SS senior field agent
Posted - 11/04/2013 : 12:36:12
| THE NIGHT OF THE DANGEROUS EYES
Oculi, tanquam, speculatores, altissimum locum obtinent.
[The eyes, like sentinels, hold the highest place in the body.]
—De Natura Deorum (bk. II, 56), Cicero (Marcus Tullius Cicero; 106-43 BC), Roman philosopher, statesman, and orator
Jim placed the envelope in an inside pocket of his jacket and then pulled the cloak tighter around his neck as he pushed through the door into the damp chill November evening. At least I have the papers. I’ll find a hack to get back to the depot and then… He paused and looked around. Not a hack was to be seen. I should have told the one I had to wait, except I had no idea how long I would be.
As it happened, he had been in Senator Bligh’s office for nearly two hours, a good part of the time spent waiting in the former senator’s reception area. When Alfonse Bligh had been in Washington, he had had a reputation for keeping people waiting, and now, out of office, his habits had not changed.
All for a letter that has no bearing on anything! With a sigh, Jim started walking. At least the downpour had ceased but the streets of San Francisco were very wet and filled with puddles; the sidewalks were not much better. That was probably why the cabs were in short supply. People who might normally walk reasonable distances were grabbing a ride.
Oh, well! I’m sure I can find one on Market Street and that’s only about four blocks away. He increased his pace to a brisk stride. Artemus was probably pacing the Wanderer’s carpeted floor. Artie knew about the senator’s habits, but he was as anxious to get moving as Jim was. They were to deliver the letter to an agent waiting in Kansas City, then move on to one of their favorite places, New Orleans, to investigate more possible counterfeiting. Right now, Jim could only think of the warmth of the parlor car and the good dinner his partner was probably concocting right now.
He turned a corner, noticing how the gas streetlights were lit already when the hour was barely after four. Darkness settled in early this time of year and even earlier on a stormy day. This street, one that crossed between two busier thoroughfares, was deserted. Other than the street lamps, the only lights he saw were in the upper floors of the several buildings where people lived in rooms or apartments, as well as a couple glowing in windows on street level that were restaurants or bars.
He was just passing by one of the restaurants when a woman abruptly dashed out of the door and ran into him. Jim grabbed her arms as she seemed about to fall backwards. In the light from the window beside them, he saw she was young and quite attractive. She appeared terrified, her dark eyes opened wide.
“Let me go, let me go!” she cried hoarsely.
“Wait, are you all right?”
“Please! They’re going to come after me! Don’t let them hurt me!”
Jim glanced in through the restaurant window. At least half a dozen men were at the counter of the small eatery. None appeared to be interested in the fleeing woman. “Are you sure?”
“They don’t know I’ve left. They are in the back. Please help me!”
Jim caught her arm, looking around. An alley was beside the restaurant so he pulled her into the opening. “Tell me what this is about.”
Before she could speak, the angry voices of a couple of men were suddenly heard and Jim knew they had emerged from the restaurant. He pushed the woman behind him, and stepped out onto the sidewalk. “Looking for someone, gents?”
They were men in business suits, raincoats folded over their arms. “A young woman. She is not… stable. We are her guardians.”
“What does she look like?”
The last thing Jim West expected was a blow from behind, but that was what he received. A hard blow on the side of his head, not quite solid enough to throw him into immediate unconsciousness, but stunning nevertheless. He felt his knees start to buckle and reached out for support. The two men were the ones who “helped” him; they dragged him into the alley.
No matter how hard he tried to regain his feet to fight them off, he could not. His arms and legs did not seem to want to function properly; his vision was blurred while a hammer was beating on an anvil and clanging inside his brain.
“There it is,” one man said, and Jim realized a hand had reached inside his jacket. “We’ve got it. Let’s get out of here.”
In her eyes a thought
Grew sweeter and sweeter, deepening like the dawn,
A mystical forewarning.
—Pythagoras, Thomas Bailey Aldrich (1836-1907), American poet, essayist, novelist
“How’s your head?”
“Nothing that a gallon of your coffee wouldn’t cure.”
Artemus did not laugh. He did smile, however. “Go sit down. I’ll join you with said coffee in a moment.” The fact that Jim had not shaved nor even completely buttoned his shirt this morning was an indicator that he was not feeling one hundred percent.
Grabbing two heavy mugs and the coffee pot, Artie pushed through the swinging door. Jim was already at the table, leaning his head on his hand. “I’ve been hit harder, but for some reason, this really got me.”
Artie filled both cups and sat at the opposite end of the table. “Lloyd came by after you went to bed. He talked to people in the restaurant. The counterman remembered the woman. She had been sitting at a corner table with a cup of tea for a long while. She then suddenly jumped up and left the restaurant. He didn’t remember the men at all. Lloyd thinks they may not have been in the restaurant, but came from the alley on the other side to give you the impression they’d just come out the door.”
A patron emerging from the café had found the all-but-unconscious man lying on the sidewalk and summoned help. Jim had been taken to a nearby doctor’s office while the police were summoned. The officer who arrived recognized him and sent for Lieutenant Lloyd Morris, known as a particular friend of Secret Service agent James West. Morris, when the doctor gave approval, took Jim to the rail yard and the Wanderer. [See The Night of the Vengeance Moon and other San Francisco-based stories of mine.]
Jim took a couple of swallows of the very hot coffee. “But why, Artie? All they took was Senator Bligh’s letter! Over a hundred dollars was in my billfold, not to mention my pocket watch. Why would they want that worthless letter? Even President Grant admitted he was only arranging this special conveyance for the letter because of Bligh’s past friendship and help.” He drank more of the coffee.
“Is it helping?”
For one moment, Jim did not know what his friend meant. Then he smiled slightly. “The medicine is helping, doctor.”
“Good. Tell me more about the woman. You were not too coherent last night.”
“She was young, pretty…”
“It happened so fast and the light was not good. I think her hair was dark but it was partially covered by a hat so I’m not positive. I remember large, dark, frightened eyes. She was behind me and must have hit me. That’s why the blow was not as hard as it might have been.”
“Hard enough, obviously. The whole thing was a setup. As you say, why? Why would anyone want the letter? Did you read it?”
“No, of course not. However, from what Colonel Richmond indicated, Bligh wanted the contents entered into the historical archives, describing his term in the Senate. I can’t imagine they could have any important information. We…”
The rap on the outer door of the parlor car halted his words. “Probably Lloyd,” Jim commented as Artemus stood up.
Artie agreed with his partner and thus was completely surprised to open the door and find a young woman on the platform. An attractive young woman with dark hair topped by a straw hat more suitable for spring than November, although the sun had decided to come out today. She wore a woolen cape that was somewhat threadbare at the edges and had beautiful large dark eyes rimmed with thick and lengthy lashes.
“May I help you, miss?”
The hands that slipped through the side slits in the cape and clutched in front of her were encased in black gloves—mended black gloves. “I—Is this—I’m looking for Mr. James West.”
“May I tell him who is calling?”
“He won’t know my name, but it’s Regan Lear.”
Artie’s brow lifted momentarily as he heard the combination of theatrical names. “Please come in, Miss Lear. James, you have a caller.”
Jim had heard the faint feminine voice and was curious about who the visitor was. Now he stood up to gaze at the woman who entered. “Hello again.” His hands unconsciously moved to fasten more of the buttons on his shirt.
“May I present Miss Regan Lear, James? It is ‘miss,’ is it not?”
She nodded, still wringing her hands tensely. “Mr. West…. I… I came to say I’m sorry. I didn’t…”
Artemus saw that she was suddenly swaying. He grasped her arm, leading her to the sofa. “Jim, bring Miss Lear a glass of water. And perhaps one of those sweet rolls on the counter.” He had picked them up at a bakery yesterday, intended for this morning’s breakfast. “When did you eat last, Miss Lear?”
“Oh… it’s… I’m… I had some tea last evening.”
“Yes, we heard about that.”
Jim returned with a glass of water along with one of the delectable sugarcoated rolls on a small plate. She drank thirstily and then seemed to be having difficulty to not gobble down the roll. The men waited patiently and finally she sighed. “Oh, that was so good! Thank you. I don’t deserve it but… thank you.”
Jim sat down alongside her on the sofa, leaning his elbows on his knees to gaze into her pretty face. She was, he thought, at least approaching her middle twenties. No more than that, he was certain. The shoes that peeped out from under her faded dress were well worn. “Why have you come, Miss Lear?” Her eyes were extraordinary. Up close, Jim could see flecks of gold in the deep brown irises.
“To say how sorry I am. I didn’t know. Honestly, I didn’t know they intended to harm you and rob you!”
Artie grabbed a chair and moved to where he could sit down and face her. “Tell it from the beginning.”
She emptied the glass of water then clutched it with both hands, the empty plate on her lap. “Two weeks ago I lost my job as a clerk in a store in Petaluma. I came into San Francisco because I thought I’d have a better chance of finding employment. That… that hasn’t been the case. I’ve had to use my funds to pay for a… a room.”
As she paused, looking down at her hands, Artie could imagine what kind of room she was paying for with limited funds. “So you were vulnerable to an offer,” he said gently.
Regan Lear lifted those amazing eyes. “I was sitting on a bench, wondering what to do next, when two men came up. They asked if I wanted to earn five dollars to help them play a trick on a friend. They said this friend was always bragging about how he assisted ‘damsels in distress,’ and they wanted to see what he really would do if a lady asked for help. I was to sit in this restaurant and when they tapped on the outside wall—they were in the alley next to where I was seated—I was to go to the door and bump into the man approaching, claiming I was in great peril.”
“Which you did well,” Jim said softly.
“I’m sorry,” she murmured, avoiding his glance. “It was not until they came up and I heard you, Mr. West, speak to them as if they were strangers that I realized all was not as it seemed. Then they robbed you!”
“After you hit Mr. West over the head,” Artie reminded.
She gasped as those eyes became like saucers. “Oh no! No, no, no! When I realized what was occurring, I panicked. I ran down the alley and out through the back. That was when I saw another man who had been hiding in the darkness of the alley. I thought he was going to try to stop me at first, but then I guess he went to—to help his comrades. He must have been the one who hit you.”
She’s so believable, Jim decided. Could anyone but a professional actress put on such a performance? “How did you find me this morning?”
“Oh. I went back to the restaurant and the man there told me about what happened, how the police came. He heard your name mentioned, so I asked… some people I knew… and they told me you often lived in your private car here at the depot when in San Francisco.”
Artie smiled. “Very good detective work.”
“I had to make sure he was all right. I was so afraid I was part of a murder plot! I could not have lived with that. Mr. West, are you… all right?”
“Except for a headache. How big was the man you passed in the alley?”
“What? Oh. Goodness, I don't know. About ordinary size, I guess. I really just saw a dark shadow. Scared me even more. I’m surprised I didn’t faint dead away.” Her smile was weak. She looked at each man. “Are you going to have me arrested? I deserve it, I guess.” A big sigh. “At least in jail I suppose I will get regular meals.”
