SS 1st assignment - desk job
Posted - 03/01/2010 : 18:02:24
| Chapter 1
“I just don’t like this idea of yours, Gordon,” Colonel Richmond said, shaking his head.
“With all due respect, sir – can you think of a better one?” Artie asked.
Richmond sighed deeply. “No, I don’t think I can. West, I suppose you’re on board with this?”
“I am, sir, as long as you approve it.”
The Colonel rose and began pacing the room. “I’d rather not. On the other hand, I suspect you’ll put this plan in motion whether or not I approve. It wouldn’t be the first time.”
“Colonel, there should be no danger to Jim at all. As for myself, Loveless never had much interest in me. The plan is designed to take advantage of his vanity, and I’m certain I can pull it off.”
“You’re certain? Because if this plan fails, and we lose either one of you or -- God forbid – both, Grant will be hopping mad, and heads will roll, including mine.”
“If Loveless manages to disrupt the Exhibition, I suspect the President will be even madder,” Jim observed.
Richmond went back to his seat. “Alright, you’ve worn me down. But if either one of you takes what I consider a foolish risk, there’ll be hell to pay. Is that understood?”
“Yes, sir,” said Artie and Jim in unison.
After leaving Richmond’s office, Jim asked, “So, we’re starting this evening? Where?”
“I’m thinking that fancy Viennese restaurant in Georgetown. It’s a big room, but there are only ten tables, and it’s a very popular place for both government people and journalists,” Artie answered confidently. “That should help spread the word around.”
“Does the owner know what he’s in for?”
“He should. I’m headed out there now to explain. I’m hoping he might be willing to move the tables around to give us some room for our first big bust-up.”
“And after tonight, where are we going to publicly clobber one another?”
“James, you’ve made clobbering people your life’s work, and yet you cannot come up with a suitable public venue for this? Must I do everything?”
Artie had come up with the idea and Jim had to hand it to him – it was brilliant. Artie found a woman willing to play a part – Miss Thora Copley, whom he’d met a few months before. Since Artie’s eyesight had returned, he was on fire with ideas. Some days it was almost impossible to keep up with him. However imaginative this idea was, Artie would – if it worked – be in a lot of danger. And worse, Jim’s role would be very small.
“Here’s something you can do: pick Thora up at the train station. She’s due in around 6:30.”
“What does she look like?”
“And we can meet up at the restaurant around eight, and I’m thinking that you’ll make a great show of –“
“What does she look like?”
“And if you’re gonna bring your gun, make absolutely sure it’s loaded with blanks. Shoot me with the real thing, and I’m not gonna be happy about it. Also, we’re going to have to make our way back home from different routes. Maybe I’ll stay out very late – yes, that’s the idea! I’ll go from saloon to saloon carping about my snake of a partner, and what that’ll do is –“
“Artie, I need to know what the lady looks like,” Jim said slowly, as if speaking to an idiot child.
“What she looks like?? Oh, right, I forgot you haven’t met her yet. She’s got reddish hair and a lot of freckles. Beautiful teeth.”
“Beautiful teeth?? Is that all?” Jim chuckled.
“Don’t get me wrong – she’s a nice-looking woman, just quite a bit short of my ideal,” Artie replied.
Anna, Jim knew, was Artie’s ideal. Sadly, he was not moving on. At a recent state dinner at which he’d given a speech, Artie had been surrounded afterward by a number of beautiful women eager for his attention, but rather than revel in his good fortune, he disappeared early. Jim found him later, sipping a glass of wine on the balcony of his hotel room. When Jim approached, Artie murmured, “I thought it would get easier, but it hasn’t.”
Jim felt now was the time to say something.
“Artie, I know I’m may be speaking out of turn, but Anna is... gone, and you’re still here. It pains me to see you go through life like this, especially when there are so many women out there – good women -- who’d be thrilled to have you.”
Artie took a deep breath before speaking. “In my head I know you’re right, but it seems my heart hasn’t caught up yet.”
“I hope you’re not angry.”
“How could I be? If you hadn’t finally spoken up when I wasn’t eating or sleeping, I don’t think I’d still be here.” I never believed someone could die of a broken heart – until I nearly did.
* * *
Thora reread Artemus’s letter. Since leaving Cape May, he had kept up a lively correspondence with her, and with every letter she found herself falling a little more in love with him, even though his letters never contained even the most remote romantic content.
What a fool I am – a spinster schoolteacher approaching thirty and with a heart condition – hoping that mere kindness will somehow grow into love.
For this event, Thora purchased a very expensive green silk frock. Her excuses to herself were that it matched her late mother’s emeralds, and that she was often told she looked pretty in green, with her hazel eyes and auburn hair. The face cream she threw away five dollars on was, however, a big disappointment. It did nothing to fade her freckles, as promised.
From a wigmaker, she purchased paste emeralds to put into her hair, and he showed her how to arrange her hair in the latest style shown in Mr. Godey’s magazine. It was quite elaborate – not a coiffure to try unless one had a lady’s maid accustomed to doing hair – but eight dollars later, Thora was a sight to behold.
Just before leaving her room, she donned a cut velvet evening cloak she’d borrowed from one of the junior teachers, the daughter of a very wealthy family who’d had the idea to “do something,” while waiting for her parents to select a suitable husband for her.
A cab was outside waiting to take her to the train station. Artemus was going to assume that she’d come all the way from Baltimore, but for the winter break she’d taken a room in Washington, partly in the hope that she could spend some time with him.
Twenty-five minutes later, she entered the train station, and walked to the track where the Baltimore train would have pulled in. A young man in evening clothes was on the platform, but Artemus was nowhere to be seen.
Had he forgotten her? Or changed his mind?
She noticed the man was looking at her with his brow furrowed.
Why is he staring at me? Perhaps I look wonderful or maybe I just look silly. Faux jewels in my hair – what was I thinking?
He began to walk in Thora’s direction.
“Ma’am? Excuse me. May I ask – is your name Thora Copley?” If it is, Artie must still be having vision problems. She’s stunning.
“Yes, I’m Miss Copley. How do you know me?”
“My partner asked me to meet you – Artemus Gordon. I’m James West.”
“Oh, Mr. West! For a moment there, I was wondering if Artemus had forgotten about me, ” she said as she absently fingered her emerald bracelet.
“He hasn’t forgotten; he sent me because he had to go to the restaurant to talk to them about this evening’s planned festivities. I guess you and I should wait in the train until it’s time to leave – it’s awfully cold out here.”
Thora smiled. Artemus had told her all about the train in which he and Mr. West lived and traveled the country, but she never thought she’d actually get a chance to see it.
Jim took her arm. “I don’t know how much Artie told you, Miss, but you were instrumental in saving my life.”
“Yes, the book you gave him that told how to handle the Magus – Magick and Method, I think it was called.”
“Oh, yes. It was my pleasure. I suppose that book saved all three of you: you, Mr. Gordon, and Miss Elsome, and perhaps untold numbers of people who might have become his victims.”
“I understand that your own father…”
“Yes, Mr. West, he was one of his victims. I’d rather not discuss it.”
“ I’m sorry, Miss Copley. I sometimes handle myself rather poorly with attractive women.” And sometimes this tack actually works with them.
Thora looked at him questioningly. Is he flirting with me?
They came upon a very fancy-looking varnish car. “It would appear Mr. Vanderbilt’s in town,” she remarked.
“He may well be,” Jim chuckled. “But this is my car – well, mine and Artie’s.”
“You’re kidding,” Thora laughed.
“Maybe I am. Let’s see if we can break in.”
“C’mon. I’ll bet no one’s inside. It’ll be fun!”
“It might be, but getting arrested afterward…!”
“Aw, c’mon, live a little. Then you’ll have an exciting story to tell back at the girls’ school. ‘The night I was arrested for trespassing,’” Jim grinned.
They reached the door, which was locked. Thora was very relieved.
“You don’t think that’s going to stop me, do you?” Jim said, reaching into his pocket. “This key works with just about everything. Artie designed it for me.”
He placed it in the keyhole and made a great show of jiggling it. “Just a little more... I think I might have it… There!”
The door flew open. Jim offered Thora his hand.
“Absolutely not, Mr. West”
“What if no one’s here? I’ll check.”
“You’ll check??” Artemus had told her a great deal about Mr. West, but nothing about his being a law-breaker.
A few minutes later, he leaned out of the doorway. “No one’s here. It’s really nice. Come in and just take a look
* * *
“You see, we’ve completely planned what we’ll do. No one will be hurt, nor will any of your property be damaged.”
“Can you guarantee me dis? No guarantee, no permission.” The restaurant owner, Mr. Otto Brandauer, ‘of the great Brandauer dynasty of Austria, second only to the Habsburgs,’ was not willing to disrupt his customers’ evening with a planned – planned! – fistfight. On the other hand, if the customers found it to be entertaining, as these barbaric Americans sometimes did, it might prove a boon for his establishment.
“Yes, I can, but only if the tables are moved closer together, to give us room to fight.”
“Yes, yes – tell me again vy you are fighting dis man?”
“Because I despise him! He is wooing my beloved away from me! I have worked closely with him for years, and thought he was trustworthy, but I was mistaken. I will do anything – anything – to see that he pays for this. I told him to meet me here this evening, but he doesn’t know my true intention.”
“I see, yes, vooing away somevun else’s beloved, dat is an unforgiveable offense. Den I do vat you ask. You vill help move dese tables, Herr Gordon?”
* * *
Thora glanced over her shoulder again before taking Jim’s hand.
“I’ll just take a very quick look, Mr. West. I – well, I’m surprised that I’m fool enough to do even that.”
“Not to worry – no one’s here but us.”
The car was the one of the most luxurious spaces she’d ever seen, in or out of a train.
“Mr. Vanderbilt - or whomever this belongs to -- has very opulent taste, but I expect he had this designed for solely his own use. There’s not what I would consider a woman’s touch here.”
Jim walked to the door at the end of the room. “Maybe there is in the rooms closer to the engine – would you like to come and look?”
Thora sighed. “I may as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb.” She hurried to Jim’s side. He let her go ahead of him.
The door led to a very narrow corridor with doors on the left side.
“Mr. West, I have a very bad feeling about this. Let’s go.”
“Go? We just got here.”
“Mr. West, please! If I get arrested, I’ll lose my position.” Thora had become very, very nervous.
“Miss Copley, you’re trembling,” Jim said as he put his arms around her.
“Of course I’m trembling, Mr. West! I don’t want to get arrested!”
“Miss Copley, relax,” he purred. “Is there – I think there’s something in your eye.”
He pulled her closer.
“Mr. West, I don’t think—“
“Sshh, don’t think..." He reached for her chin, and pressed his lips to her’s.
She wrapped her arms tightly around his back, and slowly moved them upwards. Then she boxed his ears.
“OW! What did you do that for?!”
“Would you rather I kneed you in your crotch, Mr. West?” Thora asked coolly.
“Miss Copley, I’m sorry, I should have–“
“Learned some manners. Or don’t they apply to you?”
Her gaze was very steady. He felt like a small boy caught stealing candy.
“Shall we go, Mr. West? Before the police come or the owner of the car returns?”
“Miss Copley, this is mine and Artie’s. I’ll prove it to you.”
“Mr. West, your games are a mite tiresome. Let’s go. I shouldn’t like to keep Artemus waiting.”
Jim smiled ruefully. He was wholly unused to the treatment he’d just received.
"As you will, Miss Copley. By the way, do you have any plans for after Artie and I finish the fight? He told you all this, right?"
"Of course he did."
"And your plans?"
"I have none at the moment, Mr. West. But if I were you, I wouldn’t bother making any that include me."
Jim shook his head resignedly, and offered his arm. Thora accepted.
A half hour later, the hansom cab dropped them off outside of Die Blaue Donau. There was an open area toward the back about the size of a boxing ring. This, Jim guessed, was where his and Artie’s first battle royal would take place.
Thora craned her neck, trying to determine which of the well-dressed gentleman in attendance was Artemus. Before she knew it, he materialized in front of her.
He embraced her and kissed her cheek. Her heart began to pound. He was so very handsome in his evening clothes.
Taking a step back, he took in her appearance. For a brief moment, his face fell. The color of her dress was exactly the same shade as the dress Anna wore the day he first met her.
Thora interpreted his expression to mean she was incorrectly dressed.
He smiled sincerely. "You look lovely, Thora, absolutely lovely. At first, I thought ‘that woman with Jim is really quite something, but I instructed him to retrieve Miss Copley.’" He then took her arm and walked her outside.
“Jim and I will be fighting over you. Your job is to appear ambivalent. That way, it’ll keep the audience guessing who’s in the right.”
“When will you begin?”
“After dessert I think, while we’re having coffee. I hear the food here is truly exceptional, so we certainly don’t want to ruin the meal.”
He smiled again, and Thora felt her heart beating so loud she feared he might have heard it.
“Which one of you will I be leaving with?” Please say I’m leaving with you.
Artie paused to think. “I don’t know why I didn’t even consider that. You did make plans to stay overnight somewhere, didn’t you?”
“Yes, of course. I’m actually spending the winter break here in Washington.”
“Yes. I… well, I… um, I’ve never spent much time here, and I’d like to get to know it better.” When I first met him, I was all dignity and efficiency, and now I’m like a nervous schoolgirl.
“I know Washington like the back of my hand. I’d be happy to take you around some time.”
“I’ll be here until the second of January, if you have any time between now and then.” Oh, dear, I’m being awfully forward.
“Depending on what happens with my plans, I’ll see what I can do.”
They went back into the restaurant and headed toward the bar. “Thora, Jim’s going to come over in a few minutes, and begin a loud argument.”
By then it was a little after eight and one of the waiters was getting their table ready.
Artie moved closer to her, and took her hand. His movements were a little exaggerated. Perhaps this was intended to fix in the mind of witnesses his relationship to her.
He leaned over and whispered into her ear. “I’m going to start making love to you. Don’t take it seriously. It’s just an act for the crowd here.”
“Oh,” she said, with a disappointment she could barely hide.
“Darling, darling, how wonderful to see you back from Italy! How I’ve agonized these months! I tell you, if you had not returned, I’d have died from the pains of love.” he said, his voice much louder than a declaration like that should have been.
“The loveliest, the sweetest, my own.” He nuzzled her throat, and her knees began to feel weak.
Their waiter approached.
“Sir? Your table is ready.”
“Already? My dear, let’s make this an evening to remember.”
“Yes, let’s,” Thora said, as cheerfully as she could.
Then Jim came up behind them.
“Artie, why are you here with my woman?” he asked angrily.
“Your woman??? Since when is she your woman?”
“She’s always been my woman!”
“Maybe, but she’s had to share you with fifteen or twenty others. She deserves a man who’ll treat her right!”
While this was going on, Thora looked from one to the other with pretended desperation.
“Please! Please don’t argue over me! Let’s just have a nice quiet dinner.”
Artie took Thora’s hand and led her to their table, with Jim following. He then cut in front of them and took his seat, after which he moved the chair next to him closer.
“Right here, honey, sit next to me. I know I haven’t been as attentive as I should be, but I’m gonna do better, starting now.”
“Thora, it’s Jim or James,” Jim whispered. “These people have to think you know me.”
“Jim, thank you, but I’d like to have a little more room.” She moved the chair back, then Artie took it and helped her get seated.
“I don’t think it’s that, Jim – I just think she doesn’t want to be anywhere near you any more,” Artie hissed.
“Is that it, honey?”
“Jim, please,” Thora pleaded.
“Because if Artie is intimidating you, I wanna know about it.”
The meal was mostly silent, with both men glowering at one another. After the coffee was served, Jim leaned over and began to whisper nonsense to Thora.
She giggled in response.
Artie pounded his fist on the table. "You’re really asking for it, you know that?"
"Asking for it? Look, if you can’t attract a woman, that’s not my fault."
Artie rose and pulled Jim’s chair out from under him. Jim fell to the floor, while Artie looked down at him with a satisfied expression on his face.
Jim waited until Artie looked away, then rose halfway and threw all his weight into Artie’s solar plexus. Artie fell to the floor with Jim on top of him, punching at his sides.
“Stop! Oh, please, stop!” Thora cried, doing her best to seem suitably appalled. Most of Jim’s punches did not actually connect, although Artie was behaving as if they did.
Some people had already abandoned their tables to watch the action.
Finally, Artie threw Jim off and onto his back. Grabbing him by his collar, he was about to deliver a haymaker, just as Jim pulled out his gun. Thora shrieked.
Artie was able to wrestle the gun away from him and slid it across the floor, where it stopped at Thora’s feet.
She picked it up, rushed to the table for her handbag, and then ran to the coat check to retrieve her wrap.
“Artemus, before the police come, let’s go!”
Artie, still straddling Jim, gave him a final shot to the jaw, after which Jim pretended to be unconscious.
After he got up, he threw a few bills on their table, and rushed out to meet Thora, who stood shivering on the corner.
“Now that’s what I call a fun evening!” Artie laughed as he stretched. “Good exercise, too. Did you enjoy yourself, Thora?”
“I’m not sure ‘enjoy’ is the word,” she laughed. “It certainly was interesting. I suppose I’m tattling, but after Mr. West met me, we came upon a railcar belonging to some tycoon or other, and Mr. West had the idea to break in! I was certain the owner was going to call the law on us.”
“Jim did that? What did this railcar look like?”
Thora gave him a detailed description and when she finished, Artie roared with laughter.
“That’s our car, Thora! Jim was just teasing you.”
“At first, he said it was yours, but I didn’t believe him, and from there he behaved as if it really did belong to someone else.”
“Did you go in?”
“I’m ashamed to say I did. I mean, I was certain that he was teasing me when he said it belonged to you two. I’m awfully credulous, I guess.”
“Not at all. To succeed in our line of work, you need to be an accomplished liar. Uh, where are we?”
They’d been walking arm-in-arm without paying attention to where.
Artie turned around. “Let’s make our way back to the restaurant, and from there – if you like – we’ll take a cab to the train station, and I’ll give you a complete tour of our luxuriously appointed home.”
“I’d like that,” Thora said smiling.
They were across the street from the restaurant when someone inside recognized them. “That’s the guy right there – the one walking with the lady! Somebody give me a hand!”
“Artemus, do you speak German?”
“Yeah, I do – why?”
“Because, if I’m not mistaken, you’re going to get taught a lesson. If we pretend we’re someone other than they people they’re looking for –“
“Gotcha. Gehen wir nach hause, Liebling? Bald schneit es.”
“Ya. Es ist zu kalt spazieren zu machen. Meine Schuhe sind zu dünn, and dieser Mantel ist nicht genug warm. Beeilen uns.”
They walked faster, but not fast enough to escape from a group of men who had poured from the restaurant.
“Hey, buddy, stop! You, the lady, you can keep going.”
“Johann, spricht er mit uns?”
Artie looked over his shoulder. “Es sieht so an. Halt. Ich spreche mit ihm.”
“Excuse, pliss. Vish you zu spik zu me?” Artie asked in the heaviest German accent he could manage.
The men looked at one another. Was this the same guy?
The one who’d first noticed Artie and Thora spoke. “You’re the one who was fighting with that other fella in the restaurant, aren’t ya?”
“Fightink? I vas fightink? No, no, you haf mistaken. Meine Frau -- meine vife und ich, ve haf been out to visit her zister. Ve het our dinner mit der zister. Ve het not to eat in restaurant. Come, Trudi, you tell dem,” Artie said, beckoning to Thora.
Thora walked quickly across the street. “Guten Abend. Yah, mein Mann iz correct. Ve hef been visiting meine zister. She comes to vork as governess für rich femly – know you die Vanderbilt femly? It is dem for whom she vorks. Dey have die shweetest kleine kinder, you know? A little fellow of about tree, und a girl of five. And dere vere tvins dere dis evening, only friends of femly, not Vanderbilts demselves. Und ve het qvite a wunnerful dinner. Only Amerikanische food, but even zo, it vas very gut.
I said zu meine zister, I said ‘Is dis vat dey haf you eatink all ze time?,’ because you know, ve Chermans are very picky about vat ve eat, you know? But Herr Vanderbilt, he made sure to haf gut Cherman beer for us, zo dat made all de differenz, you know? Die Amerikanische beer ist zimply dretful. Don’t you tink so, Johann?” Thora asked Artie.
“Zimply appalling, Trudi. Ve mean not zu inzult you, Herrn. But—“
“Alright, alright, I guess we had the wrong guy. G’night, folks.”
“Guten Abend,” Artie and Thora cried in unison, as they crossed the street again.
“My, you’re full of surprises, Thora,” Artie said warmly.
Thora smiled in response.
“And here’s another surprise: it’s beginning to snow,” he said, as he watched snowflakes fly past the streetlamps.
“Oh, no! We’ve got to find a cab!”
“You don’t like snow?”
“I love snow, Artemus, but this cloak is borrowed and if it gets wet and damaged, I’m doomed.”
“Let’s make a run for it, then.”
“I... I can’t. I… get winded a little too easily.”
Artie read her embarrassed expression.
“So, if the cloak gets wet what horrors await you, Thora?”
“The unbridled ire of one very, very spoiled young lady. I’m sure what her parents paid for it greatly exceeds what most people earn in a month.”
“You couldn’t come up with a colorful excuse? Something about being kidnapped by Barbary pirates who sailed up the Potomac looking especially for you? And how you only managed to escape by jumping off the bow end just before they set out for open sea?”
Thora laughed. “I could, but the staff is expected to instill in our pupils the virtue of honesty. I’d make a rather poor example.”
The heavy, wet snow began to come down harder.
“If we don’t find a cab soon, and have to walk, my plans for the rest of the evening are shot,” Artie said irritatedly.
“What did you have planned, Artemus?”
“Well, I had the idea to go from saloon to saloon, and drunkenly complain about Jim.”
“Oh.” Why did I go to all this trouble? I was invited only to be a prop for his performance at the restaurant.
“If you can’t run, Thora, I could carry you.” I really gotta get to work.
“You could also trip on the wet sidewalk and drop me. You don’t have to show me your car; I wouldn’t dream of wasting your time,” she said with mock sweetness.
Both were silent for some minutes.
Then the thought came to him. If it weren’t for her, Jim would be long gone.
“Thora, I’m sorry –“
“Please, don’t apologize, Artemus. I need to get where I’m going as well. If you can just point me in the direction of the train station – I need to buy a ticket for the first train back to Annapolis. I’ve been thinking today that Washington doesn’t really suit me.” I’m so glad it’s snowing. My tears will just look like melting snowflakes.
“Thora, you didn’t let me finish. I’m awfully selfish sometimes and, when I think about you and what you did for me and Jim, I realize I’m not only selfish, I’m also ungrateful.”
“All I did was give you a book I might as well have tossed in the rubbish heap. There’s no heroism in that.”
She got all dressed up for this evening, obviously hoping that you’d want to spend some time with her independent of your little performance. You’ve hurt her feelings badly. Try apologizing for THAT. The voice of his conscience, or maybe it was Anna setting him straight. It wouldn’t be the first time.
“Thora, not only am I selfish and ungrateful, I’m also blind and stupid. I’ve been blessed with the company of a lovely lady for the evening, and all I’m thinking about is work that I can reschedule for tomorrow, or the next day, or even the day after that. I hope you’ll forgive me, and stay in town for at least a few more days. If not, then at least take me up on my earlier offer to see the car.”
“Thank you, I’d love to see it. Again,” she smiled.
Now that there was no urgency beyond maintaining Thora’s borrowed finery, Artie was able to relax and enjoy the walk.
“It’s Christmas next week – were you going to spend that in Washington as well?”
“Oh, you have family here? Or friends?”
“Neither. I know I sound like a heathen, but I loathe Christmas. That’s part of the reason I’m here – just to avoid it.”
“Oh, I see.”
“Artemus, look – up ahead – is that a cab?”
“Hmm, might be. I’ll run up and look.”
Thora walked as quickly as she could, but he was soon well ahead of her. He summoned the driver, and the carriage stopped. He then turned to Thora.
“Thora, it’s a cab! Your cloak is saved!”
Suddenly a voice issued from inside the carriage. “It’s one of them – let’s go!”
The driver turned the cab around, and sped in the opposite direction.
Artie raced behind it, but it was too fast and, due to the heavy snow, was soon out of sight.
A few minutes later, Thora reached his side.
“Artemus, what happened?”
“I wish I knew.”
* * *
Over an hour later, having not found a cab, Artie and Thora finally entered the car, wet and bedraggled.
“Have a seat, Thora, I’ll be right back.”
Thora was reluctant to sit on the fine upholstery. The cloak was soaked through, her dress was damp, her dainty boots damaged beyond repair, and her previously exquisite coiffure hung limply over her shoulders and down her back.
Artie returned holding up a blanket. “Not exactly a gown from the House of Worth,” he apologized. “Would you like to try it on?”
“Yes, please,” she replied as she took it. “I must look like the Wreck of the Hesperus.”
“Not at all. Just a beautifully dressed lady caught unawares by the weather.”
“And dripping on your Aubusson carpet.”
“Thora, if I remember correctly, the manufacturer states that a regular application of rainwater or melting snow is essential for maintaining the condition of the carpet. You’re doing us a wonderful favor, you know.”
“Oh, I’m so relieved,” she smiled. How could someone so handsome and charming be unattached?
“Would you like to take the grand tour, or would you rather have a hot toddy first?”
“The tour first, Artemus. When I was here before, I was too afraid to pay attention my surroundings.”
“Can you wait just a minute? – I want to change clothes.”
A few minutes later he issued from his room in grey trousers and a bottle green smoking jacket.
Thora’s mouth nearly dropped open. As handsome as he was in his evening clothes, he looked even more marvelous now.
“Are you alright?” he asked. What an odd expression on her face.
“Ah, yes, I’m fine. Of course I’m fine. Yes, very... uh, fine. Shall we take the tour?”
Why so nervous? Artie wondered as he commenced by showing her the parlor and its specific little points of interest, like Henrietta’s cage and the telegraph set-up. From there they moved to the tiny kitchen, and beyond to Artie’s lab.
“Horses on the other side of this wall, if you’re interested.”
“They’re not sleeping?”
“Umm, maybe they are. Well, one’s mostly black, the other’s mostly brown. Both are very fine. Now back this way,” he beckoned her in the direction of the parlor, and stopped in front of two doors on the opposite side of the wall to the kitchen.
“On the right is Jim’s room, and this one’s mine,” he said, flinging the door open.
Oh, my, alone in a man’s room!
It was very tight quarters, but managed to hold a bed, chest of drawers, and a very large armoire. Atop the chest of drawers were a number of framed photographs of Artemus with a very attractive dark-haired woman, and a few of the woman alone.
So he is attached. “She’s beautiful, Artemus. Who is she? Your fiancée?”
“No, Thora, she… she was a very dear friend, ” he replied, picking up a frame and studying the image as if he’d never seen it before.
Judging from his expression, the lady in the photographs was far more than just a dear friend.
“It’s very difficult, isn’t it?” Thora asked quietly. “When you find the one you think you’re meant to be with, and then suddenly disease or accident takes your darling away.”
Artie’s glance turned from the photograph to Thora. He nodded sadly. “Yes, very difficult. Have you…?”
“Yes, Artemus. He enlisted the spring of ’63, and assured me in letter after letter that he’d have the South licked any day, and be home in time for Christmas. He was right about coming back for Christmas,” she sighed. “But it was in a pine box.”
“Oh, Thora, I’m so sorry.”
After a few uncomfortable moments of silence, Thora attempted a smile. “A hot toddy now?”
* * *
Jim moved quickly through the snowstorm. So he and Artie would stage a few more public fights, and that, Artie was certain, would somehow attract Loveless, who was said to have been seen all up and down the coast, from Boston down to Baltimore, with at least four reported sightings in Philadelphia, which suggested to some that he had plans for the Centennial celebration, still three years away.
But Loveless isn’t the type to wait three years for anything, and I doubt he’s ever once been on this side of the Mississippi. Maybe those sightings were imagined?
* * *
“I’ve been waiting to ask – why exactly are you and Mr. West undertaking these public rows? Has it something to do with your job, or is it just a new hobby that hasn’t yet caught on?” Thora wore a quizzical expression.
Artie burst out laughing. “No, not a hobby.” He laughed again. “No, the idea is to attract Dr. Miguelito Loveless, whom reliable witnesses claim to have seen all over the East Coast. I’m wagering he’ll soon be in Washington, if he’s not here already. The idea of my attacking Jim in public over and over is to give him the idea that I may be of use to him. To Loveless, I mean.”
“And if Dr. Loveless gets that idea, what then?”
“What then? Then I’ll pretend to ally myself with him against Jim. Loveless is completely obsessed with Jim for some reason. And somehow I’ll figure out what he’s working on at the moment, and, hopefully, finally figure out a way to keep him penned up. The government, mainly in the form of Jim and myself, has been chasing him for far too long. Just when we think we have him, he slips through our hands again.”
“Why has the government been chasing him? One would expect a doctor to be quite harmless.”
