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California gal
SS senior field agent

USA
8318 Posts

Posted - 01/09/2017 :  11:18:32  Show Profile
THE NIGHT OF THE UNDER(HANDED) SECRETARY

Nothing, indeed, but the possession of some power can with any certainty discover what at the bottom is the true character of any man.
—Edmund Burke (1729-1797), Irish orator and statesman

Chapter 1


“He can’t do this!” Artemus Gordon angrily crumpled the sheet of paper with two hands and threw it forcefully to the floor of the varnish car.

“Yes, he can,” Jim West replied calmly from his position on the sofa.

Artie stared at him a long moment. “When did this come?” How can Jim be so serene about it?

“Shortly after you left this morning, by special messenger.”

Now Artie glanced down at the ball of paper on the floor. “We need to contact Colonel Rich…”

“I did. As soon as I read it. Nothing he can do.”

“Then President Grant…”

“Artie, you know Grant isn’t going to get involved in something like this.”

Reaching down to pick up the crushed sheet of paper, Artie began to slowly smooth it out. “Jim, he can’t do this!” he wailed again. With the wrinkled paper flattened by his fingers as best as he could, he began to read in a low voice: “‘Agents James West and Artemus Gordon are to report to Washington, D.C. immediately for reassignment. The train identified as ‘The Wanderer’ will be placed at the railroad depot for future disposal. Agent Gordon will be assigned to the Bangor, Maine office as assistant to the supervisor there. Agent West is to receive special orders from the undersigned. Immediate compliance is expected to these orders. Signed Major Julius Napier, Under Secretary of Treasury.’”

Artie stared at the paper for long seconds before lifting his gaze. “Secretary McCulloch…”

“Secretary of Treasury William McCulloch is on his way to Amsterdam for a conference. He’ll be gone a month. Under Secretary Napier is in charge.”

Finally, Artie sat down at the chair behind the desk, only then realizing that he had not even removed his hat, which he now pulled off and sailed toward the hat rack; he missed and it tumbled to the floor, to be ignored for the nonce. Jim had called his attention to the letter resting on the desk as soon as he entered the car after being gone most of the day, visiting with a wartime colleague who lived here in the Abilene, Kansas area. Jim had decided to remain at the train to tackle a job he hated: writing reports.

“This is crazy, Jim. Why would Napier do this? I recognize he has the authority since the Secret Service is within the Treasury Department. But… why?”

“That, my friend, is something we have to find out. I don't know much about Napier. Do you?”

Artie shook his head. “Not a lot. I know he came from a somewhat well-to-do Maryland family with connections in Virginia or South Carolina. However, his father supported the Confederacy and lost almost the entire family fortune to The Cause. He shot himself in the head when the surrender was announced. I remember Napier apparently served honorably with a Maryland Union regiment and made it to major by war’s end. I seem to recall questions whether that was a real rank or a brevet rank.”

“Yeah, those are my recollections as well. Under secretaries usually vanish into obscurity once appointed. It appears Under Secretary Napier plans to make a name for himself.”

“By tarnishing ours.”

“So it appears. Banishing you to the dark woods of Maine and… who knows what for me.”

“That’s really strange, Jim. I have to think he wants to split us up for reasons known only to him.”

“My thoughts exactly.”

Artie shook his head. “It makes no sense. I have no memory of ever having done anything to injure Napier in any way, shape, or form.”

“Perhaps a friend or relative.”

“Possibly. If Richmond can’t help and Grant won’t, what do we do?”

Jim got to his feet. “What we always do, pal. We figure it out ourselves.”

“After we are separated by hundreds of miles? Or are you suggesting we resign? Maybe that’s what Napier actually wants.”

“I don't think so. If that were the case, I would be reassigned to a similar backwater. Instead, I’m to receive special orders.”

“So… he has something in mind for you. Okay. That makes sense. Maybe I have to resign to be able to help you.”

Jim shook his head. “No. I have a much better idea. Is Lily still in Baltimore?”

W*W*W*W*W


Extreme remedies are very appropriate for extreme diseases.
Aphorisms (6), Hippocrates of Iphicrates (460-377 BC), Island of Cos physician and writer; Father of Medicine


“Where is Gordon? You were both to report to me before being reassigned.”

Jim West fingered the brim of the hat he held, his face taut. “Sir, Mr. Gordon was taken suddenly ill. Very ill.”

“Oh?” The thin dark brows of Undersecretary Julius Napier lifted, displaying doubt. “A hangnail, I presume.” Napier was on the tall side, in his middle forties now and developing something of a paunch. He wore his dark hair heavily pomaded and combed from one ear to the other, possibly to disguise a bald spot. His mustache was rather thick, but his chin was clean-shaven. He had likely cut a handsome figure in his youth, Jim decided, with strong but even features and sharp dark brown eyes.

“No, sir!” Jim appeared to be swallowing anger. “Sir, yesterday afternoon on the train as we passed through Virginia, he abruptly collapsed in convulsions. I stopped the train at the nearest town and summoned a physician. Artemus had lapsed into something… something like a coma by then.” This time he visibly swallowed hard, as to quell emotions. “The doctor had no diagnosis and recommended a specialist. We proceeded at full speed to Washington City. He is now at a clinic on the south side of the city. The doctors at the hospital were so mystified that they did not want to admit him, lest he be contagious. He… his face and body are covered by horrible sores now.”

Napier stared him. “Sores? What clinic?”

“It’s in a private house, owned by Dr. Walther Albrecht de Wald.”

“I never heard of him.”

“Neither had I, sir. Apparently, he has been in this country for some time, researching exotic diseases. Somewhat eccentric, but very brilliant. Very much of a recluse, with his wife as his nursing assistant. Apparently, his only contact is with one or two fellow physicians. He needs to investigate what has caused this… this problem with Mr. Gordon, whether it is indeed a disease, and if so, if it is contagious.”

Napier continued to look intently at Jim West for a long moment, clearly trying to decide if this was a big lie or not. “All right,” he said then. “I want to see him and meet this… eccentric doctor.”

“Yes, sir. I thought you would. I have a cab waiting on the street.”

A little more than half an hour later, the cab halted in front of a two-story house set back from the street and surrounded by oak trees. Jim paid the driver, but asked him to wait; Secretary Napier would require transportation back to his office.

The door was opened by a woman garbed in a blue dress covered by a white apron, with a starched white cap atop smoothly coifed brunette hair—and a white mask covering the lower part of her face. “Ach, Herr West. Sie müssen diese tragen.” She stepped over to a stand at the side of the door and came back with two masks. Napier accepted one with an expression of annoyance, but tied it around his face, as did Jim. The nurse nodded with approval and without further word led them up the wide staircase.

The nurse rapped on a closed door, waving a warning finger at the two men in the hall as she opened that door and slipped inside, closing it. Napier made a sound of irritation. “What is all this?”

“Precautions, sir. As I told you, Mr. Gordon’s sudden illness is a great mystery. Dr. de Wald has no information on it yet. And…” Jim sighed. “For all I know he has died in the last two hours.” His words were bitter.

Before Napier could say anything, the nurse opened the door again and waved them inside. The room was a bedroom, but a very sterile-appearing one. The bed was a simple iron bedstead, and the other furnishings were tables and cupboards one might see in a laboratory. One table held several items of laboratory-type glassware, some with material in them. One beaker was over a Bunsen burner, a dark blue liquid simmering in it.

“Dr. de Wald,” Jim began.

The man standing at the foot of the bed spun around. “Ach Herr West. Who is this?” His accent was thick and Germanic.

“This is… my supervisor, Under Secretary of Treasury Julius Napier. He wants to know about Mr. Gordon’s condition. How… is he?”

Walther de Wald was a medium-sized man with longish dark brown hair liberally streaked with gray, and a large mustache that blended into his chin-covering beard, also composed of graying dark hair. His eyes were brown and stern at this moment. The lab coat was badly stained, but appeared clean otherwise.

“He is alive. I cannot say much more. Tests are continuing.”

Napier was gazing at the man on the bed, whose head only was uncovered, sheets pulled up to his chin. The face was pale, causing the festering sores on his skin to appear even more crimson. The eyes were closed, and he lay very still. Napier abruptly strode toward the side of the bed and reached toward the patient.

The nurse was at his side instantly, seizing his arm. “Nein, nein! Sie müssen ihn nicht berühren!

Napier looked around angrily. “What did she say? Tell her to release me! I want to see if he has those ‘sores’ on his body.”

“Ah.” The doctor nodded. “Mr. West said you might be suspicious. Gerta, ziehen Sie die Abdeckungen zurück.

Frau de Wald nodded, reluctantly releasing Napier, then carefully taking the edge of the sheet, obviously careful to not touch the patient. She drew the sheet down, exposing the patient’s bare chest—which was also ashen in color and covered with the boils. With an annoyed glance at the Secretary, she covered it again.

“I see.” Napier now stared hard at the patient’s face. “I never actually met Gordon, but I’ve seen him, as well as having viewed photographs. That appears to be him.”

“Sir!” Jim cried in distress. “Did you doubt? Did you think I would play a trick like this? My partner, my best friend may be dying!”

Napier strode back around the bed to stand in front of Dr. de Wald and peer at him. He suddenly reached up and grabbed the doctor’s beard—and yanked. The doctor yelped and cried out angrily in German.

“What are you doing?” Jim demanded.

Now the Under Secretary had the grace to appear chagrinned. “I apologize, doctor. If you know anything about Mr. Gordon, you will know that he has a great talent for disguise.”

Ach! You think I am in truth Herr Gordon? No, no, no! I am Herr Doktor Professor Walther Albrecht de Wald of Bonn. Of that I assure you.”

“Again, my apologies. Your beard is certainly genuine, and I am quite aware that Mr. Gordon is normally clean-shaven. What is your prognosis for Mr. Gordon?” Napier appeared to be somewhat humbled.

“I have none, sir. I am still making the tests and studying the literature. I have no ideas right now except to save his life.”

“Very well. Thank you. West?”

Napier spun and headed out the door, obviously expecting Jim to follow, which he did, somewhat curious. When the door was closed, the Secretary faced him. “West, I have an assignment for you.”

Jim gasped. “Sir! Excuse me, but my partner is in there, perhaps on his death bed…”

“I am aware of that. I won’t offer any apologies. The task at hand is important. You must leave for Hagerstown this evening.”

Now Jim blinked. “Hagerstown? Maryland?”

“Is there another?” Napier responded sarcastically.

“What am I to do there?”

“You will be contacted.”

“Sir?”

“I had not heard that you were stupid or deaf, West. You will go to Hagerstown. A room has been reserved at the Franklin Hotel. You will be contacted there.”

“Might I ask by whom?”

“That’s not important. You’ll be apprised of all you need to know in Hagerstown. Good day.” Napier spun on his heel and headed for the staircase.

Jim watched him depart, then returned to the sickroom.

W*W*W*W*W


Where there is mystery, it is generally supposed that there must also be evil.
—Lord Byron (George Gordon Noel Byron; 1788-1824), English poet


Jim did not look up from his newspaper, although aware that someone had stopped in the train car’s aisle near him. Only when he heard a contentious old man’s voice did he lift his gaze.

“Well, sonny! Are you goin’ to help me or not?”

He saw an old man with long white hair and a brushy food-stained mustache that covered his mouth and blossomed out onto his cheeks. He wore an ill-fitting tweed suit and a derby hat that was at least a size too large, sitting almost atop his ears.

“Sorry,” Jim said, putting the paper aside and rising. A large, very battered suitcase rested in the aisle. Jim grasped the handle and lifted. “What do you have in here?” he whispered. “Bricks?”

“Next best thing,” was the whispered response. “Bombs.”

“Might need them.” Jim hefted the case to the overhead rack before sitting down again, waving to the opposite seat. “Join me, old man.”

“Why, thankee, sonny, seein’ as I was plannin’ to without invitation.” Once more Artie dropped his voice, leaning forward to tug the top of his trousers down over his boots. “Got any information?”

Jim lifted the newspaper again. “Not any more than what I told you earlier. I’m supposed to go to the Franklin Hotel in Hagerstown and wait.”

“Hagerstown,” Artie repeated, after pulling a handkerchief from his coat pocket and dabbing his mustache to hide his lip movements. “Why Hagerstown?”

“I suppose we’ll find out. Everything okay at the doctor’s house?”

“All quiet when I left. I got out of there before Napier could send anyone to watch the place. Speaking of which, are you being followed?”

“I haven’t spotted anyone, but it’s early.”

“Yeah.”

Artie sat back in his seat, dropping his chin down as if planning to nap as the train began to chug out of the Washington depot. This was a strange situation, one of the oddest they had encountered. Little time had been available to do any deep investigation into the possible motives of the Under Secretary. A brief conversation with Colonel Richmond had revealed nothing. He was as shocked as they were—and even more helpless.

They had worked rapidly during the remaining two days of travel back to Washington City, making frequent stops to connect to the telegraph wires and send out inquiries and requests. Important ones were sent to Miss Lily Fortune in Baltimore, where she and her troupe had just finished a stay involving numerous performances. Artie had known that she would have a hiatus before moving to the next one, and had actually hoped to spend some personal time with her—before the strange and alarming directive had arrived.

Lily went right to work on the requests. Two fellow actors, both of whom resembled Artemus Gordon physically—one more than the other, were recruited. Allan Earle portrayed Dr. de Wald. Lawrence Holliday was now in the bed, his skin paled with makeup, and covered with the same “boils” that had decorated Artemus's face and body. Artie had spent a great deal of time in the laboratory creating those sores. He also drew a diagram of his face and body showing where they were positioned so that Holliday’s “performance” would be exact. If Julius Napier returned to the house to check, the hope was that Holliday would pass for Gordon, especially because he would be adding dark shadows and lines to his face as well over time.

Lily, of course, was the nurse. She had learned to speak German from Artemus as well as from a German-born seamstress who often traveled with the theater company. Favors were called in from two physicians at the Navy Hospital. If asked, those two would relate that they were the ones who first saw Gordon and sent him to the specialist. They would also back up the story that Dr. de Wald’s presence in Washington was mostly unknown, but that he was indeed a world-renowned physician specializing in exotic diseases.

I think we have it covered fairly well, although we won’t know for sure for a while. However, figuring out what is going on is the next puzzle. Patently, Napier wants Jim to be alone. I can only guess at his reasons. Criminal? Personal? Those are the answers we need… and probably won’t get until this is finished, one way or another. I just hope we live through it to get those answers!

The two agents interacted as little as possible during the journey north from Washington toward the Mason-Dixon Line where Hagerstown was located. Both kept their attention sharp on their fellow passengers, but neither noticed anyone behaving suspiciously. Families, couples, men alone, women alone… they all appeared completely normal and no one seemed to be paying particular attention to Jim West.

More than once Jim allowed his gaze to sweep casually over the others present in the car. He saw no one looking his way; no one jerked eyes away as his met them. Maybe I’m not being watched. Maybe that will start in Hagerstown. Experience, however, taught him vigilance, and he continued to scrutinize the other fares periodically.

Most of the passengers dozed off during the night. By tacit agreement, the two agents took turns getting some sleep, although both feigned sleeping at times so that it appeared that they nodded off at the same times. In the early morning hours, the train coasted into the Hagerstown station, arriving without incident. Jim helped the old fellow with his suitcase, carrying it out to the platform along with his own before touching his hat in farewell.

He found a cab outside the station and asked for the Franklin Hotel. He was not entirely surprised to find that the hostel in question was on a side street, away from what would likely be the busiest part of town during the day, or night. Inside, he found that a room had indeed been reserved in his name. The room was on the first floor, at the rear of the hotel, with the lone window opening into an alley.

The room was furnished with a narrow bed, a small table alongside it, a battered dresser, and nails on one wall where one could hang clothes. The window, he quickly discovered, did not latch. A vase holding drooping daisies was on the dresser. Jim pulled the window blind down to create an overlap of several inches, which he folded to be level with the windowsill, and then placed the vase on top of that overlap.

