|The Night of the PistolerosArtie's Point of View
Author: California gal PM
My idea of what could have been happening to Artie while he was Galiano's prisoner.Rated: Fiction K - English - Adventure/Western - Words: 6,526 - Reviews: 3 - Favs: 1 - Published: 02-07-12 - Status: Complete - id: 7814468
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
The Night of the Pistoleros—Artie's Point of View
This is my version of what could have been happening to Artemus while he was Galiano's prisoner in this episode. I also wanted to try to explain some plot gaps. Hope it worked!
Neque enim lex est aequior ulla, quam necis artifices arte perire sua.
[Nor is there any law more just, than that he who has plotted death shall perish by his own plot.
— Ars Amatoria (I, 655), Ovid (Publius Naso; 43 BC-c. 17 AD), Roman poet
The second time he roused, he found himself in a room he subsequently learned was a storeroom on the second level of the hacienda, his arms secured behind him and tightly bound to a horizontal pipe that was connected between two elbow joints. The perpendicular portion of the pipes ran into the floor, and perhaps once had provided water for some lower room, such as a kitchen.
For a long time Artemus Gordon was alone. He struggled against the bonds futilely, succeeding only in rubbing his wrists raw. The narrow rope used was strong, with no give to it. After awhile he stopped that fruitless effort and began to wonder if he was going to be left here to die of thirst or starvation.
What would be the point?
Artie recalled his brief conversation with Armando Galiano in the bedroom when he awakened in that room. The don had been highly pleased. He wanted me, sent his men out with photographs of me… but why? Why am I now his captive and not dead? What has all this to do with the Pistoleros? Are they now going after Jim? Is that it? He wants Jim to be alone and thus supposedly easier to deal with? That might be true to a certain extent. However, with me missing, Jim is going to be even more wary. None of it made sense.
He had no real concept of time in the windowless room, lit only by a lantern hanging from a peg on the wall. He knew that a great length of time elapsed before he finally heard sounds beyond the door. When it opened, a beaming Galiano entered.
"Ah, Señor Gordon, you have awakened."
"I want to thank you for the luxurious and comfortable accommodations," Artie retorted.
Galiano laughed dryly. "I apologize, but it is necessary to keep you securely out of sight for the time being."
"What's going on? What do you want with me?"
The Mexican's grin widened. "As I said before, you are to serve a purpose. An important purpose."
"You won't get away with it. My partner will be…"
Galiano's smile was smug as he shook his head. "Señor West will be unable to find any knowledge as to your whereabouts. We brought your horse and gear, and have taken care of possible witnesses. He may search, but he will search in vain. And in due time, you will be returned to him." He stepped back to the doorway, and spoke to someone out of sight.
Artie did not have time to ponder the statement about "being returned." He could only gape as he saw himself enter the room. He quickly remembered the doppelganger Dr. Loveless had created of James West, and how perfect the duplicate was. This man was the same, even to the same shade of eyes. That meant, of course, that the man had to own those eyes beforehand. But…
"Artemus Gordon," Galiano chortled, "allow me to introduce Artemus Gordon."
The man in the doorway bowed slightly. "How do you do, Mr. Gordon." The voice was close, very close… and slightly hoarse.
Artemus realized his own hoarseness had cleared. "You'll never get away with it," he growled, and hoped he sounded convincing.
Galiano only smiled in his direction a moment before turning to the duplicate. "You have your instructions. Sanchos will be in town. All you have to do is set it up."
The other man grinned. "I've been practicing being the grieving partner." With a jaunty wave, he departed.
Galiano watched him apparently until he was out of view, and then turned back to Artemus. "What do you think of Dr. Winterich's handiwork?"
"Who is he?"
The don shrugged. "An actor whose specialty was mimicry. He fled the United States after murdering his wife and has been living in Mexico in dire straits for a few years. He welcomed the opportunity to take on a new identity."
