"Thunder and tarnation. Give, damn you!"
With the aid of his ample 220 pounds, Silas Lawton pressed down upon the haft of the heavy industrial wrench. Grunting, he strained to loosen the iron bolt from the lower left corner of the warped boiler door, his round moon face and thick neck glistening with sweat from the exertion and the intense heat within the small confines of the locomotive's cab.
"Let go, you gall-darned piece of horse-sh*t!"
Silas leaned into his work. With a metallic screech of protest, the wrench slipped off the stripped bolt and clanged into the side of the hot boiler wall, singeing the coarse black hair on the back of the engineer's meaty hands. Silas dropped the wrench with a howl of pain and frustration. Clutching his injured hand to his broad chest, he offered up a series of anatomically impossible accusations about the parentage of the boiler's inventor and the steam locomotive in general.
"I take it we're having a bit of a problem," a slightly amused voice observed over the sibilant hiss of the boiler valves.
The engineer's rebuttal was another heated string of expletives punctuated by a well-aimed kick that rattled the boiler's heavy iron door but failed to dislodge it.
"Whoa, Silas!" Artemus Gordon laid a hand on the engineer's grimy sleeve in an attempt to rein back another tirade. "Calm down before you give yourself a fit of apoplexy. What's the trouble?"
"What's the trouble? How the hell should I know with this piece of junk in the way?" Silas scooped up the wrench and angrily banged it against the boiler door. The amplified noise within the close confines of the cab made Artie's ears ring. "Damned thing's warped!"
[Small wonder, the way you've been pounding on it], thought Artemus.
"If I can't get the door off I can't see inside the boiler to find what's been making us lose pressure!"
"Have you tried prying it off?"
"With what?" he demanded. "Even if I had a lever strong enough it'd take at least five men to break the hatch open. It's solid iron!"
"How about shearing the bolts off?"
"You happen to have a blacksmith in your back pocket?" retorted the frustrated engineer. "'Cause that's what it's gonna take. See for yourself!"
Artemus obliged. Squatting, he critically eyed the offending boiler hatch and considered the options.
[Can't use an incendiary device], he mused. [Too risky, not to mention the chance of doing some real damage to the mechanism. Hmmm. I could try an acidic chemical compound on the bolts ...]
But he didn't have any handy, nor could he whip something up at a moment's notice; the private train's small laboratory was poorly stocked.
("What do you need a laboratory for?" Skinny Malone had demanded, scowling at Artemus from behind the heavy walnut desk that dominated his Washington, D.C. office. "This is just a fact-gathering mission. There isn't going to be any need for one of your oddball contraptions, so don't go blowing anything up! I've got a budget to adhere to.")
Artemus scowled back at the memory. [When I get to Denver, restocking the lab is the first order of business.]
[If I get to Denver], he amended, edging a little to the left of the boiler for a better angle.
He couldn't afford another delay. His assignment in Seattle had taken two days longer than anticipated and Jim was expecting the train to pick him up in Denver tomorrow -- a rendezvous Artie might conceivably keep if he got the train rolling again by early afternoon.
Commandeering the wrench from Silas, Artemus tried his hand at removing the hatch while carefully avoiding touching the hot metal. Fifteen minutes and several expletives later, he dropped the wrench in defeat and sat back on his heels.
"It's jammed, all right," he conceded, mopping his sweaty face with his shirt sleeve.
"Told ya so," rumbled Silas, mollified. "Gonna take a blacksmith to get it off."
"Then we'll get a blacksmith. Where's the nearest town?"
"Otisburg," replied the engineer after a moment's deliberation. "Twenty miles back the way we come."
"That's a day's ride in the wrong direction!" protested Artemus. "Isn't there any place closer?"
"Well..." Silas lifted his cap to run his stubby fingers through thinning hair. "Seems I recollect there bein' a town 'bout five miles up the line on a spur off the Delgado mine. Mind, that was 'bout three years ago when the rails first went through ... '82, I think. Not much of a town back then. Didn't have a meetin' hall much less a blacksmith."
"Is it still there?"
"Don't rightly know. I ain't been there since they laid the track. The mine was running pretty dry 'bout then. Could be nothin' but a ghost town."
"Now seems as good a time as any to find out," said Artemus. He preferred gambling on a hypothetical blacksmith five miles ahead against one more than twenty miles backwards. "What's this "maybe" town of yours called?"
"Hill Valley," replied Silas.
* * * * * * * * *
It was breathtakingly beautiful country. The prairie was a vast carpet woven in shades of copper-red, russets and browns rolling to the horizon for as far as the eye could see. Majestic buttes and towering fingers of rock clawed the endless panorama of stark blue sky as if to grasp the few wisps of clouds scudding by in the arid breeze. Condors wheeled and dipped overhead, casting fleeting black shadows across the dry scrub of the prairie floor.
Artemus kept his sorrel stallion on a course parallel to the railroad tracks that cut through the prairie. The steel rails and wooden ties seemed out of place here; a man-made scar across the face of primeval beauty. The rails glittered mirror bright beneath the harsh glare of the sun as they stretched in a silver arc across the plains.
Four miles of riding brought Artemus to a spur branching south off the main line. Shielding his eyes from the sun with the flat of his hand, he peered along the divergent track and espied what appeared to be a yawning rift in the earth. Fishing a small collapsible spyglass out of his saddlebags, he snapped it open and peered through the eyepiece for a closer look. The telescope provided him with a magnified image of a trestle bridge and the ravine it spanned. To the right of the rails near the canyon's sheer edge was a billboard, the bold black lettering now sharp and easily defined:
WELCOME TO HILL VALLEY
Directly beneath was a second placard, visibly older than the first and badly weathered but legible to Artie's telescopic eye. "Shonash Ravine," the faded lettering once said, but someone had crossed out "Shonash" with a single bold slash of black paint. Scrawled above it in an uneven hand was the word "Eastwood".
[I wonder why the change the name?] Artemus collapsed the telescope and tucked it back into the saddlebag. [Probably renamed it after some poor fool who fell in.]
With a shrug, he urged his mount on toward Hill Valley.
* * * * * * * * *
The small mining town was comfortably nestled between ragged foothills on a barren stretch of red clay and dust. It had grown from the four-building hamlet Silas had described to a bone fide metropolis of more than twenty structures. The main thoroughfare was a wide street bordered by a few prosperous looking shops and professional offices, a branch of the First Bank of California, a boarding house, printing office, undertaker/tailor, and the prerequisite general store. Anchoring the southernmost end of the street was a railway station complete with telegraph office and ticket agent.
What it apparently didn't have was people. Hill Valley was a ghost town, completely devoid of any signs of life.
Artemus grimly toured Main Street in the midst of an eerie, unnatural silence. Store fronts watched his progress with forlorn and hollow eyes, their windows shattered into jagged shards. A child's rag doll lay trampled in the dust of the street outside the general store, its blue calico dress scarred by the muddy imprint of a wagon wheel.