Not the best situation for me… but possibly just what someone else wants!

With another couple of hours of darkness remaining, he decided he would try to get a little more sleep, and was pulling off his jacket when he heard a scratching at the hotel door.

“Jim?”

The whisper was barely audible, but he unlocked the door and opened it. The man who slipped inside was nattily dressed in a well fitting suit, wearing a bowler hat, and sported a narrow mustache and Vandyke beard.

“What do you think?” Artie asked, holding his arms out slightly.

“Just a little different from the old man.”

“I brought enough stuff with me so that I can change identities every day or two if needed.”

“Almost better than bombs.”

Artie glanced around the room. “Not the Palace, that’s for sure. I couldn’t get a room on this floor. The clerk claimed they were all booked. So I’m on the second floor.”

Jim pointed out the unlocked alley window. “Very convenient as an alternate entrance.”

“Yeah.” Artie was silent a moment. “Jim, this simply makes no sense. If they want to kill you, that could have been accomplished almost anywhere. Why this… game?”

“Maybe killing me is not part of the plan. At least initially.”

“Then what?

Jim shrugged. “I guess we’ll have to wait and see. Stay alert, pal.”

Artie grimaced. “To do that I’d better go get some more sleep. You too. I’ll be around, buddy.” With a slight wave of his hand, he slipped out of the door.

W*W*W*W*W


Ta pánta sto sýmpan eínai o karpós tis týchis kai tis anankaiótitas.
[Everything existing in the universe is the fruit of chance and necessity.\
—Democritus (460-370 BC) Greek philosopher


As soon as Jim appeared in the lobby, the clerk hurried out from behind the desk to direct him toward a door to one side. “That’s the restaurant where you can get breakfast.”

“Thanks, but I’m going to take a walk first.”

“Mr. West, our restaurant has excellent…”

“Thanks anyway,” Jim said firmly and headed for the front door. He glanced back just as he passed through that door. The clerk was standing in the middle of the lobby, appearing very nonplussed.

Now, why in the devil is it so important that I eat in the hotel’s restaurant?

What was going on? To all appearances, early on, someone was trying to control his movements, where he would be at any given time: a specific hotel with a specific room on a darkened alley where the window might give easy access to someone in that alley. Placing the vase on the windowsill, hidden by the blind, would likely give early warning of an intruder. Nothing had happened in the two or three hours before he left the room just now.

Now the clerk appeared to be in on it, but Jim doubted he would learn anything if he tried to question that man. Too early for that, anyway. They definitely did not want to frighten anyone off. Finding out who was behind whatever this was as well as the motives were very important. The plan to have Artemus here in Hagerstown despite attempts to the contrary was important. Jim saw the dapper man on the opposite side of the street, seeming to be inspecting window displays in the stores. Artie was using the windows as mirrors to keep tabs on his partner.

Down two blocks and around the corner, Jim found a café serving breakfast. The food was good. I’ll have to remember to mention this to Artie! However, he realized he could have been eating almost anything, for all the attention he paid to it. His mind was wrapped up in the puzzle surrounding them.

Colonel Richmond had been contacted early on, requesting he delve into Napier’s life, past and present. They were not surprised to receive a reply that such an investigation was already underway, surreptitiously, started as soon as Richmond had been advised of the now-in-charge Napier’s directive. Thus far, nothing had turned up that would explain the recent events. The department’s best investigator in such matters was on the case: Bosley Cranston.

Such processes were slow, however, especially when it was necessary to be as cautious and secret as possible. If Napier got wind of the prying into his life, the entire situation might blow up and be unmanageable, perhaps fatal to their careers… and their lives.

Halfway through his meal, Jim noticed a man entering the eatery. A stocky man, clean-shaven, and with curly blond hair. He had seen this man in the railway car sitting at the far end, apparently with no interest in his fellow passengers. Seeing him now did not necessarily mean this was a spy. The fellow could be in Hagerstown on business or visiting some, and simply had come to this spot by coincidence.

Jim West knew, however, that coincidences often turned out to mean a lot more than pure happenstance. He kept one eye on the man while finishing his breakfast, then rose to go to the counter to pay, “accidentally” choosing an open spot beside the hefty man’s stool. The waitress came to take his money, and while she fetched his change, Jim “accidentally” jostled the man.

“Oh, excuse me. Hope I didn’t cause you to spill anything. Say, you were on the train from Washington too, weren’t you?”

The man’s blue-gray eyes flicked toward Jim, and for one instant he was going to deny the fact. Jim was sure of that. However, he nodded. “Yeah. Came up here on business.”

Jim settled on the next stool. “Do you come to Hagerstown often? I’m stuck here a few days. What is there to do that’s interesting?”

“Sorry, can’t help you. My first trip here.”

The waitress happened to return with Jim’s money at that moment and heard the man’s response. The surprise she evinced told Jim all he wanted to know. He accepted the change, handing several coins back with a smile.

“Thanks, miss. Good food and excellent service. I’ll probably see you later. Nice talking to you, sir.” Jim nodded and exited the restaurant.

Artemus was not immediately in view, but as soon as Jim started strolling back in the direction of the hotel, his partner emerged from a store across the street and continued his inspection of window displays, moving back in the same direction as Jim. I am sure Artie managed to get some breakfast somewhere, Jim mused. Perhaps Artie patronized the hotel’s restaurant. Information about who might have been in there would be interesting.

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

California gal
SS senior field agent

USA
8318 Posts

Posted - 01/09/2017 :  11:19:04  Show Profile
Chapter 2

Chaos, that reigns here
In double night of darkness and of shades.
Comus (l. 334), John Milton (1608-1674). English poet, scholar, writer, and patriot


The hotel clerk’s relief at seeing Jim West return was palpable. He grinned broadly as he handed over the room key, asked about his breakfast, and once more attempted to convince this guest that the hotel’s restaurant fare was superior to anything else he might find in the vicinity. Jim thanked him with a nod, taking a quick surreptitious glance at the open guest registry, and headed for his room.

The first thing he noticed before opening his room’s door was the tiny shard of paper on the floor. That paper had been inserted in between the door and the doorframe when he exited. Could be the hotel maid, but somehow I doubt it. Inserting the key into the lock with his left hand, Jim slipped his right hand inside his jacket to grip the handle of the pistol holstered under his arm.

He opened the door rapidly—the room was empty. Closing and locking the door, Jim looked around. He could not see that anything was disturbed, in particular the vase on the windowsill. The bed had not been made, so that confirmed his suspicion that the hotel maid had not opened the door in his absence.

Well, if nothing else they learned about the vase “alarm.” Chances are if they had had in their minds to come into the room that way, the idea will be tossed out.

What did it mean? What were they looking for, if anything? Obviously, they knew he had not been in the room when they entered. They, he… she? Who was it? The quick look at the ledger on the lobby desk revealed that no one had signed in since “Mr. Percy Jardine,” early this morning. Artie’s handwriting of that name was easy to recognize.

Shaking his head, Jim left his room, again placing the slip of paper inside the doorframe, and headed for the rear stairs. He glanced at closed doors on either side of the dim corridor. Am I the only guest on this floor? What in the hell is the purpose of this elaborate deep-laid plan? Jim knew that the longer it continued, the more his life was in jeopardy. What was Napier up to?

He climbed the dark stairs to the second floor, checked to make sure no one was in that hall, and hurried to the third door down. Artie opened it immediately to his quick rap. “What’s up?” he asked, seeing the tension on his partner’s face.

Briskly Jim told him about the man at the café, the disturbed room door, as well as having noticed nothing amiss in the room. “I don't think any other guests are on the first floor, Artie. I’ve got it all to myself.”

“Nothing like privacy for an assassination,” Artie nodded, grimly. “Jim, we’ve only been here a few hours.”

“I know. I know. And you know I’m not a very patient man.”

Artie chuckled then. “Yeah. I am aware of that. Have you got any ideas?”

“No. Nothing. Did you eat in the hotel restaurant?”

“Yeah, why? I noticed you didn’t.”

“Just had a hunch about that. The clerk was very unhappy that I didn’t take his recommendation.”

“Maybe he gets a cut.”

“Maybe. Did you see anyone you knew in there?”

“Actually, I did. Remember the middle-aged woman on the train wearing the hat with all the fruit and flowers?”

“Couldn’t miss her.”

“She was in there, so very likely she’s registered here. However, she was joined by another woman her age and a young man. Seemed to be family.”

Jim grimaced. “She looked like someone’s maiden aunt.”

“But unless that was an elaborate cover, she’s not involved.”

“Yeah. What are your plans?”

“I plan to check out this afternoon, noisily announcing I’m heading for Philadelphia. However, I’ll be back later in the afternoon. I think I’ll go back to the old man disguise and insist on a first floor room because of rheumatism in my knees.”

“Good idea.”

“And never fear, I’ll be nearby. I need to find somewhere to change clothes, etcetera, etcetera. Be cautious, my friend. Very cautious.”

“Don’t worry about that. I’ve got eyes in the back of my head and both sides!”

Artie was laughing as Jim departed.

W*W*W*W*W


Les vexations peuvent être insignifiantes, mais elles sont encore des vexations.
[Vexations may be petty, but they are vexations still.]
—Michel Eyquem de Montaigne (1533-1592), French essayist and philosopher


Acquiring a room at a boarding house about three blocks from the hotel seemed to be the best solution. Artie paid a month’s rent as Mr. Percy Jardine, telling the flustered landlady, Mrs. Wenger, that he would not likely be in Hagerstown that long, but that a few of his acquaintances might be dropping by to visit, most particularly his father-in-law, Mr. Packard. She was to allow them access to his room even if he was not present. The extra fee was hers to keep, in recompense for any trouble his friends might cause her.

“I really don't think I’ll be here much more than a week,” he smiled with assurance. “Ten days at the maximum.” He told her also to not be concerned if he was not present at night. His new position required him to be available at all hours. He saw she wanted very much to ask what that “new position” was; he did not allow her the opportunity.

One reason he found this site so advantageous was that when she showed him the room, he spotted the wardrobe with a lock and key on it. When he asked, she explained that her late husband had owned some valuable items he would secure in it. Even she was not allowed to have access to it, and as far as she knew, only the one key existed. Artie had solemnly pronounced it perfect for his needs, as he also possessed several pieces of value he worried about. He would be extraordinarily pleased to be able to have them under lock and key.

Thus, after returning to the hotel and checking out, he was able to store his makeup and extra clothing in the wardrobe, along with the weapons he had brought along. His quip on the train that the suitcase contained bombs was not entirely a joke. As he had told Jim he would, he then donned the old man disguise, placing a few items in a small valise before returning to the hotel to register and insist on a first floor room.

The clerk was adamant that none were available… until old Mr. Packard produced a wad of bills big enough to choke the proverbial horse. He then decided that perhaps one room was available for a night or two. Mr. Packard slipped an extra tenner in with the room rent.

As soon as he was certain the clerk was back at his desk dealing with another hotel resident, Artie slipped down the hall to Jim’s room and tapped on the door. Receiving no response, he tapped again and called his partner’s name softly. Still nothing. Concerned, he slipped his picklock from inside his coat’s lapel and efficiently opened the door. When he saw the slip of paper float to the floor, his nerves eased.

He took a quick look into the room, locked it again, careful to replace the paper as it had been. He then returned to his room, worry arising. Jim had not said anything about going out. That did not mean he would not. He never reports all his plans to me! Nevertheless, it was worrisome in this situation, primarily because the plan was that Artie would be nearby any time Jim left the hotel!

I was gone less than two hours! Better than an hour remained until the noon hour, thus very unlikely that Jim had gone out for the midday meal. I should be accustomed to this after so many years, but he takes too many chances! Worse, he could not go ask the clerk if Mr. West had gone out or left a message. About the only thing he could do was exit out onto the street and look around.

Artie did so, strolling around casually as if seeing the sights, watching constantly for his partner. He finally spotted Jim West emerging from a tobacco store about a block ahead of him. He almost called out, when he also noticed two men emerging from an alley next to the tobacco store, walking swiftly behind Jim.

“Oh say there! Young fellow! Young fellow!” Artie yelled, quickening his pace as much as he dared in this guise as a rheumatic old man. “Hold up there!”

Jim heard him, paused, and turned around. The two men hesitated ever so briefly, then strode on by him. “What’s up, old timer?” Jim asked pleasantly.

Artie huffed and puffed as he halted in front of Jim, pretending to be out of breath. “Just wanted to say ‘hello.’ We’re in the same hotel now,” he said in a conversational tone. The two men turned the next corner and were out of sight. “What are you doing out here like this?” he then demanded.

Jim’s brows lifted and he patted his jacket. “Buying some smokes. Why?”

“I thought we agreed on no foolish moves. You were followed.”

“I know. I thought I could lead them into an alley and find out what they were up to.”

Artie sighed in exasperation. “James, you are hopeless. Did they follow you from the hotel?”

“Almost. They were sitting on a bench down the block. So did you get a first floor room?”

“I did. When I checked your room and found it empty…”

“Artemus,” Jim shook his head. “You have to stop behaving like an old mother hen.” He started walking slowly and the “old man” toddled alongside, hands clasped behind his back, shoulders hunched forward.

“I thought the whole idea of me coming to Hagerstown was so that I could back you up.”

“Well, yeah. But you don’t need to hold my hand all the time.”

“Do you really think it would have been a good idea to confront those fellows?” They paused at a street to allow a wagon to go through and Artie casually looked around. “They are about two blocks behind us now.”

“I don't know if it would have been a good idea, but I sure don't know how else to find out what’s going on.”

“Yeah.” Knowing Jim was correct did not make it easier on Artemus's mind.

“Unless, of course, I just allow them to kidnap me or whatever else they have on their minds.”

Artie snorted. “Kill you, you mean?”

“I still doubt that’s the plan. This elaborate business of sending me here doesn’t make sense if that’s all it was.”

Artie did not respond to this. They had discussed it at length previously. He finally told his partner about the boarding house room. Jim agreed it was a good idea, not only as a place for Artie to keep his disguises and other paraphernalia but perhaps as a safe spot for both of them.

“As long as they don’t realize who you really are,” he concluded.

A telegram was awaiting Jim at the hotel. He tipped the eager clerk and went on to his room. Artie had not come inside with him, breaking off to go into a haberdashery they walked by so that they would not be seen entering together. After about half an hour, he tapped on Jim’s door, which was opened to him. Jim handed him the telegram.

“No change in Mr. Gordon,” the missive read. “N visited this morning, brought flowers. Col R also present. Dr. de Wald.” Artie smiled wryly. “Flowers. That’s a nice touch!”

“As long as they don’t have a bomb nestled inside,” Jim retorted. “Good to know the colonel is keeping an eye on things.”

“Yeah, it’s too bad Harper and Pike are both on the west coast. We could use some help here.”

“No word about Bosley’s research,” Jim went on. “Perhaps nothing happened in Napier’s past.”

“Yeah. Maybe he suddenly had this idea to murder James West. Not likely, partner. Something is in the past. If anyone can find it, it’ll be Bosley Cranston.” He paused and grimaced. “Soon, we hope.”

The desk clerk once again attempted to persuade Jim to patronize the hotel dining room. Now, it could well be he gets a cut for however many hotel guests he persuades to eat in there, but I doubt it. The clerk had not behaved the same for Percy, but Percy had not attempted to go eat elsewhere. Artie would report later to see if Mr. Packard was urged to sample hotel fare; he planned to let the clerk know he was dining elsewhere.

Jim did not go to the same restaurant for the midday meal, bypassing it in favor for another one he had spotted when out for the cigarillos. It was larger and somewhat more upscale. Neither one of the two men tailing him earlier appeared. Nor did he see anyone else who appeared to be following him. This is getting irksome.

Was that it? He stared at the plate of steak and potatoes the waiter had just placed on the table in front of him. Is someone—Napier or whoever is really behind it—trying to upset us? Make me impatient so I’ll do something foolish? But what? Why?

