The Night of the Mohonk Ghost
by the lurker

The evening breeze was very slight, but it was enough to rattle the leaves of the large Elm outside the window. He closed his eyes and listened carefully, but it was eerily quiet. Quiet. He had waited a long time to hear the bless├ęd sounds of nothing. A tiny smile tugged at his chapped lips. The long assignment away from his partner, not to mention any sign of luxury, was finally over. He ran a hand over his chin, noting the rough growth of stubble, and then absently ran it through his unruly black hair. It had been several days since he had been treated to the comforts of a hot meal, soft bed and a bath. He must look like hell - at least he felt like it.

Smiling slightly, Artemus walked away from the open window and over to the door of the private bath. He pulled his pocket watch out and glanced at the hands; it was well past seven. A slight frown creased Artie's brow. Jim should have arrived two hours ago. He looked longingly at the bathtub: it would have to wait. With a deep sigh, Artie grabbed his coat and hat, and trudged back downstairs to the main lobby of the Stokes Inn. He shrugged into his jacket just as he approached the front desk, his hat clutched in his left hand.

Mr. Gordon, the clerk greeted him, is something wrong?

No Mr. O'Connell, not at all, the room's quite lovely--

--But you haven't spent any time in it, no sir.

Artemus grinned at the nervous young man, Really, it's fine--

--It's too cold up there, isn't it? Many of our guests have mentioned that before at this time of year.

Uh, no, no, the fall breeze is quite nice--

--Perhaps you would like to see one of the rooms on the other side. They have wonderful views of the garden.

Artie tried to smile patiently, No, thank you, Mr. O'Connell, but I'm really quite happy with the room I have--

--And then again, you might prefer a room closer to the lake--

--Mr. O'Connell, my current room is fine, thank you. Artie pressed on before the man could interrupt him again, What I'd like to know is whether or not you've heard from Mr. West. He was scheduled to arrive two hours ago.

Would that be Mr. James West?

The clerk checked through some papers and index cards on his desk, then he looked in the register.

It says here we were expecting him two hours ago.

Artie couldn't keep his eyes from rolling back into his head, Yes, thank you... I'd like to know if you've heard from him.

The young clerk's eyes grew wide as he read the rest of the information on the index card he was holding. says here that he's traveling with the President. The President..... The young man looked up at Gordon, horrified. You don't suppose it means the President, do you?

A gruff voice from behind Gordon answered, Well it sure as hell doesn't mean the President of the local Cotillion, boy.

All of the color in O'Connell's face drained,

Gordon smiled at the young man, The President of the United States, yes... Artemus turned toward Grant, Why Mr. President, it's nice to see you, sir. And I might add that you haven't lost your touch for making an entrance.

Grant extended his hand and shook Artie's firmly, a big smile lighting his face, Coming from you, Gordon, I suppose that's a compliment.

Artie grinned, Yes sir.

Grant gave his agent the once over, and frowned, Where did you say you were coming from, Gordon? A local....pig farm?

Artie remembered his disheveled appearance and blushed slightly, Please do forgive me, sir, it was a three day ride to get here from South Carolina, and I literally just arrived before you. I'm afraid I didn't have time to clean up.

The President grinned, Must have been one helluva ride, Gordon.

Yes sir.

Delegates and their security details were beginning to fill the lobby, but there was no sign of Jim. Gordon glanced past the President's shoulder, but didn't see his partner anywhere. Realizing what Artemus was doing, Grant growled at him slightly.

You're such a mother hen, Gordon. West is taking care of the delegates.

A frown covered Artie's features, You're telling me that Jim sent you in here alone? The dark brown eyes narrowed in suspicion, Why is it I doubt that ever so much, Mr. President?

In answer, Jim came bounding up behind them, relief filling his features when he saw Artie standing with Grant.

West was slightly out of breath, Mr. President, all due respect, but you can't just wander off like that, sir.

Grant turned on West, the gravel in his voice sounding even grittier, And that's where you're wrong, Mr. West. I'm the President of the United States, not some junior cotillion, and I can do anything I damned well please. He turned on Artie, who was just opening his mouth to speak, Don't you start, Gordon. Every time I have to travel somewhere, the two of you are on top of me like flies on horse sh--

--Uh, Mr. President, sir, why don't we get you settled in your room, and have a bottle of bourbon brought up? I don't know about you sir, but I could sure use one....

President Grant remained as still as a statue, only deigning to glare at Gordon. The smile on Artie's face fell away. He thought for sure he could quietly move Grant into the relative protection of his private room with that ploy, but judging by the sour look on the President's face, he was way off the mark: how the mighty had fallen. Jim's chin dropped to his chest, and his eyes looked to the floor. His partner was about to have his pants taken down in the lobby of the Stokes Inn by the President of the United States, and West couldn't bear to watch.

Grant stood there like a stony statue for what felt like an eternity to Artemus. His glare deepened, but the man said nothing. He suddenly found the silence in the lobby to be deafening. Artie longed for a spoon to hit the floor, or a baby to cry, but there was only the sound of listening. Everyone was waiting with great anticipation for the President of the United States to deliver a tongue lashing to his lippy Secret Service agent. Even the air was still: it was probably waiting for Grant to exhale....

Artie rocked on his heels and finally looked into the face of the man he had not only followed into battle, but also a man he greatly admired and respected. A man Artie had sworn to protect; one of only two men for whom he would gladly give up his life. The liquid brown eyes sought out the hardened ones of the General standing before him, and silently pleaded for mercy. And still, Grant did not speak.

Artie swallowed hard, and his voice was barely a whisper, I'm sorry, Mr. President.

Grant continued to stare at Gordon. He had all he could do to keep from smiling. If there was one thing he enjoyed, it was making this particular agent squirm under scrutiny - and he didn't have that many opportunities. Nothing could make Gordon more nervous than a lengthy pause of silence. Grant allowed his eyes to soften slightly, and he watched as Artemus eased out the breath he had been holding. A twinkle lit Grant's face as he started past Gordon, shouting to the delegates behind him.

Come on boys, Gordon here is buying....

Jim put an arm around his partner's shoulder as they followed the entourage toward the tavern, You've been had, Artie.

Artemus shook his head, By a master. He hasn't put one over on me like that in a long time.

Jim pat Artie's back, You know the President, Artie, every now and again, he likes to play General....

Artemus laughed, Yeah, but this time it's gonna cost me a pretty penny.... Uh Jim, how are you fixed for cash?

Jim looked at the siege of people ordering drinks, Cash, Artemus? From the looks of it, we might have to sell the train.....