Tethering his horse in front of the rooming house, Artemus stepped over the splintered remains of the front door and entered. Patches of sunlight slipped through broken windows and gaping holes that had been gouged into the foyer walls to create an uneven lattice of light across the soiled remains of what must have once been a beautiful oriental carpet. Furniture had been overturned and bed mattresses slashed until they were little more than piles of rope, straw and feathers. In the midst of chaos, Artemus' trained eye could detect the signs of hasty retreat -- dresser drawers haphazardly emptied of their contents, spilling forth a stray sock or corset, and closet doors yawning wide.
Across the street stood the Palace Saloon, a cavernous two-story brick building that resided on half a block of boarded walk and boasted tall, expensively glass-paned windows ... shattered windows, the glittering silver fragments of which littered the street and floated within the grimy water of the horse trough. Inside, the huge bar mirror was a spider web of cracked silver, tables and chairs were overturned and smashed into so much kindling, and the scarred floorboards held a sea of broken bottles and shot glasses. Woodwork and hanging fixtures were ripped from their moorings and cast aside as if by some giant hand.
So it was throughout the town. In all of Hill Valley, not a single structure had been spared violation; not the printing office, the stone mason's, the meat-market. Telegraph wires, torn and severed, swung uselessly from their poles. If the operator had attempted to summon help it went unheard.
Artemus continued his somber tour of the deserted thoroughfare, his boots crunching across glass and scattered goods. He fervently wished West were here, if only for the company. The silence in Hill Valley was unnerving. He hadn't seen a town this deserted since he and Jim had investigated the disappearances in Calliope more than a decade ago.
[Now there was a ghost town], thought Artemus.
But what had caused the devastation of Hill Valley? Indians? Possible, but not likely. Bandits? Or something worse?
Whatever had happened, if there was a blacksmith here before, there wasn't one now.
There was, however, a building at the northern-most end of the street whose bold black lettering proclaimed it to be the "Livery Stable and Blacksmith, Emmett L. Brown, Prop."
Artemus almost passed it by. The simple barn-like structure was dwarfed by the shadow of Hill Valley's pretentious town hall. Constructed of red brick, wide granite stairs, and imposing columns of ivory colored marble, the majestic edifice surveyed its community with the judicial cyclopean eye of a gleaming white clock set with bold black numerals.
[An impressive structure to preside over a ghost town], Artemus thought sadly.
"Reach!" barked a harsh male voice from behind. The command was punctuated by the familiar, deadly ratchet of a shell being primed into a rifle chamber.
Artemus instantly froze in place, the hairs on the back of his neck prickling at the voice's uncomfortably close proximity.
[I might have known], Artemus chastised himself. [What's a ghost town without ghosts?}
"I said reach, mister," reiterated the voice, a tenor tinged with a southwestern twang, "Or you're dead where you stand!"
Another familiar, equally deadly sound underscored the demand as a handgun was cocked somewhere off to his right. Artie obediently reached.
[I am definitely getting too old for this sort of thing.]
"That's good. That's real good," said Southwestern Twang. "Keep 'em right where I can see 'em."
"I think he's alone, Chester," observed a husky female voice somewhere to Artie's right.
Gravel and glass crunched as Chester cautiously edged into Artie's line of vision. A lean, wiry man in his mid-forties, he had a long, haggard face and hard blue eyes that looked Artemus over with the intensity of a vigilante sizing up an axe murderer. He wore the filthy remains of an apron and a long-sleeved shirt torn high on the right shoulder above a wide black armband.
[I'll be damned if he doesn't look every bit the bartender], thought Artemus.
Then again, in Artie's experience, most bartenders didn't make a habit of accosting people in the middle of the street with a Winchester repeating rifle.
"You come on over here, Tess, but keep well clear of him."
Tess obliged, revealing herself to be an auburn-haired, buxom woman of average height. Big-boned, she was still shapely in a pleasantly plump sort of way. Her heart-shaped face and twinkling blue eyes bespoke a jolly humor and good nature. Unfortunately, Artie found the Colt .45 "peacemaker" clasped between her hands far from jolly or endearing.
"Keep a close eye on him, darlin'," instructed Chester. "If he so much as blinks, shoot him."
Tess nodded her understanding and, peering hard at Artemus, raised the barrel of the heavy firearm until it was roughly level with his chest. Even if she was a poor shot, she could hardly miss at that range.
Chester glanced over his shoulder at the Courthouse. "Seamus! You see anyone else comin'?"
"Nay!" called back a voice from high above.
Blinking against the sunlight, Artemus glanced up at the clock tower and saw a red-haired, bearded male sitting on a narrow ledge within the shadow of the great dial more than three stories above the ground. "He's bein' the only one in sight," proclaimed the lookout with a heavy Irish brogue.
"All right," demanded Chester as he brought his attention back to his captive. "Who are you and what do you want? Did Tannen send you?"
Artemus frowned. "Who?"
"'Mad Dog' Tannen. You one of his hired killers?"
"Sorry. Never heard of him. My name's Artemus Gordon. I'm with the Government."
"The Government? Hah! Sure you are. And I'm President Harrison."
"Pleased to meet you," Artemus replied politely.
"Think your real cute, don'tcha?" Chester raised the rifle to his shoulder and peered down its gun-sight. "Let's see how funny you think it is with a bullet in your head."
"Hold on, Chester," admonished Tess as she lay a gentle yet restraining hand on his left arm. "What if he is with the government? He could help us!"
"More'n likely he's some kind of carpetbagger."
"I can prove who I am," Artemus assured him.
"I'll just bet you can. You con men are all alike."
"Chester," pleaded Tess, her voice hopeful. "What can it hurt?"
"Now Tess --"
"Please?" She ran a light finger along his chin and coyly batted her wide blue eyes at him. Chester dutifully melted.
"Oh, all right." He glowered all the harder at Artemus. "Okay, mister. Prove it, cause if you don't there's no reason to keep you alive, understand?"
"Completely. If you'll allow me to reach for my wallet?"
"Oh, no you don't! You just keep those hands right where they are! Tess'll get it."
"My pleasure," said Artemus affably.
"You be careful, Tess," warned Chester. "If he so much as blinks at you ..." The bartender's finger whitened on the rifle's trigger, neatly concluding the sentence.
Tess cautiously edged over to Artemus.
"Left jacket pocket," he said helpfully.
Tess gingerly reached into the indicated pocket without taking her eyes - or the direction of her own gun - from his person.
With his training and experience, it would have been appallingly simple for Artemus to disarm the woman but he decided against it. These people were badly frightened; the last thing he wanted to do was feed their paranoia. Instead, he opted to remain absolutely motionless while Tess fished around in his pocket for the wallet.
