Artie woke in a sweat. He stared at the ceiling of his sleeping berth, rivulets of moisture causing dark hair to cling to his brow as he calmed his breathing. The third night in a row and no sleep. He was coming apart. He was desperate for sleep. For relief. But closing his eyes meant the dream would come back. The dream that haunted him since the night of the Territorial Governor's Ball in Denver.

Artie turned on his side and shook helplessly. His eyes burned as he stared, unblinkingly, at the wall and he went over the events again in his mind.

The Governor's mansion had been ablaze with lamplight and beautiful women, and James West and Artemus Gordon of the United States Secret Service, did enjoy basking in the glow. The Ball's attendance was their reward for thwarting a particularly dangerous counterfeiting operation. And Bruises always healed better with a lovely lady or two or three in one's arms...or so went Jim and Artie's theory. After several breathless turns around the dance floor with the daughter of the Governor and an actress of adventurous repute Artie excused himself from the rigors of the waltz and gravitated, with brandy in hand, toward and intense gathering of Denver's finest flowers of womanhood.

As he approached he could see in the center of this cooing huddle what had brought the flocking about. It was a baby. Held in the arms of Mrs. Elaine DeWynter, the wife of the very rich and powerful financier Lawrence DeWynter, was the bonniest baby boy Artie had ever seen. About nine months old and dimpled, all curling blond hair and pudgy arms, taking all this sudden female attention in stride like a practiced Lothario, gifting giggling lady after giggling lady with irresistible gurgling and drooling grins.

All the while his mother commented on the adoption process that had brought such a perfect child into their homes after all their disappointments in trying to have one of their own blood. Mrs. DeWynter turned grateful, admiring eyes on the woman standing at her elbow, and introduced her as Astrid Petigrew of the Petigrew Children's Home. The stately, handsome woman of about forty years smiled back. Artie felt a twinge...something about the woman made him uncomfortable in a way he couldn't describe. The woman had a stern bearing. Auburn hair shot with gray was held back in a severe and precise bun and the bronze taffeta gown that she wore was high collared and matronly but expensively tailored, trimmed in black lace and gold buttons and topped by a heavy gold fob chain that was looped and pinned to her front and ended in a pearl encrusted watch which held time in the center of her long aristocratic throat.

She didn't have the bearing of someone who worked with, or particularly liked children. Artie had shrugged off the first impression...obviously she had made Mr. & Mrs. Downer happy so his feeling was probably in error.

Artie watched for a few moments more leaning against a decorative pillar as two women approached Mrs. Petigrew. These women had been part of the baby admiring gaggle and the longing in their eyes made Artie feel sorry for them. As Mrs. Petigrew led them out of the Ballroom Artie wished the best for them in what they were searching for.

With his drink now empty he deposited the glass on a waiter's tray as he passed and decided to search out Jim. He was certain he'd find no female attention here unless he shrunk, and needed diapering. He chuckled, and as he pushed away from the pillar he saw something out of the ordinary. On the other side of the pillar stood a child, a little girl, of about 10. Lank, dirty blond framed a bone white face, and her skinny, small frame was dressed in a muddy blue dress that hung on her like a sack. Artie looked around. Maybe she was the child of one of the waiting staff? Surely not the child of a guest, looking like that? But she caused no stir, and people passed her like she wasn't there. Artie could see only the side of her face from where he stood and he could see that she too was looking at the baby. But her face was long and drawn. Terribly sad. Tears tracked muddy lines down her cheeks and she buried her head in her hands.

Artie's brow creased. He walked around to the other side of the pillar and knelt next to her. He held out a handkerchief to the distressed child and smiled reassuringly.

"You look like you could use this." He tried to get her attention. "My name is Artemus. What's yours?"

The girl looked at the offered hankie and with a tiny, dirty hand, took it and covered her face. She didn't speak.

Artie wasn't very good with kids, but pressed on.

"Are you lost? Is your mother here?"

The child lowered the hankie and looked at Artie. Artie felt his heart rise into his throat. He'd looked down the barrel's of guns that'd unnerved him less then this child's eyes. Blue eyes that should be innocent and sweet were instead red rimmed and feverish. Set deep, and hollow they reminded him of the winter sky reflected off a frozen pond. They were tortured and lost eyes. Artie found it hard to swallow.

"Do you need help? Can I help you with something?" Artie found himself saying this with more intensity then his original curiosity had intended, but he couldn't seem to help it. This child was hurting in a way he'd never seen before and all he knew was that if he could help her, he would.