“Not to mention a place to sleep,” Artie said, and then smiled broadly. “No, I don't think we need to have you arrested, Miss Lear. But we do want you to join us for breakfast, which I was on the verge of preparing when you arrived.”
“Oh! No, I couldn’t!”
Jim stood up. “Yes, you could. Come join me at the table while our chef puts together the kind of meal dreams are made of. We’ll have some coffee and you can tell me more about yourself.”
“What do you think?”
Jim put his hat on the rack by the door and turned to his partner, lolling on the sofa. “I think we need to find out more about Miss Regan Lear.” He had just escorted the young woman out to the street beyond the depot and put her into a hack, paying the driver to take her to her rooming house, adding extra to make sure she entered the house safely, recognizing the address as one in a not too savory portion of the city.
Artemus cocked his head. “Because you suspect her or because she’s so darned pretty and innocent appearing?”
Jim grinned, taking the empty space on the sofa beside Artie. “Both. The story is plausible; she told it convincingly. But it still doesn’t make sense why anyone would want Senator Bligh’s letter.”
“We probably need to go talk to the senator and find out exactly what was in that letter.”
“I agree. Artie, Miss Lear indicated she was all but broke—except of course for the five bucks those guys paid her last night.”
“She is living on Fifth Street, on the other side of the city.”
Artie was nodding. “So did she walk from there to here, or did she use some of that precious money to take a cab? The streetcars could have been picked up part of the way, but she still would have had a long walk to the first one.”
“She didn’t look winded. If she was as faint as she appeared, could she have walked any distance?”
“James, you have a very suspicious mind.”
“A lifetime of experience, Mr. Gordon. That’s all.”
Artie got to his feet. “I got a response to my earlier message to Richmond. He’s given us the okay to stay and find out what this is about. Someone else can go to New Orleans.”
“And I was looking forward to some jambalaya,” Jim sighed, also rising. “Get your coat and let’s go call on the senator.
The object of oratory alone is not truth, but persuasion.
—Essay on Athenian Orators, Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-1859), English author, historian, statesman, and poet
Senator Alfonse Bligh had come to California seeking gold, ending up finding a place in politics. He served on numerous political committees in San Francisco and elsewhere in the state and had been part of the vigilante movement in the 1850s, which aided his political ambitions. He served one term as the senator from California—a rather mediocre term in many eyes—before returning “home” to open a law office.
Bligh had, on several occasions, cast a vote that supported a favorite agenda of President Grant, which was the reason the President was going to see that Bligh’s letter was entered into the Congressional Record. “Otherwise,” Grant had said as an aside to Colonel Richmond, who passed it on to his agents, “no one will ever remember who Alfonse Bligh was.”
His greatest talent was oratory, and he had swayed many a voter over the years with his grandiloquence and ability to make something out of nothing. He was not an overly tall man, but he had a broad chest that he liked to puff out and display even more by wearing gaudy vests. Today it was a brilliant peacock blue and rose pink striped. More suited, Artie decided, for a clown in the circus.
“Mr. West! Mr. Gordon! I hardly expected to see the two of you so quickly!” His voice boomed. Another fault seemed to be the inability to moderate the volume of his voice, something that became irksome to people trying to have a conversation near his presence. “I rather thought you would be flying eastward with my precious papers.”
“We would have been, Senator,” Jim replied, pausing before the large, very shiny, and almost completely clear desk. “However, the papers were stolen from me last night.”
Artemus wondered if Bligh had ever been so speechless in his life. He stared at the two agents moving his gaze back and forth, obviously attempting to discern if they were twitting him. “Stolen?” he finally said. “My papers were stolen?”
“Yes, sir,” Jim spoke formally. “Just after I left here last evening, I was accosted by several men who struck me unconscious and took the envelope you had given me.”
“My word! My word!” The senator came to his feet. Suddenly he was not so much surprised as overjoyed. “Someone thinks they are valuable.”
“It would seem so,” Artemus replied, copying Jim’s stiffness. “We hoped you might have a copy of them we could look at.”
“Or if you know of something you wrote that might be of particular interest to… anyone.”
Blight sat back down again, running his hand over his over-oiled and much too dark locks. Another trademark had always been his longish hair that curled around the nape of his neck and over his forehead, probably quite attractive when younger when the dark color was natural. Clownish now, Artie felt. He almost smiled when he realized he had thought of the senator in terms of a clown twice within a couple of minutes.
“Well, well, well. I can say that I gave an honest appraisal of my service to the United States during my six years in Washington. I did not spare the mustard, as the saying goes. The truth might hurt, but it is the truth.”
“So you are suggesting you wrote something that another person might not want made public?”
Blight cleared his throat. “Well, Mr. West, I cannot say that for certain. Nevertheless, it is obvious, is it not? Someone learned about my plan to write a brief memoir of my patriotic experiences. Someone who feels I know too much about him. Now I can think of a few.”
Artemus did not want to ask, but he did. For the next twenty minutes the two agents stood in front of the desk, hats in hands, listening to the famous orator orate as he quite possibly repeated verbatim what he had written in portions of the letters in question. He named names—names that both men knew could not possibly have had anything to do with the incident—and repeated innuendos, gossip, and rumors.
Finally he leaned back in his chair. “So you see, gentlemen. I have enemies. Vicious, highly regarded enemies. Proving their complicity might be a difficult task, but I have faith in you. In the meanwhile, I will prepare another copy of my letter. You may pick it up here tomorrow. And I am sure you realize we must keep it a highly confidential secret.”
“Yes, sir,” Jim replied. He knew they could ask more questions, and probably should. He also knew that he did not think he could stand much more and figured Artemus felt the same. They both thanked the ex-senator, who shook each of their hands heartily, twice, thanking them for coming.
“As if his ego needed any boosting,” Artie muttered as they exited to the street, “we just ballooned it.”
“I know. He didn’t ask one question about the circumstances of the theft.”
“I noticed that. I have no doubt his version of it will be in all the afternoon papers. Including the ‘highly confidential secret’ fact that he is preparing another copy.”
Jim waved to a passing cab. “I guess we’d better go talk to Lloyd Morris.”
“How’s your head?” was the first question newly promoted Lieutenant Lloyd Morris asked when the two agents entered his office. The same office he had occupied as a sergeant, but he had acquired a new desk. This desk was a little less scarred than the older one.
“I’m fine,” Jim replied. “Except when people ask me how I’m feeling.”
Morris laughed. He had known the two agents for several years now, and considered them among his best friends. He was quite aware that James West did not like to be “fussed over.” “All right. If you’ve come to ask whether I have anything new to tell you, the answer is no. I had everyone living in the vicinity questioned and no one saw anything—or will admit to seeing anything.”
“And I was unable to give you a description of any of the men,” Jim added sourly.
“That did not help either but it was dark and it happened quickly. The description of the young woman that you and the counterman gave helped but…”
“Her name is Regan Lear,” Artie said.
Morris stared at him. “What?”
With a brief smile, Artemus quickly told him about the woman’s visit to the train. “We’re not certain how much of what she told us is true. She is very charming and owns a pair of the most amazing dark brown eyes I’ve ever seen. Do you recognize the name?”
The policemen shook his head. “Only from the play. I can have the name searched in our records. You would think anyone with a bit of education would remember such a name.”
“The inclination is to say it’s an alias,” Jim put in. “But who knows? A set of educated parents whose surname happened to be Lear?”
“We really didn’t ask much about her background,” Artie admitted. “We thought it could come later.”
“She vehemently denied being the one who struck me. She says another man was hiding in the alley.”
“Could be. Not many women can wield a cosh.”
“She could be Romany,” Artie mused aloud. “Dark hair and dark eyes.” He knew that the word “cosh,” for a bludgeon, originated fairly recently from a Romany, or gypsy, word.
“What still doesn’t make sense,” Jim said, “is the letter being stolen at all. There must have been some mistake. We just talked to Senator Bligh, and although he was thrilled with the prospect of the publicity he’s going to receive, he could not shed any light on what might be in the letter that would cause it to be stolen.”
“He’s preparing a new copy,” Artie added. “And this time, I’m opening the envelope to read it.”
Jim looked at his partner. “You realize that he may embellish the letter further now.”
“I do,” Artie sighed. “I’ll leave that up to President Grant to edit or censor.”
“It had to have been some kind of mistake,” Lloyd concurred. “Either they thought you were carrying something more valuable—or it could simply have been mistaken identity. Taking you for someone else.”
“I suppose so,” Jim responded. “But I’d like to know for sure. We’re taking Miss Lear to supper this evening and hope to get some more information from her.”
Morris grinned. “Does Lily know about these big brown eyes, Artemus?”
“That’s why Jim will be along, as chaperone. By the way, we told Miss Lear that she did not need to worry about being arrested… at the moment. We thought it best if we appear to believe her story. Who knows, her tale may be true. Her situation in life certainly seems to support what she told us.”
“We didn’t get the name of the store where she had been working and from which she was supposedly laid off,” Jim said, “but perhaps tonight it will slip out.”
“Just be careful,” the lieutenant warned, more than half serious. “I’ve heard tales of what happens when you two get involved with beautiful women.”
“You should know,” Artie said, getting to his feet. “You married one of them.”
Morris laughed aloud. “Yeah, I think I got the prettiest of all.” [See The Night of the Vengeance Moon.]
Leaving the police headquarters, the agents walked two blocks to an Italian restaurant they favored. As they waited for the meal to be served, Artie gazed toward the plate glass window in the front. “You know we are being followed.”
“I didn’t see it, but I’m not surprised. Anyone we know?”
“No. I noticed him before we went in to see Lloyd, and he was hanging around the shoeshine stand across the street when we came out. He’s across the street now, reading a newspaper he just bought from Joe-Joe.”
“What does he look like?”
“About forty, stocky, dark hair. He might have a scar on his face but he’s kind of in the shadow, so I’m not positive.”
Jim shook his head slightly. “Could be one of my friends from last night, but I don't know. I just didn’t get a good look at anyone.”
“Jim, has it occurred to you that this might be a publicity stunt by Bligh?”
“As a passing thought. I am not sure he’s clever enough. He certainly seemed shocked earlier.”
“I agree. Shocked and then absolutely delighted. I suppose when we get back to the train I’d better warn Colonel Richmond.”
“Right. If the story grows enough, reporters in Washington might be following through on it, that’s for certain.”
Their meal of Chicken Parmigiana was served so they concentrated on eating for a while. Artie kept his eye on the man across the street, who appeared to finish reading the newspaper page by page, stood a while staring in a store window, and then bought another paper. “Hope he keeps an expense account,” Jim murmured when Artie relayed this information to him.
Finishing the meal, they exited the restaurant and waved down a cab, neither glancing even once toward the newspaper-reading man across the street. Once inside the cab and moving, Artie turned to look out the back window. He was just in time to see their “friend” entering another hack.
