SS senior field agent
Posted - 08/07/2016 : 09:03:19
| The Night of the Time of Their Lives
Time passes cold and indifferent over us; it knows nothing of our joys or sorrows; it leads us with ice-cold hand deeper and deeper into the labyrinth.
—Ludwig Tieck (1773-1853), German poet and novelist
“Hey, Artie,” Jim spoke up from the table in the varnish car as the door from the galley opened. “I thought I heard someone rummaging around in there.”
Artemus nodded. “I was putting the supplies away. I told Cobb to get underway as soon as he is ready. Hi, Jer. Glad you made it.”
Jeremy Pike was seated across the table from Jim, the cards of a gin rummy game in between them. He had twisted around as the door opened. “Hello, Artemus. I made good time at that. I wasn’t going to miss helping out in this.”
Artie moved toward the table. “I know. It’s very worrisome. Not like Frank and Ned to not check in once they arrived at Santa Teresa. Then the law there claims to have not even seen them!”
Washington had asked all three agents to work together to check into the seeming disappearance of Frank Harper and Ned Malone, who were supposed to be in a southern California town to check on a report that a wanted man who had fled to Mexico was now in that area. They should have arrived there nearly two weeks ago, but no word had been received from the pair.
Two short toots sounded from the locomotive, and Artemus grabbed the back of the nearby sofa. All three men knew that that was the signal the train was about to start moving. Sure enough, seconds later, the car jerked slightly, rocked a bit, and then began moving, settling down as it picked up speed.
Artie reached into his jacket pocket. “By the way, James. I found this tied to the lab car door.” He pulled out a folded piece of paper and extended it toward his partner.
“Another one?” Jim took it, opened it. “Number eight.”
“What is it?” Pike inquired.
“You didn’t tell him about the billets-doux?” Artie asked.
“No,” Jim replied, somewhat ruefully. “We talked about Frank and Ned and I didn’t really even think about the notes. It’s nonsense, anyway.”
“What is?” Pike persisted.
Artie went around to the cupboard, opening one of the lower cabinets to retrieve a cigar box. He flipped the top to extract a handful of similar folded papers. “We’ve been getting these the last several weeks.” He unfolded individual sheets to place on the table in front of their fellow agent, looking at each one before he did. “As you can see, they were numbered in the same hand as the message. After we got three of them, I started including the date and location received.”
Jeremy leaned over, peering at the pages and the characters in a firm block print in black ink. “Looks like they followed you across the country. No idea who is leaving them?”
“Nope,” Jim replied. “Might be a ghost, for all we know. We open the front door there, and find one on the platform. This is the second one that’s been tied to the handle of the car door—with twine again, Artie?”
“With twine,” his partner confirmed.
Pike now picked up the first one and read it aloud. Number one: “‘Nae man can tether time or tide. Robert Burns, Tam o’Shanter.’ I know that poem. Two, ‘Time, the cradle of hope, but the grave of ambition, is the stern corrector of fools, but the salutary counselor of the wise, bringing all they dread to the one, and all they desire to the other. Charles Caleb Colton.’ I don't think I recognize that name.”
“English writer,” Artie supplied. “Early third of this century.”
“Hmm. Three. ‘Gather ye rose-buds while ye may, Old Time is still a flying, And this same flower that smiles to-day, To-morrow will be dying. Robert Herrick Hesperides.’ I recognize the name as an old English poet, and I am pretty sure I’ve heard at least this quote from it. Okay. Four. ‘While we are speaking envious time will have fled. Seize the present day.’ Or ‘Dum loquimur, fugerit invida Aetas: carpe diem. Horace, Carmina.’ We’ve all heard the “carpe diem” part.”
“And we learned Horace in primary school,” Jim smiled.
“They seem to reference time so far,” Pike commented, picking up the next one. “Five, ‘He briskly and cheerfully asked him how man should kill time. François Rabelais, Works.’ French… from…?” Jeremy looked at Artemus.
“Fifteenth-sixteenth century. A monk.”
“Right. Six, ‘The inaudible and noiseless foot of time. William Shakespeare’ We certainly all know about old Will. Seven, ‘Heaven makes sport of human affairs, and the present hour gives no sure promise of the next.’ In Latin, ‘Ludit in humanis divina potentia rebus, Et certam praesens vix habet hora fidem. Ovid, Epistoloe Ex Ponto.’ Yet another memory from schooldays. And finally, eight. ‘Who knows what may be slumbering in the background of time!’ Translated into German, ‘O, wer weiss Was in der Zeiten Hintergrunde schlummert. Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller, Don Carlos.’ I’m sure I’ve heard of Don Carlos, if never read it.” Again, Pike looked at Artie.
“This one I don't know either.”
“I do,” Jim stated, drawing the stares of his companions.
“Really?” Jer blinked.
“Hey, don’t forget I had two years of college. Something we read in literature class. To be honest, I don’t recall what the poem was about, but I remember the names.”
Pike glanced down at number eight, which he still held. “Seems to me these last couple take on an ominous theme.”
“That’s what I was thinking when I read that one outside,” Artie nodded. “The first half dozen appeared more philosophical.”
“Who do you think they are from?” Jeremy looked at each man.
Artie shrugged, but Jim replied promptly. “Probably Loveless.”
Artie sighed. “You know James. He has Loveless on his mind.”
“Why do you think that, Jim?”
“Because I know the man. I have no idea what the messages mean, but it is something he would do. Might be only an attempt to distract or rattle us.”
Pike’s eyes opened slightly wider. “Do you think he is behind the disappearance of Frank and Ned?”
“That I don't know. I can’t see why he would go after them. He hasn’t really had much interaction with those two. His attention is usually on Artie and me. Not to mention we have noticed that Loveless knows where we are at all times. We don't know how he knows, but he knows. That someone delivering the notes knows where we are—as if guided by Loveless.”
“Yeah.” Jeremy looked at the paper he held again. “‘Who knows what may be slumbering in the background of time!’ I’d call that a threat… of some kind.” His frown grew deep. “How the devil are they being left without you hearing or seeing anyone?”
“I told you,” Jim quipped. “A ghost.”
“It might as well be,” Artie said sourly. “To be honest, most seem to have been left in the middle of the night, but this one and at least one other were left in broad daylight. Today, Cobb and Kelly were out and about getting the locomotive ready. They didn’t see or hear anyone.”
“Well, now he—or she—has one more pair of eyes on alert.” Pike tapped his face just below his eyes. “Perhaps that will help.”
Deus non sinit habere scientiam rerum futurarum homini; Si enim Filius de praescientia bonis foret secura et prudentia filium de adversa esset insipiens.
[God will not suffer man to have the knowledge of things to come; for if he had prescience of his prosperity, he would be careless; and, understanding of his adversity, he would be senseless.]
—Saint Aurelius Augustine (Augustine of Hippo; 354-430), Roman (Numidian-born) religious figure, writer, and philosopher
The train had picked up Jeremy Pike in northern California, inland from Eureka. The trip to Santa Teresa, close to five hundred miles away, needed to be accomplished in as short a time as possible. Washington had pulled some strings to get the tracks cleared for them, but a couple of stops were necessary. The first one was uneventful. All five men on the Wanderer were alert for the invisible person who had been leaving the notes, but if he came near, he remained invisible. No notes were delivered.
The second stop was in the Sacramento train yards, which required an overnight stay while a pair of through trains passed by. During the night, Jim awakened, unsure of what he heard. He pulled on his trousers and boots, took his gun, and slipped out the door that opened toward the lab-stable car. At that point, he noticed a shadowy figure moving away from the train.
He acted swiftly, jumping down to race toward the form that seemed to freeze for a moment upon noticing sounds from the train. By the time the fellow started up again, Jim was upon him, grabbing his arm. “Just a minute there, pal. Stop!”
The man did not struggle, obeying Jim’s ensuing commands to march into the train. By then, lights were coming on as both Artemus and Jeremy had been aroused. They took the man into the varnish car. He was a nondescript fellow, in his thirties, of average height, with dull brown hair, rather plain countenance, and clothes that had been worn a lot. He also refused to say a word.
They found a note tied to the stable car door again. This one stated: “Thinkst thou existence doth depend on time? It doth; but actions are our epochs; mine Have made my days and nights imperishable, Endless, and all alike. Lord Byron, Manfred.”
“That’s cryptic,” Artie muttered.
“No kidding,” Jeremy replied. “Enough to be threatening again.”
“What will we do with this not very talkative fellow?” Artie asked then.
“I’m going to put him in the rolling cell for now,” Jim replied. “In the morning, I’ll take him into town and ask the police to hold him.”