"Got it," she finally announced, stepping away from Artemus so quickly she nearly tripped over her skirts. "Now what?"
"There's an identification card inside that will confirm my affiliation with the government," said Artemus.
Chester's eyes narrowed slightly. "You a tax collector or something?"
Tess' blue eyes widened in surprise as she viewed the wallet's contents. "Oh my!," she breathed, and looked at Artemus with open disbelief and awe. "Is this true? Are you really ... ?"
"Yes, ma'am. Really."
"Really what?" demanded Chester.
Artemus gave the bartender his most engaging smile. "I'm a special agent for the United States Secret Service."
* * * * * * * * *
Even with his identification, it took quite a lot of explaining before Artemus was able to convince the defenders of Hill Valley that he was not one of the outlaws who had been terrorizing their town.
"They showed up about five days ago," explained Chester, his arm draped possessively around Tess' broad shoulders. "At first there were only four of 'em; just a bunch of rowdies passing through."
"Only now there are more than a dozen," said Tess, her wedding band winking in the subdued light as she reached up to clasp Chester's hand.
"They're camped out by the creek. Waiting."
The last defenders of Hill Valley gathered around Artemus within the shell of the Courthouse's main meeting room. There were so few of them left; a mere handful of brave people united to save their farms, their homes and their town. Seamus McFly, a young Irish emigrant farmer, had grudgingly relinquished his lookout post to his wife Maggie and their two-year-old son, William, to attend the meeting. To Seamus' right sat Lucas Strickland, a sandy haired, somber boy of 14, son of the late Sheriff of Hill Valley, and Allan Trainer, the town's only surviving deputy, his right arm bound up in a makeshift sling fashioned from bedsheets. Standing in the shadows of a far corner like a dark sentry was Joe Lloyd, a hulking bear of a man with a heavy brown beard and black eyes, his thick, muscular arms folded over a barrel chest. At first Artemus had taken him to be the blacksmith only to discover Lloyd was the town's stone mason. These good people and the soft spoken, dark-haired schoolteacher, Clara Clayton Brown, were all that remained of the once thriving populace of Hill Valley.
"The others were smart," asserted Trainer. "After Tannen killed Sheriff Strickland, folks skipped town faster than a rabbit with a wolf on it's tail."
"And Tannen let them leave?" asked Artemus.
"Why not? The fewer people left in Hill Valley, the easier it is for him to take it."
"But what does he want?" pressed Artie. "You've already said that the silver mine has been played out and there's no money here worth mentioning. There's absolutely nothing here to interest the average criminal."
"There's revenge," said Clara softly, her slender fingers tightly folded upon her lap.
"Aye, she's got the right of it," agreed Seamus. "They'll not be satisfied until Hill Valley's been trod into the dirt."
"You see, Mr. Gordon, it's not just the town Tannen's after." Tess cast a sympathetic eye towards the school teacher.
Artemus looked at Clara. "You?"
"In part," she replied, lifting her eyes to meet his. They were the darkest, loveliest, and saddest eyes Artemus had ever had the pleasure to gaze into. "I spurned him once, but it's my husband Tannen truly wants to revenge himself against."
"Because Emmett Brown's one of only three men in the world that ever had the nerve to stand up to 'Mad Dog' Tannen," replied Chester, evidencing pride in his neighbor.
"And the only one of the three still alive," added Tess.
"What happened to the other two?" asked Artemus.
"Dead," growled Lloyd from his corner.
"Marshall Strickland slapped Tannen into state prison more'n a year ago for robbing the stage," explained Deputy Trainer. "It didn't hold him long, though. Tannen's men broke him out 'bout a week ago and rode straight for Hill Valley."
"Tannen shot my Pa in the back in cold blood." Lucas' green eyes flashed with grief and anger. "He never had a chance."
Trainer's good hand clenched into a tight fist. "If I'd only been in time --"
"Stop flogging yourself, Al," Tess admonished before the Deputy could sink into self-recrimination. "It's not your fault."
"Aye, lad," nodded Seamus. "T'wasn't anything you could have done. You were lucky enough to escape with your life."
Artemus turned to Chester. "What about the second man?"
"A friend of Emmett's named Eastwood. Plucky little guy. He actually managed to get the better of Tannen in a fight out there on the main street, right in front of the whole town. Bufford ain't ever going to live that one down."
"Tannen killed him, too?"
Chester shook his head. "Eastwood got himself killed 'bout a year back. Tried to stop a runaway train and went over the edge of Shonash Ravine."
"Eastwood Ravine now," said Seamus, respectfully removing his hat in memory of his young friend. "Poor lad," he sighed, sadly shaking his head. "He was a brave one, he was."
"Which leaves only Emmett," said Tess. "Our blacksmith and local scientist."
"Scientist?" echoed Artemus, his curiosity peaked.
"My husband is an inventor," explained Clara with soft fondness.
"Emmett's a real clever fellow, all right," agreed Chester. "Comes up with some of the strangest contraptions but damn me if they don't work."
Artemus frowned and once more looked around at the handful of people who represented the last denizens of once prosperous Hill Valley. Where was Emmett Brown, blacksmith and inventor?
"Gone," said Trainer, correctly interpreting Artie's puzzlement. "He left two nights ago to try and get help."
"Two nights without a word," sighed Tess.
"Emmett will come back," asserted Clara with all the conviction of love and trust. "And he'll bring help. I know he will!"
"Then sure and he'd better be arrivin' soon," announced Maggie McFly as she hurried into the meeting room, wee William McFly perched upon her left hip and contentedly sucking his thumb. "Tannen and his ruffians are on their way. You can see the dust for miles! There must be more than a dozen of them now!"
"And only eight of us," said Chester.
"Nine," corrected Artemus. "Where I come from, that's virtually an army."
His confidence in the face of clearly insurmountable odds startled them. Artemus grinned at their astonished expressions.
"It's all a matter of perspective," he told his audience. "Ever hear of the Battle of Agincourt?"
* * * * * * * * *
In his less than illustrious career, Bufford "Mad Dog" Tannen had killed more than fifteen men in cold blood (usually before breakfast), robbed more than two dozen stagecoaches and seven trains, reportedly raped more women than he could count (and a farm animal or two) and was a notorious cheat at cards. There wasn't a single ounce of decency in his robust 6'3" frame, a fact of which Tannen was extremely proud. A hulking brute of a man, he had sharp, piercing blue eyes and drooping mustaches that dangled wetly on either side of his wide mouth. He had a tendency to drool, his teeth were blackened from years of chewing tobacco, and his body reeked of stale whiskey and more than a month without the benefit of a bath.
He was also a coward, a fact he hid well behind raucous bravado and a fast hand with a gun. With a gang of seventeen of the worst murderers, cutthroats and horse thieves this side of the Missouri to back him up, bravado was an easy commodity to come by.
