Loveless walked ahead of that pistol.
“Artie!” The word came out almost a croak and Jim realized he had not used his voice in days, not even to talk to himself. “What… how…?”
“All that later, pal.” Artie stepped onto the sand and shift his pistol to his left hand, extending the right. “How are you?”
Jim gripped that hand. “Better than I’ve been in days!”
“Enjoy it while you can,” Loveless snarled. “It won’t last long!”
Artie rolled his eyes. “The doctor is certain his men are following us. I think we have a few hours before that happens. It was about midnight there.” He glanced up at the glowing sun. “It’s a wee bit warmer here. Better grab your jacket, James.”
“You can’t get away with this!” Loveless insisted as Jim picked up the jacket he had not worn since that first day of arrival.
“So far so good,” Artie purred. “Come on. Let’s get back to the rock. I’ll fill you in on the way.”
Urging the scowling Loveless ahead of them, they started off through the jungle, and Artie explained first why he had decided he needed to bring Loveless with him on the rescue. “Much as I enjoy your company, James, I don't think I’d like to be stranded on an island with you for the rest of my life.”
“Same here,” Jim grinned.
Artie then went on to describe how he had used the linen napkin to be able to open his cell door. After exploring that first night, he waited two more nights and then did it again. This time he procured his weapon from the studio before finding Loveless’s room. With pistol in hand, he had urged the doctor out of bed to dress, and then they both went to the studio-laboratory and were transported to the island together.
“Worked quite smoothly, which is worrisome, in a sense. Things don’t usually happen that easily!”
“You’re right, Mr. Gordon,” Loveless growled, picking his way over some vines. “I can assure you that you’re not going to get out of the house as easily.”
“We might, with you as hostage,” Jim replied, drawing an ugly glare from the little man. Loveless, like most men, did not like to be bested, and in particular, he did not like losing to these two agents. That had occurred too many times to suit him.
“You know, Jim,” Artie said laconically as he pushed through some hanging vines, “I was actually thinking of leaving the doctor here on the island.”
“You wouldn’t!” Loveless croaked, looking at each of them in turn, eyes wide.
Jim nodded thoughtfully. “That would be ironic, wouldn’t it? To allow the doctor to enjoy the fruits—or lack thereof—of his labor.”
“And when we get back to the house, we can do what he attempted to convince me he did—destroy the real island painting,” Artie added, glancing back at him over the doctor’s head, his brown eyes gleaming with mirth.
“No, no, no! That’s inhuman!” the little man screamed.
“You’re saying what’s sauce for the goose is not for the gander?” Jim spoke sharply, his amusement cooled.
Loveless gathered himself. “I’m saying that I know you gentlemen, and I know that such cold-bloodedness is not in your nature. You have a conscience!”
“That is sometimes an inconvenience,” Artie admitted as they stepped into the clearing around the massive rock. He paused to look at the doctor. “After all, if we were to leave you here, who would know it besides the two of us? You will have disappeared as easily and thoroughly as Jim did, and me as well.” Loveless’s eyes widened again.
“Of course, if we did that,” Jim said slowly, “we would deny ourselves the pleasure of seeing you tried for all your crimes and probably hanged.”
Artie considered that a moment. “I suppose you are right, Jim. Ready to go back?”
“Anytime. Do you know how to open the door?”
“I do. Keep your eye on our little friend here.” Artie went towards the brushy exterior and grasped what appeared to be a twig. To Jim’s amazement, a door opened in the rock.
“I’ll be damned. That easy, huh?”
“That easy,” Artie grinned.
Still holding his gun, Jim preceded the other two into the interior. He paused a moment to allow his eyes to adjust to the dimmer light, but realized that as he had once suspected, the top of the rock was important. Windows built into the roof provided illumination for the interior. The first thing he saw was a large landscape painting, depicting a big two-story house, gray in color, set in some rather nondescript land, with trees far in the background. He glanced around as Artie and the doctor entered.
“Is this our destination?”
“Yes. Only I don't know where it is.”
“I mean, what state. Do you care to tell us, Doctor?” Loveless folded his arms across his chest and clamped his mouth shut, appearing all the world like a recalcitrant child. Artie just shook his head. “Also, when I was returned to reality, I landed in the front of the house, outside, with men waiting for me. I would ask the good doctor if that destination has been changed, but I doubt he would respond, at least not honestly. Never mind. It’s not that important at the moment.”
“What about his men?” Jim asked.