The girl tilted her head at him and seemed to consider his offer very seriously, and nodded gravely. Her eyes seemed to brighten a little. Artie stood slowly, and held out his hand to the sad waif, and favored her with his most charming smile. The girl's eyes followed him, and she smiled back. Her pale lips drew back over small pearly teeth. Then Artemus Gordon drew back in abject terror.

The girl beamed at him happily, totally unconcerned about the blossom of red that bloomed wetly on her chest and spread. Artie moved his mouth, and tried to cry out. His mind raced for an explanation. He looked around frantically. As the blood pooled around the child's feet he heard himself screaming for Jim...for a doctor...for anyone.

He reached forward to grab the child and take her to wherever he had to in order to save her, when a hand gripped his shoulder. He looked back to see Jim looking at him with confusion, and concern, then he turned back swiftly to help the bleeding child.

She was gone. Nothing of her remained. Not so much as a drop of blood.

Jim hadn't seen her. No one had seen her, but him.

James made their apologies to their hosts and they left. Artie felt a twinge of annoyance that any apology was necessary. He burned with embarrassed frustration that no one else understood the reason for his outburst....not even his best friend.

The ride back to their train, The Wanderer, was silent. As they entered their private railcar Artie sagged into a chair and lowered his head into his hands and tried to compose himself. Jim walked to the edge of his chair and put a hand on his back.

"In the fight with the Jebson Gang the other night you took quite a beating." Jim suggested helpfully. "It got pretty intense. Maybe we should get a doctor over here to look you over?"

"No Jim...don't." Artie declined. "It was probably the fight like you said. Maybe the brandy wasn't a good idea either." He smiled ruefully. "I'll probably sleep it off."

Artie looked up at his friend's worried hazel eyes. "But Jim, it was so real."

They had stayed for three more days in Denver before moving on. Part of that was to tie up loose ends and recording of their testimony for the Denver courts involving the Jebson case....and Artie felt some of the delay was Jim's way of giving him a rest. But the fact was that with each passing day he was getting worse. He was on edge. And dark patches stained his cheeks under his eyes. Jim was trying very hard not to look like he was hovering, and doing a pretty bad job of it which annoyed Artie as much as it amused and comforted him. But the longer they stayed in Denver the more anxious Artie became. Almost as though there was someplace he had to be and couldn't remember where that place was.

But nighttime was the worst. Small, blond and helpless, the little girl from the ball held her arms out to Artie in his dreams and the blood started to pour out of her. And even though the child's face smiled at him he could hear a disjointed scream of childish terror and pain. High and shrill it cut through him each night. He would wake in a crying harmony and lay sweating and shaking until morning.

So on the third night he'd had this dream, and finally away from Denver he prayed that as the distance widened this would be the last time the whole strange occurrence would plague him.

The morning found them pulling sluggishly into the booming town of Golden. It wasn't planned. The engineer was having trouble with the boiler, despite his assurances he had gone over the steam engine with a fine toothcomb during their time in Denver. They'd never had such trouble with the Wanderer.

Artie looked at the circles under his eyes, in the mirror, with dismay. He applied some pancake under them to disguise his insomnia and dressed. He was determined to be cheerful. If he didn't stop worrying James he was afraid he'd find himself tied over his own saddle and dragged to the nearest doctor. And while Artie didn't mind having a bone set or a stitch applied he wasn't keen on seeing a doctor because of something he hallucinated. No doctor was going to tell him he was navigating a boat without oars. Besides...he was an actor. If he really wasn't feeling well...he'd sure as hell act well.

Straightening his gold vest over his sunny yellow shirt he pulled his brown-fringed leather coat over the top. Very happy looking he thought. And pulling a cheery mask on he entered the main car of the train with an exaggerated yawn and large, wide armed stretch.

"Good Morning James!" he called, reaching around his seated friend to snag a pastry from the tray on the table next to him. "And how are you this fine day?"

James West lowered the papers he'd been reading and looked up slowly.

Artie poured a cup of coffee and sat opposite his friend humming merrily.

Jim laid his papers aside and leaned forward with his chin in his hand and Artie did his best to ignore the amused grin forming on his friend's face.

But Jim was well as unblinking thought Artie. He was also about the only person to truly know when Artie was playing a role. And sans a putty nose, this was an act. Jim would wait it out. He was an appreciative audience. James' life had been saved, more then a few times, through Artie's art. He could wait.

After about 30 minutes Artie sighed...

"I'm not fooling you am I?"