"I don't want nothin' left, got that?" he demanded, his gravelly voice easily carrying over the knot of men. "Nothin' and nobody. I don't want to see squat left of that town, do I make myself clear?"
There were grunts and nods of assent.
"Do whatever you want, just tear it up. Have yourself a good old time," he said magnanimously. "But anyone who lays a hand on the blacksmith is dead meat, got that? The smithy is mine, and mine alone!"
"No problem, boss."
"He's all yours, Bufford."
"He damned well better be," growled Mad Dog. "Now let's move out! We got us a town to wreck!"
* * * * * * * * *
Clara watched attentively as Artemus placed another sack of gunpowder and roofing nails into a shallow depression then covered the makeshift mine with a layer of dirt.
"You've done this sort of thing before, haven't you?"
"On occasion," he confessed.
Artemus marked the spot by creating a crescent-shaped depression with his heel. It would go unnoticed by Tannen and his gang but it would be clearly visible to Artie from behind the crude barricade of crates, shattered furniture and debris that cut off the Courthouse from the rest of Hill Valley's main street. He paused to reflect on how he and Jim had helped the citizens of New Athens weather the siege of their little town with similar tactics.
"It was pretty effective in Wyoming about ten years ago. No reason why it can't work again," he said. [And if I blow this one, Jim's never going to let me live it down.]
"It will work," he reiterated aloud.
"I hope you're right, Mr. Gordon." Clara hugged herself, her lovely dark eyes filled with worry as they cast their gaze toward the horizon.
[Oh Emmett], she thought at that barren expanse of wilderness. [Wherever ... whenever you are; whatever happens here ... please, please be safe, my love!]
Artemus placed a gentle hand upon her slender shoulder. "I'm sure your husband's fine," he assured her, correctly interpreting her expression.
Unfortunately, he didn't believe a word of it.
"Emmett will come back," said Clara, blinking back a tear. "My husband is a very resourceful man."
"Mr. Gordon!" Lucas Strickland squeezed through a narrow break in the barricade and ran over to where Artemus and Clara were planting the last land mine. "I found one," he panted and handed Artemus a faded tintype.
"This is your father?"
The photo showed a stony-faced man with pale, shoulder-length hair, drooping mustaches and a close-cropped beard.
"Perfect," said Artemus.
* * * * * * * * *
Hill Valley shook with the concentrated thunder of hooves and wild gunfire as `Mad Dog' Tannen led his cohorts in a charge across the railroad tracks and onto Main Street. Whooping and howling, the gang rode roughshod through storefronts and offices, trampling anything and everything in their path in a chaotic tidal wave of flying hooves and destruction.
Coming abreast of the Palace Saloon, Tannen reined in his horse and squinted through the billowing dust at the dark line that bisected the far end of the street ahead. Beyond stood the imposing edifice of the courthouse, its clock tower gleaming orange fire in the glare of the westering sun.
"They gotta be kidding," guffawed Tannen. "What do they think that's gonna do?"
"Hey, Bufford! You think they're tryin' to keep us outta that there fancy meetin' house?" laughed Palmer as he reined his horse in alongside Tannen's.
"That's downright unsociable," observed Kendal, spitting a wad of black tobacco juice into the murky waters of a horse trough.
"Sure is, boys," growled Tannen.
"Whatcha' want us ta do 'bout it, Bufford?"
"Jump it. Heeyah!" Tannen kicked the horse's flanks with silver-edged spurs and laughed when it shot forward with an equine shriek of protest.
* * * * * * * * *
"Here they come!" cried Maggie from the clock tower. She set the stock of the rifle against her right shoulder and carefully sighted along the barrel. Although her heart fluttered with fear, she forced her hands to remain steady.
In the courthouse below, Tess raised her Colt "peacemaker" to the windowsill of the meeting room and took careful aim. In a back room, Clara watched the prairie for any sign of suspicious activity while two-year-old William McFly sat upon her lap and happily played with his fat little toes.
Behind the makeshift barricade, the remaining defenders crouched well out of sight and readied their firearms.
"Wait until they pass the livery!" instructed Artemus.
Thunder rolled down Hill Valley's Main Street in a boiling cloud of dust. Sighting through a magnifying gunsight of his own invention, Artemus aimed at a crescent-shaped depression in the street and held his breath.
"Closer .... just a little closer .... come on ... that's it ..."
"NOW!" yelled Artie as the riders came abreast of the livery stable.
The late afternoon rang with the sound of simultaneous gunfire --
-- and the screams of horses and men as the street erupted in a geyser of gunpowder and deadly shrapnel at the successful detonation of four land mines. Three of the eleven horses fell with their riders; one man, bloodied and torn, managed to stagger away while a companion lay groaning beneath his fallen mount. Another horse wheeled with equine screams of pain and fear, charging back the way it had come minus its less fortunate rider. Tannen, five men and their skittish horses survived to pull back.
"We got 'em running!" hooted Chester.
"We haven't won yet," warned Artie.
The five remaining outlaws gathered outside the saloon where a sixth, wildly gesturing figure was attempting to whip them into risking a second charge.
"Phase two!" Artie reached for the black hat on the ground beside him. It was a size too big, enabling him to situate the wide brim so that his features were in shadow.
Artemus met Lucas Strickland's somber eyes then looked down at the object that gleamed dull silver in the boy's hands.
"Pa would have wanted it."
"Thank you," said Artemus, and reverently attached the slain Marshall's badge to his black jacket.
"They're coming back," warned Allan.
"Aye," observed Seamus. "And they're keeping to the sides of the street rather than paradin' down the middle."
"Damn it! That makes the rest of those explosives damned near useless." Allan turned toward Artemus. "Now what do we --- shee-iit!"
Startled, Seamus turned at the expletive and felt his own heart skip a beat.
"Saints preserve us! Sure and that's uncanny," he breathed upon seeing Artemus's completed guise. "As if the dead've come back to life!"
"Let's hope Tannen agrees," replied Artemus as he fingered his long blonde mustache. "Places!"
* * * * * * * * *
"Tear it down!" bellowed Tannen, indicating the ragged barrier of broken furniture and debris with a wave of his weapon.
The five remaining gunmen dubiously eyed the barricade and the flash of westering sunlight on more than two dozen gun barrels evident along its length.
"You said there was only a handful of people left," whined Palmer.
"That sure looks like more'n a handful to me!" Kendal uneasily agreed.
"It's a trick!" Red-faced, Tannen stood in his stirrups and brayed at the courthouse, "Your bluffing! There ain't no two dozen people back there!"
"Would you care to wager on that?" came the drawled reply. A black-garbed figure rose up from behind the barricade less than twenty feet from Tannen. Shoulder-length blonde hair spilled out from beneath the man's broad-brimmed black hat and a silver star gleamed upon his breast. Cradled in its arms was a heavy shotgun, the business end pointing in Tannen's direction almost as an afterthought.