Artemus frowned. "Do I know him?" He had a memory of such a crime being committed in Kansas City some years ago.
"Indeed, he has met you, and greatly admired your performances on the stage. That's why it was so easy for him to recreate your voice and mannerisms. The tone of voice was more difficult, so Dr. Winterich roughened his vocal cords. He has a perfect excuse to give Señor West as to the reason for his hoarseness."
"Jim will know him instantly," Artie snarled, his stomach tightened as he recalled the duplicate's parting words about being a grieving partner.
Again that irksome self-satisfied laugh. "There won't be time for the gentleman to give himself away."
"Jim West won't be caught off guard!" Artemus knew his protest was desperate and sounded so.
"But he'll be fooled," Galiano replied smoothly. "He'll be fooled just long enough for Lieutenant Murray's identity to be verified."
"What in the devil are you talking about?"
"Alvin Murray. You are familiar with the name?"
"Yes," Artie replied slowly. "A bugler in my regiment during the late war…. What…?"
The self-satisfied smile remained on Galiano's face. He was happy to be boasting of his accomplishments. "As part of my plan, having a man inside Fort Challenge was imperative. Some months ago we learned that young Murray was being transferred to Fort Challenge. On such short notice, we did not have time to create a duplicate, so another man was substituted."
"What happened to the real Murray?" Artemus demanded.
Galiano continued silkily, ignoring the question. "I reasoned that no one in this part of the world would have ever met Murray, and in a sense that was true. But a Sergeant Tobin at Fort Challenge had once seen Murray, and upon meeting our substitute, became highly suspicious. He voiced his fears to Colonel Roper, but our Murray was able to allay them. Tobin became more strident, and finally wrote to your President Grant, with whom it seems he is personally acquainted. In his letter, he asked for Artemus Gordon and James West to be sent to Fort Challenge to investigate the situation. Fortunately he apparently did not relate all the details in his letter."
"So that's why you had your men laying in wait for us."
"Yes. We have been tracking you since you left your private train. Had things gone as planned earlier, Señor West would have been killed at that homestead, and you captured. However, you both escaped, and then you obligingly walked into a second trap."
"And now that… that double is supposed to murder Jim West."
Galiano's shocked expression was exaggerated. "Oh, no, Señor Gordon! That is not the plan at all. He will meet with Señor West, and also with Lieutenant Murray, at which time he will assure West that this Murray is indeed the young bugler from your regiment. And then faithful Sanchos will kill him."
"Kill… the duplicate?" Artemus gaped at his captor.
"Exactly. It's all very amusing. Sanchos does not know that the man is a fake. He will believe he's killing you, that that is part of my plan. Sometimes it is better that not everyone knows all the details. In this instance, after spending a rather short time with the man he believes is his partner—who will, by the way, have a convincing cover story about having been kidnapped—Señor West will not have time to discern any slip-ups. He will, in effect, see his partner die. Of course, the poor actor fellow has no idea his time on the stage will be so short."
For a long moment, Artie stared then shook his head. "Why? Why not just kill me and be done with it? Jim never met Murray before."
"Many reasons. For one, West will be able to tell others at the fort that his partner identified my man as the true Alvin Murray. Another I believe you would call an 'ace in the hole.' You will remain my captive for the time being. I do not anticipate any problems in my plans, but one must always be prepared, as I'm sure you would agree, Señor Gordon. Holding one of the top agents in America as hostage would be a strong ace, don't you agree?"
The Mexican departed, pulling the door shut behind him. Artemus stared at the closed door for a long while, digesting what he had seen and heard. A clever plan. Galiano appeared to have covered all bases. Artie knew that at least for a few minutes, Jim would easily be fooled by the double, just as he himself had been fooled initially by the man originally known as Janus when he entered the rail car. Only after some conversation did suspicions begin to grow. The same would occur with Jim if he were allowed to talk to this doppelganger long enough. But apparently, as soon as the double made the confirming identification of this imposter who was posing as Alvin Murray, he would be disposed of.