"Nope." smiled Jim. "Not at all."

Artie dropped his eyes. "I'm losing my touch."

"Well Artie," confided Jim picking up his discarded papers and setting them aside. "You almost never fool me anyway. And the only thing you're losing is..."

"My mind?" Artie finished with a dark chuckle.

Jim sat back and eyed his friend with growing alarm, which he barely kept in check. His face carefully schooled. "Well I was going to say 'sleep'."

Artie blinked and laughed. "That too."

Artie stared at nothing for a moment and his unfocused quiet bothered Jim more then the performance had. Artemus Gordon was a proud and gentle man. He had introspective times, but James had never seen him looking so lost. When Artie suddenly stood and walked toward the door James was almost startled into reacting. "So what are you going to do?" he asked.

"Take a walk." He looked at his friend and his face softened and a more familiar smile asserted itself. "Care to join me?"

"Don't mind if I do." Jim picked up his hat and followed Artie out into the morning air.

Golden was a pleasant town. Well kept and prosperous. Houses were sturdy and the streets were lined with struggling trees that would, one day, be tall and stately testaments to the planning involved in making their town a show piece of the growing west. As they walked in the cool April morning Artie relaxed a bit. It was such a nice day and Denver was behind was getting easier to hope that things would get back to normal. Or as normal as Artemus Gordon's life ever got.

As they came to the end of town Artie and Jim were walking a little lighter and chatting casually. They looked up when they came to a black iron fence that barred their journey. A large Georgian style mansion stood behind the imposing gates and several large buildings branched off the central mansion connected by corridors of brickwork. The top of the fence iron spikes pointed in and down. Not out and down. Something to keep something inside. On a shining brass plate on the gate, next to the bell, Artie and James read the name.

The Petigrew Orphanage.

Jim looked at Artie and broke into his friend's thoughts. "Wasn't there a Mr. & Mrs. Petigrew at the Governor's Ball? I remember Lawrence DeWynter talking about the adoption of his son...."

"I saw Mrs. Petigrew briefly." said Artie staring at the name. His hand reached up distractedly and brushed the letters. "I didn't know they lived in Golden."

Jim saw Artie's far away look and was concerned. Artie, on the other hand, didn't know what he was feeling. Like a Cassandra he felt pressed down. Like he was seeing an omen...a code he couldn't decipher.

"Is it important?" Jim asked again. Artie wasn't listening. James touched his shoulder. He startled like a sleepwalker.

Artie looked at Jim and smiled sheepishly. "No...No. Of course not!" he slapped Jim on the back. "Let's get back to the train and see if that boiler's fixed yet." He laughed nervously. He wanted to be gone from here now. The hair stood on his arms under his coat and he started to sweat.

As they turned to go Artie caught something move from the corner of his eye. He fought hard not to tremble. In a worn patch of weeds and mud next to one of the utility buildings behind the fence stood the small blond girl in the blue dress. Blood coursed down her front and she smiled at him and waved.


James West turned at the sound of his friend's choked and strained whisper.

Beads of sweat trickled down Artie's temples despite the cool morning. "Jim...look over there. Next to that building and tell me what you see."

Jim looked to where Artie's shaking hand pointed and all around carefully. The grounds of the building were neglected and ragged...not like the careful landscaping of the rest of the town, but he saw nothing that should upset Artie. But he was clearly upset. Jim saw Artie's eyes focused hard on his invisible fear, his brow furrowed with deep horror.

"Artie, I don't see you?"

Artie's voice pitched upwards slightly, edged in panic. "Jim...You HAVE to see her! She's standing there plain as day! In the Blue have to see HAVE to!"

Jim grabbed Artie hard by the shoulders and wheeled him around to face him. Forcing him to break contact from the vision that gripped him. He'd never seen his friend like this. He looked him in the eye steadily. Holding his eyes and talking to him with slow, strong, calm.

"Artie, there isn't anyone there. We're going back to the train. I'm getting a don't argue."

Artemus Gordon fought to keep his eyes on Jim' ignore the image in blue that waved at him in the corner of his sight. His eyes were like coals burning in their sockets. Feverish and painful for Jim to gaze into. In a voice impossibly faded and small for a man of Artie's stature he asked. "Jim? Am I going crazy?"

James West looked at the place where Artie had stared and at the brass plaque on the gate. His face was stern and serious. His voice steady and reassuring. "Not without me you're not!"

The doctor left Artie sleeping with the help of a sedative, and went back to the main portion of the car where Jim waited anxiously.