“Again, it’s information our little friend could provide, but I’m sure he won’t. I was unable to see much of the outside, but I believe at least the majority of the men bunk in the house, upstairs. As you’ll see, it’s a very large house. But I am hoping they will be sleeping yet. We haven’t been gone long. Ready?”
“As I’ll ever be.”
The three of them moved closer to the painting, Loveless having to be prodded by Jim’s gun barrel. If the doctor experienced any relief with the awareness that he was not going to be left stranded, he did not show it, glowering all the while.
“Jim, as you are aware, there will be some disorientation upon arrival. I overcame it to an extent when coming here by counting.”
“Yes. Just start with any number and count slowly, concentrating on it. I don't know why, but when we arrived here, in this room, I felt more clearheaded than when I was transported as McCoy or to this island the first time. Ready?” he asked again, reaching to the side where a cord was attached to a bell. He jerked on the cord several times, the clear sounds of the bell pealing in the small room.
Il n'y a personne qui ne soit dangereux pour quelqu'un.
[There is no person who is not dangerous for some one.]
—Lettres, Marquise de Sevigne, Marie de Rabutin-Chantal (1626-1696), French epistolary writer, diarist and lady of fashion
Jim landed on his feet, but experienced a wave of vertigo, although not as severe as on previous occasions; Artie’s trick worked. He reached out his hand in the darkness and found something solid to steady on. They were inside, he knew immediately. But the room was very dark except for some lights blinking at one side. He heard other movements near him.
“Right here,” his partner answered. “Just a second.” Not knowing what he would encounter, Artemus had placed his extra matches, hoarded in the cell, in his pocket. He struck one of them—just in time to see Loveless darting toward a door.
Jim was nearest and he caught the little man after two long strides. “That’s not very polite, Doctor, to desert your guests so eagerly.” Holding onto Loveless’s arm tightly, he looked around. “What is this? The studio?”
Artie nodded, spotting an oil lamp on a table and lighting it before the match burned too closely to his fingers. He picked up the lamp and held it high. “The headquarters.”
The blinking lights on the mechanism were slowing down, Artie realized. It must “power up” when used, then reduce its operation once a transfer is made, he reasoned. A generator was likely in another area, perhaps the basement below.
Jim was peering at the large picture of Loveless’s new site and Artie moved closer with the lamp. “That was to be my home. I think we’ll put a stop to that.” He reached over to pick up a palette knife.
“No!” Loveless screeched as the tip of the blade cut through the canvas under the force of Artie’s angry blow.
“Good idea,” Jim concurred and stepped over to the one of the island, pulling the knife from the back of his coat. As Loveless moaned, he sliced that picture into shreds, keeping his pistol pointed at the doctor.
“You are barbarians!” the doctor wailed. “A life’s work, destroyed!”
“You are a talented artist,” Artemus said mildly, “but you have another talent, which is misdirecting your flair.”
“One more thing to do,” Jim growled, picking up a stool and walking toward the machine.
Loveless’s screams harmonized with the smash of glass and crunch of metal as Jim used the heavier seat of the stool as a club, demolishing the mechanism. Some sparks flew, and a little smoke but as he stepped back, he saw no indications that a major fire was going to erupt.
“Someone’s liable to hear that,” Artie noted. “Let’s go. Come on, Doctor.”
Loveless stepped back, crossing his arms, his lower lip extending in a pout. Jim glanced at his partner and rolled his eyes. He then started to reach for the little man, intending to lift him if necessary. But just then the door opened. Antoinette stood there, attired in a dark-velvet, lace-trimmed dressing gown, and holding a shotgun.
“Why, Mr. West! How nice to see you again.”
Loveless giggled and toddled toward her. “Antoinette, my dear! Always alert.” He took the shotgun from her. “Go rouse a few of the men. And Mr. West, Mr. Gordon, kindly put your weapons on the floor.”
As she departed, the two agents exchanged a glance as they complied with the instruction. Both knew they needed to be in control of the situation—and even out of the house—by the time the henchmen arrived. Artie was the one who remembered his fellow prisoners in the house.
“Where are Mrs. Timmons and the others? Upstairs?”
“I’m sure they are cozily sleeping still. Don’t worry about them, Mr. Gordon. I’ll prepare another painting of their new residence. It will take some time to repair the machine, but I will have that time, with you two safely in the ground.”
“So that’s the plan now?” Jim murmured, moving idly to one side. “Just kill us?”