And Jim will see "me" die!
Heaving a deep sigh, Artemus once again attempted to loosen his bonds, with the same result. The ropes would not budge. He tried grasping the pipe with the thought that if he could unscrew it and loosen one end from the elbow joint, he could then slide down and slip off over the free end. I'm not as agile as Jim, but I think I can bring the ropes to the front. Then the knot could then be loosened with his teeth. After that, I'll take my chances.
But the pipe still would not move. From the look of it, the pipe had been in place for a long while, with the threads rusted securely. More than one man's strength would be necessary to start it turning, to have any opportunity at escape.
From that point on, the minutes crawled by. With no method of discerning day from night in the windowless room, Artie could only guess at the time of day from the meals he was served. The first one, stale tortillas and frijoles with a tin cup of water, he judged was brought in the morning. One of the men who held a pistol on him while he was released long enough to eat looked to be freshly shaven, as a man might do upon arising. They also allowed him to use a porcelain container located in a closet in the next room, a room that also appeared to be something of a storage area. He saw wooden crates that looked suspiciously like those used for packing rifles.
Occasionally he heard voices beyond the door, and once raucous, triumphant laughter, but no one entered. From time to time Artemus dozed, slumped against the ropes, but soon awakened due primarily to the discomfort of his position. Another meal was brought to him some hours later, this one a dry enchilada. He forced himself to eat it, washing it down with more water, knowing he needed any possible nourishment.
He never stopped trying to loosen his bonds, and continued to attempt to turn the pipe. Both efforts persisted in being unsuccessful, so that fighting against despair was another task. There had to be a way out. When he was released and fed, three men held ready weapons on him, giving him no opportunity to grapple with any of them. Even if those men had orders not to kill him, so as to maintain Galiano's "ace in the hole," they would certainly be able to overpower him. As well, other men were in the vicinity; he either saw them or heard them.
Artemus judged that when Galiano next returned, it was during a morning hour. For one thing, he had been served the tortilla and frijoles again. For another, Galiano was attired in a different outfit, leading to the assumption that he had had a night's sleep. He was filled with glee as he informed Artemus that the plan had been carried out. Señor West had returned to Tohachi, seeking his partner, as Galiano had expected. The identification of Murray had been carried out. Then when West and "Gordon" entered the hotel, Sanchos had taken the opportunity to murder the doppelganger.
"From all accounts, Señor West is devastated. He has no doubt his amigo has been brutally slain, so he will not be seeking you any longer. I understand that a fine military funeral will be held at the fort for your mortal remains. You should be proud, Señor Gordon. Now I will proceed with the next step. All is going well, and Sonora will soon be in my hands. Then all of Mexico."
Artemus did not respond, glaring at Galiano, who merely continued to smile as he departed. Jim thinks I'm dead. I know how he's feeling. Artemus Gordon remembered all too vividly the occasion in New Orleans when he believed that Jim West had died gruesomely in an explosion and the pain he had experienced, exacerbated by the fact that authorities believed Jim had turned traitor. Lily Fortune had been there with him, and her presence had helped allay some of the anguish, but the pain had been there, until the moment Jim walked into the cell in Dr. Faustina's cellars. Jim will be alone, no one to help him. He is usually in control of his emotions, but how will he deal with this? Artie shook his head slightly. The answer was simple: Jim West would go all out for vengeance. If he realized Sanchos was the killer, he would probably concentrate on finding Sanchos, perhaps to the detriment of his own safety.
The time seemed to inch by even more slowly after that. Artemus was wracked with worry and burning with curiosity. Galiano did not come again, but the men who brought his so-called food and escorted him to the closet talked among themselves in their native language, seemingly unaware that he understood almost all they were saying. From their gossip, he learned that the head Pistolero expected to foment a large battle between the garrisons in Sonora, headed by a Colonel Vega, and the troops at Fort Challenge. The American military were demanding cooperation in finding the murderer of the agent.