“He’s not going to learn much, since we’re going back to the rail yard. Maybe we should invite him to join us when we take Miss Lear to dinner.”
Artemus chuckled. “That could be interesting.”
“I think we’ll be better served to let him watch us a while longer. Maybe eventually he’ll somehow lead us to whoever is behind this… whatever it is.”
Artie was quiet for a couple of minutes, gazing out at buildings and people they were passing by. He then spoke slowly, thoughtfully. “Jim, we don’t have any big job coming up, like transporting money or jewels or any such thing.”
“I know. In fact, if this hadn’t happened, we’d be on our way to Kansas City and then New Orleans.”
“I suppose it’s too farfetched to think they were trying to stop us from going to New Orleans to investigate that counterfeiting.”
“Stranger things have happened to us.”
“That’s true.” Jim was thoughtful for a few seconds. “Maybe we should find out more about that job in New Orleans.”
For brilliancy, no gem compares with the eyes of a beautiful woman.
—F. Burge Smith (Frances Irene Burg Smith Griswold; 1836-1900), American writer
Upon dismounting from the hack at the rail yards, they asked the driver to return for them at a particular time. When Jim and Artemus left the Wanderer and headed out to the street, the hack was waiting. The trailing man had to hustle to find his own transportation and for a moment or two, Artemus thought they had lost him. To his surprise, the hack showed up behind them about three blocks and two turns later. Must have sharp eyes or a talent for prescience… or somehow knows where we are bound.
They had had to pay their driver extra to enter the district where Regan Lear resided, near the bay front as well as the Barbary Coast, which was noted for its lawlessness. The house where the hack stopped was no more and no less than what they expected, a two-story unpainted building with broken windows that had not been repaired, but boarded over.
Jim went inside to fetch their guest while Artie remained to reassure the driver, showing him the pistol he carried. Regan had told them her room was on the first floor in the rear, so Jim made his way down the dimly lit hallway to find her door, where he knocked. She opened it promptly.
She had at first demurred from their invitation because, she said, she had nothing nice to wear. They convinced her by assuring her they would take her to a restaurant where fine attire was not the norm. In fact, they were wearing their usual workaday clothes, not their evening garb.
Regan Lear wore a nice but not new dress of pale blue wool, a blue ribbon in her hair. She held the same woolen cloak from this morning for him to rest over her shoulders, smiling shyly. “I really do appreciate this, Mr. West. You and Mr. Gordon are being more kind than I deserve.”
“We don’t think so,” Jim replied, taking her arm. “You were tricked and nothing serious occurred.”
“You were hurt!”
“I’ve been hurt worse. I’m fine now. Your carriage awaits, milady.”
Jim escorted her through the house, noticing how quiet it was; nothing and no one else appeared to be moving in the building. The dankness and age caused an unpleasant odor, as though no windows or doors were ever opened. Stepping out onto the porch was a relief. Jim helped Miss Lear into the hack and climbed in after her. The driver knew where to go next and he started his horses into a brisk trot.
Anxious to be out of here, Artie smiled inwardly. I don’t blame him. “Good evening, Miss Lear,” he said.
“Good evening, Mr. Gordon. I told Mr. West, and I’ll tell you, I am so appreciative of this gesture. Perhaps it means my fortunes are changing for the better.”
“I hope so. Do you have family in Petaluma? I believe that’s where you mentioned you had been previously employed.”
“That’s correct. But I have no family there.” She shook her head a little ruefully. “I have no family anywhere… as far as I know.”
“No one?” Jim asked, rather amazed. “Not even cousins…?”
“Well, if so, I have never met them. You see, my mother died at my birth and my father, who was a seaman, died at sea when I was very small. I don’t remember him at all. My grandmother raised me until I was seven and when no other kin was found, I was placed in an orphan’s home. I lived there until I was sixteen.”
“You’ve been on your own since then?” Artie gazed at the woman sitting across from him. Even in the darkness of the coach, her big eyes seemed to attract his interest magnetically.
“Yes. Oh, I’ve done pretty well, I guess. Until recently, I was steadily employed as a clerk, and before that, for a while, I tended the children of a lady I met. However, the owner of the store where I worked in Petaluma passed away and his widow just closed it. Those of us employed were just—out of a job.”
“And you came to San Francisco,” Jim added softly, remembering what she had told them earlier.
“Yes,” she sighed. “I just thought I might have a better opportunity. So far, that hasn’t been the case. I’m not sure what I’m going to do next.”
“We know a few people,” Artie told her. “We might be able to help.”
“Oh, no! You’ve already done so much for me…”
“It would be our pleasure,” Jim assured her. “San Francisco can use nice young ladies like you.”
“Oh, Mr. West! You really don't know anything about me.”
“I know enough,” he lied, smiling at her. Not nearly enough. Maybe this evening some things will become clearer. He and Miss Lear were on the rear-facing seat so that he could see out the small back window. These streets were poorly lit but the trailing hack still lingered about a block and a half behind them.
That driver is good at tailing, he decided. Either that or his fare gave him the instructions to come directly to this street. That was an interesting thought, he decided.
The restaurant they selected was one patronized by shop clerks and other working class people. The food was not haute cuisine but very good, and no one worried about attire. Occasionally families showed up in their best garb, perhaps celebrating a special occasion. The atmosphere was always friendly.
The proprietor greeted the agents by name and led them to a corner table. He left the menus and quickly brought coffee. Regan Lear seemed to be impressed. “They know you here!”
“We come to this restaurant often when we’re in the city,” Artie responded with a smile. “What would you like to eat? I’m afraid I can’t recommend anything specific. It’s all excellent.”
They made their selections and gave them to the waiter when he came over. One thing Artemus noticed was how the waiter and other people in the restaurant were looking their way. He also again realized he was having difficulty preventing himself from gazing into Regan Lear’s amazing eyes. Jim was having the same problem, he was sure.
The young lady did not appear to be aware of the effect those orbs had on others. Or else she was simply accustomed to it and no longer noticed. Artie perceived that her other features were not perfect. Her nose was a bit too long, chin too narrow, and mouth too small to be labeled ideal. Yet they were overshadowed by the lustrous dark eyes and one barely observed those flaws.
They asked her other questions, casually as though merely interested in trying to help her. The most employment experience she had in the past was the one she had mentioned as a store clerk. In spite of that, they could not get her to name a particular establishment where she had worked. After a while, Jim began to realize that she was being evasive without really seeming so.
Methinks this young lady is not entirely what she seems to be. Nonetheless, he noticed nothing to indicate she had any ulterior designs. She seemed genuinely grateful to them and happy to be spending time somewhere other than that repugnant boarding house. How in the world did she end up there?
Establishments existed in the city that would assist a young woman in her circumstances, concerns that wanted to keep such woman out of the saloons and bordellos where they often ended up rather than starve to death. One of the first things they could do for her would be to talk to an older lady they knew who would arrange for better accommodations while Regan continued to search for employment. She might even help find a job for Regan.
They managed to ask more questions about the incident outside the restaurant. She told them that the men approached her when she was sitting on a bench waiting for a trolley, asking if she would like to earn the money helping them. At first, she said, she was insulted and started to walk away. However, one of the men, whom she described as a “real gentleman,” explained their purpose and she could see no harm in it.
Artemus then attempted to get her to provide better descriptions of the three men, but she was at a loss. “I’m not a very observant person,” she admitted, chagrined. The “gentleman” was perhaps thirty, or maybe forty, with blond hair—or was he the one with darker hair? “The day was rainy, as you know, and they were all wearing hats and cloaks.” She acknowledged she was more interested in the shiny five-dollar gold piece in her pocket than studying the men. She would perform the trick they wanted done and be on her way, never seeing them again.
“I am so stupid. It just never occurred to me that they wanted to commit a robbery.”
“At any time you were with them, did they mention their so-called ‘friend’s’ name?” Artie asked.
“No, I don't think so. I don’t remember. We took the streetcar, which made me feel better about the whole thing. I think I would have backed out if they had not chosen public transportation. Because of the rain, I suppose, the car was full and very noisy. I managed to get a seat but they all stood, so I really didn’t hear their conversation.”
“And they just asked you to wait in the restaurant?”
“Yes. They told me to sit against the wall. They would be in the alley watching for their friend, and when they rapped on the wall, I was to hurry out to bump into him, pretending I was very frightened. I was under the impression they thought their friend would turn and run out of fear of encountering the men who were supposedly chasing me.”
Little more was elicited from Regan Lear, other than she had originally come to the Bay Area from Monterey where she had lived in an orphanage. Her grandmother had resided in a nearby small town, but she said with some embarrassment that she was unsure where she herself had been born. “Grandma never said and I was really too young to care at the time.”
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 - 11/04/2013 : 12:37:44
Jim once more escorted Regan back into her boarding house, and again he noticed the silence as well as the stuffiness. The latter was not necessarily unusual. Places like this had windows that did not open, or as he had noted from outside, were broken and covered with boards. Tenants might have spoiled food in their rooms. Rain would leak in and cause mold. The silence, however, was unusual. He heard no voices, no signs of movement.
Regan impulsively hugged him at her door and thanked him profusely for the evening. He promised her they would be in touch and said she should expect a visit from Mrs. Soames, who would be able to help her find a better place to live and perhaps employment.
“I feel as though I have found two guardian angels,” she smiled, her eyes on his.
Jim left her with more reluctance than he expected to experience. He was certain she was not attempting to seduce him. Nevertheless, those hypnotic eyes seemed to draw him in. Only by the hardest did he prevent himself from trying to kiss her. Perhaps another time, but not now. This was not the right moment.
They had not seen another cab following them when they left the restaurant, but did not discuss it in Regan’s presence. When Jim climbed back into the coach, Artie jerked his thumb out the back window. “He’s here… or someone is. On horseback.”
Jim moved slightly so he could see out through the small back window without appearing to do so. He spotted the horseman just beyond the corner light, almost invisible in his dark clothing. “Artie, what the devil is going on?”
“You tell me. Nothing is making any sense at all. Is Regan Lear who she seems to be? Why were you assaulted in order to steal worthless papers? Why are we being watched?”
“It’s not polite to answer a question with three questions.”
Artie chuckled and they fell silent with their thoughts as the hack wended its way through the darkened streets toward the railroad station. A couple blocks from their destination, Jim looked out through the back window again.
“Still there. Artie, I think we need to act.”
“What do you suggest?”
“When we turn that next corner, we’ll be out of his sight for a few moments. I’m going out the door.”
“Gotcha. I’ll keep the driver going.”
As soon as the hack rounded the corner to the next street, slowing as it did so, Jim opened the door and jumped out, immediately flattening himself against the building wall within its darker shadows. He reached up to unfasten the clasp of his cloak, letting it fall to the sidewalk to give him more freedom of movement.
The vehicle continued on down the street and moments later the horseman rounded the corner. Jim leapt out toward the street, grabbing the rider by the arm and jerking him from the saddle. Before the man could recover, Jim slammed him against the wall, his forearm against the throat.