He did not physically shake his head, but felt like it, picking up his knife and fork to begin eating. We might have to actually get careless to cause something to happen. To force whomever it is out in the open. Maybe I need to eat my meals in the hotel and see what happens there.

This time he did shake his head slightly. Not yet. This was only the first full day here in Hagerstown. They needed to give Bosley more time to research into Julius Napier’s past. What was there beyond his father’s ruination and suicide? The answer might be there. It might not, but they still had to create time. To do that meant avoiding the characters like the two men who trailed him earlier. Their plans were a mystery, but now was not the time to find out.

Finishing a satisfying meal, Jim stepped out onto the brick sidewalk, pausing to reach for his cigarillos. “Captain West!” Hearing the man’s voice, his fingers went instead for the pistol as he spun around. He then relaxed.

A man around his own age, missing his left leg from just above the knee down, and leaning on crutches was grinning at him. Jim smiled back. “Sergeant Joel Garrett! I forgot that you were from this area. Pennsylvania, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, sir. Chambersburg, north of here. What brings you to Hagerstown, Captain?”

“It’s just Jim now, Joel. No ranks. I’m here on a little business. What about you?”

“I live outside of Hagerstown now. My wife and I have a little farm. We’re doing good. I came into town to deliver some vegetables and eggs to the store down the street.”

“I’m glad to hear that.” Sergeant Garrett had been seriously injured at the siege of Vicksburg in 1863, his leg amputation requiring him to be sent home. He had been one of the best soldiers Jim had ever known. “Do you have time for a beer?” Jim motioned to the tavern across the street.

Garrett grinned. “I sure do!”

W*W*W*W*W


“I hope I can see Joel before we clear out of here,” Artie commented. They were in Jim’s darkened room, waiting to see if anything was going to happen this night.

“If we’re both still alive, maybe so,” Jim quipped. “I pumped him as much as I could about things going on here. He didn’t seem to know anything in particular about this hotel, other than it’s been here a long while and has fallen on hard times.”

“Do tell,” Artie responded. “I don't think it’s been swept under my bed in a year. Anything about the owners?”

“No. It occurs to me we perhaps should ask Cranston to look that up.”

“I’ll send it tomorrow,” Artie nodded. “I should have thought of that before.”

“As you saw, I ate supper in the restaurant here. I wasn’t poisoned.”

“I’ve noticed. You made the clerk very happy, however. Speaking of him, it might not be a bad idea to ask questions about him too. I think his name is Topping. Philip Topping. I saw it on a name plate at the desk.”

“Good idea.” Jim paused a long moment before speaking again. “We came into this blind, Artie.”

“And fast. No time to get the information we needed beforehand. That doesn’t mean we can’t try to find it now. I’ll have telegrams delivered to the boarding house to Mr. Packard.”

“Artie, what the hell is this about? Men follow me then give up easily. The clerk wants me to eat in the hotel restaurant, but nothing happens. I have this ground floor, very vulnerable room, but nothing has occurred here either, beyond apparently someone came in to look around.”

“Yeah, I have to admit I thought something would break today. It is obvious you’re being watched. The motivation, nonetheless, totally escapes me. If it is revenge, someone is being really patient.”

“As far as I know, I never did anything harmful to Julius Napier. I barely met him before yesterday. I think I shook his hand at a reception somewhere.”

“Ditto. This is what Bosley has to find. Because I was to be separated from you, it appears I was not involved in whatever was to occur. Unless, of course, the separation was to make it easier to kill me as well.”

“Pleasant thoughts indeed.”

“I can think of myriad possibilities,” Artie said after a thoughtful moment. “Suppose Napier owed a debt of some sort to someone who does have a grudge against one or both of us.”

Jim nodded. “So he is setting us up to pay off that debt. Okay. Who?”

Artie sighed. “James, I haven’t the slightest idea. I need a good night of sleep. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be sharper.”

“We can hope. Good night, pal.”

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

USA
8318 Posts

Posted - 01/09/2017 :  11:19:48  Show Profile
Chapter 3

He knows little who will tell his wife all he knows.
Holy and Profane States (maxim VII, The Good Husband), Thomas Fuller (1608-1661), English author and divine


The following day was just as mystifying as the previous one. Jim took breakfast in the hotel, but went to different restaurants for the following two meals. He watched for anyone following him. He spent time in his hotel room. Nothing happened, and he did not see the curly haired man or the woman Artie had spied in the dining room. She had not been there again when either ate there, and they did not know if she was even in the hotel yet.

Artemus rotated his time between the hotel and the boarding house, in disguises as Mr. Packard and Mr. Percy Jardine. The landlady at the boarding house appeared to accept Mr. Packard as one of the visitors her roomer mention; she even flirted with him. At the hotel, Mr. Jardine asked the clerk for Mr. Packard’s room. Philip Topper did not know that “Mr. Packard” had slipped out the back of the hotel, gone to the boarding house to change his disguise, and returned.

Frustrating and puzzling, was the way Artie put it when they met briefly in Jim’s room just before Jim headed out for his supper. “Mr. Packard” would dine at the hotel as a way of keeping an eye on things there.

The only variation in the day was the receipt of two telegrams that arrived at the boarding house. Artie shared them with his partner at the pre-dining meeting. Both were from Bosley Cranston, but neither was helpful. Cranston was unable to find any information that was not already known.

Julius Napier had grown up in a slave-holding family, and while his father supported the Confederacy, the son had joined a Union Maryland troop. Nothing he did while in the service displayed any hint that he favored the South. He had received commendations for bravery and faithful service, and rose to the rank of major—which was an actual rank and not simply brevet.

After the war, he had returned to Maryland to find his family home in the hands of the bank after his late father had mortgaged it in order to support the Confederacy, losing it to foreclosure when he could not keep up the payments. Julius and his wife had relocated to Washington, D.C., where he obtained a government position and quickly rose through the ranks, as he had in the military, being appointed Under Secretary of Treasury just last year.

“It appears,” Artie read from the second missive, “that Mr. and Mrs. Napier live modestly, although they mix in the Washington social scene and occasionally have small soirees at their home. They live within their means.”

Jim shook his head. “Artie…”

“I know. It makes no sense. No sense whatsoever. What is he up to? Anything? Or simply exercising his newfound authority with McCulloch out of the county?”

“I might have to force the issue and go back to Washington, see what happens,” Jim grumbled.

“While I experience a miracle recovery.”

Another telegram informed them that Napier was visiting the doctor’s house every day and inspecting “Artemus” closely. Thus far, he had not evinced any real suspicion that he was aware of the duplicity going on. “Dr. de Wald” expressed deep concern to the visitor regarding the possibility of the Secret Service agent’s recovery and hoped that Mr. West would be able to return to be with his longtime friend. Napier did not respond to the comment, according to Lily’s message.

They had mutually decided to stay out of the local taverns, where the initiating of a brawl might be too easy. In a melee, who would notice if something happened to one of the participants, whether he was killed or disappeared? While a whiskey was tempting after he had his supper at the nicer restaurant, Jim nonetheless walked back to the hotel instead.

Clerk Topping greeted him to hand over the room key, and regretfully told Mr. West that he had missed a fine pot roast dinner in the restaurant. Jim just shrugged. “Maybe next time. I felt the need to be out and about for a while.”

In his room—where the slip of paper was still in the doorframe—he pulled off his jacket and was starting to unfasten the straps of the shoulder holster when he heard a sound outside the door. Intuition and experience told him the noise was not caused by his partner, nor was the subsequent light knock on the door from Artie’s hand.

He had just pulled the pistol from the holster when a voice called out—a female voice. “Mr. West? It’s Bella Napier. I must speak to you.”

Startled, Jim hesitated a moment, then stepped to the door, grasping the handle with his left hand while holding the pistol in his right, somewhat hidden by his thigh. He opened the door a few inches, seeing the woman in the corridor. Pulling the door back further, he saw she was not alone. A second, younger woman stood alongside.

He had met Mrs. Julius Napier once at some function or other, but recognized her. The other was a stranger to him. Jim stepped back. “Come in.” What the hell is this about?

They entered and he closed the door—and locked it. Mrs. Napier’s brows lifted slightly, but she did not object. She was in her forties, still a very good-looking woman, with blue eyes and the blonde hair swept up under a felt hat trimmed with flowers around the brim. She wore what Jim knew would be called a “traveling costume,” in gray wool with pink piping in the same shade as the roses on her hat, as well as her gloves.

“Mr. West, this is my niece, Miss Miriam Seeley. She has come along as my companion and protector, you might say.”

“How do you do,” Jim murmured. The younger woman bore some resemblance to her aunt, with blonde hair and blue eyes. She wore gold-rimmed glasses that seemed to enhance the sky blue of the eyes, and certainly did not detract from her attractiveness. “I’m sorry I do not have much in the way of furnishings. Please sit.” He waved toward the bed.

The two women looked at each other, then walked to sit on the edge of the bed. Jim stood in front of them. “What is this about, Mrs. Napier? Why are you here?” He had holstered his pistol, but still wore the harness.

“I hope to save your life, Mr. West.”

He folded his arms on his chest. “Please explain.”

Bella Napier sighed heavily, and her niece reached to take the hand closest to her. “I need to tell you some things first, James. May I call you James?” Jim nodded but did not speak. “As you no doubt know, my husband came from a wealthy family who owned a great deal of property and numerous slaves in Maryland before the war.”

“Nevertheless, he enlisted with and fought well with the Union troops.”

“Yes. My father-in-law was a devout southerner, James. He was furious when Julius joined the northern army. However, he did not disown his son as some southerners—and possibly northerners—did in similar situations. I do not know for certain, but I believe that was because Julius explained his reasoning to his father. You see, as much as Julius believed in the southern ‘way of life,’ he was and is a very practical man.

“While his father never ventured north of the Mason-Dixon line, despite that it was just a few miles away, Julius traveled extensively in the north. He went to a university in Boston. He lived in New York for a few months, visited Chicago, and other large industrial cities, including Pittsburgh, where he met me. He understood the might of the North, and he knew that in the end, the Confederacy would fail. He wanted to be on the winning side, regardless of other consequences.

“He hoped, I believe, that his father understood this, but Papa was as hardheaded as Julius where the South was concerned. One of the last things Julius advised before leaving for the army was that his father should sell at least half the slaves. Papa did not. In the end, along with mortgaging the property to the hilt, he lost the slaves—either because they ran away or with emancipation and the end of the war, no market existed—and then the estate.

“Julius was more enraged than grieved over his father’s death. I had gone back to Pittsburgh by the time he returned home here in Maryland. The bank was foreclosing on the house and everything else, so I took what I could to my family’s home. Julius came to me there and we moved to Washington City to start a new life.”

“I know that Mr. Napier entered the employ of the federal government,” Jim put in as she paused a moment to collect herself.

“Yes. That was his plan. He was a good, loyal—and ambitious—employee who got himself noticed. His public persona was that of a Union man through and through. At home, in private, it was completely the opposite. He hated everything about the Union. I can’t tell you how many times I had to listen to his diatribes.”

“But you stayed…”

She shrugged, a small smile touching her lips. “I’m a woman, James. I married for better or worse. I loved Julius at the time. The man I knew before the war and the one I have lived with for the past seven years are completely different. We have not… not lived as man and wife for many years, you see. I am on his arm when he attends social or civic functions. I am the hostess of affairs held at our house. That is pretty much the extent of our relationship.”

When she paused again, Jim waited a moment before asking, “Do you know something about what is going on here, why my partner and I were separated and I was ordered to Hagerstown?”

Again, Bella hesitated, but Miriam squeezed her hand and spoke for the first time. “Please, Auntie. It is important.”

The older woman sighed noisily. “Yes. I could not have this on my conscience. First I need to tell you more about my husband, about his background. You see, his father was raised in Virginia, where his father owned a very large plantation, as well as property and homes in South Carolina. Papa was the third son. When his father died, the Virginia and South Carolina lands and houses were left to his two older brothers. Papa Napier received a sum of money. A very good sum that allowed him to purchase the property in Maryland, build a fine home, and own the slaves to maintain it.

“Papa Napier always seemed content with his lot. I suppose he lived with the knowledge that he would not inherit the family property all his life. Julius could not accept it, however. We would occasionally visit his uncles and cousins in the south, and while Julius appeared to enjoy those sojourns, it was always the same when we returned to Maryland. He ranted and raved about the unfairness of it all, that they had the massive houses, hundreds of servants, all the good things in life—as he saw it—and no worries. He knew that while he and his father were comfortable, their existence was nothing like that of those further south.”

“His resentment…” Jim murmured.

Bella nodded. “It literally drove him mad. As I said, he enlisted in the Union Army, thinking he would outwit those in the South who he knew would lose their fortunes supporting the Confederacy. I don't know if he foresaw the ruination of many of those great estates, but he did expect to come out of it much better financially. Of all things, he expected his father to follow his advice. Coming back and realizing how it all had been lost seemed to be the final straw.

“He managed his outward appearance very well, and was able to obtain a fine position in Washington. While our home and life was nothing like what we had experienced before the war, it was very comfortable, physically. We wanted for nothing.” Bella paused here, looking down at her hands. Jim waited quietly. Finally, she glanced at Miriam, who nodded encouragement and reached to take one of those hands.

“James, several weeks ago I happened to accidentally overhear a portion of a conversation Julius had with the owner of this hotel, a Mr. Henry Gale. They were in the study, and I entered the parlor next to it to retrieve a book. Usually the door between the rooms is closed, but it was slightly ajar that evening. I… I heard your name mentioned.

“I have read the newspapers—much to Julius’s disapproval—and have followed yours and Mr. Gordon’s careers with much admiration. Perhaps I might not have even bothered to listen further, but for what Gale said, which was ‘Are you sure West can do this?’ I was extremely curious, so I paused. In some ways, I wish I had not, because my husband’s response turned my blood cold. He said, “He will or he’ll die. He has this knowledge.’ He went on to concede that your partner, Mr. Gordon, would also have the information in question, but he thought that you would be the better one to provide it. He said that if it were necessary to kill you, then Gordon would realize the seriousness of the ‘business.’ That’s what he called it. ‘Business.’”

Jim was frowning. “What information?”

“That I don't know! I realized as I listened that Julius was moving toward the open door, and I panicked. I fled from the room.”

Miriam took it up from here. “When Aunt Bella heard that you and Mr. Gordon were being separated, she realized Uncle Julius was putting his plan—whatever it is—into action. She often travels to Pittsburgh to visit us, and that is what she did. When she told my mother and me all this, we persuaded her that she needed to inform someone.”

“I couldn’t go to Secretary McCulloch, as he is out of the country, which you no doubt know. I do not have access to the President. I could only think of coming to you directly, which as you see I have.”

“I appreciate this very much, Mrs. Napier. So a friend of your husband’s owns this hotel.”

“Yes. I suspect they felt they could… control you better here.”

Jim nodded. “Yes, I agree. I believe that at least the desk clerk is in their employ. How did you get by him, by the way?”

Both women giggled rather self-consciously, and Bella spoke. “We lingered in front of the hotel, watching through the window, until we saw him go into the door behind the desk. We were able to hurry in, peek at the ledger, and leave the lobby before he returned. Although I don't know now how we are going to exit unseen.”

He smiled. “Don’t worry. I can lead you to the rear door.” Jim sobered. “You have no other information about what it is I’m supposed to have great knowledge of that would be worthwhile to your husband and Gale?”

“I just did not hear enough. I went so far as to attempt to eavesdrop on later conversations, but with no success. The door was closed. The house is very sturdy with thick walls and doors. I also tried to go through Julius’s desk but it was locked.”

“You are a very courageous woman, Mrs. Napier. I cannot tell you how much this means to me.”

“Mr. West,” Miriam Seeley spoke up, “we know about Mr. Gordon’s illness. How is he?”

Jim assumed a somber face. “The last I heard no change has occurred in his condition. He’s in a coma. I… I don't know what’s going to happen.” Although he was certain Mrs. Napier was telling him the truth, he did not feel he could take her completely into his confidence at this time.