Bufford 'Mad Dog' Tannen nearly fell off his horse. "Marshall Strickland!"
"Strickland?" echoed Palmer. "It can't be!"
"Strickland's dead!" protested Kendal, reaching over to grab Tannen's sleeve. "He's dead! We kilt him! All three of us! We shot him dead!"
"I know that, you ass!" shouted Tannen, jerking his arm away from Kendal's quaking, grasping fingers.
"But does he know that?" asked Palmer, a quaver in his voice.
"You're dead!" Bufford shouted at the phantom figure in black.
"Am I?" replied Strickland with maddening calm. "Then I must be a ghost."
"I'm gonna make damned sure of that, old man!" Tannen aimed his gun at the Marshall ...
... and froze at the sound of more than a dozen rifles being primed and pointed in his general direction.
'Strickland' grinned from a shadowed visage. "You were saying?"
"I still say its a trick," growled Tannen, but he lowered his weapon just the same.
The Marshall brought the stock of the shotgun up to his shoulder. "Party's over, boys. Drop your weapons or you're going to be real unhappy."
Five pairs of eyes turned to Tannen for guidance.
"Bufford?" prompted Palmer when Tannen failed to issue an order. "Bufford! What're we gonna do?"
"We do what the man says. Throw down the guns."
"WHAT?" demanded Kendal. "Are you out of your mind?"
Tannen's hand was a blur, so fast did it shoot out across the gap between horses to catch Kendal's throat in meaty fingers.
"I said do what the man says, *ss hole! NOW!"
Choking, Kendal dropped his revolver into the dusty street and reeled back when Tannen released his grasp. The bandits' other guns followed suit, raining to the ground with solid thuds.
"Hands over your heads!" instructed 'Strickland'.
Glowering at the Marshall with open hatred, Tannen slowly raised his hands over his head. His men reluctantly followed suit.
Cautiously, the Hill Valley's defenders rose from their hiding places, weapons trained on the unarmed outlaws.
"I don't believe it," breathed Trainer. "We did it."
"We actually did it!" echoed Chester, relief transforming his haggard features and wiping away at least ten years.
"We did do it!" realized young Lucas Strickland. Lloyd gave a sharp nod and grunted his agreement.
Beaming, Seamus turned to congratulate Artemus and discovered a wary expression on the blonde-mustached face instead of the expected elation.
"We have won, haven't we?" asked Seamus worriedly.
Artemus scowled. "Something's wrong."
"Wrong?" demanded Trainer over his shoulder. "What do you mean, 'wrong'?"
"This was too easy." Too damned easy. Something was wrong; very wrong ... he could tell by the barely suppressed smirk on Tannen's ugly face. But what --
Artie's gaze darted across the six docile outlaws with their hands obediently raised above their heads then grazed the street and storefronts. Nothing. Still, he had that familiar nagging feeling prickling the hairs on the back of his neck and set off mental alarm klaxons. He had learned to trust the sixth sense he had developed through an intense and highly dangerous service to his country -- it had saved his life on more than one occasion. Frowning, he turned to glance over his shoulder at the courthouse. High upon the clock tower, the chronometer's gleaming face blazed blood red with the setting sun.
Suddenly Artemus knew!
"The women!" he exclaimed.
Tannen's reply was a raucous laugh. "Show and tell time, boys!" he called. "Come on out!"
As the horrified men of Hill Valley watched, three hard looking men filed out the front door of the courthouse and stood at the summit of the pristine granite stairs. Each held in his possession a struggling, disheveled and tightly gagged woman. Close behind appeared a fourth man in whose rough hands little William McFly struggled to be let down.
"Never leave a woman to do a man's work," grinned Tannen.
He deliberately lowered his hands from over his head when three more outlaws left the courthouse to flank their companions, weapons aimed at the crestfallen and defeated men of Hill Valley.
* * * * * * * * *
Artemus bit back an expletive when Tannen savagely ripped off the agent's false blonde mustaches and beard.
"This ain't Halloween, mister," growled Tannen. "Who the hell are you?"
"General Robert E. Lee."
Tannen hauled back and punched Artemus hard in the pit of his stomach, forcing out a "woof!" of air and a grunt of pain. After three more heavy blows and a well-placed kick, he sagged between the two outlaws who held him.
Bufford reached down, grabbed a fistful of grey-peppered hair, and hauled Artie's head back up. "I asked you a question, old man. Who are you and what're you doing here?"
[Old man!] thought Artie indignantly. [Who are you calling old man?]
He struggled to stand on his own only to have Bufford beat the wind out of him again for his trouble.
"You answer when I talk to you," spat Tannen, drool dribbling down his chin. "Who sent you?"
"The president of your fan club," Artie managed around a badly cut and bleeding lower lip. "He just resigned. 'Says you're too ugly."
"That does it!" Tannen reached for Artie's throat with his meaty hands.
"And ye drool like a bloody great dog, too," piped up Seamus.
Without warning, Tannen whipped around toward the other prisoners and backhanded the young Irishman across the face, knocking him sprawling into their midst. With an anguished cry, Maggie fell to her knees beside her husband while wee William began to bawl. Tess trembled and clung to a grim-faced Chester while the remaining men stood by, frustrated and impotent.
Dismissing Seamus, Tannen stalked toward Clara who struggled helplessly in Kendal's iron grasp.
"Where is he?" demanded Tannen as he pushed his filthy face close to hers. "Where's the Smithy?"
Clara gagged at the smell of him and turned away but Bufford caught her chin in his broad hand and roughly forced her back to face him.
"Tell me where he is," he shouted at her, his foul breath stirring her fine dark hair.
"Never!" cried Clara, defiantly. "You'll never hurt my Emmett. Never! He's safe, do you hear me? You'll never find him!"
"No? We'll see about that!"
Tannen's watery blue eyes flickered over the huddled prisoners. Suddenly he darted forward and snatched little William McFly from his mother's arms. The child screamed his fear but Maggie screamed louder, throwing herself after the outlaw. Tannen effortlessly kicked her aside and upended the squalling child by its ankles, dangling him before Clara's horrified eyes.
"I ain't gonna ask you again." Tannen brandished the edge of his bowie knife under William's little nose for emphasis. "You tell me where the Smithy is, damn you, or I'll gut this kid right here -- reeaaal slow!"
Gulping, Artemus turned his head away and tightly closed his eyes against the scene.
"Whattsa matter, old man?" grinned the outlaw on his left. "Squeamish?"
"Can't take it, huh?" chuckled Palmer on his right. "Or are you afraid you might be next?"
"Please," pleaded Artemus, sinking to his knees. "I'll do anything you say. Give you anything you want. Just don't hurt me!"