“Why are you following us?”
“Are you crazy, mister?” the man gasped, struggling to get free. “Let me go!”
“I asked you a question. Why are you following us?”
“I ain’t! I’m on the way to the depot to meet a friend! Let loose of me! You trying to choke me?”
Jim backed off slightly but he pulled the small pistol from inside his jacket. He heard footsteps but did not turn around. “You followed us from Fifth Street. Why?”
The man was of ordinary size, with a round, pockmarked face, visible even in the dimness. “You’re crazy! I live on Fifth Street. My friend is coming on the nine o’clock train from Reno. I come to meet him.”
Artie came up beside them. “That seems like a reasonable story, my friend. It is nearly nine now. Let’s go on to the station and meet your friend.”
For the first time the man seemed a bit nonplussed. “Well… well… my pal don’t like strangers.”
“He must have had a rough time on the train.” Jim lifted his pistol and pointed it at his head. “The truth. Who paid you to follow us?”
He deliberately asked the question in that manner to give the man an out. He took it. “Uh… fellow I met earlier today. He… uh, he said you two owed him money. He wanted to make sure you weren’t skipping out.”
“What’s his name?” Artie asked. “Squires?”
“Yeah, yeah, that’s him. He wants the money you owe him.”
“Interesting. We don't know anyone named Squires,” Jim said. “I think we should take this fellow to the police station, Artemus. I suspect they’ll find some good reason to keep him a while.”
“Might I ask what is your name?” Artie inquired politely.
“None of your business.”
“Well, ‘Mr. Business,’” Jim’s voice was cold, “tell your boss we are onto him. The next fellow we see tailing us is liable to be arrested for interfering in government business.” He stepped back to allow the man to move around them to his horse, which had gone further down the street initially, but then returned.
“Did you notice,” Artemus asked as they watched the rider disappear around the corner, “how his eyes shifted when you mentioned his boss?”
“Let’s get back to the train. I think we need to send some more telegraph inquiries.”
A messenger arrived from Senator Bligh in the morning informing the agents that a new copy of his letter to the President was awaiting their pickup. “I don’t see why he could not have sent the letter with the messenger,” Artie groused as he returned to the breakfast table.
“Surely you jest, Mr. Gordon.”
Artie made a face. “I guess I do. I’m sure you’re going to say it’s my turn to go listen to his oration.”
“I’m afraid so. I’m going to go talk to Lloyd, then look up Mrs. Soames from the women’s mission to ask her to visit Regan.”
“I noticed Miss Lear didn’t seem very welcoming of the suggestion of such help. Could be pride.”
“Could be. What bothers me is that a woman like her should not have difficulty finding employment. She’s obviously very intelligent, has a decent education, and those eyes would draw males into any establishment by the dozens.”
“It’s really difficult having a conversation with her,” Artemus admitted. “I kept looking at her eyes and forgetting what I was saying. Just think of what she could sell to unsuspecting males.”
“Exactly. Any storeowner with decent intelligence should see that. So why isn’t she being hired?”
“I’m afraid I’m going to have to agree with your usual motto here, James. Things are not what they seem. We…”
The clatter of the telegraph interrupted. Jim rose to go tap the key, then leaned down as he transcribed the message. Another tap to acknowledge receipt and he looked at his partner. “Get that?”
“Yep. Pike and Layton took care of the counterfeiting case in New Orleans in less than twenty-four hours. Does not sound at all as though it would be something anyone would try to keep us away from.”
Jim walked slowly back to the table. “Yet, that is exactly what it looks like. An attack on me, theft of something utterly useless, the men following us…. For some reason someone wants us to remain here in San Francisco.”
Artie could only shake his head. “Nothing is going on here. I mean, we are not due to guard a fabulous shipment of jewels or escort a dastardly criminal to a penitentiary. Nothing.”
“I have a feeling Washington isn’t going to be able to provide us with any information on Regan Lear. We can just hope that Lloyd Morris has something.”
Jim’s hopes were dashed almost as soon as he entered Morris’s office. The lieutenant looked up and shook his head. “Nothing, Jim. Nothing whatsoever. I sent a man to Petaluma to ask questions. He couldn’t find anyone who recognized her name or her description—and with that name and the description you gave me, that is quite unusual.”
Jim sat down on the wooden visitor’s chair. “It is. She told us last night that she was orphaned at a very early age, lived with her grandmother until she was seven. She was then sent to an orphanage in Monterey. We asked Washington to try to get some information on that, but as of the time we left the train nothing had come in.”
Morris grimaced. “I didn’t feel too badly about sending a man to Petaluma. It’s just a ferry ride. But Monterey…”
“Don’t worry. If Washington learns anything, we’ll go down there ourselves. But I’m willing to wager nothing will be found.”
“Who is this woman, Jim? Is she an innocent as she claims?”
Jim could only shake his head. “I don't know, Lloyd. She lives in a rundown boarding house on Fifth Street. I stopped at the Women’s Mission on my way here to ask Doris Soames to call on her, perhaps help her find a better place to live—and employment.”
“If anyone can do it, Doris can.”
Jim told the policeman about their encounter with the man tailing them last night. “I didn’t see anyone today but we went separate directions after leaving the depot. Artie is picking up the new copy of senator’s letter.”
Lloyd leaned over and picked up a newspaper on the corner of his desk, extending it toward Jim. “Did you see this?”
Jim took the paper, which was yesterday evening’s edition of the Call-Bulletin. The story of the theft was on the front page, but positioned at the bottom of the page with relatively small type for the headline. The story spoke only about the loss of Senator Bligh’s important letter to the President and nothing about the circumstances of the theft.
“Bligh isn’t going to like it. Too small.”
“That was my thought. I know the editor of the Call. He was never a big fan of Bligh. He probably doesn’t want to do anything that would cause Bligh to decide to run again!”
Jim laughed. “If I know Bligh, he will milk this for all it’s worth.”
“You’re right about that. Jim, what do you think is going on? Why were those papers stolen?”
“Our first thought was that someone wanted to delay our arrival in New Orleans, perhaps to assist the counterfeiters we were to investigate. Two other agents were sent, however, and it apparently was a quick arrest. No word that the counterfeiters were packing up to leave before any agents arrived.”
“So if that wasn’t it…?”
“Someone wants us in San Francisco. Why? I’m afraid we are going to have to wait to find out. We also don't know how deeply Miss Regan Lear is involved in it. Her background is murky, but that may not mean anything. So we are going to keep in touch with her as much as possible… and see what happens next.”
Falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus.
[False in one thing, false in everything.]
Artemus was glad he and Jim decided to ride their horses today, Jim to the police building, himself to Senator Bligh’s office. For one thing, it was faster than a hack that was trying to weave through the weekday traffic in San Francisco. For another, he was able to tell the senator that he had left his horse on the street where no hitching post existed so that he worried about a zealous policeman confiscating the animal. Therefore, he could not linger to “chat” with Bligh.
Thus he was able to leave when the loquacious former legislator was only halfway through his oration regarding his illustrious career in Washington, “all of which is detailed in the letter, and you are free to read it should you care…” Artie displayed the proper deference and eagerness to read the letter, although his reasons were not the ones the senator hoped. The only reason I’ll peruse that bombast is to see if he actually did write something injurious to another party.
The other reason he was happy to be mounted was the freedom it gave him as opposed to relying on streetcars and cabs. On a whim, he decided to look at the area where Jim was assaulted. The day was sunny, nothing like the murky rainy night when the incident happened, so he thought he might just see something that was missed by the investigating officers. As it happened, that is exactly what he did.
After making a stop at a market to replenish the larder on the train, Artemus headed back to the depot. Jim had not arrived yet, so he put his purchases away then sat down at the telegraph key to inform Washington someone was available to take any messages. Within moments, he was busy writing down the incoming information, and was still doing so when Jim entered the parlor car from the galley area.
Jim sat down and waited until the key finally silenced and Artemus clicked a farewell. “How much did you get?” Artie asked.
“Tell me all of it.”
“First off, two orphanages in the Monterey area were contacted. None had anything to offer on a girl named Regan Lear, although a woman at one remembered an orphan girl with unusual eyes. That person is going to try to identify her from old records. Could or could not be our Regan.”
“She’s not the only young woman with beautiful brown eyes. One has to see them to realize just how… different they are.”
“I’ll say. As far as anyone in Washington can determine, Senator Bligh was not involved in any scandals, high security risks, or anything else. For all his bombast, he was a lost sheep in the halls of the Senate, usually voting the party line. I have the letter but I haven’t read it yet. I don’t expect to find anything.”
“The last part I heard was something about New Orleans.”
“Yes. The three men arrested by Pike and Layton were closely questioned. Their backgrounds checked as far as possible as well. None have any connections in San Francisco.”
“So it comes down why we are being detained. I’m at a loss.”
“Me too. But I did find out something interesting.”
“I detoured to look at the area where you were attacked. I think I saw something that Lloyd and the others missed.”
Artie smiled. “That alley is a dead end.”
For just an instant, Jim was puzzled. Then his green eyes widened. “The alley Regan said she escaped through?”
“Yep. It turns about one hundred feet back, but that ‘L’ goes only another twenty feet or so. No exit. Oh, maybe a door or two, but they were securely locked now and I presume so at night as well.”
“She didn’t say she went through another shop or building.”
“Might explain why the blow on my head did not completely knock me out. Wielded by a man, the blow should have. A woman…”
Jim rose from the sofa, paced a circle, pausing to look at his partner. “So what other lies did she tell us?”
“Should we go talk to her?”
Jim thought a moment. “I stopped to see Doris Soames on my way to talk to Lloyd. She said she would leave right away to visit Regan, after which she would come here to tell me what she arranged.”
“Doris is a good woman, Jim. She’ll fix things up. If Regan Lear allows her.”
Doris Soames was a widow in her middle fifties. A petite woman, she was also very energetic. Her marriage had been childless so she helped her sisters with their children. When a niece had run away from her Midwestern home with a very unsuitable older man, Doris’s sister had asked for help. Doris eventually traveled to San Francisco to seek the young woman.
She soon learned she was too late. The niece had been led into a life of degradation; when she tried to escape, her pimp had murdered her. The man was hanged, but that was little satisfaction to Mrs. Soames. She sought out other women who wanted to help and formed the San Francisco Women’s Mission whereby other women of any age could come for help and possible escape from their hard life. While not always successful, they had assisted numerous women to better lives, usually away from the city.
Jim and Artie had had occasion to consult with the women who ran the mission from time to time and had become well acquainted with Doris. They also had sent women who sought assistance to the mission. Over time, they had learned that Doris Soames was the one to contact when they thought a woman needed help but might not seek it.
Doris arrived at the Wanderer a short time after the agents had finished lunch. They greeted her warmly. She embraced Artemus, as she had Jim when he had arrived at the mission seeking her. Artie brought coffee and they sat down in the parlor car, Artemus and Doris on a sofa and Jim bringing a chair.