“I’m so sorry. And they don't know what caused it?”

“Not yet. Mrs. Napier, is your husband still in Washington?”

“Yes, but he told the cook this morning that he would be going out of town tomorrow. That is why I made such a hurried trip to Pittsburgh and back here. I told Julius that my mother is ill. I felt you needed to know. I have no idea that Julius is coming to Hagerstown, but it certainly seems likely.”

“What does Henry Gale look like?”

“He’s rather short, around Julius’s age, with curly blond hair. Although I had not met, or even heard of him, prior our coming to Washington, I believe he was a boyhood friend of my husband’s. He has never been a social guest in our home. Julius never invited him to dinner or anything else.”

“Odd,” Jim murmured. So the man he encountered in the restaurant was likely Henry Gale; one of the men who followed him was also short, although he had not been close enough to see his features or hair.

“He must be a crook,” Miriam suggested. “Perhaps Uncle Julius did not wish to be seen associating with a known criminal.”

Jim smiled and nodded. “Quite true, Miss Seeley. I will try to find out. I’ve never come across his name to my knowledge. Does he live here in Hagerstown?”

“I don't know,” Bella replied. “It seems likely, however. His business is here.”

“Auntie,” Miriam said after consulting the watch brooch pinned to the lapel of her pale green traveling costume, “we will need to go soon to catch our train back.”

“Yes. James, I hope this is of help to you.” She rose to her feet, as did her niece.

“Tremendous help. Even if you cannot give me particulars, I can inform others to do more investigation.”

Bella sighed then. “I know it’s going to end badly for Julius. But I could not keep silent, realizing your life was endangered, as well as others perhaps.”

“You can be assured that Mr. Napier will not learn of your participation from me. Thank you.”

After checking out in the hallway to find it deserted, Jim led them toward the back and down a short flight of stairs that led to a door opening to the rear area of the hotel, which held a stable and other buildings where possibly hotel supplies were stored. He escorted them down an alley beyond the stables until they entered another street. There they found a cab that would take them to the railway station.

“I wish you all the best, James,” Bella said through the cab window. “Please come to Pittsburgh one day for a visit.”

Behind her aunt, Miriam smiled. Jim nodded. “I will plan on it.”

He returned to the hotel, warily entering through the rear door again and making his way to the first floor corridor. Just as he arrived at the top of the stairs, he saw a figure at the opposite end of the hall and jumped back—almost at the same moment realizing that the figure was “Mr. Packard.”

Jim stepped out, whistled shortly, and waved to his partner to join him. Artie did so. When the door was securely closed, he related what had just occurred with his surprise visitors. Artie’s eyes widened as he listened. “What in the world…?”

“Yeah. Napier apparently believes that we have some important information about something… something that he wants.”

Artie shook his head, mystified. “But what?”

“No idea, pal. It sure clarifies some things. You need to get to the telegraph office.”

“Yeah, and I’d better code it. I will go to my room and do that. What are you going to do?”

“Be extra cautious, that’s for damn sure. If Napier is heading to Hagerstown, as Mrs. Napier believes, things may be coming to a head. We need some information as soon as possible.”

“I don't know how the department can help in that area, Jim.”

“I don’t either, but ask. Maybe they can talk to some of Napier’s fellow employees at the Treasury Department. Although as Mrs. Napier pointed out, he has been living two lives. He might not have dropped any hints there in his guise as a loyal federal employee.”

Artie went to the door but paused with his hand on the latch. “Jim, part of the plan, as Mrs. Napier described it, was that if you refused to divulge this information—whatever it is—you would be killed and I would be next in line, figuring that knowing of your death I would be more willing to cooperate.”

“Yep.” Jim nodded, knowing where his partner was going with this. “With ‘you’ very ill and unavailable, that means more pressure to persuade me to talk. Let’s not worry about that right now, pal. Maybe we can nip this whole thing in the bud.”

W*W*W*W*W


Artemus hurried to his room to pull out paper and pencil in order to work on the communication he wanted to send. Coding it was imperative now. They knew that the clerk, Topping, was in the employ of Napier and his partner. They did not know how many others in this hotel, or this town, were also in on the conspiracy. Thus far, their telegrams to and from Washington had been innocuous and more or less expected. They could not risk the information transmitted in this one falling into the wrong hands.

He had some problems concentrating. The news that Jim was to be “persuaded” to provide whatever information Napier wanted was harrowing. To Artie that meant torture: Jim would not willingly divulge any secrets, and secrets had to be behind this. Napier had access to virtually all information possessed by the Treasury Department, and that included Secret Service files, thus he wanted something that would not necessarily be in those files.

Money has to be involved, Artie mused, pencil pausing over the pad on his lap. Money from where? A bank? A military payroll? He shook his head slightly. They would not need to get that information from us. He shook his head slightly, recalling Jim’s narration of Mrs. Napier’s description of her husband’s deception.

He duped all of Washington for nearly seven years… no, more like ten or eleven years, beginning when he enlisted in the Union army. “Southerners” from Maryland were not generally as distrusted as those who came from the more southern states, as had General Thomas and Colonel Benjamin “Grimes” Davis and others; the same thing happened with northerners who enlisted in the southern military. Wide-ranging belief had it that those men found it more difficult to rise in the ranks and be relied upon. Maryland was closer to the north and in fact remained in the Union, although regiments of men from that state served in the Confederate Army, as well as the Union Army.

Julius Napier had risen smoothly through the ranks of his regiment, and from all accounts, served bravely in battles. No blemishes appeared on his record. Excellent actor, it appears. He should have gone on stage!

Sighing, Artie returned to his task of writing the note. The actual message was not difficult. Encoding it so that it made some semblance of sense to the telegraphers handling it was the main problem. He smiled knowing that whoever responded from Washington would have the same difficulty.

Getting the missive actually sent turned out to be another problem altogether. A man and two women were ahead of him in the Western Union office, wrangling about a telegram they wanted to send. Artie got the impression they were man and wife and the sister of one of them. He eventually decided the second woman was the sister of the husband and quite obviously, she did not get along with her sister-in-law, contradicting everything the wife wanted to put in the message. The husband was in the middle of it all.

Worse, the telegram did not appear to be about anything urgent, merely telling another relative about plans for an anniversary party and asking who would be able to attend. They could not agree on the wording. Every time the poor telegrapher started to reach for the pad of paper it was written on, the pad was jerked back by one or the other woman to change or add a word. The telegrapher could only sit back and roll his eyes, shrugging apologetically in Mr. Packard’s direction.

Artie fought the temptation to announce himself as a government agent with a priority message to transmit. The possibility still existed that the telegrapher—or even the noisy trio—were part of Napier’s conspiracy. Highly unlikely, but I just can’t take a chance at this point. We know Napier is on his way, and may even be in Hagerstown already. Without a clear idea of his plans…

Consequently, he waited. Fortunately, the office had a bench so he sat down on it, and was soon joined by another man who scowled and made loud remarks about the squabbling trio. Finally, a good forty-five minutes after entering, Artie was able to send his wire. The telegrapher apologized profusely. This was not the first time this trio had behaved like this, he said.

“If I’d see them coming up the street, I’d lock the door and pull down the shades—if I could!”

The telegram sent, Artie went back to the hotel and into the restaurant for his supper. Jim was not present, so he probably either had a quick meal while Artie was at the telegraph office or else he had decided to go to another eatery. In his guise as Mr. Packard, he was a garrulous old man, so he talked to the waiter, talked to the people at the next tables—annoying one couple—and fussed about his food.

He finally ambled out into the lobby to spend time chatting with Topping, the clerk, who was obviously not in the mood to talk. That was somewhat surprising. Topping had always seemed to have time and inclination to converse with anyone who was near rather than attend to his duties. He appeared a little tense. Perhaps his boss (Gale?) had come in and caught him neglecting his work, or worse, the hotel’s clients.

Artie resisted going to Jim’s room right away. He entered his own room and spent a bit of time at the mirror refreshing his makeup from the small kit he had brought from the rooming house. I’ll sure be glad when I can go back to being myself for a while! Right now the only time he could do that was when he removed his disguise before going to bed.

Perhaps an hour later he realized he had not heard Jim out in the hallway, or anyone else. That meant close to three hours had elapsed since they talked in Jim’s room. Puzzled, and just slightly concerned, Artie rose from the bed where he had been reclining and reading, exited his room, and toddled down the hall.

At Jim’s door, he tapped on it. Hearing no response, he tapped again. Then tried the doorknob. It was unlocked so he pushed it open. The nearly dark room was empty. Worse, the window to the alley was standing open, the blind having been rolled up and the vase placed on the floor.

Damn! Why did I wait so long to check on him?

Every nerve he owned was required to pull himself together and enter the lobby casually. Topping was talking to a lady guest who strolled away as old Mr. Packard approached. “Say, youngster, have you see that Mr. West? He said he was going to buy me a drink tonight. I knocked on his door and he don’t answer.”

Topping pulled a straight face. “No, I haven’t seen him this evening. Maybe he forgot.”

Hmph! Yeah. Probably decided he didn’t want to bother with an old codger. Well, I’ll sure give him a piece of my mind when I see him again.” Artie continued to grumble in this manner as he headed out the front door.

On the darkened street, Artie shambled along until he was away from view by the hotel window, then hurried down the alley that Jim’s room window opened into. He knelt below the window, using matches to attempt to inspect the ground. With a muttered curse, he tossed the final match onto the ground.

Nothing. The surface is too hard to leave footprints. Still, he moved to the back of the hotel, looking around as best he could in the gloom. He did find a pile of fairly fresh manure, indicating a horse had been here. Whether that meant anything in relation to Jim, he did not know.

I need some help, and pronto!


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

USA
8318 Posts

Posted - 01/09/2017 :  11:20:34  Show Profile
Chapter 4

Night is a stealthy, evil Raven,
Wrapt to the eyes in his black wings.
Day and Night, Thomas Bailey Aldrich (1836-1907), American poet, novelist, and essayist


His senses returned to him slowly, drop-by-drop it seemed. He was first aware of voices. Men’s voices. One man swore, another laughed in triumph. From a different direction arose softer tones, almost whispers, conspiratorial. He kept his eyes closed, puzzling on this. He was not in bed. No, instead he seemed to be sitting up, more or less. His head rested on his outstretched arm. Both arms were on something hard and smooth.

He tried to remember. Supper in the hotel’s dining room. Rising and heading out through the lobby to the corridor that led to his first-floor room. There it was: the sudden onslaught of vertigo that slammed him against the wall as he tried to retain his balance. He had fallen to his hands and knees and was desperately trying to get back to his feet. Oblivion had conquered his senses entirely at that moment.

Where am I? Jim continued to remain quiet, unmoving, eyes closed, listening. His brain seemed to be, as Artemus had once described it, stuffed with tapioca. Pulling thoughts, clear thoughts, from it was as difficult as pulling the proverbial teeth. This has to be something to do with Napier, and possibly Gale.

He tried to remember the meal he had eaten. How had they dosed him with a narcotic? He had watched to make sure that the coffee poured into his cup had also been used to fill another diner’s cup. The steak had tasted fine. The slice of apple pie… That could have been it. Highly spiced. Very good pie, but the spices could have disguised any sedative added. A slow acting dose, certainly. Several minutes had elapsed before it struck him in the corridor.

That could explain that. Somehow, they had transported him to… wherever this was. A location he was not going to learn until he opened his eyes, if then. Feeling somewhat stronger although far from clearheaded, he made a small, gasping, groaning sound, opened his eyes, and lifted his head slowly. Only then, as he attempted to use his hands to brace himself, did he realize that his wrists were lashed tightly together. As his vision cleared, he saw that the binding was rawhide.

“Well, well. Sleeping beauty is finally waking up.”

Jim peered toward the voice. He did not need to pretend that his vision for that distance was blurred. It was. However, he recognized the voice, and as the man came closer to him, confirmed that Julius Napier was the source of the remark.

“Napier? What are… what are you doing here?”

“Greeting you, West. Let me present my business partner, Henry Gale.”

Gale was indeed the short stout man with the curly blond hair. Jim was certain this man was one of the two men who had followed him the other day. Two other men were present in what was obviously a kitchen. A large cast-iron stove sat against the far wall, where a window revealed darkness outside. The table where he was sitting was round, about six feet in diameter, and badly scarred with cuts and stains; likely used to prepare meals. Cupboards and counters as well as a sink were visible.

The other men were seated on either side of an occasional table, probably brought from another room, as it did not fit well in the kitchen setup. They apparently had been playing a card game. One was stocky, his head void of hair, as was his face. The other was completely the opposite: he was tall, with full head of hair, bushy eyebrows, and a beard that reached his chest, all in a near black shade. This man had been with Gale that day.

“Is this the way you… you always do… business?” Jim asked. He was now realizing that his jacket had been removed, along with the shoulder holster that contained his pistol.

“Certain business,” Napier replied smoothly. “When we have a proposition we are uncertain whether it will be accepted.”

“Proposition? What do you mean?”

Napier stepped closer to the table, but off to the side. Gale remained put, obviously content to let the Under Secretary do the talking. “We want you to design a foolproof plan to rob the San Francisco Mint.”

Jim blinked. He was surprised. Very surprised. “What?” Had his bleary brain caused him to hear wrong?

“You heard me. The federal government destroyed my ancestral home. The war they instituted destroyed the ‘way of life’ my family always knew, the life I was entitled to. I intend to acquire recompense. You and Mr. Gordon have visited the San Francisco Mint numerous times, as well as other mints around the country. You know where the guards are placed, where the doors, windows, and corridors are. You know the schedules.” ” Napier’s voice had risen as he spoke about the need the vengeance, his eyes displaying certain madness. Both calmed down when he went back to the topic at hand.

“Why… why San Francisco?

Gale spoke for the first time. “Because of its proximity to the harbor, of course. We immediately board a ship that takes us to parts unknown and a life of luxury.” He smirked.

Now Jim shook his head slightly, and wished he had not, as a faint wave of vertigo struck. He closed his eyes for a moment until it passed. “Why me?”

“I just told you,” Napier snapped. “You have intimate knowledge of the architecture of the mints. You and Mr. Gordon. You know the posting of the guards, their schedules… My plan was to offer it to you first, and if you refused, kill you as an example to Gordon, who would be next on the list. However, as we all know, Gordon is dying. He may be dead already. It’s up to you, West. Cooperate and you can be a wealthy man as well. Refuse and….” He shrugged.

“I don’t… I can’t…” Jim raised his bound hands and awkwardly massaged his forehead with his fingers, realizing for the first time that the knot that secured the rawhide strips around his wrists was on the outside, not where he could get at it with his teeth. His small penknife was in the now missing jacket. As luck would have it, he had not chosen to wear the boots with the hidden knife. A decision that I may live—or die—to regret!

“Look,” he said then, “I’m having trouble thinking.”

“I told you that you were making the dose too large,” Gale complained.

Napier waved a dismissive hand as Jim went on. “Maybe a cup of coffee will help me.” He had spotted the steaming pot sitting on the edge of the stovetop.

“Curtis!” Napier snapped. “Get West some coffee!”

The man with the beard scowled, but did not comment, rising from the chair to go to the stove where he opened a shelf above it to pull out a heavy cup. This he filled with the dark, steaming brew from the pot and brought it back, apparently first thinking that Napier would take it. When that did not happen, he stepped over to the table, leaning forward slightly to extend it towards Jim.

Jim in turn rose from the chair slightly, also leaning toward Curtis. He put his bound hands out to take the cup, feeling the heat on his fingers through the sides of the cups. Before Curtis could move, Jim abruptly tossed the coffee, cup and all, into his face.

Curtis screamed, falling back, hands over his scalded face. In that moment of confusion, Jim acted swiftly, grabbing the edge of the table and tipping it forward, then rolling it in the direction of Napier and Gale. Both yelled and scrambled back, Gale tripping and falling toward the stove, with which he barely avoided making contact.