“Jim,” Artie began with a worried expression on his face, “we need to get started…”
“I know. You can continue on schedule. I will grab the next train south to catch up. Perhaps I’ll pay a call on Lydia to see if she knows anything about Frank’s activities, or maybe he’s contacted her.”
Artemus reluctantly agreed to the plan, realizing they could not keep the captive on the train during their entire investigation. He was unsure why he had such a bad feeling about it. Jim could easily take the next train tomorrow and likely meet them in Santa Teresa within two days, if not sooner. This whole business was unsettling, the strange notes along with the disappearance of two reliable agents.
I don't know if Jim is right about Loveless being behind the notes. Whoever it is may well also have something to do with the missing agents. I have a sense that strength is in numbers and I do not like James being alone!
My days are swifter than a weaver's shuttle, and are spent without hope.
—Bible, Job (ch. VII, v. 6)
Jim delivered the incommunicative messenger boy to the Sacramento police, who swiftly agreed to hold him until the federal government either picked him up or notified them to release him. No one recognized the man, and he carried no identification on his person. They had found a horse, just as nondescript as his rider, waiting outside the Sacramento train station, but nothing with the horse offered any clues either.
Artie had wondered if the man was truly mute, but had no way to discern the truth. He was certainly not deaf, his facial expressions revealing he understood what those around him were saying. Jim deliberately mentioned Miguelito Loveless, and was disappointed to see no reaction. As he told his companions later, he did not know what that signified, if anything.
“He might have been expecting that and trained himself to not react,” he commented.
“It’s also possible the name means nothing to him because it wasn’t Loveless,” Artie smiled.
“Or…,” Pike put in, “the charming little doctor used a different name.”
“All or any are possible,” Artie nodded. “We won’t know until we find Frank and Ned and learn whether the notes are connected in any way or form.”
Upon leaving the police station, Jim rode to the narrow street where Lydia Monteran kept her fashionable—and very successful—dress shop. Two well-dressed ladies were just departing the shop, followed by a young maidservant who was carrying a large bundle, obviously their purchases. Jim tipped his hat to them as he dismounted and stepped up onto the porch of the shop.
He pushed the door open, now pulling off his hat. He paused just inside. Lydia was at the counter talking to one of her assistants, and for a moment neither one saw him. Then the younger woman glanced his way, apparently calling Lydia’s attention to his entrance. Lydia turned around, and for just an instant, her face lit up. However, that expression quickly changed to one of fear and concern. The pen she had been writing with dropped from her hand onto the counter as she hurried toward him, grasping his upper arms to peer into his face.
“Jim! What… is it… Frank?”
“Nothing new, Lydia,” Jim replied quickly and gently. He had not realized that his sudden appearance would cause alarm. “I’m just stopping by to see if you had heard anything yourself.”
“No, no. Let’s go back into my office. Henrietta, keep an eye on things.”
The state of Lydia’s mind was evident in the fact that she did not offer Jim anything. It was too early in the day for alcohol; however, normally she would have asked if he wanted coffee from the pot on the small wood stove in the room next to the one she led him to. He did not say anything, having just finished breakfast.
She went behind her ornate desk and he took a chair in front of it. “Lydia, I can’t tell you a thing about Frank and Ned because I don't know anything. Artie and Jeremy are on their way to Santa Teresa and I’ll join them there tonight or tomorrow.”
“Where is Santa Teresa?” Lydia asked, clearly holding herself together by the hardest, partially by clasping her hands tightly on her desktop. “I couldn’t find it on the map when Frank told me where he was going. He said they don’t have telegraph.”
Jim shook his head slightly. “We had a problem too. Appears it is not on most maps. It’s apparently a small village well east of Bakersfield, in the foothills of the eastern mountains. The train tracks do not go anywhere near and telegraph wires have not been strung there yet. The closest is about thirty-five miles away.”
“Frank mentioned that when he sent his last telegram,” she nodded. “He said he would try to get word to me within a week. He did not expect to be in Santa Teresa that long. He didn’t say why he was going there.” She looked at Jim with a question in her dark eyes.
“We got word from officials in Santa Teresa that a man named Lewis Minnie had been seen in the area. He’s a fellow we’ve been seeking for quite a few years. Word was he made it to Mexico and was holing up there, so if he had returned to the States for some reason, we wanted to nab him.”
“Frank and Ned were sent after him.”
“Yes. Minnie is about sixty years old now, so they didn’t expect a lot of trouble with him.”
Lydia’s hands clenched tighter. “Maybe…”
“Don’t start thinking that, Lydia. You know Frank is clever and careful. Ned isn’t so bad either. They wouldn’t do anything rash.”
“Then where are they?”
“That’s why we’re going there.”
She cocked her head then. “Why are you here and not on the train with Artemus and Jeremy?”
“That’s a long story.”
“I like long stories.”
Jim told her about the strange messages they had been receiving and how they finally caught the deliverer of those missives. “I thought as long as I was here, I’d drop in on you. My train doesn’t leave until noon.”
“Who do you think is sending those notes?”
“My money is on Miguelito Loveless, but we won’t know for sure until whoever it is puts in an appearance.”
“Are they connected with Frank’s disappearance?”
“I don't know, Lydia. It could be a complete coincidence.”
She eyed him. “But you don't think so.”
Jim sighed. “No, I don’t. I am not trying to put the cart before the horse, however. We need to deal with this rationally with what we know, not what we don't know.”
“I’m going with you.”
“No!” Jim barked the word, stiffening in his chair.
Her expression and voice were resolute. “I’m going, Jim. Whether with you or following you, I don’t care. I can’t stay here and wait any longer.”
“You have your shop…”
“And I have very capable employees. They have taken care of it previously in my absence. Please, Jim.”
His sigh was loud. He knew how stubborn Lydia Monteran could be. He also knew that, like Lily Fortune, she could handle herself in dire situations. She had on a previous occasion… the one where she met Frank Harper for the first time [see The Night of the Duplicitous Damsel]. Jim had been rather stunned when the pair displayed their attraction toward each other, but he had become inured to it… more or less.
“All right. As I said, the train leaves at noon. Pack as little as possible because we will have a long horseback ride from the end of tracks to Santa Teresa. Do you still have your horse?”
“I do. In fact, I now own three. I still have my lovely little Arabian, Pasha. I bought a fine trotter for my carriage. And I purchased a sturdy pinto for longer expeditions like this.”
“Why did you think you’d need a horse for longer expeditions?”
“One never knows, James. I like to be prepared. As it appears, I made the right decision. Besides, Spot is a wonderful horse.”
“I didn’t name him. The previous owner did. But, as you might assume, it fits.”
Jim pushed himself out of the chair. “I’ll go buy ticket for you and… Spot. Meet me at the station at around 11:30.”
“I’ll be there,” Lydia replied, getting up. “And you’d better be!”
“Lydia, I would never dare to betray you!”
She smiled sweetly. “After all, I’m also bringing my guns.”
Listen to the Water-Mill:
Through the live-long day
How the clicking of its wheel
Wears the hours away!
Languidly the Autumn wind
Stirs the forest leaves,
From the field the reapers sing
Binding up their sheaves
And a proverb haunts my mind
As a spell is cast,
“The mill cannot grind
With the water that is past.”
—Lesson of the Water-Mill, Sarah Doudney (1843-1926), English novelist
He stirred himself from his reverie, having been staring out the train’s dusty window, aware now that he had not been seeing the passing scenery for some miles now. “Hmm?”
“Did I break your heart?”
The question was unexpected and actually needed a moment to register. Straightening in his seat, he gazed at the woman across from him. “No. Of course not. Why would you ask that?”
Lydia smiled. “We did have some good times together… along with some not so good. A woman is never sure with Jim West. You hide your feelings too well. So. Did I break your heart?”
“No. I answered that question.”
She cocked her head. “Did I bruise your pride?”
Now he had to laugh aloud. “Artie said something like that. I suppose that could be closer to the truth.”
Lydia leaned forward slightly. “I want you to understand that my feelings for Frank are no reflection on you. In a sense, I am like you. I never expected to choose any one man. I enjoyed our times together, good and bad. I would have been completely happy and satisfied to see you from time to time, along with other male acquaintances. You understand that you were not the only one.”
“I knew. Just as you knew you were not the only one.”
She smiled briefly. “The first time I met Frank, on your train, I felt something. Something I never expected to feel. The more I came to know him, the more I realized how alike we were. Alike, yet different. Frank never had a larcenous streak in his life that had to be overcome!”