“Oh, Thora, if I recounted all his shenanigans over the years, I wouldn’t be finished ‘til New Year’s. He’s a megalomaniac. At first, he was shaking things up because he claimed to have inherited the whole of California. From there he concocted a potion intended to kill the entire U. S. population, which he used on Jim. Made him insane to the point that he thought he’d shot and killed me. He’s also engaged in a number of slightly less imaginative plots: riling up Indian tribes, large scale bank robbery. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera.
“Sounds like a very brilliant man. But why so destructive? Just because he doesn’t own California? A man with a brain like that could at least become hugely influential.”
“Well, he – it’s sad, really -- he’s a dwarf, not quite four feet tall, very fragile-looking. He’s extremely bitter, which I’m not sure I blame him for. And I’m guessing that he doesn’t expect to live very long. His physical limitations, I think, explain everything.
“Interesting. You’ll be very, very careful, I hope.”
“I always am,” Artie smiled.
* * *
“I don’t care,” Loveless said wearily. “I simply don’t care. I am willing to invest the time and energy to see that the West is out of the way. Yes, the Exhibition is three years away, but it’s already in the works. I’d like to focus my energies completely without being concerned that either one of them will prove to be a fly in my ointment.”
“But, Miguelito, if it gets back to them that you’re in the area –“ Antoinette protested.
“Why do you think we’ve come out here? So that they will turn their attention to me, if they’ve not done so already. That is my intention.”
“I don’t like it here,” she pouted. “Boston, New York, Philadelphia – I didn’t like any of them, but this is so much worse. The dampness, I loathe it.” She drew her shawl tighter around her shoulders and moved her chair closer to the fire.
“Would you like me to put you on a train back to California?”
“Of course not, Miguelito.”
“Then stop complaining!” he spat. “Do you think I like it? My every joint aches. All night I toss and turn. But we have no choice; once our work here is done, we return to Philadelphia.”
“For how long?” she whined. “Miguelito, why waste all this time on Mr. West? I don’t see the point –“
“You don’t see?? It is not your job to see!”
“But Miguelito, I’m afraid for you. In California, there are so many places to hide. Here, why, there must be ten thousand people just within a mile of us. Sometimes the streets are so crowded, I can scarcely breathe.”
‘Here’ was a very run-down mansion in a part of Washington that had seen better days.
“With so many people around, we can move about more or less unnoticed. Antoinette, dear, forgive me for my rash temper. It’s difficult for me to admit this, but I’ve finally realized my mistake. Or mistakes.”
“Miguelito, I can’t imagine you’ve ever make a mistake,” Antoinette said as she patted his hand.
“Oh, but I have, my dear. I have never once devoted myself solely to capturing and killing Mr. West. It was always as part of another project, or was done so elaborately that I ended up sabotaging myself. This time I’ll simply seize him, and shoot him right then and there. Until he’s found, the crew and I will be working on nothing else.
The crew was comprised of eight day laborers, whom he had provided with photographs of both West and Gordon. Their job was to wander the streets in twos, and determine to the best of their ability whether either West, Gordon, or both were in the capital. Four were on a day shift from seven in the morning until seven in the evening. The other four took over then, and worked for the following twelve hours. Some days they were on foot, others Loveless permitted them to use a hansom cab he’d purchased in New York and adapted for his own use by blocking the windows.
In the middle of Antoinette’s complaints, one of them flew into the room.
“Boss, we seen one of ‘em! We seen Gordon!”
“You saw him, and…?”
“Is he still out in the carriage?”
“No, why would he be? Anyway, he was with some lady. I thought –“
“You thought what??!! I don’t care if he was with half of Congress, you should have grabbed him,” Loveless said with disgust. “Did he have any idea that you were something other than an ordinary cab driver?”
“Um… no, I don’t think so.”
“You don’t think so, huh?” Loveless began to pace in circles around the man. “You know, Reilly, I’m not a very patient or forgiving person. You know that, don’t you?”
“YOU KNOW THAT, DON’T YOU?” he screamed.
“Miguelito, stop it! At least he confirmed that Mr. Gordon is in Washington.”
Loveless huffed and stamped his foot. “Antoinette, don’t make excuses.“
Antoinette went and stood between him and Mr. Reilly.
“Miguelito, I’ll not have you browbeat him. All you did was send him and the others out and tell them to look for Mr. West and Mr. Gordon. Never did you tell them to seize either one of them.”
Loveless stomped around the room and tried to contain his anger. Although he was occasionally willing to admit mistakes, he always took having his mistakes pointed out to him less than graciously.
“No, you didn’t.”
“Well, it should have been understood that they were to be seized! Why send out a carriage otherwise?!”
“Mr. Reilly, you can go now,” Antoinette said calmly.
Pat Reilly tipped his hat to her and exited the room.
“He can go?! Who is the boss here, you or I?” Loveless screamed again.
“I am, for the moment, Miguelito,” Antoinette said defiantly. “If you insist on behaving like a child, we’ll never achieve the goal. And if I’m going to suffer from living in this awful place with you, I’m going to see to it that the job gets done efficiently, so that we can move onto the next chapter, finish that, and return to California.”
Loveless stared at her, his mouth agape, stunned.
* * *
“By the way, that was awfully clever – the idea you had to pretend we were a German couple out for a stroll.”
“Ah, well, I’m a frustrated actress.”
“You are?” Artie asked with surprise.
“Oh, yes. It’s a long story, but suffice it to say that when I announced to my parents that I would like to go on the stage, you’d have thought I’d told them I wanted to move to Turkey and live in a seraglio.”
“Thora, you didn’t mention that when I told you about my career. You should have said something.”
“What was there to say, Artemus? The closest I’ve come is teaching English drama and elecution, and directing our autumn and spring plays.”
“Well, I think you gave a very fine performance this evening.”
“Thank you very much,” Thora replied, blushing.
“Do you know any other languages in addition to German?”
“Do I! My father was a Renaissance man of sorts, and it was his intention that his children be as well. Sadly for him, I was the only one to survive past age five, and so I was to be the repository of all his knowledge. He had me learn German, French, Dutch, Spanish, Italian, Swedish, Russian, Arabic, and ancient Greek, Latin, and Hebrew. Oh, and Mandarin Chinese, as well.”
Artie smiled broadly. “My father was the same way. Actually, he did it in memory of my mother, who died shortly after I was born. She spoke three or four languages, and Pop thought it was a good idea for his son to know another eight or nine.”
“You father was an academic?”
“No. First, an actor, then when my mother died, he became an innkeeper. He made a point of hiring foreigners who in their off hours would be willing to teach little Artemus their language. So I know all the ones you know, except for Mandarin. But I do know a little Cantonese.”
Just then, the clock struck midnight.
“Artemus, I must be going. It’ll be very late by the time I find a cab.”
“Let’s just have a look.” Artie got up, and raised one of the curtains to see that the snowstorm was now a blizzard. Coming back to the table, he shook his head. “I’m sorry, Thora. I don’t think you’re going to be able to find a cab – not in this.”
Thora was crestfallen. “I guess I’ll walk, then,” she said in a very small voice.
“You could stay the night. In fact, I’d prefer it. You might get lost, and it’s coming down so hard, I’d be surprised if you didn’t. How far is the place where you’re staying?”
“Oh, ah, not far, maybe only about three or four miles.”
“Three or four miles?? Thora, you’ll catch your death!”
If I stay here overnight, and news of it gets back to the staff at the academy, I’ll catch much worse than that.
“I… ah… well, um...” She tried desperately to come up with a solution that would spare her reputation. There was a hotel close to the station, but it was very expensive and, in any case, all her money was in a safe at the guest house.
“Thora, I promise your virtue won’t be compromised. You can stay in my room and lock the door.”
“Oh, ah...” And sleep in this wet dress, or in my altogether?
Almost as if he read her mind, Artie said, smiling, “You’re welcome to borrow one of my nightshirts. I’m sorry, but we don’t stock much in the way of ladies clothing here.”
Thora returned his smile. If only I didn’t have a reputation to protect, I’d consider leaving the door unlocked!
“Another hot toddy?”
“That would be nice, thank you, Artemus.”
* * *
Jim amused himself by throwing snowballs at buildings as he walked by. He tried to keep his mind on the plan, but it bothered him that he’d be idle until Artie managed to get into Loveless’s good graces. The reports related to Joash Curlin had all been thoroughly researched and filed. Frank had gone out to Kansas to try to locate some of Curlin’s apprentices and interview them. Jim had offered to accompany him, but Richmond insisted he remain in Washington until Loveless’s latest project was discerned.
Jim was not the type of person to sit by the fire and read, and the thought of trying to fill his days was not a pleasant one. He was expected to be ready for action when the time came. And when the time was coming, no one quite knew.
* * *
“Thora, you look like you want to ask something.”
“Yes. Tomorrow – how early can I leave?”
“How early? As early as you like.”
“Do you know how early the cabs start running? And if they do run with so much snow on the ground? I’m asking because I really can’t appear in public in this dress in its current condition.”
“Hmm, let me think. I guess it depends on how high the snow gets. If it were to stop right now, I think they’d be out maybe a little later than the usual time – ten or eleven in the morning. Or, you could try to get a ride from a tradesman. Or if the arcade in the station is open tomorrow, you could just buy another dress.”
“I could, but I left my funds back at the guest house,” she said with frustration.
“Let’s just see how it goes. If worse comes to worst, I can take you back on my horse.”
“Oh, my… you’d do that?”
“Sure. Why wouldn’t I?”
“That’s very kind of you,” she said, rising. “I think I’d like to retire now.”
“As you wish, madam.”
He opened his dresser drawer and handed her a nightshirt, a slight smile playing around his lips.
“I’ll bet you didn’t think the evening would end like this, did you?”
“Hardly. But at least I’ll have a story with which to shock my co-workers,” Thora laughed.
“Good night, Thora. Sleep well,” he said, as he backed out.
“Good night, Artemus.”
As the door closed behind him, he was struck with the similarities this evening had with the first day he’d met Anna. She’d worn a dress the same color as Thora’s, and she had slept in his room that night, while he took the settee. Curious. Artie shook his head as he went to the linen closet to get a blanket and pillow.
He had nearly finished putting together his makeshift bed when Jim entered.
“Artie, what’s that you’re doing?”
“Thora’s taking my room.”
“I see,” Jim said gravely, while merriment danced in his eyes.
“It’s because of the snow. We couldn’t get a cab and where she’s staying is about three miles away.”
“Of course, the snow.”
“Uh huh. She must really be stuck on you; she gave me the high hat.”
“Gave you the high hat? What do you mean?”
Jim cocked his head and raised his eyebrows. That said everything.
“Jim, you have no idea when to quit, do you?”
Jim sat across from him, his expression serious. “She’s awfully appealing, Artie. You don’t think there’s a possibility there for you?”
“Haven’t really thought about it.”
“You haven’t?? And yet you claim your vision’s back? Didn’t you see how she looked tonight?”
“Yes, she looked very pretty.”
Jim shook his head. “I don’t know about you any more, You might want to go back to that oculist.”
“Ha ha ha. Keep it up, and I might join Loveless of my own free will.”
“Alright Artie, I’ll behave. G’night.”
Although the settee was not very comfortable, Artie fell asleep quickly.
* * *
He was walking along a dirt road in springtime. The sky was a remarkable shade of blue, with bands of pink and yellow in the distance. The air smelt of flowers. Birds could be heard singing.
At a distance he saw a young man walking toward him in a blue army uniform. He had a tidy mustache, thin wheat-colored hair covered his forehead. As the man came closer, Artie noticed something about the man’s manner suggested that he knew him.
“You’ll be good to her, won’t you?”
Artie was too puzzled to answer.
“Mr. Gordon, you will be good to her?”
“I don’t know who you’re referring to.”
The young man smiled easily. “She’s much taken with you. Funny, isn’t it? I’m waiting patiently, and I know your gal is here waiting as well. But Thora’s with you on the other side.”
The man indicated a river just a few yards away that Artie hadn’t noticed.
“You will be good to her, won’t you?” he repeated.
“Yes, of course.”
The soldier shook Artie’s hand heartily, then turned and walked in the direction he had come from.
Artie woke shivering. The fire in the grate had gone out. He rolled off the settee, and went to stoke the coals.
That was some dream.
Then he remembered a dream or a… well, it couldn’t have been considered a vision, he was still blind when it happened. Anna telling him that Thora would be a wonderful addition his life, the implication being not just as a casual acquaintance.
Jim – and everyone else – was probably right. He oughta get on with his life and rekindle his interest in women.
He went back to the settee and fell asleep again.
He awoke just after sunrise to the smell of coffee brewing. He peeked over the back of the settee to see Thora in his dressing gown, bustling about the little kitchen.
“That looks far better on you than it does on me,” he smiled.
“Oh, ah… you don’t mind, do you?
“Not at all.”
Using his blanket to cover his nightshirt, he rose and said “I’m going to dress, and then I’ll set the table and wake Jim.” As he walked behind her, he became aware of her scent. He couldn’t quite place it – there was a hint of vanilla and something else, maybe bergamot. Whatever it was, it was delicious. He took a deep breath.
Thora turned around. “Something wrong?”
“No, no... that coffee sure smells good.”
Twenty minutes later a breakfast of eggs and potato pancakes was out on the table.
“These take awhile to make, Thora. What time did you get up?” Jim asked, just before reaching for his third one.
“Around four. I don’t sleep well if I’m not in my own room. If there had been more in the pantry here, I might have cooked all night.”
“Artie, how come you never make these? That fancy stuff you like – I’m getting tired of it.”
“Maybe Thora will show me how to make them.”
“I’d be happy to, Artemus. It actually less cooking and more grating. Once everything’s grated, you’re ten minutes away from being through. Do you cook at all, Jim?”
“Let me answer that,” Artie said. “No. He does not cook. He can, however, burn and over-salt a steak in a manner that defies belief.”
Thora laughed. “Is that true, Jim?”
“I like my steak well-done, and well-seasoned.”
“So you do cook.”
Artie grumbled. “If you can call it that.”
“I don’t know if either of you have looked out the window yet, but it’s still snowing,” she observed.
“So I guess there won’t be many cabs out at all today. Whaddya say I just take you over on my horse?”
“Will your horse be able to make it through, Artemus?”
“I think so. Where are you staying exactly?”
“In a little place in Deanwood. A friend told me it was very nice, and it is, or at least the guest house is. There are two saloons on the block, and another on the next. When I first came I saw people passed out right on the sidewalk beside the doorways!”
When breakfast was over, she slipped back into Artie’s room, and dressed again in her ruined clothes.
To Artie’s eyes, she didn’t look bad at all. It was a good color for her and the cut made the best of her slight figure.
“Madam, shall we go?” he asked, offering her his arm.
“Artemus, do you think we could walk to the arcade and see if any shops are open? I – I just can’t bear being seen in this.”
“Thora, I am not lying when I say you look very charming. Sort of like a character from literature.”
“That’s very sweet, Artemus. But I’m sure the people on the street probably won’t agree.”
“Aw, what do you care what they think?”
“Well, it’s also still a little damp,” she grimaced. “ With the temperature out there today, it might end up freezing on me.”
“Ohhh, in that case, we do have to get something for you.”
“I’ll make certain to pay you back right away.”
“Think nothing of it, Thora. It’s been a long time since a lady has even permitted me to shop with her.”
“I have a history of falling asleep on those benches they set out for the men.”
“Oh, my,” she giggled. “Don’t worry, I’m very quick. As soon as I find something that fits, I’ll be out the door.”
“Why aren’t there more women like you?” he moaned comically. “Once, years ago, a lady friend wanted me to accompany her on a trip to buy shoes for an upcoming ball. We set foot on the high street at about ten in the morning, and we weren’t through until three in the afternoon. She tried on 36 pairs of shoes – I counted.”
“Did she have a hard to fit size?”
Artie rolled his eyes, “You’re not going to defend her, I hope.”
“No,” she laughed, “I just can’t fathom how exhausting it must be to try on 36 pairs of shoes. Or even ten. I make nearly all my own clothes, but now and then have to steel myself to shop for shoes. Growing up, my shoes were custom-made, but I think that’s a sinful indulgence.”
Wow, this one’s a keeper.
“Can we leave now, Artemus?” Her dress was very uncomfortable.
“Sure thing, let’s go.”
They found that all the shops were closed but one, The Potomac Ladies and Children’s Emporium. And it wasn’t open exactly -- there were no lights lit, and a ‘closed’ sign was on the door, but someone was inside, dusting the shelves.
Artie knocked while Thora silently prayed she could soon get into some dry clothing.
The man inside looked over his shoulder, and called out, “Closed! We’re closed!”
“It’s kind of an emergency. Can we just come in and get a dress?”
“You want a dress, bub?” the man snickered. “This ain’t a costume shop.”
“It’s for me. Please, I won’t trouble you at all. The dress I’m wearing was ruined,” Thora said as she stepped back and held up some of the skirt to show him the fabric.
“Nope. Boss says I’m not to open, I don’t open. Sorry, folks.” With that he returned to dusting.
Artie thought a moment. “Listen, Thora, there’s a shop about a block from here – outside the arcade -- gentlemen’s and ladies' clothing, and that shop’s never not open.”
“Let’s go then.”
That store was also closed. Thora was miserable. Her dress was damp, her feet were wet.
“I’m so sorry to have dragged you here, Thora. Let’s go back and – hey, I think that’s a cab! If it is, do you mind if I accompany you? I’d like to visit those saloons.”
“Of course, Artemus.”
Artie waved and called out.
As he drove on toward the couple, Reilly couldn’t believe his luck.
SS 1st assignment - desk job
Posted - 03/01/2010 : 18:12:08
| Chapter 2
Jim finished washing the breakfast dishes, and now the next several days stretched out in front of him like a blank canvas. Other than going out evenings to fight publicly with Artie, he had nothing, absolutely nothing, with which to busy himself. That was another thing Artie had on him.
Artie could always find something to do, whether it was puttering in his lab, or coming up with new characters and costumes, or devising some new pastime. His latest was a puzzle he called a “word grid.” The idea was to organize words that shared certain letters into a grid form, and then to use written clues to guess at what the words were. Jim thought it was a pointless waste of time, but Artie assured him that it could become very popular, and planned to sell the idea to newspapers.
Looking up at the calendar, Jim noticed there were fewer than two weeks left in 1873.
This was some year. Artie saved my bacon once again, for what we were both sure was the last time. That Magus -- by comparison, Loveless is a rank amateur.
Jim paced the car until his eye fell on one of Artie’s hand-drawn grid puzzles.
Ha, I’ll prove it to him that it’s not going to sell.
He went looking for a pencil, then sat at the table and began to make his case.
* * *
Thora gave the leering cabbie the address. Suddenly the hairs on the back of Artie’s neck stood up. There was something wrong here, but what? The cab was completely ordinary, except for the lack of windows, which was not all that unusual. In the winter, some drivers would nail boards across the window to keep their patrons warm.
Maybe it’s just the weather.
“I’m thinking I could take you around Washington the day before Christmas Eve, but do you have anything planned between now and then?”
“Well, getting to know Washington was not my only goal of this trip. I wanted to be alone to think. That and... ah... And I’m thinking of leaving the Abbott School.”
“You are? How long have you been there?”
“Too long. My background is what got me the position. ‘Hire a society girl to teach society girls’ is the headmistress’s unwritten code. It’s a delight to teach the lower grades, but once the girls reach twelve or so, their mothers begin impressing upon them that education is only worthwhile insofar as it prepares them to make the best possible match. Trying to teach them anything of real value is a losing battle.”
“Couldn’t you just get assigned to teach the younger ones?”
“Those positions are locked up tight. I’m thinking of perhaps going back to Kansas and establishing a little school there. My father’s house hasn’t yet sold, and it’s large enough that it would be ideal for a school.”
“That’s a long way away.”
“I’ve not made a final decision, but I do want to do something else, or at least work somewhere else.”
She’d make a fine actress.
“Why is this taking so long? We should have arrived by now, Thora.”
“Maybe the snow is slowing it down?”
“Even so, it shouldn’t have taken this long.”
“Could the driver be lost?”
“Maybe,” Artie answered. He began to knock on the ceiling. “Driver! Driver, stop. Stop now!”
Instead, the driver brought the horses to a gallop.
* * *
Jim was so engrossed in the puzzle that he ignored the knock at the door. Before he knew it, Richmond was standing over him.
“What are you playing at?”
Jim jumped. “Oh, uh – good morning, Colonel. Sir, how did you get in?”
“Answer my question first.”
“This is just one of Artie’s little amusements – it has nothing to do with work.”
“No? To answer your question, I picked the lock. Now, if you were on your guard, I wouldn’t have had to do that.”
“I’m sorry, sir. Colonel, I’m really at a loss with nothing to do.”
“Throw some more coals on the fire, Jim, and we’ll talk.”
Richmond removed his two-sizes-too-large overcoat, and shook the snow off of it before removing his second coat. A touch of malaria contracted late in the war played havoc with his internal thermometer.
“Out. He had a lady friend take part last evening; he’s running her back to her lodgings. It’s either that or she’s already settled, and he’s in some barroom complaining long and loud about me.”
“Jim, I have to tell you... I was up most of the night last night, after experiencing a very troubling dream.”
Richmond, worried about a dream? “Sir, I beg your pardon, but that doesn’t sound like you.”
Richmond began to pace agitatedly. “Nevertheless... It’s been only a few months since we all thought we were saying goodbye to Artemus for good. I don’t have to tell you how overjoyed all of us where when he regained his eyesight, and came back to work.”
“Where are you going with this, Colonel?”
“Jim, in my entire life – my entire life – I’ve never had such a vivid dream.”
Jim couldn’t remember ever seeing Richmond so upset. No, not upset. Distraught.
“I saw Artemus lying in a casket. Dead.”
“That’s awful, sir.”
“You were dying as well, from a gunshot. You were sitting in a wheelchair before the casket.”
Both men were silent for a long time.
* * *
Artie tried the doors, even though to jump out of the carriage at such a high speed would be extremely dangerous. For himself, he wouldn’t have thought twice, but he couldn’t allow Thora to risk it. He began to kick at the doors as hard as he could, but they refused to budge.
Thora watched calmly, as if this was something she saw someone do every day.
Once he gave up, Artie took her hand. “Thora, I don’t even know how to tell you this, but... I think we’ve been kidnapped by Dr. Loveless.”
Her reply was the very last one he expected.
“Thora, he’s a killer!”
“Artemus, I’ve been dying a slow death for years,” she said earnestly. “A spinster schoolteacher, not in the best of health, and with no prospects of... Well, even an hour of excitement would mean the world to me.”
Artie had no answer for that.
The cab came to a stop.
* * *
Pat Reilly raced to the attic, where his boss was staring at an enormous map of Philadelphia.
“Got ‘im, boss! I got ‘im – whaddya think of that??”
“To whom are you referring?” Loveless replied coolly.
“Gordon! Got him holed up in the carriage. Come and see.”
Just before the door to the carriage opened, Artie reminded Thora that they were to play as if West was the enemy.
“Loveless! How are ya, buddy?”
“Buddy?? I am most emphatically not your buddy, Mr. Gordon.”
"Aw, that’s where you’re wrong, Doctor. You and I are gonna render a certain cohort of mine null and void."
"What nonsense is this? Reilly, take him inside. I can’t bear to be up to my knees in snow."
Artie came out of the carriage with Thora on his arm.
“Reilly, who is this woman??”
Reilly shrugged. “She got in the cab first.”
“Then put her back into the cab, drop her off somewhere, and return here post-haste,” Loveless hissed.
“Mr. Loveless, my name is Thora Copley. I’ve so wanted to meet you,” she gushed.
“Well, now you have. Get back into the cab.”
“Please don’t send me away. I, too, would like to see Mr. West destroyed.”
“You would?” For the first time, Loveless really saw her.
“Yes. Please don’t ask me why,” she said with downcast eyes.
“Hmmm, you were seduced and abandoned, is that it?”
Instantly, Thora broke into tears.
Artie’s mouth nearly dropped open. Was she acting? I sure hope she is. If she isn’t, Jim’s gonna get his ass kicked.
“Let’s go in... standing in snow… ridiculous…” Loveless grumbled as he led the trio into the house.
Thora continued to weep into a handkerchief Artie had given her. In between sobs, she glanced up and winked at him.
* * *
”Take a seat, Mr. Gordon; you too, Miss. What did you say your name was?”
“Alright, then, have a seat, Miss Copley.”
“Thank you so much, Mr. Loveless,” she beamed.
“It’s Dr. Loveless, my dear.”
“Oh, I’m sorry. Please forgive me.”
“Nothing to forgive, my dear,” Loveless smiled. He’d never had a woman look at him quite the way this Miss Copley was doing. Not even Antoinette. Especially not Antoinette. She sings sweetly and is a fine accompanist, but lately she has been forgetting her place!
“Doctor, may I sit a little closer to the fire? My clothes were ruined in the storm, and they’re not quite dry yet.”
“Of course, dear. And what were you doing out in the snowstorm, may I ask?”
“Mr. West, he... he threw me out a few days ago. I pleaded and pleaded, but…” She began to cry again.
“And how did you end up in a cab with Mr. Gordon?”
“It was rather an accident. He met me the same evening I met Mr. West. Oh, how I curse that night! And all these months later, Mr. Gordon found me wandering about this morning, and when I poured out my heart to him, he insisted on taking me home.”
“And where is that, my dear?”
“A room in a boarding house that... that Mr, West had rented for me, while I was his... his...” Once more, she began to sob.
“Loveless, leave Thora alone. Why don’t you and I have a talk? I’d like to explain to you --“
“Tut tut, Mr. Gordon. I will soon speak with you. Thora, dear, I think you may borrow some dry clothing from my friend Antoinette. Yes, let me go see.” Loveless rose and exited the room.
Artie was stunned. Happy, but stunned. Amazing how this woman was about to wrap Loveless around her little finger.
Thora looked at him, her eyes asking for approval. “Artemus, was that alright? I didn’t mean to take over.”
“Thora, if we only had a woman like you working with us all this time!” She has amazing instincts – what a loss to the theatre that this woman had never appeared onstage.
Loveless lumbered back into the room, followed by a tight-lipped Antoinette.
“Dear, this is Antoinette.”
Thora rose and eagerly held out her hand. “My name is Thora Copley. How very nice to meet you, Antoinette.”
“My pleasure,” she replied coldly.
“Antoinette, take her back to your room, and find something dry for her to wear.”
“Miguelito, nothing of mine will fit her – she’s taller than I am.”
“Oh, so we’ll see a bit of ankle. There’s no harm in that, is there?” Loveless answered gaily. “Off you go – and see if she can fit into those new boots I purchased you in Boston.”
Artie had never seen Antoinette as angry as she was at that moment.
Loveless now turned his attention to him.
“You know, Mr. Gordon, I’m wondering why it took you so long to turn your back on Mr. West.”
“I was always the good soldier, Loveless. Expected to understand that West is the Service’s fair-haired boy, and I merely a poor second, my only responsibility being to serve as his back-up for whatever trouble he brings down on himself. The turning point came this past summer. I spent some time in a hospital, and it gave me time to think. Is West as intelligent as I am? Does he work as hard as I do? Is he as serious about his responsibilities, about this sworn duty to project the nation as I was? No, no and no.
His greatest interest in life – I think his only interest – is chasing women. Fortunately for him, his high position in the Secret Service allows him to chase them everywhere, without regard to their feelings, or even to the demands of common decency. And he can hide behind the fact that he does occupy a high position.
During my time in the hospital, I determined that if the Almighty gave me the strength and the opportunity, I would bring West down. And that is why I am here.”
“Why you’re here?? You’re here, Mr. Gordon, because I sent people to go looking for you. And Mr. West, although he has not yet turned up.”
“And I made a point of making my whereabouts known, Loveless.”
Thora and Antoinette re-entered, Thora in a dress that didn’t quite fit, and showed nearly all of Antoinette’s new boots.
“Charming! Charming! A tuck here and a little more fabric there, but overall the picture is quite charming, Miss Copley.”
Loveless behaved as if Antoinette was not in the room.
“Thank you, Doctor. I’m still awfully cold,” she shivered.
“Call me Miguelito, dear. Have you had anything to eat yet today?”
“Yes, Mr. Gordon got me some food this morning.”
“But not enough, I’m sure. How thin you are. Come with me, I’ll make you something myself.”
“Doctor–“ Artie started.
“Mr. Gordon, we’ll speak again later. Make yourself at home while I minister to Miss Copley. Antoinette, why don’t you go see if any of the grocers in the neighborhood are open for business. We could use some staples, and see if you could get some cocoa as well. That should put the roses back on Miss Copley’s cheeks.”
Thora looked at Artie, a smile in her eyes, before saying to Loveless, “I’m sure you’ll lose patience with me. I’m an very slow eater.”
“Wonderful! That will give me more time to speak to you. I’d like to learn all about you and, if it’s not too painful, I’d like to know about you and Mr. West.”
As soon as Loveless and Thora exited, Artie headed toward the stairs, intending to search the house from top to bottom, or at least as much of it as time allowed.
Artemus, my boy, before long you’ll present Colonel Richmond with Loveless on a silver platter.