“How did it go?” Jim asked. “Did Miss Lear accept assistance?”
She gazed back at him with a wry expression in her gray eyes. “That I cannot tell you, Jim. I didn’t find her.”
He was surprised. “She wasn’t home? We told her to expect you!”
“She was not home nor was anyone else. That house was completely empty. The only room that displayed any sign of having been occupied was the one you told me to go to, Jim. I honestly don’t believe the house has been occupied for a long time.”
The agents exchanged glances. “Are you sure, Doris?” Artie asked.
“Indeed I am. Because of the neighborhood, I asked Lavinia Burt’s son to accompany me. The two of us looked in every room in the house. Full of dust, mildew, cobwebs—all the things one expects to find in a deserted house. Oh, some signs existed that intruders might have sought shelter there a few times. Empty tin cans, cigarette butts, a whiskey bottle or two. But nothing else.”
“I did not get a really good look into Regan’s room,” Jim said slowly. “She met me at the door and put out the lamp almost right away. I did notice the dank odor in the house but attributed it to age and its proximity to the bay.”
“I’m thinking you gentlemen have been taken,” Doris stated.
“I’m thinking I agree with you,” Artie replied with a firm nod. “We have been somewhat leery about Miss Lear—no pun intended—but thus far have not come to any conclusion about her. This seems to indicate that she is certainly not what she seems to be.”
“So we’re still completely in the dark,” Jim muttered, anger stirring. He did not like to be fooled so blatantly, especially when they went out of their way to assist this young woman. “Who is she?”
“We may not know that until we find her, James,” Artie said.
Jim had told Mrs. Soames quite a bit about the situation with Regan Lear at the mission. “It certainly seems obvious she has an agenda,” Doris said. “I sincerely hope it is not something terribly serious or dangerous for you.”
Jim sighed. “Doris, we have learned to not expect anything else.”
The old man with the walrus mustache and a porkpie hat perched atop a head of bushy gray hair clutched the shaky railing alongside as he mounted the three steps to the porch. Noting the loose board as he gained the small porch, he smartly stepped around it and then paused, leaning on his gold-headed cane, to make sure he retained his balance. He then rapped sharply with the cane’s head on the unpainted front door. When no one responded after a few seconds, he rapped again, harder.
The door opened a few inches and an unshaven face peered out. “What do you want?”
“Information, my friend,” the old fellow responded in a cordial but somewhat squeaky voice.
“Go away!” The door started to close.
The cane lifted swiftly and poked through the opening. “Ten dollars for ten minutes of your time, sir?”
The door opened again. The man had not donned a shirt and was in faded pinkish underwear and well-worn trousers. “Let me see it.”
The old fellow reached inside his coat for a wallet and extracted a bill. When the man in the doorway reached, it was jerked back. “The time first, my friend.” He reached into the wallet again and this time pulled out a card, handing it over. “Renshaw de Land, sir. Land agent. Quite a coincidence, eh?” His chuckle turned into a cough.
“Land agent?” the man in the doorway peered at the card. “What do you want?”
“I want to know who lives in the house across the street. The one that may have been green at one time, with the dark wood shutters.”
“Well, no one, I guess. The old lady who owned it kicked off about a year ago and from what I heard, they couldn’t find no heirs, so the city is likely to take it over. Only occupants I seen has mostly been bums who stay a night or two, ‘specially in the winter.”
“You don't know the former owner’s name?”
“Naw. Never had call to talk to her. But funny thing, now that I’m thinking about it.”
“Well, yesterday… no, day before yesterday I guess. Or… well, it makes no never mind. Anyway, I looked out the window and seen this carriage pull up. Woman got out with a carpetbag and the two men with her carried in some boxes. I thought, huh, what’s this now? But then the two fellows come back out, jump in the buggy and off they go. I figured she was maybe the heir they found or something. But then, that evening, a hack comes, and another fellow goes in the house.
“Again, I think, hanky-panky. But he comes out with the gal on his arm and off they go in the hack. I guess I was fixing for bed when I heard the hack come back and the same fellow walks her in. I was sure he wasn’t gonna come out but he did, and off he went. Then the funniest thing of all. Here comes that buggy with the two guys again, not ten minutes after the hack left. They go in and all of them come back out with what they toted in before. And off they go.”
“Hmm, that is interesting. The lady has not returned?”
“Nope. Seen another woman come today with a young fellow and they were inside for a while. But not the young looker.”
Mr. de Land held out the currency. “Sir, you have been of immeasurable assistance. I thank you.”
The man in the doorway accepted the bill and then watched in amazement as the old fellow descended the steps spryly and strolled briskly down the board walkway to the corner, where he turned.
Artemus had left his chestnut mare tied to a post around that corner. He mounted the horse and headed back toward the rail depot. That was interesting indeed. Obviously, the residence here was a complete setup. Why? What was she hoping to accomplish?
They had already decided that the motive for the ruse was to keep them in San Francisco. The motive for keeping them in San Francisco, however, was still completely unknown. No doubt something important, at least to Regan Lear and her friends. Otherwise, why such elaborate machinations?
We are likely going to have to wait until it plays out, Artie sighed, reining in to allow a beer wagon to pass. And who knows when that will be?
Who makes the fairest show means most deceit.
—William Shakespeare (1564-1616), English dramatist and poet
Jim exited from the hall of records and mounted his waiting black horse, thinking about what he had learned—and not learned. The house on Fifth Street had been owned by Miss Olivia Lowell, spinster, who died approximately a year ago at age seventy-six. Efforts to find next of kin thus far had been fruitless. Eventually the city would take possession and put the property up for auction.
Obviously Regan Lear—or whatever her name really was—had known about the vacant house and chose it to represent her place of residence. Now that Regan had chosen to vacate the house, the ruse was evident. The mystery was why. Unless Artie learned something significant, they were merely treading water, waiting for the next move.
The familiar voice penetrated his thoughts. Jim reined in the dancing black horse and turned to look at the young woman standing on the curb, her big dark eyes shining. The gown she wore was nothing like the faded garments they had seen on her previously. The hat was also stylish. Jim did not immediately dismount, allowing his gaze to casually scan the area. He had watched for a shadow on the way to the courthouse and immediately after emerging, seeing nothing.
“Hello, Miss Lear. You look as though things have turned for the better.”
She smiled broadly. “Oh, they have! I found my brother!”
He cocked his head. “Your brother? You hadn’t mentioned having a brother.”
“I know and I’m sorry. I just… I was so running out of hope to find him I didn’t even want to talk about him. But this morning—I found him! He’s doing well and he gave me money to buy new clothes. I’m staying with him and his wife in their home.”
Jim stepped down to the street then, conscious that this was a thoroughfare that was little used except as a shortcut. The buildings were mostly homes with a small grocery store and a tailor’s business across the street from where they were standing. “I’m very happy for you. Had your brother changed his name?”
For one instant she seemed puzzled by the query. Then she laughed. “Oh. Not exactly. You see, we were in the orphanage together, but Willis was adopted and given his new family’s name. I was unsure of that name or where he had been taken. That doesn’t matter now. I found him this morning.”
“I’m happy for you.”
“Thank you.” She smiled, dimples appearing. “Mr. West, there is a tea room around the corner. Would you allow me to buy you a cup of tea?”
He smiled back. “That sounds lovely, Miss Lear, but I’m afraid I have an appointment.”
She reached out and a gloved hand touched his arm. “Please. Just long enough for me to express my appreciation to you and Mr. Gordon.”
Blackjack suddenly tossed his head with a loud snort. Jim spun around just in time to see an arm with a hand holding a cosh swinging toward his head. He swung his own arm up, catching the lowering arm with his own then slammed his free fist into the stomach of the attacker. Whirling, he directed his boot into the groin of a second man, who yowled and bent over in agony. Turning further, Jim was not surprised to see Regan Lear disappearing around the next corner—where she had said the tearoom awaited.
He leapt into the saddle and urged the horse into an immediate gallop. Rounding the corner, he reined in, looking around in frustration. This was a busier street. Several hacks and other vehicles were moving in both directions. Business establishments were on either side of the street as well. She could have ducked into any.
By the time he returned to the site where he had encountered Regan Lear, both the men were gone. Another man who apparently had emerged from a nearby home waved him over to report that he saw the pair going in the opposite direction. They had run down the street to jump into a nondescript vehicle no longer in view.
“How’d it go?” Artie asked, looking up from the telegraph key. “Learn anything interesting?”
“All depends on how you look at it,” his partner replied, tossing his hat on the rack near the car door. “I had a little encounter with Miss Lear.”
Jim described the incident tersely. “I presume this brother was a fabrication to explain her sudden change of wardrobe.”
“There may well have been a brother,” Artie said, picking up some papers from the desk and extending them to Jim.
He read quickly. Washington had learned that the orphanage in Monterey had found records of the child one of the matrons remembered, the one with dark eyes. She had come to the orphanage with a brother. The brother was older and left the institution three years ahead of the girl.
“Leora Raney,” Jim read aloud. “Regan Lear. Close.”
“That’s what I was thinking. I asked Washington to find out what happened to the brother.”
“How did your visit to the neighborhood of the house on Fifth Street go?” Jim moved to sit on the sofa facing the rear.
Artemus related his encounter with the across-the-street neighbor. “No doubt it was all a setup to make us believe she was residing there.”
Jim leaned forward. “But why? What the devil is going on? Why do they want us here in San Francisco? What’s the brother’s name?”
“Nothing on that. I asked. Could be important.”
“Could be.” Jim stared at the carpeted floor for a moment then lifted his eyes. “It’s got to be something or someone one of us knows. As of this moment, I haven’t any idea what it could be. Or how Regan Lear could be involved. I know I never met her previously.”
Artie was leaning against the desk when the telegraph machine began to clatter again. He moved quickly around to sit down and tap the acknowledgment. Both men listened as Artemus wrote down the incoming message. He then looked up.
Jim frowned. “Theodore Raney. Ted Raney. Theo… maybe.”
“Theo Raney. That tickles something in my brain. Artie, ask if his location is known.”
Artie nodded. “I’ve got a feeling he’s in San Francisco, working with his sister.”
As a rule, what is out of sight disturbs men's minds more seriously than what they see.
—Julius Caesar (Gaius Julius Caesar; 100-44 BC), Roman general, statesman, writer, and orator
Artie was wrong. About two hours later, Lloyd Morris showed up at the train again. “Colonel Richmond’s office sent a query about Theodore Raney along with information about why he was asking. I decided I might as well come directly out here to tell you. Raney is dead.”
The two agents looked at each other, and then back at Morris. “When?” Artie asked.
“Almost three years ago. He was killed in a brawl on the Barbary Coast.”
“That doesn’t help at all,” Jim muttered. “What else do you know about him?”
