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California gal
SS senior field agent

USA
8381 Posts

Posted - 06/07/2017 :  13:06:48  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
THE NIGHT OF THE DANGEROUS DAMSEL

XXQuid quisque vitet nunquam homini satis cautum est in horas.YY
[Man is never watchful enough against dangers that threaten him every hour.]
XXCarminaYY (II, 13, 13), Horace (Quintus Horatius Flaccus; 65-8 BC), Roman poet


As he stepped outside from the small restaurant, Jim West paused to pull the metal case containing his cigarillos from inside his jacket. He extracted one, placed it in his mouth, and after returning the case to its place, found a match in another pocket to light the smoke. XXLloyd was right,YY he mused. XXAn “unknown” eating-place that turned out to be as good if not better than some of the better-known places. I will bring Artie here tomorrow.YY

His partner was due to return to San Francisco from Reno with the Wanderer on the following day. Artemus had gone to the Nevada city to give a deposition for a trial at which he was not going to be available to testify in person. His testimony was a “just in case” aspect. Artie had been a witness to a brawl in which a man was killed; however, other witnesses had testimony that was more definitive.

XXThen off to Montana to look into that counterfeiting caseYY. They had been in San Francisco for nearly two weeks wrapping up an investigation of a man reported to be trying to start an insurrection—which turned out to be completely bogus. A political enemy of the suspect had planted false evidence.

Jim glanced back at the building behind him as he exhaled pale vapors from the cigarillo. Not only was this restaurant mostly unknown except by regulars, it was in a very quiet area of the city—which no doubt contributed to its anonymity. The narrow street was nearly deserted this late evening, with only a black coach sitting across the street. The driver still sat on the box, and for a moment, Jim assumed that the occupant had left the coach for an errand. He then noticed movement within the dim interior, and realized he was seeing a heavily veiled woman. A recent widow, perhaps.

The driver leaned down to listen through the speaking tube that led from the interior to the box. He then jumped from the seat and started across the street. Always wary, Jim transferred his smoke to his left hand and casually placed his right where it could easily access the weapon under his jacket.

The man was a slender, elegant appearing Mexican with a narrow mustache. He pulled off his flat-brimmed straw hat as he neared. “XXSeñor! Señor CapitánYY West?” He stopped half a dozen feet away, gazing at Jim.

“I’m West,” Jim replied. “Something I can do for you?”

The driver waved back toward the coach. “My XXSeñoraYY—she say she wishes to talk to you. XXLa SeñoraYY say her son in military with you. He died in war.”

Immediately intrigued, Jim stepped down off the porch to the street, tossing his barely smoked cigarillo aside. He crossed the street and paused a couple of feet away from the door’s window. “Madam? I am James West. Can I be of service to you?”

The driver came up alongside him. “XXSeñor,XXXX” he spoke quietly, “XXLa Señora,YY she has problem with ears. She does not hear good. You must get closer to the window.”

Jim nodded, taking two steps forward and leaning toward the opening. “Madam,” he said again. “My name is James West. I’m…”

He felt the puff of cool air strike his face. His eyes stung, and his lips suddenly experienced numbness. From somewhere he heard a voice. “Hurry, hurry! Get him inside!” That was all.

W*W*W*W*W


As long as the heart preserves desire, the mind preserves illusions.
—François August Rene de Chateaubriand, Vicomte de Chateaubriand (1768-1848), French statesman and writer


She sat close to the bed, her eyes never leaving the face of the man lying on that bed. She wanted his eyes to open, to see those glorious green orbs again. He was so beautiful! She had never seen a man like him until that day in the desert when he found her in the wagon. She had known at that moment that he had to be hers, and for a while, that seemed to be possible. However, the dream had not come true. Now she was getting a second chance…

She caught her breath as she saw those long lashes flutter slightly. Quickly she leaned toward him. “Jim? Jim darling! Please wake up!”

Jim heard the voice from a distance and it seemed to roll around in his brain for a long moment. A familiar voice… husky and soft. The manner in which the words were spoken was familiar too. He should know the face that went with the voice, but at this moment, thinking was difficult… He considered opening his eyes but that seemed to be impossible as well.

“Jim darling, please wake up. Tycho assured me that the gas would be harmless. Please, please wake up!”

XXTycho!YY The name seemed to explode in Jim West’s brain, clearing all the cobwebs instantly. His eyes popped open and he stared at the woman leaning over him. “Laurette.” His voice was a hoarse whisper.

“Oh, darling!” Her lips came down fervently on his. That was when Jim realized that he was bound to the bed; he could not lift his arms to push her away. As it was, the best he could do was to try, unsuccessfully, to turn his head away from her passion.

She finally pulled back, face flushed and eyes bright as she lingered over him. “My dearest Jim. I was so worried!”

“Then why did you drug me?”

Laurette appeared somewhat nonplussed. “Why, because Tycho said it would not have any aftereffects and you would be fine. Oh, my dear love, I would never, XXeverYY do anything to harm you!”

The almost child-like manner of speaking always fascinated him. She was not an ignorant woman, of that Jim was certain. She had demonstrated her intelligence and acumen during their previous encounter, as well as in her escape from custody shortly after she and several of Tycho’s henchmen were captured. She had used her allure on the guards, of course. “Where is Tycho?”

Laurette giggled lightly. “I cannot tell you that. Not yet.”

“Then you will tell me eventually?”

“Of course. When you are truly on our side, ready and willing to conquer the world with us.”

Jim shook his head slightly. “Then I don't think that will ever happen.” He had been looking about the room as they talked. Not a hotel room, he was certain—more likely a room in a house, and an upstairs room at that. Through the room’s only window, he could see the top of some kind of large flowering bush. He could not see enough of the blooms on it to identify it. Nothing beyond that bush was visible. The room’s wallpaper was faded and stained, indicating an older house. XXWhere?YY

“Of course it will, darling. Tycho has been working hard to improve Professor Toombs’ methods, and he has done it. The treatment I will administer will have you completely willing to take Tycho’s orders, and with you at our side, we cannot fail!”

Jim’s stomach tightened with her words but he retained a placid demeanor. The memories of his experience with the massive-headed, brilliant Tycho were still too fresh, despite that they had happened well over a year previously. Without the quick-thinking Frank Harper, James West might have been hanged as an assassin, or at least sent on the owlhoot trail—probably becoming one of Tycho’s minions.

Laurette caressed his cheek now. “We are so lucky, darling.”

He gazed at her. “Lucky? How?”

Her smile was smug. “Because I convinced Tycho that you would be a valuable part of our association. He was extremely furious with what occurred before, when you and—what was his name?—your friend destroyed all that had been accomplished. He also admired you, Jim. He spoke favorably of your cleverness, your courage. When I heard that I knew I had to attempt to persuade him to try again.”

“Thanks.” Jim could not keep the dryness from his tone. He had been surreptitiously testing the bonds that secured him to this bed, only to discover just how secure they were. One rope looped over his chest, while others held down his legs at thigh and ankle. As near as he could tell, his wrists were held by another rope that went under the bed, so that he could not lift his arms any higher than the top of the thin mattress. His jacket, vest, and boots had been removed, in effect depriving him of all his weapons.

Laurette’s gaze turned disapproving. “Jim, darling. Surely, you appreciate what I have done for you! Remember what I told you how the two of us would rule Mexico—or any country we desire—together? Won’t that be glorious?”

“It’s not that I don’t appreciate it, Laurette. I wish you would have talked it over with me first.”

“Oh Jim! That is what I love about you: your sense of humor! I know what is best for you, my darling. For both of us.”

Jim could only sigh. “Where are we?”

Her expression became mischievous. “At a nice comfortable house where we are unlikely to be disturbed.”

“Just the two of us?”

Laurette tittered softly. “Oh, I wish! No, Luis, Pablo, and Butch are downstairs. Tycho insisted they accompany me. It turned out well, because I could not have managed by myself to get you into the coach swiftly before anyone saw your little mishap.”

“So the gas that knocked me out was Tycho’s invention.”

“Yes. Didn’t it work marvelously? He often brings in others, like Toombs, to do much of that kind of work so that he can use his brain for more important planning. However, he created the gas. Was it so terrible? He said that you would awaken clearheaded.”

“Not quite clearheaded,” Jim replied. “A few minutes were necessary for that to happen.”

“Oh dear. He will not like to hear that. I am sure he will remedy the situation quickly. Are you hungry?”

Jim glanced at the window. It had not occurred to him that seeing bright daylight out there meant he had been unconscious for some time, probably at least twelve hours. “Mostly thirsty right now.”

“I’ll bring you some water, darling. I am very sorry I cannot allow you to be free yet. That time will come. Tycho assures me that after two doses of his new elixir, you will be perfectly trustworthy. And we will be together forever!” She stood up, leaned down to plant another kiss, only slightly less fervent than the previous one, then hurried from the room.

Again, Jim tugged at his bonds, this time with more force now that he did not have to disguise his movements. The result was the same. Without access to a blade of some sort, he was well and truly secured to this bed. Would they eventually allow him some freedom if he expressed a “personal need”? Time would tell.

A massive hunt had been instituted when Tycho, Laurette, and others vanished that day in the desert. None were ever found, even though inquiries were sent to Mexico and further south. From what Laurette just said, they were indeed in Mexico. However, that country was large, with great areas of sparse population—or population that could be cowed by a show of force, or likely in the case of Tycho, great “magical” power.

Hearing a sound beyond the door, Jim relaxed as Laurette entered carrying a tin cup. She put her hand behind his head to lift it so he could drink with minimal spill. When he indicated he had enough, she stood up.

“I’m anxious to start your ‘treatment,’ darling, but Tycho said we should wait at least twenty-four hours after using the vapor. He said he had not tested to see if there was any—what did he call it? Something like ‘interference’ between the two. I don't think it’s a good idea to give you the potion at bedtime…” Here she paused, giggling, apparently realizing that he was already “in bed. “Anyway, we’ll do it in the morning. I can’t wait!”

With a little wave of her fingers, she exited again, promising to return soon with some food. Doubting they would feed him while he reclined in bed, Jim knew he had to be ready to take advantage of any opportunity offered by a moment of freedom. XXArtie doesn’t know where I am. I don't know where I am!YY If he had been unconscious for twelve hours or more, he could have been transported some distance from San Francisco, in any direction. Until he was able to leave the house and perhaps get an idea of the landscape, he would be lost.

W*W*W*W*W


This
I ever held worse that all certitude,
To know not what the worst ahead might be.
—XXMarino FalieroYY (act V), Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909), English poet


Artemus was surprised and puzzled when his partner was not at the train depot to meet the Wanderer. He had made a point to send a telegraph message day before yesterday to apprise Jim of a close approximation of his arrival time. His wonder and perplexity shifted to concern after going to the hotel to learn from the desk clerk that Mr. West had gone out to dinner the previous evening but never came back to his room.

Artie knew a dozen reasons could exist for Jim’s behavior, but experience told him that the likelihood of any of those “innocent” reasons being the one was quite small. They were due to head for Montana by this evening and Jim knew it. He would have at least left a message for his partner.

His next stop was police headquarters where he found Lieutenant Lloyd Morris in his office. Morris had not seen Jim since night before last, he told Artie, when Jim came to their home for dinner. “We would have had him there again last night, but Betty had already accepted an invitation from her cousin to spend the evening with his family, so that’s where we were. We invited Jim along, but he wanted to try out a restaurant I told him about.”

Artie got the address of that restaurant and made it his next destination. The owner, who also waited tables, remembered Jim by description and by the fact that he had left a generous gratuity. He also assured the owner that he would return because he had enjoyed the meal. Mr. West had departed around seven or seven-thirty, the owner thought, but he had been too busy to notice which way he went after going out the door.