* * *
“When did you last see Mr. West, Miss Copley?”
“A few nights ago. He dragged me from my room – dragged me by my hair! – saying another woman would now occupy it. He had rented the room for me the day after we met. I... I thought it was a kindness. You see, I met them – Mr. West and Mr. Gordon – as I was about to fling myself into the Potomac. I was so very bereft I wanted to die.” She dissolved into tears, then continued. “They pulled me back. Mr. Gordon is so kind, yet I fell prey to Mr. West’s wiles.”
“Bereft? Why, Thora? May I call you Thora?”
“Then tell me, please, Thora, what misfortune led you to the river?”
Her reply could have been written up and sold as a penny dreadful. Tragedies galore, and a vague allusion to white slavery. Loveless, utterly fascinated, hung on every word.
* * *
The house must have been very fine when it was first built, round about 1815 or so, but years of neglect had taken their toll. The draperies were more dust than fabric, the furniture was falling apart, the odor of decay was everywhere. Loveless was a devoted sybarite, so either his fortune was gone or there was a method to this particular manifestation of his madness.
Artie climbed the two and a half flights to the attic. He was astounded to see that the far wall – twelve feet high by about thirty feet wide – was completely covered with a map of Philadelphia, rendered in the most painstaking detail. A map this large probably didn’t even exist in the city itself. The map showed every street, every building, every park, almost down to every blade of grass.
On a wide desk opposite the wall were two sets of smaller maps detailing different sections of the city. ‘B here’ appeared in different spots on the map, written in red pencil. ‘T here’ was written in black.
What did B and T stand for? Artie’s first thought was to destroy the maps; whatever B and T stood for, it couldn’t be anything good. However, it was best to wait until Loveless took him into his confidence. Then he’d be sure to tell Artie everything he wanted to know.
* * *
Jim and Colonel Richmond had recovered themselves sufficiently to began discuss other things, mostly world events. When that topic was exhausted, they spoke of plans for the upcoming Christmas and New Year holidays. It was pointless to talk about Loveless until Artie had news for them.
Finally, the Colonel declared the meeting over, got up and put his coats back on. Before leaving he said, “I insist you stay put until either Artemus returns, or you hear from him some other way. You are not to venture outside otherwise.”
As he closed the door, Jim glanced at the clock on the wall. It was nearly three o’clock, and Artie had not returned. Unworried, he returned to the puzzle.
* * *
The third floor smelled strongly of chemicals, so strongly that after ten minutes of sneaking around, Artie felt a headache coming on. All three doors were locked, as he expected.
He came back to the first floor and settled into his chair as Thora came back into the room alone.
“A gracious good afternoon to you, Thora.”
“And you,” she smiled. “Have you... have you been in that chair all this time?”
“What do you think?” he asked, raising an eyebrow.
“Ah...,” She smiled again. “Miguelito is not sure whether to trust you or not, but I did what I could to assure him you’re his friend. The depth of his hatred for Jim is… I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“Look at Loveless, and then look at Jim. That should explain most, if not everything.”
Thora looked thoughtful for a moment. “Yes, I can see that.”
“What did you and he talk about?”
“Oh, I was just playing on his sympathies, as if I were a character in a Dickens novel. Poor Thora Copley, orphaned as a babe, kidnapped, assaulted, badly used by life in general and Mr. West in particular. And I made a point of how very wonderful Miguelito is for showing me such kindness as to send his lady friend out to get cocoa for me. I suppose you take it from there, with the compliments, and so on.”
“Antoinette did go out?”
“Be careful, Thora. If someone – anyone – stands between him and an objective, he’ll do away with him or her without compunction. Please be very careful. Especially since I’m guessing you’ve found an enemy in Antoinette.”
Loveless and Antoinette entered, Antoinette carrying a porcelain chocolate set on a silver tray.
“Set that down over there, Antoinette, and pour a cup for Miss Copley and one for Mr. Gordon.”
Antoinette complied, but with a withering glance at Loveless and then at Thora.
After taking a few sips from his own cup, Loveless asked, “Mr. Gordon, where is West? Miss Copley didn’t seem to know.”
“In bed with a woman, most likely. I beg your pardon, ladies.”
“Yes, yes, but where?”
“That I can’t tell you, because I honestly don’t know. He’s up in Philadelphia at the moment.”
“Philadelphia? What is he doing there?” Loveless asked suspiciously.
“Aw, c’mon, Loveless. You know, don’t you, that there’s going to be a big celebration there in 1876? Hundredth anniversary of the United States,” Artie yawned.
“When was the last time you saw him?” Loveless pressed.
“When, when… Tuesday! Tuesday around one in the morning, we ran into each other in a saloon on 12th street. He got on the train to Philadelphia about six or seven hours later. At least, I think he did. I didn’t get home until noon.”
“You only think he did? You don’t know for certain??”
Artie could tell Loveless wasn’t sure whether to believe him or not.
“Mr. Gordon, why didn’t you accompany him?”
“Loveless, we’re not joined at the hip. We do work apart now and again. The past few weeks I’ve been reviewing his reports from this year. It has to be done before year’s end.
After that, they’re entered into the archive. They’re a complete shambles, though. He’s very careless with anything having to do with real work. You’d be surprised.”
Loveless’s expression registered boredom. “Nothing about Mr. West surprises me anymore. When is he due back in Washington?”
“What’s today, Saturday? Then he’ll be back some time tomorrow.”
Loveless’s face lit up.
“Wonderful, wonderful! What a Christmas gift! James West, dead finally. Cold and dead,” he screamed delightedly. “You, Mr. Gordon, my gift to you will be my permission for you to do the deed.”
“Why, thank you, doctor. That’s far more than I could have hoped,” Artie said, forcing a grin.
“I think it would be easier if I did it, Miguelito,” Thora said harshly. “And I would prefer to do it, since I’m now fairly certain that I’m to bear his bastard child.”
SS 1st assignment - desk job
Posted - 03/01/2010 : 18:30:39
| Chapter 3
Loveless was briefly shocked. But only briefly. She can’t have been the first woman to bear one of West’s brats, not with the reputation he has. They were probably strewn all about country - boys, girls, all with his damnable arrogance.
Now she would have to be killed, too. The last thing the world needed was another of James West’s demon spawn. A shame that – she’d have made a fine replacement for Antoinette, whose charm had waned beyond what he was able to forgive.
Artie was even more shocked. What was she hoping to spare him by taking on the job herself?
“How is it to be done, Miguelito?”
“A gun – that’s the easiest and quickest, my dear. Have you ever used a gun?”
“So, Mr. Gordon, he arrives tomorrow. How shall we get in touch with him?”
“We could... I mean, I could telegraph him to meet Thora and myself somewhere.”
“But surely he would suspect your motives, wouldn’t he? He’s not that stupid, Gordon.”
“Then you tell me. You’re so much more intelligent,” Artie deadpanned.
“What if Miss Copley sent a message to him with her – her good news? Would you be willing, Thora, to meet him somewhere and...?” If she says yes, and she’s caught, the State will do away with her on their own.
“Yes, I would,” she said quickly. “Miguelito, have you any tinned beets in the larder?”
“Tinned beets? I doubt it. Why?”
“Oh, I’ve this awful craving for beets. I feel as if I could eat a dozen cans worth.”
“Antoinette, back to the grocer for tinned beets. Buy as many as you can carry back for Miss Copley.” Loveless reached into his pocket and tossed her a dollar coin.
Thora excused herself, saying she was very tired, but before she went upstairs, she asked timidly if the beets, a opener, a bowl and spoon be brought to her room.
After she left, Loveless offered Artie a drink.
“Bourbon, whiskey, or gin, Mr. Gordon?”
“So, by this time next week, Mr. West will have been gathered unto his people, as the good book says. Are you disappointed that your finger won’t be the one to pull the trigger?”
“As long as it gets done? Not at all. I’m eager to put that chapter behind me and move on.”
“Good, good. ‘Never look back’ – that’s the creed I live by. Especially since I’ve had so many of my projects sabotaged and my dreams turned to dust,” Loveless said with bitterness.
“Can’t blame me, Miguelito, old boy. I had to go by what was in my job description. Blame the U. S. government.”
“Oh, I do, I do,” he smirked. “And in, say, three years or so, they’re going to pay.”
“Don’t keep me in suspense, what’s the plan?”
“Come with me.”
In the attic room, he climbed up on a box, and lit the gas jet. Then he proudly indicated the map on the wall.
“Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, they call it. ‘Cradle of Liberty’ and all that nonsense. The site of the upcoming Centennial celebration, which will play host to representatives of all the European nations, and a good many of those on this continent.”
“Are you going to send a representative as well? I mean, since you own California?” Artie asked innocently.
“No. I shall attend in a less official capacity. See here – come.” Loveless directed him to the maps on the desk. “Now wouldn’t it be dreadful if the many attendees became ill with typhoid?”
“And if there were no one to help, since large swaths of the city will have been reduced to rubble?”
“Because that is what is going to happen. You see in these areas in red? B for ‘biological weapon,” a water-borne strain of typhoid, extremely strong and almost guaranteed to kill within twelve to fourteen hours.. These are areas close to water sources - creeks, and so forth. The areas in black – T for trinitrotoluene, an explosive developed a decade ago in Germany. ‘TNT’ I believe is the term you’re familiar with.”
“Yes. But TNT is difficult to detonate – I don’t see it having an application for your purposes, Doctor.”
“I have developed a detonator. I admit, I’ve tested it only a few times, but it did work admirably well. Now, in the unlikely event that it doesn’t perform as expected, TNT does make a very effective poison. Here is the gift I bring to the party: all the representatives will die, either from typhoid, bombs, or TNT poisoning. Of course, the U. S. government will take the blame for having invited representatives of all the great nations, and killing them. And what do you think will be the result of that, Mr. Gordon?”
“The U.S. Government’s name would be mud.”
“Exactly! And it shouldn’t be too hard to imagine that the nations whose representatives have heroically died might give serious consideration to paying the U. S. back in full, eh? War with most of the nations of Europe, war with Canada, with Mexico and parts south, with Japan and its neighbors. Something akin to Armageddon on this soil, I believe.”
“And how are you and I supposed to escape the awful day of judgment, Loveless?”
“Switzerland’s a lovely country. Ever been there?”
* * *
Artoinette rapped on the door of Thora’s room. The door flew open to show Thora in one of Antoinette’s nightgowns, Antoinette’s wrapper, Antoinette’s slippers.”
“Thank you so very much, Antoinette. Would you like to come in? It’s so nice and warm in here.”
Antoinette was touched by Thora’s innocent smile. She had no friends at all, only Loveless. If Thora was telling the truth about Mr. West, then she was as much a victim as Antoinette herself. Loveless had once promised her that if she ever tried to leave him, he would kill her.
“Thank you.” Antoinette took the hard chair by the fire. “So, you were involved with Mr. West, Thora?”
“Yes,” she replied, looking away.
“And now you’re to have his child.”
“I think so, yes.”
“And you’re hoping maybe Mr. Gordon might make you an honest woman?”
“Oh, I haven’t even thought about that.”
“I see how you look at him, Thora.”
“Well, he’s very kind, and I suppose... Oh, it’s ridiculous. He wouldn’t, and I daren’t ask even if I thought he would.”
“Aren’t you going to touch your beets?”
“No, I feel a little ill at the moment. Maybe later. Antoinette, may I ask – are you and Dr. Loveless, ah, are you and he...?”
“Yes. And no.” Antoinette moved closer to the fire. “This house, it’s always so cold. I hate it. I hate... I hate him sometimes, Thora. He’s a very sick individual, up here,” she said, tapping her head.
"I was a street singer in San Francisco, and once a friend told me of a wealthy man who’d been very taken with my voice, would I go to meet him... Thinking I was going to meet a handsome millionaire, I was brought into a cabin in the hills – a one room wooden cabin – to meet Miguelito. I thought it was a joke! Expecting to meet a rich man in his mansion, I met a dwarf in a hovel. I laughed and laughed, until he pulled a gun on me. And since then I’ve been more or less his... well, his everything.”
“A beautiful singer like yourself... why, you could write your own ticket just about anywhere, Antoinette.”
Tears came to Antoinette’s eyes. It had been years since someone had spoken to her so kindly.
“It’s too late.”
“It isn’t ever too late, Antoinette. As long as you’ve breath in your body, it’s not too late.” Thora was about to say that she could help her, but something stopped her. You’re not here for that.
“It is, Thora. As long as there’s breath in Miguelito’s body, I’m trapped.”
* * *
The clock on the mantel struck ten. Jim looked up from the puzzle. Ten o’clock and Artie still not back?
Well, by not coming back within the time expected – couldn’t that be considered Artemus somehow communicating?
Jim put on his gun belt and a heavy overcoat, and went out. There was still nearly a foot of snow on the ground. No one was on the street.
The saloons must be open, though.
For the next four hours, Jim went from saloon to saloon. Artie was in none of them, and no one meeting his description had been seen all day.
It was pointless to search any more that night. If Artie did not return, Jim would try again on Sunday afternoon. It wasn’t unusual for Artie to stagger in during the early hours of the morning when work took place in saloons. As he walked back to the Wanderer his mind drifted toward the subject of Richmond’s dream.
No, it was just a dream. That’s all.
The following morning, when he once again was at the table with the puzzle, his attention was broken by a urgent knocking. He opened the door to see a man holding a small piece of paper.
“You Mr. James West?”
The man handed over the paper. It read,
'Must see you. Seafarers Lodge on the waterfront. Meet 9:00. Thora.'
“I’ll be there. Where is Thora now?”
“Huh? Look, somebody just gave me a sawbuck and told me to drop this message off at a car meeting this description. I don’t know no Thora, and no Seafarer’s Lodge. I’m just tryin’ to make an honest dollar, buddy.”
“Who gave you the note and the money?”
“Look, pal – I don’t wanna get into no trouble. It wasn’t anybody I know, awright? What he gave me is gonna feed my wife, my kids and me for a month. I didn’t ask no questions.”
“If you see that fella again, you take a good long look at him and where you see him. Then you come back here, and I’ll give you double.”
“Yes, sir!” The man doffed his hat, then left.
Why a message from Thora and none from Artie?
* * *
Loveless entered Thora’s room just as she finished pinning up her hair.
“How are you feeling, my dear? Did you sleep well?”
“Yes, Miguelito. Uh, may I ask – have you any ginger beer? Just a small bottle would do to settle my stomach.”
“You know, I believe I do. Surely that’s not intended to be your breakfast?”
“No. It’s just that – well, I haven’t eaten so much in a long time as what I ate yesterday. I’ve often gone hungry, but when food finally presents itself I can only take a little at first.”
“Just a small bottle? Let me see.”
Thora rose and watched him limp down the hallway. If I don’t watch my step, I could end up like Antoinette.
A short time later she joined Loveless in the kitchen.
“Oh, my dear, I was going to bring a tray up for you. Your ginger beer and some breakfast.”
“Miguelito, I couldn’t be so ungrateful as to have you wait on me. I’ll be happy to eat right here. Is Mr. Gordon going to join us?”
“He’s still sleeping, I believe.”
Artie had awakened hours earlier, and was now pacing his room trying to figure out how to get in touch with Jim. He’d risen in the middle of the night hoping to slip out, but all the doors leading outside were locked, and not in any way he’d ever seen before. There were no keyholes. In addition, when he peeked through the drapes to get an idea of what the street looked liked, he saw that the windows had been bricked up. All the windows, except those at the back of the house on the two lower floors, were bricked up. The only things visible through those windows were the grounds, the carriage house, and a very high stone wall. There was nothing he could see that would indicate where the house was. All he knew for certain was that it was approximately an hour away from where the Wanderer sat in the train station.
It had been a terrible mistake to have Thora take part in his and Jim’s first public row. So far she’d handled herself well – far better than any other women he knew would be likely to do – but Loveless, unpredictable as he was, might eventually turn on her.
He ran down to the kitchen to see her eating oatmeal, with Loveless standing by watching.
“Good morning, Thora, Loveless. Listen, buddy, I usually take a half-hour stroll before breakfast, so if you’d point me in the direction of an egress –“
“I’m sorry, Mr. Gordon, I can’t allow that. It’s not unheard of for press gangs to wander this district. I would distress me to hear you’ve been packed off onto a ship to the Canary Islands.”
“Loveless, I’m a big boy. I can take care of myself.”
“I’m sure you can, but I cannot permit you to tempt fate. Once Mr. West is dead and we’ve moved to Philadelphia, you may move about as freely as you like.”
“What makes you think I’m going to Philadelphia with you? I’m no good at plotting against the powers that be, and violence makes my head hurt. I’m going back to the stage.”
“You’re going away?” Thora asked, her disappointment very apparent.
“Yes – to the Continent. London first, then maybe Paris or Vienna. As soon as the excitement over Jim’s death dies down, I’m handing in my resignation.”
Thora bit her lip and looked very sad.
Loveless watched the scene with a barely hidden smile.
“Thora, something wrong?” he asked.
“”No, I... I was...” She stopped to take a deep breath. “I was just... hoping that...”
“That Mr. Gordon would give your child his name, is that it? No, my dear, I’ve known both Mr. West and Mr. Gordon for years. Compassion is not an attribute either of them possess.”
“Oh,” she said in a dull voice. “Antoinette gave me a dress to wear this evening, and a little extra fabric to sew on the hem to make the length appropriate. I’ll be in her room sewing if you want me, Miguelito.”
When she was out of earshot, Loveless said, “Mr. Gordon, your former associate has only about eleven hours left to live. You’d better change your plans, or you could find yourself following him into the sweet hereafter.”
“Nope, I don’t think so, Loveless.” Eleven hours?
Loveless’s mouth twitched, and he stared at Artie as if he were a stranger. Artie thought he was about to berate him, but Loveless began speaking very calmly.
“By the way, I sent a message to West with Miss Thora’s signature – well, my version of her signature – to meet her at nine p.m this evening. Fortunately for us, and unfortunately for him, he was at home to receive it, and assured our messenger that he’ll be there.”
“A saloon on the waterfront.
“It’s Sunday, Loveless. Saloons aren’t open.”
“This one is,” Loveless grinned. “Owned by one of the more corrupt local politicians, who claims that it’s a ‘healthful place of respite for seafaring men.’ I’ve been in dives on the Barbary Coast that are Sunday Schools by comparison. ‘A death a day’ the place is known for. Maybe we won’t even need her assistance. Maybe one of the patrons will see fit to bury a knife into Mr. West’s belly. Now why don’t you visit my map room, Mr. Gordon and think of how you can be of use to me?”
* * *
Artie went back to the attic room in an attempt to commit to memory as much as he could. In an effort to clear his head, he went looking for Thora.
I’ve got to talk her out of this. I’m sure I can somehow convince Loveless to let me do it.
“Where do you think you’re going?” one of Loveless’s men asked as Artie stepped onto the third floor landing.
“What business is that of yours?”
Before he knew what was happening, Artie felt a fist slam into his jaw. He staggered backwards, the fell forward onto the man and grabbed him by his lapels. With little effort he threw him over the banister. As the man landed, Artie heard a bone snap.
* * *
A door opened. “Hello, Artemus. Come in.”
The room was very large and very shabby. Sections of plaster were gone from the ceiling, and some of the wainscoting had pulled away from the wall. Antoinette was reading by the fireplace. In the opposite corner was the sewing machine.
Artie cocked his head slightly and whispered, “Any chance we can be alone to talk?”
Thora’s head shook slightly.
“Artemus, lean over, I think there’s some lint in your hair.”
As his head came close to her’s, she whispered, “You must trust me.”
“Thora, one question: why did you–?”
“Mr. Gordon, Thora is very busy with that dress. If she doesn’t finish, she’ll look ridiculous when she goes out tonight,” Antoinette said with an evil grin.
“About that, Antoinette -- how do we get there from here?”
“We? Mr. Gordon, you are not going. Miguelito was insistent that you stay here. You may truly have become an enemy of Mr. West – and Miguelito does believe you are – but I am not so sure.”
Artie stared at her. He’d never been able to figure Antoinette out. She was very demure, yet she was never the least bit fazed by anything Loveless did, even as far as allowing his entire staff at that hospital to tear one another madly apart.
She was no Lady MacBeth – nothing ever seemed to be her idea – but that didn’t mean she was harmless.
“Have you so much influence with Loveless that he would change a plan to suit you, Antoinette?”
“Sometimes,” she replied defensively. “In this case it stands to reason that he be wary of you. How many projects of his have you and Mr. West ruined?”
“If you think hard, Antoinette, you’ll realize that my main contribution – every single time – was as back-up for West, which was what I was hired to do. What do I care if Loveless wants to take over California, or the whole country, or even the whole world? He can have it for all I care. In any case, his problem is not and never has been West. It’s that he’s childish and petulant. A real man, with his gifts, would have achieved his goals a long time ago.”
Antoinette’s first impulse was to defend him, but she weighed Mr. Gordon’s words. Often Miguelito reminded her of a spoiled child, consumed with rage over the slightest disappointment. But surely allowances should be made. Were Mr. Gordon in chronic pain he too would have a difficult time keeping his temper.
“What do you get out of this, Antoinette? You know, sooner or later he’s going to end up jailed for life, or maybe he’ll die first. It’s no secret that he’s not going to make it to threescore and ten, not by a long shot. Whatever happens, when it happens, you’ll have nothing. And that’s the best case scenario. Worst case, you’ll also end up behind bars for life, as co-conspirator.”
“Move along now, Mr. Gordon. Miguelito has told me to keep you away from Thora. I wouldn’t want to have to call one of his men to remove your forcibly.”
“I wouldn’t want that either,” Artie said coolly. “One I just met in the hallway suddenly suffered a broken – well, I’m not exactly sure what broke, but it’s either an arm, or a leg, or maybe his whole body. Sadly, I sometimes have that influence on people.”
Antoinette stared at him. “Mr. Gordon, Miguelito insists I always have a firearm about my person. Don’t make me take it out and use it.”
“Why would I do that? Now, if you’d like to save yourself from the scenarios I described, you know where to find me.”
He returned to the attic. There was a small skylight in the ceiling, but it was an unlikely means of escape. The back windows on the lower floors made more sense, but he was willing to bet they were booby-trapped. The skylight probably wasn’t, but it was at least a forty foot drop from there to the ground outside.
* * *
Jim frowned at the note. There was no good reason for Thora to meet him on the waterfront. A fine lady like her would be very much out of place. He doubted she’d ever been in such an environment, or if she even knew the risks. Especially at night. As he re-read the note, he had a flash of insight.
That’s Loveless’s handwriting!
* * *
“Dear, Mr. West is here to see you. Don’t be long – you know the musicale starts at three on the dot.”
“What is he doing here, ruining my day of rest?” Colonel Richman cried with annoyance. “Well, send him in.”
Richmond had been stretched out on the divan in his library, reading Bulfinch while enjoying a glass of port.
“Didn’t I tell you to stay put?”
“Loveless has Artie.”
“How do you know?” Richmond asked, as he put the book aside.
Jim handed over the note.
“Loveless has changed his name to Thora??”
“Thora Copley is a lady Artie invited to take part in our first public dust-up. Yesterday morning, he left to take her to where she’s staying, and he never came back. If you look carefully, you’ll see that the note is in Loveless’s handwriting.
“This tells me he may have this Thora Copley person; it doesn’t mean he has Gordon.”
“Colonel, Artie would never be gone this long without my knowing where he is. So either Loveless has him or he’s unconscious somewhere, or dead” Jim stopped to pull himself together before continuing. “There are no other possibilities.”
Richmond’s expression changed dramatically. Jim knew he was thinking about the dream he’d had.
“If Jeremy is available, I’d like him to come with me this evening.”
“He ought to be,” Richmond said as he got up from the divan. “Let’s go.”
As he put on the second of his two coats, Mrs. Richmond ran to him. “Dear, the musicale...!”
“Starts at three on the dot. I know. I’ll be back before then.”
“It was nice to see you again, Mr. West.”
“Very nice to see you, too, Mrs. Richmond. You have my word he won’t miss the musicale.”
“And if he doesn’t, Mr. West, how do you intend to make it up to me?” she tittered.
“There should be a form in your husband’s desk. Fill it out in triplicate and submit it to headquarters, and they’ll see what they can do,” he smiled. No matter how old these Southern belles get, they never tire of flirting.
* * *
Jeremy Pike lived in a rented room a few blocks from headquarters. They caught him just as he was going out.
“Oh, no... I knew I should have gotten a move on. This can’t be good. Don’t tell me; let me guess: Grant called a meeting to hector us about our unacceptable response to the Christmas party cancellation.”
Colonel Richmond was in no mood for levity. “Let’s go in and we can talk.”
“My landlady’s casa es su casa. Top of the steps, second door from the right. I have to let her know I have visitors. I’ll be right up.”
Neither one had ever been in Jeremy’s room before, and neither one had ever seen anything so spartan outside of a jail cell. Bed, lamp, bureau with mirror. That was all. No chair, no books, no pictures.
He came back with two wooden folding chairs and sat down on the bed.
“Jeremy, doesn’t the Service pay you enough? Or did you join a monastery and forget to tell us?” Jim asked.
“No,” he chuckled. “There’s another room upstairs, too small for anyone to actually live in, that Mrs. Wilberforce to rents to me for my costumes, and books, and whatever else I own. I like this room plain and simple because I can think better.”
“Think about this: Loveless sent me a note to meet him on the waterfront at nine tonight.”
“He did?? A little blatant for him, isn’t it? Like ‘come and get me.’”
“The note isn’t signed ‘Loveless,’ it’s signed ‘Thora’ who is a lady friend of Artie’s. He was taking her home yesterday morning, and he never came back.”
“You’re going with Jim this evening,” Richmond said. “And as soon as the dust clears, I want you both to come see me. I’ll wait up for as long as it takes.”
“Are there any special arrangements we should make?” Jeremy asked.
“I don’t think so,” Jim said. “Hopefully, Loveless doesn’t have a strong recollection of you, but I guess we’d fit in better if we took on a raffish appearance.”
“Can do. I’ll meet you at the Wanderer when?”
“Seven. We’ll reach the saloon by eight at the latest, and we’ll have an hour to scope out the location, and get ready for the meeting.”
Both men noticed that Richmond was unusually quiet.
“Sir, is there anything you want to tell us?” Jeremy asked.
“No. I’m just praying that Gordon surfaces soon, unhurt and unharmed.”
SS 1st assignment - desk job
Posted - 03/01/2010 : 18:50:07
| Chapter 4
Before going downstairs, Thora asked Antoinette if she had a fur muff she could use.
“It would be easier to hide the gun in a muff than a pocket, and far easier to take it out when the time comes.”
Antoinette went rooting through her closet, and produced three, including one made of sable that was especially large and could hold not only one’s hands, but above the wrists has well.
“Could I use that one? I realize it was probably very expensive, but I promise to return it in the same condition as it is now.”
“You’d better.” The warm feeling Antoinette felt for Thora the afternoon before had cooled. She was just a little too sweet, a little too ladylike, and Miguelito was a little too interested in her.
“Will I be using your gun?”
“Why do you ask that?”
“I just assumed your’s would be small. I don’t want anything too heavy – it would be difficult to shoot and if it’s too large for my hand, it would be very easy for a stronger person to take it away from me.”
“Alright.” Antoinette turned and lifted her skirt. The mother-of-pearl laden pistol had been stored in her garter.
“Thank you, Antoinette. I shall be ready to leave in about a half hour.”
Thora went to her room, and made her preparations as quickly as she could.
* * *
Loveless climbed slowly up to the attic. He tried to limit his trips up there to no more than twice a day, because his knees and hips would ache for hours afterward.
“So, here you are,” he said to Artie, who was flipping through the collection of smaller maps.
“And, according to Antoinette, here I stay. Is it true that you don’t want me coming this evening?”
“‘This evening?’ You’ve been in here a long time, Mr. Gordon. It is now 8:00 p.m.”
Artie froze inside. “I’d really hate to miss this, Doctor. It would be an enormous disappointment.”
“Oh, but surely you can see the bind we’re in, Mr. Gordon. You say you’ve turned your back on West, and I believe you have. However, I would not be surprised if, involuntarily, you fled from the carriage in an attempt to save him. Old habits die hard, you know.”
“Loveless, there is literally nothing – nothing! – I’d rather see than Jim lying on the sawdust floor with a bullet in his heart. The stories I could tell you about him...,” Artie said, shaking his head.
“That may be true, but after so many years of being his back-up – your own words – I cannot take the risk that your conditioning may win out over your will.”
“Who is going, then? You and Thora, and who else?”
“Who else? Two of my men: one to drive the carriage, the other to make certain Miss Copley escapes.” Or, if she doesn’t escape, to make certain that she doesn’t talk.
“No Antoinette?” Artie asked, surprised.
“No. She abhors the cold. She spends evenings close to the fire, reading or sewing or some such. In any case, I don’t mind telling you that I’ve begun to tire of her. I should have known she was one of those women who, over time, get a little too comfortable in their station, and start to get the idea that they are an equal partner. As soon as is practical, I’ll return her to where I found her.”