Jim chuckled. “An honorable man, to be sure. But also a gambling man.”
“And that’s part of it. Jim, we sit up all night playing cards and discussing strategies. We tempt the odds. We go the library to find books about the history of gambling. There are not many, but we have found some. That is something I never thought to do on my own. We go out to test our theories and laugh like crazy when we are proven wrong. There was a time when I would have been furious to lose.
“Frank told me how honored he is to be the only agent in the Service who is allowed to gamble in public, because it is part of his persona, his ‘cover.’ He has learned to lose because sometimes that is necessary to further his plans. He says doing that has helped him accept losses in games where he is trying hard to win. That, of course, made me try harder to best him to test his mettle.”
“I have noticed he accepts losing better than I do, or even Artie. I never thought about that.”
“I’m just trying to make you understand how I’ve come to feel about Frank Harper. I don't know right now if it will last forever. We live different types of lives currently. When Frank is able to visit Sacramento, or the time or two when I have traveled somewhere to meet him, they are the happiest days of my life. I just never thought I could be that happy.”
Jim leaned forward now and took her gloved hand. “That is what is important, Lydia. To me as well as to you, and I am sure to Frank. We had our times together, and we both know nothing would have ever come from it. Just a few good times—and bad, as you said. I am happy for you, and I am happy for Frank. I will tell him so when we find him.”
“Do you… think we will?”
“I know we will. Don’t give up on Frank Harper, Lydia. He is one tough son of a gun!”
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 - 08/07/2016 : 09:04:45
Modo, et modo, non habebent modum.
[By-and-by has no end.]
—Confessions (bk. VIII, 5, 12), Saint Aurelius Augustine (Augustine of Hippo; 354-430), Roman (Numidian-born) religious figure, writer, and philosopher
Although the tracks continued beyond Bakersfield, Jim and Lydia left the train at that town. They gathered their horses and other belongings, mounting up to head east. Lydia had worn her riding costume on the train, drawing curious glances—and some stares—which bothered her not a bit. Jim approved of the black and white pinto she was riding. “Spot” was a strong young horse, and did not display any signs of fractiousness or of being stubborn.
After making certain that their canteens were filled with fresh water, they set out, and a couple of hours later came upon the Wanderer resting on a siding about a half mile short of the actual end of tracks. Orrin Cobb saw them coming and walked out to meet them.
“Why, howdy, Miss Monteran. I didn’t expect to see you.”
“Hello, Orrin,” she greeted. “The trip was a surprise on my part too!” She allowed the engineer to help her dismount.
“Orrin, how long ago did Gordon and Pike leave?” Jim inquired.
“Yesterday early afternoon, about this time of day. They said they expected to have to make camp for the night along the way.”
“Yeah, I expect we will too. But we’ll wait until morning and start out fresh.”
“Mr. Gordon said I should be sure to tell you that another of those crazy notes showed up.”
Jim had started to lead the two horses toward the stable car. He stopped short. “What?”
“He put it in that cigar box. I didn’t think there would be any more. I reckoned you’d locked up that fellow.”
“I did. When was it discovered?”
“Oh, a little while after we stopped here. Kelly spotted it stuck to the door there again, like the last one. Nobody saw anyone. I guess we were all inside eating the midday meal.”
Lydia looked at Jim. “There must be more than one messenger!”
Jim sighed, shaking his head in disgust. “We should have realized that. We got the first note before we left Washington City, then along the way down into Texas where we were to look into some counterfeit money found there, and, of course, into California after we got this assignment. It would have been very difficult for one man to keep up with the train.”
Cobb was nodding. “Mr. Gordon and Mr. Pike figured the same thing. Me and Kelly have kept our eyes open but haven’t seen anyone since.”
“Let’s go read it,” Jim said, leading the horses up the ramp.
After unsaddling the mounts and making sure they had fresh feed and water, Jim led the way into the varnish car. He found the cigar box and the newest note was right on top. Glancing at the now familiar block print, he handed it to Lydia.
“‘Let me therefore live as if every moment were to be my last. Seneca,’” she read aloud, then murmured, “the Roman philosopher.”
“If you look at the others, you’ll see they are primarily quotes from old or ancient personages. Someone very educated is creating these.”
“We’ve run into others who have an erudite background. Not to mention we keep encountering new ones. Nonetheless, Miguelito Loveless is out there.”
Lydia looked at the paper she still held. “You mentioned a couple of the previous ones sounded threatening. This one certainly does.” She lifted her gaze. “What do they mean?”
“Nothing good, of that I’m sure. If it is Loveless, he loves playing games.”
Lydia sat down on the sofa’s arm. “He has Frank and Ned, doesn’t he?”
“Yes, I’m becoming more and more sure of that. At least, I have no doubt that the producer of these notes has them. Lydia, I am going to leave this afternoon for Santa Teresa. You can stay here on the train…”
“Oh no! I am going, Jim. I told you that from the beginning.”
“You’ve had a long ride…”
Once more, the feisty woman interrupted. “And I’m ready for another. Let’s get a meal, allow the horses some time to rest, and get on our way!”
Quite aware he was not going to win, Jim gave up. He considered trying to sneak away, but realized she would follow and possibly get lost or into worse trouble. No, the best solution was to take her along. Maybe he could convince her to remain in Santa Teresa, in whatever accommodations they came up with. However, he was not overly hopeful about that either. If nothing else were accomplished, he would know where she was!
Between the two of them, they prepared a quick meal of potatoes, eggs, and fried ham, then called Cobb and Kelly in to share. Jim explained to the crewmen what his plans were. “If we don’t return in a week, go back to Bakersfield and get some help—military, if possible. Send them to Santa Teresa.”
Cobb frowned. “What are you expecting to find, Mr. West?”
“I wish I knew for certain, but I’m afraid it’s our old foe, Dr. Loveless. Who knows what he is up to? I hope that we solve the whole thing within a couple of days, but nothing is certain where Loveless is concerned. If by chance it’s not him, it may take even longer, dealing with a new foe.”
“Maybe you should take the army with you,” Kelly suggested.
“I wish we could. However, with not knowing what the devil is going on, that would be foolhardy. Whoever has Harper and Malone will likely just kill them if he sees the military coming in.”
“Yeah,” the fireman sighed. “I expect you’re right.” Although the two trainmen had not personally encountered the little doctor, they knew all about him.
With the meal complete, Jim saddled the horses and he and Lydia mounted up. “We’ll see you later,” he waved to the two men remaining behind. “Bye and bye.”
Who can undo
What time hath done? Who can win back the wind?
Beckon lost music from a broken lute?
Renew the redness of a last year's rose?
Or dig the sunken sunset from the deep?
—Orval, or the Fool of Time (second epoch, sc. 1), said to be a translation of a French translation of "The Inferno," Lord Edward Bulwer Lytton, 1st Earl of Lytton (“Owen Meredith”; 1831-1891), English statesman and poet
That evening, although just a couple of hours away from Santa Teresa, Jim and Lydia camped in a grove of sparse trees where they noticed the cold ashes of a previous fire. Jim was certain they were in the same spot where Pike and Gordon had camped the night before. While gathering firewood, he spotted the tracks of several horses in the more bare areas beyond the copse and puzzled about it. He could not be certain how old those tracks were; the breezy conditions had blown dirt into them to partially fill the indentations.
Come morning, they rode on to Santa Teresa, arriving in time to have breakfast at the cantina, which appeared to be the only eating place in the village. Jim was glad to see an old building bearing a sign of “hotel.” Although it did not look anywhere near luxurious, at least they could probably get rooms. Likely Artie and Jeremy were already registered there. He did notice he was not seeing either of their horses on the street, but that could mean either the horses were stabled or perhaps the two agents were already out searching the area for their missing comrades.
After breakfast, Jim suggested Lydia go to the hotel and get rooms while he talked to the local law, but as he expected, she would have none of that. She walked with him down the rough boardwalk to an old adobe building bearing a sign designating it as the jail, the chief constable’s office, the sheriff’s office, as well as the office of the justice of the peace.
“Quite a few people in one little building,” Lydia murmured. “Must be crowded.”
Jim smiled but did not comment as he took her arm to guide her through the open door. The room was indeed small, containing just one desk and a pair of chairs facing it. The man seated behind the desk was middle-aged, on the portly side, although the golden tan of his complexion indicated he did not spend all his time indoors.
“Hello there,” he greeted, rising. “What can I do for you and the missus? Passing through?”
Jim did not bother to correct him, pulling his identification folder from inside his jacket and extending it toward the lawman. “Should I call you constable or sheriff or…?”