Stepping outside, Artie looked up and down the street, noticing the businesses situated there. Most were the type that would have closed shop before seven so going to any of them to ask questions was probably futile. He went anyway. The first three were as expected. The people who worked in the establishments had been long gone by the time Jim departed the restaurant.

He hit more luck in the fourth one, a seamstress-tailoring shop operated by a husband and wife who, he learned, lived upstairs over the place of business. Their young daughter, perhaps ten or eleven, was in the shop sorting some buttons and overheard Artie’s question.

“I saw him get into a coach,” she piped up.

Artie turned to her. “You did?”

The girl nodded. “I was upstairs. It was after supper and I was sitting by the front window reading. I looked out and saw this lovely coach stop across the street. I was curious to see if they were going to go into Mr. Paddington’s restaurant. Instead, I saw the driver get down and go across the street. He was Mexican. Then he went back to the coach with this handsome man. He was wearing a blue suit, like you describe, Mr. Gordon. He went up to the door of the coach and seemed to become ill. The driver grabbed hold of him and when the person inside opened the door, he put the man in the coach. I think someone else, another man, was inside to help. I saw hands reach out. Then the driver jumped up on the box again and away they went. I figured they were going to find a doctor because they traveled quite rapidly.”

Artemus returned to police headquarters to report this information to Morris. The policeman’s countenance turned grim. “Artemus, that’s not good.”

“You’re telling me! The girl could not see who was in the coach, and the vehicle bore no distinguishing marks. About the only thing she could tell me was that it was drawn by a pair of matched bays.”

Morris shook his head. “There are black coaches galore in this city and area, more than one undoubtedly drawn by matched bays. Artemus…”

“I know. Someone kidnapped him. It sounds to me as though he was drugged by some means, thus the collapse. Maybe the driver, who the girl said was standing close by, somehow injected him. I’m surprised that Jim would have gone to that unknown coach so openly.”

“Maybe he recognized the occupant.”

“Yeah. Maybe. Okay, so where are they now?”

The lieutenant sighed, shaking his head. “I’ll get word out to every officer to keep his eyes open. However, it has been what, twelve-fifteen hours? They could have traveled far.”

Artie grimaced. “I know.”

“Who could it be? Loveless?”

Now Artie could only shake his head. “We haven’t had any reports of Loveless sightings in quite a while. Could be him. Could be Manzeppi. Could be someone we have never heard of. Then there is the question of why. One would think if whoever it is wants Jim dead, there are quicker and surer methods.”

“So what are you going to do now?”

“Keep asking questions. Someone must have seen that black coach. Or XXanyYY black coach.”

“I’ll get word to you at the train if I hear anything back from my men.”

W*W*W*W*W


Woman is a miracle of divine contradictions.
—Jules Michelet (1798-1874), French historian


Jim was released from the bed and bound to a chair in order to use the spoon to eat the food Laurette had prepared. She smiled proudly when he indicated the soup was quite tasty. He did not worry about it being drugged. That was not in her plans. Afterwards he was escorted to a “water closet” just outside his room. The fact that the house was so furnished quashed vague thoughts he had had about attempting to escape if taken outside.

He did get a better glimpse out of a window in the hallway and saw hills in the distance. To him, they appeared to be the Coast Ranges, but he had no idea if they were north or south of San Francisco. Were they the Diablo Range section, or the Santa Cruz Mountains? Or some other similar range? How far he had been removed from the city of San Francisco or whether it had been longer than the twelve hours he had postulated was a complete mystery at this moment. Laurette skillfully avoided any attempt he made to get her to reveal such information.

As soon as he finished, he was ordered back to the bed. The three men that Laurette had previously mentioned were the ones who had untied him from the bed, secured to the chair with his hands free, and escorted him to the water closet. Laurette had introduced them by their first names: Luis, Pablo, and Butch. Jim had nodded as cordially as he could from the bed, and hoped his surprise had not been evident. He had seen the flicker of the other man’s gaze.

He was bound to the bed again and the three men departed. Laurette remained, sitting down on the chair beside him. “You didn’t know I could cook, did you?”

“You never cease to surprise me, Laurette.”

She beamed blissfully then leaned forward slightly. “When we have our mansion or castle, servants will do the cooking of course. You can be certain I will make sure the food is up to my standard. Nothing but the best for you, my darling.”

“Including the best drugs, it seems.”

Laurette sighed, her momentary happiness fading. “Jim, darling, that is not my fault! It’s yours! You proved to Tycho that you could not be trusted as you are. You have all these foolish… morals. The work Tycho intends to do, improving the world, requires that some morals be put aside. Strength is required. Strength of purpose. I would say strength of will, but I’m afraid that is one of your faults.”

“I’m sorry.”

She sighed again, shaking her head at the mock solemnity of his expression. “Oh, Jim! You see why I love you, don’t you? You are impossible!”

“Suppose this new drug doesn’t work with me?”

“Oh, it will, Jim darling. Tycho is so certain. He tested it and tested it.”

“How many men died?”

“What?”

“How many men died during this testing?”

Laurette waved a dismissive hand. “Oh, that doesn’t matter. Tycho’s work is too important. Tomorrow we begin. The formula is very difficult to make, requiring special chemicals and herbs that are not easy to acquire, so it is doled out with care. That is why I have just the two doses for you. I will give you the first dose then check its effects. Tycho gave me very good instructions. I know exactly what to look for. You will appear normal in every way, except you will be unable to refuse my instructions.” Now she smiled. “I like that part.”

Jim shook his head slightly. “I thought you liked me as I am.”

“What? I do, darling. I do!” Confusion shadowed her pretty face. “What do you mean?”

“It’s simple, Laurette. You say this potion will change me, change how I believe and think. I have a conscience. I have certain principles that rule my behavior. If this drug takes away my conscience, my moral behavior, what will it leave?”

She was still baffled. “I don’t understand.”

Jim sighed dramatically. “Perhaps no change will be immediately evident, but over time… can’t you see, Laurette? Presently, I am a man who would never be cruel to a woman. Without my conscience, that might change.”

“Oh. I don’t believe that!”

“What about the subjects Tycho has used the serum on? Did any of them change?”

“Well… I don't know. I didn’t really see them for long…”

“So they easily could have. How can you be sure I will remain the man you so ardently desire? Are you sure you want to change me?”

For a long moment, she simply stared at him, seemingly trying to digest his words. She then appeared to shake herself mentally. “That’s all nonsense, Jim darling. If it could be any other way, if we could trust you, the drug would not be necessary. I know you are a man of your word, but in this case, I doubt very much I could believe you if you swore allegiance to me and to Tycho. Not after what you did before. So you will have to have the ‘medicine.’”

“All right. Then what? What happens once I am completely under your will? How will you know it worked?”

“Oh, I have a test all ready. Tycho suggested it. I am sure you remember Colonel Dinsmore. He and his wife live in San Francisco now.”

“Of course I remember the colonel. He was one of my commanding officers.” Jim tensed inwardly, wondering what was coming next.

“You are going to pay a call on the colonel—with your wife.”

“Oh, are we going to be married that quickly?”

“No.” Laurette sighed. “There won’t be time. That will happen soon nonetheless. However, the colonel and his lady will not realize that the marriage is not real and it will be a good distraction. While we are there, you will kill the colonel.”

Once again, Jim’s stomach lurched. “I see. For some purpose?” He forced his gaze and tone to be steady.

“Two, actually, primarily to ensure that the serum is working correctly on you. As well, Tycho wants vengeance on the colonel. I am not sure of the reason—whatever it is occurred before I met Tycho. Apparently, this colonel did Tycho a disservice. He specifically suggested this task. I think it’s a good one.”

XXYou would!YY “All right. Then what?”

“Then we will go to Mexico to join Tycho. He will be so happy to have you in the fold, Jim darling. As will I!”

She left him soon after that, and Jim lay in the bed considering his options. They were few. Laurette might adore him, but she remembered what happened previously and was not taking any chances. The three henchmen had kept their guns ready, even while he was partially roped to the chair, eating. His body and legs had been secured tightly to the back of the chair and its legs, yet they seemed to expect him to perform some magic trick and attack them. XXI suppose that is a compliment of sorts!YY

Thus, he expected that in the morning when the potion was administered, it would be while he was tied up. The liquid would be forced down his throat. If it worked as well as Laurette expected it to…