“What about your little helpers – are there any others hanging around, or just the two that are going with you?”
“There will be five here, including two who will be keeping you company. There were to have been six, but one was found this afternoon on the back stairs with his neck broken.”
“A broken neck??” Artie burst, feigning shock. “How could something like that happen?”
“Antoinette claims you did it, but I do not believe that. You are not the brawler type, and I think you’re well-mannered enough not to take advantage of your current status as my guest. He was probably drunk.”
“That makes sense. Your boys smell of alcohol day and night. Must be hard to subvert any natural decency they possess to remain in your employ,” Artie said off-handedly.
That was exactly the wrong thing to say.
“Natural decency?” Natural decency?? What do you, or any of your kind know of decency? Or justice? Or honor? Mr. Gordon, I’ve a mind to show you what justice and decency really are!” Loveless howled. “I warn you, if you do not determine that you are on board with me, for the long haul and not just to see Mr. West killed, you will suffer the same fate. And far sooner than you expect to!”
Artie shook his head. “Loveless, old chum, there’s nothing in it for me. The chance to live in a series of ever seedier digs? This place is a real dump, but I guess you know that already. And then to have the law on my back night and day? Forgive me, but when I made that dig about decency, it wasn’t that I was taking issue with you exactly – as I said to Antoinette just a few hours ago, it makes no never mind to me if you want to run things. It’s just that most people, for whatever reason, don’t see it that way.” He delivered that line with a sincere smile.
Loveless smiled back, but it was in response to a thought that had popped into his head.
“We should be back by ten at the latest, Mr. Gordon.” In one of his lightning changes of mood, he said giddily, “I simply cannot wait to see tomorrow’s newspaper! ‘James West, hero of the United States Secret Service, killed in cold blood, and by a lady!!’”
Without another word, he turned and left. Artie could hear him giggling until he was out of earshot. Then two men appeared in the doorway – his minders, no doubt.
“Have a seat, Gordon.”
“What if I prefer to stand?”
Both men came closer as they drew their guns. The taller of the two said, “Please.”
“If you’re going to put it that way...” Artie sat at the chair behind the desk. One of the men kept his gun pointed while the other dragged two small chairs over, situating one on either side of Artie’s chair. The both sat, and both had their guns pointed at him. Suddenly Artie felt very sick.
* * *
Thora checked the gun. She’d never actually shot one, but her father had an enormous collection, and had taught her how to load and unload, how to put the safety on and take it off, how to aim, and so forth. It was her mother who insisted she never actually shoot, thinking the sound of shots would damage her daughter’s hearing. “Deaf girls, no matter how beautiful or accomplished, are not what the young men in our circle are looking for, Thora.”
She heard Loveless’s rolling footsteps in the hallway. Up goes the curtain, she thought nervously.
“Thora, are you nearly ready? May I come in?”
“Why, you’re pretty as a picture, my dear. That hat is especially nice on you.”
“Nicer still if I had a hatpin, Miguelito. The hat isn’t staying in place. I fear it might fall down over my face when I’m about to point the gun.”
“Let’s see... –Oh, that’s Antoinette’s gun. Wonderful. Did she give you a handbag for it?”
“No, I thought better to hide it in that fur muff.”
“Ah, capital, my dear. I’ll stuff it for you, and you go get some hatpins from her.”
“Miguelito, no! Don’t touch it! I swore to Antoinette that the muff would be returned to her in the exact condition she gave it to me. If anything happens to it, I’m sure she’ll be heartbroken.” And I’ll be found out.
Loveless was surprised by this excited outburst, but remembered that women in the family way were often somewhat nervous and unreasonable.
“Then I will get the hatpins for you. I’ll be back in just a moment, and when you’re satisfied with the placement of your chapeau, we’ll leave.”
“Thank you so very much, Miguelito. I’m sorry – I’m a bit keyed up – I didn’t mean to scold you.”
“My darling Thora, think nothing of it,” he clucked sympathetically. “I’ll be right back.”
* * *
Jeremy and Jim were dressed as stevedores. Jeremy took a table in the corner of the saloon. Jim sat at the bar. There were only ten or fifteen people there at 8:30, but they made enough noise for a group twice that large.
Jim stared morosely into his beer mug. He doubted that Thora herself was coming. It would probably be a couple of Loveless’s men and they’d be ready to strong-arm him into a carriage and take him back to their boss.
Well, I got a surprise for them. I’ll go willingly.
He mentioned this to Jeremy on the way over, but Jeremy had tried to talk him out of it.
“Jim, I know it looks like he has Artie, but what if he doesn’t? If you hand yourself over to Loveless, what’s to stop him from killing you the moment he claps eyes on you? And if that happens, how are the rest of us gonna find Artie? Or you? No one knows exactly where Loveless is. There has to be another way to figure out if he has Artie or not. There has to be.”
“You agree, though, that it is more likely that Loveless has him than if he’s lying in a snow bank somewhere.”
Jeremy was hesitant to answer. It was commonly thought among everyone else in the agency that Artie could get along just fine without Jim, but Jim would be lost without Artie helping to keep his aggressive and reckless tendencies under control.
* * *
Thora stood quietly behind Loveless as the door at the back of the house was unlocked. Hidden in the wall was a housing for a lever, which one of the men struggled to pull down. When the door finally opened, Thora saw that what looked like the tips of spikes where at the top and bottom of the door.
If the authorities do come, how are they going to get in??
Loveless had warned her away from the windows, claiming the metal fittings were electrified. At first she wasn’t sure whether to believe him, until she realized none of the doors leading outside had either knobs or keyholes.
Once in the carriage, she maintained her silence, while her companion chattered on as if they were going to a fair. As they neared the saloon, the contents of the sable muff felt heavier and heavier.
Finally the carriage pulled to a stop under a street lamp. The man sitting across from Thora and Miguelito got out, in order to see if Jim had made good on his promise. Thora held her breath.
“Yeah, he’s in there. Sittin’ at the bar, towards the back, but facin’ the door. Boss, you want me to go in with her?”
“No, Stan. Thora, you understand that once you’ve shot him, you’re to come back to the carriage immediately.”
“Yes, of course, Miguelito.” Her face was a white mask.
“My dear, why so pale? This is a great, great day, for you and I especially! I should have planned a celebration of some sort. A combined Christmas party and wake!!” he laughed madly.
As she opened the door to the saloon the tobacco smoke stung her eyes. Jim saw her first, and headed toward her, his hand extended.
“Thora, it’s good to see you,” he said, in a jaunty voice that belied his ragged nerves.
“And you. I... we... ah...” She gazed around the room looking for exactly the right spot. It presented itself between an old piano some wag had painted green, and a tall rubber plant. “Over there, by the plant – I need to talk to you.”
Jeremy watched with interest as the auburn-haired woman followed Jim to the back of the room.
Once Jim reached the plant, he turned and whispered something in her ear. She shook her head, then whispered into his ear for a few minutes.
Jeremy, thinking it was small talk of some sort, relit his pipe. A moment later, he heard what sounded like a gunshot, and saw the woman Jim had been speaking to rush out of the room and onto the street. He turned to where Jim had been, and for a split second thought he’d returned to the bar. When he got up to look, he saw Jim lying on the floor, vainly struggling to raise his head. His blue chambray shirt was covered with blood.
* * *
As soon as the carriage pulled away, Thora began to sob. The carriage stopped three times on the way, since she had to get out and retch.
In comparison, Loveless was completely serene and composed, with a blissful expression on his face.
* * *
Devastated, Jeremy raced frantically outside of the saloon, but the woman was gone. He waved down a passing beer wagon.
“Hey! Please, c’mere – my friend is hurt bad. Can you take him and me to a hospital? I don’t get him there right away, he’s gonna die!”
“Yes, sir! Just push the barrels to the front of the bed.” A chubby 18-year old was at the reins. “Can I help you with him?”
“Yes! In there – the saloon. C’mon!”
The wagon pulled to a stop, and the boy moved as fast as he could behind Jeremy. There was a crowd around Jim, but none had offered help. He was merely the first casualty of the evening.
“Move it!! Move, this is a dying man!! Outta the way!!” Jeremy screamed. He was horrified to see Jim’s eyes roll back into his head.
“Kid, you grab his legs.” Jeremy hoisted Jim’s upper arms. They carried him as gently as they could to the wagon.
Once Jim was stretched out on the cold wood, Jeremy took his hand and broke down.
“Jim, I dunno if you can hear me, but it’s gonna be alright. You gotta believe that, Jim...”
“I believe it, Jeremy.”
Jim moved to a sitting position and looked down unhappily at his shirt. “Artie’s gonna kill me. This is his favorite work shirt, and now it’s ruined with beet juice.”
* * *
It was some time before Thora composed herself. Once back in the house, exhausted, she went for the staircase.
“Thora, dear, I did not expect you to carry on so. Was it over Mr. West, or had it something to do with your condition?”
“A mixture of things, I suspect. I cannot bear the sight of blood, and... oh, Miguelito, there was so much blood! And I...” She sighed before continuing. “I never thought I’d sink so low as to end another’s life. Even someone who...” She stopped and began to weep again.
“But you did end it!!” Loveless squealed. “Oh, this is a very happy day indeed. Some day I know you’ll realize that you did a good and great thing! Why don’t you dry your tears, and go up and share the good news with Mr. Gordon. He’s in the attic. Send his guards back to me, and you can have him to yourself a little while.”
“Thank you for all your understanding, Miguelito” she said as she dabbed her eyes.
As she turned to go, Loveless stopped her again. “Thora, do you sing? Do you have a nice singing voice?”
“I can carry a tune. Whether my voice is nice or not – that’s in the eye – or rather, the ear – of the beholder.”
“Ah... Thank you, Thora.”
* * *
She walked quietly into the attic room. Two men were on either side of Artemus, each pointing at him with a pistol. Artemus was holding his head, and when he looked up she gasped inwardly. He was very pale and looked ill.
“I’m sorry I don’t know your names, gentlemen, but Miguelito wants to see you.”
The heavier of the two slapped his companion on the back. “With West finally dead, he’s probably breaking out the champagne.
“Yep,” the other agreed. “Wouldn’t be surprised if we celebrated from now ‘til New Year’s.”
Both were heard laughing until Loveless called out to them.
Thora sat in one of the chairs just vacated.
“So it’s over, Thora?” Artie asked, unashamed of the tears that had begun to fall on his cheeks.
“It is, yes.”
It was awhile before Artie spoke again.
“Did you talk to him at all?”
Thora said nothing. He has to think Jim’s dead, because... why? Why did I even come up with this idea??? Sooner or later Miguelito will know. What is wrong with me that I want Artemus to think he’s dead??
But something told her this was how it was supposed to play out.
“He asked about you. If I knew where you were.”
“And you told him?”
“No??” Artie began to cry. “He died wondering where I was??”
“Artemus, it was over in just a few seconds. He didn’t know what hit him.”
Artie recoiled in horror. This sweet, well-bred lady was nothing of the kind. She was almost as much a monster as Loveless himself.
When he spoke again, his voice was like ice. “I look forward to the day I see you swinging from a rope around your neck, Thora.”
With that he got up and went in search of Loveless.
* * *
The first stop was Jeremy’s room where he got changed.
“What are we going to tell Richmond?”
“Tell him what happened, naturally.” Jim said.
“I know, but what about that lady – whatshername, Thora. What do we say about her?”
“Other than that she’s as clever as Artie when it comes to public performance? I don’t know.”
“But why didn’t she tell you where Artie was?” Jeremy persisted.
“She doesn’t know. I mean, yeah, Loveless has both of them, but she has no idea where the house is. It’s a mansion, but the only windows are at the back and face a high wall. Their carriage has no windows. It doesn’t surprise me he’s taken these precautions. What does surprise me is that he didn’t put in an appearance to, you know, dance a jig around my dead body.”
“You seem awfully unconcerned, Jim, and that’s not like you.”
“I don’t think I need to be concerned. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, Artie knows what he’s doing. And so does Thora. I don’t know if she got the idea from him or not, but she pulled it off brilliantly. I had her pegged as just a pretty face. The next time I see her, I’m going to humbly apologize for misjudging her.” Or maybe not – she may just think I’m hitting on her again.
As they were leaving, Jeremy’s landlady met them on the stairs. She was unable to take her eyes off of Jim’s badly stained shirt and trousers.
“Mrs. Wilberforce, my friend Jim here is a very sloppy eater.”
“I’ll say,” she replied, rolling her eyes. “Don’t you never bring him back here for supper, you hear?”
Jim watched her go up the stairs. Every other step she’d look back at him and shake her head.
* * *
Artie was overtaken with anguish. Why didn’t I listen to Richmond? What the hell was I thinking? My damn ego created this mess. My goddam ego.
He encountered Loveless in the library, where he was reading a travel book on Switzerland.
“Mr. Gordon, did you know that French is the most popular language in Switzerland, and German second? I thought it was the other way around.”
“I’m leaving now, Loveless. Jim’s dead, we all got what we wanted.”
“Oh, no, Mr. Gordon – I’m planning a Christmas blow-out to take place in a few days. I was counting you to be part of the guest list,” he snickered.
Artie advanced on him menacingly. “Loveless, I could pick you up by the neck with one hand and throttle the life out of you before you could call for help.”
“I doubt that, and even if you could, I don’t think you will. I’ve decided to let you go anyway, but when must be left to me. I assure you that you will be let out to attend the state funeral. It will be good for your image to mourn him publicly.”
“‘Let out?’ But then you’ll bring me right back again, correct?”
“Maybe. But you’d want to come back, wouldn’t you? To see to it that Miss Copley regains her freedom, I’m sure.”
“No. She can stay. I think you and Thora are two of a kind.”
* * *
“Dear, Mr. West and... I’m sorry, what did you say your name was?”
“Jeremy Pike, Mrs. Richmond.”
“James dear, it’s Mr. West and a Mr. Pike here to see you.” Marigold Richmond then turned to Jim. “Mr. West, I keenly felt your absence at the musicale this afternoon. My husband has so little appreciation for good music, but I’ve been told you’ve a taste for the finer things. There’s another musicale scheduled for next month, you know. I’d love to extend you an invitation,” she beamed.
I’ll bet you would. “I’m so sorry, Mrs. Richmond. My hearing was damaged during the war, and now I can’t discern an A flat from a G sharp. It all just sounds like noise to me.”
“Oh, dear. I couldn’t be more disappointed.”
Fortunately, Richmond missed this exchange.
“West, Pike, come on back to my study.”
He offered them both some sherry. As he returned the bottle to the cabinet, he glanced at the grandfather clock by the door.
“It’s not even ten o’clock. I didn’t think you’d be back this early.”
“I had an inkling, Colonel, that I wouldn’t be back at all.” Jim offered.
“You did? How do you mean?”
“I had assumed that the meeting was set up simply to seize me.”
“So what was it set up for?”
“To kill him,” Jeremy answered.
“To kill him? And I suppose Jim went berserk rendering Loveless’s men unconscious.”
“Not at all. He was killed. I myself was sure of it. I made quite a scene in the wagon,” Jeremy said with slight embarrassment.
Richmond’s eyes widened with disbelief. “Alright, give me the blow by blow. I’m particularly interested in the part where he rose from the dead.”
The story poured out from both Jim and Jeremy.
“So you believed it, Pike. But does Loveless believe it?”
“I can’t be sure, sir, but I have a feeling he does,” Jim said. “What I don’t get is why he let Thora do it. I’ve often heard him say something to the effect that killing me would be the high point of his life.”
“Egotist,” Jeremy muttered.
“And what about Gordon?”
“Artie? Loveless has him.”
“And??” Richmond asked impatiently.
“Well, just that. He has Gordon, but she wasn’t able to elaborate. There was no time.”
“Alright, then. Loveless has him and, I’m assuming, her. Where?”
“I’m sorry, sir. She doesn’t know.”
“She doesn’t know??”
Richmond got up and went to the doorway. “Marigold, please bring me some headache powder and a glass of water, will you?”
Jim and Jeremy shared a glance.
“Alright, Jim. Where were we?”
“Thora was pretending to work for Loveless by killing me. But she’s really helping out Artie.”
“This is starting to sound like the plot of one of the more dreadful Italian operas,” Richmond grumbled. “Now, how to you plan to bring him in?”
“Sir, I think I have an idea,” Jeremy said.
* * *
Although he knew he should have been planning his escape, Artie’s mind was consumed with thoughts of Jim. He’d had one good cry, then another, elicited by the thought that he’d never see him alive again. His best friend, the man who’d saved his life dozens of times.
Once I’m out of Loveless’s hands, Grant will likely put my severed head out on a pike, but not before Richmond had completely vented his spleen.
But it’s not as if I don’t deserve that and more. I’m as guilty as if I pulled the trigger myself.
By now he was bone-tired, so he went to bed, hoping he’d be able to think of something other than Jim in the morning.
Six hours later, he was awakened by a shriek.
“How could he have survived? How??”
“Miguelito, the article says he’s in very, very bad shape. He probably won’t last the day.” That was Antoinette’s voice.
“She assured me he was dead! Reilly, get Miss Copley down here!!”
Five minutes later, Reilly was back, leading Thora roughly by the arm.
“Thora, Mr. West is still alive.”
“That’s not possible!”
Loveless gave her the newspaper. The headline read, ‘Secret Service Agent James T. West Shot in Cold Blood. Congress Prays for His Recovery.’
Thora read the article carefully. “But Miguelito, it says here that the doctors are not sanguine, and that it’s too dangerous to operate. I think that means that he is dying.”
Loveless regarded her with disgust. “If he recovers, Thora, there will be hell to pay.”
“I understand, Miguelito.” she said humbly.
“Here comes Mr. Gordon. Bad news, sir. Your associate is yet breathing.”
“He is?” Artie struggled to seem upset about it.
“See here. Thora, give him the newspaper.”
Artie studied the article. There was nothing in it to suggest it was anything but the truth.
I have to get to him before he dies!
“Loveless, here’s a thought: why not spring me just long enough to visit him? I have the highest security clearance the government issues. They have to let me see him. And perhaps I could hasten his demise.”
Loveless looked at him thoughtfully. Judging from the article, it was pretty clear West was going to die anyway. Now it was time to take care of Gordon, and after that, to rid himself of Thora. That was the only thing he found it difficult to decide upon. Sometimes it seemed a good idea to keep her, other times not so much. The more he thought about it, the more he realized that she was more trouble than she was worth. She hadn’t done her job well, plus, if she was pregnant, that would end up being an enormous distraction. No, she would have to go.
“We’ll see. I have to get to work now. You may spend the day doing what you will.”
“So I can go out and take a walk?”
Loveless sighed. “No. But you can do anything you like here. Stare at maps, find something to read in the library – not all the books have water damage; play parlor games with Miss Thora – whatever you like.”
Artie looked daggers at both Loveless and Thora, then returned to his room, intending to come up with a way to escape by climbing out of the attic skylight.
* * *
“Has Mr. Gordon been down recently?” Loveless asked as he came in the kitchen to learn what Antoinette was making for supper.
“No, Miguelito. He doesn’t look well. Maybe he picked something up from being out in the cold on Saturday.”
“He looks alright to me. At least he did this morning.”
“He hardly touched his lunch.”
“Maybe he’s upset about Mr. West,” Loveless giggled. “Maybe I should have let him do the deed. At least I’d have been certain he’d hit the target. Where is Thora, by the way?”
“In her room. She doesn’t feel well, either.”
Instantly, Loveless became angry. “I am not running an infirmary! Go get both of them and bring them down for supper. I can’t enjoy myself and the happy – well, mostly happy – events of yesterday if I’m all alone at what should be a celebration! We should be celebrating from now until... ” Until after those two are dead!
* * *
Artie was in the attic drawing sketches of how the furniture might be arranged in such a manner that he could climb the twelve feet up to the skylight. The pull cords on the draperies in the parlor could, he hoped, be used to rappel down the outside wall.
“Mr. Gordon, Miguelito wants you to come down for supper.”
Artie looked up from his work. “I’m not hungry.”
“He didn’t ask if you were hungry, he asked me to have you come down for supper.”
* * *
When he came to the table, Loveless indicated to the vacant chair next to Thora. Artie took it, but pointedly ignored her.
“That’s a nice-looking spread you have there, Loveless. What’s that, a bowl of sweet potatoes, a salad, and... a broiled Norway rat?”
“A beef roast.”
“If you say so. How about some alcohol to wash it down?”
Loveless pointed to the sideboard, where there were two bottles each of gin, bourbon, and Scotch whiskey, and three bottles of burgundy, two of riesling, and two of port.
“Loveless, ever had what they call in London the ‘Wellington dry?’”
“No, Mr. Gordon. I prefer to drink wine with my meals.”
“Oh, Loveless, once you’ve had a Wellington dry...! Why, it’s the quintessential drink of victory! Originally mixed by the Duke of Wellington to celebrate the outcome of Waterloo.”
“As I said, Mr. Gordon, I prefer wine.”
The Wellington dry is wine, mostly. But comparing a Wellington dry to an ordinary glass of wine is like comparing that stringy lump of flesh to the chateaubriand at Antoine’s. Antoinette, is there a pitcher in the kitchen?”
“Yes, in one of the cabinets.”
Artie picked up as many bottles as he could carry. “Loveless, you’ll be eternally grateful.” And dead drunk for hours, so I can get some work done.
Approaching the kitchen door, Artie heard voices. When he entered he saw that three of Loveless’s men were taking their meal in the kitchen. Their conversation ceased as soon as he came in, and all three began to stare at him with suspicion.
There was no point in engaging them, so Artie went about looking for the pitcher.
Then one of them spoke.
“That was my brother done broke his neck yesterday, Mr. Gordon.”
Artie, continuing to root through cabinets, said, “I heard about that. Very unfortunate.”
“Word is you had something to do with it, Mr. Gordon.”
“I don’t believe I’ve ever even met your brother, sir. Ah, here it is. Nice big pitcher.”
He took the pitcher to a small table by the window and began emptying bottles into it. First, burgundy. Then a half bottle of gin and a most of what was left of the bourbon. Then some riesling. Next would be to find a large spoon to stir it.
Artie turned to see the man standing right behind him.
“Mr. Gordon, you didn’t extend no sympathy or nothin’.”
“I’m sorry. I was a little distracted. Please accept my sympathy for your loss,” Artie replied, as if by rote.
The man’s eyes flickered a bit, just before he punched him in the stomach as with as much force as he could.
“Dwight, no! Boss told us not to do nothing to him!
Artie dropped to the floor, struggling to breathe, while Dwight began pummeling his face. He tried to get up, tried to somehow retreat from the punches that were raining on him. Blindly, he reached out and grabbed Dwight’s leg, pulling him down onto his back. Dwight’s head hit the tile floor with a thud.
Artie staggered to his feet, his face bloody. Finally, he caught his breath, then calmly stepped over Dwight’s body to go looking for a spoon.
As he entered the dining room carrying the pitcher, Thora was aghast. “Mr. Gordon!”
Artie pretended he didn’t hear her as took Loveless’s empty glass and filled it.
Loveless’s nose wrinkled. “There’s none of your blood in here, I hope. Ugh, your face has put me off my food. Please go and wash.”
“Mr. Gordon, can I help you?” Thora asked. His gait was unsteady, and his right eye appeared to be slowly swelling shut.
“No,” he said tersely. “I’ll clean up and be right back, folks.”
He went back to the kitchen to pump some water into a bowl, then took the back stairs to his room.
Peering into the shaving mirror, he almost didn’t recognize himself. It hurt like hell to mop the blood off his face, but at least his nose wasn’t broken and all his teeth seemed to be firmly rooted in their respective places. His right eye was almost completely closed, and it looked as if soon the left one might be also. Artemus, my boy, it’s not many men who can go blind twice in one year.
* * *
"I’ve noticed, Thora, that Mr. Gordon seems to be ignoring you. Have you offended him in some way?" Loveless asked with a smirk
"I don’t know – I don’t think so. We’ve spent so little time here together, and most of that has been spent discussing his future plans."
"You’re not pressuring him to… Well, I think you get my meaning."
"No, Miguelito. I am not pressuring him to do anything. We never even discuss--"
"Do you have any feelings for him, Thora?" he asked as he sipped his Wellington dry.
Thora said nothing at first. It was easy to lie, but not about that one thing. I love him.
"None, Miguelito," she murmured.
"I’m glad you say that, dear. So you won’t mind much if I decide that his plans must change."
"What do you mean, Miguelito?" Thora looked to Antoinette who was paying attention only to her plate.
"I am a scientist, Thora. I conduct experiments to further my knowledge of the world and its workings. I have been researching a disease, and I think Mr. Gordon would be a suitable –"
"Hope that food hasn’t gotten cold, Loveless. Did you try your drink?" Artie took his seat once again.
"Yes, it’s quite good."
"I was right, wasn’t I?" Artie grinned painfully.
"Indeed you were, Mr. Gordon. Indeed you were."
Artie picked at the food. His face hurt, his head hurt, his stomach hurt. He dreaded having to make a show of drinking the alcohol but noticed, relieved, that Loveless had downed nearly a third of the pitcher so far and was still drinking. Being so small, finishing the whole pitcher would put Loveless on his back for days, if it didn’t kill him outright.
Artie wanted to stay and see what would happen, even if he could only see it from the slit of his left eye.
"Mr. Gordon, surely the newspapers will report tomorrow that Mr. West is dead. I think then you and I should make some decisions."
"Loveless, I told you – my decisions have been made."
Loveless did not reply.
Thora wondered what was in the drink. Loveless had already emptied his glass several times, yet seemed none the worse for it. Artemus hadn’t taken a sip of his yet. And she, fearing he may have spiked it, took none.
Artie said, "Loveless, I think I’d like to take a short rest," Artie said as he pushed his chair in. "You might like to lecture the troops after dinner about how to treat your guests."
Loveless smiled. Artie caught his expression. Why isn’t he passed out on the floor yet?
* * *
The drapery cords were tied securely together, and the tower of furniture was complete. What stars were visible through the skylight told him that it was about one in the morning. Loveless hadn’t rigged it, and it opened easily.
The night air was bracing, but not as cold as it had been over the last several days. He could only see through the slit that his left eye had become, but there was enough moonlight to see the Capitol dome far off in the distance.
His grief and remorse returned full force. Jim was dying in a hospital not far from the Capitol, if not already… No! Jim, you’ve got to hold on until I can get to you. You’ve got to!
After wrapping one end of the cord tightly around the center of the heavy desk, he wound the other end around his waist and began his descent.
Almost immediately he felt that something was wrong. The cord was not as taut as it should have been. A split-second after he realized this, he was in free fall.
* * *
Thora was unable to sleep. Things were moving too slowly. If the newspaper says tomorrow that Jim’s dead, will Miguelito let us go? Then she remembered about that experiment he mentioned.
She went to the window. If there were only a way to get out, or at least find out where we are.
Something, she didn’t know what, directed her attention downward. Artemus was on his back, writhing in the snow.
* * *
Artie was in agony. His right leg had been smashed, there was a searing pain in his right shoulder. It took every ounce of self-control he had not to scream. Why didn’t it occur to me that the cords might have been dry-rotted?
He felt himself going into shock. It was unlikely he’d be found before daybreak. Barring a miracle, he’d be dead by then.
Jim, if only I could have told you how sorry I am.
SS 1st assignment - desk job
Posted - 03/01/2010 : 19:01:32
| Chapter 5
“Miguelito! Miguelito! Where are you??” Thora was consumed with fear for Artemus’s life.
How did he get outside?? And how had he gotten hurt?
Loveless came out of his laboratory. “Thora, up here. What seems to be the problem?”
“It’s Artemus – he’s outside. He looks very badly hurt.”
“Outside?? How on earth did he get out?” Loveless asked, exasperated. “You must be mistaken, Thora. And I’m very busy.”
“Miguelito, look out of the window. He’s out there.”
Loveless lumbered to the window and stared. There was not enough light to discern what was wrong, but whatever it was had to be serious. Gordon appeared unable to get up.
“Go wake Antoinette, and ask her to wake my men. Two should be plenty.”
Once the men were dispatched outside, Thora slipped out behind them and raced ahead.
The sight horrified her. His blood had melted some of the snow around him. His leg was at a crazy angle. He was barely conscious, and his breathing was very shallow.
“Artemus, can you hear me??”
“Go,” he whispered. “Go. Let me die.”
“C’mon, Mr. Gordon. Up you go.”
Artie screamed as the man reached under his arms.
“Ed, pick up his legs – this guy ain’t light, ya know.”
Artie screamed again, and continued screaming until brought to his bedroom.
“Dave, to the linen closet – there are a couple tattered blankets in there. Get them and throw them over the bed. I don’t want his blood staining the mattress.” Loveless said.
Artie’s breathing was very quick and even more shallow. Thora stood by, desperate to help him but unable to think of what to do. Timidly, she touched his forehead. It was cool and clammy.
“Boss, looks like he tried to get out through the skylight in the attic.”
“Did he now? I thought only Mr. West was capable of such antics. I’ve a little work to do before retiring. If he lasts the night, I’ll address him in the morning. Thora, go to bed – you’re not needed here.”