“Not a lot. He worked at a couple of livery stables when he first came to San Francisco, had a few run-ins with the law, but nothing serious. Mostly drinking. Then he went to work for the City Museum, and was employed there when he died. He…”
Jim snapped his fingers, jumping up from the sofa. “Of course! The museum. That’s where I heard the name. I can’t recall the context, but I remember Professor Coburn calling him by name to do some errand or task. I think he was arranging a display of an exhibit. That was more than three years ago. How could it be relevant now?”
“Do you remember why you were at the museum?” Lloyd asked.
Jim grimaced, shook his head. “We were in the city for another reason, but followed up on the theft of some artifacts from a museum in Chicago. Suspicion was that the thieves might try to sell them to another museum, so either Artie or I visited the ones here just about every day.”
“I don’t recall running into a Theo Raney,” Artie put in. “I might have seen him but I had no reason to know his name.”
“What are they up to?” Morris wanted to know, looking from one agent to another. “Planning to rob the museum?”
“You tell us,” Artie retorted, smiling to soften the sharpness of the words. “Do you know if the museum has a particularly pricey exhibit?”
“Haven’t heard anything. I wouldn’t necessarily be told officially if they requested extra patrols, but I usually at least hear gossip in the halls. I’ll go by the museum to check. I haven’t met the new curator yet anyway. You knew that Coburn retired, right? Went back to Massachusetts. No idea why anyone would leave California for Massachusetts.” Morris grinned. “Give me rain over snow any day.” Both Jim and Artemus knew that the policeman had been born and raised in Cambridge and had kin back there.
“What puzzles me right now is where Regan Lear—or Leora Raney—is hiding out,” Jim put in.
“Don’t forget,” Artie added, “we do not have proof they are one and the same yet. This might be completely off the track.”
“Might be,” Jim concurred. “But I doubt it.”
Mystery is another name for our ignorance; if we were omniscient, all would be perfectly plain.
—Tryon Edwards (1809-1894), American Theologian
The following days were rather quiet. Artemus sketched a picture of Regan Lear and Morris had it copied to hand out to a number of his men. As well, Jim and Artie carried it around and showed it to storekeepers, restaurant staff, and others. All with no success, which was both frustrating and odd, for as one waiter said, “I don't think I’d forget a woman with eyes like that!”
They continued to be alert to the possibility that they were being followed. Two or three times they thought they spotted a possible tail, only to have that person stop his vehicle or horse or turn on another street. They puzzled over that. Had it been called off merely because they accosted the one man? Why had they been followed in the first place?
Colonel Richmond was kept apprised of their activities and was beginning to make noises about his agents returning to Washington. Not that President Grant was anxious for Senator Bligh’s letter; the colonel simply wanted his two best men on hand for active duty. The two agents in San Francisco kept telegraphing reasons why they should remain where they were, and thus far, the colonel acquiesced.
They spent a great deal of time visiting San Francisco’s museums. Not many existed in this still growing city. The largest, and the one where Jim had encountered Theo Raney, was the City Museum. The curator there was very helpful. He had nothing of particular value on hand at the moment, just the usual items that had been there almost since the institution’s inception. Occasionally a special exhibit arrived, as had occurred with the Moon Diamond some while ago. (See The Night of the Curse of the Moon Diamond.)
The next such exhibit was scheduled for a week hence, he told them. A collection of Egyptian artifacts owned by a New York philanthropist was touring the country, and San Francisco’s turn was coming up. “From what I know of it, some very valuable items are involved, such as gold armlets and jewel-encrusted tiaras. As is our habit, those items will be stored in our safe every night, taken out to the display daily—and under heavy guard.”
“A week from tomorrow,” Artie said, laying aside the leaflet he had been given at the museum. They were sitting in a small restaurant enjoying a cup of coffee and excellent chocolate cake as a mid afternoon break.
“That doesn’t seem to tie in with Regan’s activities, does it?” Jim lowered his coffee cup to the matching gold-rimmed saucer. “If we were somehow involved in the museum display, it might make sense. But we’re not.”
“Besides which, why would she act so early? Yes, to keep us in the city. Still, she could not have any idea to detain us here that long. Do you suppose we should put out word that we’re leaving again, and see what happens?”
“Might come to that,” Jim agreed. “Nonetheless, I think we need to just keep our eyes open. She’s going to make another move. We just need to be ready for it.”
Artie’s smile was rueful. “It would be helpful if we had a clue about what that move might be!”
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 - 11/04/2013 : 12:42:30
What we anticipate seldom occurs; what we least expect generally happens.
—Benjamin Disraeli, 1st Earl of Beaconsfield (1804-1881), English statesman and author
The following afternoon, after spending the morning talking with Lieutenant Morris and visiting museums again, the agents decided to split up and take the sketch of Regan Lear to some areas where Morris told them his officers had not yet been able to cover. A flip of a coin sent Artemus to a more upscale portion of the city while Jim “won” the area known as the Barbary Coast. They agreed to meet at a favorite restaurant about halfway between the two areas.
Artemus grinned as he headed for his area in a hack. He had, for once, drawn the long straw! His luck in such coin tosses with Jim had never been good. Almost as though Jim had Lady Luck always at his side. That would not be surprising, Artie decided ruefully. The way pretty women flock to him, why not Dame Fortune? But today I get to call on nice stores and pleasant restaurants, while Jim visits seedy dives and holes selling smuggled goods!
He is free from danger who, even when safe, is on his guard.
—Syrus (Publilius Syrus; c. 1st century BC), Roman (Syrian born) mimographer
The November day was raw, made even more so by the strong wind blowing off the bay. Jim pulled the collar of his cloak tighter as he walked away from the fourth saloon he had visited since arriving at this part of the city. He glanced around sharply, as he had been doing since leaving the hack that had brought him here. Although they had not seen anyone shadowing them earlier, that was no reason for him to be lax.
The bartender in this latest one thought that the picture looked familiar, but could not say with absolute certainty the woman in question had ever been in his bar. That information was both disappointing and promising. Was it possible that Regan Lear had indeed visited that bar once or twice, while another tavern in the area was a favorite that she frequented more often? The only way to find out was to keep asking questions and showing that picture. Jim always kept his gaze on faces, and especially the eyes, when he displayed the picture. In this level of society, giving up information to the law was not considered “honorable.” Something in their expressions might reveal a lie.
If indeed Regan Lear—or Leora Raney—is known in this area, it seems to indicate she is a very good actress. I saw nothing of a hard life in her manner. He knew he had not truly suspected her at all until it was revealed the alley by the restaurant had no exit as she had claimed. He took another look around, this time to decide which way to go next. He had covered all the dives on this block.
He had just decided to walk to the next block when a strange sound floated to his ears. Mozart! Who the devil is playing Mozart on a violin in this godforsaken part of town? And playing it well. The music appeared to emanate from around the next corner, so Jim walked swiftly in that direction.
He saw the man instantly, sitting up against the wall of the second building, the violin pressed up to his chin with the bow floating gracefully over the strings. An overdressed woman paused to say hello and drop a coin in the tin box beside him. Jim headed that way, noting with a tightening in his stomach that the man was legless, both lower limbs amputated at the knee.
Another veteran. Digging into his pocket, Jim pulled out most of the loose change and a couple of bills of folding money and as he walked by, he nodded to the man and dropped the cash into the box. About Artie’s age, Jim decided as he moved on. He plays beautifully. What is he doing sitting here begging?
Abruptly, he spun and returned to the man, crouching down beside him. “What regiment?”
The man lowered the bow. “Second Wisconsin.”
Jim nodded. “The Black Hat Regiment. I saw you fight at Spotsylvania Courthouse, but I know what you boys did at Gettysburg and Antietam, and elsewhere. Where…?”
“Mind if I ask how you ended up… here?”
He smiled wanly. Although he needed a good shave and haircut, and his clothing was ragged, mended, and somewhat soiled, he was a good-looking fellow, certainly not more than forty, Jim decided; probably closer to thirty-five. “I was sent home to Milwaukee. My father taught piano and violin, and I was able to help him. However, Dad decided the Wisconsin winters were too much for both of us, so we came west to here. We were going to set up a studio. But Dad became ill and died before that happened and I… I couldn’t do it on my own.”
Jim looked at the crude wheeled cart he was sitting on. “Do you manage okay now?”
“Oh, yeah. Well enough. A fellow who works down here lives in the same boardinghouse. He helps me a lot.”
“Mind if I ask your name?”
Jim extended his hand. “Glad to meet you, Mr. Dietz. I’m James West.”
Dietz’s eyes widened. “James West? The Secret Service man?”
Jim grinned. “Sometimes I wonder why they call it ‘secret.’ I have another question.” He held out the picture. “Have you ever seen this woman here?”
Dietz studied it a moment before nodding. “Sure. She goes by. Never drops anything in my box.”
“Any idea if she works or lives around here?”
“I expect so, but I don't know where. She’s always going that way.” He pointed to the left. “I never see her coming back, so I guess it’s after I’ve gone home.”
“Thank you. That’s of enormous help.” Jim stood up and gazed down at the man, noticing the dank chill of the growing gloom and the thinness of the jacket Dietz was wearing. On impulse, he jerked the laces of his cloak, pulled it off, and bent over to wrap it around Dietz’s shoulders.
“Hey! That’s not necessary!”
Jim smiled. “I’m heading home shortly and I have another one there. You need it more than I do. Take care of it. Don’t let anyone swipe it.”
Dietz lifted a hand to pull the neck tighter and to caress the fine wool. “You don't know how much this means to me, Mr. West. Thank you. I hope I can return the favor some day.”
“Just keep playing that beautiful music. This place could use it. Good day.” With a wave, he strolled off. His mind dwelt on the plight of the legless veteran. He had seen many before and never ceased to experience pain and anger that these men who had given so much were being neglected. Such was his preoccupation, he was unaware of the two men approaching swiftly behind him until one grabbed his arm and he felt the hard barrel of a weapon jammed into his side.
“Keep walking, Mr. West,” one man said in a low voice as the second man moved alongside him and grasped his other arm.
Jim then saw the pair emerge from the darkened doorway of a closed establishment. One was the woman he had known as Regan Lear. The other was a man who looked familiar but could not be immediately placed. They did not speak as they approached. The man who had first accosted Jim, a slender man with a dark mustache, reached around under Jim’s jacket and found the pistol in the holster. He pocketed it.
A black carriage came around the corner and stopped along the curb. The man with the mustache climbed in first and Jim was urged to follow him by the pressure of the muzzle of the pistol in his back. He did so and took the rear seat alongside the first man. To his surprise, one of the other two men, a larger one, boarded and shoved him over, so that he was compressed between the two men, each with a pistol pointing into his side. The third man helped Regan Lear in and then followed her. They sat on the rear-facing seat. Then the coach started.
They don't know about my knife or the weapons in my boot heels, Jim mused. Now, pinioned like this, neither is of any use to me. Aloud he said, “Are you going to introduce me to your friends, Miss Lear?”