“I’m afraid that is the best procedure,” Loveless smirked. “I gave into my vanity, my wishes to be able to think of the two of you alive and helpless to do anything to stop me. But I should have known from past experience. I should have just killed you in Mrs. Timmons’ boarding house. I’ll remedy that situation now. You will be buried in unmarked graves here in the wilds of Montana, and no one will ever know what happened to you.”
“Montana. So that’s where we are,” Artie said, turning his body slightly, using the movement to disguise a step in the opposite direction of his partner. They needed to be very careful. Loveless would not need to be a particularly good shot with that scattergun. “How did you find this place?”
Loveless’s smile was smug. “I’ve owned this property for many years. It has long served as a refuge, a place to do my research and be away from prying eyes.”
With Loveless’s attention momentarily on Artie, Jim edged to the side again before he spoke. “Very clever. Who would think to look for you in the wilds of Montana, especially in a place like this? You generally have more luxurious quarters.”
“That’s true, isn’t it? But sometimes one must make sacrifices.” Although Loveless looked at Jim first as he began to speak, he swung his head around toward Artemus, just in time to see Artie take a step. “Stop! Move back over there closer to Mr. West!”
Jim took advantage of the moment. With one long stride he reached Loveless and grabbed the barrel of the shotgun, wrenching it from his hands. Loveless shrieked and grabbed for it, but to no avail. Artie quickly picked up both their guns from the floor, moving to place Jim’s in his holster.
“Now, let’s go join Antoinette before she’s able to rouse your friends,” Artie said with a grin.
Once more the little doctor took on the mien of a stubborn child, folding his arms, sticking out his lower lip and glowering at the agents. With a sigh, Jim grabbed the back of Loveless’s coat and lifted him off the floor, drawing a screech of protest.
“Are you going to walk as requested?” Jim asked.
“All right! All right! You are a beast, Mr. West! You should not treat another human that way.”
“Tell me about it,” Artie sighed as they moved out the door.
He led the way to the stairway, where they paused a moment to listen, Jim’s pistol against the doctor’s head. The only sound they could hear was some tapping and Antoinette’s rather frantic calls.
“Seems like she’s having trouble rousing the boys,” Jim whispered.
“I’ll dock their pay!” Loveless snarled.
Handing the shotgun over to Artie, Jim pulled his gun and went ahead of them. When he reached the second floor, the first thing he saw was Antoinette, leaning her head against a door, and knocking on it. She saw Jim and turned to run the opposite direction. Jim caught up with her and grabbed her arm.
“Nowhere to go, Antoinette.”
Her smile was coy. “I guess not, Mr. West.”
“Artie,” Jim said quietly as they neared the other two, “which are the cells?”
Artie led them further down the hall. The door that had been his room stood open. He threw the bolt on the door next to it, and Rose Timmons was standing there, eyes wide in the dimness. “Mr. Gordon! Mr. West! What’s going on?”
“Quiet,” Jim said, reaching out and taking her hand to draw her into the hallway. “We don’t want to wake the men. We’re getting out of here.”
The next cell was that of the Reverend Klotz. He too was awake, apparently having heard Antoinette’s calls, even if the men she was trying to rouse did not. He tried to ask some questions but was shushed, as they moved to the next one to release Mr. and Mrs. Berwick.
“Get George and we’ll get out of here,” Jim muttered, as Loveless continued to glower, sometimes at the agents, sometimes at Antoinette, who appeared more than a little distressed. Artie thought she wanted to say something in her defense but didn’t dare at this moment. Hard to believe those men are such sound sleepers!
Artie opened the last door and Greave stepped out, grinning widely—and holding another shotgun. “James, Artemus. Drop your weapons. Giles, pick them up.” Young Giles followed him out. He did not have a weapon, but was also grinning.
“George, what is this?” Artie demanded as he dropped his pistol to the floor.
Loveless was now fairly dancing with joy as he seized the shotgun from Jim’s hands and grabbed Antoinette’s arm as both moved alongside Greave and Giles. “I always have an ace in the hole,” Loveless chortled. “You should know that, gentlemen. Mr. Greave is my ace in the hole!”
“It’s simple, James, Artemus. The doctor offered me something that I have wanted for a long, long time. Something I was never going to attain as a lawyer in a place like Denver. Money. Status.”
“I can see the money,” Jim said slowly. “But status?”
“Status, James. He asked me to go, with Giles—who happens to be my nephew and steered the doctor to me—to the island to act as liaisons, or spies if you prefer. In exchange, we are going to be in control of the new kingdom the doctor is creating. I will live in total luxury, with the people he sends after me waiting on me, hand and foot.”