He sighed heavily. XXI do not know where I am. Artemus certainly does not know where I am. It might be too late anyway.YY

~~~


He roused in the darkness, suddenly aware that he was not alone in the room. The pale light from a quarter moon revealed a shadow approaching the bed.

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

California gal
SS senior field agent

USA
8381 Posts

Posted - 06/07/2017 :  13:08:59  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
W*W*W*W*W


The name of the Slough was Despond.
—XXPilgrim's ProgressYY (pt. I, ch. II), John Bunyan (1628-1688), English clergyman, writer, and author


Artemus ran both hands through his thick hair as he leaned back in the chair, staring at the telegraph device that rested on the desk in front of him. Another negative response! He had spent all day yesterday roaming San Francisco, asking questions: had anyone seen a man fitting Jim West’s description, or a black coach with a Mexican driver? Every answer was no. No one on the same street as the restaurant had seen it, not anyone on adjoining streets. It had melted into the air, apparently.

This morning he had telegraphed lawmen in adjoining counties with the same query. One by one, the responses were coming back, and every one was the same. No. No Jim West. No black coach with a Mexican on the box. No black coach, period.

He had also contacted Washington, updating Colonel Richmond and asking for assistance. Jeremy Pike was in Oregon, finishing up a task. He would be on the next southbound train. Other agents would be sent as available. “Keep me apprised,” concluded the colonel’s message.

Artemus experienced only mild relief. Pike could arrive sometime tomorrow. Who knew what might transpire during that time? He tried not to consider that his partner’s lifeless body would be located somewhere. He continually told himself that if someone wanted Jim dead, they would have attempted to shoot him on the street—unless that someone was Miguelito Loveless who would want his hated enemy to suffer first.

One of the first telegrams he had sent after Jim vanished had been to the department office asking for information on Loveless. The best they could tell him was that the little doctor was last spotted in New Mexico. That had been several weeks ago, so he could be almost anywhere, including San Francisco.

Artemus got to his feet to pace around the varnish car, occasionally running his hands through his hair, stopping from time to time to stare at the silent telegraph unit. He was unsure what he expected the machine to do. Offer a miracle? A message from Morris stating that Jim had been found alive and safe? The device remained quiet.

XXThe worst thing is, I do not know what to do next. I know that Morris’s men are still scouring San Francisco, asking questions. What can I do that they can’t? I need a clue, some kind of hint to tell me who took Jim and why? Where are you, pal? Send me a sign!YY

He paused in his stalking around the car and gazed again toward the telegraph. XXMaybe when Jer arrives….YY

W*W*W*W*W


It is medicine, not poison, I offer you.
—Ephraim Gotthold Lessing (1729-1781), German author, philosopher, dramatist, and critic


Jim stumbled when he rose from the bed upon being freed from the retaining bonds. His legs were numb and weak after being confined to the bed or chair for over forty-eight hours. His guards’ guns had been out already, but the trio became alert after the mishap. None offered a helping hand so he grabbed the iron footboard of the bed for support.

After a moment circulation seemed to be returning as he felt the sting in his legs. He murmured an apology and started for ward, noticing that the three sentries had relaxed somewhat. The door from the room out into the hallway was on the narrow side, allowing space for only one person to pass through at a time. Pablo was in the lead, and he walked on through.

Jim grabbed for the doorknob, as though his legs were acting up again and he needed support. Instead, he slammed the door shut and spun back. With one fist, he knocked the gun out of Butch’s hand while almost at the same moment he leapt toward Luis, driving his other fist into that man’s stomach. Luis grunted, falling backwards, dropping his gun. Jim dived for it—but he was too late. Butch had moved quicker than his bulky size suggested he could, grabbing the weapon first.

“That’s enough, West!” Butch commanded, his face twisted with rage. Luis climbed to his feet, and slapped Jim across the face.

“Stop that!” Pablo exclaimed as he pushed the door open. “XXLa Señorita will not like it if XXSeñorYY West is harmed.”

They reluctantly concurred and escorted him to the water closet and back. When Laurette appeared in the bedroom doorway, carrying a tray laden not only with his bowl of porridge but an ominous brown-glass bottle, she paused. “What happened? How did you hurt your face, Jim?”

“XXSeñorYY West decided to play games,” Luis growled, rubbing his still tender midsection.

“Oh, Jim darling,” she sighed, putting the tray on the table near his chair. “I wish you would stop being like this.”

Last night Laurette had been bubbling over as she talked again about the “medicine” he was going to receive the following day. “And then we’ll be together, forever and ever. Isn’t that wonderful?”

“Sounds more like poison to me,” he had responded sourly.

Her expression had been one of astonishment mixed with a bit of ruefulness. “Jim darling! I would never do anything, ever, to hurt you. You know that! I want us to be together. It is just… well, you know, Tycho doesn’t believe he can trust you. Once you take the ‘medicine,’ he will be certain of you. I am sorry he insists on two doses for you. For other men, it has been just one, but he is quite aware—as am I—of your strong will.”

“How does he know two doses won’t kill me?”

“My dear, he has tested it on other men. Two doses, three doses. Tycho is a careful man. He certainly does not want to waste the precious elixir! Oh, I should tell you, it tastes awful. At least that is what I have been told. I am so sorry about that, but I can do nothing about it. It is best if you just take it in one big gulp. Then I’ll give you water to drink and wash it down.”

“I’m not taking it willingly, Laurette. You know that.”

She pouted. “Not even for me?”

“Sorry. I have this odd belief that I should be able to live my life with my own conscience and convictions. I don’t want to be drugged.”

“Oh, Jim. I guess that’s why I adore you. You are so strong! But you will see. You will come to love the life we will have together. Palaces, great wealth, servants… people kneeling at our feet!”

“Is that really the kind of life you want?”

“Of course. I have never had anything like that in my whole life. It is something I have dreamt about. And it’s going to happen!”

“You don’t worry about the people who are hurt—killed—in the process of you growing rich and powerful?”

Laurette had shrugged. “Plenty will be left to worship and adore me. And you.”

He had sighed in resignation, then asked, “What… what will I feel after swallowing the ‘medicine’?”

“Well, apparently nothing immediately. Especially after the first dose, you will become very sleepy. You will sleep for several hours, as many as ten or twelve. The second dose has almost no noticeable effect. Other than you will by then be extremely happy to do anything I ask.”

Now she poured sorghum on the cornmeal mush, and turned toward him holding the bowl.

“I need more exercise,” he grumbled. “My legs were numb this morning.”

“You shall have more. All you want. Once the medicine takes effect, you will be free as the birds!”

“I don’t call that freedom.” She was unmoved as she began to feed him the mush. The taste was not entirely bad, flavored as it was with sorghum, but he would rather have had eggs and bacon! Laurette could prepare a decent bowl of soup, but perhaps breakfast was not her specialty.

The morning meal over with, Laurette then picked up the brown bottle and poured a shot glass about two-thirds full. “I will apologize again for the flavor, darling,” she said, nodding to the three henchmen who moved to stand around his chair. “If you would simply take it in one big swallow it would be easier, but I’m afraid you won’t do that.” She sighed deeply and stepped toward him.

He struggled, but the endeavor was futile. The three men had obvious experience in forcing the ‘medicine’ down a reluctant throat. They held his head back and his mouth open until Laurette was able to pour most of it into his mouth then pushed his mouth shut to prevent him spitting it out. One man stroked his throat, as one might an animal to encourage swallowing.

The taste was indeed vile. The texture was not much better—gooey and slimy. Jim did manage to spew out a little but a great portion went down his throat. He had to swallow or gag. Finally, the three men released their holds and stepped back. Laurette proffered the promised water and he accepted, eager to wash the taste from his mouth and possibly settle his stomach.

“There,” she said soothingly, stepping back. “That wasn’t so bad, was it? Tomorrow, I am sure you’ll accept the second dose more willingly.

Jim squeezed his eyes shut for a moment. “I feel… funny.”

“Yes, as I told you, that’s what happens with the first dose. We will put you back on the bed and you will no doubt sleep until around dinnertime. Then tomorrow morning, after the second dose, we will have a long talk about the evening’s task. I can’t wait!”

W*W*W*W*W


There is something solid and doughty in the man that can rise from defeat, the stuff of which victories are made in due time, when we are able to choose our position better, and the sun is at our back.
—James Russell Lowell (1819-1891), American poet


Artemus told Jeremy Pike as much as he knew, then sighed. “As you can see, it’s not much. If that child had not been looking out the window, it’s likely we would have had to believe Jim vanished into thin air.”

Pike lowered his glass of beer. They were sitting in a tavern a couple of blocks from the railway depot where Artie had met his associate a while earlier. “But the little girl couldn’t offer much in the way of descriptions.”

“Only that the driver was a Mexican, and not fat. She was certain the man she saw became ill and friends took him away, so she did not even mention it to her parents at the time. Jer, it’s just crazy. Washington has been searching like mad for enemies who might be in this area, and drawn a complete blank. The police have no information either.”

“Crazy indeed.” Jeremy placed his glass on the table, leaning his arms on the tabletop. “Artemus, you know that…”

Artie interrupted with a wave of his hand. “Yes, I’m quite aware that Jim could be at the bottom of the bay. I am not giving up. Not yet. I just have a sense that I am overlooking something. I should be thinking of something, someone else. I’ve been reviewing old cases, especially ones where the perpetrator is still alive, even if in prison.”

Pike nodded. “Yeah. Just because a man is in prison does not mean he doesn’t have some way of getting things done on the outside. Then there’s Loveless.”

“I… I almost think we can rule Loveless out. I had a telegram from the colonel this morning that Voltaire was spotted in New Mexico this past week.”

“Ah. Loveless doesn’t allow that crazy giant to wander around alone.”

“Exactly. Richmond asked the commandant of a nearby army post to keep an eye out for persons fitting the descriptions of Voltaire, Antoinette, and Loveless and of course to pick them up if possible. Nonetheless, if Loveless is in New Mexico, it’s not likely he has Jim.”

“Exactly. Is that a relief?”

Artie had to chuckle. “I’m not sure. We are so familiar with Miguelito and his tactics, his mindset, it would almost be better to be dealing with him rather than… the unknown.”

“Now that I’m here, what do you want to do?”

Now Artemus grimaced. “Damn it, Jeremy, I don't know! I haven’t been sitting on my hands, nor have the police departments here and elsewhere in the area. A couple of black coaches have since been spotted, but turned out to belong to perfectly respectable people. I think whoever took Jim transported him to one particular place and has remained there, out of sight.”

“They have to come out eventually.”

“Maybe. But until then, it’s an almost impossible task to check every house and farm and carriage house and barn and….”

“Right.” Jeremy recognized Artie’s frustration even before it was displayed in a rising tone of his voice. “So we just keep looking. They have to make a mistake at some point. They always do.”

“Yeah. They always do. Will it be while Jim is still alive? Why did they take him in the first place?”

“That is a good question. As you told me early on, if they simply wanted to kill him, opportunities were abundant to attempt that on the streets of San Francisco. He was alone for several days. Your idea that they have another plan for him is something to keep in mind.”

Artemus took a long swallow of his beer. “We are not going to accomplish much sitting here.” He slapped his palm on the tabletop. “I suddenly have another plan as well. Let’s go.”

W*W*W*W*W


How disappointment tracks the steps of hope.
—Letitia Elizabeth Landon (Mrs. George MacLean; 1802-1838), English poet and novelist


The gas-fueled lamps along the streets that comprised the area known as The Barbary Coast were fighting a losing battle with the heavy fog that started rolling in before the sun sank outside the bay. Neither the lack of illumination nor the fog halted the usual boisterous festivities that occurred in the various establishments of the neighborhood. While perambulating along the wooden walkways, laughter, mixed sometimes with angry voices, blended with the sounds of music from pianos that were poorly tuned or that could have graced a concert hall, depending upon the “class” of the establishment in question.

Few patrons were out on the street on this damp and chilly night. Those that did venture out were just moving from one concern to another, looking for cheaper drinks, a more honest game, a handsome woman—or simply hoping to find a friend who would buy the drinks. The two old seamen who were staggering along the board walkway had been to several businesses already, ostensibly with the latter intention in mind. Occasionally they had been successful. Often not.

Carefully descending the two wooden steps that took them to the space of ground in front of the alley between the two buildings, they paused, one to hitch up his pants and the other to resettle the frayed watch cap on his head of wildly unkempt gray hair. Both glanced around surreptitiously while making the gestures and after a glance at each other, they stepped into the darkness of the alley.

“I don't know, pal. This is pretty fruitless so far.”

Artemus grimaced. “We have a few folks to find yet though.” Artemus had decided, and Pike agreed, that some sources existed that were not necessarily open to the blue-clad policemen. Trust had been built up over the years with certain denizens of this blighted area.