The man laughed. “Just call me Jake. The name is Jacob Ripley. What brings you to Santa Teresa, Mr. West?”
The question puzzled Jim. “Didn’t the previous agents tell you to expect me?”
“T’weren’t no previous. I put in my telegraph wire that I sent back to Washington that I never saw those two agents claimed to be missing. If they came in through town, they never stopped to see me. I never sent a telegraph wire about some wanted criminal either. What was his name? Minnie?”
Jim shot a quick glance at Lydia, seeing she was as alarmed as he was. “What about Gordon and Pike?”
“Who?” Ripley appeared genuinely bewildered.
“My partner, Mr. Artemus Gordon, and our colleague, Mr. Jeremy Pike, were supposed to arrive here yesterday.”
The lawman shook his head. “Never came to see me if they did. Have you checked the Casa Teresa?”
“Not yet,” Jim replied, knowing he was referring to the building bearing the sign “hotel.” He had not noticed any particular name on the building.
Lydia gripped his arm. “Jim, let’s go see.”
Jim nodded and they exited to the sidewalk, striding quickly back up the street. Ripley followed. In the faded lobby of the hotel, a thin young man was dozing in a chair behind the desk. The constable snapped his name.
The young fellow jumped to his feet instantly. “Constable Ripley! What’s wrong?”
Jim stepped forward, grasping the ledger that rested on the counter and spinning it around. No new signatures had been entered for over three weeks. Not Harper, not Malone, not Pike, not Gordon. He looked up. “All new guests sign in, right?”
“Well, sure, mister. As you can see, we don’t get many. You and the lady want a room?”
“Two rooms,” Jim said, picking up the pencil that lay on the counter. He quickly signed in for both of them and handed over some money. “Will you please help Miss Monteran with her baggage?”
The young man hurried around the counter and followed Lydia out the front door. She cast a glance back to indicate she was not happy leaving, but she knew better than to raise a fuss just now. Jim turned to Ripley.
“Four men headed for Santa Teresa, and four men are missing.”
The constable was not to be intimidated by the federal agent’s stern glare. “So it seems. All I can say, Mr. West, is that they did not come talk to me. That I will swear on as many Bibles as you can stack.”
“No other strangers seen in the area?”
“As far as I know, the last reported was a couple of fellows on a freight wagon spotted east of town maybe a month ago, maybe longer. They didn’t come into town.”
“Who saw them?”
“Jonas McKittrick. He has a small farm about a mile, mile and a half, north of here.”
“Can you take me to talk with him?”
“Let me get Miss Monteran settled.” Although she’ll likely insist on coming along.
He was right. Lydia was with them, despite the constable’s wondering glances. Jim finally told him that Miss Monteran was the fiancée of one of the missing men, which drew raised brows from the lady in question. However, she did not comment. At least she realizes that stating she is the betrothed rather than simply the “girlfriend” sounds better.
The McKittrick farm was, as Ripley had stated, around a mile from town. The house was two-story but on the small side. However, it and all the visible buildings were well kept, and flowers bloomed in front of the porch. Jonas McKittrick was around the constable’s age, but much thinner. He stood on the porch and listened intently to Ripley’s introduction of his companions and their interest in the wagon he had seen.
“Yeah, it was about a month ago now. Maybe closer to five weeks. Anyway, me and my oldest boy and our hand were out fixing the gate when it went by. We don’t see many strangers in these parts so of course it got our interest. I waved and called out to them, but they just kept going.”
“Who was on the wagon, Mr. McKitrick?” Jim asked.
“Two men and a boy. And they had three horses tied behind. One more of a pony, I guess for the boy.”
“What did the boy look like?” Jim tried to remain casual.
“Didn’t get a good look. He was seated in between the two men. They were big tough-lookin’ bruisers, I’ll say that. My hired hand, Jorge, said he thought that it was three men on the seat, but the middle one was a lot smaller. Had to be a kid.”
“What was the load?”
“Couldn’t say. Something big and bulky and covered by tarps tied down with ropes. Looked to be lots of crates on account of it was square-like. You know what I mean? You figure these men are wanted for something, Mr. West? That the cargo was stolen goods?”
“I don't know at this time, Mr. McKittrick. It’s just something we’re interested in.” No doubt, the constable would eventually tell the farmer what was going on, but Jim did not want to get into it at this time. “You haven’t seen any other strangers in the area within the last few weeks?"
“Nary a one. Hardly even see my neighbors in these parts!”
Jim thanked him and they returned to town, the constable going to his office, Jim and Lydia to the hotel. Jim went into his room, which was across the hall from Lydia’s. He washed his face but decided against shaving at this time. Tomorrow morning would be time enough for that. He had too much to do, too much to think about…
The tap on the door was no surprise. When he called out, Lydia entered. She had changed from her riding clothes into a simple cotton dress. “Jim, that was Loveless the farmer saw, wasn’t it?”
“Had to be.” No use trying to sugarcoat it. Like Frank Harper, Lydia was tough. “He has to have captured the four men.”
“I won’t even ask why.”
Jim smiled ruefully. “No, there often is no ‘why’ where Loveless is concerned. He just does it. I’m sure he has a reason, but at this time it’s nothing we can even speculate about.”
“We probably don’t even want to know.” She sat down on the edge of the bed. “What next?”
“Well, the main thing is I have to be very alert and not get myself captured.”
That caused her to laugh. “That is a very good ambition.”
Jim sat down alongside her. “Lydia, I’ll be honest. I don't know where to start. About all I can do is head out the road McKittrick saw the wagon on and ask others if they sat it. That might get me a good idea of a possible location.”
“And also put you out there in a position to be captured.”
“I know. But I can’t just sit here and wait.”
“Yeah.” She put her hand on his arm. “Please be very, very careful, Jim.”
He patted the hand before getting to his feet. “I always am.” The grin he flashed revealed that he knew she knew that was not always true. “I’m going to have a few words with Ripley to get the lay of the land, then head out. I will plan to be back by this evening. You either stay here in the hotel or around where people are. Don’t go anywhere alone.”
Lydia’s eyes widened. “Do you think…?”
“Where Loveless is concerned, I never know what to think. All right?”
“If I’m not back by dark, tell the sheriff to send someone to Bakersfield for help.”
What' s past, and what's to come, is strew'd with husks,
And formless ruin of oblivion.
—Troilus and Cressida (Act 4, Sc. 5), William Shakespeare (1564-1616), English dramatist and poet
“What’s going on, Doctor?”
The diminutive madman strutted along in front of the five cages—one empty—he had created on one side of the abandoned barn. He smirked toward Artemus Gordon then waved a triumphant hand to encompass the cages. “What is going on, Mr. Gordon? What is going on is that I am winning. I have four of you. I will soon have number five. He is out there alone. I will have him soon, never worry.
Jeremy Pike was in the small cage next to that of Artemus. He extended a hand through the bars to point toward the far corner, which was cordoned off with tarpaulin curtains, hiding whatever was beyond. “What’s in there?”
Loveless waved a tut-tut finger, as he created two clicks with his tongue. “Never you mind, Mr. Pike. You will learn soon enough.”
Ned Malone called out from his narrow bunk in the farthest cell in the line. “It’s his time machine.”
Artemus Gordon felt his stomach flip-flop but he retained a calm demeanor. “Don’t tell me you’re fooling around with that junky thing again.” [See The Night of the Shifting Sands of Time.]
Loveless whirled toward him, face stark with anger, rising to the bait as usual. “Junky thing! Mr. Gordon, you of all people should be aware that my device was not junk!” He motioned toward the corner. “I have rebuilt it, with vast improvements. You will learn about them later.”
“You might as well tell him, Loveless,” Frank called from his cell between that of Malone and Pike. He was stretched out on his bunk, arms under his head, long legs extending over the length. “If you don’t, Ned and I will. We’ve been inundated and bored to death with all your babbling for these two weeks… or two years, or however long it’s been.”
Loveless glared toward that cell. “It’s not boring, Mr. Harper, and you know it’s not. Otherwise, why did you ask so many questions?”
“I had nothing else to do,” Frank responded, patting his mouth as he faked a yawn.
The glare lasted a moment longer before the little man jerked his gaze to Artemus again. “All right. You want to know about it? Here it is. It is vastly improved.”
Artie cocked a dark brow. “You are repeating yourself, doctor. ‘Vastly improved’ can mean anything. Have you included a kitchen with an icebox?”
Quite obviously, Loveless’s patience was being stretched to the breaking point. He stood, arms akimbo, big blue eyes shooting poisoned arrows at the agent. “I can now travel to the future.”