“Can I stay with him? Please?”
“Alright, stay. If he stops breathing, let me know, and we’ll dig a hole out back for him.”
“Yes, Miguelito. Can we have some more firewood? I think it would be better for him if the room were warmer.”
“Why should I waste good firewood?” In response to Thora’s disappointed expression, Loveless relented. “Oh, alright. Dave, bring up some firewood for Miss Copley.”
Thora pulled a chair to the left side of the bed and took Artie’s hand gently. He drifted in and out of consciousness, but never seemed to know she was there.
* * *
At nine in the morning, Loveless came in. Thora had fallen asleep in the chair, and was still holding Artie’s hand.
“What a pretty picture this is. Beaten, broken Mr. Gordon, and his faithful little friend Thora.”
Loveless moved closer. “Still breathing, I see. What a pity.”
Artie’s left eye opened partially. The pain was far beyond anything he could have previously imagined, but if he didn’t move even the tiniest little bit it was manageable.
“I’m surprised to see you’re on your feet, Loveless,” he said slowly, through clenched teeth. “By rights, you should be nursing a colossal hangover.”
“Oh, is that why you mixed that – what did you call it? Winchester dry?”
“Mr. Gordon, I have a cast iron stomach where alcohol is concerned. When one is in constant physical discomfort, one becomes well-acquainted with strong drink. No doubt I could have drunk both you and Mr. West under the table.”
“Sorry I under-estimated.”
“Enough about me, Mr. Gordon,” Loveless grinned. “How are you feeling this morning?”
“I could be better.”
Loveless laughed out loud. “Ever droll, aren’t you? Even with a leg that’s broken in – let me see – two or perhaps three places. I think I see some bone peeking out. The leg may have to come off.”
“Loveless, please... no!” Artie moaned.
“Oh, don’t worry. I wouldn’t do it. Surgery no longer interests me. Thora, what do you think?”
This was the first time since awakening that Artie noticed Thora. He pulled his hand away from her’s. Even that little movement caused him seething pain.
“Mr. Gordon has become a liability. Having dispensed with Mr. West, although this morning’s newspaper again claims he’s hanging on but barely, I am eager to move to Philadelphia. Now that Gordon here is not in any condition to travel – and was uncooperative to begin with – we need to get rid of him, too. Would you like to do the honors, dear?”
“How do you propose, Miguelito?”
“Not a gun this time, dear. You’re disappointingly inept where firearms are concerned. I’ve a very strong strain of typhoid that should carry him off rather quickly. You would just perform the injection.”
“Oh. That sounds easy enough,” Thora answered, looking sadly at Artie.
“Come down with me for breakfast, Thora. You must be starving, dear. You ate so little last night.” Loveless said indulgently.
“Can you have someone bring something up for myself and Mr. Gordon?”
“Judging by Mr. Gordon’s manner, I don’t think he wants to eat with you, dear. Do you, Mr. Gordon?”
“No. Take Lucrezia Borgia with you. I’m content to be alone.” I want very much to die in peace.
“Thora, go down now, dear. I’ll be right with you.”
Thora got up to leave, but she found it difficult to take her eyes off of Artemus.
“Mr. Gordon, help me understand something: you seem to be – well, there’s no other word for it – hostile to Miss Thora. Has something untoward transpired between you two?”
“Oh, come, come now. ‘Lucrezia Borgia?’”
“Loveless, you made it clear I’m to be killed. Since, at the moment, there’s not a lot I can do to prevent it, I prefer to stay silent.”
Loveless frowned. He was a student of people, and found it quite frustrating when he couldn’t pin down why someone did or didn’t do something.
“Maddening! Maddening!! You were always so inscrutable. Although I’ll be happy to remove you from the land of the living, I shall always regret not being privy to the goings-on in your head.”
* * *
It was Jeremy’s idea to plant stories in the paper about West’s shooting, and his lingering death. He wrote them as well, using as many high-flown adjectives as he could to describe ‘the fallen hero of the U. S. Secret Service.’
On Richmond’s order, Jim was ensconced in a private room at the Naval Hospital, in order to give credence to the stories. No doubt Loveless was following the reports closely.
Even though Richmond and Jeremy had stopped in several times, Jim was beside himself with boredom.
“If I don’t die soon, I’m going to lose my mind,” Jim said, as he agitatedly paced the room. C’mon, Colonel, can’t we just kill me already? Plant something in the paper such as ‘Agent James T. West has gone on to his eternal reward. A service will be held at such and such a place and time?’ I’m sure an announcement like that will bring Loveless out of the woodwork.”
“West, this is only your second day here, and we’ve got to give Artemus a little more time. Something tells me he’ll surface soon, and then we can hold your funeral. As for myself, I’m looking forward to hearing him eulogize you.”
“How much more time are we going to give him? Shouldn’t I be out searching for him? I’ll wear a disguise -- whatever it takes, sir.”
“West, hear me out. My fitness for the position I occupy is based, to a large extent, on my ability to make educated guesses. Most of that is comes from experience, but there is a little... I guess the word is ‘intuition,’ that’s also an important part of it. And my intuition tells me that Gordon will turn up soon.”
“Turn up or show up, sir?”
“‘Turn up’ as in he’s found dead, or ‘show up’ as in he escapes and comes back to us, ideally with Loveless in shackles.”
“I’m as concerned as you are,” Richmond said soothingly.
“If you were, you’d let me out.”
“Jim, 48 hours, and then I’ll make a decision. Alright?”
Jim frowned. “If you say so, sir.”
* * *
“Miguelito, what do you think of this idea: after inoculating Mr. Gordon, you take him and leave him outside Secret Service headquarters?”
“Thora, dear, what a little ghoul you are!” Loveless said admiringly. “Now, Antoinette, on your best day you couldn’t come up with something like that! Oh, that is brilliant! And if he’s yet alive, or even freshly dead, he may be able to transfer the bacteria to whomever finds him!” he squealed as he leapt from his seat at the table.
“Carry on with the meal, ladies. I’ve a lot to do. Thora, when you’re finished, why don’t you take something to him? Water, at least, if he won’t eat.”
After the meal was over, Thora insisted on washing the dishes. That would give her time to steel herself. The hatred she saw in Artemus’s eyes had cut her to the quick. Artemus, I pray you’ll understand soon. And maybe I will, too.
Every decision she’d made since coming here was impressed upon her seemingly from somewhere else. Why in the world had she claimed to be expecting? Yet that gave her reason, at least in Miguelito’s eyes, to want to kill Jim. And he was still alive and safe. Something she couldn’t identify – whether it was inside or her or outside of her – told her that Artemus would survive as well.
But what made me volunteer to inoculate him, and suggest abandoning him outdoors?
* * *
She tip-toed into his room carrying a tray. After setting it on the dresser, she opened the curtains. The sun was very bright. Much of the snow would probably melt today.
“Artemus, are you awake?”
“I’ve brought you something to eat.”
“I don’t want it.”
“A glass of water, then? You must be thirsty.”
Artie didn’t answer. He was thirsty, but wanted nothing from her hand. Even if he did, getting propped up in order to drink wouldn’t be worth the pain it would cause.
“Artemus, I’m trying to help you.”
He didn’t reply.
“I love you, Artemus,” she said in an almost inaudible voice.
“You have a funny way of showing it.”
“Are you sure you won’t take some water?”
“What need do I have of water? I’m going to die soon. It’ll just make my body heavier for whoever’s going to drag me out of here and plant me.”
Thora left without another word and went to her room to think.
* * *
Throughout the day, Miguelito and Antoinette could be heard singing.
And to think one of the last things I’ll hear would be those two lovebirds trilling.
It wasn’t a bad time to die, Artie thought. The two people closest to him in life, Jim and Anna, were gone. And dying so soon after Jim meant he’d not have to experience the enormous strain of getting used to working without him.
I’ve had a good run. My only regret is that we never finished off Loveless.
* * *
Thora was called to dinner at 8:00 p.m. She stopped briefly in Artie’s room. He was snoring, so she took the opportunity to touch his forehead. It was no longer cool but warm. She brushed her lips across it lightly.
During dessert - dry cake drenched with lumpy custard – Thora asked, “Miguelito, may I have a pen and paper? I’d like to write a short good-bye note to Mr. Gordon.”
“Oh, my dear, you are the limit!” Loveless laughed. “Isn’t she, Antoinette?”
“Yes, Miguelito,” Antoinette smiled.
“Well, may I?” she repeated.
“Yes, yes, of course. After dinner, come up to my lab. There are paper, pens and ink in the top drawer of the walnut cabinet.”
“Thank you. When are we going to ...?”
“Early tomorrow morning, around four or so. If we’re going to toss him out onto the street, best to do so when no one’s around, and yet he should be found a fairly short time later, when the bacteria will still be alive and active.”
“How interesting,” Thora forced herself to say. “Afterward, Miguelito, I’d like to say my goodbyes. I can’t possibly continue staying on; I am not in a position to repay your kindnesses.”
All day she’d devoted herself to thought, and an veiled answer had come. She didn’t know what it was yet, but was firm in her understanding that a chance to escape would present itself. Not right away, but soon.
“But you must stay for the holidays, dear – Christmas Eve through New Year’s. In that way, you may repay my kindness, Thora.”
Thora nodded slightly but gave no answer.
* * *
A nurse peeked through the door. “Mr. West, another visitor.”
“If it’s Mr. Pike, tell him that candy he left was stale.”
“West, you shouldn’t be eating candy anyway. Bad for the teeth,” President Grant said as he entered.
“Good evening, sir. And please accept my condolences for Mrs. Grant’s father’s death.”
“Oh, you heard about that, son? Julia’s very much broken up about it, although I supposed I should have realized it was imminent and changed my plans. He was ill for over five months with no improvement whatsoever, then the day he passed, it was as if he’d turned a corner.
He dressed, came down and ate a full breakfast, enjoyed a cigar... he seemed much like his old self. The family and I were out most of the evening, thinking the worst was over, and when we returned around eleven, his doctor was with him. Not an hour later, he was gone. Many’s the time I’ve seen a dying man rally for a day or two just before death.”
“I’ve seen that myself, sir.”
“And now you’re to be advertised as dead in order to flush Loveless out of the bushes, is that it?” Grant asked as he took the seat Jim had retrieved for him
“I think, West, that this may be it for our diminutive nemesis. He’s never before been close enough to the seat of government for us to make completely certain that he cannot escape. And I’ve got any number of representatives in the Congress who would gladly see him put to death for his crimes, and I’ll wager a number of those would relish the chance to do it themselves with their bare hands.”
“It’s a long time, coming, sir.”
“Now, about Artemus: what have you heard from him? Richmond’s rather close-mouthed on that topic for some reason.”
“That may be because we haven’t heard from him. At least not first-hand.” Jim slowly moved to a corner of the room to avoid the coming explosion.
“WHAT? The Service’s best man, and no one’s heard from him in, what –three days?? And it’s not as if he’s out in the wilderness somewhere. My understanding is that he’s still in Washington!”
In spite of the situation, Jim was tempted to laugh. When Grant was angry at Artie, he claimed Jim was the Service’s best man. When he was angry at Jim, it was the other way around. When he was angry at both of them, he’d insist someone in headquarters should be prosecuted for hiring them.
“Don’t back away from me, get over here and tell me what I want to know!”
“Uh..., well..., there’s a lady, sir...”
* * *
Antoinette rapped on the door of Thora’s room.
“Thora, time to get up.”
“Yes, I’m up,” she said as she opened the door. She was already dressed in another of Antoinette’s ill-fitting frocks. “Where is it to take place?”
“Miguelito thinks the carriage house. He’s rented a wagon with a flat bed on the back. We’ll just stretch him out on it, then you push the hypodermic into his vein, and off he goes to the Secret Service building.”
“I’ll need a small towel. Where may I find one?”
“What do you need a towel for?” Antoinette asked suspiciously.
“If I’m pushing a needle into his vein, there’ll be some blood. The sight of it makes me sick.”
“Oh, alright. That narrow closet door down the hall – that’s the linen closet.”
“Thank you, Antoinette.”
* * *
Artie had never seen Loveless in a better mood.
“Mr. Gordon, you’ll be leaving us today. Leaving all of us, the billion or so people alive on the planet,” he tittered. “I never expected such a wonderful Christmas present as this. West and Gordon, bereft of life! Oh, it’s too delicious!” He clapped his hands joyfully.
“Where will I be buried? In the back forty somewhere?”
“No!” Loveless chortled. “Our friend Thora has come up with the most marvelous idea. What a mind that lady has! We’re going to dump your dying body out of the wagon and onto the pavement in front of the Secret Service headquarters! So you’ll be their Christmas gift as well! ”
“As soon as Dave and Pat are awake and alert, they’ll come to get you. Any final words, Mr. Gordon?”
“No?? After all the time, energy and resources you and Mr. West have wasted on me, you have nothing to say??”
Loveless pouted. “So I shall have nothing to remember you by? Nothing to quote to my staff? You know, you always were the more articulate of the pair. I’d hoped for a bon mot that would comfort me in my old age.”
Artie said nothing.
Loveless advanced on the bed, glaring. “You’re ruining my happy mood by being so uncooperative, you know.”
“I’m going to die. That’s cooperation, enough, isn’t it?”
“You do know how to lighten the load. Mr. Gordon! Getting back to the main topic at hand! We’ll see you shortly in the carriage house.”
He hurried out of the room, laughing.
Ten minutes later Loveless returned with the two men.
“First put his overcoat back on him. We don’t want him to get cold. He’ll be cold soon enough!”
“Awright, Gordon, c’mon, we gotta put your coat on ya.”
“I can’t move.”
“You can’t move, or you won’t move?”
A little bit of both. I’m dreading what this is going to feel like.
“Just pick him up, why do you think I hired you both? It wasn’t for your brains, you know.”
Dave pulled Artie up roughly and held him upright while Pat put the coat on him. Loveless was delighted to hear his screams.
“Now drag him out to the carriage house. Miss Thora is waiting there. I shall be down shortly.”
During the trip to the wagon, he tried to keep quiet, but screams involuntarily issued from his lips. Once laid out on the back of the wagon, he was too overcome with pain to resist when Thora took his hand.
* * *
“Look carefully dear. That bright blue vein on his wrist, do you see it?”
“What you’ll do is stab the head of the needle into it, and then push down on the plunger.”
Thora produced a small towel from her pocket.
“What is that for?”
“I’ll need it to cover the hypodermic. If there’s any blood, I fear I’ll faint.”
“Oh, if you insist. Now, don’t be nervous, dear. It’s that vein right there. Can you see, or do you want the lantern brought closer?”
Throughout this exchange, Artie’s eyes were closed. Some half-remembered verses of the 23rd Psalm ran through his mind.
“There’s enough light, Miguelito, but you’re crowding me. I don’t want to hit the wrong spot.”
Loveless took a few steps back. It was over in an instant.
“Miguelito, I think I need a glass of water, I’m getting just a little woozy.”
“Well, hurry back. We want to rid ourselves of him as soon as we can. Toss that towel out, too, will you?”
He picked up Artie’s wrist. Yes, the needle had hit the correct vein.
“Thora has better aim with hypodermics, than she has with pistols, Mr. Gordon.”
Artie didn’t answer. He was again going into shock.
Thora was back, a piece of paper in her hand, which she placed in the breast pocket of his overcoat.
“I think his reading days are behind him, Thora.”
“That may be the case, but I want it known that he was very kind to me.”
Loveless turned and rolled his eyes before climbing up on the seat alongside Dave. Thora had insisted on sitting in the back with Artie.
* * *
The wagon pulled up outside of headquarters at around four-thirty.
“We made excellent time, didn’t we, my dear?”
“And how’s our patient?”
“Still breathing, Miguelito.”
“But not for long,” came the gleeful response.
“Can I help you?” she asked Dave.
“No, ma’am. I can manage him.”
“Please try not to hurt him, will you?”
“Listen, Miss, my job is just to get him out and on the pavement, and I intend to do it in as little time as possible.”
As soon as Dave’s hands were on him, Artie revived. He made no sound, nor gave any sign he understood what was happening to him. Dave placed him close to the building so that people walking across the street would be less likely to notice him.
SS 1st assignment - desk job
Posted - 03/01/2010 : 19:17:39
| Chapter 6
Richmond had experienced another bad dream. This one was less vivid than the earlier one, but far more unpleasant. It was again something about Gordon, and this time he wasn’t dead – or maybe he was - but Richmond was unable to discern the setting. Maybe Jim’s observation about his being unconscious somewhere had planted the image in his mind.
He began to dress. The sound of drawers being opened and closed woke Mrs. Richmond.
“James, what are you doing? It’s the middle of the night.”
“No, Marigold. It’s four-thirty.”
“Close enough. Come back to bed.”
“No, dear. I have some work to do.”
“James, at four-thirty in the morning on Christmas Eve?? I can’t believe it.”
“I’ll be home in plenty of time for any little gathering you might have planned, dear.”
“We’re at Mama’s this evening; you’ve known that for weeks.”
“Oh. Then please extend to Mama my regrets. But I will try to make it.”
Mrs. Richmond threw the blanket back over herself with an angry flourish. James was rarely obliging where her darling Mama was concerned.
* * *
At five in the morning on Christmas Eve, the city was quieter than he’d seen in months. The only sound to be heard was that of his own footsteps moving through the slush.
As he neared headquarters, the dream weighed more heavily on his mind. I must be getting old. Even during the worst days of the war, I was a sound sleeper.
When he was a block away, he saw something large and black on the ground outside the lobby doors. What on earth is that??
As he came closer, he saw that it was a man. Probably drunk, although that coat didn’t look like anything a skid row denizen would own.
The face was very badly bruised. Someone who’d been beaten and robbed?
Artie’s left eye opened.
“Good lord, what happened to you?? Can’t you get up?”
Artie’s mouth was very dry, so he used the bare minimum of words to explain. "Broken... everything. Sir, please... keep away. Typhoid.”
Although he was very much rattled, Richmond’s reason took over immediately. “Listen, Gordon, I’m going inside, and I’ll cable the hospital to send someone. It won’t take but a moment.”
“Thank you, sir.”
* * *
A half-hour later, Artie was brought into the Naval Hospital. The attending physician was appalled at the condition of his leg.
“Mr. Gordon, I’m not sure that leg can be saved.”
“Doesn’t matter. Have typhoid as well.” Take the leg, leave it – I don’t care. Please, PLEASE just get me some morphine.
“Typhoid? How do you know that?”
Artie explained as best he could, although he felt himself going mad from the pain.
Richmond stood by, rooting through Artie’s overcoat.
Just before the explanation came to an end, the Colonel found the note.
“Gordon, look here – a letter:
‘To whom it may concern:
This coat is being worn by Mr. Artemus Gordon, of the U. S.
He is under the impression that he had been inoculated with
typhoid serum. That is not the case. He was stuck with a
I humbly ask you to do whatever is in your power to ensure Mr.
Gordon receives the best medical attention possible for his
injuries. I am sure that the Almighty will richly bless you if
you heed this request.
“Don’t believe it, sir. She... shot Jim.”
Artie was much offended by the smile on Richmond’s face.
“Gordon, West was not shot.”
Artie didn’t know what to say. Why would the newspaper lie?
“It’s a long story, and he can tell it better than I can.”
“Fine. He’s in a room upstairs.” In reply to Artie’s concerned expression, he continued. “In order to give some proof that the newspaper articles are true. It was Pike’s idea to run articles claiming West was dying. We’re hoping Loveless makes an appearance at the funeral.”
“She shot and missed?”
“Artemus, relax. West will tell you the whole story. I need to go see him, and then I’ll be right back. Doctor, before you do anything else, please give Mr. Gordon something to make him comfortable.”
And lots of it, Artie prayed.
* * *
“Mr. West, another visitor.”
“A visitor? Charlotte, who in their right mind goes visiting at – what time is it?” Jim yawned.
“Six thirty-five?? I only got out of bed fifteen minutes ago and – oh! Good morning, Colonel. Nice to see you’re getting a jump on the day.”
“Nice to know I didn’t have to wake you up,” Richmond said mildly.
“Have a seat, sir. Have you had breakfast yet? I could order two, if you like.”
“No, thank you.”
“Just one then, nurse,” Jim winked. “Sir? Why so early?”
“Your partner is downstairs.”
“He is?? Why is he down there if you’re up here?”
“I found him early this morning lying outside of headquarters. He’s in very bad shape, West. He may lose his leg.”
“What happened to him??”
“He couldn’t say. Not that he didn’t know, but he wasn’t up to having a conversation. He must be in a helluva lot of pain. He’s being given morphine and, once he’s had some rest, he’ll probably be able to tell us. What he did say was that he was given some serum that causes typhoid.”
Richmond reached into his pocket and handed him Thora’s note.
“Did he say anything about her?”
The Colonel shook his head. “Only that she shot you. When I left him, he still didn’t seem to understand that you’re alright, and that he is probably not going to develop typhoid.”
“Colonel, can I at least leave the room to go down and see him?”
“No. People come and go down there, and it’s not hard to imagine that one of them might be associated with Loveless. Once Gordon’s situated in a room up here, then I’ll let you see him. I’m going back down to find out when they’ll move him.”
* * *
“Mr. Gordon, we’re trying to locate our chief surgeon. Word is that he’s at his estate in Virginia for the holiday, but if we can get him back in the next 24 to 36 hours, you may have a chance to keep your leg. They’re getting a room together for you on the second floor.”
Although he couldn’t wait to see Jim, Thora occupied his thoughts. The broken bones notwithstanding, he didn’t feel sick – at least not yet --, so maybe she had stuck him with a hatpin. But how could she have faked shooting Jim? Artie couldn’t think of any way she could have, and was very much unwilling to give her the benefit of the doubt.
The attending physician came back with some morphine, followed by two orderlies with a stretcher.
“Gotcha a nice corner room, Mister. Southern exposure.”
“Can you wait ‘til—“
“’Til the morphia kicks in? We always do, long as we have the time to wait. Which we do today, on accounta we hardly get any business the week of Christmas. Now, if this was, say… one in the morning on New Year’s, you’da been thrown on this here stretcher like a fried egg on plate, on accounta that’s a busy night. Lotsa drinkin,’ which leads to lotsa fightin,’ resultin’ in lotsa folks brought in with broken this and shot-up that. And some of ‘em wait too long, or they try to do the doctorin’ themselves and whatcha get with that is…”
As the morphine began to work, the orderly’s voice sounded like a hum of words running into words.
It wasn’t too long before Artie felt as if he could actually breathe without having to think about it, and move what was still intact.
“I’m very thirsty.”
The orderly who’d been so far silent finally said something. “Rocky, put a cork in it. Let’s get the fella on the stretcher, and I’ll go get him some water.”
By the time Artie was brought to his room, much of the pain was gone. The room was sunny and smelled nice. His blood-stained clothes had been changed. Before he fell into an easy sleep, his last thought was Everything’s fine.
It would be some time before he would have that thought again.
* * *
Thora was in her room, listless. During the previous two days, it felt as if a certain part of her mind – the part that propelled her forward in getting Artemus out – was the only part that functioned. Now he was gone and, hopefully, had been found by someone able and willing to help him.
The sound of his screams still rang in her ears, she saw him bleeding on the snow even when her eyes were open. Some times the face changed. Sometimes it was Ned, not Artemus.
Artemus was a lot like Ned. Kind and sweet-natured, with a ready wit.
Her mother had warned her away from Ned’s people. “But, Thora, they’re completely unknown to us! Yes, I realize his father is an engineer and a learned man, but Ned intends to follow in his footsteps. I can’t believe my daughter would want a man who intends to spend his days bent over drawings of bridges!”
But then Mother ran off to Italy with another woman’s husband. Father moved to Kansas, in an attempt to ‘bring the Academy to the prairie,’ and, at last, there was no impediment to Thora and Ned’s marriage. At least, that’s what she thought.
Just this one thing I need to do for my country, Thora. As soon as it’s over – and that should be in another month at the latest – you and I will marry.
Ten years had come and gone. Then she met Artemus, and fell in love almost instantly. That too was hopeless. He’d never forgive her, she was certain, for allowing him to believe Jim was dead.
* * *
Colonel Richmond came back into Jim’s room.
“He’s down the hall, room 224. He’s sleeping, but if you just want to take a look, you may go, as long as you’re back right away.”
“If he wakes, is it alright if I stay a little longer and talk to him?”
“He won’t. I made sure that he was given enough morphine that he’ll be able to get some significant rest. He wasn’t able to tell me when or how he was injured and, considering the damage, it’s possible it’s been days since he’s been able to really sleep.”
“Back in a few minutes, Colonel. And thank you.”
* * *
At first glance, he thought he’d gone into the wrong room. Artie’s face was almost one big, swollen bruise. His right leg was resting on pillows and covered with a sheet. Jim lifted the sheet slightly, then quickly dropped it, shaken. The last time he’d seen a leg that looked that bad was late in the war, and it turned out to have belonged to Noel Vautrain.
How could this have happened??
Colonel Richmond appeared in the doorway. “C’mon back, Jim.”
Before leaving, Jim gave Artie’s hand a squeeze. Sleep well, friend.
* * *
“So by now, Loveless must be fairly certain that both of us are near death.”
“True enough. Someone in Gordon’s condition who came down with typhoid wouldn’t last more than a few days. And your gunshot wound should have killed you already, but Pike wrote something to the effect that your previously superior health has slowed down your dying process. Originally, he thought if we killed you tomorrow or the next day and had the funeral early next week, that might be a nice way to usher in the New Year -- with Loveless in custody.”
“We could still do it that way, couldn’t we, sir?”
“If we’re going to claim Gordon is dead, we ought to send you both into the great beyond together. But what if – I’m just thinking – what if we claimed that you were still dying, but Artemus had died?”
“Would Loveless be more likely to show up at the funeral if he thought you were alive? Knowing what he knows about you, he’d be sure to think that no matter what your condition, you’d make sure to attend Artemus’s funeral. The question I’m asking is: would a live James West be more of a draw for him than a dead one?”
“Maybe. He may think he has to finish the job Thora started.”
“Think it over, Jim. I’m hesitant to give orders where this situation is concerned. You know Loveless a lot better than I do.” Richmond looked around the room before continuing. “I’m sorry; I know this is not how you would have wanted to spend your Christmas Eve.”
“I don’t mind, sir.”
“Good. Tomorrow I’m booked solid with social commitments, so I won’t be stopping in, but if you could spend your time giving the matter some thought, I’d like to have a course of action ready by Friday. At least a tentative course of action – we should know more about Gordon’s condition by then.”
“Merry Christmas, Jim.”
“Merry Christmas, Colonel.”
* * *
Loveless was on his third bottle of wine, after having demolished a full bottle of whiskey. He’d grown too tired to sing, but insisted that Antoinette keep playing. The sound helped with his mood, which had grown melancholy.
Christmas when he was a child was a happy time, if it were just his parents and himself. Celebrating with uncles, aunts, and cousins was markedly less pleasant for a number of reasons. He compared very poorly to the rest of the family in physical ability. Over time, it became clear that he would grow no larger than a four or five year-old, and it was then he began to be treated as a freak. His intellect was not considered an asset by any, save his parents, both of whom died when he was twelve. Until that time, the cruel treatment he received from others was bearable. That changed in his twelfth year and, since then, he’d been at war with the world.
Antoinette knew better than to be too happy about the holiday, or any holiday for that matter. Miguelito had bad memories associated with all of them.
“Why don’t you call Thora down? I would like to hear her sing with you,” Loveless muttered between swigs.
Antoinette rose quickly and went to Thora’s room.
“Thora, how pale you look.”
“I do?” she asked as she touched her cheek.
“Are you unwell?”
No, just very worried for Artemus. And wondering when I’ll be able to leave. “I – no. It’s just...” Thora was unable to come up with a believable excuse.
“Perhaps it’s your condition, then.”
“Come down with me. Miguelito would like to hear you sing.”
Thora said nothing, but followed Antoinette downstairs.
When they reached Loveless, he was starting on his fourth bottle.
“Miguelito, did you want to hear me sing Christmas carols?”
“NO. Anything and everything but. Sing an old English folk song, sing an aria, sing something naughty you learned in a brothel, I don’t care. But no Christmas carols.”
“Do you know ‘Do They Miss Me at Home,’ Antoinette?”
“No, I’m sorry, I don’t.”
“Thora dear, you’re welcome to sing it a capella, if you can.”
Timidly, Thora stood and began to sing in a low soprano. The song was poignant and sad, and most suited to how she felt. Loveless, enchanted with her voice, urged her to continue. She sang another wistful song, “By the Sad Sea Waves.”
“Just one more, Miguelito. I am not comfortable performing for an audience.” She closed her eyes and sang “I’d Be a Butterfly.”
Loveless was particularly thrilled with how she handled the last line: “I’d be a butterfly, I’d be a butterfly, dying when fair things are fading away.”
How very apt. Now, if only I could decide how to do away with you, Thora.
“Miguelito, I would like to leave tomorrow. It may be that my room has been once more vacated now that Mr. West is gone. I believe I could find employment as a bar maid. I do thank you for everything you’ve done for me, but I cannot take any more of your charity.”