Jeremy Pike nodded. “Yeah. Hope one of them has some information. I sure hate dumping all that good booze.”

Now Artie chuckled. “I know the feeling. But keeping our wits is important, unfortunately.”

“Yep, let’s go.”

They emerged from the alley arguing about just how dark it had been in there; almost too dark to take a leak, one claimed. Roaming from one saloon to another all evening, they had sought men they knew would give good information—for a price. Unfortunately, none of the contacts they had made so far knew anything about Jim West. A couple had heard the rumor regarding his disappearance, but they had no knowledge to share.

The next “watering hole” was a small place, frequented by those who preferred to drink in a quieter atmosphere. Card games and billiards were available; however, no piano or any other form of entertainment was located within the close confines. The two agents chose to enter because they knew of one man who often hung out there. The reward was spotting him alone at a corner table.

Finding something else to quarrel about, the two seamen made their way through the tables and chairs, apologizing profusely when bumping into a chair or a person, making sure that their inebriated state was obvious. “Hey Professor!” Artie cried, grabbing the back of another chair at the man’s table as if needing support. “Where you been? Good to see you!”

The man they knew only as “Professor” was on the small side, slender of frame. His clothes were well used, but he was always well groomed, including his van dyke beard. The agents had never been able to learn his true name or his background, but all who used him as a source agreed he was an educated man. A man who apparently fell on hard times for reasons he did not care to reveal.

The Professor looked up at the pair, his eyes flashing, obviously about to tell them to take a hike. However, he also obviously recognized them immediately. Gordon and Pike, in particular, often visited him while in a disguise of some sort and he had learned to know them whatever garb and facial hair they had donned. “Well, what do you want?” he asked in a sharp tone. He had a glass of beer on the table, along with a deck of cards. Picking up the latter, he deftly began to shuffle them before placing them one by one on the table in the standard patience formation.

Pike leaned forward as he settled in one of the chairs. “Come on, perfessor,” he slurred. “Be a pal. We ran out of wampum!”

The professor’s scowl deepened. “You should have guarded your cash more closely.”

“Aw, heck!” Artie moaned, folding his arms on the table and placing his head down on those arms. From this position, he spoke quietly. “Professor, have you heard any news about Jim West?”

The other man kept working on his solitaire game, not lifting his head, and spoke barely moving his lips. “I heard he’s missing. A few days earlier, a woman was making the rounds with a couple of fellows, one Mexican, the other a squat muscular fellow. They were asking for information about Jim.”

Pike pointed to one of the face-up cards on the table. “Red queen there,” he said aloud then more quietly, “What did she look like?”

“Beauty. Honey blonde hair, brown eyes…”

Artie grimaced. “Could be any number of females we’ve encountered. No names?”

“No names. I didn’t talk to them. Just overheard the conversations. Too bad because she was handing out money.”

The Professor could not tell them any more. After a few futile minutes of attempting to cajole him into paying for drinks, the two old salts staggered out into the night. Dispirited after a full night of inquiry with few results, they headed for a street where they would find a hack, and where the driver insisted on seeing their coin before he allowed them into the coach.

“The description of the woman means nothing to me,” Artie sighed as they settled into the seats.

“I know. As you told the Professor, we have all encountered more than one female fitting that description. Definitely not Antoinette.”

“No. Not Antoinette. It fits Gerda Sharff, who we encountered in a case involving Count Manzeppi, but she’s dead.”

“I remember you and Jim talking about her. Victim of her own greed.”

“Yes. Horrendous death. But she is dead so could not have been the woman the Professor describes.”

Jeremy leaned back in his seat. “Any ideas?”

“Not a one, Jer. Not a single one.”

W*W*W*W*W


Obedience is the key to every door.
—XXThe Marquis of LossieYY (ch. LIII), George MacDonald (1824-1905), Scottish poet and novelist


Laurette thought that they could make definitive plans for the evening until Jim firmly pointed out a few facts to her. “In the first place, we have no idea whether Colonel and Mrs. Dinsmore will be home tonight. If they are, they could have guests.”

“Oh. That’s true. Then…”

“If they are not home, we’ll plan another evening. If they have guests… we’ll plan another evening. I could even invite the colonel to join me on a hunting trip. The mountains south of here are full of deer and boars. Hunting accidents do happen.”

“Oh, Jim!” She reached across the table to clutch his hand. They were in the kitchen downstairs, having just finished a midday meal. He was allowed free roam of the house now, although Laurette had “suggested” he not go outside yet. “You are so clever. Tycho is going to be thrilled to have you work with him.”

Jim smiled, squeezing her hand. “I’m looking forward to seeing him again. Whereabouts in Mexico is he?”

“Oh, I don't know the name of the town. I have a map and we will use it when it’s time to go there. First, we must deal with Colonel Dinsmore.”

“Where are Pablo, Butch, and Luis?”

“I sent them into a nearby town to purchase a few things. You need a clean shirt, for one thing.”

Jim chuckled, glancing down at the brown spots that speckled the front of his blue shirt. “I’m sorry about that.”

“Oh, it’s not your fault, darling. You simply did not understand. You do now.”

“I certainly do, and I’m ashamed I contested Tycho’s will. He is a brilliant man. I look forward to being with him… and you.”

Laurette sighed. “We’ll have a glorious wedding in Mexico, darling, and a wonderful honeymoon. I can’t believe how happy I am.”

Jim’s smile was fatuous. “Not nearly as happy as I am, dearest.”

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

USA
8381 Posts

Posted - 06/07/2017 :  13:25:48  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
THE NIGHT OF THE DANGEROUS DAMSEL

Quid quisque vitet nunquam homini satis cautum est in horas.
[Man is never watchful enough against dangers that threaten him every hour.]
Carmina (II, 13, 13), Horace (Quintus Horatius Flaccus; 65-8 BC), Roman poet


As he stepped outside from the small restaurant, Jim West paused to pull the metal case containing his cigarillos from inside his jacket. He extracted one, placed it in his mouth, and after returning the case to its place, found a match in another pocket to light the smoke. Lloyd was right, he mused. An “unknown” eating-place that turned out to be as good if not better than some of the better-known places. I will bring Artie here tomorrow.

His partner was due to return to San Francisco from Reno with the Wanderer on the following day. Artemus had gone to the Nevada city to give a deposition for a trial at which he was not going to be available to testify in person. His testimony was a “just in case” aspect. Artie had been a witness to a brawl in which a man was killed; however, other witnesses had testimony that was more definitive.

Then off to Montana to look into that counterfeiting case. They had been in San Francisco for nearly two weeks wrapping up an investigation of a man reported to be trying to start an insurrection—which turned out to be completely bogus. A political enemy of the suspect had planted false evidence.

Jim glanced back at the building behind him as he exhaled pale vapors from the cigarillo. Not only was this restaurant mostly unknown except by regulars, it was in a very quiet area of the city—which no doubt contributed to its anonymity. The narrow street was nearly deserted this late evening, with only a black coach sitting across the street. The driver still sat on the box, and for a moment, Jim assumed that the occupant had left the coach for an errand. He then noticed movement within the dim interior, and realized he was seeing a heavily veiled woman. A recent widow, perhaps.

The driver leaned down to listen through the speaking tube that led from the interior to the box. He then jumped from the seat and started across the street. Always wary, Jim transferred his smoke to his left hand and casually placed his right where it could easily access the weapon under his jacket.

The man was a slender, elegant appearing Mexican with a narrow mustache. He pulled off his flat-brimmed straw hat as he neared. “Señor! Señor Capitán West?” He stopped half a dozen feet away, gazing at Jim.

“I’m West,” Jim replied. “Something I can do for you?”

The driver waved back toward the coach. “My Señora—she say she wishes to talk to you. La Señora say her son in military with you. He died in war.”

Immediately intrigued, Jim stepped down off the porch to the street, tossing his barely smoked cigarillo aside. He crossed the street and paused a couple of feet away from the door’s window. “Madam? I am James West. Can I be of service to you?”

The driver came up alongside him. “Señor,” he spoke quietly, “La Señora, she has problem with ears. She does not hear good. You must get closer to the window.”

Jim nodded, taking two steps forward and leaning toward the opening. “Madam,” he said again. “My name is James West. I’m…”

He felt the puff of cool air strike his face. His eyes stung, and his lips suddenly experienced numbness. From somewhere he heard a voice. “Hurry, hurry! Get him inside!” That was all.

W*W*W*W*W


As long as the heart preserves desire, the mind preserves illusions.
—François August Rene de Chateaubriand, Vicomte de Chateaubriand (1768-1848), French statesman and writer


She sat close to the bed, her eyes never leaving the face of the man lying on that bed. She wanted his eyes to open, to see those glorious green orbs again. He was so beautiful! She had never seen a man like him until that day in the desert when he found her in the wagon. She had known at that moment that he had to be hers, and for a while, that seemed to be possible. However, the dream had not come true. Now she was getting a second chance…

She caught her breath as she saw those long lashes flutter slightly. Quickly she leaned toward him. “Jim? Jim darling! Please wake up!”

Jim heard the voice from a distance and it seemed to roll around in his brain for a long moment. A familiar voice… husky and soft. The manner in which the words were spoken was familiar too. He should know the face that went with the voice, but at this moment, thinking was difficult… He considered opening his eyes but that seemed to be impossible as well.

“Jim darling, please wake up. Tycho assured me that the gas would be harmless. Please, please wake up!”

Tycho! The name seemed to explode in Jim West’s brain, clearing all the cobwebs instantly. His eyes popped open and he stared at the woman leaning over him. “Laurette.” His voice was a hoarse whisper.

“Oh, darling!” Her lips came down fervently on his. That was when Jim realized that he was bound to the bed; he could not lift his arms to push her away. As it was, the best he could do was to try, unsuccessfully, to turn his head away from her passion.

She finally pulled back, face flushed and eyes bright as she lingered over him. “My dearest Jim. I was so worried!”

“Then why did you drug me?”

Laurette appeared somewhat nonplussed. “Why, because Tycho said it would not have any aftereffects and you would be fine. Oh, my dear love, I would never, ever do anything to harm you!”

The almost child-like manner of speaking always fascinated him. She was not an ignorant woman, of that Jim was certain. She had demonstrated her intelligence and acumen during their previous encounter, as well as in her escape from custody shortly after she and several of Tycho’s henchmen were captured. She had used her allure on the guards, of course. “Where is Tycho?”

Laurette giggled lightly. “I cannot tell you that. Not yet.”

“Then you will tell me eventually?”

“Of course. When you are truly on our side, ready and willing to conquer the world with us.”

Jim shook his head slightly. “Then I don't think that will ever happen.” He had been looking about the room as they talked. Not a hotel room, he was certain—more likely a room in a house, and an upstairs room at that. Through the room’s only window, he could see the top of some kind of large flowering bush. He could not see enough of the blooms on it to identify it. Nothing beyond that bush was visible. The room’s wallpaper was faded and stained, indicating an older house. Where?

“Of course it will, darling. Tycho has been working hard to improve Professor Toombs’ methods, and he has done it. The treatment I will administer will have you completely willing to take Tycho’s orders, and with you at our side, we cannot fail!”

Jim’s stomach tightened with her words but he retained a placid demeanor. The memories of his experience with the massive-headed, brilliant Tycho were still too fresh, despite that they had happened well over a year previously. Without the quick-thinking Frank Harper, James West might have been hanged as an assassin, or at least sent on the owlhoot trail—probably becoming one of Tycho’s minions.

Laurette caressed his cheek now. “We are so lucky, darling.”

He gazed at her. “Lucky? How?”

Her smile was smug. “Because I convinced Tycho that you would be a valuable part of our association. He was extremely furious with what occurred before, when you and—what was his name?—your friend destroyed all that had been accomplished. He also admired you, Jim. He spoke favorably of your cleverness, your courage. When I heard that I knew I had to attempt to persuade him to try again.”

“Thanks.” Jim could not keep the dryness from his tone. He had been surreptitiously testing the bonds that secured him to this bed, only to discover just how secure they were. One rope looped over his chest, while others held down his legs at thigh and ankle. As near as he could tell, his wrists were held by another rope that went under the bed, so that he could not lift his arms any higher than the top of the thin mattress. His jacket, vest, and boots had been removed, in effect depriving him of all his weapons.

Laurette’s gaze turned disapproving. “Jim, darling. Surely, you appreciate what I have done for you! Remember what I told you how the two of us would rule Mexico—or any country we desire—together? Won’t that be glorious?”

“It’s not that I don’t appreciate it, Laurette. I wish you would have talked it over with me first.”

“Oh Jim! That is what I love about you: your sense of humor! I know what is best for you, my darling. For both of us.”

Jim could only sigh. “Where are we?”