I can't see an invasion, Artemus mused again and again. Colonel Roper at Fort Challenge would require federal orders to lead an attack across the border. He knew Grant would not start a war over such a matter, not without much more provocation. President Grant was well informed regarding the Pistoleros and would know that they were responsible for the murder of which he had been no doubt informed by now. Even if somehow it were proven that Colonel Vega was involved, the president would not act rashly.
Yet Galiano is very confident that his plans are coming to fruition. That confidence is revealed in the conversation of his men. I don't know if Jim can stop them by himself, especially now that he probably feels he can trust the man he knows as Lieutenant Alvin Murray. Jim undoubtedly has told, or will tell Colonel Roper at the fort about this supposed confirmation he received from his "late" partner.
What was worrisome was whether Galiano intended to eventually go after Jim West. Jim might not be as alert as usual right now, Artie was certain. He remembered his own difficulty in New Orleans in concentrating immediately after learning of his partner's death, of coming to grips with what had seemingly occurred. Just like now, the report was false. But he had not known that, just as Jim did not know now.
Artie dozed some, weariness overcoming his discomfort, and thus he had no notion how much time had elapsed when he heard a commotion beyond the door, and it was pushed open. Two Pistoleros were supporting another man, a man in the uniform of the United States Army. Artemus saw the shoulder straps, those of a colonel. The man was woozy, his uniform dusty, dirt and bruises on his face.
The voice called from behind the three, and a moment later, another man, also wearing the uniform of the United States Army, also bearing the colonel's insignia on his shoulders, pushed toward them. Another younger uniformed man, a lieutenant, was following.
The "colonel" peered at the injured man, putting his hand on the colonel's chin and tipping his head to get a better view. "It's amazing. Could you tell which is the real Colonel Roper? As good as your double." The duplicate officer glanced toward Artemus with a sneering gaze.
"I'll be taking off for Fort Apache now," the lieutenant said, as the two Pistoleros shoved Roper into the room and proceeded to bind him to the pipe alongside Artemus Gordon.
"Good. Everything will be ready by the time you get back."
Artemus could not remain quiet as he realized the purported identity of the lieutenant and spoke bitterly. "What have you done with Alvin Murray?"
The only responses were smirks from the two uniformed imposters as they sauntered away and closed the door after them.
Colonel Roper looked around blearily. "Wha… what's going on? Who was that?"
"Too complicated to explain right now, Colonel," Artemus responded angrily, "but what it boils down to is that a Pistolero is now in command of Fort Challenge."
"What?" Roper blinked several times, trying to focus his gaze. He stared at his co-prisoner. "You… you're Gordon! We… we buried you!"
"You buried a poor fool," Artie said tautly. "Galiano's pal Dr. Winterich created a duplicate me just as he did a duplicate you."
"Me?" Roper stared at Artie for a moment, looked toward the door, and brought his gaze back. "Yeah. I remember now. Confused the hell out of me." His eyes were clearer now.
"What happened?" Artie asked then. "How did they capture you?"
"Lieutenant Murray and I were on our way to see Colonel Vega at the Sonora garrison. We ran into an explosion… a land torpedo. West tried to warn us… where's Murray?"
"Don't worry about him, colonel. The one you knew as Alvin Murray is an imposter."
"But West said…"
"I suppose he did. Because my duplicate told him so. That's the reason they kidnapped me, so as to substitute this doppelganger in my place who would confirm to Jim—or you—that that's the real Murray. The Alvin Murray I knew in the army was of similar coloring, but looked nothing like this man. Galiano knew that if I saw this imposter, the whole scheme would be blown."
Roper sighed heavily, shaking his head. "So the sergeant was right. I should have listened…"
"Galiano mentioned that."
"Sergeant Charlie Tobin. West knew him."