“Oh, forgive me, Mr. West. Of course! The gentleman beside me is my husband, Mr. Dixon Finn.”
“Ah. I know the name.”
Finn grinned. “I expect I’ve been on a list or two.”
“One or two,” Jim acknowledged. “We would have met sooner or later, I suspect. Or at least some federal agent.” Dixon Finn was wanted for a pair of train robberies in which government funds had been stolen.
Regan Lear was smiling. “The gentleman to your left is Dixon’s brother, Tucker.” She referred to the mustached man. “And to your right is our dear friend, Lester Deaver. Another friend is driving the coach.”
“A distinguished group.” Jim’s voice dripped sarcasm. The name Tucker Finn meant nothing, although he likely had been involved in the train robberies. “Now do you want to tell me what’s going on?”
Dixon Finn smiled. “You’ll find out when you need to.”
“Oh, Dix, darling, there’s no harm in telling him now. Mr. West, you are going to assist us to acquire a fortune in gems.”
“Is that right? I hope you’re not counting on it too strongly.”
She laughed merrily. A completely different woman, Jim reflected, than the modest, almost shy one he and Artemus had taken to dinner. “You will help us, but perhaps not voluntarily.”
“What’s the job?”
“Opening the safe at the City Museum.”
Jim shook his head. “I can’t help you there. I don't know the combination.”
Regan laughed again and her husband grinned broadly. “Yes, you do,” she said. “My brother Theo worked in the museum. He saw you and he overheard what occurred through the open door. You may think you have forgotten it, but you haven’t.”
Jim remembered then. One day he entered the museum to find that Dr. Coburn had suffered a fall in which his right wrist was broken and his left badly sprained. He needed the safe opened and Jim volunteered. As the curator called out the combination numbers, he was able to open it.
“No. I have forgotten. It has been more than three years and only that once. Why don’t you ask your brother?” He knew the answer, of course.
Regan grimaced. “Because stupid Theo went out to celebrate and got himself killed in a brawl! We had planned that he would continue to work at the museum in order to know when something valuable was placed in the safe. He didn’t tell me the combination. So I thought all was lost. However, I fortuitously obtained a job with Professor Mephisto and his Traveling Show.”
She was smiling now. “A magician, and more importantly, a mesmerist extraordinaire. He taught me everything. I’m better at it than he ever was.”
“Mesmerism?” Jim did not find it difficult to display astonishment, and he hoped, alarm. “A hypnotist?”
“A hypnotist, Mr. West. This evening, if you fail to provide the combination voluntarily, I will use the craft on you.”
Jim shook his head doubtfully. “I don't think…”
“It works. It works very well, I assure you. You will remember the combination and give it to me.”
Jim glanced at the window. Although darkness was rapidly closing in, he recognized the area. They were, apparently, heading for the home of Spinster Lowell! “Why would you want it now? I visited the museum yesterday. They have nothing of particular value at the moment.”
“But they will in a few days. Gems worth millions.” This was Dix Finn speaking. “Tucker there has been working in the museum, just as poor Theo did. We know about the exhibit coming up. Tonight, after you provide the combination, we will make a ‘dry run’ so to speak. To ensure that the combination is correct, for one thing.”
“And if the combination works, you’ll kill me.”
Once again that merry laugh from Regan. “Oh, no, Mr. West. As long as you behave yourself that won’t be at all necessary. You see, when I have put you under mesmerism to reveal the combination, I will also erase this entire evening from your mind and replace it with another memory… after we ascertain you’ve given us the correct one, of course.”
“Tell me, how did you know I was on the Barbary Coast this evening?”
This time Dix laughed. “Well, after you accosted Harley the other evening we realized we needed to be a bit more clever. Hiring men for a dollar or two on the Coast is a simple matter. So I rounded up a dozen or so and had them switching off frequently so that neither you nor Mr. Gordon would become suspicious.”
“Very clever. But now you have all those men with a knowledge of your activities.”
“No, no. They were each told an entirely different story. In fact, some of them thought they were tracking very dangerous criminals.” Finn grinned widely, amused by his own ingenuity.
Jim fell silent as the hack wended its way through the dark streets. The area of the house did not have many street lamps. Returning to the house Regan claimed as her boarding house is either very foolish or very daring. They must be banking on the idea that authorities would not consider it because it had already been discovered as a ruse.
The coach slowed and Jim realized it was turning into the alleyway between the spinster’s home and the one next to it. They would not take the chance of leaving it out on the street. Whether they knew about the observant neighbor across the street or not, getting the hack out of sight was a good idea.
No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.
—Aesop (c. 620-560 BC), Greek fabulist and author
Artemus took a swallow of the lukewarm coffee, made a face, and signaled to the waiter, pulling his pocket watch out at the same time. Forty-five minutes. Not like Jim to be so late in an instance such as this. “Paolo,” he spoke aloud to the waiter, “are you certain you did not see Mr. West here today?”
“Very certain. I have not seen him since the last time you and he came to dinner. You brought Miss Fortune and another lady.”
Artie nodded, remembering the festive night. Lily’s stage company had ended a successful run here in the Bay City and they had gone out to celebrate as well as spend time together before she left for the next stop on their tour. That had been about three months ago.
“I’m going to wait another fifteen minutes,” he said, “and then I’ll have to go look for him, I guess. If he should come in after I depart, tell him I’ll meet him at the train.”
“I will do so, Mr. Gordon.” Paolo used the pot he held to freshen the coffee cup before strolling off.
Artie stared hard at the door, willing his partner to amble through. We probably should not have split up. A little late for that, he reminded himself sardonically. Neither had experienced qualms this morning when they made the decision. Even the apparent attempt to grab Jim off the street the other day did not seem troublesome.
Hindsight is always one hundred percent, Artemus sighed as he stood up and tossed some coins on the table. Why had they ignored that incident? He could not really say. They had not seen anyone following them since they grabbed that guy the other evening. Perhaps that had caused complacency.
Of course, there may be a perfectly good reason why Jim is late, something not involving danger at all. Nonetheless, experience told him otherwise. Jim had been late for rendezvous on other occasions but never when not making the deadline would cause concern, as it had tonight. They were deeply in the dark where Regan Lear and her motives were concerned. Jim would have either returned on time or sent word.
Hailing a hack outside the restaurant, Artemus promised the man a hefty tip not only to make haste but also to travel to the Barbary Coast. Many drivers did not want to risk their equipment, not to mention their lives, by entering that area at night. Twenty minutes later, he handed the driver the promised bonus and started walking up the street.
Aware that he really had no idea where Jim had begun or ended in this hellish area, he stopped in a couple of dives to ask. The bartender in the second one said yes, a man had come asking about a picture of a fine looking doll. That had been maybe an hour ago. By entering every second or third establishment, Artie followed his partner and knew he was getting close by the times the men he asked gave him.
He had just turned a corner when he saw a bizarre sight ahead of him. A man was apparently sitting on a wheeled cart while another man was pulling that cart with the rope attached to it. Artie quickly realized that the “passenger” was likely lame, and started to enter another saloon, when he suddenly became aware of what that passenger was wearing.
Breaking into a run, he came up alongside the cart. Even more bizarre, a violin case lay on the man’s lap. “Excuse me! Excuse me! I need to talk to you!”
The puller halted, looking back in bewilderment and a little alarm. “What’s the problem?” he called.
Artie ignored him, looking down at the man on the cart—a man with his legs missing he realized—and asked, “Can you tell me where you got that cloak?”
The man’s shoulders stiffened. “I didn’t steal it. Mr. West gave it to me.”
Artie smiled very briefly. “I can believe that. How long ago?”
“Oh, maybe twenty minutes. You’d be Mr. Gordon?”
“That’s right. His partner. Did he mention me?”
“No. When he introduced himself, I remembered what I read about him. He was asking if I knew a woman in a picture.”
“Yes. We have been seeking her. Do you know which direction he went when he left you?”
“Same way we’re going now. But he met some friends and went off with them in a hack right about here.”
“Friends?” A coldness that was not related to the chill evening air washed over Artemus.
“I guess they were friends. Two men stopped him, and then a man and woman came up. They all got into the hack. Went that way.” He pointed in the opposite direction. “Wait a minute.”
“What is it?” Artie saw how the man’s dark brows suddenly lifted.
“I just realized that the woman looked a great deal like the one in the picture. She was wearing a cloak, but the hood wasn’t up. Didn’t even strike me until just now but I’m pretty sure she had the same big dark eyes.”
Artie dug inside his pocket and found a five-dollar gold piece, dropping it into the now empty box sitting on the cart. “Thank you. You’ve been of immense help.”
“Do you think Mr. West is in trouble?”
“Don't know yet. Thank you.” Artemus turned and walked swiftly. He was going to have to go a fair distance to find another hack, unless he got lucky and spotted someone he knew with a horse…
The backbone of surprise is fusing speed with secrecy.
—Karl Von Clausewitz (1780-1831), Prussian military leader and author
This might be one of the most difficult things I have done in my life!
Jim sat in the chair, slightly slumped, unmoving. Regan Lear, her husband, and husband’s brother had departed about twenty minutes earlier, satisfied that Jim West had been placed under a hypnotic spell that would keep him helpless until they returned. So satisfied that they had not bothered to tie him to the chair.
He was not unguarded, however. The burly man Deaver was seated on another chair at the side of the room holding his pistol in his hand. While Deaver did not stare at him all the time, he was in a position that had Jim made any move he would see it. As well, he was a dozen feet away. He could easily shoot me before I could get to him.
He had been able to withstand Regan’s instructions to go into a hypnotic trance although it had been difficult. He could see why she had been successful as a mesmerist. Between her soft voice and velvet dark eyes, resisting had taken all his willpower. He had succeeded, nonetheless, and had responded to her questions apparently to her satisfaction. The numbers he gave as the combination of the safe at the museum had been merely pulled out of the air.
As they had informed him previously, they were headed to the museum, which would be closed by now, to test the combination. Finn had told Deaver they would return in approximately two hours and if that did not occur he was to shoot the prisoner and meet them at some prearranged place that was not mentioned tonight.
One would think Deaver was hypnotized as well. He really hasn’t moved other than to turn his head since they departed. Jim knew he might be forced to make a desperate move. Whether Regan had told the truth when she said they would not kill him but merely change his memories, he did not want to risk it, especially after hearing Deaver’s instructions.
At some point during the two hours, Deaver had to stand up, perhaps move around the room a little. The small fire in the fireplace opposite where Deaver sat had diminished even more. A few sticks of wood were on the hearth. Would he decide to go feed the fire? That might be my chance… if he does it!
The room cooled further; Deaver did not stir. Jim was beginning to think he was going to have to take a chance. Perhaps if he moved swiftly enough, if Deaver was totally off guard… Jim wondered later how he did not react at the sound that suddenly echoed through the otherwise empty house.