Loveless had been drinking steadily since abandoning Artie, and was by now very drunk. The word ‘charity’ stuck in his head. In his mind, charity was synonymous with pity, and he misinterpreted her use of the word to mean that she’d not asked to leave before because she pitied him.
“You are completely under my control, Miss Copley,” he hissed menacingly. “Completely. I could kill you at this very moment, and no one would every know. And I’m sure you’d never be missed.”
Her eyes were downcast, but her manner was very calm.
Why is she not afraid of me??
* * *
“No, Mr. West. Colonel Richmond told me to expect that you would try to sneak out of your room. It’s not going to happen on my watch.”
“Nurse Margaret, I merely wanted to stretch my legs. It’s not good for me spend all my time in that little room. It’s not healthy. And it’s no fun,” he smiled, hoping his charm would cause her to relent.
“It’ll be even less fun if I have to call some orderlies to restrain you. I have my instructions. Mr. Gordon does not need you disturbing his sleep.”
“Disturb him! Margaret, how could you? I have no ulterior motive whatsoever. I just wanted to wander the halls for a little while, to get my circulation back.”
“The Colonel warned that you would attempt to soft-soap me into letting you out to go see him. When he wakes up and if he wants to see you, then you may go. But you may not spend more than five minutes with him.”
The nurse folded her arms. “I could reduce it to two, you know.”
“What if he wants to talk for more than five minutes? I know he’ll have a lot to tell me, and it’s very important that --”
“He get his rest,” the nurse replied stonily. “We’re hoping to have Dr. Szabo in some time tomorrow to perform the surgery on his leg.”
Jim slunk back into his room and spent the next few hours trying to determine which would be the best way to attract Loveless.
Early in the evening there was the sound of people walking the hallway. It was an unexpected sound to hear, since his floor had been so quiet all day.
Two of the men carried heavy sacks; the third was struggling under the weight of a small fir tree decorated with a paper garland.
“Nurse, we’re here to see Mr. West.”
“And you are?”
“His uncles. Uncle Jeremy, Uncle Bosley, and Uncle Frank.”
“How did you get let in with that tree??”
“The scent is helpful in relieving complaints of the liver,” Bosley answered, grateful to be able to put the tree down for a moment. “You can look that up in any medical text.”
Nurse Margaret was doubtful, but led the way to Jim’s room anyway.
“Mr. West, your uncles are here.”
“Merry Christmas, nephew!” Frank said as he put the sack of wine bottles on the bedside table.
We three wise men have decided to make your holiday a little happier. We are unsuccessful in locating any gold, frankincense or myrrh – the shops were fresh out – but we do have wine, whiskey, and a rum fruitcake Jerry’s landlady made.”
“Thank you, Uncle Frank. And Uncle Jerry and Uncle Bosley. You’ve saved me from death by boredom,” Jim laughed. Finally! A little distraction!
“That gunshot wound giving you any trouble, Jim?” Jeremy asked wryly.
“Not a bit. Any of you fellas run into Colonel Richmond today?”
“Last time I saw him was yesterday. He interviewed me about the Kansas trip.”
“I think I saw the back of him a few days ago. My lady friend and I attended a musicale on Sunday.”
“Then you haven’t heard about Artie.”
“What’s this about Artie, Jim? I thought I heard somebody saying something yesterday about him – him and Loveless,” Frank said.
“Jeremy, give him what you know of the story. I’ll be back with the rest in a little while.”
“Margaret, my uncles brought in a cake. I’m wondering if maybe I can go down to the kitchen and bring up a knife, and some plates and forks.”
“Uh... yes, I guess you could. Go down to the first floor. Someone at the front desk should be able to direct you. Just let that person know you have my permission.”
“I’ll be right back.”
Jim walked the hallway, looking back every few steps to see if she was watching. She’d taken up conversation with another nurse, so he slowly opened the door to Artie’s room and slipped inside.
The gas jet was barely lit. Much of the room was in shadows. Artie was asleep, lying with his left arm covering his eyes.
He stirred and moved his arm. “Yeah? Who’s that?” he asked sleepily.
“Jim! Turn the light up a little – I want to get a look at you.”
Jim complied, then pulled a chair next to the bed.
“Colonel told me you weren’t shot, but...” Artie looked sadly confused.
“I wasn’t. Artie, I never thought I’d meet anyone as clever as you when it comes to brazen trickery, but Thora comes pretty close.”
Artie was still uncomprehending. “But she went with Loveless! Loveless was there!”
“Not in the saloon with us he wasn’t. He was in a carriage outside. She came in, came close to me, the gun went off, and there I was, down on the floor, my shirt covered with fake blood. Did you know that beet juice makes a great fake blood? Uh, Artie, are you alright?” Why so pale all of a sudden?
“That must be why she wanted the beets!” Suddenly, his mind was racing: the beets, the hatpin... She’s a genius!! But why did she allow me to believe...?
The story spilled out of him: what Loveless’s plans were what Thora had done. Then he stopped abruptly.
“I said something awful to her. Just awful. Something to the effect that I’d be happy to see her hanged for your murder. And I meant it.”
“You have yet to tell me what you’re doing here.”
Artie sighed. “A half-assed attempt at escape. Climbed through the attic skylight, intending to let myself down using the drapery cords. Didn’t realize – although I should have –that they were dry-rotted. Fell at least thirty feet. I guess I’m lucky to be alive, but before I got some morphine, I was seriously considering opting for the alternative.”
The topic of his leg hung in the air. Also, the topic of where Thora might be.
“Where is Loveless holed up?”
“I don’t know. It’s maybe an hour from the train station, or at least it was in the snow on Saturday. His carriage has no windows. The front windows at the house are blocked. The only unblocked ones show only the back of the property and nothing else. Those are alarmed, I’m sure, which is why I chose the skylight. I can tell you is that it’s a big place, built sixty years ago or so, and there’s a high brick wall around the back. The inside of the house is in contemptible condition. Maybe the outside, too - I don’t recall. I was more focused on Loveless than on his surroundings.”
“Sounds like he put a lot of thought in to it. Listen, Artie, I don’t want to tire you out. Give me the bum’s rush whenever you feel like it.”
“I will. But stay awhile -- I’m half afraid this is a dream, and you’re really dead.”
“Artie, I’m as alive as I ever was,” Jim chuckled.
“Glad to hear it,” Artie smiled weakly. “Now talk. I’ll listen.”
“Colonel Richmond has an idea about what might attract Loveless – a funeral where both of us are the guests of honor, or one where you only have that privilege.”
“What would be the point of that?”
“Richmond thinks a live James West might sell more tickets than a dead one. Before Loveless leaves for Philadelphia, he’ll probably want to make absolutely certain that I’m not going to follow. Even if my life was slowly draining away from Thora’s bullet, he wouldn’t want to take the chance.”
Artie didn’t reply. He looked as if he were about to cry.
“Jim, the next time I get a good idea, make sure you tell me to lie down until it passes. Will you do that for me?”
“I could have – I mean we could have – just done that. Pretended one or both of us were dying or dead, and he’d have made certain to show up at the funeral. It was ridiculous of me to go about bragging that I was gonna bring down Loveless all by myself. As if that wasn’t stupid enough, I got an innocent woman involved and... well, I guess you’ve heard my dancing career might be over.”
“Artie, you’re not a braggart, never were. I thought it was an excellent idea, far better than anything I could have come up with. I still do. Pretending to hold a funeral might have attracted him, but if he slipped through our fingers again, how would we know what he was planning? Our first inkling might have been that representatives at the Exhibition were mysteriously coming down with typhoid.”
Voices were heard coming from the hallway. “Yoo hoo, nephew James? This whiskey ain’t gonna drink itself – where are you??”
“Who’s calling for you?” Artie asked, puzzled.
“The three wise guys: Bosley, Frank and Jeremy. They got admitted by claiming they’re my uncles.”
Artie laughed, then grimaced painfully.
“Would you like to see them?”
He shook his head. “Much as I hate to disappoint my fans, I’m not feeling up to it.”
“Maybe tomorrow, then.”
“Sure. Merry Christmas, Jim.”
“Merry Christmas, Artie.”
Jim dimmed the light again, and closed the door quietly behind him.
“What were you doing in there? The nurse got a little panicky when you didn’t come back,” Bosley said.
Jim motioned for silence.
“That’s Artie’s room. Let’s go on back to mine, and I’ll tell you the rest of the story.”
* * *
“Thirty feet! Good lord, he’s lucky to be in one piece!” Frank burst.
Jim hesitated, then said what he felt he had to. “There is... a strong possibility that his leg will have to be amputated.”
As soon as the words were out of his mouth, he regretted it. The party had been brought to a complete stop.
“How soon will they know?” Jeremy asked.
“As soon as the chief surgeon comes in. It should be any time now.”
“What about Thora? Did he have anything to say on her whereabouts?”
“Not a word. She’s with Loveless – she has to be. Or else --” Jim quickly stopped himself, as he was about to say that, perhaps, Thora was already dead.
The party broke up a short time later, but all three men promised to come by every day to check on Artie’s progress.
Once they were all out, Jim went to the window. It was about ten p.m. The moonlight reflected off of some church spires. In an hour many of them would be holding Christmas Eve services.
Loveless, I will do whatever it takes to ensure you never have another Christmas.
* * *
Dr. Szabo strode into the lobby at 5:00 a.m., and saw that it was completely vacant.
He tapped his cane on the floor angrily, which summoned a sleepy orderly.
“We’re closed! Doncha know it’s Christmas?”
Dr. Szabo took his cane and used it to pull the orderly closer, by the neck.
“Oh, Dr. Szabo! I’m sorry, sir. I was just joking.”
“Joking?? It had better not have been a joke to summon me out here today, or a great number of staff, including yourself, Ellsworth, will find themselves looking for work elsewhere.”
“No, sir,” the orderly replied nervously. “Not a joke. I’m told it’s somebody from the Secret Service – an agent, I think – was brought in yesterday with a crushed leg, and something else broken. He’s way high up there; I think even the President put in a word for him.”
“Is there anyone here who is familiar with his case, or are you only one holding down the fort?”
“Dr. Bailey’s having an early morning get-together in the kitchen with some of the staff. He was here yesterday when the man was brought in.”
“Then, tell me, will you, where the man is, and then summon for me Dr. Bailey and at least two nurses, and two orderlies, I shall also require someone else to prepare the operating room,”
The orderly ran behind the front desk and pulled out the sheet listing the room assignments.
“Um, I think it’s this guy – Artemus Gordon. He’s in 224.”
* * *
Artie awoke when the sheet that covered his leg was removed. A man with a neatly trimmed salt and pepper beard was studying it critically. It was a few minutes before he noticed Artie was awake.
“Mr. Gordon is it?”
“Yes. Are you the surgeon?”
“I am, sir. Dr. Istvan Szabo, chief of surgery. Your chart claims that you fell, correct?”
“From a few stories up it would appear. I have not seen an injury this bad since the war,” the surgeon said regretfully. “I will do my best, Mr. Gordon, but you must understand that my best may not be enough to save it.”
“The only good news I have for you is that I would probably only have to cut here,” Szabo said, indicating a spot above Artie’s knee. “So you would keep most of your femur and, were it to heal properly, you could be fitted with a replacement made of wood.”
Artie nodded once more.
Szabo’s attention turned to Artie’s shoulder.
“Not nearly as bad as your leg, but not good either. What sort of work do you do? Ellsworth mentioned something about the Secret Service.”
“I’m an agent.”
“Agent of the Secret Service? So you go about chasing counterfeiters?”
“My partner and I chase all manner of miscreants.”
“Mr. Gordon, your chasing days are over, or at least they will be for the next few months.”
The staff Szabo requested appeared in the doorway, and soon Artie was spirited away to the operating room.
* * *
Jim rose a half-hour later. After dressing, he went down the hall to Artie’s room, somewhat surprised that there were no nurses around to deny him entry.
The bed was empty. Suddenly, Jim felt panic. Often during the war an empty bed meant the previous occupant had died.
Fearful, he went back to his room, and, seeking distraction, attacked the word puzzle once more.
In mid-morning, Jeremy knocked on his door.
“Greetings and felicitations, James. How’s our patient?”
“Me or Artie?”
“Artie, of course. You’re not doing well, though. Today the paper says you have some symptoms of pneumonia. I really outdid myself, too. ‘The heart-rending suffering of our own, said Secret Service representative Colonel James Richmond, ‘is a burden shared by all of us.’”
“They printed that?? That’s not even good grammar.”
“What do I care it it’s good grammar, as long as it get’s ‘em here,” Jeremy said, hand over his heart. “Can you imagine how many of your former conquests are weeping into silk handkerchiefs over you? I’ll bet drapers for miles around are sold out of black crape.”
“Artie’s in surgery.” I hope Artie’s in surgery.
“I pray it goes well for him.”
“We all do. Listen, Richmond has an idea that holding a funeral for Artie will draw Loveless, as long as I attend. It would help if you planted something to effect that I’m definitely dying, but am planning to rise from my deathbed for the send-off.”
“You got it. What day is the funeral scheduled for?” Jeremy asked eagerly. He was enjoying writing poignant little updates on Jim’s drawn-out death.
“That I don’t know yet. Richmond wanted to wait until we knew what was going to happen with Artie. But I guess we could have a closed casket affair.”
“Wouldn’t that make more sense? I mean, a corpse dead of typhoid is considered dangerous to the living. Supposedly the disease is alive for awhile after death.”
“That’s right,” Jim mused. “What’s today – Thursday? I’ll talk to Richmond tomorrow and tell him we’ve decided on Wednesday. Wednesday alright with you?”
“That’ll give him time to find a undertaker willing to help us. As soon has he has a name, I’ll have him get ahold of you, so you can put that in the paper. Put something in the piece that the service is by invitation only, and really talk up the fact that I’m on my last legs. And before I leave for the funeral, can you come by and make up my face to look like I’m at death’s door?”
“Sure can! This is gonna be fun. Maybe headquarters will be willing to host a post-funeral luncheon, to make up for the cancellation of the Christmas party. And maybe they’ll let us invite a few of these pretty angels of mercy who’ve been taking care of you..”
“Is that all you think about, Jerry? Parties and women and fun?”
“Yep. Why else do you think I joined the Secret Service?”
SS 1st assignment - desk job
Posted - 03/01/2010 : 19:31:00
| Chapter 7
Artie was wheeled back into his room at three in the afternoon. Although Dr. Szabo had been almost certain the leg couldn’t be saved, while operating it seemed as if his hands didn’t belong to him. For the rest of his life he would be unable to explain it, but he’d been able to set the bones perfectly. The shoulder bone slid back in place with little effort. Only two ribs were broken, although his initial examination indicated that every rib on the right side of Gordon’s body was badly cracked.
Due to the risk of infection at the area around the sutures, the plaster cast would have to wait a few days.
When the operation was over, Szabo went to visit Jim. He’d heard something about another Secret Service agent having taken a room on the second floor in order to lure a certain criminal, but he hadn’t paid much attention since it had nothing to do with surgery.
“Jim, Dr. Szabo wants to see you.”
“Dr. Szabo? Who’s that, Margaret?”
“Why, he’s only one of the two or three most influential surgeons in the country, that’s who! He’s the one who operated on Mr. Gordon.”
“Oh! Let him in.”
“Mr. West, your servant, Istvan Szabo,” he bowed slightly.
“An honor to meet you, sir. Will you take a seat?”
“Thank you. I’m a busy man, Mr. West, and so I rarely make time to visit anyone here who is not a patient of mine, but I have been told that you are an employee of the U. S. Secret Service. Is that correct?”
“Are you acquainted with Mr. Artemus Gordon? He is also employed by the Secret Service.”
Jim dropped into the other chair, dispirited. He’s going to tell me Artie’s leg had to be amputated.
“Indeed I am, doctor. He and I have worked as partners for the past few years.”
“Then you’re aware, I assume, that Mr. Gordon is on this floor, with a broken leg and shoulder bone.”
Mr. West, the reason I am here is that, well, I…,” Szabo stopped, then started again. “What can you tell me about Mr. Gordon?”
“What would you like to know?” Just spit it out already, doctor. ‘Artie is now a cripple, but at least he’s alive, blah, blah blah.’
“Anything you can tell me. I had a very unusual experience in the operating room, an experience I had only once before in my entire life.”
There are approximately a million things I could tell him, but maybe he’s just looking for facts and figures. “He’s 42, and has been with the Service full-time since 1869. Before that, he’d been an actor for a little better than twenty years. I’m not sure how many exactly – he can tell you. What else do you want to know? Height and weight, or...?”
“No, no – you misunderstand me, Mr. West. I’m more interested to know what kind of man he is.”
“What kind of man he is? Extremely intelligent. A very hard worker. Very principled.” What is he looking for? And when is he going to drop the bomb about his leg?
The doctor sighed. “Mr. West, I did not operate on him.”
“You didn’t? Why not?”
Szabo inhaled sharply. “I meant to say, Mr. West, that... Have you ever in your life felt that you were working at something, something that required great concentration, and felt as if it were not you doing the work, but some power outside of yourself?”
“I’m afraid I don’t understand.”
“Mr. West, I have been a surgeon for thirty years and have performed thousands of surgeries. Mr. Gordon had compound fractures, and sometimes in that situation a bone chip will find its way into the bloodstream. Once it reaches the heart, the patient dies. The condition of the bones in his leg indicated that this was likely to happen, and the only course I could pursue that would prevent it would be to amputate his leg at the knee.”
Jim felt tears rushing to his eyes. He’s dead.
Szabo rose and walked to the window. “Perhaps I shouldn’t have burdened you with this, Mr. West. Perhaps I’m getting old, too old, and I imagined it. But to my utter amazement, the bones fit together as if they were pieces of a puzzle.”
“So he’s not going to lose his leg?”
“No. If he heals quickly and heals well, he should be walking unaided sometime within the next two to three months, maybe sooner.”
Jim turned away, trying not to cry from relief. He turned back.
“Dr. Szabo, why did you want to know what kind of person Artie is?”
“I did because it seemed to me that this... other, that was doing the work...” Szabo paused and smiled quickly. “You may take me for a mad Hungarian, Mr. West, but this other, this being or intelligence or whatever it was – God, perhaps, spoke – without words – to my gut something about my patient. That he is as fine a man as ever drew breath.”
“I could have told you that, Doctor.”
* * *
Jeremy stopped in again in the evening to find out how Artie had made it through. Jim related what Dr. Szabo had told him, and mentioned to Jeremy what Szabo had said about bone chips. Afterward, Jeremy rushed home and wrote an obituary for Artie, which would run on the front page of Friday’s newspaper. He found inspiration in the bone chips explanation, and decided to use that as the cause of death, rather than typhoid. An accompanying article would claim that the shock of his partner’s death had pushed Jim himself closer to the grave. “According to his doctors, Mr. West is not expected to see 1874. However, he is insisting he be permitted to rise from his bed to attend Mr. Gordon’s funeral service, which will take place some time next week.”
* * *
Artie’s eyes snapped open in the middle of the night. He felt a little nauseous, probably from the anesthetic. His right leg was completely numb, and again resting on pillows and covered with a sheet. He did operate on me, right?
He was tempted to remove the sheet, but also reluctant. If my leg is gone, I don’t want to be alone when I find out.
In any case, his shoulder was bound up tight and he couldn’t move his right arm, so if he did pull off the sheet, he’d have a heck of a time getting it back into place.
I wonder what time it is. I wonder how Thora is. It’s either late Christmas night, or early Friday morning. Hard to believe this time a week ago...
His thoughts became very confused.
Maybe someone – Jim or somebody – will explain to me tomorrow.
He closed his eyes.
* * *
Loveless read the article with relish.
“Yes, I see that Mr. Gordon’s death would put the last nail in West’s coffin. I’d almost feared that he would make a full recovery. Interesting that his injuries killed him, rather than my typhoid serum. Although it may have made some contribution. Thora, please eat something.”
Thora’s head was down, and she was pushing food around her plate. Since Artemus had been abandoned, she’d been unable to eat.
“Miguelito, may I see the newspaper?”
“Only if you promise to clean your plate, my dear.”
“I’ll try,” she said wearily. “May I please see the newspaper now?”
Loveless handed it over to her and pointed out the obituary.
“Artemus is dead?!”
“Thora, didn’t you hear what I said?”
“No, I... I’m sorry, Miguelito, I...” I can’t eat, I can’t sleep, all I could do is worry about him. And now he’s gone.
She rose, shaking. “I’m sorry, Miguelito. Please...” Then she fainted.
* * *
On Friday morning, Richmond again showed up just before Jim was due to have breakfast.
“Tell me, West, any updates on Gordon? Apparently, all the nurses currently on duty were out yesterday. No one could tell me anything, other than that he’s resting.”
“I can’t tell you much, sir, but the surgeon came to see me yesterday and said Artie should make a full recovery. And he still has his leg.”
Richmond fell into a chair. He was always very guarded with his feelings, but his relief at this information was obvious.
“I’ve a mind to send you two out with your own security guards. I’m getting tired of three and four three times a year getting the news that one or the other of you has been shot, or near-drowned, or struck blind, or... I sometimes think my father was right in encouraging me to become a grocer. ‘As long as you work hard, you’ll never have any worries,’ he said.”
“No worries, no excitement, Colonel,” Jim smiled.
“The excitement you and Gordon create will, sooner or later, put me in my grave,” Richmond retorted. “By the way, I saw the papers this morning. You’ve decided on having his funeral next week?”
“Yes, on Wednesday. That’s if you can arrange it.”
“Does he know anything about it?”
“We did discuss it briefly, but I haven’t spoken to him since Christmas Eve night. I’m hoping I can spend a few minutes with him today.”
“There’s an mortician in Georgetown I’m friendly with – he and his two brothers were in my regiment. I’ll go see him this morning, and then I’ll give Pike directions on what to write. The three of us – or the five of us – I’d like to get Harper and Cranston involved, can discuss how we’ll welcome Loveless.”
“You don’t want Artie in on this?”
“Gordon’s contribution will be to rest. I insist on it.”
“Colonel, you and I know he’s going to throw a fit about not being included.”
“West, do you know the most effective way to deal with someone who’s throwing a fit? You ignore him.”
In this case, easier said than done, sir. The only thing Artie hates worse than being excluded is being ignored.
“I may return later to speak to his surgeon, if he’s available. The President is itching for news. I know he wants to come out himself, but he’s hosting some foreign dignitaries for the next few days, and can’t get away.”
Richmond got up and put his hat back on. “This time next week will be the second day of 1874. If you and he would like to do me a big favor, I’d appreciate it if you both made a resolution not to get shot, beaten, or injured in the New Year. My old ticker can’t take much more.”
Jim smiled broadly. “It’ll be first on my list, sir.”
“Encourage Gordon to put it on his list, too, will you?”
“I will, sir.”
* * *
Richmond came to the door of Artie’s room. It was slightly ajar, so he knocked.
“Just a moment, Mr. Gordon. Someone’s at the door.”
The nurse covered his leg and came out. “Are you here to see Mr. Gordon? I’m sorry, sir, it’s too early for visiting hours.”
“Then tell Mr. Gordon that Colonel Richmond was asking for him, and that I’ll be back late this afternoon.”
“Colonel!” Artie called from his bed. “Charlotte, let him come in.”
“But Mr. Gordon—“
“Charlotte, he’s my boss. If you keep him out, he might decide to fire me. Then, when you and I get married, I’ll be unable to support you.”
The nurse giggled, then opened the door. “Sir, I’ll leave you two alone, but I really must change the dressing on Mr. Gordon’s leg, so please don’t be long.”
“Thank you, nurse,” Richmond said, closing the behind her.
“It’s… nice to see you, Colonel.” Judging by his expression, he’s gearing up to scream at me. “Did you have a nice Christmas?”
“It was a lovely Christmas. I spent the whole day explaining to my nearest and dearest that they were mistaken about my bad mood. That I was having as much fun as anyone else, and that I wasn’t the least bit concerned that my best man was, at that moment, either having his leg amputated or resting after having it amputated. How was your Christmas, Gordon?”
“Can’t say I remember much, sir.”
Richmond stared at him.
“But… uh, I guess it was nice. Have you seen Jim, sir? He’s right down the hallway, you might want to go and say hello. I’m sure he’d be happy to see you,” Artie said hastily. And then Charlotte can come back in, and I can plead with her not to grant you admittance again, and maybe you can just write me a strongly worded letter about my cavalier disrespect for life and limb, which is always how you phrase it, sir. We make jokes about that.
“I’ve seen West already this morning.”
“Feeling alright, Gordon?”
“Yes.” As long as the morphine holds out.
“Glad to hear it, Gordon,” Richmond said evenly.
“Sir, I’m guessing you didn’t stop by to exchange pleasantries. If you’re gonna let me have it, you might as well do it right now.”
“How do you know I intend to let you have it?”
“I recall promising you that my plan entailed very little risk.”
Richmond smiled absently. “Sometimes, Gordon, we’re surprised at how things work out. Do you agree with me?”
“Uh... yes, sir.”
“And that sometimes there’s a sacrifice to be made in order that a certain course of action succeed?”
“And that sometimes that sacrifice bears fruit that we did not anticipate?”
“Yes, sir.” Artie said tiredly. Don’t prolong the suspense – just scream at me and be done with it.
“I was thinking that Miss Copley’s sacrifice should, once we find her, be publicly recognized.”
“You claimed that she assured you that West was dead, correct?”
“What did she achieve by doing that?”
“Sir?” Is he deliberately being obtuse or did I get too much morphine?
“Gordon, if she hadn’t – say if she’d said to you, ‘Jim’s still alive. I only pretended to shoot him,’ what would be different?
Artie thought a moment. “I’d still be there, and maybe I’d be more worried about taking care of her than doing my job.”
“Exactly. Now, I’m not going to say that you didn’t do something stupid by climbing out of the skylight, but if you hadn’t we’d still be wondering where you were, and what Loveless was up to. And, as time went on, I at least would have been quite certain that the plan had failed and Loveless had already done away with you.”
“What’s our next move, sir? Jim mentioned something about staging a funeral.”
“Yes, your funeral will be scheduled for Wednesday, New Year’s Eve morning.”
Artie’s mood brightened. “Wonderful! I once won a medal in a breath-holding contest you know. No one will be able to tell the difference between me and an actual corpse.”
“You won’t be there – it will be a closed coffin service.”
“Won’t be there! Colonel, that’s not right! How can you do it without me??”
There was a rap on the door.
“Sir, I really need to attend to Mr. Gordon’s leg,” Charlotte said.
“No, you don’t, Charlotte! Colonel, I insist that you allow me to attend this! I absolutely insist!”
Richmond got up to leave. Artie continued to rail at him.
“Nurse, is there a time I can meet with the surgeon?”
“Dr. Szabo should be in at two, sir.”
“Can you ask if he’d be willing to sit down with me at around four?”
“By the way, if Mr. Gordon ever collects himself, wish him a happy belated Christmas from me.”
Out in the hallway, Artie was heard to wail, “You won’t get away with this, Colonel!” For the first time in what felt like a week, Richmond laughed.
* * *
The next four days, the newspaper reported that Jim was failing, but still intending to ‘say a personal goodbye to his bosom friend and colleague, who was cruelly struck down in the prime of life by a tragic combination of injury and illness.”
The service would be private, and only those with invitations would be admitted. The venue was the Featherstone Brothers Memorial Chapel in Georgetown.
At the meetings held in Jim’s room, it was decided that snipers would be positioned in the choir loft, and milling around outside in civilian dress would be Army officers, as well as Frank and Jeremy, heavily bearded. Bosley would be costumed as a doctor and would stick close by Jim, who would be in a wheelchair. Since Monday, the building had been patrolled round the clock, in the event Loveless decided to come early and stay.
Jim and everyone else - Frank, Bosley, Jeremy – spent as much time with Artie as they could, but as his physical state slowly improved, his emotional state withered.
“I should be there! After all, it’s my funeral!! What’s it gonna take to get it through your thick heads that I should be there??”
His ire at being excluded was only part of the problem. The other part was that he was sleeping badly, because Thora was continually on his mind. Was she alive? If so, was she alright? If not, how could she be set free when no one knew where the house was? He was also troubled by something she said – that she loved him. Or did he dream that?
It must have dreamt it. I was pretty rotten to her towards the end.
* * *
As soon as the report of the funeral came out, Loveless began working on how to secure a ticket. Finally, he hit upon what he was sure was a can’t-miss idea.
On Tuesday morning, Antoinette, beautifully dressed and coiffed in a blonde wig, came to headquarters with papers alleging that she was Mrs. Artemus Gordon.
Her teary explanation was that they had separated during the war, but “I never stopped loving my darling, and I beg of you to allow me to say goodbye to him for one last time.”
Everyone at headquarters had been given a detailed description of her appearance, and so when she was recognized – even with the wig – two tickets were issued, “in case she felt the need to have a friend or family member accompany her.”
“Thank you so much. I shall be coming with my young ward.”
She was no sooner out the door than the news was everywhere. Jim took it upon himself to tell Artie.