Her expression became mischievous. “At a nice comfortable house where we are unlikely to be disturbed.”

“Just the two of us?”

Laurette tittered softly. “Oh, I wish! No, Luis, Pablo, and Butch are downstairs. Tycho insisted they accompany me. It turned out well, because I could not have managed by myself to get you into the coach swiftly before anyone saw your little mishap.”

“So the gas that knocked me out was Tycho’s invention.”

“Yes. Didn’t it work marvelously? He often brings in others, like Toombs, to do much of that kind of work so that he can use his brain for more important planning. However, he created the gas. Was it so terrible? He said that you would awaken clearheaded.”

“Not quite clearheaded,” Jim replied. “A few minutes were necessary for that to happen.”

“Oh dear. He will not like to hear that. I am sure he will remedy the situation quickly. Are you hungry?”

Jim glanced at the window. It had not occurred to him that seeing bright daylight out there meant he had been unconscious for some time, probably at least twelve hours. “Mostly thirsty right now.”

“I’ll bring you some water, darling. I am very sorry I cannot allow you to be free yet. That time will come. Tycho assures me that after two doses of his new elixir, you will be perfectly trustworthy. And we will be together forever!” She stood up, leaned down to plant another kiss, only slightly less fervent than the previous one, then hurried from the room.

Again, Jim tugged at his bonds, this time with more force now that he did not have to disguise his movements. The result was the same. Without access to a blade of some sort, he was well and truly secured to this bed. Would they eventually allow him some freedom if he expressed a “personal need”? Time would tell.

A massive hunt had been instituted when Tycho, Laurette, and others vanished that day in the desert. None were ever found, even though inquiries were sent to Mexico and further south. From what Laurette just said, they were indeed in Mexico. However, that country was large, with great areas of sparse population—or population that could be cowed by a show of force, or likely in the case of Tycho, great “magical” power.

Hearing a sound beyond the door, Jim relaxed as Laurette entered carrying a tin cup. She put her hand behind his head to lift it so he could drink with minimal spill. When he indicated he had enough, she stood up.

“I’m anxious to start your ‘treatment,’ darling, but Tycho said we should wait at least twenty-four hours after using the vapor. He said he had not tested to see if there was any—what did he call it? Something like ‘interference’ between the two. I don't think it’s a good idea to give you the potion at bedtime…” Here she paused, giggling, apparently realizing that he was already “in bed. “Anyway, we’ll do it in the morning. I can’t wait!”

With a little wave of her fingers, she exited again, promising to return soon with some food. Doubting they would feed him while he reclined in bed, Jim knew he had to be ready to take advantage of any opportunity offered by a moment of freedom. Artie doesn’t know where I am. I don't know where I am! If he had been unconscious for twelve hours or more, he could have been transported some distance from San Francisco, in any direction. Until he was able to leave the house and perhaps get an idea of the landscape, he would be lost.

W*W*W*W*W


This
I ever held worse that all certitude,
To know not what the worst ahead might be.
Marino Faliero (act V), Algernon Charles Swinburne (1837-1909), English poet


Artemus was surprised and puzzled when his partner was not at the train depot to meet the Wanderer. He had made a point to send a telegraph message day before yesterday to apprise Jim of a close approximation of his arrival time. His wonder and perplexity shifted to concern after going to the hotel to learn from the desk clerk that Mr. West had gone out to dinner the previous evening but never came back to his room.

Artie knew a dozen reasons could exist for Jim’s behavior, but experience told him that the likelihood of any of those “innocent” reasons being the one was quite small. They were due to head for Montana by this evening and Jim knew it. He would have at least left a message for his partner.

His next stop was police headquarters where he found Lieutenant Lloyd Morris in his office. Morris had not seen Jim since night before last, he told Artie, when Jim came to their home for dinner. “We would have had him there again last night, but Betty had already accepted an invitation from her cousin to spend the evening with his family, so that’s where we were. We invited Jim along, but he wanted to try out a restaurant I told him about.”

Artie got the address of that restaurant and made it his next destination. The owner, who also waited tables, remembered Jim by description and by the fact that he had left a generous gratuity. He also assured the owner that he would return because he had enjoyed the meal. Mr. West had departed around seven or seven-thirty, the owner thought, but he had been too busy to notice which way he went after going out the door.

Stepping outside, Artie looked up and down the street, noticing the businesses situated there. Most were the type that would have closed shop before seven so going to any of them to ask questions was probably futile. He went anyway. The first three were as expected. The people who worked in the establishments had been long gone by the time Jim departed the restaurant.

He hit more luck in the fourth one, a seamstress-tailoring shop operated by a husband and wife who, he learned, lived upstairs over the place of business. Their young daughter, perhaps ten or eleven, was in the shop sorting some buttons and overheard Artie’s question.

“I saw him get into a coach,” she piped up.

Artie turned to her. “You did?”

The girl nodded. “I was upstairs. It was after supper and I was sitting by the front window reading. I looked out and saw this lovely coach stop across the street. I was curious to see if they were going to go into Mr. Paddington’s restaurant. Instead, I saw the driver get down and go across the street. He was Mexican. Then he went back to the coach with this handsome man. He was wearing a blue suit, like you describe, Mr. Gordon. He went up to the door of the coach and seemed to become ill. The driver grabbed hold of him and when the person inside opened the door, he put the man in the coach. I think someone else, another man, was inside to help. I saw hands reach out. Then the driver jumped up on the box again and away they went. I figured they were going to find a doctor because they traveled quite rapidly.”

Artemus returned to police headquarters to report this information to Morris. The policeman’s countenance turned grim. “Artemus, that’s not good.”

“You’re telling me! The girl could not see who was in the coach, and the vehicle bore no distinguishing marks. About the only thing she could tell me was that it was drawn by a pair of matched bays.”

Morris shook his head. “There are black coaches galore in this city and area, more than one undoubtedly drawn by matched bays. Artemus…”

“I know. Someone kidnapped him. It sounds to me as though he was drugged by some means, thus the collapse. Maybe the driver, who the girl said was standing close by, somehow injected him. I’m surprised that Jim would have gone to that unknown coach so openly.”

“Maybe he recognized the occupant.”

“Yeah. Maybe. Okay, so where are they now?”

The lieutenant sighed, shaking his head. “I’ll get word out to every officer to keep his eyes open. However, it has been what, twelve-fifteen hours? They could have traveled far.”

Artie grimaced. “I know.”

“Who could it be? Loveless?”

Now Artie could only shake his head. “We haven’t had any reports of Loveless sightings in quite a while. Could be him. Could be Manzeppi. Could be someone we have never heard of. Then there is the question of why. One would think if whoever it is wants Jim dead, there are quicker and surer methods.”

“So what are you going to do now?”

“Keep asking questions. Someone must have seen that black coach. Or any black coach.”

“I’ll get word to you at the train if I hear anything back from my men.”

W*W*W*W*W


Woman is a miracle of divine contradictions.
—Jules Michelet (1798-1874), French historian


Jim was released from the bed and bound to a chair in order to use the spoon to eat the food Laurette had prepared. She smiled proudly when he indicated the soup was quite tasty. He did not worry about it being drugged. That was not in her plans. Afterwards he was escorted to a “water closet” just outside his room. The fact that the house was so furnished quashed vague thoughts he had had about attempting to escape if taken outside.

He did get a better glimpse out of a window in the hallway and saw hills in the distance. To him, they appeared to be the Coast Ranges, but he had no idea if they were north or south of San Francisco. Were they the Diablo Range section, or the Santa Cruz Mountains? Or some other similar range? How far he had been removed from the city of San Francisco or whether it had been longer than the twelve hours he had postulated was a complete mystery at this moment. Laurette skillfully avoided any attempt he made to get her to reveal such information.

As soon as he finished, he was ordered back to the bed. The three men that Laurette had previously mentioned were the ones who had untied him from the bed, secured to the chair with his hands free, and escorted him to the water closet. Laurette had introduced them by their first names: Luis, Pablo, and Butch. Jim had nodded as cordially as he could from the bed, and hoped his surprise had not been evident. He had seen the flicker of the other man’s gaze.

He was bound to the bed again and the three men departed. Laurette remained, sitting down on the chair beside him. “You didn’t know I could cook, did you?”

“You never cease to surprise me, Laurette.”

She beamed blissfully then leaned forward slightly. “When we have our mansion or castle, servants will do the cooking of course. You can be certain I will make sure the food is up to my standard. Nothing but the best for you, my darling.”

“Including the best drugs, it seems.”

Laurette sighed, her momentary happiness fading. “Jim, darling, that is not my fault! It’s yours! You proved to Tycho that you could not be trusted as you are. You have all these foolish… morals. The work Tycho intends to do, improving the world, requires that some morals be put aside. Strength is required. Strength of purpose. I would say strength of will, but I’m afraid that is one of your faults.”

“I’m sorry.”

She sighed again, shaking her head at the mock solemnity of his expression. “Oh, Jim! You see why I love you, don’t you? You are impossible!”

“Suppose this new drug doesn’t work with me?”

“Oh, it will, Jim darling. Tycho is so certain. He tested it and tested it.”

“How many men died?”

“What?”

“How many men died during this testing?”

Laurette waved a dismissive hand. “Oh, that doesn’t matter. Tycho’s work is too important. Tomorrow we begin. The formula is very difficult to make, requiring special chemicals and herbs that are not easy to acquire, so it is doled out with care. That is why I have just the two doses for you. I will give you the first dose then check its effects. Tycho gave me very good instructions. I know exactly what to look for. You will appear normal in every way, except you will be unable to refuse my instructions.” Now she smiled. “I like that part.”

Jim shook his head slightly. “I thought you liked me as I am.”

“What? I do, darling. I do!” Confusion shadowed her pretty face. “What do you mean?”

“It’s simple, Laurette. You say this potion will change me, change how I believe and think. I have a conscience. I have certain principles that rule my behavior. If this drug takes away my conscience, my moral behavior, what will it leave?”

She was still baffled. “I don’t understand.”

Jim sighed dramatically. “Perhaps no change will be immediately evident, but over time… can’t you see, Laurette? Presently, I am a man who would never be cruel to a woman. Without my conscience, that might change.”

“Oh. I don’t believe that!”

“What about the subjects Tycho has used the serum on? Did any of them change?”

“Well… I don't know. I didn’t really see them for long…”

“So they easily could have. How can you be sure I will remain the man you so ardently desire? Are you sure you want to change me?”

For a long moment, she simply stared at him, seemingly trying to digest his words. She then appeared to shake herself mentally. “That’s all nonsense, Jim darling. If it could be any other way, if we could trust you, the drug would not be necessary. I know you are a man of your word, but in this case, I doubt very much I could believe you if you swore allegiance to me and to Tycho. Not after what you did before. So you will have to have the ‘medicine.’”

“All right. Then what? What happens once I am completely under your will? How will you know it worked?”

“Oh, I have a test all ready. Tycho suggested it. I am sure you remember Colonel Dinsmore. He and his wife live in San Francisco now.”

“Of course I remember the colonel. He was one of my commanding officers.” Jim tensed inwardly, wondering what was coming next.

“You are going to pay a call on the colonel—with your wife.”

“Oh, are we going to be married that quickly?”

“No.” Laurette sighed. “There won’t be time. That will happen soon nonetheless. However, the colonel and his lady will not realize that the marriage is not real and it will be a good distraction. While we are there, you will kill the colonel.”

Once again, Jim’s stomach lurched. “I see. For some purpose?” He forced his gaze and tone to be steady.

“Two, actually, primarily to ensure that the serum is working correctly on you. As well, Tycho wants vengeance on the colonel. I am not sure of the reason—whatever it is occurred before I met Tycho. Apparently, this colonel did Tycho a disservice. He specifically suggested this task. I think it’s a good one.”

You would! “All right. Then what?”

“Then we will go to Mexico to join Tycho. He will be so happy to have you in the fold, Jim darling. As will I!”

She left him soon after that, and Jim lay in the bed considering his options. They were few. Laurette might adore him, but she remembered what happened previously and was not taking any chances. The three henchmen had kept their guns ready, even while he was partially roped to the chair, eating. His body and legs had been secured tightly to the back of the chair and its legs, yet they seemed to expect him to perform some magic trick and attack them. I suppose that is a compliment of sorts!

Thus, he expected that in the morning when the potion was administered, it would be while he was tied up. The liquid would be forced down his throat. If it worked as well as Laurette expected it to…

He sighed heavily. I do not know where I am. Artemus certainly does not know where I am. It might be too late anyway.