“You should know,” Artie said drily, “that will not happen for a while yet. We destroyed the paintings.”
Greave’s eyes widened and Antoinette spoke quickly. “I didn’t have a chance to tell you, Mr. Greave.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Loveless added. “I’ll re-create both paintings. Mr. West will be returned to his little kingdom, and you shall have yours.”
“I wouldn’t count on that,” Jim growled, barely holding his anger in. They had been so close!
“Giles, dear lad,” Loveless purred, “why don’t you go rouse those lazy louts. Past experience has shown me that we may need help to contain these two.”
“Doctor,” Greave said, “I’m afraid those men are not going to be much use for a while. I heard Antoinette out here and came to see what was going on. As I told her, last night they were all drinking heavily.”
“Drinking! Where did they get liquor?”
“Men always seem to find a way when they want it,” the lawyer sighed. “In any case, I’m pretty certain they are all sleeping it off. They won’t be very fit until well after dawn.”
Artie glanced at Jim and knew his partner was having the same thoughts. Now or never. Although Loveless and Greave were now holding the dangerous shotguns, and Jim’s pistol was in his holster, they had to make a move against the older man and the small one before Loveless decided to imprison them in the rooms again. Berwick and the reverend might be of some help, but they could not count on it.
Even as the thoughts crossed his mind, Loveless sighed loudly. “All right, we’ll put them back in the rooms for now. Mr. and Mrs. Berwick…” He motioned toward the open door they had just exited.
As he had downstairs, Jim took advantage of Loveless’s momentary distraction. He kicked. The toe of his boot caught the barrel of the shotgun the doctor held and it flew from Loveless’s hands. Unfortunately, the finger had been on the barrel, and it went off, harmlessly into the opposite wall, but with a loud explosion.
Artemus jumped forward as soon as he saw Jim’s move, using the moment, as Greave and Giles both gaped at what was occurring and were frozen for a moment. Artie grabbed the shotgun from Greave’s hands, and then scooped up his own pistol from the floor.
“That might have roused them, even if Antoinette couldn’t,” he said, as Jim stepped back, his own gun in hand.
“You can’t hold them all off!” Loveless cried, once again frustrated and angry.
“In there!” Jim commanded, pointing toward the open door of the cell that had belonged to Artie. “Not you, George. You and Giles get in the next one. Move!”
Already they heard a shout from down the hall, someone demanding to know what had happened. The men were stirring, and even if they were not immediately alert, they would be coming out with guns in their hands. Artie turned toward his former fellow prisoners as Jim was herding Antoinette and Loveless into the cell and locking the door.
“Get downstairs. Rose, you know where the stairs are. Hurry!”
“This way,” Rose Timmons cried, lifting her skirts and racing down the hallway toward the stairway. After a moment’s hesitation, the Berwicks and Reverend Klotz followed. Once Greave and his nephew were locked in the next cell, Jim and Artemus ran down the hall. Artie stopped alongside what he believed was the first room used by the henchman, while Jim continued to the door to the stairwell. Both backed up against the wall, their pistols in their hands.
Moments later two doors opened almost simultaneously and five men bustled out, guns in hand. That they had dressed hastily was evident in lack of shirts, suspenders hanging down, and one was bootless. They also were not as alert as they might otherwise be, stepping out and staring down the passageway in confusion.
“Just drop the guns, gentlemen,” Artie said, moving away from the wall slightly and lowering his gun to aim at them.
The one in front scowled. “There’s just one of you…”
“Two,” Jim said quietly from behind them.
It did not proceed quite as smoothly as the agents would have preferred. While these five men let their weapons fall to the floor, four more emerged, one of who was not about to surrender so easily. He swung his gun toward Jim and was rewarded with a kick to the gut, which caused him to bend over, his weapon falling from his hand as he gasped in pain.
“Now,” Artie said blithely, “behave yourselves. Just follow me down the hall, boys.”
They locked the men into three more cells, checked on the bolts to make sure they were all secure, and headed downstairs where they found the others waiting anxiously. “Where are we, Mr. West?” the reverend wanted to know.
“Somewhere in Montana,” Jim replied grimly. “Let’s hope there are some horses outside.”
The first thing they did was to raid the bedrooms of their former captors to find warm clothing. In Antoinette’s bedroom was a fine fur cape that Rose Timmons insisted Mrs. Berwick should take. She was happy with a heavy jacket from Loveless’s closet that fit her just fine. In the bunkrooms upstairs more sturdy outer clothing was located to garb the men. They also gathered up all the weapons they could find, along with some food from the kitchen, putting them in burlap bags before heading outside.