Artemus nodded. "I know him. Jim knew him? What…?"
"He's dead. I had to put him in the lockup due to his apparently irrational behavior. He escaped. I sent Lieutenant Murray after him with a patrol and…" Roper sighed again, shook his head again. "They brought his body back. West was suspicious but I couldn't see it. But I had no reason to doubt Murray. He brought all his papers from Leavenworth."
"You can't blame yourself, colonel," Artie said quietly. "I walked into a trap myself. Galiano knew that Jim and I had escaped the snare he set up at the homesteader's place, and he knew that one or both of us would follow up the lead provided by the photograph found in one of the Pistolero's pockets. He was waiting for me at Bernal's photography shop."
"Bernal is dead too," Roper told him. "West found him dead in his shop, with a note from the Pistoleros warning that traitors would meet such a fate."
"Traitor? What did Bernal do to be labeled a traitor? I thought he did quite well, leading me into the snare Galiano set up."
"Don't know. All I know is West was damned worried about you after that. He told me later that you rode into town and identified Murray as the genuine lieutenant, and you were both coming to see me at the hotel when… you were killed."
"Tell me what happened," Artemus demanded.
"I rode into Tohachi with West; Murray accompanied us. I went to the hotel and got a room. West came by a while later. That's when he told me about Bernal and that he was going to ask around town to see if anyone had seen you. I was in the room when I heard gunshots coming from downstairs. I headed out to see what had happened, and saw West at the base of the stairs, kneeling over… your body. He was… he was frantically trying to find a pulse… a heartbeat.
"I went on down the stairs, thinking to help, when I saw… I saw the grief on his face. I stopped and asked if… if you were dead. He just looked up at me for the longest moment. Gordon, I've never seen a man who'd just swallowed acid, but I can't imagine I would see more pain in a man's face and eyes than I saw in that moment. But after that…" Roper paused, frowning thoughtfully.
Artemus Gordon smiled. "After that, you saw a man of stone."
"Sounds like you know your partner pretty well."
"As well as anyone, I expect. Jim is not a man to show his emotions. You caught him in an unguarded moment."
"I got that idea. Murray showed up and we arranged for a coffin and a wagon to transport the body back to the fort. West said very little, just answered yes or no when we asked if this or that was all right with him. At the fort, the coffin was stored in a room off the quartermaster's… with an honor guard on duty all night. One of those men later told me that West visited the coffin twice. I did notice the next morning that West appeared to have not slept much.
"The services were military, of course. Twelve gun salute. I found myself keeping my eye on West. Not entirely sure why, what I thought he was going to do. He was, as you say, a man of stone for the most part. Just stood there, hat in hand, saluting at the proper time. I did notice that his eyes rarely left the coffin. When we left the cemetery, he was the last to follow, but I didn't look back at him.
"Awhile later he came to my office to inform me he was leaving. It was there I saw another flare of emotion. I made a comment about him taking comfort that his partner died in the line of duty. He said, 'The comfort will come, Colonel, from finding the man who shot him in the back.' Not so much the words but the tone of voice, the expression on his face. I remember thinking I did not want to be the man West was seeking. But it passed. I tried to tell him that he needed to connect with Colonel Vegas in Sonora, but I could tell he had little interest in a diplomatic mission at that time."
Before Artemus could respond further, the door opened and a beaming Galiano entered. "Señores, I hope you are comfortable."
"How could we not be," Artemus responded sarcastically, "with such luxurious accommodations."
"Isn't it amazing?" Galiano gloated. "All my plans falling into place so easily. I believe it is a sign that I am the one chosen to lead Mexico to a greater future."
"Things often fall into place easily when you don't mind murdering to gain your ends," Artie spat.
The Mexican only laughed. "Colonel, what did you think of my handiwork? You have seen both the new Señor Gordon and the new Colonel Roper."