Jim knew the confusion was going to last only seconds, so he headed for the door he had already noted off to one side. Let it be unlocked! It was. He grabbed the latch, pulled it open to step outside into the moonlit darkness, pulling the door shut behind him. The porch was rather large and to one side sat a rain barrel under a spout. The barrel was about half full of water.

Jim jerked it over onto its side, allowing the water to spill onto the porch and particularly toward the bottom of the door, which had a gap of about half an inch. Not waiting to see what ensued, he leapt off the porch and this time aimed for what appeared to be a barn or stable. The moon was full, which afforded strong light—although he knew that the same light could be a curse in his attempts to escape.

A small door was alongside the larger one that would allow horses and vehicles to come and go into the building. He jerked the lesser door open, but did not enter, instead continuing around the corner of the structure before heading off into what appeared to be rather dense woods on steepening slopes.

By now, he was hearing enraged shouts from behind him. “Get him! Get him!” Napier’s voice was recognizable despite its hoarse fury. “The barn!” another yelled. “He’s after a horse!” “Get him!” Napier screamed again.

Jim experienced slight relief as he realized that his ruse of leaving that door open was working. They would consume precious moments searching the barn, which would give him equally valuable time to put distance between himself and… wherever he had been. A farmhouse. That was certain. He had no idea, nonetheless, of where it was located.

The drug was still in his system, and every ounce of his willpower was needed to keep his legs pumping, taking deep breaths as he climbed the hill, trying to stay behind large trees and bushes, attempting to not step on large twigs or anything that would leave a trail. The ground was dry; he had noticed a scum on the water in the rain barrel indicating no fresh water had been added for a while. Leaving footprints was not a problem.

Again he heard yells, and they were much farther away now. In his favor, they would have no clear idea of the way he had gone. Napier might think he would take the easier course on the level ground Jim had noticed on the far side of the barn. He was unsure how far that flat land extended; this could be just a small valley. He knew from experience that this area of Maryland and Pennsylvania was on the northern tip of the Blue Ridge Mountains, and somewhat mountainous itself, with patches of flat lands. The area from south of here north to Harrisburg was known as the Cumberland Valley.

The brilliant moonlight allowed him to see quite a bit of his surroundings, as long as the trees were not creating a heavy canopy. After a while, he realized he was nearing the summit of this particular hill, and a decision was needed. Should he cross to the downward side, or start moving parallel? Pausing to take some gulps of air to ease his throbbing chest, he listened. The only sounds were those of the night.

What did that mean? Had his pursuers taken a different direction, as he had hoped, perhaps deciding that an escapee would prefer the easier route? Or had they been warned to silence? Taking one last deep breath, Jim made his decision and started to move horizontally to the ridgetop. For now, anyway. I need to see more of the land. Maybe I can find another farm where I can seek help.

He used the respite to attempt to loosen his bonds. Twisting his wrists was futile and only caused pain. Try as he might, he could not get his teeth on the knot. He had to wonder whether tying it on the opposite side had been deliberate or an accident. What he needed was some water to soak the leather in order to be able to stretch it. Thus far, he had not come across any sign of water, no spring, no run, or stream. Maybe further on…

W*W*W*W*W


Amicus certus in periculum ac discrimen necessario distinguuntur; cum suis auxiliis confligant virtutem suam ostendat et fide digna sui.
[A true friend is distinguished in the crisis of hazard and necessity; when the gallantry of his aid may show the worth of his soul and the loyalty of his heart.]
—Quintus Ennius (c. 239-c. 169 BC), Calabrian Roman epic poet


The man at the stable had not been lying when he said that the bay gelding had stamina. Artie reached forward to pat the animal’s neck. He had kept the horse at a brisk trot ever since leaving Hagerstown two hours ago. The white rime of evaporated sweat was barely showing on its hide.

If only I knew where I was going, and what I would find!

Last night after discovering the absence of his partner—and getting no cooperation whatsoever from any hotel staff, especially the desk clerk—he had immediately gone to the telegraph office. It was closed of course, but the lock on the door had not posed a problem. He slipped inside and sent the necessary messages to Washington. He knew that the machine in the department office would be staffed, and it was. The response was that the message would be delivered to Colonel Richmond immediately.

He had then set out to get some information about Henry Gale, something he had hesitated to do prior this time, lest Mr. Packard raise some suspicions. By now, he had removed his disguise and had no qualms about flashing his official identification in order to get answers to his questions. Even Philip Topping had blanched when he realized he was facing a federal agent. Unfortunately, Topping did not know anything about Gale other than he owned the hotel. He claimed to have never met the man.

Artie had a little more luck when he went to the nearest police station. Although he chose not to explain his motives at this time, still not entirely sure who to trust, he did learn from a garrulous desk sergeant that Henry Gale did not actually live in Hagerstown all the time. He had a residence in Baltimore. However, he did have a hunting lodge somewhere in the area. Unfortunately, the officer did not know where. Just “outside of town in the hills.”

He had had little or no luck asking others. One problem was the lateness of the night. Places were closed. He found the local newspaper office but only the printer and his helper were there. They knew the name Henry Gale but little else, not even about the hunting lodge.

This morning, after a couple of hours of restless sleep, he had tried again for information. An editor at the newspaper, which was open early, opined he had heard that the hunting lodge was north of town, somewhere just this side of the Mason-Dixon Line. However, checking again at the police station, the new on-duty officer was certain that the lodge was toward the south.

All he could do was hire a horse and head out. He chose north first. At the first farmhouse, he stopped and asked the same question. The farmer did not know the name Henry Gale. He did, however, hear that a hunting lodge was down the road “a piece.” He could not give much more information other than he had never seen it and he did not know of anyone who had. The second farmer had never even heard of Henry Gale.

Pausing at every farm was taking time, and after the third one—who thought he knew the name but knew nothing about a hunting lodge—Artemus decided to do a little reconnaissance on his own. He watched the sky above the trees on the hills that were to the north, hoping to see smoke that might be from a chimney. He saw nothing, however.

Maybe I need to go back to Hagerstown to see if I got a reply from the colonel. Or ask for help from the police. I just have this sense that every minute counts. I don't know that a regiment could do much more than I have been doing—other than spread out and comb the hills.

He knew he could not get a regiment. Not in short order, anyway. But finding out what Colonel Richmond could do might be important. He…

“Hey!”

The voice was hoarse and came from somewhere nearby. Artie jerked on the reins and looked around. As he twisted in the saddle to gaze behind him, he saw the man emerge from the thick brush.

“Jim!”

Artemus flew out of the saddle to stride toward his friend, noticing at once his wan condition, the bruises and scratches on his face, the long tear in the shirtsleeve—and that his wrists were tightly bound. “James, you look like hell! What happened? Where were you?”

“Do you have any water?” Jim rasped.

Artie immediately spun to return to the horse to collect the canteen full of fresh water, which he brought back, uncapping it. Jim took it in both hands to lift to his mouth, taking several swallows before forcing himself to lower it. He had not eaten or drunk anything for at least twelve hours and he knew that too much water might be worse than none at this moment.

Artie had pulled out his knife. He grimly but carefully sliced away the rawhide bonds, seeing the red welts even before beginning. Once the strips fell to the ground, he spoke angrily. “You need some treatment there, James. A good cleaning and some healing salve.”

“That can wait,” Jim replied, taking another long drink. “Have you seen Napier?

“No. Why?” He saw how Jim took a breath, closing his eyes for a moment. He’s exhausted! Artie took his arm. “Let’s go sit on that log. I’ll get the horse off the road.”

He first guided Jim to a fallen log some dozen feet from the road—and well hidden by thick brush at the roadside—then brought his horse to secrete behind some more bushes further back. He then returned to sit down beside his partner. “Let’s have it,” he said.

Jim quietly told how he had been drugged—probably by the tasty dessert—and soon fell unconscious. “I woke up in a farmhouse somewhere.”

“I suspect it was Gale’s hunting lodge,” Artie put in. “I know he has one. I just haven’t found anyone who knows where it is.”

Jim grimaced. “Well, I don’t either, at this point. I was very groggy when I woke up but I was in the kitchen, with Napier, Gale, and two other men. Napier explained what was going on. Artie, he wants one of us to design a plan to rob the San Francisco Mint.”

“The… what?” Artie’s eyes widened. “That’s insane!”

“I think he is. Not sure about Gale, other than he seems to be full in on it. He said the original plan was to take me and if I could not be convinced, he would kill me, and present his plan to you, feeling that you would take my death rather seriously and comply.”

Now Artie smiled slightly. “I guess my ‘illness’ put the kibosh on that idea.”

“Yeah. I got the idea he was going to use some rather persuasive methods on me.” Jim took another drink, then in a few brisk words described how he had escaped. “I duped them into believing, first, that I tried to take a horse, and then that I headed across the valley rather than into the hills. I don't think they followed me.”

“You were always rather clever that way, James my boy.” Artie lifted his eyes to gaze up into the rough terrain above them. “I suspect the trek was not quite a gentle sail down the river.”

“Not exactly. The moon was bright, but I was feeling the effects of the drug for a long while. That coffee would have been nice. I tripped and fell a couple of times, once into a ravine about six feet deep. I was too far gone to try to get out right away, so I slept a couple of hours. That helped. Then about an hour ago, I spotted the road. I decided to sit here and watch for someone who appeared trustworthy.”

“I presume I passed the test.”

“Barely. What have you been doing?”

Artie briefly described his actions since discovering his partner had vanished last evening. “I didn’t want to wait around for a reply from the colonel. However, I suppose we should head back into town to see if there is one. We…”

He paused when Jim lifted his head alertly. Artie heard it too: the approach of a wagon, heading in the direction of town. They waited and Artie found a spot alongside the road to peer out through the bushes. Probably the same spot Jim found, he decided. The wagon came into view, a farmer’s wagon driven by one man, drawn by two draft horses.

“I’ll be…” he muttered, and jumped out into the road. “Sergeant Garrett!”

The driver pulled back on the reins and stared toward the man who had appeared so abruptly. “Captain Gordon! Hello!” Joel Garrett reached over the side to extend his hand.

Artie hurried up to grasp it. “Jim told me you lived in this area. And we need your help.”

“We?” Garrett looked around and spotted Jim appearing through the opening in the brush. “Good grief! Captain!” He started to reach for the crutches resting beside him against the seat.

“Hold on,” Artie said, raising a hand. “Joel, do you live around here?”

“Just back around that bend,” Garrett replied, jerking a thumb over his shoulder. “What happened, Captain Gordon?”

“We’ll explain,” Artie replied. “Right now we would sure appreciate going to your house and maybe getting Jim’s wrists attended to.”

“My wife was a nurse during the war. Climb aboard.” Garrett extended his hand and Jim took it without demurring. He knew he needed some assistance just now. Artie fetched his horse, tied it to the back, and climbed up. When they were settled, Garrett expertly turned his team around to go back from whence he came. He did not ask any questions. That would come later. He could see the crimson bands on West’s wrists, as well as his overall condition.

Just around the road’s curve, as he had stated, a lane turned off to the right. No house was immediately visible, and Artie eventually judged that the home was nearly a mile off the road. That’s good. Less chance of being spotted at all.

The house was two story, but small and well kept, which applied to all the buildings and grounds they could see. Fields behind appeared to be growing corn and some lower-spreading plants, possibly squash, Artie decided. A young pretty woman in a calico dress and white apron came out onto the porch as the wagon neared. Two little boys, perhaps three and five years of age, peered from behind her skirts. No doubt, Mrs. Garrett was wondering why her husband was returning so quickly.

That question was soon answered, and as soon as she saw Jim’s situation, Beth Garrett hurried back inside, the children following. By the time the three men reached the kitchen, she had a basin of hot water on the table, along with cloths, and was bringing a tin of salve and a clean white towel with her from a cupboard. She handed the towel to her husband and instructed him to cut or tear it into strips, explaining she had sent the boys out back to play.

Jim sat down as bade, and while Artie told the Garretts what was going on, Beth efficiently cleaned, salved and bandaged Jim’s wrists, then applied some of the salve to the scratches on his face, arms, and backs of his hands. Jim sat quietly, disliking being ministered to like a child, but quite aware that it was necessary. The last thing he would need would be for his wrists to become badly infected. Mrs. Garrett obviously knew what she was doing, especially as she wrapped the white strips around each wrist expertly and tied them off.

“Henry Gale?” Beth spoke with some disdain as Artie finished his story. “I’m not surprised. He’s a greedy pig!”

Her husband chuckled. “I think that says it. He bought the Franklin Hotel some years back. Folks thought he’d fix it up. Nope. He just charges the highest room rates traffic will allow and takes the profits. Doesn’t pay well from what I’ve heard.”

“He apparently paid a couple of people well enough,” Artie said. “The clerk and someone in the restaurant who put the drug in Jim’s food.”

“I don't know Napier at all,” Joel added. “I think I’ve read his name in the paper. You say he’s got Southern leanings? How the heck did he get a job in the Treasury Department?”

“Cleverness,” Artie said. He noticed his partner’s silence. “Mrs. Garrett, might we trouble you for some coffee? I didn’t take time for breakfast this morning, and I know James hasn’t had anything for a while.”

“Coffee! Of course. And breakfast. Just sit still.” Beth Garrett cleaned up her medical supplies and headed for the stove.

Jim experienced an almost instant lift from a couple swallows of the hot rich coffee. “Joel,” he said then, “Have you any idea where Gale’s hunting lodge is?”

The farmer and former cavalry sergeant seemed surprised. “Well, sure! It’s not far from here.”

“Most people don’t seem to know about it,” Artie put in.

“I guess I remember him saying I shouldn’t spread it around. Last summer, he was having some kind of shindig at the lodge. Invited some fellows from Washington, I guess. Come to think of it, I reckon Napier was one of them. Anyway, he hired me to deliver some dressed chickens, along with eggs and ears of corn. He also made me promise to never tell anyone where the lodge is.”

Jim looked at him. “But?”

“I’ll certainly show you. Gale has always been a little dodgy. I recall that some shenanigans went on when he was trying to buy a store in town. The owner did not want to sell, and in the end, didn’t. But the law got involved somehow.”

“He was threatening Mr. Barber,” Beth put in. “Annie Kirk shops there all the time and she told me about it.”

Her husband nodded. “I just wouldn’t be surprised that he was in a deal like this with Napier or anyone else.”

Beth brought two plates of eggs and ham to place before the two agents, then the coffee pot to refill their cups. “What are you going to do now?” she asked.

Jim looked up at her. “I’m not sure. Artie, you have any thoughts?”

“Well, as I mentioned before, I think we need to return to town and check in with the colonel. Problem is, we have to stay out of the sight of Napier or his pals while doing so. They would probably either start shooting or head for the hills, then we would never catch them.”

“That’s easy to solve,” Garrett put in. “You lay in the back of my wagon and I’ll cover you with a tarp.”

Now Jim glanced at his partner. “That makes sense.”

“Except for my horse,” Artie pointed out.

Joel Garrett grinned. “We’ll tie him on the back and if anyone asks, I’ll just say I found him running loose.”

Jim nodded. “Good thinking, Sergeant. I’m starting to feel half human now with coffee and some food, but my brain is a little slow yet.”

“We can go to my—or rather Mr. Packard’s—boarding house. I can don one of my disguises and do some reconnaissance while you rest, Jim.”

His partner scowled. “I don’t need any rest.”

Artie just nodded soberly. “But you do need to stay out of sight for a while. Unless you want me to cook up a disguise for you.” He knew that Jim disliked wearing false facial hair, or any manner of “disguise” other than clothes he would not normally put on.

“I guess that will work. For a while.”

Some of the baskets of vegetables that were still on the bed of the wagon were moved to make room for the two men just behind the seat. Garrett had been on his way to deliver the produce to a store in Hagerstown when he encountered the agents. He would, he told them, come up with an excuse for being late, as well as give the grocer a small discount to make up for it.

Artemus and Jim climbed up onto the bed and lay down, whereupon Joel Garrett spread the tarpaulin over them. They remained hidden until well out on the road, when Joel quietly called over his shoulder that no one was in sight. Artie pulled himself to a sitting position, but was not in the least surprised to notice that his partner had dozed off in the fifteen or so minutes that had elapsed.