As Jim and Artemus had hoped, a barn was behind the house, and in that barn were a number of horses, including their own steeds, apparently brought from Pocatello by Loveless or his men, and a nice buggy to which one of the horses was hitched while horses were saddled for the men to ride. Mrs. Timmons and Mrs. Berwick climbed into the buggy, and they set out, with the remaining horses being driven ahead of the mounted men.
A brief conversation among the men had come up with the decision to head east. Berwick had been in Montana previously, and he agreed with Jim and Artie that this terrain appeared to be in the east-central area. By heading east, they should find some civilization, ranches if not a town.
Riding across snow-covered fields was not easy, and it was slower going than a cleared area might have been. But their hopes and guesses played out when around noon they came up on a ranch house, where the owner not only told them that a town was five miles further on, but invited them in for some hot coffee and a meal prepared by his wife before they traveled on.
The rancher was aware of the large house west of him but he thought it was deserted. Legend had it was haunted, he said. People tended to avoid it. The legend also said that a man had built the house for his family, then went mad and murdered them all before killing himself. Of course, that was only a story and he was not at all assured of its truth. Did tend to keep people from vandalizing the place, at least.
The group then traveled on to the town where they were thankful to find both a sheriff and a telegraph office. Jim and Artemus went to the sheriff first, while the others proceeded to wire messages to families and friends who might be missing them.
The sheriff was a sturdy man in his mid thirties who listened to their story with astonishment—even though they did not mention the paintings and the island. On the way, they had discussed this and all agreed it would be safer to simply say they had been kidnapped. Who would believe such a tale? Jim and Artie were quick to point out that they had had to do the same thing after their previous experience with the “magical” paintings.
Sheriff Jack Cunningham was very willing to amass a posse to go back to the house to pick up Loveless and his men, but he said that because of the snow, getting word out to summon men in was going to take longer than usual.
Artie shrugged. “I know there’s water in the rooms. They won’t starve or freeze by tomorrow.”
“And it’ll serve them right,” Jim muttered.
Cunningham apologized that the town did not have a hotel, or even a rooming house, but he himself owned a rather large house on the edge of town, inherited from his parents. “I live there alone now that both my brother and sister married and moved away. There’s room for all of you, if the ladies don’t mind doing a little cooking.”
For a warm, soft bed and the ability to not only have their freedom but also take baths, Rose and Mina said they would be happy to do the cooking for the group. While the agents sent some telegrams, the sheriff escorted them to his house and spent time getting them settled before he returned to town to start sending for posse members.
The afternoon was spent relaxing and taking baths one at a time in the small room Cunningham showed them. Water had to be heated on the stove, but matters were speeded because removing a plug allowed the water from the tub to flow outside. Not having clean clothes to change into was a minus, but no one complained much. Tomorrow they would purchase some items from the local stores; today they were too tired to care.
Their conversations were primarily about their experiences, and George Greave and his nephew. All expressed wonder that both of them were accomplices to Loveless’s mad scheme. “Loveless can be very persuasive,” Artie commented. “I have the impression that Giles traveled in some rough circles so he likely knew something about the kind of mischief the doctor can cause. And he went to his uncle with Loveless’s proposition. Money and power has turned many a head.”
Sheriff Cunningham returned to the house for supper, and when he saw the spread the women had managed to make from his pantry, he was all smiles. “I often just eat a sandwich or make pancakes for supper,” he said, “if I don’t end up eating at Jake’s in town. His cooking is worse than mine!”
He had particular praise for the dried apple pies that Mina assured him Rose prepared all by herself. “I had no hand in it!” Artemus had noticed that the sheriff positioned himself beside Mrs. Timmons at the table and directed much of his conversation to her. Rose did not seem to mind. When the sheriff departed—reluctantly—for his evening rounds, Jim went with him. Cunningham had brought some telegrams that were replies to their earlier ones, but he had asked the telegrapher to put anything that came before he closed his office on the sheriff’s desk.
The response from Colonel Richmond had caused both agents to smile. Their supervisor reamed them out for disappearing so abruptly, but then stated he was glad they were safe and also he was anxious to hear their reports. “We’re going to have to be very inventive,” Artie said with a grin as he read that.
After what Jim freely admitted was the best night’s sleep he had had in a couple of weeks, he and Artemus mounted up and accompanied the posse back to the big house in the snowy fields. All was quiet as they entered, guns drawn. Jim and Artemus led the way upstairs, where the first door they unlocked was the one to the cell containing Miguelito Loveless and Antoinette.