Golden's Dr. Oliver Crenshaw, a thin stooped man in his early sixties, adjusted his glasses and spoke quietly.

"You say he hasn't slept for three nights?"

Jim nodded.

"I don't wonder he's seeing things then." Said the doctor.

"Dr. Crenshaw, he says he saw this little girl in blue before he had his first sleepless night." Jim explained further. "An injured child. Bleeding."

"Indeed?" wondered the physician. "Well I'm not prepared to call it a case for someone specializing in illnesses of the mind just yet. You mentioned a fight?"

"Yes." Jim nodded.

"All right then," continued Crenshaw. "Then we'll treat it with rest. For now." He pulled two blue paper packets from his black bag and handed them to Jim. The instructions are written on the packets."

While Jim examined the instructions Crenshaw spoke. "This child he say he saw her at the Petigrew's place?"

Jim lifted his eyes. "Yes." Does that seem odd? It is a children's home after all."

"It is now." Said the kindly doctor. "It started off as a mental retreat. An asylum. Dr. Petigrew and his wife converted it 10 years ago." The doctor dipped his head and said in a low voice. But the place is strange. Quiet. Oddly quiet for an orphan's home. No one ever sees the children that supposedly live there. And the Petigrews are a powerful couple. They've made many influential people parents, so no one bothers to check on the children there."

"Petigrew's a doctor?" asked Jim his interest heightened.

Crenshaw bit his lower lip and thrust his hands down into his pockets. "Oh yes. He's known for delivering the unwanted babies of the soiled doves of the saloons between here and Denver. He and his wife call it their "charity work"...even if they usually keep the infants and then make sure they get into powerful and rich parent's arms." The old doctor looked up. "They're a cold, odd couple."

Lifting his head the doctor laughed. "I sound like a washer woman gossiping over the fence here." He placed his hat on his head and picked up his bag. "Keep your friend as calm as possible. The powders will let him sleep deeply, and dreamlessly. A good ten hours or more will do him a world of good."

Jim opened the door for the gentleman. "Thanks Doc." He said gratefully.

Closing the door behind the old man Jim leaned on it and digested this new information. Launching away from the door decisively he went to Artie's room and adjusted the coverlet over his weary friend. Artie's face was slack and his breathing deep and strong. He didn't stir as James left.

James grabbed his hat and saddled his horse. After making sure the engineers would look in on Artie he mounted his horse and rode toward the Orphan's Home.

Jim West dismounted in front of the imposing gates and looped his horse's lead through the wrought iron giving the animal a pat on the neck. He looked up quietly at the spikes lining the top of the fence. Remnants of their asylum past? The certainly seemed out of place when you considered their new function.

He reached up and pulled the rope to the bell, which hung outside and waited.

After a couple of minutes he considered ringing again when the manor house door opened and a modestly dressed young woman stepped out and walked toward the gate.

Jim watched her closely, shifting his weight from one foot to the other, he cocking his head slightly as he took her in. Her dress was dark green and too old and prim for a girl of no more then 20 or so. It didn't fit well. Altered. Cut down to fit her, and where it was taken in the fabric puckered slightly. She looked very fragile inside it. Petite. Like a hummingbird in chains. The high collar of the awkward dress brushed ivory lace under her chin, and her skin was just a shade deeper in color. Honey blond hair was captured in a stern knot and several curling tendrils rebelled and bounced lightly around her ears as she walked, framing her somber face gently. From behind the gate he saw her look up at him warily. She would probably come up to his chin he reckoned. Her green eyes peered at him suspiciously thru thin round lenses. And when he smiled long lashes fluttered and her gaze dropped self-consciously.

"May I help you sir?" she breathed softly thru full pink lips. Her voice so soft it was almost whispered.

Jim straightened and removed his hat. She looked startled by this gesture of respect. "Yes...I was looking for Dr. Petigrew and his wife. My name is James West. I attended the Goverernor's Ball with them earlier this week. Are they in?" He smiled his most devastating smile. Usually this had the effect of the beginnings of a coy, flirtatious exchange. But she seemed to draw into herself further.

"Mrs. Petigrew is in sir." She replied clearing her throat. "Would you like to speak with her?"

James leaned forward hoping she'd look him in the eye. "That would be nice. Thank you, Miss....? I'm sorry...I didn't catch your name."

Small hands fiddled nervously with the lock on the gate, which creaked as it opened sounding like an animal screeching in pain.

"Prudence Knight." She answered. "If you'll follow me?"