"Impressive," Roper replied with angry reluctance. "Even the uniforms."
"I made plans for a long while," Galiano assured them. "Years. As I decided my path of action, I laid in supplies, including numerous uniforms of the United States Army, of all ranks. I could supply a regiment. I have even a general's uniform! They are safely stored in a nearby room in case I need them, but as things are progressing, they will be unused. Now that the correct colonel is commanding Fort Challenge, events will happen rapidly. In less that twelve hours, a short battle will be fought between the American cavalry and the Sonora garrison, and all will be mine."
"Battle!" Roper echoed. "What do you mean?"
"It's very simple," Galiano stated confidently. "Colonel Roper will shortly receive a communiqué from President Grant, expressing the president's anger over the situation, especially the murder of his top agent, Artemus Gordon. He will order Roper to invade Mexico to apprehend the culprits. And of course, Colonel Vega will not stand by and let that happen."
"Your 'Colonel Roper' may find that certain people will not accept such a communiqué as genuine," Artemus growled.
Galiano laughed merrily. "I'm sure you are thinking of Señor West. He may be suspicious, but he will be taken care of. Nothing is going to stand in my way, senores. Nothing." With a nod, he strode from the room, pulling the door tightly shut.
For a long moment, both prisoners sat quietly. Then Artemus began to attempt to twist the pipe with renewed vigor, but with no more success. He paused and looked at his companion. "Colonel, would you mind getting down to the end of the pipe and seeing whether you can help me turn this?"
Without hesitation, Roper scooted toward the opposite end, and positioned himself to grip the pipe behind him. He glanced at Gordon to let him know he was ready.
Artie nodded. "Here we go."
With the strength and effort of two, the pipe finally budged, moving with great protest, emitting a creaking groan. For an eternity, the pair coordinated their efforts, making sure they put forth exertion at the same time and did not fight against each other. The pipe turned, slowly and inexorably, continuing to grind and groan with each tiny movement. Artie was certain hours were elapsing. Precious hours. Occasionally they paused to rest, or in one instance, because their guards entered to release them one at a time to eat and use the facilities. As soon as they were alone again, they set at the pipe again.
As they worked, Artemus spoke between breaths. "The Fort Challenge cavalry outnumbers Colonel Vega's men two to one. If he resists he'll be wiped out. At which point Señor Galiano simply steps in and takes over Sonora!"
"Fighting his revolution with my troops!" All his rage and frustration were evident in the colonel's voice.
"Exactly. Of course it takes a twisted mind, very complex, a lot of time, and someone like Dr. Winterich who can alter features through facial surgery."
"If we could get out of these ropes!"
"Won't be long now, Colonel. Keep turning."
Finally, after an eternity it seemed, along with growing blisters on their hands and aching muscles, the pipe popped loose at Artemus's end. Landing with a loud thud when it fell to the floor, both men automatically froze, staring at the door, waiting for someone to enter to see what was making the noise. But no one appeared.
Artemus slid down to the end, freeing himself from the confining length of pipe, and Roper followed. Once they were both on their feet, they stood back to back and Artie worked at the knots on the colonel's wrists. That was another frustrating business. He suspected their activities had tightened the knots somewhat. But eventually he was able to pick them loose, and then Roper untied him.
Both were rubbing their raw and aching wrists as they moved toward the door, where they paused and listened for long minutes before Artie finally grasped the latch and opened it slowly. No one was in the outer room, though from somewhere he could hear a murmur of voices. Downstairs?
Best of all, he saw his own pistol and gun belt lying on a chair against one wall. Without bothering to strap on the belt, he grasped the pistol, checked to make sure it was fully loaded, and jerked his head to Roper as an indication to follow him to the next door, which again they opened cautiously before stepping out into a hallway.
At that moment a commotion erupted downstairs. First came the sound of a gunshot from a small-caliber weapon, then men shouting and furniture breaking.
"Jim's here," Artie breathed, with a tight smile.