Deaver, however, jumped to his feet. He stood still and stared at the closed door to the room, which Jim thought had probably been the dining room for the old house. The sound appeared to have been a door slamming and was now followed by the murmur of a voice, as well as footsteps that were approaching the door.
Deaver went toward the door and lifted his pistol. He reached toward the doorknob but it opened before he touched it. With Deaver’s back toward him, Jim straightened slightly and braced himself, ready to take advantage of whatever this disruption was. Then he relaxed and smiled.
The man on the other side of the door was unshaven, wearing clothes similar to those Walter Dietz had worn, tattered, mended, badly soiled. His nose was a little large and appeared to have been broken, and the greasy dark hair badly needed shampoo. He was grinning widely and holding an obviously cheap bottle of liquor.
“Hey! I didn’t know anybody else knew about this little place! Be nice to have some company! And you’ve got a fire goin’! Great. Name’s Fred. Fred Brogan.” He stuck out a hand covered by a soiled glove.
Deaver took a step back, lowering the gun slightly. “Get out of here!”
“Huh? What’s that? That ain’t very nice. You know, I been coming to this old house for years. Oh, maybe not years. Well, yeah, years. I used to come and cut wood for Miss Lowell. I’m sure she don’t mind I come here to stay warm and dry. Come on. I got a bottle here I’ll share. I ain’t greedy. There’s enough for both…”
Lester Deaver suddenly groaned and collapsed. Behind him Jim loosened the two fists he had clenched together to strike him hard on the back of the head. He reached down and picked up the gun that fell from Deaver’s relaxed hand then turned the man over to pull another gun, his own, from the pants pocket.
“What’s going on, Jim?” Artie asked.
“I’ll tell you later. Are you alone?”
“No, Lloyd and a half dozen men are outside.”
“Regan and her friends will be returning from the museum spitting fire. Get Lloyd and his men in here and make sure their transportation is out of sight.”
Once the policemen were inside, Deaver was handcuffed and dragged to one side as Jim explained what had occurred. “By now they have discovered the combination to the safe I gave them was false and will be on their way back.”
Morris nodded. “I’ll put my men in the other rooms to be ready to move in. I presume the gang is armed.”
“Yes. With any luck we can surprise them and take care of that swiftly.”
Artemus insisted on remaining in the same room with Jim. He flattened his body against the wall on the far side of the jutting fireplace when they heard the rear door of the house opening, followed by hasty footsteps and voices tinged with anger. Jim was in the chair again, slumped down as he had before, the weapon in his hand disguised by placing his arm over it. Lester Deaver was in his chair as well but still unconscious and his arms fastened behind his back.
Regan Lear, also known as Leora Raney, was the first one in. “You lied!” she screeched, coming straight toward Jim without glancing to either side. “That’s impossible! You couldn’t lie under a trance!”
Jim did not move immediately. Dixon Finn grabbed his wife’s arm. “Take it easy, babe. We just have to try again. Maybe he was remembering another safe.”
She took a deep breath as if to calm herself and stood in front of Jim’s chair. “Mr. West. Look at me.”
Jim raised his head, opening his eyes. For a moment he stared at her blankly. Then he smiled. “You’re under arrest, Mrs. Finn. You too, Mr. Finn.”
The police swarmed into the room and the trio was taken into custody. Morris quickly reported that the man who was outside with the hack they used had also been grabbed. Regan Lear stared at Jim as she was handcuffed.
“You couldn’t have lied to me under hypnosis!”
“I wasn’t hypnotized,” Jim replied with pleasure. “A long time ago I learned how to resist hypnosis by concentrating on other things. In this case, I recited the Declaration of Independence in my head. Never thought when I was a lad memorizing it that it would come in so handy.”
“Whatever you do, Lloyd,” Artie said as the prisoners were led to the wagon, “make sure the guards and matrons know about her abilities. She might mesmerize them into letting her out!” Jim had told him how forcefully he had had to resist her compelling voice and eyes.
Lloyd grinned. “I’ll arrange for Sadie Fitz to be her personal guard. No one is ever going to hypnotize Sadie!”
Both agents smiled. They were acquainted with the matron at the city jail. Sadie was a handsome woman in her fifties who looked like a grandmother, which she was, with a sweet smile and twinkling blue eyes. None of the women she attended to ever escaped or talked her into any preferential treatment. The soft-appearing exterior masked a tough interior.
“Amazing,” Artie commented when they climbed into the cab that was going to be taken to police headquarters; Morris suspected it was stolen. “They had this planned for months… even years.”
“Seems so,” Jim nodded. “They had been tracking our activities, watching for our arrival in San Francisco, and waiting for that to coincide with a valuable exhibit at the museum. Our assignment to pick up Senator Bligh’s letter was perfect as far as they were concerned.”
Artemus grimaced. “We’d better not let the senator know how ‘helpful’ he was!”
Jim laughed. “Hey, how did you first get onto the fact that I’d been grabbed?”
“Ran into a fellow wearing your greatcoat. Bet you didn’t think your generosity might save your life.”
“Goes to show. The Declaration of Independence memorized in Miss Favor’s class and giving over my cloak on a whim. By the way, I want to talk to you about Walter Dietz.”
It is not enough to help the feeble up, but to support him after.
—The Merchant of Venice (Act 1, scene 3), William Shakespeare (1564-1616), English dramatist and poet
Leora Raney Finn, her husband, and brother-in-law, along with Deaver and the driver, were bound over for trial. Morris made certain that anyone dealing with Leora Finn was aware of her talents as a hypnotist so that she had no opportunity to attempt to mesmerize someone into helping her escape.
With Senator Bligh’s infamous letter in hand, the agents headed east again on the Wanderer, but not before taking care of some other business. Jim took Artie back down to the Barbary Coast where his astounded partner listened to the legless violinist.
“Amazing! Astonishing! He shouldn’t be sitting down here in the grime and decadence of this hellhole.”
“I thought you might feel that way. Maybe you want to talk to Viola Eastbourn about him.”
“Excellent thought! I’ll call on her, arrange to take her to dinner, and then bring her to listen. I’m sure she can help.”
Viola Eastbourn was the widow of a renowned pianist, and a fine pianist in her own right. She gave lessons in her home, as well as arranged for performances of her pupils and guests she invited from other areas of the country, helping to bring culture to the city. Always eager to find new talent, she accepted Artemus's invitation with alacrity. He was not surprised to see tears in her eyes as she listened to Walter Dietz play his instrument.
Artie and Jim had hoped she might merely help set Walter up somewhere so that he could continue teaching violin. Viola had other ideas. She marched up, introduced herself, and invited him to come live in her large home and conduct his teaching there. The astounded Walter barely had time to acknowledge her introduction before she was making plans for him.
In the end, his friend was also invited to her home. She needed a handyman, she said, having just a cook and a maid at the time. Vernon Schiff, a veteran of a Maine regiment, could also help Walter with his needs. Within a week the two men were ensconced in her home, and another week later, Walter Dietz conducted his first violin lesson.
Approximately three months later, Artemus received a letter from San Francisco. Reading his own mail, Jim watched his partner’s grin grow wider and wider as he read, and finally he had to speak up. “What is it, Artie?”
Eyes glowing, Artie looked up. “It’s from Viola Eastbourn, Jim. This is so great. Walter now has so many clients he can barely keep up with them. Everyone wants his kid to learn the violin, it seems. Vernon is doing well, displaying his skill as a carpenter, and getting outside jobs because of it. He is courting a maid at the house next door.
“And even better, Viola says Walter and her own maid are getting along very well. Lucy’s father was an amputee from the Mexican war, so Walter’s handicap doesn’t faze her it seems. Viola feels it’s just a matter of time. She plans to make Lucy her housekeeper so that the two of them will remain with her. She also says she has not been so happy since before Bertram died. She feels she has a family now.”
“That’s great. Remember, Artie, we have to make sure the senator never learns of this either. He will take all the credit and we’ll never hear the end of it.”
Perhaps an hour later, Jim was stretched out on one of the sofas reading an absorbing book as the train rumbled toward their next assignment. He was aware that his partner entered the parlor car but did not speak or look his way until he was turning a page, when he glanced over to see that Artie was sitting at the desk, his expression very serious as he stared at something on the desktop in front of him.
“What’s on your mind?”
The query caused Artie to lift his head. “I’ve been thinking.”
Artie made a face at him before continuing. “I was musing over the fact that both Walter and Vernon appeared to have found romance and wives in their new situations.”
“I suppose you are starting to think you should ask Lily to set the date.”
“What? No, no. Not that at all. Jim, listen. Maybe we should resign and start a matrimonial service.”
“What!” Of all things, he had not expected those words. Jim sat up, putting his book aside, forgetting to mark his page in his astonishment. “What in the world are you talking about?”
“Think of it,” his partner said, holding up a hand, fingers spread. “Look at the number of couples who found happiness due to our efforts. The first one I can think of was Lyle Dixon and Lonie Millard.” He touched his little finger with the index finger of his other hand.
“They were in love before we ever came on the scene!” Jim retorted.
“Well, yes, but our efforts opened the way for them to realize their joy. Didn’t they have a great wedding? Now bear with me. Think about Lloyd and Betty Morris. At the same time, Captain Cullen began to court Sheila Casey and they are married now.” (See The Night of the Vengeance Moon.) Artie ticked off two more fingers. “Don’t forget Kip and Lizzie Manley.” (See The Night of the Deadly Dare.) I swear Jim, we could make our living bringing couples together!”
“We didn’t really ‘bring them together,’ Artie.”
“Sure we did. In a way. Who knows what might have happened if we hadn’t been there?”
“Fate would have taken its course.”
“So you don’t like the idea?” Artie sat back in the chair, disappointment on his face.
“Not that, exactly. It sure would be a quieter existence… perhaps.”
Artie’s brow wrinkled. “Why perhaps?”
“Think of it further down the road, maybe ten, twenty years. Suppose one or all of these couples realize they have made a bad match and are miserable. Who do you think they would blame?”
“Oh!” Artie’s brown eyes opened in sudden realization. “Oh, I see!”
“Look at it this way, too, partner. Consider all the people who would be disappointed if we left the service. The colonel for one. President Grant. Miguelito Loveless…”
Artie was nodding somberly now. “Jim, you are a wise man. We would not want to let down any of them, most especially Miguelito. Besides, one day Loveless is going to be caught and will pay for his crimes. I would be the one disappointed if someone else got the credit.” He picked up the sheet of paper from the desk and tore it in half. “I’m afraid Cupid is going to have to be on his own.”
Jim grinned as he picked up his book and reclined again. “Keep on thinking, Artemus. One of these days you may even come up with an idea that will convince me.”
“Convince you to retire, you mean?”
“No. Convince me that you need to talk to an alienist to find out why you keep getting these crazy ideas.”
Artemus balled up the two pieces of paper and hurled the mass across the car. Jim chuckled as he searched for the spot he had left off reading while the ball of paper bounced off his forehead.
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