His custodians exchanged knowing glances, confident in their superiority. As Artie's weight sagged between them, they unconsciously slackened their grip on his arms.
[Rule number one. Never, ever underestimate an actor], thought Artemus smugly as, balling his fists, he swung his arms backward from the elbows.
There wasn't a lot of force behind the blow but it wasn't necessary to inflict pain on so tender a target. With uncanny precision, Artie's fists soundly connected with both bandits' genitals in an attempt to knock them up into their respective throats. With agonized shrieks of pain, they dropped like rocks to the ground and pawed their agonized privates.
"What the hell?!"
It was all Tannen managed before Artemus careened into him, hitting the outlaw with his shoulder just above the waist. As Bufford staggered backward, he released his grip on William in order to catch his balance. Artemus neatly caught the child on the follow-through, rolled, and deftly deposited the child into his mother's waiting arms.
"You're a dead man!" Tannen screamed at Artemus as he snatched his gun from its holster. "I'm gonna blow your head off, you God-damned son of a bitch!"
Artemus backpedaled from the looming aperture of Tannen's horse pistol but there was nowhere to run and no time left. A split second later the world exploded in a thunderous roar that kicked Artemus in the chest and slammed him backward into the dirt. Screams and shouts became incoherent sounds that spiraled away into darkness...
* * * * * * * * *
A throaty growl of thunder rumbled across the plain and encountered an echo of itself. On the horizon, a jagged fork of lightning streaked earthward from the midst of boiling black clouds. James West reined in his black stallion and turned in the saddle to study the storm blowing his way. The landscape he had just traversed was shrouded in swiftly approaching darkness, transformed into a bleak wasteland of colorless scrub and rock. The horse whickered its unease and nervously pawed the ground, ears angling back toward the distant shout of thunder. Heavy, fat drops of rain began to answer the call of gravity, splattering the already saturated soil.
It had been raining for the better part of a week, transforming the grass from green to yellow, flooding streams and rivers, and turning the land into slippery sea of mud. West's oilskin had long since lost its usefulness. No matter how well he positioned the poncho, the steady, driving downpours found an egress, turning his clothing into a cloying mass of mildew. At the very least he desperately needed a bath and a change of clothing, but as long as it continued to rain, he could not -- would not -- stop. The trail was already five days cold; he wasn't about to risk losing what was left to the elements.
West's expression was hard and grim, as if chiseled from stone. The sharp pain of loss filled his being with a cold, burning anger and the driving need for revenge. This time there would be no miraculous resurrections; no case of mistaken identity or serendipity. In a small, desolate town in the middle of nowhere, Artemus Gordon's luck had finally run out.
[And I wasn't there to back him up.]
It was the same litany West's conscience had flogged him with since learning of Artie's death.
[His murder], West corrected himself.
It was Silas who'd found the body. Twelve hours after Artemus had set off in search of a blacksmith, Silas saw billowing black clouds of smoke on the horizon. By the time the engineer reached Hill Valley all that remained were charred shells where a town had stood. The people -- what few remained -- had been brutally massacred, Artemus among them. The only survivor was a toddler, squalling in the lifeless arms of his mother. A youth not yet twenty lived long enough to utter a name to Silas before succumbing to his wounds.
It was a name that James West now carried like a coiled snake in his heart. Bufford Tannen.
West's fist closed reflexively around the saddle horn until the knuckles shone white. [You're a dead man, Tannen. I swear it on the grave of the man you murdered.]
As if to underscore West's rage, thunder crashed directly overhead, followed less than three seconds later by a searing flash of lightning.
[Here it comes.] West pulled the collar of his poncho up about his neck and prepared for the deluge. Less than fifty feet away a lone tree bowed and swayed to the rhythm of the wind. [Not much], he observed, [but it might keep back some of the --]
The sound exploded behind West with such force it knocked him out of the saddle before the horse had a chance to rear. The stallion screamed in terror and galloped off, nearly trampling its former rider in its haste. The earth wildly bucked and lurched beneath him. West rolled onto his knees and threw up a hand to shield his eyes as a series of lesser explosions and flashes of blinding blue light filled his vision. The universe split open with a glaring arc of lightning and fire, and a behemoth roared through.
West's befuddled senses tried to translate what he was seeing into some semblance of rationality.
[It's a train.]
James shook his head in disbelief. He closed his eyes, counted to ten, then opened them again.
It was still a train. The locomotive hissed and steamed like a waiting dragon not twenty feet from where he knelt in the mud. The engine was a bizarre amalgam of whirring parts and flashing blue tendrils of energy that crackled from a Y-shaped glare of amber light caught within a transparent box mounted near the cab. Painted above the stylized wrought iron "cow-catcher" were the initials ELB.
There were no rails.
The cab's side window suddenly shot open and a thin, hawk-nosed face peered out. Glancing about, the stranger espied West and, with an inarticulate cry, promptly slammed closed the shutter.
He appeared a moment later in the cab's doorway.
"Mr. West!" he exclaimed, and proceeded to dismount.
It was one thing to witness an apparition and quite something else altogether when it called you by name. James struggled to his feet and drew his gun from its holster, aiming it at the man sloshing through the mud toward him. Tall and long-legged, the stranger had sharp, angular features and a mop of wild, shoulder-length silver hair.
"You are a very difficult man to contact!" admonished the newcomer.
"That depends on who's looking," replied West.
"Doctor Emmett L. Brown, at your service." The man congenially thrust out his hand in greeting, totally oblivious to the gun West held trained on his personage. "Inventor, scientist, and blacksmith."
West ignored the gesture and the vehicle in which Brown had made his entrance. As far as he could ascertain, the man before him was flesh and blood and that was something James knew how to deal with.
"What is it you want?"
"Your assistance, Mr. West. You and I have a common goal!"
"Do we?" replied James, suspiciously.
"Of course! We both want to stop Bufford Tannen. The only difference is how. You want to revenge yourself upon Tannen for what he has done to your friend, Mr. Gordon. I, on the other hand, desire to prevent him from doing it in the first place!"
"You can't change history," said West, scowling. [Would to God that I could.]
"Ah, but that's where you are wrong!" crowed Brown. "I can change history! Viola!" With a grand gesture, he indicated the vehicle behind him. "The flux capacitor!"
"It's a train," observed West.
"A train capable of rushing forwards or backwards in time!"
[He's as insane as Loveless], thought James, and unconsciously edged away from the wild-eyed lunatic.
Brown didn't seem the least offended. "Understandably, you need a practical demonstration."
[And you need a straight jacket], West mused.
Overhead, thunder growled a warning. A moment later, the heavens opened and a deluge of rain came pouring down.
"Perhaps an illustration of foreknowledge will convince you," Brown shouted over the elements. "Take that tree over there!"
"I was about to," said West, looking at his original sanctuary from the storm.