~~~


He roused in the darkness, suddenly aware that he was not alone in the room. The pale light from a quarter moon revealed a shadow approaching the bed.

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

USA
8381 Posts

Posted - 06/07/2017 :  13:27:56  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
W*W*W*W*W


The name of the Slough was Despond.
Pilgrim's Progress (pt. I, ch. II), John Bunyan (1628-1688), English clergyman, writer, and author


Artemus ran both hands through his thick hair as he leaned back in the chair, staring at the telegraph device that rested on the desk in front of him. Another negative response! He had spent all day yesterday roaming San Francisco, asking questions: had anyone seen a man fitting Jim West’s description, or a black coach with a Mexican driver? Every answer was no. No one on the same street as the restaurant had seen it, not anyone on adjoining streets. It had melted into the air, apparently.

This morning he had telegraphed lawmen in adjoining counties with the same query. One by one, the responses were coming back, and every one was the same. No. No Jim West. No black coach with a Mexican on the box. No black coach, period.

He had also contacted Washington, updating Colonel Richmond and asking for assistance. Jeremy Pike was in Oregon, finishing up a task. He would be on the next southbound train. Other agents would be sent as available. “Keep me apprised,” concluded the colonel’s message.

Artemus experienced only mild relief. Pike could arrive sometime tomorrow. Who knew what might transpire during that time? He tried not to consider that his partner’s lifeless body would be located somewhere. He continually told himself that if someone wanted Jim dead, they would have attempted to shoot him on the street—unless that someone was Miguelito Loveless who would want his hated enemy to suffer first.

One of the first telegrams he had sent after Jim vanished had been to the department office asking for information on Loveless. The best they could tell him was that the little doctor was last spotted in New Mexico. That had been several weeks ago, so he could be almost anywhere, including San Francisco.

Artemus got to his feet to pace around the varnish car, occasionally running his hands through his hair, stopping from time to time to stare at the silent telegraph unit. He was unsure what he expected the machine to do. Offer a miracle? A message from Morris stating that Jim had been found alive and safe? The device remained quiet.

The worst thing is, I do not know what to do next. I know that Morris’s men are still scouring San Francisco, asking questions. What can I do that they can’t? I need a clue, some kind of hint to tell me who took Jim and why? Where are you, pal? Send me a sign!

He paused in his stalking around the car and gazed again toward the telegraph. Maybe when Jer arrives….

W*W*W*W*W


It is medicine, not poison, I offer you.
—Ephraim Gotthold Lessing (1729-1781), German author, philosopher, dramatist, and critic


Jim stumbled when he rose from the bed upon being freed from the retaining bonds. His legs were numb and weak after being confined to the bed or chair for over forty-eight hours. His guards’ guns had been out already, but the trio became alert after the mishap. None offered a helping hand so he grabbed the iron footboard of the bed for support.

After a moment circulation seemed to be returning as he felt the sting in his legs. He murmured an apology and started for ward, noticing that the three sentries had relaxed somewhat. The door from the room out into the hallway was on the narrow side, allowing space for only one person to pass through at a time. Pablo was in the lead, and he walked on through.

Jim grabbed for the doorknob, as though his legs were acting up again and he needed support. Instead, he slammed the door shut and spun back. With one fist, he knocked the gun out of Butch’s hand while almost at the same moment he leapt toward Luis, driving his other fist into that man’s stomach. Luis grunted, falling backwards, dropping his gun. Jim dived for it—but he was too late. Butch had moved quicker than his bulky size suggested he could, grabbing the weapon first.

“That’s enough, West!” Butch commanded, his face twisted with rage. Luis climbed to his feet, and slapped Jim across the face.

“Stop that!” Pablo exclaimed as he pushed the door open. “La Señorita will not like it if Señor West is harmed.”

They reluctantly concurred and escorted him to the water closet and back. When Laurette appeared in the bedroom doorway, carrying a tray laden not only with his bowl of porridge but an ominous brown-glass bottle, she paused. “What happened? How did you hurt your face, Jim?”

Señor West decided to play games,” Luis growled, rubbing his still tender midsection.

“Oh, Jim darling,” she sighed, putting the tray on the table near his chair. “I wish you would stop being like this.”

Last night Laurette had been bubbling over as she talked again about the “medicine” he was going to receive the following day. “And then we’ll be together, forever and ever. Isn’t that wonderful?”

“Sounds more like poison to me,” he had responded sourly.

Her expression had been one of astonishment mixed with a bit of ruefulness. “Jim darling! I would never do anything, ever, to hurt you. You know that! I want us to be together. It is just… well, you know, Tycho doesn’t believe he can trust you. Once you take the ‘medicine,’ he will be certain of you. I am sorry he insists on two doses for you. For other men, it has been just one, but he is quite aware—as am I—of your strong will.”

“How does he know two doses won’t kill me?”

“My dear, he has tested it on other men. Two doses, three doses. Tycho is a careful man. He certainly does not want to waste the precious elixir! Oh, I should tell you, it tastes awful. At least that is what I have been told. I am so sorry about that, but I can do nothing about it. It is best if you just take it in one big gulp. Then I’ll give you water to drink and wash it down.”

“I’m not taking it willingly, Laurette. You know that.”

She pouted. “Not even for me?”

“Sorry. I have this odd belief that I should be able to live my life with my own conscience and convictions. I don’t want to be drugged.”

“Oh, Jim. I guess that’s why I adore you. You are so strong! But you will see. You will come to love the life we will have together. Palaces, great wealth, servants… people kneeling at our feet!”

“Is that really the kind of life you want?”

“Of course. I have never had anything like that in my whole life. It is something I have dreamt about. And it’s going to happen!”

“You don’t worry about the people who are hurt—killed—in the process of you growing rich and powerful?”

Laurette had shrugged. “Plenty will be left to worship and adore me. And you.”

He had sighed in resignation, then asked, “What… what will I feel after swallowing the ‘medicine’?”

“Well, apparently nothing immediately. Especially after the first dose, you will become very sleepy. You will sleep for several hours, as many as ten or twelve. The second dose has almost no noticeable effect. Other than you will by then be extremely happy to do anything I ask.”

Now she poured sorghum on the cornmeal mush, and turned toward him holding the bowl.

“I need more exercise,” he grumbled. “My legs were numb this morning.”

“You shall have more. All you want. Once the medicine takes effect, you will be free as the birds!”

“I don’t call that freedom.” She was unmoved as she began to feed him the mush. The taste was not entirely bad, flavored as it was with sorghum, but he would rather have had eggs and bacon! Laurette could prepare a decent bowl of soup, but perhaps breakfast was not her specialty.

The morning meal over with, Laurette then picked up the brown bottle and poured a shot glass about two-thirds full. “I will apologize again for the flavor, darling,” she said, nodding to the three henchmen who moved to stand around his chair. “If you would simply take it in one big swallow it would be easier, but I’m afraid you won’t do that.” She sighed deeply and stepped toward him.

He struggled, but the endeavor was futile. The three men had obvious experience in forcing the ‘medicine’ down a reluctant throat. They held his head back and his mouth open until Laurette was able to pour most of it into his mouth then pushed his mouth shut to prevent him spitting it out. One man stroked his throat, as one might an animal to encourage swallowing.

The taste was indeed vile. The texture was not much better—gooey and slimy. Jim did manage to spew out a little but a great portion went down his throat. He had to swallow or gag. Finally, the three men released their holds and stepped back. Laurette proffered the promised water and he accepted, eager to wash the taste from his mouth and possibly settle his stomach.

“There,” she said soothingly, stepping back. “That wasn’t so bad, was it? Tomorrow, I am sure you’ll accept the second dose more willingly.

Jim squeezed his eyes shut for a moment. “I feel… funny.”

“Yes, as I told you, that’s what happens with the first dose. We will put you back on the bed and you will no doubt sleep until around dinnertime. Then tomorrow morning, after the second dose, we will have a long talk about the evening’s task. I can’t wait!”

W*W*W*W*W


There is something solid and doughty in the man that can rise from defeat, the stuff of which victories are made in due time, when we are able to choose our position better, and the sun is at our back.
—James Russell Lowell (1819-1891), American poet


Artemus told Jeremy Pike as much as he knew, then sighed. “As you can see, it’s not much. If that child had not been looking out the window, it’s likely we would have had to believe Jim vanished into thin air.”

Pike lowered his glass of beer. They were sitting in a tavern a couple of blocks from the railway depot where Artie had met his associate a while earlier. “But the little girl couldn’t offer much in the way of descriptions.”

“Only that the driver was a Mexican, and not fat. She was certain the man she saw became ill and friends took him away, so she did not even mention it to her parents at the time. Jer, it’s just crazy. Washington has been searching like mad for enemies who might be in this area, and drawn a complete blank. The police have no information either.”

“Crazy indeed.” Jeremy placed his glass on the table, leaning his arms on the tabletop. “Artemus, you know that…”

Artie interrupted with a wave of his hand. “Yes, I’m quite aware that Jim could be at the bottom of the bay. I am not giving up. Not yet. I just have a sense that I am overlooking something. I should be thinking of something, someone else. I’ve been reviewing old cases, especially ones where the perpetrator is still alive, even if in prison.”

Pike nodded. “Yeah. Just because a man is in prison does not mean he doesn’t have some way of getting things done on the outside. Then there’s Loveless.”

“I… I almost think we can rule Loveless out. I had a telegram from the colonel this morning that Voltaire was spotted in New Mexico this past week.”

“Ah. Loveless doesn’t allow that crazy giant to wander around alone.”

“Exactly. Richmond asked the commandant of a nearby army post to keep an eye out for persons fitting the descriptions of Voltaire, Antoinette, and Loveless and of course to pick them up if possible. Nonetheless, if Loveless is in New Mexico, it’s not likely he has Jim.”

“Exactly. Is that a relief?”

Artie had to chuckle. “I’m not sure. We are so familiar with Miguelito and his tactics, his mindset, it would almost be better to be dealing with him rather than… the unknown.”

“Now that I’m here, what do you want to do?”

Now Artemus grimaced. “Damn it, Jeremy, I don't know! I haven’t been sitting on my hands, nor have the police departments here and elsewhere in the area. A couple of black coaches have since been spotted, but turned out to belong to perfectly respectable people. I think whoever took Jim transported him to one particular place and has remained there, out of sight.”

“They have to come out eventually.”

“Maybe. But until then, it’s an almost impossible task to check every house and farm and carriage house and barn and….”

“Right.” Jeremy recognized Artie’s frustration even before it was displayed in a rising tone of his voice. “So we just keep looking. They have to make a mistake at some point. They always do.”

“Yeah. They always do. Will it be while Jim is still alive? Why did they take him in the first place?”

“That is a good question. As you told me early on, if they simply wanted to kill him, opportunities were abundant to attempt that on the streets of San Francisco. He was alone for several days. Your idea that they have another plan for him is something to keep in mind.”

Artemus took a long swallow of his beer. “We are not going to accomplish much sitting here.” He slapped his palm on the tabletop. “I suddenly have another plan as well. Let’s go.”

W*W*W*W*W


How disappointment tracks the steps of hope.
—Letitia Elizabeth Landon (Mrs. George MacLean; 1802-1838), English poet and novelist


The gas-fueled lamps along the streets that comprised the area known as The Barbary Coast were fighting a losing battle with the heavy fog that started rolling in before the sun sank outside the bay. Neither the lack of illumination nor the fog halted the usual boisterous festivities that occurred in the various establishments of the neighborhood. While perambulating along the wooden walkways, laughter, mixed sometimes with angry voices, blended with the sounds of music from pianos that were poorly tuned or that could have graced a concert hall, depending upon the “class” of the establishment in question.

Few patrons were out on the street on this damp and chilly night. Those that did venture out were just moving from one concern to another, looking for cheaper drinks, a more honest game, a handsome woman—or simply hoping to find a friend who would buy the drinks. The two old seamen who were staggering along the board walkway had been to several businesses already, ostensibly with the latter intention in mind. Occasionally they had been successful. Often not.

Carefully descending the two wooden steps that took them to the space of ground in front of the alley between the two buildings, they paused, one to hitch up his pants and the other to resettle the frayed watch cap on his head of wildly unkempt gray hair. Both glanced around surreptitiously while making the gestures and after a glance at each other, they stepped into the darkness of the alley.