Again, Artie disguised his emotions. “Indeed? How far? Tomorrow?”
Loveless’s chin lifted. “I haven’t tested its limits yet. That is for… the future.” He smirked over his little pun. “Needless to say, you have no worries about that. You will not be transported to the future. I have a much more interesting destination for Artemus Gordon.”
“Oh? I hope someplace remarkable.”
Loveless paced in a quick, narrow circle then paused. “I have debated with myself whether to tell you beforehand or let you be surprised. Nevertheless, I believe I will inform you and let you stew over it. I want you to regret every single time you interfered with my work and realize that had you been more intelligent all those times, you could be participating in the greatest event in history.”
“Well, that could still happen if, say, you sent me back to Philadelphia on July 4, 1776.”
That glower again. “No. Nothing like that. I am quite aware of your interest in all things scientific, of progress and events that changed history. Therefore, you will soon be residing in the Dark Ages—when nothing happened. Nothing but superstition, ignorance, and death.”
“I see. In other words, you are generously giving me the opportunity to change history. I’m sure I can teach those people a great deal.”
“Hardly likely, Mr. Gordon. The moment you start spouting off about vaccines and telegraphs and other modern devices, you’ll be hauled off and burned at the stake as a witch.”
“So I’ll be part of history, one way or another.”
Clearly frustrated by his inability to get a reaction, Loveless stalked up and down in front of the cages twice before pausing again at Artemus's cell. “Don’t you want to know what I plan for Mr. James West?”
“Oh, I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise.”
“I plan to send him at least a hundred years into the future. Perhaps two hundred years. I want him to be in the most foreign environment as possible.”
Pike spoke up. “What makes you think two hundred years hence will be ‘foreign’ to a man like Jim West?”
“It has to be. Think of how life has evolved in the last two hundred years, with progress in medicine, new inventions…. Of course, I plan to do some investigating first. Mr. West will be the last one sent off—after he witnesses the loss of his friends forever. I am sure you are interested to know your fate, Mr. Pike. The French Revolution. See how long you can keep your head attached!” Loveless giggled.
Pike hummed a few bars of La Marseillaise. “Perhaps I can come across as a supportive peasant.”
That sneer returned. “Not if I garb you in the finest silks and jewels, my friend. Not to mention planting you down in the middle of the riots at the Bastille. Oh, I have it well planned. As I said, this version of my machine is so much improved. I can go into the future, but also I can pinpoint time and place. I am sure you are regretting your choices even more, Mr. Gordon. Your curiosity has to be on fire.”
“Right now I’m wondering how soon this is going to happen.”
“Not very soon,” Frank said drily. “The machine doesn’t work right.”
“Oh shut up!” Loveless snapped, plainly not wishing to hear truth.
“Is that so?” Artie inquired, leaning his forearm against the bars to peer down at Loveless.
The doctor cleared his throat. “You know I am a humble man. I am an honest man. Thus, I will be truthful. Something happened in the transport. When I reassembled the machine, it has not worked quite correctly. But never fear!” He pointed a confident finger in the air. “It will be repaired, no doubt in time for Mr. West’s arrival. My men are out to pick him up right now.” He started to turn away toward the curtained corner, but Artie’s voice stopped him.
“Tell me about the gas you used on us.” They had gone to sleep in their camp and awakened in the cells. He knew it had to have been a vapor of some kind.
Loveless beamed. “Another of my fabulous creations, a pale lavender mist that holds close to the ground and acts as a gentle anesthetic. You continued to sleep, and you awakened with no aftereffects. I only regret that the ingredients are difficult to find and expensive. I have enough remaining to incapacitate Mr. West, if need be. Don’t worry about that.”
He actually turned a pirouette of triumph, one hand waving in the air, a grin on his face. He could not hide the trace of a wince, however, and Artie noticed it, just before Loveless again headed toward the corner. He is still on the fragile side. Possibly the same injury that put him in a wheelchair that time.
Pike moved to the bars on Artie’s side of his cell. “What the hell are we going to do, Artemus? He took my picklock.”
“Mine too,” Artie nodded. That was one of the first things he had checked. Subsequent inspections revealed every sort of weapon or appliance had been removed, including a length of wire secreted in the hem of his jacket.
“We were dehorned,” Malone called. “Expect to be searched again. We were, just in case anything was missed the first time.”
“He’s being very thorough this time,” Artie murmured, unable to conceal his concern now.
“If he gets Jim,” Frank said softly, “we might be in real trouble.”
“Ah, but he has to get Jim,” Artie brightened. “With the four of us missing, Jim will be highly alert.”
“But he’ll be alone.”
Artie turned to his next neighbor. “True, Jer. Very true. But you know very well that Jim West alone is often equal to half a dozen men together.” He then cast his gaze beyond Pike toward the other two prisoners. “How many men has Loveless got here?”
“At least six,” Harper replied. “Assuming they have all made an appearance in here at one time or another.”
“Two are always patrolling the general area,” Ned put in, “looking to warn off snoopers.”
“Have there been any… snoopers?”
“I think so. At least twice a man has come in to talk rather urgently with Loveless. By his gestures and the doctors’ reaction, we got the idea that someone came to near this old barn, which by the way, we have no idea where it is located!”
“That was going to be my next question. We could be outside of Santa Teresa—or miles away.”
“That doesn’t help much,” Pike spoke sourly.
“No, it doesn’t,” Artie sighed. “But James is resourceful. He will find us. With any luck, before Loveless finds him! Say, Jer and I didn’t learn of the doctor’s plans for you two.”
“The dinosaur age for me,” Malone replied wryly. “He reckons I’m too young and inexperienced to survive. For Frank, Egypt at the time of the pharaohs.”
“He’s sure I’ll be found in one of the pyramids,” Harper grinned.
“More than likely you’ll help build one,” Jeremy put in. “And lie in an unmarked grave in the desert.”
“I like my idea better,” Frank chuckled. “By the way, Artemus, be prepared. The food here is filling but rather tasteless.”
“Great. Loveless and bad food. What a combination!”
Volat hora per orbem.
[The hours fly around in a circle.]
—Astronomica (I, 641), Manilius (reign of Augustus or Tiberius), Latin poet
A very tired, dirty, and discouraged Jim West returned to Santa Teresa around twilight. He put his horse in the rough stable behind the hotel, unsaddled then fed and watered the equally weary black steed before making his way to the second floor. He had just unfastened his gun belt when he heard a sound outside his door. Quickly the pistol slipped into his hand.
As soon as a tap sounded, he knew who it was, but held onto the gun just in case, opening it to face Lydia Monteran, her countenance showing weariness in a different way, the fatigue of worry. He stepped back to let her in, noticing not only that her hair was uncharacteristically mussed, but also the redness around her eyes.
“Are you all right, Lydia?” he asked.
Her smile was faint. “I had too much time to think. Tried to sleep but that didn’t come easily either. Anything?”
Jim hated having to shake his head. “Very little. I talked to a couple of other people who saw the wagon, and pretty much confirmed that Loveless was the ‘little boy’ McKittrick saw. One man saw the ‘boy’ smoking a cigar!”
Lydia had to chuckle a little. “The parents would have to be very tolerant to allow that.”
“Yeah. So it’s Loveless all right, which is both good news and bad news.” He waved to the bed and followed to sit alongside her. “The good news is we know for sure what we’re up against. Who we’re up against.”
“And the bad news is we know who we’re up against, plus we have no idea where they are.”
“Not exactly no idea. I asked questions, and I learned that east of here is an area where a number of farms failed early on because the hoped-for water disappeared. They built where springs appeared, but during the first year discovered the wells dried up over the summer.”
“Just when water would be needed.”
“Right. They couldn’t sell the properties without year-round water, so pretty much all of them just vacated and moved on. Thing is, abandoned houses and other buildings are all over the area.”
“I was told of at least a half dozen abandoned farms in an area ten miles by ten miles square!”
“Oh. That’s a lot of property to check.”
“I have no choice but to do just that.”
“Can you get the constable to help?”
Jim sighed. “I’d like to, but I hesitate to bring anyone else in on this, knowing how dangerous Loveless is. I could ask Ripley to send word back to the train, and have Cobb or Kelly try to get some military help.”
“But if the army rides up in force…”
“I know. It’s… six of one, half dozen of the other. Lydia, I’m sure I could arrange for an escort for you back to…”
“No!” Her fingers gripped his wrist tightly. “Jim, I can’t go. Not until I know… one way or another. Please let me help. Let me go with you to check these properties. We could spread out and accomplish more.”