He did not like to admit just how exhausted he was, between the effects of the drug and running through the hills most of the night. Best thing for him, right now.

Artie and the former sergeant carried on a quiet conversation on the trek toward town. Two other wagons were encountered, traveling in the opposite direction. Artie ducked down and covered with the tarp each time, until the other vehicle had moved on. Garrett had a brief conversation with the driver of one, a fellow farmer who had been on a similar errand to town and wondered why Joel was having such a late start. Garrett had his excuse ready. He had noticed that one of the wagon wheels was very dry and had had to pull it to grease it well before it seized up. That took time.

“I’ll be glad when my boys are big enough to help with that chore,” he laughed.

Upon reaching the outskirts of Hagerstown, Artie told Garrett how to find the boardinghouse then he too ducked under the tarpaulin. He soon realized how easy it would be to fall asleep. The sun on the canvas created a nice warm nest. However, he remained awake, and as the wagon rumbled through the streets, he roused Jim, who was surprised to find they were nearly at their destination.

“You shouldn’t have let me sleep that long.”

“Yeah. Maybe.” Artie was not about to argue the point.

When the wagon halted in front of the house, Joel quietly informed his passengers that all was clear. No one was in view. They jumped out and hurried inside, allowing the wagon to move on. Garrett would return when he completed his delivery. Luck was with them as they made it up the stairs to “Mr. Packard’s” room without meeting anyone.

Artie picked up the yellow envelope that had been slipped under the door; he had asked the colonel to use this address when he responded to the telegram sent late last night. He read it aloud: “Will arrive on noon train with as much help as possible. Meet us if you can.”

“That’s not going to be easy if we want to stay out of sight,” Artie frowned.

“Maybe Joel can do it. Richmond knows him.”

“You’re right. I am going to put on my Mr. Packard outfit and go to the hotel to see what’s happening there. I should return by the time Joel gets back, but if not, you can send him to the train station. I will tell Mrs. Wenger that my nephew is staying in my room. Remember that your last name is Packard now.”

“I’ll try. I don’t suppose you could get me some hot water so I can shave.”

“I might just manage that, James my boy. Just might.”

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

USA
8318 Posts

Posted - 01/09/2017 :  11:21:27  Show Profile
Chapter 5

Look before you ere you leap.
Hudibras (pt. II, canto I), Samuel Butler (1612-1680), English wit and poet


Artie as old Mr. Packard checked out of the Franklin Hotel. Phillip Topping was not at the desk, and when the cranky old man asked what happened to the other young fellow, the current clerk merely shrugged. “He didn’t show up to work, so here I am.”

Artemus was able to collect his own gear as well as Jim’s from the room down the hall, stuffing everything into the large suitcase. He felt that returning to this hotel was unlikely now. He wondered if either Napier or Gale would either. He was quite aware that both men, knowing that Jim West could have reached safety, were even in the Hagerstown area. They had to mount a search, nonetheless. He hoped that Colonel Richmond was bringing a squad of men large enough for the task.

I hate to think of Napier, in particular, being out there. From what Jim described he is insane, or very nearly. We do not want to have to be looking over our shoulders for him for a long while to come.

He had walked from the boardinghouse to the hotel, but with the heavy luggage now, he hailed a cab to transport him back. Again, he managed to get to the room without meeting anyone except another boarder, who merely nodded a greeting while exiting the front door. Artie tapped on the room door, speaking through the door before opening it. He had left his spare pistol with Jim; no use tempting fate.

Jim looked a great deal better despite his torn shirt. He had shaved and, Artie hoped, rested some more on the bed. The slightly mussed coverlet suggested the latter. Jim was able to procure a new shirt and jacket from the items Artie had rescued from his old room, as well as his gun belt and snake-embossed pistol. He did not like to wear the gun belt in an eastern town, where it was not usual, but doing so was much better than going unarmed.

Artie consulted his watch. “Almost noon.”

“I guess we need to wait here to talk to Joel, find out where to meet the colonel.”

“Yeah. If I had known I’d be back so soon, we could have met the colonel ourselves. However, it’s probably better this way. Jim, what do you think the chances are that Napier is still in the area?”

“Pretty good. Men like him are single-minded. He has this goal of robbing the mint, and the idea that you and I are the ones who could help him accomplish that goal. Even if he still believes you are incapacitated, he’ll come after me.”

Artie nodded, realizing he had hoped Jim would say that Napier was probably on a ship for Europe by now. “I guess so. But where is he? First thing we need to check is that hunting lodge.”

On the trip into town, Joel Garrett had pointed out a barely visible gate alongside the road just a couple of miles from his own lane. The fence and gate were thickly overgrown with briars and other vines and bushes. By looking closely, one could see that the gate had been opened recently, causing a rut in the ground. That, Joel had stated, was the entrance to the lodge. The road led well back into the hills, at least two miles, possibly three.

“From what I understand, no fences were ever erected,” Joel had said. “Gale’s reasoning was that a fence might tempt trespassers to see what lay beyond. Instead, he encouraged or planted thick growth. I have no doubt Jim encountered some of that last night while escaping.” He had been paid extra well and subtly threatened to keep silent about the gate’s location.

“That’s definitely our first destination,” Jim said. “They have to assume that even if I escaped successfully back to town, I will not know where I was. They may still be there.”

Artie pondered this a moment. “That’s true. It’s worth checking, although if I was Napier, I’d get the hell out of the country.”

Jim smiled. “But people like Napier don’t think like you do, Artemus. We know that.”

“Yeah. If Loveless thought like me, he would be living at the South Pole to get away from us.”

“So now we wait for Joel’s return to find out where we are to meet the colonel.”

W*W*W*W*W


Cum terra marique iter non potes.
[Never travel by sea when you can go by land.]

—Cato (Marcus Porcius Cato “The Elder”; aka Cato the Censor; 234-149 BC), Roman patriot and statesman

The colonel’s hotel was further in the middle of town, and much nicer than the Franklin. Artie rapped on the second floor door that was opened by Hardy Southern, an agent they had worked with before. He nodded to Artie, but looked at his companion with a frown. Artie said nothing and the two men stepped inside.

“Artemus! Good to see you. Where’s Jim? Who’s this?” The colonel too stared at the other man in the floppy hat and disheveled cloak that hung almost to the floor.

Jim flipped the hat off. “Hello, Colonel. This was Artie’s idea, so don’t blame me.”

Artie grinned as Richmond stepped forward to grip Jim’s hand. “He couldn’t very well walk through the streets of Hagerstown as his natty self, could he?” He remembered Jim’s appalled expression when the cloak and hat had been pulled out of the wardrobe.

“That looks like my Dad’s hat,” Jim had said.

“It is. He gave it to me. It’s perfect to shadow your face.”

With much reluctance, Jim had accepted the disguise, grudgingly acceding it was better than wearing a beard and wig, especially since they had no idea where Napier was or anything about his possible behavior now. They had sent Joel Garrett home as soon as he delivered the needed information. The former cavalryman wanted to help further, but they convinced him he had no business endangering himself when he had a wife and two children at home waiting for him.

They greeted the other two agents, Bill Eastman and Jack Northrop, and all sat down in the room to discuss strategy. The colonel informed them that he had asked Capitol police to watch the Napier house, as well as keep an eye out for Julian Napier himself. He had also visited the “doctor’s” house to inform Lily and the two actors that it was time to close down the clinic. They were on their way back to Baltimore.

“What are your thoughts about Napier’s next move?” Richmond wanted to know.

Jim could only shake his head. “It’s difficult to predict a madman’s actions, Colonel. We have found that out too many times. The possibility exists that he is holed up at Henry Gale’s hunting lodge, believing that I don't know where it is. It’s also possible they are in Canada by now.”

“The lodge a place to start,” Artie offered.

“True enough. By the way, I visited the Hagerstown chief of police this morning and enlisted his assistance if needed. Fortunately, he is a man I knew in the army. He’s also familiar with the Napier family story. His family lived in the same county as the Napier estate and he heard about the old man’s suicide after losing the family fortune. He always thought it strange that Julian enlisted with the north.”

“In this case,” Artie opined, “there was a method to his madness, covering all his options, it seems. However, his father’s refusal to abide by Julian’s wishes shattered everything.”

“Including his mind, perhaps,” Hardy Southern murmured. Southern was the youngest of the three agents who had accompanied the colonel. He was blond, with a square, handsome face, and brown eyes. He sometimes sported a mustache but was clean-shaven right now. Some fellow agents often wondered what would be the result if Hardy Southern and James West squared off in a fist fight; Southern was quite handy in a melee.

Richmond got to his feet. “Let’s go check out that hunting lodge.”

Artemus led them to the stable where he had rented his horse and soon all were mounted and heading out of town. Artie had tried to convince Jim to don his disguise again, but Jim steadfastly refused: if nothing else, being seen would draw Napier and his cronies out of hiding if they were in town and saw him.

On horseback, reaching the site where Garrett had pointed out the hidden gate took far less time than it had traveling in the farm wagon into town. They soon had the portal opened and passed through, slowing their speed due to cautiousness. The dirt road, heavily shaded by trees and brush so that it was not easily noted from the main byway, showed signs of recent use, but as Jim pointed out, probably not for a couple of days at least.

“Most likely when they brought me out here,” he said.

The narrow lane crawled up toward the hills, straight at first, but eventually starting to curve as it gained the higher levels. On his own suggestion, which the colonel agreed with, Jim rode ahead of the group, his pistol in his hand at all times. He heard nothing and saw nothing until finally rounding a broad curve and spotting the roof of a building.

He quickly dismounted and crept to a point where he could see the house and barn as well as a couple of smaller buildings. The barn in particular appeared familiar as he recalled the door he had left open to successfully distract his pursuer. He had not had a good look at the house. The door he saw at the one-story house would be the one from the kitchen; a broken barrel lay on the ground nearby. All was quiet.

After about five minutes, he remounted and headed back to meet up with his fellow agents, revealing what he saw. “I cannot say if anyone is present or not. I can say I didn’t see or hear a horse, let alone any humans.”

Richmond directed them to dismount just outside of where the buildings were located, and in pairs, they spread out to “surround” the compound. He urged caution. “If you see anything or anyone, stay out of sight. We’ll meet back here.”

Artie and Hardy Southern had the longest route, to gain the front of the building, so they departed first. Then Richmond and Eastman, who would approach from the side opposite from where the barn was located, and finally Jim and Northrop went out to check the barn before heading for the back of the house. Jack Northrop was in his middle thirties and had briefly been a Pinkerton agent during the war. He was a stocky man with thick auburn hair and mustache, along with blue eyes that could twinkle on a moment’s notice.

Artemus and Hardy reached the front of the house with no interruptions. They carefully approached the front door, where Artie put his ear against the wood while Southern went to a nearby window to peer in. Both stepped back, shaking their heads at each other. Southern then joined Artie on the porch; with guns drawn, they entered the house.

As it happened, the colonel and his companion entered the rear door at almost the same moment. The four men quickly searched the house, and while they found personal possessions in the bedrooms, no humans were present.

“Colonel!” Jim’s voice called from the back door, and the four men quickly went to the kitchen. Jim was just inside the door. “Colonel, come on out to the barn.”

The first thing Artie noticed as they entered the large structure was the absence of horses. The second thing was an odor. He exchanged a glance with Jack Northrop. They were all familiar with that odor. Jim led them toward a stall in the back.

“My god,” Richmond murmured as he gazed upon the three dead men in that stall.

“Gale,” Jim said, pointing to one bloody corpse. “That one was called Curtis. I never got a name for the other one.”

“Napier must have done this,” Artie muttered.

“Insane indeed,” Eastman growled.

Richmond spun and headed out into the sunlight and fresh air. The others followed him. Outside, the colonel turned. “So where is Napier?”

No one spoke for a moment until Jim lifted his head. “Mrs. Napier has gone to Pittsburgh to stay with her family.”

The colonel nodded grimly. “It’s reasonable to believe Napier might be heading that direction. We need to get back to town, send the police out here, and send a telegram to the police in Pittsburgh. Do you have Mrs. Napier’s address, Jim?”

“I do.” Jim pulled a card she had given him from his coat pocket and handed it over.

They mounted up and rode toward town at a fast clip. Upon reaching the town limits, Colonel Richmond sent Eastman and Southern to the police station while the rest of them headed for the telegraph office. Artie went inside with his superior while Jim and Jack Northrop lingered outside, using the opportunity for a smoke.

However, Richmond and Gordon emerged from the office quicker than expected, with some news that had just arrived via the telegraph. The Baltimore and Ohio train that left Hagerstown for Pittsburgh a couple of hours ago was now stopped ahead of a bridge over the Conococheague Creek west of Greencastle, up in Franklin County, Pennsylvania. A track crew had discovered some damage on the bridge, and the train was being held up until an inspector could come to have a look.

“That’s our opportunity,” Richmond stated. “If Napier is on that train, we can grab him.”

A quick detour toward police headquarters intercepted Eastman and Southern, after which the group headed for the railroad station. Richmond went inside to get further details and to ask that the train be detained until the Secret Service was able to check its passengers. Artie spoke to the ticket agent who thought he remembered a man fitting the description of Napier having bought a ticket that morning. He was not positive, however.

“Mornings are usually the busiest time at this window,” he apologized.

On their horses again, the agents followed the track north. They wanted to hurry but the trek would be at least twenty miles, so the horses needed to be spared. Jim wished he had his beautiful Blackjack under him. He could be at the bridge long before the rest of them if that had been the case.

As it was, they rode by a repair crew on a handcar working their way up the tracks. That at least informed them that the train was still waiting, and it was when they finally rounded a curve in the tracks that they found the cars and engine idle just before the bridge across the creek. The conductor was standing on the porch of the caboose, and he stepped down to meet them as they approached.

Colonel Richmond identified himself and explained they were seeking a wanted man. The conductor thought he recognized the description of Napier. “I think he’s in the second or third car from the front. You won’t be starting anything dangerous, will you?”

“We’ll do our best not to,” the colonel assured him, knowing that he did not need to add that that might be entirely up to Julius Napier.

Jim suggested that as he and the colonel were most familiar with the face of Julius Napier, the two of them search the train, each beginning at either end. Richmond agreed and told the other four to position themselves outside the train in case Napier attempted to bolt. Then he entered through the caboose end while Jim took the first car behind the locomotive.

They met at a point about halfway in the middle, both with puzzled frowns. “Nothing,” Jim said.

“Agreed,” replied the colonel. “The supposition that he might head for his wife may be in error. We…”

“Excuse me,” a man spoke behind Jim. “Are you law officers?”

Jim turned. “Yes, sir. Federal government. Can we help you?”

“I got the idea you were looking for someone,” the man replied. “A tall fellow with a mustache and shiny hair?”

The two government men glanced at each other. “Have you seen him?” the colonel asked.

“He was sitting in the seat opposite mine when the conductor went through to tell us about the delay. As soon as the conductor passed to the next car, this fellow jumped up. I asked him where he was going, because the conductor had told us to keep our seats at least until more information was available. He didn’t want passengers being left behind out in the field.”

“What did he say?” Jim inquired.

“That he lived nearby and he was going to pay his family a quick visit.”

Jim cocked his head slightly. “Isn’t that possible?”

“Well, perhaps. Except I’m the physician in this part of the county and I know almost everyone who lives here. Never saw this fellow before.”

“Must be him,” Richmond muttered.

Jim extended his hand to the doctor. “Thank you, sir. You may have helped us a great deal.”

“Glad to be of service. I could not help but notice how nervous the fellow was, especially before the train left the station. He kept peering out windows on both sides. When we came to a halt out here, I thought he was going to jump out a window right away!”

Jim and the colonel left the train. Jim whistled sharply to get the attention of the other agents. Southern, Eastman, and Northrop quickly trotted up to them. Jim looked around.

“Where’s Artemus?”