“I don't know, pal. This is pretty fruitless so far.”

Artemus grimaced. “We have a few folks to find yet though.” Artemus had decided, and Pike agreed, that some sources existed that were not necessarily open to the blue-clad policemen. Trust had been built up over the years with certain denizens of this blighted area.

Jeremy Pike nodded. “Yeah. Hope one of them has some information. I sure hate dumping all that good booze.”

Now Artie chuckled. “I know the feeling. But keeping our wits is important, unfortunately.”

“Yep, let’s go.”

They emerged from the alley arguing about just how dark it had been in there; almost too dark to take a leak, one claimed. Roaming from one saloon to another all evening, they had sought men they knew would give good information—for a price. Unfortunately, none of the contacts they had made so far knew anything about Jim West. A couple had heard the rumor regarding his disappearance, but they had no knowledge to share.

The next “watering hole” was a small place, frequented by those who preferred to drink in a quieter atmosphere. Card games and billiards were available; however, no piano or any other form of entertainment was located within the close confines. The two agents chose to enter because they knew of one man who often hung out there. The reward was spotting him alone at a corner table.

Finding something else to quarrel about, the two seamen made their way through the tables and chairs, apologizing profusely when bumping into a chair or a person, making sure that their inebriated state was obvious. “Hey Professor!” Artie cried, grabbing the back of another chair at the man’s table as if needing support. “Where you been? Good to see you!”

The man they knew only as “Professor” was on the small side, slender of frame. His clothes were well used, but he was always well groomed, including his van dyke beard. The agents had never been able to learn his true name or his background, but all who used him as a source agreed he was an educated man. A man who apparently fell on hard times for reasons he did not care to reveal.

The Professor looked up at the pair, his eyes flashing, obviously about to tell them to take a hike. However, he also obviously recognized them immediately. Gordon and Pike, in particular, often visited him while in a disguise of some sort and he had learned to know them whatever garb and facial hair they had donned. “Well, what do you want?” he asked in a sharp tone. He had a glass of beer on the table, along with a deck of cards. Picking up the latter, he deftly began to shuffle them before placing them one by one on the table in the standard patience formation.

Pike leaned forward as he settled in one of the chairs. “Come on, perfessor,” he slurred. “Be a pal. We ran out of wampum!”

The professor’s scowl deepened. “You should have guarded your cash more closely.”

“Aw, heck!” Artie moaned, folding his arms on the table and placing his head down on those arms. From this position, he spoke quietly. “Professor, have you heard any news about Jim West?”

The other man kept working on his solitaire game, not lifting his head, and spoke barely moving his lips. “I heard he’s missing. A few days earlier, a woman was making the rounds with a couple of fellows, one Mexican, the other a squat muscular fellow. They were asking for information about Jim.”

Pike pointed to one of the face-up cards on the table. “Red queen there,” he said aloud then more quietly, “What did she look like?”

“Beauty. Honey blonde hair, brown eyes…”

Artie grimaced. “Could be any number of females we’ve encountered. No names?”

“No names. I didn’t talk to them. Just overheard the conversations. Too bad because she was handing out money.”

The Professor could not tell them any more. After a few futile minutes of attempting to cajole him into paying for drinks, the two old salts staggered out into the night. Dispirited after a full night of inquiry with few results, they headed for a street where they would find a hack, and where the driver insisted on seeing their coin before he allowed them into the coach.

“The description of the woman means nothing to me,” Artie sighed as they settled into the seats.

“I know. As you told the Professor, we have all encountered more than one female fitting that description. Definitely not Antoinette.”

“No. Not Antoinette. It fits Gerda Sharff, who we encountered in a case involving Count Manzeppi, but she’s dead.”

“I remember you and Jim talking about her. Victim of her own greed.”

“Yes. Horrendous death. But she is dead so could not have been the woman the Professor describes.”

Jeremy leaned back in his seat. “Any ideas?”

“Not a one, Jer. Not a single one.”

W*W*W*W*W


Obedience is the key to every door.
The Marquis of Lossie (ch. LIII), George MacDonald (1824-1905), Scottish poet and novelist


Laurette thought that they could make definitive plans for the evening until Jim firmly pointed out a few facts to her. “In the first place, we have no idea whether Colonel and Mrs. Dinsmore will be home tonight. If they are, they could have guests.”

“Oh. That’s true. Then…”

“If they are not home, we’ll plan another evening. If they have guests… we’ll plan another evening. I could even invite the colonel to join me on a hunting trip. The mountains south of here are full of deer and boars. Hunting accidents do happen.”

“Oh, Jim!” She reached across the table to clutch his hand. They were in the kitchen downstairs, having just finished a midday meal. He was allowed free roam of the house now, although Laurette had “suggested” he not go outside yet. “You are so clever. Tycho is going to be thrilled to have you work with him.”

Jim smiled, squeezing her hand. “I’m looking forward to seeing him again. Whereabouts in Mexico is he?”

“Oh, I don't know the name of the town. I have a map and we will use it when it’s time to go there. First, we must deal with Colonel Dinsmore.”

“Where are Pablo, Butch, and Luis?”

“I sent them into a nearby town to purchase a few things. You need a clean shirt, for one thing.”

Jim chuckled, glancing down at the brown spots that speckled the front of his blue shirt. “I’m sorry about that.”

“Oh, it’s not your fault, darling. You simply did not understand. You do now.”

“I certainly do, and I’m ashamed I contested Tycho’s will. He is a brilliant man. I look forward to being with him… and you.”

Laurette sighed. “We’ll have a glorious wedding in Mexico, darling, and a wonderful honeymoon. I can’t believe how happy I am.”

Jim’s smile was fatuous. “Not nearly as happy as I am, dearest.”

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

USA
8381 Posts

Posted - 06/07/2017 :  13:29:24  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
W*W*W*W*W


The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men,
Gang aft a-gley,
And leave us nought but grief and pain,
For promised joy.
-—To a Mouse (st. 7), Robert Burns (1759-1796), Scottish poet


“Remember your instructions,” Laurette spoke sternly to the two men in the coach with herself and Jim. “You two stay in here, while Luis remains on the driver’s seat. Keep the curtains closed so that you are not seen. Be ready for anything.”

“Yes’m,” Butch replied.

Si, Señorita,” Pablo nodded.

At Laurette’s nod, Jim opened the coach door and climbed out, turning to offer her a hand. She had donned a dress that he thought was perfect for her evening’s role: his bride. She looked stunning in a pale peach traveling costume and matching hat. He had washed up and shaved, and had the clean white shirt that the men had brought to him. It was not tailored as he usually preferred, but would do for the evening… a very important evening.

He took her arm and they strolled up the rock-lined path from the street to the fine home. Not as big as some San Francisco mansions, but extremely handsome. Jim had been inside before and knew of its style and comfort. Laurette may even like it, he decided. Perhaps she had in mind a similar home for the two of them in the future.

On the porch, they paused. “Ready?” he asked.

“I am. Let us hope they are home and all goes well.”

“Remember, play it by ear. Do not show any surprise. Behave naturally.”

Laurette tittered. “Jim, darling, I’m not a novice.”

“I know, dearest. I’m just being a protective ‘husband.’” She giggled again as he reached up to lift the brass knocker and allow it to drop twice.

Less than a minute elapsed before a sturdily-built man in butler’s livery opened the door. Jim extracted a card from his pocket and held it out. “Mr. and Mrs. James West to see Colonel and Mrs. Dinsmore.”

The butler barely glanced at the card before stepping back to open the door further and allow them inside. “Please wait here,” he said, turning to stride down the carpeted hallway. Jim recognized the door where he paused as the one to Mrs. Dinsmore’s parlor. The butler entered and within a minute emerged, followed by Ruth Dinsmore, a petite woman with silver-gold hair perfectly coifed.

She hurried toward them, hands extended. “James! Oh my goodness! How good to see you! And with a bride? My goodness gracious!”

Jim took her hands, leaning forward to kiss her cheek. “Hello, Mrs. Dinsmore. Yes, it finally happened. May I present my wife, Laurette?”

“Goodness gracious!” She released Jim’s hands to turn to the young woman. “Welcome! Welcome, Laurette West. I am so stunned I can hardly speak. How did this happen? When?”

“It was rather sudden,” Jim replied. “We were married yesterday as a matter of fact. You are among the first to know.”

“I’m so honored. Laurette! What a lovely name for a lovely woman. I am so full of curiosity. James, the colonel is in his study with Mr. Holcombe. You know Floyd Holcombe, of course. Lionel will not mind if you go in. He will be highly annoyed if you withhold this amazing news from him for a second. Laurette, dear, you come with me to my parlor. I’ve been relegated to a lonely evening until the gentlemen finish their business, but now we can chat and you can tell me how you lassoed the world’s most elusive bachelor.” She grasped Laurette’s arm.

Jim saw that Laurette was nonplussed for a moment and he smiled encouragingly. “Go ahead, dearest. I will speak to the colonel and I am sure we will join you very soon. You can trust me.” He surreptitiously patted that side of his jacket where the pistol was secreted.

She smiled then. “Yes, of course, Jim darling. You know I don’t like to be away from you for a moment.”

“I feel the same way, dearest. I will not be long. I promise.”

The butler had remained in the hallway until Mrs. Dinsmore asked him to bring coffee to the parlor. He then turned and headed toward the back of the house. Jim waited until the parlor door closed behind the two women before he stepped over to what he knew was the study door and rapped on it. Upon hearing a call from inside, he opened the door and stepped inside, closing the door tightly behind him.

Colonel Lionel Dinsmore jumped to his feet. “Jim West! What a nice surprise! You know Floyd Holcombe.”

Jim took the extended hand. “I do, sir. I am here on an important mission and you need to listen to me carefully because I do not have enough time to repeat it. I am here to kill you.”

W*W*W*W*W


The backbone of surprise is fusing speed with secrecy.
—Karl von Clausewitz (1780-1831), Prussian military leader and author


The noise awakened Artemus Gordon instantly. He was accustomed to the nighttime sounds of the rail yard—the voices of the night guards, the incoming and outgoing trains, occasional rowdiness of workers as they departed after their night shifts—but this was different. It was right outside the Wanderer, on the back platform.

He had fallen asleep on the plush sofa in the varnish car, and although he had awakened earlier, had not had enough interest to get up and go to his compartment. Deep down he knew he was hoping for the click of the telegraph machine announcing the safe recovery of his missing partner.

Someone is on the platform… Artie sat up and grasped the pistol he had kept near him at all times since Jim disappeared. Experience taught him that anyone who wanted vengeance against one agent would likely be interested in the partner as well. He stiffened as he realized that the door handle was moving.

The wall sconces had been turned down low, but enough illumination was available to see the door open slowly. A man stepped inside. Artie lifted his weapon—then gasped.

“Jim!”

“Hi, Artie.” He spoke as though he had just gone out for a smoke and returned.

Shaking his head, Artemus got to his feet, dropping the weapon on the sofa as he strode across the car to where he could grasp the shoulders of his partner. Those shoulders were solid—real. “Jim! Where in the devil have you been? Are you all right?”

“I could use a stiff shot of whiskey.”

“Coming right up!” Artie released him, reaching out to turn up the nearest sconce and then a second one as he headed for the cupboard where the liquor was stored. “What happened?”

Jim sank onto the sofa that Artie had vacated, carefully picking up the pistol and placing it on the small table nearby. “Long story.”

“Then you had better hold onto it a moment,” his partner replied, handing him a tumbler generously filled with amber liquid. “Jeremy is in the guest compartment. Let me go wake him so you don’t have to repeat yourself… although I am dying with curiosity. And glad to see you back safely, by the way.”