Roper looked at him. "You sure?"
"I'm sure," Artemus replied, his smile briefly widening. He started to take a further step, but quickly retreated, grabbing Roper's arm and pulling him back inside the room. He watched through a crack in the door, seeing an obviously furious Galiano, followed by an anxious Dr. Winterich, appear at the top of stairs. Both men quickly entered a doorway. From downstairs, two shots resounded, followed by more furniture breaking and a man crying out in pain.
A moment later, Galiano emerged, shotgun in hand, heading back toward the stairs. Artie acted quickly, following the Mexican, not even looking back to see if Roper was behind him. Seeing Galiano pause on the landing to lift the shotgun, aiming into the room below, he called out.
Startled, Galiano swung around, bringing the shotgun to bear on the owner of the warning voice. Artemus fired his pistol once. Galiano staggered, the weapon in his hands going off harmlessly into the nearby wall, before he reeled toward the banister and vanished from sight. All was silent as Artemus hurried forward, casting one backwards look to see that Roper had taken the doctor into custody and was following.
Reaching the railing, Artemus paused to survey the scene below. He saw the shattered furniture, the unconscious men here and there, a broken window. He also saw his partner climbing to his feet just below. Having obviously heard the gunfire from above him, Jim lifted his gaze… and froze.
Artemus saw the shock roll through Jim's face and body as he seemed to take a gasping breath. Pure wonder was on his face, eyes wide and staring in open disbelief. After a long, long moment, he spoke in a hushed tone.
If I say or do anything to make him cry, he'll never forgive me. I also have to convince him I'm real, and alive.
That thought raced through Artemus Gordon's mind as he gazed down at his stupefied friend. He was certain Jim was unsure whether he was seeing a ghost, a hallucination, perhaps another doppelganger… So Artemus leaned a hand on the railing, his eyes focused on Jim's face, a wry smile on his mouth and a slightly sarcastic tone to his voice.
"'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'?"
Almost imperceptibly, Jim's expression altered. The wonder was still there, but it was tinged with joy, and when he spoke, his voice was subtly lighter.
Artemus knew he had done the right thing. By reacting in a sardonic manner, he convinced his partner that he was real. That was the way Jim would expect Artemus Gordon to reply. But he could not help but grin now as he replied. "It's a pleasure."
Jim's eyes never left him as he and Roper escorted the doctor down the stairs. Once beside his partner, Artemus put his hand on Jim's shoulder. "It's me, Jim. Honest."
Jim West exhaled, and Artie realized he had been holding his breath, waiting for… he knew not what. "Artie, I saw you…"
"I know, pal. It was a double. Long story and I'll fill you in later. Right now, the fake Colonel Roper and the fake Lieutenant Murray are about to lead the cavalry from Fort Challenge across the river into Mexico. It will be a disaster."
"I know," Jim replied. The need to attend to duty was obviously clarifying his thoughts. "We've got to stop them. But how? Colonel Roper would need to be in two places at once…" He looked at the officer still clutching Winterich's arm. The doctor seemed to be in shock, his eyes glazed.
"You're right," the colonel replied. "Vega wouldn't listen to you, or Gordon, and I would need to show up at the Fort Challenge encampment to show the officers that…"
Artemus held up a hand. "Wait a minute. Colonel, is General Riddell still at Fort Apache?"
"Why yes. But he's too far away…"
Again Artemus waved him to silence. "I know Riddell pretty well."
Jim grasped his intent but shook his head. "Artie, you'd need a uniform, makeup…"
"Exactly. Galiano told me that he had a closet full of American army uniforms. Shouldn't be hard to find. As for makeup, he also said that my horse had been brought here from Tohachi. I have a kit in my saddlebag."
"I can get it," Jim said quickly. "But first we'd better take care of these fellows." He gestured to Galiano's men who were beginning to stir.