“Should have known,” Artie sighed.
Jim stepped into the room and gazed around, unsure of what he was searching for. Except for the meager furnishings, the room was empty. “You escaped, Artie…”
“Yes, but only because the door was opened to allow me to insert the cloth that helped me throw the bolt.”
“Was there supposed to be someone in here?” Cunningham asked from the doorway, looking around.
“The mastermind and his… girlfriend,” Jim replied. “We’ve encountered him numerous times previously and he has always escaped. This time…”
“This time,” Artie took up, “we thought we had him confined.”
“Must be some clever fellow, this Loveless.”
“That’s the understatement of the year, sheriff,” Jim smiled wanly. “Well, let’s collect the others at least.”
Cunningham seemed bemused that they were taking the escape so lightly, and Artie decided to tell the sheriff a little more about their experiences with the good doctor. He did so on the ride back to town. They had brought the horses back with them, and now the nine henchmen along with George Greave and Giles Yost were mounted on them after being manacled.
By evening all the prisoners were crowded into Cunningham’s small jail, with the assurance they would not be there long. The agents had already sent wires asking for federal troops to come pick them up, and now sent one to Boise to warn the authorities to keep a close watch on their prisoner, Absalom Fincher, now that Loveless was on the loose again. After one more night in the sheriff’s home, they set out for the nearest railhead, which Cunningham told them was nearly a day’s ride away.
The sheriff decided he would accompany the group—so he could bring back the extra horses and the buggy the ladies were using, of course, in case the troops needed them to transport the prisoners. With straight faces, both Jim and Artie agreed that was a good idea. The young sheriff had spent all the previous evening sitting on a sofa with Rose Timmons and both seemed to be enjoying each other’s company very much.
When they reached the railway station, it was discovered that a train was due to leave for the east in about an hour, so the Berwicks purchased tickets, and bade a warm goodbye to their fellow stranded. They would see each other again when it came time to testify about Greave and the others, but Mina and Rose promised to keep in touch.
The train west that the others would need—the Wanderer was still waiting near Pocatello—was not leaving until the following morning. Rose expressed her disappointment, but did not seem all that distressed when Jack Cunningham smiled at her. This town at least had a hotel, so they were able to get rooms. James and Artemus spent the evening putting together a believable—they hoped—report for the colonel, the reverend retired to his room, while the sheriff escorted Mrs. Timmons to a performance put on by the local school.
Ay, many flowering islands lie
In the waters of wide Agony.
— Lines written among the Euganean Hills (l. 66), Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822), English poet
“Well, that’s a huge surprise,” Artie laughed as he handed the letter he had just read to Jim.
Jim scanned the note and grinned. The missive was from Rose Timmons. She had sold her boarding house and was moving to Montana where she would marry Jack Cunningham. “Who would have guessed? What’s that?”
Artemus had picked up a square white envelope from the two months’ accumulation of mail they had just picked up at the Denver post office after finishing a chore in the Dakota Territory. “No return. Looks like an invitation or something, doesn’t it?” Taking up the silver letter opener he slit the top and pulled out a card. Then he sighed loudly. “This is no surprise either.”
Jim took it. On the pure white card was a fine pen and ink sketch of a tropical palm tree, with a lion, tiger, and bear sitting below it, jaws open and teeth flashing. And next to the drawing, in excellent script, the words “An island awaits you.”
“Oh great,” he murmured. “Maybe he’ll at least wait until we’re ready to retire.”
“Don’t bet on it, James. I sure would like to know how he escaped from that room. I inspected every inch of it while I was held in there. No doors that opened to secret passages. No trap door in floor or ceiling.”
“At least none that you found.”
“Yeah. That’s true, isn’t it?” Artie shook his head. “I know we’ll meet him again. When and where is the question—not to mention who will win. Loveless is the spice of our life, James.”
“I’m all too ready for some bland pudding for a while. Let’s hope the colonel has some dignitary to babysit.”
“That would be nice, wouldn’t it? A nice cantankerous, demanding ambassador. We can hope.”
“And in the meanwhile,” Jim sighed, “we can dream of our own deserted island, courtesy of Dr. Loveless. Along with some extra companions, if this card is any hint.”
“All we have to do is stay away from paintings, Jim. No more art exhibits or admiring pictures in the homes of strangers.”
“Easier said that done.”
“James my boy, you wouldn’t have it any other way. And neither would I.”
Jim laughed, tossed the card aside, and continued digging through the stack of mail.
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