“Guess what, friend? They’re coming tomorrow.”
“Who? Not that I care, but I’ll indulge you.”
“Aw, don’t be that way, Artie.”
“‘Don’t be that way, Artie,’” he mocked. “‘Just lie there with your leg in a fifty pound cast, and your right arm and shoulder all bound up, and wait for our good news.’ Disgusting.”
“Artie, how could we possibly move you? You just said yourself the cast is very heavy. How could we lift you and safely drop you into a casket?”
“It could be done if you really wanted to.”
“And then we’d have to unbind your arm, and then if there’s any banging around, your shoulder bone might not knit properly. A dead body doesn’t get laid out with its arms and legs bandaged.”
“So undo it – what do I care? I have more than one shoulder. Or leave it be, and tell them that my grandfather was an Egyptian and to honor him, I left it in my will that I wanted to be partly mummified when I died.”
Jim tried, unsuccessfully, not to laugh.
“I’m glad you think it’s funny, James,” Artie said bitterly. “Glad I could be of service.”
“Don’t you want to know who’s coming?”
“Is it Queen Victoria? Santa Claus? The Flying Dutchman?”
Jim tried to keep a straight face. “I don’t know if they’ve requested tickets. But Antoinette stopped by today in a blonde wig.”
“How almost interesting,” Artie grumbled.
Just then Colonel Richmond entered.
“Gordon, you’re looking better today – not so peaked.”
Artie frowned, before saying, “Colonel, I want you to give me one good reason – just one – why I can’t be there tomorrow.”
“I can think of dozens, Gordon.”
“Really? How about just one?”
“If there’s any mayhem, you could be killed.”
“Jim could be killed, too. You could be killed. Anybody and everybody could be killed.”
“Considering your condition, it would be very easy to do away with you. Even if he isn’t sure you’re dead, he knows for a fact you’re not ambulatory. You’d be a sitting duck, and the Service spent too much time and money training you to have its investment needlessly blown to smithereens.”
Artie sighed with frustration. “What if – ?”
“Not another word, Gordon.”
“Not another word!”
I oughta die right here, right now, just to spite you.
* * *
At five the following morning, Jeremy and Bosley came for Jim, Jeremy carrying a valise of stage make-up.
“I’ll have them completely destroyed over you! ‘Isn’t that tragic? The poor dying man coming out to his friend’s funeral?’”
“Who’s ‘them?’ No one other than us, Richmond, the snipers and the soldiers are gonna be there.”
“You think the female members of the James T. West appreciation society won’t turn out for at least a glimpse of you? Of course they will. Frank oughta stand on the corner and be ready to pass out handkerchiefs. By the way, is Artie taking his exclusion any better?”
“Worse. I think Richmond might order him tied down to his bed, just to make certain he doesn’t try to get there.”
“You’d think he’d have had enough of Loveless already,” Bosley said, shaking his head. “He ought to realize how fortunate he is to even be alive, and focus on the future.”
Jeremy and Jim caught one another’s glance.
“Obviously, you don’t know Artie well, Bosley.”
“I know him well enough,” came the defensive reply.
“Then why don’t you go to his room, and discuss this? He hasn’t been sleeping well. He might be awake now.”
“I think I will, gentleman.” Bosley returned a half hour later to see that Jim’s make-up was complete.
“What did Artie have to say to you?”
Nothing to me exactly. He was raving the whole time about not going to the funeral. I think perhaps he was delirious.”
Not delirious. Livid,” Jim said.
Bosley shrugged. “You look good – by which I mean you look dreadful. Very convincingly dreadful.”
Jim’s eyes were sunken, and surrounded by dark circles. His skin was grey. His manner was shaky and weak.
“Should we show Artie my handiwork, or would that just set him off?” Jeremy asked.
“Let’s show him. Maybe he can give me some more pointers on how to act half-dead.” Jim sat in the wheelchair that had been provided for this purpose, and Bosley, now in the guise of his doctor, pushed him down the hall into Artie’s room.”
Artie was not able to hide his sickened expression.
“You look ghastly.”
“Good ghastly or bad ghastly?”
Worse than I could have imagined. “Loveless will definitely believe you’re dying. Heck, if I didn’t know better, I’d think you were dying. Good job, Jerry.”
”How are you, Artie?” Jim asked.
“Better than yesterday, not as good as tomorrow,” he replied with resignation. “I hope you’ll remember me when the funeral’s over, and give me the details as soon as you can.
“Of course we will.”
“No, Jim, you need to say it like this…” Artie repeated what Jim had just said a very thin, breathless voice. “Have an idea in your mind that it’s more difficult to speak than it would be to roll a one-ton boulder up a hill with your bare hands.”
Jim tried again.
“Good, but try to inject a little pathos. He needs to think you’re not only dying, you’ve lost your spirit.”
Jim tried again.
“Much better,” Jeremy said. “You’ll have them wringing out their handkerchiefs.”
“Jim and I should be going,” Bosley said, checking his pocket watch.
As they turned to go, Artie beckoned to Jim. “Jim… Thora. Please make a point of finding out where and how she is. Will you make that a priority?”
Jim noted some fear in Artie’s eyes. Maybe that’s why he’s not sleeping – he’s worried about her. I’m just as worried. It would not be beyond Loveless to kill her before leaving town.
“Absolutely, Artie, I will. I won’t come back without some word about her.”
I just hope it’s something good.
* * *
The memorial chapel was very opulent, well-suited to both its tony neighborhood and the funeral of a high-ranking government employee. When Bosley wheeled Jim in at six in the morning, no one was around except for Colonel Richmond and the Featherstones’ assistant, Mr. Daws. Both were drinking coffee.
Richmond turned when he heard the squeak of the wheelchair. Appalled at Jim’s appearance, it took him awhile to find what he wanted to say.
“That’s... a very good job Pike did.”
After introductions were made, Mr. Daws pointed to the front of the room.
“Gentlemen, may I show you the deceased’s casket?” Mr. Daws asked, indicating a large mahogany coffin, framed on both sides with enormous sprays of lilies.
Jim got up from the wheelchair to see a brass plate on the casket lid, floridly engraved ‘Artemus Gordon, United States Secret Service, d. December 25, 1873.’”
“Nice, isn’t it, Mr. West?”
Jim nodded, just to be polite. I never, ever want to see such a thing again.
“Very fine engraving, Mr. Daws,” Bosley observed. “Was that done in-house?”
“Yes, Mr. Cranston,” Daws said proudly.
Jim wheeled himself away as Bosley and Mr. Daws began conversing on new developments in metal engraving.
“When are the snipers coming, Colonel?”
“Seven-thirty. Pike and Harper should be here then as well. The other soldiers will be coming and going throughout the morning.”
There was nothing else to do but wait.
And reflect that the dream that had troubled Richmond so seems to be taking place right now.
* * *
Pike came in alone a short time later, and beckoned Richmond at the doorway.
“Colonel, I need to talk to you,” he said urgently.
“Gordon,” he whispered.
SS 1st assignment - desk job
Posted - 03/01/2010 : 19:47:34
| Chapter 8
Since her fainting spell, Thora rarely left her room, except for dinner, and even then she’d eat almost nothing. She heard noises downstairs indicating the Miguelito and Antoinette were getting ready to leave for the funeral. She tip-toed down the back stairs to listen.
* * *
“My, how lovely you are, Antoinette.”
“Why, thank you, Miguelito,” came the giddy reply. “Do you prefer me as a blonde?”
“I prefer you as a blonde, as a redhead, as anything and everything, dear. I prefer you.”
Thora is no longer competition, Antoinette thought happily.
“Reilly, we’re going now,” Loveless said. “I insist that everything be ready for us to leave for the first leg of the trip to Philadelphia by the time we get back. I’m putting you in charge, and if anything is undone when we return, it will be you who will be punished for it.”
“What’s the story with Miss Thora? Is she coming too or what?”
“No. She’s to be done away with.”
“Doesn’t matter,” Loveless replied distractedly. “Whatever you and the boys decide will be fine with me.”
“So you wouldn’t mind if we..., you know... amuse ourselves with her before...?” Reilly asked, with a hungry expression on his face.
“Do anything you want to, as long as she’s dead when we return.”
* * *
Thora raced up the stairs to the attic and raced down again to the second floor and then again to the attic and back.
* * *
“What is it, Pike?”
“I don’t want to tell you in front of Jim. Somewhere else we can go?”
“Mr. Daws, is there somewhere Mr. Pike and I can talk for just a moment?”
“Sure. See that door?” he pointed in the back corner of the room. “Follow the scent of formaldehyde. My office is the last on the right – it’s unlocked.”
“Hey, where are you two headed?” Jim asked, rising from his wheelchair.
“I got a splinter, Jim,” Jeremy said, holding up his thumb. “Colonel’s famous for his ability with tweezers.”
Both men went to the office and closed the door. Richmond turned the latch in case West intended to break in on them.
“What’s this about Gordon? A downturn in his condition?”
“Physically, no. It’s... well, after Jim and Bosley left, I stopped in his room again just to kill some time, since I didn’t need to be here ‘til seven-thirty. I figured he’d appreciate a little company - but, of course, if he wasn’t up to it, I‘d have said goodbye, and left right then.
He seemed happy enough to have someone to talk to – story is he hasn’t been sleeping, and he gets bored just lying there. So we talked for about forty-five minutes, very light conversation – plans for vacation and so forth.”
Richmond listened intently, without interrupting, as he was wont to do.
“Then suddenly, sir – out of nowhere, Artie started screaming, ‘If anyone lays a hand on her, I’ll kill him!’ He went on and on like this – even started pulling the bandages off his shoulder and hollering for a knife to get the cast off his leg. I tried to get him to calm down, but he literally overpowered me. Fortunately, some orderlies weren’t far away, and they took over. It was a terrible thing to witness, sir.”
“Who’s the ‘she’ he was talking about? Do you know?”
“I don’t. I thought maybe he meant Thora Copley, but it could have been anybody. Or nobody.”
Richmond looked very unhappy. The previous fifteen months had been very hard on Gordon: the death of Anna White, his experiences with the Magus, and now having come close to losing his leg. The almost endless strain might have caused his mind to snap.
“Uh, sir – did you hear something?”
He and Jeremy returned to the chapel to see Daws on the floor bleeding, and Jim slumped in his wheelchair, with Antoinette standing behind him, holding her mother-of-pearl clad pistol.
* * *
“Hells bells, this guy’s got the strength of a rhinoceros. Gimme a hand here, Rocky.”
“C’mon, Mr. Gordon, relax. Ain’t nobody gonna hurt nobody. Your lady friend – or whoever it is you’ve been hollering about – she’s alright. Just came in downstairs,” Rocky said, winking at Levi. “Why don’t you take a little nap, and when you awake, here she’ll be, all decked out in her finest, ready to take you home.”
“Or to the nearest asylum,” Levi said under his breath.
“No! I have to go! Don’t you know what they’re planning to do to her? I have to stop them!!”
Nurse Charlotte had already given Artie two doses of sedative, which only served to make him more difficult to handle.
“Mr. Gordon, we could put you in restraints, but we don’t wanna to do that. If you struggle too much, you’re gonna to end up re-breaking your shoulder, and if that happens, Szabo’s gonna have a heck of a time putting you back together again. You don’t think your lady friend would want that to happen, do you?”
It was difficult to hold him down, because too much pressure on his right side could make his injuries worse.
“Levi, whaddya think we just let him tire himself out? It’s not as if he’s gonna get anywhere with that cast on his leg.”
“Tire himself out?? By the time he’s reached that point, the pair of us could be old men. Nurse!”
Charlotte came back in. “I can’t risk giving him anything else. He got a shot of morphine when I came on duty, and if Dr. Szabo finds out I gave him sedatives twice within an hour, I’ll never hear the end of it. Can’t you do something??”
“Alright, Mr. Gordon... Now, this is gonna hurt me worse than it’ll hurt you.” With that Rocky gave him a roundhouse blow to the jaw, which finally accomplished what the sedatives were unable to do.
* * *
Thora was leaning up against the window sill, desperately trying to remain upright. It wasn’t easy. She was very dizzy, her heart was pounding violently, and she was unable to catch her breath. Nevertheless, her state was ideal for the situation.
The moment had arrived. She heard the heavy boots in the hallway, and the men spilled into the room, roaring drunk.
“Hey, li’l lady, whatcha doin’ in the corner there?” Dwight asked, leering.
“Dying of typhoid. I just want to see the sky before --”
“You ain’t gonna die before I’ve had a little fun with ya,” he said as he unbuttoned his trousers.
“Wait a minute, Dwight. Lady, are you really sick?” Reilly asked. She looked awful. Something was definitely wrong with her.
“Yes. Why do you think Miguelito let you... come up here to me? He wants you all to be exposed to typhoid. He’s studying the serum,” she told them, between gasps. “How fast can seven men and one woman die of it. If you... do what you’ve come here to do, I will pass it on to you. He gave me a triple injection just for that purpose.”
“Aw, c’mon, she might be lyin an accounta she ain’t lookin’ forward to what I got for her. Not that I blame her,” Dwight said evilly.
“She’s not lying. Can’t you see whatever he gave her has started working on her already?” Reilly said. “Let’s go. I have dibs on Loveless. If there’s anything left of him after I tear him to pieces, you can fight over it amongst yourselves.”
“Can you... please, let me go? I know I’m going to die, but not here – please?” Thora asked pitifully.
“Yeah. Lady, I’m gonna open the back door and the gate. Soon as I whistle up to you, you come down. And you go right out. Don’t turn around, and don’t you come any closer to any of us, you hear?”
When the door closed, Thora put on a coat she’d taken out of Antoinette’s closet. A few minutes later, she heard the whistle and went downstairs.
* * *
Antoinette held Pike and Richmond at bay with her gun. Loveless struggled out of the pram, and walked over to the wheelchair, where Jim was unconscious, having taken a blow to the back of his head from the pistol.
“A very steady pulse for someone in his condition,” Loveless frowned.
The coldness of Loveless’s hand on his wrist brought Jim around. He pulled his hand away a little too quickly, then got into character.
“So, looks like you win, Loveless.” he said slowly and painfully.
“Looks that way, doesn’t it?” he grinned. “Your pulse is strong – no doubt a lingering remnant of your previous state of health. Judging by your appearance, however, I’d say you won’t live out the week. Unfortunately, I won’t be able to make your funeral – I’ll be traveling.”
Richmond made a slight move. Antoinette shot at him, missing him by eight feet.
“Antoinette, put the gun away. You two, please vacate the premises. I would like to visit with Mr. West. If you’d prefer not to have him die within the next few minutes, I suggest you keep away until after the lady and I leave.”
Slowly, Richmond and Jeremy backed out of the room, and left the building through the back door. Soon the snipers and soldiers would arrive.
Soon, but not soon enough, Richmond thought angrily.
* * *
Thora walked as quickly as she was able – which was fairly slow – down the street, praying a cab would somehow turn up, because she was lost. She had money – stolen from Loveless – which should have been more than enough to get her to the railroad station. She hoped Artemus and Jim’s car would still be there and, if it was, that she could wait inside until Jim returned from the funeral. Before returning to Baltimore, she very much wanted to visit Artemus’s gravesite.
In what she later thought was a miracle, a cab appeared at the corner.
* * *
“Did you see Gordon before he died, Mr. West? Or maybe they didn’t let you. But I’ll bet you heard his screams.” Loveless said.
“He was terribly noisy,” Antoinette agreed. “If I live to be a hundred, I’ll always be able to hear those screams.”
“He died before I could see him,” Jim said, trying to contain himself. “Where is Thora?”
“‘Where is Thora?’” Loveless echoed. “Hmm, seven men... let’s see... I estimate that by now all seven have had a go at her, so they’re probably going back for seconds. Yes, I think I can say that where she is is on her back, being violated for the eighth or ninth time. Once they’ve all had their fill, she’ll be shot or strangled or whatever they come up with. But by that point, I’m sure she’ll be grateful for the favor,” he said with a bright smile.
With a lightning fast move, Jim put his hands around Loveless’s throat.
* * *
Orrin Cobb was starting out on his morning constitutional to see a lady sitting on the stairs at the back of the varnish car. She looked very tired.
“Can I help you, miss?”
“Yes, please. Do you know when Mr. West will be back from Mr. Gordon’s funeral?”
“That I can’t tell you, Miss. Your best bet would be to go to the hospital to wait. I’m not sure when he’ll be back there, but sooner or later he will be.
“Would you like to come in for a cup of tea, Miss?”
“Yes, thank you,” she said gratefully.
Once inside, she felt as if she wanted to cry. The last time she was here, Artemus was alive and well.
“How long have you known Mr. West, Miss? Oh, by the way, my name is Cobb – Orrin Cobb. I’m one of the boys who keep this train on the road.”
“I’m Thora Copley – very pleased to make your acquaintance. Aren’t you... aren’t you going to Mr. Gordon’s funeral?”
“Nah. They got it all sewn up, who’s coming and who’s not.”
Strange that he doesn’t appear the least bit sorry.
“So, you’re one of Mr. West’s friends, Miss Copley?”
“No... I mean, he is a friend, but I met him through Mr. Gordon. I was a friend of Mr. Gordon’s.”
“Shame about Mr. Gordon, ain’t it? From what I heard, they was sure he was gonna lose that leg.”
“Yes, it is a shame,” she said painfully. “He was a lovely person.”
“Yeah, he’s a nice guy. I like West too, but Gordon’s more the steady type. You gotta be careful with Mr. West; he flies off the handle now and then.”
After her second cup of tea, Thora got up to leave. “Mr. Cobb, would it be alright if I took a peek into Mr. Gordon’s room?”
Cobb shrugged. “Be my guest.”
Thora opened the door slowly. The room smelled like his aftershave. She took a deep breath and tried to impress the scent on her memory. She then peered sadly at the photographs on the dresser.
He’s with her now.
“Mr. Cobb, how far is the hospital? Is it walking distance?”
“It’s about a mile, mile and a half. I’d suggest you take a cab.”
“Oh. Well, it was very nice to meet you, Mr. Cobb.”
“You, too, Miss. Hey, when you get to the hospital, give Mr. Gordon my regards. I’m sorry I haven’t been around, but I’ll try to visit in a day or two.”
Thora stared at him. Of all the bad taste! No – he’s probably just confused. He meant West.
* * *
“Stop!” Antoinette shrieked.
Jim, still with his hands around Loveless’s throat, pushed the wheelchair backwards with his feet and knocked her to the floor. Loveless’s face was bright purple and he was no longer able to struggle. Just before he lost consciousness, Jim put him down. Loveless fell in a heap.
“Colonel! Jeremy! C’mon back in!! Now, here’s how it’s going to go, Loveless: we’re going to take you for a ride back to your hideout, and you’re going to give us the grand tour, after which you will be put into a cell, and chained to the wall, with two guard standing watch night and day.”
Loveless smirked. “I have an entire staff waiting for me – all armed and ready.”
“So will I, any minute. Eight snipers and ten or twelve Army officers. And if that doesn’t scare you, consider this: I’m known for having poor impulse control, and I’d really enjoy finishing strangling you. And not one of them would raise a hand to stop me.”
“So go ahead. What’s to stop you from finishing me off right this minute? You’ll may be full of energy now, but any second it’ll run out. It has to.” Loveless asked defiantly.
“No it doesn’t. You see, I wasn’t shot.”
“You lie. The newspaper wouldn’t print that you were dying if you weren’t. And you’re very appearance says you’re not long for this world. Haven’t you seen yourself in a mirror?”
Jim reached into his pocket, took out a handkerchief, and wiped some of the makeup off of his face. “See? I’m all better.”
Loveless howled with rage. “At least Thora hasn’t gotten away with it! She’s received – and may yet be receiving – her punishment!”
“That’s it, Loveless. You will not live to see another sunrise. Once the tour is over, you’re mine.”
“I’m not afraid of you.”
“I know you’re not. But I think you do fear the entire world knowing what a failure you are. And after that, you’ll be a laughingstock. ‘That crazy dwarf out of California.’ I can see someone writing a stage comedy about it.”
“And if the late Mr. Gordon were still alive, perhaps he would appear in it, is that right?”
Jim shook his head. “Even more bad news for you, Loveless. He is alive. He’s not in that box over there. This whole thing was set up to ensnare you, and you were foolish enough to fall for it.”
Loveless, humiliated, became subdued. At least the treacherous Miss Copley got hers. I can take comfort in that.
* * *
Thora arrived in the lobby of the hospital and asked where she could find James West.
“216, Miss. Two flights up, corner room.”
When she reached the floor, she saw a nurse was at the desk, writing.
“Nurse, I’m here to see Mr. West.”
“Oh, I’m sorry, dear. He’s not in at the moment,” Charlotte said.
“May I leave a message for him?”
“Yes – what is it?”
“I’d like him to contact me. If you’ll give me a pencil and paper, I’ll write down the address. I would very much like to visit Mr. Gordon’s gravesite.”
“Mr. West must know a lot of Gordons. Which one do you mean?”
“Artemus Gordon?? Unless there’s another one, he’s not dead. He’s in room 224.”
“He not dead??”
“Could I... could I see him?”
“I don’t know; he was very agitated earlier this morning. Violent – we almost had to put him into restraints.”
“Oh, nurse... please. Could I just look? I was so certain that...”
Charlotte noticed tears swimming in Thora’s eyes.
“Miss, what is your name?”
“If Mr. Gordon is awake, I’ll tell him you’re here. Now, if he gets rammy, I’m sorry, but it will have to be another time.”
“Yes, I understand.”
Charlotte opened the door to Artie’s room. His left arm was resting over his eyes.
“Yeah? How come you didn’t draw the shade, Charlotte? You know it’s way too bright in here in the morning. And, ya know, for some reason, my jaw is aching. What do you think would cause that?”
Charlotte ignored the question, and went to the shade. “Mr. Gordon, there’s a lady to see you. Says her name is Thora Copley.”
“Thora! Thora!! Have her come in!”
“Mr. Gordon, if you’re going to get all excited again, I can’t—“
“Charlotte, if you don’t want me to get out of this bed and waltz over to that door, then you’d better do it.”
“Please.” He lay back and put his left arm back over his forehead. “Look how serene I am. Now do it!”
Charlotte went to the door. “Miss Copley, come on in.”
Although Artie was smiling, there were also tears running down his face. He held out his left hand to her. Thora wrapped both her hands around it.
“Are you alright, Thora? I was so worried that –“
“I’m fine, Artemus. Much better than that, even. Up until a few minutes ago, I was sure you were gone. I came to leave a message for Jim that I’d like to visit your gravesite.”
“Thora, there are so many things I need to apologize for,” he said earnestly.
“If you can forgive me for leading you on about shooting Jim, I can forgive anything, Artemus. Anything.”
“But I was so nasty to you. You didn’t deserve that.”
“The woman who killed your best friend? Indeed I did deserve it.”
“Thora, how did you come up with... all those things you came up with? You’re a master schemer, you know that?”
“Artemus, I’m just a bored old maid. For the first and only time in my life, I was something else for a few days.”
“Mr. Gordon, time for your sponge bath.”
“My, my – this is awkward,” he said, blushing.
“Artemus, is it alright if I stop in this evening? It’s New Year’s Eve, you know.”
“Please do, Thora. I’ll look forward to it.”
As she rose, he took her hand and kissed it tenderly.
* * *
The snipers came filing in at quarter after seven to see Loveless in one of the seats with his hands and feet bound with heavy rope, taken from the carriage house out back. Antoinette was similarly bound. Richmond was on the floor alongside Mr. Daws, holding his hand. Bosley had already gone for a doctor.
“Colonel Richmond, we’re sorry we didn’t get here in time,” their commander said.
“No, worries, Lieutenant. We’ve got everything under control,” Richmond replied confidently. “Actually, you’re a little early.”
“So what can we do for you, and the two mourners there?”
“How’d you get here, Loveless?” Jim asked.
“Carriage. It’s outside.”
“Who drove, you? Antoinette? One of your other associates?”
“Well, then, let’s have Antoinette drive back. Colonel, is it alright if Jeremy and I ride with Loveless?”
“Yes. I’ll have the snipers’ vehicle and that of our Army officers driving along side. Cranston, Harper, and I will go with them. Lieutenant, please appoint two of your boys to stay here with Mr. Daws. A doctor should be coming any minute.”
“Sir, I don’t like the idea of a show of force – I think this time, the subtle approach will work better,” Jim said. “I’d prefer it be just Jeremy and myself.”
“Alright, West. In any case, I have a strong feeling Loveless has reached the end of the road.”
Antoinette was untied, and led outside to the carriage.
“You know, don’t you, that there will be two guns pointed at your little friend during the entire trip, so if you try anything – and I do mean anything, Antoinette, he’d the one who’s going to pay.”
“You said you’re going to kill him anyway,” she retorted haughtily. “Why difference would it make what I do?”
“Antointette, he’s made it clear he has no regard for women. None. There’s a vague possibility that you could someday get out of prison. Don’t dig a deeper hole than what you’re already in. You’ve wasted enough of your life on him; don’t waste what’s left of it.”
Antoinette looked pleadingly at Loveless. “Miguelito, do something!”
“He’s right, my dear. The game is over.”
Antoinette climbed onto the seat and took the reins; Jim, Jeremy and Loveless went and sat inside.
Loveless was uncharacteristically quiet.
Jeremy and Jim were also silent. Their full attention was on Loveless.
About a half-hour into the ride, Loveless began kicking at the seat in front of him, like a child. Jim told him to knock it off.
That was the last thing he remembered before being awakened by the sounds of complete chaos. The first thing he noticed that he and Jeremy had both been relieved of their guns.
The carriage was shaking violently, and shouts seemed to have come from everywhere. Antoinette was screaming.
The door was pulled open roughly by two pairs of very muscular arms, which then grabbed Loveless.
Whatever knock-out gas had been used on them, it rendered Jim and Jeremy unable to come to Loveless’s aid. Through the open door, Jim could see him being attacked by a group of enraged men.
He thought he saw blood spilling on the ground. Then he passed out again.
A half-hour later Jim opened his eyes, coughing. The men were gone, Loveless was gone. The house smelled like it was on fire. As he watched a sudden explosion on the third floor blew out the windows, and within seconds the house was engulfed.
“Jerry, wake up! We gotta get out of here!”
“Huh?” Jeremy’s head rolled onto his shoulder and his eyes closed again.
“No, later,” he mumbled.
Jim pulled Jeremy from the carriage and through the gate onto the street. Another explosion woke him.
“Jim! What...?!” He was riding in the carriage with his gun pointed at Loveless, and what seemed like the very next moment he was lying on the street looking up at what had been a mansion, and watching it burn to the ground.
“Jerry, can you get up?”
“Of course I can,” Jeremy said as he clambered up unsteadily.
By now, a crowd had gathered to watch the conflagration.
“Jim, can you fill in the gaps? Why are we here?”
Jim sighed. “As near as I can tell, that building was Loveless’s local HQ. I remember seeing him being mobbed... at least I think I do. Jerry, I’m afraid he’s escaped us again.”
A near-toothless old graybeard had been standing nearby, listening.
“You fellas talkin’ ‘bout that little guy, ‘bout so high?” he asked, holding his hand at his hip.
“Yes. What can you tell us about him?” Jim asked urgently.
“He done joined the choir invisible. Seen it from my room,” he said, pointing to a third floor window in a shabby brownstone on the corner. “Buncha fellers – I’m thinkin’ they was in his employ ‘cause I seen ‘em around there a lot, and that little guy bossin’ ‘em – well, them fellers done set upon him like a pack’a jackals. And that lady - dunno if she was his wife or what she was – a’howlin’ like a banshee for ‘em to stop. And I seen one of ‘em take out a gun and plug ‘er. My neighbor lady was of the opinion that he was a kinda scientist or what have ya, but I dunno. Seemed right odd to me.”
“Where the police summoned?”
At the man cackled until he began to cough. “Aw, Charlie, that’s a good one! Last time a copper turned up in this district, George Washington hisself was only so high.”
“Did you see where these men went?” Jim persisted.
“They done took the horses off’n the carriage I seen y’uns two come out of, and all the horses from out the barn, and just absquatulated on outta here. Might be halfway to Baltimore by now.”
“Well, do you know where Loveless’s body is?”
“Prob’ly itsy li’l pieces of it flying about us right now, in the form’a ash. Him and the lady – pretty sure I seen ‘em dragged back into the house. Yes, sir, they done danced their last dance, them two.”
“Lady! Thora might still be in there!” Jim rushed toward the house with Jeremy in pursuit.
“Jim, no! It’s hopeless!”
Flames were everywhere. Suddenly the roof caved in.
“I won’t let her die!”
Jeremy tackled him. “She’s gone, Jim. It’s hopeless.”
Jim looked wildly up at the building. She’s gone.
Jeremy took over, first by helping Jim up, then leading him back to the old man.
“Fella, what’s your name?”
“Oswald Osrick the fourth, on accounta my daddy was Oswald Osrick the third.”
“Mr. Osrick, can you point us in the direction of the Capitol?” Jeremy asked.