Roper said, "Our recent prison upstairs ought to do well. But I don't understand what you mean about General Riddell and makeup…"
Artie grinned. "General Riddell is going to walk into the cavalry camp, colonel, while you go find Colonel Vega and make sure he understands what's going on. I believe as Riddell, I can convince the other officers at the camp to take the fakes into custody until you can get there and explain matters."
Colonel Roper just shook his head. "I'd always heard that you two were impressive. I guess I know why now."
Artemus saw how Jim was staring at him again. "Jim, why don't you go get my makeup kit while the colonel and I make these boys comfortable."
"What? Oh. Yeah, sure."
Jim left, casting several backwards glances. He's afraid he'll come back and find it's all been some sort of hallucination, Artie decided. I need to give him more reassurance.
Artie and Colonel Roper roused the men on the floor and herded them upstairs to their former prison, making sure to lock it securely. Artemus then found the storeroom of uniforms and selected what he would need to complete his disguise as a general. By the time they returned downstairs, Jim had retrieved the makeup kit, which he handed to his partner. His face still bore a somewhat dazed expression.
"I brought the horses out front," Jim said, "including yours, colonel."
"Excellent. I'll be on my way to find Vega. I'll see you later at the fort."
He departed and the two agents went into the hacienda's kitchen, where Artie sat down at a table. Jim lit a lamp and placed it nearby, sitting across the table. His gaze rarely left his partner's face.
Artemus spoke casually as he worked on his face. "How did you find this place, Jim?"
"You told me."
Artie's fingers paused as he pasted on a sideburn. "Me?"
A familiar, and welcome, smile played on Jim's lips. "Your twin. When he came into town, he claimed he had been kidnapped and taken to Mexico, to a hacienda about ten miles south of the border. When the colonel was injured in the explosion, Galiano rode up and stated that his home was about a mile away, which would make it about ten miles from the border. I began to have a nagging suspicion about that time, which was later confirmed by the Pistolero we picked up at the homestead."
"Clever, partner. Very clever."
Jim took a breath. "I found Sanchos."
Artie gave him a sharp look. "Did you kill him?"
"No. He fell on his own knife. But… I would have."
Experiencing mild relief, Artemus nodded. "Galiano told me that Sanchos didn't know he was not really assassinating me at the hotel." He had not liked to think that Jim killed Sanchos for the wrong reason—even if it seemed the right one at the time.
"I suppose that's why he told me, with his dying breath, that you had been killed in order to encourage the American invasion."
"Señor Galiano was very clever," Artie spoke softly, applying his mustache. "His plan could have worked."
Jim sighed. "I'm sorry Charlie paid for it with his life. Along with Alvin Murray."
Artie got to his feet and began to strip off his shirt. "Hope no one gets too close to General Riddell. Last few days, I haven't had an opportunity to get near soap and water."
"I noticed," Jim grinned.
Artemus picked up the blue blouse and shrugged into it. "How about you? Been sleeping and eating all right?"
"Oh, you know me, Artie. I can get by without either."
"Yeah, I know you, pal. Soon as this is cleared up, long baths, good meals, and even longer sleep for both of us!" I didn't have to hear the colonel's description of Jim's behavior. Like Jim says, I know him. I can see the fatigue in him. "All right, will I pass? Do I look enough like General Riddell?"
Now Jim stood as well, his eyes moving from Artie's boots to the hat now perched atop his bearded, aged features. The smile was slow, as if savoring something he had not expected to ever see again. "I suspect even the general's mother might have a problem telling the difference."
"Excellent," Artemus cried heartily, reaching out to put a firm hand on his partner's shoulder. "Then let's be off. The sooner we get those fake bastards in the fort's jail cell, the sooner we can get those baths, good food, and good sleep!"
Jim glanced at that hand, and his smile widened. "I'm with you, partner."
"Better than that, James-my-boy," Artemus Gordon grinned broadly. "I'm with you!"