His initial reaction wanted to be a firm negative. “All right,” he said, finally. “Tomorrow morning we’ll head out early. Let me get cleaned up and we’ll go get some supper and then a night of good sleep, if that’s possible.”
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 - 08/07/2016 : 09:06:19
How the time
Loiters in expectation! Then the mind
Drags the dead burden of a hundred years
In one short moment's space. The nimble heart
Beats with impatient throbs,—sick of delay,
And pants to be at ease.
—William Havard (1710?-1778), English actor and dramatist
That ever so familiar smirk was on Loveless’s face as he entered the building. The prisoners had just finished their breakfasts, such as it was—badly cooked lumpy cornmeal mush and a cup of water. They forced it down, even the newcomers, after Harper and Malone warned them that nothing else would be forthcoming.
“Gentlemen! Good morning! How are you this fine morning? I hope you slept well. I did. Everything is progressing so well. I am a happy man.”
“Where’s Antoinette?” Artie asked, sitting on his bunk, legs extended as he leaned back against the rough wall.
The query surprised the little man. “Eh? Why do you care?”
“I miss her beautiful countenance and sweet voice. You aren’t singing to us.”
Loveless cleared his throat. “Matters are too serious for singing. Miss Antoinette is safe, I assure you, under the guard of our dear friend Voltaire. I’m sure you miss him as well.”
“Not really,” Artie replied drily.
“But I have other news for you. Mr. James West is in Santa Teresa. Yes, he is the only one of five to have reached that destination, due of course to your fickle change of plans, Mr. Gordon, Mr. Pike. He should have been with you. As well, I imagine you have something to do with the vanishing of one of my hirelings. Oh well. Not all is lost. A pair of my employees saw Mr. West in the cantina last evening having supper—in the company of a beautiful lady. How does that make you feel, gentlemen? The one man you are looking to for your salvation is dallying with a female. Typical, is it not, for James West? He was ever one for the ladies.”
Loveless turned and started toward the curtained area, but paused and looked back. “Bye the bye, gentlemen, you will be delighted to know that I am making great progress with the machine. It will be ready, I am certain, by the time Mr. West joins us.” Chuckling and shaking his head, Loveless turned and wandered behind the canvas drapes.
“Lily?” Malone called quietly from his cell.
“No. She’s in Boston. Frank, we neglected to mention to you that Jim planned to call on Lydia.” Artie had deliberately held back that information, and asked Pike to do so, knowing how much it could worry Frank.
Harper groaned. “Oh no!”
“She can be rather single-minded,” Pike said.
“That is putting it mildly,” Frank now sighed. “It has to be her!”
“I am afraid so,” Artie nodded. “We know that Jim will keep her out of danger as much as possible, but…”
“But!” Frank broke in. “Did you ever try to convince Lydia Monteran to do the sensible thing? I’m sure she thinks she can help, but…” He sighed heavily and sank back on his hard bunk.
“Jim may have enough problems keeping himself out of danger,” Malone stated.
“If anyone can handle this,” Artie said flatly, “it’s Jim West. We have to put our trust in him.”
“Amen.” Pike murmured.
Memento semper finis, et quia perditum non redit tempus.
[Remember always your end, and that lost time does not return.]
—Thomas à Kempis (1380-1471), German ascetic and writer
The sun was barely above the horizon when Jim and Lydia set out the next morning. The cantina had stayed open all night, thus they were able to have some very strong coffee along with bacon and eggs before heading out. Jim had gotten more information from the constable about the area the farmers had spoken of, with good directions. Ripley told him that vagrants often used those buildings for shelter, warning that upon occasion those fellows had been known to become territorial.
“I wish we knew what was going on,” Lydia complained as they passed by the last building on the outskirts of Santa Teresa.
Jim’s chuckle was dry. “With Loveless, you never know until it happens. His schemes range from very simple to completely outlandish and unexpected.”
“But you and Artemus always stop him.”
“So far. However, we can never capture him. Even when we have, such as occurred back in the early encounters with him, he managed to escape. More recently, he just vanishes, or so it seems. Until he pops up with the next plot to conquer the world.”
“It appears he keeps things interesting.”
“That, dear lady, is the understatement of the year, perhaps the century.”
They rode on at a brisk pace, aware that the area in question was over a dozen miles away, not to mention covered a large region. They also would be hampered by the need to stay out of sight as much as possible, just in case this indeed was where Loveless was situated. Jim was very cognizant that it could be a wild goose chase, but he had no other leads at this time.
Because of the information the constable had offered him, Jim was able to recognize the area by a grove of cottonwood trees that lined a now empty creek bed. Ripley had said that the bed ran full in the winter but dried up quickly in the spring. “That should have been an early clue to the farmers who tried to settle there,” the lawman stated, shaking his head.
The area was hilly, the slopes covered by dry yellow grass and a few bushes that could survive with little or no water for the long dry periods that occurred in this part of California. They came across a barely-standing shack and ignored it. “Not a place Miguelito would inhabit,” Jim told his companion.
As the morning moved on, their cautious reconnaissance of the area continued as they were careful not to ride out into any open area without first spending a few minutes watching through trees and brush for any sign of habitation. A few stray cattle, a couple of deer and some smaller varmints were about all they saw.
The structures they came across were either too small or, in Jim’s opinion, too rundown to suit Loveless. Too small to hold four prisoners, that was certain. “Whatever he’s up to, he prefers comfortable quarters if at all possible,” he told Lydia.
Occasionally they split up, but usually not for long. By midday they had covered close to what they thought must be about half the prescribed area, much of it by finding higher elevations to gaze out from. Jim built a nearly smokeless fire in order to prepare some coffee and heat some canned beans he had brought along. “Not gourmet,” Lydia pronounced. “Filling, nevertheless. Which is important.”
Perhaps an hour later, Jim had just turned back to return to the noon stopover site after a solitary but fruitless scan of the surrounding area to the south, when he heard a short whistle. Instantly alert, he put his hand on the butt on his sidearm, but then saw the pinto and its rider approaching at a fast pace. Lydia was waving her hand.
“I saw something interesting,” she said as she pulled her horse’s reins to halt it. “About a mile that way,” she jerked her head in the direction from which she had come, “I spotted a man with a rifle sitting on a knoll. He could be a hunter…”
Jim nodded. “He could also be a sentry. You didn’t see any buildings?”
“I hesitated to go any further, lest I be spotted.”
“Good. Let’s go see what he’s guarding, if anything.”
Lydia was able to provide an excellent description of where she had espied the man, which allowed Jim to map a roundabout route to return to the spot. They dismounted a quarter mile away, traveling on foot the remainder of the distance, staying behind bushes and trees where possible. The man came into view on a low hill, and as Lydia had described, he had a rifle. At this time, he was sitting on the ground with the weapon across his lap.
“That’s not the same man,” Lydia whispered. “He had a blue shirt on, not a plaid one.”
“The guard must have changed,” Jim muttered. “That might play in our favor if you’re sure of that.”
“I’m positive,” Lydia stated. “The one I saw wore a faded blue shirt with a rip here on the shoulder.” She touched Jim’s left shoulder.
“Okay, good. That means if the shift just changed, no one will be looking for this guy for at least a couple of hours.”
“What’s your plan?”
“You’re going to be my Artie,” Jim grinned.
Think with terror on the slow, quiet power of time.
—Johnn Christoph Friedrich von Schiller (1759-1805), German poet, dramatist, and historian)
“Almost ready,” the little doctor stated with great glee, rubbing his hands together as he approached the cells. “Everything will be in place as soon as Mr. West arrives.”
“What makes you think he’ll come?” Frank asked.
“Oh, because I know James West very, very well. I have made it my life’s work to know him. Mr. Gordon is aware of that.”
“Along with trying to slaughter thousands of people from time to time or attempting to conquer the world,” Artie responded sardonically.
“Merely keeping busy,” Loveless chortled. “I wanted to warn you gentlemen to not be alarmed should you see bright flashes of light and noises from behind the drapes. I will be testing the machine myself.”
“Oh, does that mean you’ll be leaving us, with the possibility of not returning?” Pike inquired amiably.
Loveless scowled at him. “You are implying my machine may not work. It will work, I assure you. I do not create useless machinery. Ask Mr. Gordon.”
“That all depends on your definitions of ‘useless’ and ‘useful,’ Artie countered. “I cannot imagine a constructive need for a machine that travels through time.”
“Can’t you? I certainly can. One can travel to the past to correct certain, er, wrongs. One can fix history. You had an example of that.”