"Precisely." Doc Brown thrust out his left arm and yanked down the sleeve of his duster, showing a row of five wrist chronometers of varying shape and size. "In precisely 49 seconds that tree will be struck by lightning."
"I don't know who you are or what it is you're trying to prove --"
"-- But I'm not buying it."
Doc continued to monitor his watches. "20 seconds."
"I think it's about time you told me how you know so much about who I am and what I'm doing out here."
"In a moment, Mr. West. Five seconds to go." Brown pointed at the tree like a harbinger of death. "Watch!" he commanded.
West turned slightly so that he might see the tree in question as well as keep his weapon aimed on the eccentric stranger.
"Four ... three ... two ... NOW!"
Nothing happened. The tree bowed and swayed beneath the driving rain and fierce wind, but remained unscathed.
"Nothing," concluded West, turning his full attention back on the astonished scientist. "Now I think it's time for some answers to --"
CRACK! The sound was almost simultaneous with the blinding white flash of lightning. Wood screamed in protest and leaves thrashed violently as if to beat off the consuming flames as the tree crashed to the ground.
"I must remember to recalibrate that watch," murmured Brown as he pulled his sleeve back into place.
James stared in disbelief at the remains of the sundered tree. [If I'd been under there ...]
Brown stepped up beside him. "Had your original timeline not been disrupted by my arrival, you would have sheltered under that tree as planned and been killed outright when the lightning struck it."
"I'm convinced," said West tonelessly. This time he regarded Emmett Brown with renewed respect and hope. "And you can save Artemus the same way?"
"And all of Hill Valley," asserted Brown.
"Why?" demanded West. "Why is it so important to you?"
"Because Hill Valley is my home, Mr. West; because the people Tannen killed were my friends and neighbors." Brown's dark eyes misted over. "One of them was my wife."
West nodded his understanding. "Then what are we waiting for?"
* * * * * * * * *
....Artemus plowed into Tannen, hitting the outlaw with his shoulder just above the waist. As Bufford staggered backward, he released his grip on William in order to catch his balance. Artemus neatly caught the child on the follow-through, rolled, and deftly deposited the child into his mother's waiting arms.
"You're a dead man!" Tannen screamed at Artemus as he snatched his gun from its holster. "I'm gonna blow your head off, you God-damned son of a bitch!"
Artemus stumbled back from the looming aperture of Tannen's horse pistol but there was nowhere to run and no time left.
A split second later the world exploded in a thunderous roar!
A second and third (sonic) "BOOM!" followed in rapid succession, causing the very ground to shudder and quake. Artie teetered uncertainly on the bucking terrain, amazed to find himself still alive. He was even more flabbergasted when he turned toward the source of the sound in time to see a train running down the center of Main Street! It steamed down the center of the street pulling two boxcars in its wake, its iron wheels biting deeply into the hard packed earth without concern for its lack of rails.
"Emmett!" exclaimed Clara, clasping her hands to her heart.
[Emmett?] wondered Artemus, dumbfounded.
"Clara!" came an answering cry over the hissing steam of the fantastic locomotive. The left cab window was thrown wide and out leaned the visage of an older man with long flowing silvery hair.
"YOU!" screamed Bufford in recognition.
"Me!" the engineer snapped back.
"Damn you, Smithy! I'm gonna kill you!"
"I think not!"
Emmett L. "Doc" Brown grasped the handle of a bright red lever and pulled. At once, the side doors to the adjoining rail cars dropped open like twin drawbridges. Out spilled a tide of horses and blue uniformed soldiers.
"Holy sh*t!" exclaimed Kendal. "It's the cavalry!"
"Let's get the hell out of here!" cried Palmer.
Abandoning their prisoners, the outlaws dove for their horses. Bugles bleated over the pounding thunder of hooves and angry shouts as three dozen cavalry soldiers galloped out of the boxcars. The ragged citizens of Hill Valley began to cheer as Tannen's men scattered and fled into the California desert. The United States Cavalry followed close behind, pursued and pursuers disappearing into the distance amidst a swirling cloud of dust.
"Emmett!" Clara ran toward the locomotive and her husband.
"No you don't!" Tannen sprang out of hiding like a jack-in-the-box and caught Clara around the waist. Hauling her backward, he thrust the gleaming edge of his bowie knife against her pale throat. "Everyone where I can see them!"
[Here we go again], sighed Artemus.
As the people gathered in a tight group in front of Tannen, the outlaw risked a suspicious glance over his shoulder to satisfy himself that the courthouse was all that lurked behind him. He then turned to address the locomotive.
"You come out where I can see you, Smithy, or the school teacher's dead!"
Doc Brown jumped down from the cab and strode purposefully toward the tableau, the tails of his duster whipping out behind him.
"Leave her alone, Tannen!" demanded Brown, his expression one of mixed outrage and anxiety. "It's me you want, not her!"
"Emmett, no!" gasped Clara. "Go back! He'll kill you!"
"You're damned right I'm gonna kill him," blustered Tannen. "You've caused me no end of trouble, Smithy, and I aim to finish this once and for all!"
Brown came abreast of Artemus but took no notice of the agent, so intent was he on his wife's imminent danger. "You've got what you want. Let her go."
"I ain't got what I want yet. You're still alive!" Bufford glowered at Artemus. "You! Pick up that gun on the ground there."
Artie blinked at the outlaw as if he were stark raving mad. Was he inviting himself to be shot?
"And before you get any heroic ideas," warned Tannen, "if you point that shootin' iron any place other than at the Smithy's head, I'll cut her throat. Got that?"
Grimly, Artemus bent to retrieve the fallen weapon and brought it up with the business end pointed toward the blacksmith. Now that got Brown's attention.
"If you have a way out of this, I'd be happy to hear it," murmured Artemus. "I'd rather not widow such a charming young woman."
"I would prefer you didn't either," replied Doc, sotto voce. "I'd miss her terribly." His dark eyes flickered over Artemus' left shoulder then back again. "Stall."
"What the hell are you waiting for?" demanded Tannen.
"Hell to freeze over?" replied Artemus hopefully.
"An engraved invitation, perhaps?" suggested Emmett with false bravado.
"Just shut up and shoot him!"
"Shoot him?" exclaimed Artemus, suddenly indignant. "What, right here? Right now?"
"Yeah! Right here and right now!" Tannen exerted pressure on the knife and Clara gasped in pain.
"Clara!" cried Brown, his anguish wrenching her name into a sob.
"Now shoot him!" screamed Bufford, spitting drool.
As Artemus leveled the gun at the blacksmith's head, he desperately calculated his chances of turning around fast enough to shoot Tannen before he could harm Clara Brown.
"No," Brown pleaded softly, perceiving Artemus' intent. "Kill me if you have to, but don't risk her."
"No, please!" pleaded Clara. "Don't hurt him. Emmett!"