“Thanks,” Jim chuckled, taking a sip of the fiery but smooth liquor. He wanted to down the whiskey and fall into bed, but knew that was not going to happen until Artie heard the full story.

“Jer’s coming,” Artie said, reentering the vanish car. He poured two more glasses full of whiskey, leaving one on the table as he came around to join Jim on the sofa. “Are you all right?”

“Just fine. All things considered, better than one might expect.”

Pike entered then. He grabbed the glass, went behind the desk to pull the chair around to be nearer the other two. “All right, James. What the hell happened? Where have you been? Who…?”

Jim held up a hand. “As I told Artie, it’s a rather long story. Let me tell it in order. I was in a restaurant on Porter Street, one that Morris recommended. As I stepped outside…” He continued to relate how the Mexican driver of a black coach had hailed him, “It seemed logical to me. I was completely unsuspecting. When I got near to the coach door, a puff of some anesthetic hit me in the face, knocking me out almost instantly. I woke up tied to a bed in a farmhouse—somewhere. The woman I’d spotted in the coach turned out to be Laurette.”

“Laurette?” Pike looked at Artie, frowning.

“Laurette!” Artie exclaimed. “And Tycho?”

“He wasn’t there. Seems she was on a special mission for him to recapture and recruit me to his side.”

“Tycho! Of course, I remember now,” Jeremy nodded. “You and Frank handled him while Artemus was in Washington.”

“The way Frank told it,” Artie put in, “Laurette was quite enamored of you.”

“That is putting it mildly,” Jim nodded. “Seems she talked Tycho into using a new potion he had invented on me, something that is taking the place of his hypnotic method. She was determined that I was going to join him—and her—one way or another.”

Artemus frowned. “I take it you escaped before she had a chance to use it.”

“Oh no. She dosed me. Twice.”

Jeremy gazed at him. “But…?”

“I had a little help. Artie, do you remember Pablo Lopez?”

“Sure. El Paso. I remember his brother Esteban better.”

“Exactly. Pablo was one of three men with Laurette. He also remembered how we helped Esteban in El Paso. He was grateful that his younger brother had escaped the cycle of criminal life that Pablo feels locked into. Pablo came to my room early in the morning of the day I was to receive the first dose of the ‘medicine,’ as Laurette calls it. He told me he had emptied the bottle containing the potion and replaced it with a mixture of sorghum and coffee. He was familiar with the potion, and felt that Laurette would not notice the change. She didn’t.”

“Ah. So you were not dosed with Tycho’s new concoction.”

“Exactly. Beforehand, I happened to ask Laurette what to expect from the dosage, so I knew I should pass out for about twelve hours. And that after the second dose, nothing much would happen, other than I would be unable to disobey any of her orders or wishes.”

“What were those orders or wishes?”

“To kill Colonel Lionel Dinsmore. I didn’t know how I was going to get out of it, but you can be sure I would have found some way. As it happened, it could not have been scripted better. Laurette insisted I introduce her as my wife, which worked perfectly. When we arrived, Ruth Dinsmore was so astonished that I brought a bride that she insisted on taking Laurette into her parlor with her while I visited with the colonel.

“As soon as Laurette was out of sight, I stepped into the colonel’s study…”

#^#^#


Colonel Dinsmore took a step backwards, his complexion blanching. “What? Jim! You…”

“Don’t worry, sir. I do not intend to carry out those orders. I cannot explain fully now, but you are in danger, as is everyone in this house at the moment. The woman I came with is not my wife as I told Mrs. Dinsmore, but my captor. She thinks I have been drugged and will do anything she orders, including killing you… which now would have to include you, Mr. Holcombe. She is armed, and three men waiting in the coach outside are also armed—and very dangerous.”

Dinsmore was still badly shaken, but Holcombe came to his feet. “What must we do?”

“Colonel, I want you to summon Wesley.” He had known that the colonel’s former orderly now worked in the household as butler. As he had hoped, Wesley Charles had behaved perfectly, possibly because of the unknown woman’s presence, not letting on he knew Jim West from military days. He had remained the butler, not an old comrade as he had been on previous visits.

“Yes, yes, of course.” The colonel seemed to react to the need for action. He stepped over to a velvet pull rope near the door and jerked it. “What do you want from him, Jim?”

“Just tell him to follow my orders.”

Dinsmore nodded. A moment later a tap sounded on the door, and it opened. “Come inside, Wesley,” the colonel instructed. “We have a serious problem. Captain West has some orders for you.”

The ever loyal and obedient servant nodded. “Yes, sir. What is it, Captain?”

“I want you to go to the parlor and tell Mrs. Dinsmore that there is an important matter in the kitchen that needs her attention immediately. If ‘Mrs. West’ offers or tries to accompany Mrs. Dinsmore, tell her firmly that it would be better if she remained in the parlor, lest the situation be made worse.”

The butler’s face showed his curiosity, but he nodded. “Yes, sir. And then?”

“The colonel, Mr. Holcombe, and I will precede you to the kitchen—before you address Mrs. Dinsmore. Bring her to the kitchen. A critical situation has arisen here and everyone must leave the house immediately.”

“But not the young lady?”

“Not the young lady. She is not my wife, Wesley. All will be explained later. You have to trust me.”

“Which we certainly do,” Colonel Dinsmore stated, his aplomb fully reacquired. “Follow the captain’s instructions as soon as we reach the kitchen.”

Jim was glad that the hallway was carpeted, muffling their footsteps. He did, however, make sure they did not all three traverse over the space by the parlor door at the same time, holding the colonel back until Holcombe had passed it, and waiting for the same space for himself. He glanced back once by the closed door and nodded to Wesley, who nodded firmly and calmly in return.

I am very glad Sergeant Wesley is still with the colonel; he probably will be until one of them dies!

In the kitchen, the colonel was briskly explaining to Mrs. Wesley and Alma, the colored maid, that they were to obey Mr. West’s instructions and not ask questions now. Jim immediately sent them out the back door, while he waited a moment for the butler and the confused Mrs. Dinsmore. Ruth listened to Jim’s quiet instructions and obeyed, going with the two men out the back door.

Jim knew from a previous visit, which had occurred during a garden party held in the area behind the house, that an alley led from the rear of the Dinsmore property to the street behind. He told Wesley to go open that gate, and then he conducted the group through it. Upon reaching the next street, he veered to the left, away from the cross street where the coach was waiting, and took the group to the next thoroughfare. From there, they walked two blocks before finding a cab. The women and Wesley were put in that conveyance with orders to go to the nearest police station.

Jim and the two other men found another hack shortly thereafter and soon were in the police station as well. The first group had not been able to provide the police captain there with any information, nonetheless that official was acquainted with Mrs. Dinsmore, taking her word that an explanation was coming.

When Jim arrived, he was able to display his credentials and give more details to the entire group. It was arranged that the three women would remain at the station, while the colonel, Mr. Holcombe, Wesley, and Jim accompanied a squad of officers back to the Dinsmore house…

#^#^#


“…the coach was gone, as I expected. I would have preferred to remain at the house while the others departed but I also felt it was imperative that I made sure they found safety.” Jim paused to take a swallow of his whiskey.

“That coach has a habit of disappearing,” Artie nodded. “A young girl who lives above her parents’ shop next to the restaurant saw the black coach and saw you put into it. She thought you were ill. We’ve been looking for it ever since.”

“Police are currently guarding the Dinsmore house,” Jim went on, “but I really don't think they are in any danger. The colonel never heard of Tycho, and in particular does not remember ever meeting anyone who fit his unusual description. I have a feeling that somehow Tycho learned of his connection to me, knew he lived in San Francisco, and devised this as a good test of his serum.”

“Have you any idea where you were held?” Jeremy inquired.

Jim grimaced. “Not really. I’m pretty sure it was south of here. I was unconscious when they took me there, and on the trip back last evening, the very dark curtains were drawn on the coach windows so I had limited access to what we were passing. I could not stare too much without drawing attention to myself. The trip back to the city consumed close to two hours, so I’m thinking somewhere in Santa Clara County—but that’s a big area.”

“Where’s Tycho?” Artie asked then. “You didn’t see him?”

Jim shook his head. “Apparently he’s somewhere in Mexico. I could not get Laurette to say exactly where. In Mexico, working on his inventions that will allow him to conquer to world.”

“Where have we heard that before?”

Epilog


For the next two weeks, the three agents worked with local law officials in an attempt to track down Laurette and her companions. Jim spent some time in Santa Clara County and eventually located the abandoned farm where he had been held. However, the beautiful woman was long gone, and as usual, no one had any helpful information about her. All four had been seen; merchants remembered the men who had shopped in the nearest town, Milpitas. Only a couple of people recollected spotting the woman herself.

The Secret Service sent information and inquiries to Mexico regarding Tycho. That nation was interested in the strange man due to his attempt to assassinate Ambassador Ramirez, a crime for which James West would have been blamed, and indeed would likely have been found guilty had not Frank Harper realized what was occurring and intervened. The authorities south of the border had no information whatsoever to offer at that time and could only suggest that if Tycho was indeed in Mexico, he was in some very rural district far out of sight. They would continue searching.

A week or so later, two sets of information reached them. The first was from authorities in San Mateo County, south of San Francisco. A black coach had been found crashed to pieces, having gone off a high cliff overlooking the ocean there. No signs of any humans were found, not even bits of luggage. No horses either. That led them to believe the passengers in the black coach had changed to another means of conveyance before wrecking the coach. That also indicated they were heading south.

The second was from Mexico City. As had been suspected, a very remote hacienda had been located where signs indicated—and locals confirmed—a very strange man had lived there. Only a small number of people ever caught a glimpse of him. A few who had worked at the hacienda as servants had absolutely nothing to say when asked about the man with the oversized head. To the authorities, it appeared that these people had been mesmerized, but doctors could not break through their reserve.

“It seems that Tycho’s ‘medicine’ is very effective,” Jim commented. “He used it on these servants and instructed them to forget they ever knew him.”

“Worse,” Artie sighed, lowering the long telegram that had been delivered to Lieutenant Morris’s office, where they were now, “Tycho is loose again. We have no idea how many men he has recruited with this serum. He could show up with an army one day.”

“According to Laurette, the ingredients of the potion are rare and difficult to obtain, so he cannot be using it too extensively. Not yet, anyway.” Jim turned to stare out the window where he had been standing.

“But you will probably hear from him again,” Morris commented.

“I’m kind of looking forward to meeting him,” Artie said. “What a mind he must possess!”

Jim looked back. “Be careful what you wish for, partner.”

“Mexico thinks he has gone further south, perhaps into the jungles of Central or South America. Chances are we will not see him for some time. Even better, with him down there, it’s not likely he’ll ever encounter Miguelito Loveless.” Artie sighed audibly.

Jim spun back. “What?”

Artie looked at his partner guilelessly. “Think of that as a blessing, James. If those two got together…”

“A massive clash of egos,” Jim said. “They would never get along.”

Lloyd Morris looked at each of them. “Let us hope we never have a chance to find out!”

Artie cocked his head. “Then again, Jim may be looking forward to another meeting with the lovely Laurette.”

Jim glared at his partner. “No thank you. I’d rather encounter a rattlesnake.”

“I remember Frank saying how beautiful she is.”

“Artie…”

Artie grinned. He knew he had pushed it far enough. “All right. Well, James, we were relieved of the Montana job, but we are now needed in Kansas. Do you suppose we should get going?”

“No offense, Lloyd,” Jim said, “but I think I’ve had enough of San Francisco for a while.”

“None taken, Jim. You’ll be back. We have too many good restaurants, fine theaters… and lovely women.”

Jim sighed. “I am afraid you are right, Lloyd. All those, and plenty of trouble too. We’ll be back.”

++The End++


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