“When you learned the dangers of tampering with the past,” Artemus retorted, drawing an even deeper frown.
“I merely got carried away a trifle. However, think of what one can do if one can travel into the future. I am sure that inventions and medicines will be invented in the coming years that will be more than useful at this time in the earth’s history. I can fetch them back.”
“And make yourself very rich,” Malone pointed out.
“I am not greedy,” the doctor sniffed.
“Of course you’re not!” It was Artie’s turn to smirk.
That familiar glare was directed toward him. “Be careful, Mr. Gordon. I may change my mind and send you to the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The shark-infested Pacific Ocean!”
“Do you know I’ve never seen a shark in its natural habitat? That could be interesting.”
The doctor blew out an exasperated breath. “You are all going to be laughing out of the other sides of your mouths soon, I assure you. Just as soon as Mr. West keeps his appointment.” He turned and stalked—or toddled—back to the shelter of his canvas curtains.
Thou strong seducer, opportunity! of womankind, half are undone by thee.
—John Dryden (1631-1700), English poet and dramatist
“Warm day isn’t it?”
The man in the plaid shirt visibly jumped, the rifle nearly slipping off his lap. He scrambled to his feet, grabbing that weapon, looking around wildly—until his gaze was stopped by the woman who stepped out from behind a Manzanita bush at the base of the hill. She was beautiful! Brunette hair gleamed in the bright sun as she used her wide-brimmed hat as a fan.
“Where’d you come from?” he demanded. “Who are you?” He hesitated to point the gun at her, quite unsure but what he was seeing a mirage.
“Hello!” she called, smiling as she took a few steps toward him before pausing. “I should be asking you who you are, and more importantly, where are we? I’m lost, I’m afraid.”
“Lost?” Now he took two steps down the slope. “How’d you come to get lost?”
“I’m afraid I don't know,” she sighed, cocking her head in a most enticing way. “You don’t happen to have some water, do you?”
“Well, yeah, I do. It’s in a canteen over there in the shade. You thirsty?”
“I, uh, I have a flask of whiskey too.”
“Do you? How wonderful! Water first though. I don’t like to weaken good whiskey with Adam’s Ale.”
He laughed. “Me neither. Hold on. I—ugh!”
At that moment, a lithe male form slipped up behind him and brought two fists down onto the back of his head. The man in the plaid shirt’s eyes rolled back into his head, his lids closed, and he slumped to the ground. Jim gazed down the hill.
“Excellent, Lydia. Artie could not have created a better diversion.”
Nullum ad nocendum tempus angustum est malis.
[No time is too short for the wicked to injure their neighbors.]
—Medea (292) Seneca (Lucius Annaeus Seneca; 4 BC-65 AD), Roman philosopher and moralist
The flash of light was accompanied by a Whumpf! Both were somewhat muffled by the tarpaulin drapes, but still bright and still loud. The four prisoners jumped up from their bunks and pressed up against the bars, staring at the curtained off area.
“What was that?” Malone wanted to know.
“I’d say it was the time traveling machine,” Artie said tensely, keeping his eyes on the corner of the barn.
“He… went somewhere.” Pike posed his words more as a statement than a question, although he was unsure.
“I’d say so,” Artie replied. “He…”
In that instant the same phenomena recurred, the blue-white flash and the Whumpf! “What the devil?” Harper exclaimed. “What’s going on?”
“He must be back,” Artie murmured. He had told his companions more about the incident when he and Jim encountered Loveless’s time machine, but it had been rather difficult to describe.
Moments later, Miguelito Loveless strutted out between the hanging canvases. He was lighting a cigar. A large cigar. “Well, gentlemen. Well, well, well. General Washington sends his regards. Or rather I am sure he would have had I been able to explain things to him. However, as you might guess, the situation was rather chaotic there at Yorktown. Marvelous, marvelous moment to watch the surrender in person.”
“You’re saying you just traveled to watch the surrender of the British at Yorktown, Virginia in October, 1781,” Harper said doubtfully.
“I did indeed. I wish I could offer the same thrills to you four—and Mr. West—but you already know your destinations. Although I have given some extra thought to Mr. West’s fate, and I am considering a date in the past rather than the future for him. I know what happened in the past, and where he would be an odd duck, taken as a spy and hanged, for instance. The future at this moment is more uncertain. Eventually I will travel to the future and…”
A sudden rap at the door closest to the hidden machine interrupted the doctor’s rhapsodic monologue. Loveless looked toward the door, frowning, both puzzled and angry. “Now who is that? I’ve told those men to use the other door only!”
He marched to the door and jerked it open. “Who are you?” he demanded.
“Oh, I’m so glad someone is here,” a feminine voice replied. “I’m lost!”
Frank Harper gasped, and quickly put his hand over his mouth to stop the outburst that wanted to spring from his lips. He looked at each of his fellow prisoners and saw that they were as astonished as he was, as well as recognizing the voice. Malone mouthed the name. “Lydia?”
“Well, you can stay lost!” Loveless snapped at the visitor that the men in the cell could not see, but whose voice was very familiar. “This is private property and you are trespassing.”
“Sir, please! I haven’t had any water for hours! My horse ran away and…”
“Wait a minute! I know you!”
“Oh, I don't think so. I’m new to this area. Just a cup of water, please? Then I will be on my way. I am sure I can find someone much kinder.”
Artie heard a sound from the opposite direction and looked that way. He was only a little surprised to see James West slip through that “employees only” door. He had his pistol in his hand. Unnecessarily, Jim put his finger to his lips to indicate silence as he started across the floor.
At that moment, Loveless cried, “Yes! I know you! You’re that blasted female who helped West and Gordon. You were with those other annoying men! Come in here!” [See The Night of the Duplicitous Damsel.] He reached out and jerked Lydia inside by the wrist. “I don't know what you think you’re doing, you minx!” Loveless began. He then spied the other newcomer in the barn. “West!”
“You are not behaving like a gentleman, doctor. Please release the lady.” Jim leveled the gun at the smaller man.
Steaming, Loveless did as bade. “You can’t win, West. Not this time.” Lydia hurried to the bars of Frank Harper’s cell.
“We’ll see. Where are the keys to the cells?” The little doctor clamped his mouth shut and folded his arms across his chest in his typical stubborn pose.
“He’s got them somewhere,” Artie said. “But a picklock will work.”
Jim slipped his out of his jacket lapel, stepping over to hand it to his partner, eyes on Loveless. “What’s going on?”
Artie started working on the lock of his cell. “He rebuilt the time machine.”
“Yes, Mr. West. I have grand plans for all of you to experience the wonder of traveling through time. While I know you would like to visit a certain small town in New York and change what happened there one morning, I think you would be better suited for Rome.”
“Indeed! I have no doubt with your temperament you would soon come to the attention of the authorities, and end up in the arena as a meal for the lions.”
“Not my dreams,” Jim smiled grimly. “Artie, I think you should go do what you can to disable that piece of junk in there.”
“No, no!” Loveless screeched in alarm. He spun to face Jim. “You can’t escape from here. I have a dozen men already surrounding the building. Surrender to your fate!”
“One of your men is tied to a tree near where he was standing guard. The other five are sleeping on or near the table in the house you’ve been using… compliments of the gas bomb I rolled into the room with them.”
“You don’t happen to have an explosive sphere with you, James, do you?” Artie asked as he stepped out of the open cell door and passed the picklock off to Pike.
“No, sorry. There are a couple in my saddlebag but the horses are a half mile away.”
“That’s all right. I think I can manage. I’ll just pull a few wires here and there.” He started toward the curtained corner.
“No!!” Loveless shrieked, taking a step toward Gordon, only to be halted when Jim grabbed the back of his coat collar.
“Hold on, Doctor,” Jim said calmly. “This is for the best. The world isn’t ready for this machine.”
Artemus pushed through the canvas and halted short. Well! With his “improvements,” I expected the machine to be larger than the last one! Instead, this one was a box easily half the size of the previous invention. Constructed of some silvery metal—Artemus thought it must be steel—the “box” was tall and slender. A door opened from the narrow side nearest him, and he cautiously touched then turned the latch. He would not put it past the demented doctor to have booby-trapped this aperture.
However, it opened smoothly, with no bombs or gas vapors going off. His astonishment continued as he peered inside at the flashing lights in various colors. How in the devil does he power this device? Not steam, one would think. Steam power would require a lot more space, not to mention a fire, and he saw and felt no indications of a heat source.