W*W*W*W*W


I come from the Town of Stupidity; it lieth about four degrees beyond the City of Destruction.
The Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan (1628-1688), English writer and author


Stupid! Stupid, stupid, stupid!Y Artemus could not get the word out of his head. He knew it applied to him in every sense. After all the years he had spent, first in the military, and then as an agent in the Secret Service, he should have recognized a trap when he saw it. I did not, however. The bait was waved and I jumped, like a hungry fish!

When Jim and Colonel Richmond entered the stalled train from either end, he had positioned himself near the engine, only partly because his partner had entered the first passenger car from that area. He had just walked that way while the other three agents headed in the opposite direction. Of course, if I had started toward the caboose, one of them probably would have taken the post near the locomotive. But that was the way it happened. I was the one who was there to be baited.

He had been alert, watching down the side of the train in case their quarry panicked and jumped out. He also looked around the area, toward the cornfield that was growing along the heavy wooded banks of the creek, towards the bridge where the repairs were going on, and glancing at the thicket lining the creek banks. That area was composed of trees of various ilk towering above, and thick brush low on the ground.

While gazing at the train, idly wondering how far along the two men inside were, he heard a sound from the direction of the woody creek side. He knew now that his initial vague thought was that an animal was in the brush, and he looked that direction. He then saw the face of a man peering around the trunk of a large red maple.

The face was unmistakable, and he had reacted instantly, drawing his gun and running toward it. He had cast at least one glance behind him but saw none of his fellow agents. Thus, he charged onward. Time was of the essence. Somehow, Napier had exited the train—and for some reason was lingering nearby.

Bursting in through the brush, he had stopped to look around. The water was to his right, sparkling in the afternoon sunlight as it flowed south toward the Potomac. All was quiet. Had he been totally mistaken in what he saw? Or thought he saw? Unsure, Artie had walked cautiously forward.

He was uncertain how far he progressed away from the train, but knew he was starting to think he had hallucinated, when a voice spoke behind him, telling him to put the weapon he was carrying on the ground and turn around carefully. Fighting back frustration and anger, he had done as bade.

Napier had ordered him to continue walking through the heavily wooded area, farther away from the train. After about a hundred yards, his captor told him to empty his pockets. Upon spotting the handcuffs that were dropped, Napier manacled Artie’s wrists in front of him, careful to find and put the key in his own pockets.

Artemus had tried to reason with Napier, but as he suspected it would be, the effort was fruitless. Napier freely admitted killing his partner and the two henchmen. Gale, he said, wanted to pull out before things got any “worse.” Napier snickered after speaking that word. Napier did not believe his childhood friend when Gale said he would not say anything. Even less did he believe the two other men.

“So I killed them,” he stated unemotionally.

He did admit that he had been heading for Pittsburgh to find his wife when the train was delayed by the possible damage to the bridge. “Without knowing how long I was going to have to sit there, so I decided to get off the train, just in case what happened would happen—the arrival of agents. I would have remained hidden in the brush, and if nothing occurred by the time the train was leaving, I would have boarded again.”

When Artemus asked where they were going, the terse response was “Washington.” Artie had to bite his tongue to keep from asking if Napier intended to walk the entire distance. His captor did comment on the agent’s miraculous recovery from the horrid disease, smirking as though he had not been fooled in the first place. The plans had not changed, he said. Artemus Gordon would now provide the information he needed.

“San Francisco is a long ways off,” Artie pointed out.

“It needn’t be the San Francisco Mint. Other mints are nearer and I’m sure you know a great deal about them as well. Or banks. A nice large bank in Philadelphia or New York City would do fine.”

Artie knew better than to try to argue. Julius Napier was not in a mood for disagreements; that was obvious. He had killed three men who disputed his plans. “What now?” he asked.

“Just keep walking,” was the command. “Chances are good we’ll encounter a farmer or someone with a wagon or a horse. I’m sure whoever it is will be quite willing to offer us transportation.”

I hope not! I hope we don’t meet anyone! It would likely be sure death for that person, despite how cooperative he might be.

Artie was somewhat surprised when a footbridge across the creek appeared that Napier did not want to cross over. Instead, they continued on the same side of the waterway, pushing through the underbrush, which was quite heavy in some places and included briars with thorns that caught at their clothes. Twice they came upon some cows drinking at the creek, but onward they walked. No humans were spotted, although the roofs of farmhouses were visible a couple of times beyond low hills.

He was sure they had trudged at least a mile, possibly closer to two, when Napier suddenly barked out, “Stop!”

Artemus grimaced, then forced his countenance to display mild curiosity as he paused and turned around. “What’s up?” I really hoped he would not see that!

“No more walking, Mr. Gordon. Our ship has arrived.” Napier pointed toward the creek.

Taking a few steps toward Napier, who lifted the pistol in his hand slightly as warning, Artie stopped again. “Looks like a skiff.” The wooden boat, six or eight feet long, was pulled halfway up onto a bit of sandy shore; the oars rested in the bottom of the craft. He had seen it at the periphery of his vision but chose not to markedly notice it. He thought his chances of overcoming his captor were better on foot.

“A very sturdy skiff,” Napier beamed. “We will sail to Washington. Get in. You’ll handle the oars.”

“Could be tricky,” Artie replied mildly, holding out his manacled arms.

“Oh. Yes.” The other man’s smile faded as he stared at the handcuffs. With barely six inches of chains between the cuffs, handling oars was going to be all but impossible. For a long minute, Napier did not speak. He finally shrugged. “All right. I will remove them. Don’t think you’re going to fool me, Gordon. My gun will be on you at all times. The slightest move and I will shoot you. I can, after all, manage the oars myself.”

“Then why don’t you?”

Napier dug into his pocket for the key. “Because I still want you to plan the robbery for me.”

As the cuffs were unlocked, Artie sighed. “You certainly have a one-track mind, Mr. Under Secretary.”

W*W*W*W*W


Immediately upon realizing that Artemus Gordon was not to be seen, the group of agents scoured the area around and in the train to no avail. No one in the train had seen a man answering his description, so it was unlikely Artie had entered any car to find either Jim or the colonel, or try to help them.

They met again near the engine, each with a baffled, concerned expression. “Where would he have gone?” Eastman asked. Bill Eastman was the oldest of the three agents who had accompanied their superior to Hagerstown and was now approaching forty years. On the tall side and spare of frame, he also had a long face that someone compared to a lantern. “Especially when he smiles,” that person had said. “He completely lights up.” He wore his dark hair on the long side, combed straight back; a few strands of silver were beginning to appear in that dark hair—silver that matched his eyes.

“That’s just it,” Jim replied sharply. “He wouldn’t have. Not without telling one of us. He…”

“Hey, down there!”

The voice came from the window of the locomotive, and all turned their gazes up to where a bearded man was leaning on the sill and looking down at them. “Yes?” the colonel called back in reply.

“You lookin’ for a fellow who was with you earlier? Wearing a brown suit?”

Jim stepped closer. “Yes, we are. Have you seen him?”

The man waved toward the woods that lined the creek. “I saw him head into there little bit ago. Maybe twenty minutes ago. I figured he was needin’ to take a leak. But he’s sure takin’ a while.”

Jim West spun and sprinted toward the creek-side growth, not bothering to see if anyone was following. Nonetheless, upon reaching the verge of that growth, he stopped to look back, unsurprised that all his fellow agents were behind him.

“Hold it,” he said, putting out a hand to stop them. “Let me go in to see if I can find any tracks.” They all did so. He saw the grim expressions on their faces and knew that his own held the same. They had not heard any gunshots, but other deadly methods were available. If Artemus had charged into this thick growth and been ambushed…

Jim forced that thought from his mind as he paused to start studying the ground and his surroundings. He saw a couple of leaves that had been turned over, but at first no footprints. Going a little further into the shadowy area, a muddy spot came into view. He knelt a moment, then rose and proceeded another few yards. He then turned and returned to his companions.

“All right,” he said, abruptly realizing the relief he was experiencing. “I found footprints. One definitely belongs to Artie’s boot. I’m guessing the other one is Napier.”

“No sign of either?” Southern asked.

“Looks like they headed downstream,” Jim replied. “Colonel, I’m going to follow their tracks. May I suggest that you and the others mount up and head down the road? I recall that we passed a couple of crossroads that may lead all the way to the creek, and possibly bridges…”

Richmond was nodding. “Good plan. We can check out the situation.”

“Jim… Colonel,” Hardy Southern spoke up, “I’d like to go with Jim.”

The colonel spoke before Jim did. “Good idea. Two heads are always better than one. Let’s get moving.”

“Let’s go,” Jim barked, and started out at a trot through the heavy growth. He soon—reluctantly—found it necessary to slow his pace after nearly tripping twice when briars snatched at his boots. He did not mind that another agent was trailing behind him. The biggest problem, he knew, was that “another agent” was not Artie. Napier is insane. I do not like that Artie may be in his hands. No telling what Napier might do!

He tried to keep his eyes on the ground as well as looking out toward the creek and the opposite bank, unsure of what he would see in the latter two places. He did notice tracks from time to time in patches of damp ground, or spied where twigs or leaves had been disturbed. These convinced him that Artemus and Napier were still on this bank of the creek. He was particularly surprised to realize this after they came upon a footbridge that crossed the Conococheague. He and Southern paused long enough to locate tracks indicating their quarry had not crossed the bridge but continued on this side.

“Why wouldn’t he have crossed?” Southern wondered as they resumed their pace.

“Good question,” was all Jim could say. Julius Napier had grown up on an estate and no doubt had done hunting and fishing. Why would he not realize that crossing the creek would be more likely to confuse pursuers? Maybe he is so confident right now that he does not believe he is being chased, or can be stopped! Where is he going?

Some time later, Hardy Southern suddenly called from behind him. “Jim! Wait! Hold it!”

A trifle annoyed, Jim turned. He saw his fellow agent leaning against the trunk of a tree and peering at the creek. “What is it?” Surely I didn’t miss seeing…

“Looks like a boat was pulled up on the bank here, and taken away not long ago.”

A trifle chagrinned that he had missed the signs, Jim stepped over beside Southern to look down at the creek bank. The slope was less steep here, creating a miniature beach, and indeed, all the signs indicated that a flatbed boat of some sort had been resting there for a long period of time—and removed recently. Worms and other creatures that had made their home under the bed of the craft were still moving about, seeking new shelter.

“I think Napier must have found it,” Hardy said then.

Jim nodded. “He and Artemus are heading down creek in it.”

“Where the hell is he going, Jim?”

Now Jim could only shake his head. “That direction is the Potomac and eventually Washington. Let’s keep going.”


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

USA
8318 Posts

Posted - 01/09/2017 :  11:22:06  Show Profile
Chapter 6

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


Retaining a grim expression was not the most difficult task Artemus ever attempted. However, it was hard to quell the sudden spates of chuckling that wanted to bubble out. Napier’s own face reflected that he was realizing their little boat journey down the Conococheague Creek to the Potomac River and thus Washington City was not going to be as easy as he anticipated, even with the purloined craft.

At first, all went well as far as the captor was concerned. Artie thought Napier looked like a boy who had just found his most wanted toy under the Christmas tree when he had espied the length of rope coiled on the bottom of the skiff. That solved his problem of securing his prisoner, ordering Artemus to tie one end securely around his left ankle and the other end on the iron oarlock, around the base so it would not interfere with the use of the oar. Thus, Artie would be unable to freely leap out of the boat.

They had not been traveling on the water for more than ten minutes, in deep smoothly flowing water, when abruptly the tenor of the water’s movement changed. From six or seven feet deep, it shallowed to less than ten inches, flowing more swiftly over a rocky area, if not quite rapids. The problem was the weight of two men in the boat caused it to scraped bottom. The craft even became stuck on a couple of protruding rocks.

Artie estimated they had spent close to half an hour navigating these shallows. Napier was furious; however, he had no option except to climb out and push the boat on those occasions when it slowed or halted completely. He could not order his prisoner to the task, risking an escape attempt. Plus, because Napier felt the need to keep his pistol in his hand at all times, he had to shove and maneuver the boat with one hand.

Artemus “helped” as much as he could with the oars; that is, when possible, he surreptitiously pushed in the opposite direction that Napier was shoving. Every minute counts, he surmised. He knew that his fellow agents would have noticed his absence, and they would have eventually figured out which direction he had foolishly gone. By now, they were on his trail. He needed to do whatever he could to allow them the opportunity to catch up, especially since he and Napier boarded the boat and traveled somewhat faster than a man on foot… for a while.

After the shallows, they encountered deeper water, although the current was not as strong as before, possibly due to the creek being wider. Artie did not immediately say anything when he detected the sounds downstream. Napier did not appear to notice. Much swifter water, I’m sure. Possibly deeper than what we encountered back there, or perhaps it is a small waterfall. Hope it will cause more delays. However, I also hope it won’t dump us. I’ll be in trouble with this rope on my ankle!

“What are you looking at?” Napier suddenly demanded.

Artie mentally chided himself. He had not meant to keep his gaze on the bank that long. “Nothing, I guess. I thought I saw a person over there, but I think it was a bush with white flowers on it.” Truthfulness, at least partially, is more likely to be believed that if I tried to shrug it off.

Napier twisted around for a moment to peer back before straightening himself in the seat. “Just keep rowing.”

“You do realize that Washington is sixty or seventy miles away.”

“Of course I do. Nonetheless, this is the best way to travel in my circumstances.”

“It would be better if you were wearing overalls and a straw hat so that anyone on the bank would take you for a simple farmer. Maybe you should be also holding a fishing pole.”

“You are very witty, Mr. Gordon. Clever indeed. You should be using that cleverness to think about the plans for the bank we are going to visit.”

Artie shook his head slightly. “That’s not really possible without knowing which bank. I am not as familiar with institutions in this part of the country. West and I generally work on the other side of the Mississippi.”

“Then perhaps we will too.”

Artie fell silent, concentrating on the oars and the sound that was drawing ever closer. His experience with waterways in the western part of the country informed him that these rapids would be nothing like the ones out west. As well, he suspected that a boat such as this skiff was not constructed to maneuver swift water easily.

I wish I had boots with a knife in the toe like Jim’s. I always resisted having a pair made, thinking I would never need such a gadget. Such boots would come in very handy right now to allow me to slit that rope and jump out when the waters roughen.

He was unsure whether he had actually seen someone in the growth on the creek bank. For just one moment, he had thought he spotted something blue. However, it was also gone in an instant, and he could not continue to stare in that direction lest Napier become suspicious. As it was, Napier had not noticed.

I need to not worry about someone rescuing me, and do it myself!

With that in mind, he twisted slightly on the craft’s bench and took a long look in the direction they were heading. As expected, Napier reacted.

“What are you looking at? Gordon! What are you doing! Stop!” The under secretary lifted the pistol he held.

Artie stopped rowing towards the shore and used the oars to attempt to keep the boat in place. Now was the time to shake things up. “Can’t you hear that?” he asked. “Listen!”

Napier frowned. “What is it?” He himself heard the low roar from somewhere downstream.

“Rough water,” Artie replied grimly. “Could be rapids, or even cataracts. Whatever it is, this little boat isn’t made to survive such water. We need to do a portage.”

Now his captor gaped at him with open mouth. “Portage!”

“Yes… carry the boat to…”

“I know what it means,” Napier snapped. “Are you sure?”

“I’m not at all familiar with this waterway, but I know what swift water sounds like. I also know this little skiff is likely to overturn, or at least break up quickly if I can’t keep it away from rocks.” He kept a stern face, despite possibly bending the truth a little. He honestly had no idea how this boat would behave in turbulent water.

His words, and possibly his expression, had the desired effect. After a moment of contemplation, Napier motioned toward shore with the pistol. “All right. Don’t try anything. I will shoot. Don’t doubt that.”

“I don’t doubt it one bit,” Artie replied, hauling back the oars to direct them to the banks. He could see a stretch of a low area several feet wide where it would be relatively easy to pull the boat onto. From there, I’ll have to play it by ear and hope I get an opportunity to act.