“Hmm, here’s whatcha do, young fella. You go up this street five squares or so, and you’ll see it in the distance.”
Osrick held out his palm. “An emolument would be appreciated, on accounta I’m a veteran of the recent hostilities, an’ the three or four previous.”
Both Jim and Jeremy reached into their pockets.
“Many thanks. Need any more intelligence, you come right on back. Ever’body ‘round here knows Oswald Osrick number four.”
Their walk was silent for some time, until Jeremy asked, “Do you think he could actually be dead?”
It took awhile for Jim to answer. “Every time – every single time I think he’s dead, Jerry, he comes back. But I did see those men attack him – at least the beginning of it – and it seems more likely than not that Loveless is... finally dead.”
“That’s not what you wanted, I assume.”
“What I wanted – what I really wanted... Hell, I don’t know what I want anymore. Let’s go back and give Richmond our report.”
SS 1st assignment - desk job
Posted - 03/01/2010 : 20:07:48
| Chapter 9
“So he’s dead?”
“A witness, sir, said he is. And from what I saw, it’s not difficult to believe he might have been beaten to death.” Jim ventured.
Richmond shook his head and sighed. “I can’t say I’m sorry he’s gone, but it seems an awful waste. If he’d been taken alive, we might at least have learned something from him. He was mad as a hatter, but also had a fine intellect, as his many schemes attest.”
“I don’t think he’d ever have cooperated, sir,” replied Jeremy.
“You’re probably right. Well, I suppose we close the file on him now.”
I wouldn’t be so hasty. “Sir, could you at least wait until we go back to the property and take a look around?”
“Not so sure, eh, West?
“No, sir. If you check the files–“
“Yes, I know. I’ll see that we’ve been very sure time after time that he’s dead, and time after time, we’ve been wrong.”
“Sir, something else: it is likely Thora Copley was in the building when it caught fire…”
Jeremy put his hand on Jim’s shoulder. “I think we can safely say, sir, that she is gone.”
The feeling in the room became very somber.
“I wish I’d her met her, West. She sounds like she was quite a lady.”
“She was. Sir, before we go back, I’d like to go see Artie. He asked me to let him know what happened at the funeral.”
“No. First go back to the Wanderer and write out your report – Pike and you. Meet with Gordon in another few days.”
Richmond and Jeremy shared a glance, which did not escape Jim.
“What’s this about Artie? Why are you trying to keep me away from him?”
“He wasn’t feeling well this morning, Jim. I think something he ate disagreed with him,” Jeremy lied.
“I’m not buying it. What’s wrong with him?”
“I’m not a doctor, Jim,” came the mild reply.
“Colonel, what’s wrong with him? Jeremy didn’t leave with Bosley and me, and something tells me he saw something. Or knows something that I don’t know about Artie.”
“West, he’s been through a lot. Don’t ask any more questions.”
The events of the day had Jim frazzled, and he did not welcome being put off like this.
“I don’t want to be thought of as insubordinate, sir, but Artie’s been my partner for several years now, and I think I deserve to know if something is wrong.” Jim tried not to sound angry, but it was very apparent that he was.
“I am aware, West, that he is and has been your partner for some time. I have been your commanding officer for even longer than that, and when I give an order, I expect it to be obeyed. No more questions.”
Jim glanced over at Jeremy, but Jeremy’s expression said he wasn’t about to tell Jim anything, either.
“Furthermore, West, if you return to the hospital without my say so, you will be disciplined.”
That comment had Jim seething.
“A lot of my personal property is still there, sir.”
“Then I’ll have the hospital send someone to bring it back.”
* * *
On the walk to the Wanderer, Jeremy struck up a conversation about having an impromptu New Year’s Eve party.
“There are some daisies living downstairs from me – a pair of cousins, and a third I think is unrelated. Pretty as pictures, all three of ‘em. I’ll bet they’d love a little get-together at Chez West. I know Harper has a few unattached females among his acquaintances. Bosley – you know how Bosley always manages to find gals wherever he goes. I’d like to know what’s in that pomade he uses – must have some kind a chemical that draws beautiful women. Whaddya think?”
“What’s wrong with Artie, Jerry?”
“I have a couple bottles of the finest red upstairs in my little storage room – five or six at least. Not only that, but that little assignment I had at the French embassy? I met the wine merchant who supplies ‘em. Let him beat me at poker a couple of times, and now we’re the best of friends. The champagnes in his cellar are the best this boy’s ever had, so –“
“Jerry, I’m not interested,” Jim said abruptly. “What’s wrong with Artie?”
Jeremy looked down at his shoes. “Look, Jim, Richmond insisted. You’re a friend and all, but I can’t disobey orders.”
* * *
After Jim and Jeremy left, Richmond put his coats on and walked to the hospital, intending to see first-hand Gordon’s condition.
He arrived soon after Artie finished his lunch and just before he intended to go back to sleep.
“Colonel! How did the funeral go?”
There was a heaviness in Richmond’s manner that puzzled Artie.
“Sir, it did go well, didn’t it?”
“Yes, Gordon, it did. But it’s a long story. The upshot is that West and Pike are very confident that both Loveless and Antoinette are dead.”
“They’re dead?? But Jim and Jeremy and everyone else – are they alright?”
Richmond paused before answering. “Yes, they’re all fine.”
“Colonel, I don’t mean to be disrespectful, but I can see something’s weighing on you. What is it?”
“The building where Loveless held his activities has burned down. Thora Copley is dead.”
Artie smiled, a little unbelievingly. “No, she’s not, Colonel. She was here this morning. She came to see me. I admit there was a lapse on my part – I neglected to ask how she escaped – but she’s as alive as you or I. She said she’ll be back this evening.”
Why would my telling him this make him look even worse?
“Sir? Is there anything else? I don’t mean to pry, but you look like you’ve got the weight of the world on your shoulders.”
“Artemus, you’ve been having a rough time – not just in the past week, but for over a year. I regret not giving you a vacation. If I had, this may have been avoided. And although I believe you’ll be able to bounce back after getting a lot of rest, I see no point in allowing you to continue in this fantasy. Thora Copley is dead.”
“Colonel Richmond, you can ask the nurse – Thora was here.”
“Which nurse do I ask, Gordon?”
“Nurse… ” What’s Charlotte’s last name? “Her name’s Charlotte – just ask for Nurse Charlotte, she’ll tell you.”
Richmond got up, intending to look for her.
“You don’t believe me?? Colonel, when I fell, I didn’t land on my head. I’m perfectly sane.”
“Pike says otherwise. He claims to have seen you this morning agitated to the point that orderlies had to be called.”
“I don’t… remember that.” Could that be why I’m so tired?
“Artemus, please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not unsympathetic, and I don’t mean to imply that you’re mad, but the sooner you accept the facts – sad as they are – the sooner you’ll be ready and able to go back to work. The fact that you don’t even remember the events of this morning suggests to me that I don’t need to speak to your nurse.”
This is completely ridiculous. She’s alive – she was here!
“Are you sure you don’t want to talk to the nurse?”
Richmond seemed deaf to the question. “Gordon, I’ll try to stop in again tomorrow. Happy New Year.”
“Happy New Year, sir,” Artie yawned.
He slept right through dinner and awoke at seven in the evening.
Dark already? Don’t tell me she came and left.
His mood became very morose. She was very sweet about it, but that doesn’t mean she wasn’t offended. Saying she was going to come back – she was just trying to be nice. She won’t be back. I’ll probably dream again about that soldier some time, and he’ll tell me I was lousy to her...
Jim was right – I should have realized that she was a find. Oh, well – so I’ll go back to wallowing in my heartbreak over Anna. It’s almost a year and a half now. I’ve become used to it.
Nurse Margaret popped her head through the door.
“Nice to see you’re awake, Mr. Gordon. Although it was also nice to see that you were sleeping. We were starting to get worried about you.”
“What time is it?”
“A little after seven. They’re holding your dinner down in the kitchen yet.”
“I’m not real hungry, Margaret.” At least it’s not as late as I thought it was. Maybe she’ll be coming?
“First you can’t sleep, now you don’t want to eat? Mr. Gordon, if you want to get out of that bed some day, you’re going to have to eat.”
“Alright,” he said wearily.
“Mr. Gordon, what’s wrong?”
“I don’t know you well, obviously, but you seem very down about something irrespective of your condition. Would you like to talk about it? Sometimes talking lifts the load a little,” she said kindly.
“That’s very nice of you, Margaret. I’m fine, I... it gets lonely here sometimes.” After a forced chuckle, he continued. “I know any day now I’ll be up and out the door, which is much more than a lot of folks here can hope for. I guess I’m spoiled – ordinarily I’m the healthiest thing you’ve ever seen, but this year I’ve spent an awful lot of time on my back, with a variety of injuries.” And without a woman to love.
“This may not mean much to you now, Mr. Gordon, but I believe everything happens for a reason.”
“I guess I forgot, but I think that, too, Margaret. Thank you for reminding me,” he replied with sincerity.
“When you’ve finished eating, I’ll have the orderlies come up and help you into a wheelchair. I understand you have a lady friend stopping by later.”
“They don’t have to. I don’t really think she’s coming.”
Margaret smiled broadly. “Mr. Gordon, if it’s the same lady who was here this morning, she’ll be back. Charlotte told me about her.”
Artie’s mood lightened considerably.
“What did Charlotte say?”
“She said the lady thought you were dead, and seemed ready to cry for joy when she learned that you’re not.”
Artie smiled. “Thank you, Margaret – that means a lot to me.”
At that very moment, there came a timid knock on the door.
It was Thora, carrying two parcels.
“Nurse, is Mr. Gordon accepting visitors?”
“Well, he hasn’t had his dinner yet–“
“YES! Yes, I’m accepting visitors!”
The nurse let her in.
“Thora, how nice you look.”
“Thank you, Artemus,” came the demure reply.
“Mr. Gordon, your dinner will be up in a few minutes,” Margaret said briskly.
“Oh, I’m sorry – should I go?” Thora asked.
“Please don’t, Thora. I’m so happy to see you. Please, sit down.”
She smiled, abashed, and pulled up a chair next to his bed.
“Thora, please forgive me for my rudeness this morning. I should have asked how you managed to get out of Loveless’s hands.”
“I... pretended to be ill.”
“He let you go just because he thought you were ill? That doesn’t sound like him at all.”
“It wasn’t Miguelito who let me go. It was his staff.”
Artie was even more puzzled. Loveless’s men never did anything unless Loveless expressly ordered it. To defy him would mean death.
“He told them to let you go?”
“But they took pity on you for being ill?”
“Hardly, Artemus,” she said as she looked away. How to explain to him that I’d narrowly escaped a fate worse than death?
“Before Miguelito and Antoinette left for the funeral – your funeral – I heard him instruct the staff to kill me.” She tried to compose herself, then continued. “One of them asked for permission to... to take advantage of me, before they would kill me.”
Artie’s mouth dropped open, and he reached for her hand. He remembered only dimly the morning’s paroxysm of agitation, but what she was telling him sounded somehow familiar – as if she’d told him before.
“And then?” I know this must be very difficult for her, but I can’t imagine how she could have gotten away.
“As I said, I pretended to be ill so... when the men came to my room, I was able to persuade them that I had been given a strong dose of the typhoid serum, for the reason that Miguelito wanted to study its effects on all of them, so if they... did what they had in mind to do, it would have been passed onto them,
“Thora, you’re brilliant! Simply brilliant!!”
Maybe I was brilliant. Now I’m back to being the insignificant maiden schoolteacher.
“Thora, why don’t you take your coat off and stay awhile?”
As she removed her coat, he saw that she was in a beautiful violet-colored dress.
His appreciative glance did not escape her.
“Do you like my frock, Artemus? I’m very ashamed to admit I cleaned out one of Miguelito’s money-hiding places, and bought it.”
Artie smiled warmly. She looked like a child confessing some minor wrong-doing.
“It’s delightful, Thora. And what delights me even more is that Loveless paid for it.”
For what seemed like to her like a long time, he just smiled at her.
I’m so very happy you’re here, Thora.
“What have you there? Something else our little friend paid for?”
“Er... yes. On the way over I passed a little book shop. I thought, being an actor and laid up, you might like to read some Shakespeare. One book has all his plays, and the other his sonnets.”
“That was wonderful of you, Thora. Could you unwrap them for me?”
She did and put both of them on the table beside him. He reached first for the book of sonnets.
“I once had the idea of doing a one-man show reading these sonnets aloud, but I could never find the time.” He opened the book. “Oh! Here’s one of my favorites: ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day...’”
Thora thrilled to hear his voice. His baritone so moved her she nearly wept.
Just as he finished, Margaret was back with his dinner, two orderlies and a wheelchair.
“Now for intermission. Thank you, Margaret.”
He ate quickly and went back to reading aloud from the book. Thora was in heaven.
* * *
“James, another bottle of red, please. The ladies are parched.”
Jeremy was having a great time entertaining the increasing number of women who came into the Wanderer on Frank’s and Bosley’s arms. Jim was feigning enjoyment, but was waiting for a lull in the action so he could slip out and get to the hospital to see Artie.
Unfortunately, between welcoming the ladies and pouring the drinks, Jeremy kept him on a tight leash. He wouldn’t move more than five feet away from him all evening. And he drank very little, just in case Jim was watching to see if he got drunk, and would then flee.
Finally, when it looked like he was never going to get out, Jim had an idea.
* * *
“After all this reading, I’m getting thirsty.”
“I’ll get you something, Artemus.”
For over an hour he’d been reading aloud and watching her response. She looked lovely in the low light of the room, and there was a gentleness about her that touched him deeply.
She returned with a pitcher of water and a tumbler.
“I wish it were champagne,” Artie remarked between gulps. “To toast the New Year.” And you.
“You’re such a fine actor – couldn’t you pretend it’s champagne?” Thora asked playfully.
“I suppose I could, madame. And you, what would you like to pretend?”
“Artemus, I’m not very imaginative.”
“Ha! Now if that isn’t the single biggest lie I’ve ever heard, I’ll... I’ll eat a bug!”
Thora broke out in peals of laughter.
“You think it’s funny, miss? Showing me up the way you did?? I have an actor’s ego, you know. And I shall always rue the day I met Miss Thora Copley, who puts my modest acting ability to shame,” he said, attempting to sound hurt.
“Oh, dear – your poor ego,” she giggled. “What can I do to make amends, Artemus?”
He pointed to his lips.
* * *
Jim began to drink heavily. Or rather give the impression he was drinking heavily. Glassful after glassful, he’d take a sip then carefully abandon the glass to a table or windowsill. By ten p.m., he was slurring his words and staggering about. Finally, he whispered in Jeremy’s ear, “Keep the party going – I’m gonna be sick.”
Jeremy grimaced, but nodded assent. After all Jim had to drink, no wonder he was sick.
When he didn’t return from the W. C., Jeremy assumed he’d gone to bed. Not having to mind him any longer, Jeremy could at last relax and have a few drinks of his own.
Jim dressed quickly for the night air, and slipped out through the engine door.
The sounds of parties in full swing could be heard everywhere. It was sad to think that Artie, who loved parties and made it a point to never miss one, was trapped in that little room, alone.
When he’s better, maybe we can take a vacation to New Orleans. Lots of parties and lots of beautiful ladies there.
The party that was underway in the Wanderer was nothing compared to the jollity in the lobby of the hospital. Even from the wards could be heard the sounds of celebration. Two floors up, where the private rooms were, it was probably just another dull evening. Dead quiet.
Jim’s first intention was to find a nurse he could ask about Artie’s condition. But when he reached his floor, there were none to be found. Just an orderly at the nurse’s station.
“Can I help you?”
“I’d like to talk to a nurse, if I could.”
“Bub, you’re going to have to wait awhile. Gal’s on her break downstairs. And unless I’m wrong, she won’t be back until after the clock strikes midnight.”
“Oh. I’m James West. You may have heard of me; I had the room down the hall for a few days.”
“Oh, you’re that guy? Huh. Didja finally finish what you were supposed to be doing here?”
“I’m pretty sure I did. I’m going to look in on Mr. Gordon, is that alright?”
“Fine with me. The nurse might have something to say about it, though. But, like I said, she’s tripping the light fantastic downstairs somewhere.”
Jim tapped on the door before opening it.
And getting the shock of his life.
Thora’s right arm was around Artie’s back, her left was on his cheek, and her lips were joined to his.
Poor Artie indeed.
At the squeak of the door, Thora’s eyes snapped open and she quickly pulled away.
“Good evening, Jim. Happy New Year,” she smiled.
Artie turned, surprised.
“Good evening, James. Perfect timing as always. Hey, why the astounded expression?”
“I was certain that Thora had died in the fire. Absolutely certain.”
“What fire?” Thora asked.
“It’s a long, long story,” Jim said.
“You’re not in the mood to hear a long, long story, are you Thora?” Artie asked, hoping she’s say no, so they could resume what they were doing when Jim burst in on them.
Thora looked down, embarrassed.
“Maybe I can come around tomorrow and tell you. The short version is this: the house where Loveless had his operation burned to the ground today.”
“Oh, dear – was anyone hurt?”
Jim read her quickly. One of those ladies who can’t bear to see misfortune befall anyone – even the likes of Loveless.
“We can’t say for sure, but one of the people watching the fire told us that a number of people had escaped, but it’s not likely that Loveless and Antoinette were among them.”
“Oh, I see.”
“Well, good to see you, Jim,” Artie said. “Surely you’ve been invited to a party somewhere, haven’t you?”
“Yep. In fact, there’s one going great guns right now in our home, sweet home. I’ll have to get back before I’m missed.”
“Absolutely! Hurry – you don’t want your guests to feel unappreciated!”
Jim wished them both a happy New Year once again, bowed, then left, with a smile on his face. Good for you, Artie – you deserve her.
Artie and Thora beamed at one another, as she took his hand and placed it on her cheek.
“Something about this experience reminds me of a farce,” Artie said thoughtfully. “I believed Jim was dead, you thought I was dead, Jim and Colonel Richmond were under the impression you were dead.”
Thora smiled in reply. “And now that the show is over?”
“Is it over??”
“Isn’t it? All the subplots have reached their conclusion, haven’t they? All that’s left to be done is for the actors to take their bow, and go home.”
“And where is the leading lady planning to go?”
She kissed his palm, before answering. “She prefers to stay with the leading man for a little while longer. At least until midnight.”
“And after that?”
“That’s up to him.” She kissed his palm once more.
“Are you still thinking about founding a school in Kansas? Because if you’re not, I’d be willing, and I’m sure Jim would be willing, to recommend you for a job with the Secret Service. We need people with your vast talents, ladies especially.”
“Do you have ladies there?” she asked, puzzled. “I just assumed there would be only men.”
“There are some women. Not many.” Briefly, he thought about telling her that Anna had been one of them, but then decided against it. “It can be very dangerous, though. I don’t know if that’s something you’d want.”
“Artemus, what I want is to live. I’ve spent the last ten years just existing. If your employers could find a slot for me, I’d be delighted.”
“You mentioned the evening we went out that you weren’t in good health. Did you mean something temporary or something chronic? I know it’s none of my business, Thora, but that’s something headquarters will ask about.”
“I had some sort of extended fever as a young child, and my heart sustained a little damage. As long as I won’t be required to run very much, I should be fine.” I hope.
“Do you ride?”
“Naturally,” she said with feigned hauteur. “I’ve all the little virtues of the average society lady. I ride, and I know very important things like how to flirt using a fan, and which flowers convey which emotions.”
Artie laughed, and then they spent a few more moments beaming at one another.
“Thora, I... may have dreamt this and, if I did, please forgive the following, but I have some faint recollection... Did you say – was it the day after I fell? – that you loved me?”
“I did. And I do,” she said shyly. “I think I fell in love with you at first sight. I don’t suppose you remember when I first met you on the street. You were in that outlandish costume, and Victorine was sobbing over spoiled meat. My first thought was ‘Oh, how pitiful - a poor, blind gypsy,’ but when you spoke in the strong, confident voice... That was it for me.” Thora smiled at the memory. “I thought about you all day every day, even though I knew I’d never see you again, And then that letter came from Victorine – she was so frightened for you.”
That was, for Artie, not a particularly pleasant recollection. Hard to believe that only a few months ago I was planning on doing away with myself.
“She’s in love with you, too, I’m certain. But then, you’re a very easy man to love.”
“Some people are even easier. Present company, for example,” he said softly. “Tell me: which flowers represent love?”
“A great number of them, Artemus. Red roses mean true love, yellow roses represent undying love – I don’t see much difference between those definitions, do you? And yellow and red together represent joy and excitement. Shall I go on?”
“Thora,” he began, taking her hand and kissing it, “If I could get up, I think I would go out and ransack every florist shop within a mile of here, and bring back as many red roses as I could, and lay them at your feet.”
“I’d much rather have your arms – arm,” she corrected herself, “around me.”
“Come closer,” he whispered.
She pulled her seat up against the wheelchair. He wrapped his left arm around her shoulder, then heard a half sigh, half giggle.
“Artemus, ever since you were hurt, I’m always on your left. Perhaps I won’t recognize you when you get the use of your right side back.”
“I’d rather you were on my left – nearer to my heart that way.”
She sighed again as their lips joined the very moment the revelers downstairs all shouted “Happy New Year!!”
* * *
At ten the following morning, Richmond returned to the hospital. In the hallway he saw a woman who was not in a nurse’s uniform go into Gordon’s room. When he entered, Gordon was chatting animatedly with her.
Both West and Gordon were known to have many, many lady friends in the D. C. area. This would be the first time he’d meet one of them.
“Gordon, I don’t mean to interrupt, but could I have a few minutes with you?”
“Absolutely, sir!” Artie replied spiritedly. “But first I would like to introduce you to Miss Thora Copley. Miss Copley, Colonel James Richmond. Colonel Richmond, Miss Copley. You may recall, sir, hearing that Miss Copley had inadvertently accompanied me on my visit with Dr. Loveless.”
Thora rose and extended her hand. “It’s very nice to meet you, Colonel Richmond.”
“And you, Miss Copley.” As he shook her hand, he was aware that Gordon was trying not to laugh at him.
“Miss Copley and I are discussing the possibility of her perhaps coming to work for the Service, sir.”
* * *
Jim, along with Frank and Jeremy, had been searching through the rubble since sun up.
“Jim, we’ve turned over just about every piece of... everything,” Frank said tiredly. This was not the first time he’d seen the aftermath of a fire, but he had never seen such utter destruction. There were a few hunks of stone measuring a foot or so, but most of what was lying around could fit in the palm of his hand.
“He’s right, Jim. We’re just wasting our time. There’s nothing here that’s going to tell us anything different from what Osrick told us.”
“I just can’t take any more surprises,” Jim said, frustrated.
“Jim, it’s either that he died here, or he got away. If he did, which I very much doubt, there’s nothing here to tell us where he went. Let’s quit,” Jeremy insisted. Don’t make me mention my hangover.
Jim looked around, and kicked at a pile of what might have once been dark fabric. Underneath was something sharp and whitish, about seven inches long. Jim picked it up and saw that it was a bone.
* * *
All three men raced back to headquarters, where they dropped the bone off at the lab. From there, Jim went to Richmond’s office. Richmond had just come in, and was removing the second of his coats.
“West? Why so flushed?”
“Frank, Jeremy, and I were searching through the remains of Loveless’s property. I found a bone there.”
“A human bone?”
“That I can’t say yet – they’re looking it over in the lab – but it didn’t look to me like it belonged to an animal.”
“Interesting. Well, I’m happy that you’ve turned up. I’d like to speak to you about this Miss Copley. Gordon seemed to have a lot to say about her, but she was standing right there, so I think he didn’t want to embarrass her. The impression I got was that he thought she might be suitable for training here.”
“I second that, sir.”
“You do? My understanding is that she’s a schoolteacher. In what way does that qualify her to join our staff?”
“Colonel, she is just about the most clever woman I’ve ever met when it comes to plan and execution. And Artie can give you even more proof. Ability-wise, if not experience-wise, I’d say she’s up there with Mrs. White.”
“Mrs. White...,” Richmond mused. “That’s where my objection lies. If a woman with Mrs. White’s experience could be killed in duty, what chance would a schoolteacher have?”
“Sir, I would encourage you to interview Artie, and then interview her before you dismiss her out of hand. I really believe she would be a tremendous asset to the Service.”
“Then I will, West, and for the simple reason that you are not known as someone comfortable with the idea of women as equals.”
* * *
Early the next day, the interviews were conducted. Although Gordon’s enthusiasm was overwhelming, after having spoken with Miss Copley, Richmond felt much of it was justified. Finally, it was agreed that her training would commence in mid-June, when her school obligations would be over.
After her interview was finished, Thora went directly to the guest house to retrieve her things, and from there to the hospital to say goodbye to Artie.
“Are you planning on moving in with me, dear?” Artie asked merrily, noting her luggage.
“Oh, my goodness – how does one answer that?” she laughed. “Actually, I’ll be on the train back to Baltimore in approximately forty-five minutes.”
“Already?” He was very disappointed because he’d hoped – unrealistically – that she would have cabled the school, telling them that she had quit and wouldn’t be back.
“Humph... well, I sure wish I could take you to the station.”
“What makes you think you’re not coming with me, Artemus?” she said as she took his hand.
“Oh, you’re so sweet, you know that, Miss?”
Thora replied with only a smile.
“So, you’re going to send the headmistress a letter of resignation next week?”
“Yes. Of course, I will finish out the term.”
“So I won’t see you until June?” he pouted.
“We could visit during Easter break, if you’re available.”
“Oh, I’ll be available alright.”
“And I will be writing you, Artemus.”
“I hope you’ll forgive my penmanship. I’m right-handed, and Szabo tells me that it’s another three weeks at least before he’s willing to give me my right arm back.”
“Maybe it would be good for you to become ambidextrous. Surely that would be of use to the Service, wouldn’t it?”
“And if I master it, then I can ask for a raise! What an inspiration you are, Thora – whatever shall I do without you for six months minus one week?”
“I’m sure you’ll think of something, Artemus,” she said warmly. “Now, darling Artemus, I must be going. I don’t want to miss my train.”
Artie smiled sadly. I wish you would.
“Kiss me before I go?”
“With great pleasure, Miss Copley.”
He kissed her as passionately as he could, considering he was on his back and had the use of only one arm.
When she finally broke away, Thora had a dazed expression. “Gracious, Artemus – six months of kisses rolled into one!”
Artemus laughed out loud.
“I must leave right now as I shall need at least an extra few minutes to recover,” she said, pretending to be dizzy.
“Goodbye, dearest. Write me as soon as you can.”
“I will,” she said, just before kissing his forehead. She backed out of the room blowing him kisses, then slowly closed the door.
She met Jim in the hallway.
“Thora, can I help you with that luggage?”
“Thank you, Jim, but I can manage. I want to thank you for speaking of me to Colonel Richmond. You’ve saved my life.”
“Well, you and Artemus, and Mr. Pike – I’m told he put in a word for me as well. I can’t quite believe that I’ll be doing something worthwhile soon.”
“We’ll be very happy to have you. But teaching is worthwhile, isn’t it?”
“It is, if the ones you’re teaching are actually interested in learning something. It hasn’t been that way for awhile for me.”
“Then I’m even more happy, for you.”
“Thank you, Jim.”
They kissed on another chastely on the cheek, then she disappeared down the hallway.
Jim burst into Artie’s room.
“I have good news, Artie, and I have better news!”
Artie’s expression was a little glum.
“Didn’t you hear me? Good news and better news!!”
“I heard you. She’s a daisy, isn’t she?” he asked wistfully.
“Indeed she is. Do you want to hear my news?”
“She’s the definition of sweetness, isn’t she?”
“A jewel – isn’t she a jewel?”
“She’s a jewel, Artie,” Jim said, unsuccessfully restraining himself from rolling his eyes.
“You don’t really think she’s a jewel, Jim??”
“I think she's a jewel of jewels, Romeo. Any chance you want to come down from the ether and join the rest of us?
Jim frowned. “Well, here’s my news: that bone we found on the site of Loveless’s former base of operation? The lab thinks it may be a human leg bone – a somewhat abnormal human leg bone.”
“An undersized, somewhat abnormal human leg bone.”
“You know what that means don’t you?”
“The other tidbit of news is this – this is the good news by the way, the other was the better news: I was working on one of those word puzzles you left behind, and Jerry got ahold of it, and brought it to the newspaper and they’re interested in publishing them. Just one a month at first, to gauge interest, but if they become popular, they’d want one a week. I gotta hand it to you, you have your finger on the pulse. At first, I thought it was fated for the wastebasket, but even I got caught up in trying to solve it.”
“For Pete’s sake, Artie, how much longer are you gonna ‘uh huh’ me?”
“Until you realize I’m in love and, at the moment, have no interest in anything else.”
“I see. Well, if there are any other developments, I’ll be back, Artie.”
“See you later.”
With nothing to do, and not anticipating any other visitors, Artie lay back and thought about all the wonderful times he and Thora would have together. After awhile he dropped off, and the thoughts took the form of dreams.
* * * THE END * * *