Still wary, he stepped inside. Three men could probably fit in the open space, he decided—even if a drug incapacitated one or he were securely bound with rope or chains. Hearing yet the sounds of the frustrated doctor’s protests beyond the canvas drapes, Artie studied the array before him. He saw buttons and switches, some with lights illuminated, some with dark lights; and some with no lights at all.
All right. What do each of them mean? He pondered for a long moment then knelt down to open a lower panel. Aha! That’s what I want! Inside the panel were wires and more wires, green, red, yellow, black, in various dimensions. If I start pushing buttons, I might suddenly find myself in the middle of the Battle of Antietam or on one of the vessels in the Spanish Armada just before its defeat! He reached inside, grabbed a handful of wires, and yanked.
Outside the curtained walls, Loveless was still shrieking, invoking curses against people named West and Gordon as well as anyone wearing the badge of the Secret Service. He attempted to unbutton his jacket, obviously thinking of slipping out of it, but Jim simply shifted his grasp to include the shirt and vest under that jacket.
“You can’t! You must not! All my work!” he shouted toward the hidden corner beyond the drapery. “You can’t destroy my masterpiece! No! No!”
“Looks like it’s starting to smoke,” Malone commented, noting wisps of white and yellow vapor appearing above the curtains.
“Doctor,” Jim stated firmly, “you may as well calm down. The machine is being destroyed and you are going to prison.”
The little man spewed a string of curses, futilely attempting to dislodge the iron grip, but unable to reach Jim’s hands or arms with his own.
“Dr. Loveless,” Harper remonstrated, “Remember a lady is present.”
“I’m actually enjoying this,” Lydia smiled alongside him.
Artemus appeared through the curtains, brushing his palms together. “I think it behooves us to vacate the premises, James.”
At that moment, the doctor realized he had another weapon at his hand—or foot—as he abruptly kicked backwards, striking Jim’s shin just above the boot top. Although he did not lose his hold completely on Loveless, the agent’s fingers reflexively relaxed for an instant. The doctor jerked free to speed by a startled Artemus in through the curtains. Jim was right behind him, but Loveless slammed the door of his metal box just before Jim could reach it.
Jim grabbed the handle, but found it would not turn. “Doctor!” he yelled. “Come out of there! It’s going to blow!” The same fumes, even thicker now, were emanating through the seams of the door as well as elsewhere. Jim could hear sparking and crackling from inside—along with Loveless’s wailing pleas for the device to calm down, calm down.
Jim slapped his palm against the door. “Loveless! Open this door!”
“Jim,” Artemus spoke behind him. “We have to get out of here. We don't know what’s going to happen with that thing. I loosened a lot of wires and some buttons started flashing. Come on!”
Jim hesitated a second, realizing the wisdom of his partner’s warning. He whirled and followed Artemus out the barn’s door, seeing Malone, Pike, and Harper, hand-in-hand with Lydia, racing across the field toward a small grove of trees. Both he and Artemus started running in the same direction.
They had all gained the trees and dropped into a gully slightly behind them, when the blue-white flash occurred. It was very much the same as what the prisoners had noted earlier, but Artie thought it was brighter. He also decided that the Whumpf! of the explosion was louder. Or maybe both are exaggerations of my brain because my heart is pounding so hard!
Then it was quiet, although heavy wisps of vapor still poured through the windows, doors, and cracks in the walls of the old barn. The agents and the lady remained sheltered, not speaking for a long while, until Malone finally broke the silence.
“Do you think it got him?”
Jim shook his head in doubt while Artie spoke aloud. “We won’t know until we go inside and check. And I think we’d better wait a while to do that.”
“Meantime, let’s go find our possessions in the house,” Frank suggested. “I’m tired of feeling naked.”
“Mr. Harper!” Lydia cried in mock chagrin. “Your language?”
Jim drew his gun before entering the small but fairly well preserved house. Silence reigned as the five men were still in their gas-induced slumber, two sprawled on the floor after having fallen out of their chairs, the other three with heads on the table, pressed against their cards and money that had been part of the game.
The agents found their weapons in a room that had clearly been the doctor’s bedroom. Each had at least a pair of handcuffs in their possessions, and these were used to secure the unconscious men to the table legs until such a time as their horses could be brought around for the trip back to Santa Teresa—and farther.
The barn had been quiet this whole time, and as well, no fumes were seen escaping. Frank insisted that Lydia stay at the house, which she did, to his surprise, her small pistol in hand, while the five men approached the larger structure. Artie reached it first, slowly and vigilantly pulling the front door open. He heard no sounds, and with gun ready, he stepped inside, moving quickly to one side to allow the others to follow. None immediately noticed the petite brunette woman striding toward the barn from the house.
“Loveless!” Jim called. “Come out! It’s over!”
Pike was nearest the tarpaulin and he pushed it aside. “I’ll be damned!” he expostulated. “It’s gone!”
Unsure if they understood him correctly, the others moved in closer, lifting the canvas higher to provide a better view. The enclosure was void of a large metal box. Only some crates that probably contained materials and tools remained. Artemus hurried to a window on the other side. It was closed and bolted from the inside. He turned around.
“It seems,” Jeremy said slowly, “that the machine departed.”
“Yeah,” Artie nodded, feeling more than a little dumbfounded. “I just pulled wires. I must have activated… something.”
“Question is,” Jim mused aloud, “did the doctor go with it, or did he exit before it… sailed away?”
“Not to mention, if the machine sent him away in time, is it the future or the past?” Pike wondered.
“I hope the future,” Artie said promptly.
“Why?” Lydia asked, ignoring Frank’s exasperated glance.
“Because if he is in the past, you know he will do his damnedest to change history in his favor.”
“More than likely,” Jim added with some wryness to his tone, “he would make sure none of us were ever born!”
Time's glory is to calm contending kings,
To unmask falsehood, and bring truth to light,
To stamp the seal of time in aged things,
To wake the morn and sentinel the night,
To wrong the wronger till he render right,
To ruinate proud buildings with thy hours,
And swear with dust their glittering golden towers.
—William Shakespeare (1564-1616), English dramatist and poet
Jim looked up as his partner entered the varnish car by way of the swinging door to the galley and beyond. “How’d it go?”
“Oh, the meeting with Richmond and the senators was fine. You should have been there. Nothing but glad hands all around.”
Jim West cocked his head. “However…?” He recognized that his partner had something more to say.
Artie came around to the sofa where Jim was sitting with a report he had been reading. “I just found this tied to the stable car door.”
For a long moment, Jim stared at the folded slip of paper Artemus extended toward him. He finally reached out to take it. “Is it…?”
“Read it, pal.”
Slowly Jim unfolded the page. He stared at it, looked up at Artie, and stared at the paper again. “This can’t be.”
Artemus took the paper back and read it aloud. “‘The curtains of Yesterday drop down, the curtains of To-morrow roll up; but Yesterday and To-morrow both are. Thomas Carlyle.’ Where do you suppose this came from, James?”
Jim did not groan, but he almost felt like it. However, he was rather surprised to experience a small thrill of exhilaration at the same time. “He isn’t dead, obviously.”
Artie sat down with a thump. “Obviously. Question is, did he escape from the device before it departed for parts—or times—unknown, or did he go with it and return with it. Is the device still in existence?”
“In working existence,” Jim murmured. “The man is immortal, Artie. We’re never going to be rid of him.”
“Seems that way sometimes, doesn’t it? Here I fretted about how we were going to inform Antoinette.”
“I suspect she does not worry one iota. She knows he can’t die.”
‘Yeah.” Artie got to his feet again, taking the paper around to the cupboard to add to the cigar box. “I guess we’d better let the others know, although I don't think they are in as dire peril as we are.”
Jim leaned back, crossing his legs. “Makes it interesting, doesn’t it?”
“Hey! You are glad he is still alive!” Artie came to the back of the sofa. “Admit it!”
“Not… not exactly ‘glad,’ Artie. Look at it this way. At least we don’t have to worry about him changing history if he did escape before it flew away or whatever it did.”
“Maybe. Time will tell.” Artie made a face when he realized what he had just said. “Sorry.”
“You’re forgiven.” Jim picked up the discarded report, shaking it slightly in Artie’s direction. “Did you ever notice how many words Bosley Cranston knows?”
“I have. I have also noticed how he feels compelled to use every one of them in his reports. Better you than me. I was happy to have won the coin toss and attend the session with the senators.”
“Why don’t you fix some fresh coffee? I think I’ll need some to keep me awake to finish this!”
“My pleasure, my friend. My pleasure.”
These are the times that try men's souls.
—The American Crisis (no. 1), Thomas Paine (1737-1809), American (English-born) political writer and free thinker
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