W*W*W*W*W


Multos in summa pericula misit venturi timor ipse mali.
[The mere apprehension of a coming evil has put many into a situation of the utmost danger.]
Pharsalia (VII, 104), Lucanus (Marcus Annaeus Lucan; fl. 39-65), Last of Roman epic poets (Spanish born)


Relief had been almost overwhelming when they spotted the craft moving slowly with the current downstream. Jim saw at once that Napier was holding his gun at the ready, so he shook his head when Hardy Southern asked if they should jump in the water and swim after them.

“He could shoot Artie—and maybe us—long before we reached them.”

They followed the boat, keeping eyes on it while doing their best to stay out of view on the heavily vegetated bank. Napier, Jim noted, did not spend much time inspecting the creek banks, his attention primarily focused on Artemus. At one point, nonetheless, Jim saw his partner’s gaze fasten on the spot where he himself was standing. He had quickly jumped back, just as Napier turned his eyes toward the same point. Apparently, Napier had not seen whatever Artie saw—if anything.

“They’re coming toward the bank,” Hardy suddenly whispered, astonishment in his hushed tone.

“I see,” Jim murmured. What was this about? As that query passed through his thoughts, he heard the sounds and realized what Artemus had been looking at moments ago when he peered behind him. “Rapids ahead,” he said quickly. “Artie must have convinced Napier they couldn’t go through them.” Both knew how sounds carried over water so kept their voices quiet.

The two agents moved back further from the creek’s edge, finding some heavy growth to hide behind. After a few moments, Napier’s voice carried to them. “You stay where you are until I get out of the boat, Gordon. Don’t try anything!”

Jim glanced at his companion. They would have a few moments when Napier would be on the bank by himself. Southern recognized this as well as he did, and nodded, then jerked his head to the left, signaling that he would go that way. Jim nodded back, and they moved, each as quietly as possible, going in opposite directions in order to come upon Napier from both sides.

Artemus had remained seated as the rear portion of the skiff touched the level creek bank. As Napier started to climb out, gun ready in his right hand, Artie made a move to stand up.

“Stay where you are, Gordon!” Napier commanded, lifting the pistol slightly. “Stay put until I get this anchored.”

“You sure you don’t need any help?” Artie asked helpfully. “It’s heavy enough on its own, but with me sitting here…”

“I can manage.”

Artie settled back, feeling he had been successful in retaining Napier’s attention. This time he knew he had seen movement in the brush. He had spotted enough of his partner’s blue corduroy jacket to know that Jim was there; someone else was with him, Artie was certain, but he could not get a good look at that person. Most importantly, however, keeping Napier from looking around had been his primary purpose in speaking to him, knowing full well that Napier was going to order him to stay on the seat with his left leg secured by the rope.

He grasped the sides of the boat as Napier used his free hand to tug it further onto the bank, the jerking movements threatening to throw him into the creek. He was hard put to not smile as the under secretary struggled, quite unaware that two men with guns drawn were standing behind him.

Hello, Hardy! Artie was not surprised that Hardy Southern was the man with Jim. Southern admired Jim West greatly and had more than once wished for an opportunity to work with the department’s top agent. He had asked for that chance during the months Artemus Gordon had been assigned to Washington, but his turn never arose before Artie returned to Jim’s side.

Jim took half a step forward, choosing a moment when Napier was putting all his strength into pulling the boat onto shore. “Drop your gun, Napier! Raise your hands!”

Ever unpredictable, the under secretary swung his head around to see the two agents then immediately turned toward the boat again, raising his pistol to point toward Artemus Gordon as he did so. Jim yelled something but Artie did not need any warning. He leapt over the side as the pistol went off.

Both Jim and Hardy jumped forward to seize Napier, with Southern yanking the weapon from his hand just before Jim hurled the man to the ground. Both agents pointed their own guns toward him. Jim glanced back toward the creek—then looked again.

He had expected to see a sodden Artemus climbing out of the water, but all he saw was the overturned boat. His partner was not in sight. Without a moment of further hesitation, Jim let his gun belt fall to the ground and stripped off his jacket. Yelling to Southern to watch their prisoner, he jumped into the water.

It was about waist deep here but the current was stronger than he expected. He had heard the sounds of swift water around the bend further down, but the surface appeared rather calm here. The boat was oddly pretty much staying in one place. Jim soon realized why as he spotted the bulk of his partner underwater—with one leg sticking up.

That was a puzzle until he submerged to grab Artemus and pull him up, reasoning that the capsizing boat must have struck him and rendered him unconscious. Only then did he see the rope that was connecting Artie’s boot to the oarlock.

Problems occurred once he lifted Artie off the creek bottom because Artie’s weight had been the anchor securing the boat to the one spot. Almost immediately, the boat started trying to move with the current, and Jim found himself battling to keep himself and his partner’s head out of the water as well as attempting to move toward shore. Instead of just Artie’s weight to contend with, he had that of the boat as well, both being pulled by the current. Somehow, Artemus was connected with the boat. It did not appear that his clothing had snagged. Nonetheless, the weight of the boat was hampering rescue efforts.

Every time Jim attempted to shift Artie’s limp body, he lost traction with the creek bottom, and realized that the water was quickly becoming deeper as they moved downstream. He could see the bend ahead and that the creek narrowed, which probably attributed to the swift water he knew was ahead. Possibly large rocks were in the streambed around the bend.

He knew Artie was alive, feeling his partner’s heartbeat under the hand that clutched his chest. “Artie!” Jim yelled into his partner’s ear. “Artie! Wake up! I need your help!”

He saw Artie’s eyelids flutter, but they did not open. Jim grabbed for the side of the boat with one hand, still clutching Artemus under the arms with the other. He needed to find out just what was connecting Artie to the boat, but it turned out to be a very difficult, if not impossible, task to accomplish. The boat continued to move downstream as he tried to catch it.

This isn’t good! I can’t deal with the weight and impetus of both the boat and Artie!

“Artie! Artie! Come on, pal!” Leaving the boat alone he tried to slap Artie’s cheeks, but could not get any force behind the movement. Again, Artie’s lids moved, again he did not awaken completely, although this time Jim was sure he muttered something.

“Jim!” The call came from the creek bank and Jim looked that way. Hardy Southern was there, grabbing onto a tree that leaned out over the water. “Jim! Is he okay?”

“He’s alive, but I need some help. I can’t get rid of the boat!” He wanted to ask about Napier, but first things first. “We need to get Artie out of the water!”

Southern emulated Jim’s preparation, stripping off his gun belt and jacket, although he grabbed something from the jacket just before he jumped into the water. He swam toward the pair and the boat. “What’s wrong?”

“I don't know! Somehow Artie is hooked onto the boat.”

Hardy’s hand came up and he was holding a Bowie knife. With a short nod, he dived under. Jim tried to keep himself, Artie, and the boat in one spot, but it was all but impossible with the current growing stronger and stronger. A moment later, his fellow agent came up, gasping for air.

“His ankle is tied to the oarlock. The rope is soaked and hard to cut through. Going to take another try.” Without waiting for a reply, Hardy went down again.

This time, suddenly the boat drifted away downstream. Southern came up again, and with his help, Jim was able to get Artie onto the bank. All three men sprawled there a moment, then Jim rose to check on his partner. Now, finally, Artie opened his eyes.

“What happened?”

“I know it’s going to break your heart,” Jim deadpanned as he helped Artie sit up, “but we had to untie your pet boat. It got away.”

“Aww…” Artie rubbed his hands over his sopping hair. “Well, serves the boat right for walloping me. Feel that, right there.”

Jim did so, finding a substantial knot on the side of his partner’s head. “How do you feel?”

“Wet. A little rocky. Where’s Napier?”

“I was just going to ask that next,” Jim replied. “Hardy?”

“He’s back there hugging a tree with the help of my handcuffs. When I saw you heading downstream instead of toward the bank, I figured something wasn’t right.”

“Glad you did.”

“The rope,” Artie nodded, this time allowing Jim to help him to his feet. “Napier tied my ankle to the oarlock so I couldn’t jump out. And when I did jump to avoid his gunshot, the boat rolled over and walloped me.”

“You able to walk, Artemus?” Hardy asked.

“Walk, yes. Run, no. Stick close to me, James, in case I start to waver.”

They took just a few steps when Artie paused and looked out toward the creek. “You know, that boat belonged to someone. Nice sturdy craft.”

“We’ll find out and pay them,” Jim assured him. “Let’s go. I’m sure the colonel and the others will be heading back to the train soon when they don’t see us further downstream.”

Before long they started hearing the shouts from the shackled man—shouts that included curses and threats as well as some pleading. All of it turned to curses as soon as the agents reached the site where Julius Napier was, as Southern had indicated, hugging a tree trunk. As soon as the manacles were unfastened from around the trunk and refastened on Napier’s wrists, his tune changed.

“Listen, gentlemen. Don’t be fools! Help me and you’ll all be wealthy.”

Hardy gripped Napier’s arm to urge him forward in the direction of where the train was—or should be—waiting. “You see, Mr. Undersecretary, the problem is, that unlike you, we have consciences. Consciences are a nuisance sometimes, and they can make it difficult to enjoy the kind of wealth you plan to obtain.”

“Not to mention,” Jim added, “that you have three murders to account for, Mr. Under Secretary.”

“You could throw in kidnapping a federal agent—twice—Mr. Under Secretary,” Artie put in. His head was throbbing but he was not about to allow that to prevent him from keeping up with the pace. He was also cold and wet, which he knew he companions were as well. They needed some sunshine and maybe some hot coffee. Wonder if they have some on the train?

Their protestations did not shut Napier up. All the way, he continued to attempt to persuade them that they should allow him to go free, then cooperate with him to rob a mint or several banks, or anywhere that held cash or gold, anything of value that would finance the life he imagined he deserved. He brought up the reasoning that Mrs. Napier had told Jim about, how his father was cheated out of his family’s wealth simply by order of birth. The agents allowed him to rant, not replying further.

Upon stepping out into the open where the train still awaited bridge repairs, the agents noted that the conductor’s restriction regarding passengers leaving the train had been lifted. Numerous children were romping in the grass; some ladies had procured a couple of blankets and were resting on that grass. Gentlemen stood in small clusters talking, some with cigarettes, cigars, or pipes.

Every one of them, including those remaining in the cars, gaped at the quartet that joined them in the meadow. Three of the newcomers were still dripping water, while the fourth was in handcuffs. The conductor came running toward them.

“Gentlemen! What…?”

Hardy Southern stepped forward. “This man is in our custody. He’ll be returning to Hagerstown with us.”

“I see, but what…?”

“You don’t happen to have any hot coffee, do you?” Artie asked, with a pleading smile.

The conductor led them to the caboose, where indeed a pot of rich dark coffee was warming on the potbelly stove. The heat from the stove helped the three agents dry off a bit while they savored the brew. Napier petulantly refused refreshments, and for his reward was handcuffed to a chair to alleviate the need for constant guarding. As soon as the conductor exited, the secretary resumed his harangue regarding the three agents helping him to escape and later sharing the rewards. That they ignored him only increased the volume and anger of his screed.

Jim had just asked Artie how his head felt, receiving the answer that it was improving, when the conductor returned to tell them their companions were returning. Jim instructed Artemus to stay put while he and Hardy went to greet the colonel and update him. Of course, as soon as the other two left, Napier began pleading with Artemus to help him escape.

“Don’t you understand the wealth that is awaiting us? With your knowledge, we could…”

“Secretary Napier,” Artie interrupted pleasantly, “you don’t seem to understand the concept. My fellow agents and I are lawmen. Honest men. Mostly. That conscience mentioned before would cause us no end of problems if we acceded to your suggestions.”

“Fools!”

“Maybe. Or one could say you were the fool to give up the solid employment you had in Washington, not to mention a loyal wife.” …up to a point. She had of course told Jim all about her husband’s conspiracy to steal government funds.

Before the prisoner could respond to that—and his expression revealed whatever he was going to say would not have been very nice—the rear door opened to admit the colonel and the other agents. Richmond immediately inquired after Artie’s health, and upon being assured it was good, turned to stare at the man in the chair.

“Secretary Napier, what in the world were you thinking?”

Napier glared. “I am thinking that I deserve to be wealthy. And I will be.”

“Not if you hang for three murders,” Bill Eastman growled.

Richmond just shook his head. His next query had to do with why all three agents were wet. He had no comment for that. The conductor came to tell them the repairs had been completed and the train was ready to start up again. Jim excused himself to quickly go to the car of the helpful doctor. He asked that man to spread the word that whoever owned the now missing skiff should contact the Secret Service in Washington for full recompense.

They were short a horse, so Artie mounted up behind Jim, not wishing to share a saddle with Napier on the trek back to Hagerstown. Once there, they delivered the under secretary to the police to be placed in their jail. The kidnapping and murders had been committed in Washington County, so the trial would likely be held here. Richmond stressed the amount of security that would be needed to hold Napier, throwing in a few veiled threats of recrimination should the man escape. His army friend was adamant that everything would be done correctly.

Phillip Topping was never seen again, nor was a waiter who had been hired just a week or so earlier. Upon hearing the description of that man, Jim realized he was the one who had waited on his table that day of the successful drugging.

A telegram was sent to Bella Napier informing her of her husband’s capture, as well as the charges he was facing. She was urged to stay away from Hagerstown and her husband. A visit was paid to Joel Garrett and his family to thank them for their assistance and invite them to Washington to meet with the President for further expressions of gratitude. Finally, the weary agents and their superior boarded a train back to Washington City.

Epilog

I have not quailed to danger's brow
When high and happy—need I now?
Gaiour (l. 1,035), Lord Byron (George Gordon Noel Byron; 1788-1824), English poet


One of the first matters of business Agents Gordon and West attended to as soon as they were once more the proud proprietors—or tenants—of the train known as the Wanderer was to take it to Baltimore, where they met up with the three conspirators who had assisted them early on. An excellent dinner at the city’s best restaurant was not nearly recompense enough, as far as Jim and Artie were concerned, but it was the best they could do at this time. Lily and her two colleagues demanded to hear all the details of what occurred when Jim and Artemus traveled to Hagerstown.

Allan Earle and Lawrence Holliday listened raptly, their faces registering their astonishment, while Lily Fortune, who had participated in a few adventures, was a little more blasé—until she heard the part about her fiancé nearly drowning in the Conococheague Creek. At that time, she demanded to hear more details, and finally averred that she needed to thank Hardy Southern with a big kiss.

“You needn’t go that far,” Artie demurred. “He was doing his duty, after all.”

Lily smiled sweetly. “I meant on the cheek, dearest.” She patted his hand then looked at Jim. “What about Mrs. Napier? What will become of her?”

“It’s not likely she’ll be called to testify at the trial,” Jim replied. “However, if everything proceeds as it should, she will be a widow. I don't know how much of the Napier property is still in the family’s name, if any, but whatever it is will belong to her.”

“Chances are,” Artie took up, “she will sell anything remaining and stay in Pittsburgh with her family. I would be surprised if she even made an appearance at the trial. I would certainly advise her not to.”

“Poor thing,” Lily sighed. “She had great courage to report what she did to you, Jim.”

“She saw her husband’s mind deteriorate over the years,” Jim said quietly. “I’m sure she did not want it to go any further. The killing of those three men will be very hard on her.”

“I think we should travel to Pittsburgh ourselves to give her more details, Jim,” Artie suggested. “Beyond what has been written in the papers.”

“I agree. I think Colonel Richmond with concur as well. Perhaps we can give her some closure.”

“Excellent,” Lily smiled. “And now, might I suggest the house specialty for our dessert? Cherries Jubilee. It is superb served with very good vanilla ice cream.”

“Lily,” Artemus said, taking her hand in both of his. “Have I told you how much I love you for your mind… and for your brilliant menu recommendations?” He began to kiss her fingers.

She rolled her eyes. “Only every time we eat in a restaurant, my dear. Jim, flag the waiter down before Artemus eats my hand instead!”

**END**



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