Tannen was hopping mad now -- literally. "Kill him, you stupid sh*t. Damn it! I said KILL HIM!"
It was exactly what James had been waiting for. Hidden by the dark interior of the locomotive's cab, he had watched the entire scene before him in anticipation of the right moment. The minute Tannen began to wildly gesticulate, West stepped forward into the light of the open cab window, raised the rifle to his shoulder, and fired a single shot. The bullet tore the knife from Tannen's grasp and smashed into his right hand, shattering bone.
Tannen screamed with rage and pain, releasing Clara and stumbling backward, clutching his wounded appendage to his chest.
"Now, Marty!" cried Doc as he leaped forward and snatched Clara's wrist, pulling her into the safety of his arms.
A flash of pink, a 'WHOOSH' of displaced air, and suddenly a figure came running -- no, flying! -- out of the main courthouse, straight toward Tannen's unprotected back! Artemus could only gape in stunned disbelief at the sight of this improbable rescuer.
Forewarned by Doc's shout, Tannen looked over his shoulder and shrieked in horror as the Avenger whizzed up and slammed him on the side of the head with a gleaming silver pail. Reeling from the blow, Bufford fell to his knees. Martin Seamus "Eastwood" McFly was far from finished! Turning the neon pink hoverboard in a tight curve, he sped back toward Tannen, swinging the pail in a glittering arc. With a howl of fear, Bufford regained his feet and fled down the street with the flying 'ghost' of his former adversary in hot pursuit. Marty swung his makeshift weapon a second time, connecting solidly with the back of Tannen's head and sending him sprawling face-down into the dirt.
Bufford 'Mad Dog' Tannen rolled onto his back and looked up in abject horror at the nightmare visage hovering in the air over him.
"Eastwood!" he managed through teeth clenched tight with pain.
Marty grinned and upended the pail.
"Nooooooo!" shrieked Tannen as the bucket's steaming, foul smelling offal hit him squarely in the face.
"Aaaagh!" he wailed. "I hate manure!"
* * * * * * * * *
Artemus placed a tentative foot on the pink two-foot long board. Humming softly, it dipped slightly beneath his weight but continued to hover more than three inches above the ground.
"No one is ever going to believe this."
"If you think that's remarkable, try a ride in the train," confided James.
"Pass," said Artemus.
"It's just as well," said Doc, his arm draped comfortably around Clara's slender shoulders. "I don't think the world is ready for this sort of 'toy', do you?"
Hill Valley's resident scientist seemed pleased and visibly relieved. "There, you see, Clara? Didn't I tell you Mr. West and Mr. Gordon would understand. As an inventor himself, I'm sure Mr. Gordon is especially sensitive to the potential hazards."
Artemus looked at the Browns in surprise. "How did you know I was an inventor?"
"Emmett knows lots of things," said Clara proudly, gazing lovingly into her husband's eyes. "And some he shouldn't," she chastised fondly.
"It's all a matter of Time," grinned Emmett which, as far as Artemus was concerned, made absolutely no sense whatsoever.
"Speaking of time," said Marty as he joined them, "It's about time I got back, Doc ... now that I've got someplace to go back to! I don't want Jennifer to worry."
"Right you are, Marty," exclaimed Brown. "Hop aboard!"
Marty scooped up the hoverboard and swung himself up into the locomotive's cab.
"Bye folks!" he called to the people of Hill Valley. "Catch you later." He gave them a final wave and disappeared inside.
Chester scratched his head. "I ain't ever goin' to get over how much that boy looks like his younger brother Clint."
"Aye," agreed Seamus, little William sitting astride his shoulders and plucking at a fistful of his father's bright red hair. "'Tis uncanny. Sure and they could almost be the self same man."
"And that's a fact," concluded Maggie McFly.
"Now then, Mr. West, Mr. Gordon," said Emmett, rubbing his hands together. "Let's see what we can do to remedy your boiler troubles. Would you care for a ride back to your train?"
"In that?" asked Artemus, indicating the Jules Vern-ish engine.
"In that," confirmed Brown. "I promise you an entertaining, albeit brief, journey."
"Some other time, Doc," declined James. "I think we've had enough excitement for one day."
"As you wish," sighed Brown. "I'll drop Marty off at home and then meet you at your disabled train in, say, four hours time?"
"That's fine, Doc." West extended his hand. "And thanks. For everything."
Brown took the hand and shook it warmly. "It was my pleasure, Mr. West." He turned to Artemus. "And it was a special pleasure to have the chance to meet you, Mr. Gordon." He enthusiastically grasped and shook Artemus' hand.
"All aboard!" he suddenly shouted, and leaped up onto the engine's platform. He extended a hand to Clara and helped her inside before closing the safety doors. A moment later he appeared in the cab window, a set of silver, mirror-bright goggles hiding his eyes. "You may desire to back up, gentlemen.
"But ...!" stammered Artemus. "What about the rails?"
"Rails?" Doc Brown's wild eyes peered at him over the rim of the goggles and he indulged in a manic grin. "Where we're going, we don't need rails!"
"Believe it," murmured James as he took Artie by the arm and pulled him further back.
The citizens of Hill Valley clustered around James and Artemus to watch. The locomotive lurched forward, iron wheels biting into the earth. Slowly, it turned and began to chug down Main Street in the direction it had come. As it moved, it began to pick up speed. Suddenly the entire engine began to rise off of the ground! Two feet ... five feet ... ten! It streaked heavenward as if riding the clouds.
"That's impossible!" stammered Artie.
Chester snorted. "You don't know Emmett."
Faster and faster the locomotive plowed through the air. Suddenly there was a thunderous roar and the entire train was swallowed by a blinding flash of blue-white light. All that remained behind were two faint trails of glowing red that faded into wisps and vanished.
Artemus remained gaping at the heavens for several long moments. Finally he managed to bring his gaze to earth where it fixed accusingly on his partner.
"You have a lot of explaining to do," he said.
* * * * * * * * *
"I don't get it, Doc," said Marty. "I mean, I understand saving Hill Valley and Clara and all, but what's so important about this Gordon guy? Does he make a major contribution to history or something?"
"Marty, I'm surprised at you! Artemus Gordon is -- was -- one of the foremost inventors and scientists of his time. The analytical procedures and inventions he develops to aid law enforcement will become the precursors of 20th century forensics."
"Is that important?"
"Important? As a direct result of one of Mr. Gordon's analytical experiments in the flight characteristics of projectiles, ballistics will become a major crime-fighting tool. Artemus Gordon will contribute many useful and wondrous things to the world -- the most important of which will be Lilly Maude Gordon on July 7, 1888."
"Never heard of her," shrugged Marty. "Is she someone important?"
"She is positively vital!" declared Doc. "Lilly Maude Gordon is my maternal grandmother!"
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