"Wherever you lead Miss Knight." Jim bowed slightly, bringing a lovely blush to her cheeks. "Wherever you lead."

James followed the pretty Miss Night into the lavishly decorated manor house. And despite the building's outward appearance of foreboding austerity the inside was well appointed and expensively tailored. Moreover it came complete with guards. As Miss Knight left Jim to announce him to Mrs. Petigrew, Jim took the time to size up the two armed men that stood next to a door opposite him and one next to the door Miss Knight entered.

Pretty common thugs. Rough. Scarred. Dangerous. And all as out of place as cats guarding a fishbowl.

Prudence re-emerged and signaled to Jim as she opened the door to the office. Jim stepped through the door to see a handsome older woman rise from her seat at a large, ornately inlaid oak desk and circle it to extend her hand towards him.

She was a tall, stately woman. Severely yet richly attired in a dress of brown and gold brocade. The cut was the same as Prudence's. Schoolmarmish, but expensive.

Jim took the pro-offered hand and brought it briefly to his lips with a bow and smiled. Slate gray eyes scrutinized him, and a thin, predatory smile graded him.

"Mr. West. To what do I owe the pleasure of this visit? I'm afraid I don't often get callers here." Said the sharp featured woman in tones as rich as her surroundings. "Please tell me what I can do for you today." Gliding around to seat herself at her desk again she indicated the chair opposite the desk to Jim.

As he sat James smiled. "I find it hard to believe you have no visitors, Mrs. Petigrew. Surely those men outside are to keep ardent admirers from getting carried away.

As Mrs. Petigrew tossed back her head to laugh her auburn hair caught the light. But despite the gold and light in the room...Jim felt cold.

She chuckled deeply and her smile was broad. "My name is Astrid...and talk like that will certainly turn my head Mr.West." She turned her icy gaze on Miss Knight. "I do think you've already turned darling Pru's."

Jim saw Prudence visibly shudder. She seemed to shrink further into herself and turned to fix a cup of tea.

Astrid Petigrew seemed satisfied by the reaction and turned her attention back to Jim. Clasping her hands in front of her and placing them on the desk she leaned forward slightly. "Now what can I do for you my dear." She cooed.

Jim smiled a bit more tightly and pushed aside the dislike he felt growing for this woman and preceded. "Well...I'm not really sure why I'm here. My friend and I attended the Ball with you a few days ago when my friend, Mr. Gordon, saw something which disturbed him."

Mrs. Petigrew leaned back in her chair. "Ahhhhh....was your friend the gentleman who had the unfortunate mental collapse and made such a scene?" She clucked her tongue. "How embarrassing for you."

Jim felt the heat rise in his face. "No...not embarrassing at all. I'm simply checking to see if anyone else saw the person he claims to have seen."

"And who would that be Mr. West?" she asked while consulting her pocket watch.

"He claims to have seen a small blond girl in a large blue dress."

There was a loud crash behind Jim and he turned to see a trembling Prudence trying to pick up the pieces of the china cup she'd dropped. Looking back toward Astrid Petigrew he could see she had also blanched. She sat stock still her thin lips drawn in a rigid line as she shot a dagger's glance at Prudence. Glancing back at James West with suspicious resentment she smiled. "Really Mr. West...I saw no one there like that. Did you?"

"Well no...honestly I didn't." Jim said in mock innocence. But since you run a children's home and since Mr. Gordon said the girl seemed very interested in the DeWynter's new baby son...I thought I would ask." A second smaller crash followed that and Prudence was beside herself trying to reclaim the glass pieces she had re-dropped.

Mrs. Petigrew's knuckles were white where she clenched her folded hands tightly and she made a hissing sound which caused Prudence to redouble her efforts and then she fixed her slate eyes on Jim's hazel ones and spoke through clenched teeth.

"I'm afraid I can't help you Mr. West. Now if you'll excuse me I have business to attend to." Then dropping her eyes she began shuffling papers and lifted a pen from an inkwell. The interview was over.

James rose with a bow. "Certainly Mrs. Petigrew. I'm sorry to have bothered you...I'll show myself out."

"Nonsense Mr. West." The mistress of the manor lifted her haughty head and pulled the cord behind her seat with a smile. Immediately the door behind Jim opened and one of the giant thugs entered. A broken nosed brute with dirty black hair, which was tied back with a leather thong, he looked at Mrs. Petigrew like a guard dog awaiting the command of attack. Piggish black eyes glittered with anticipation. "Jonah here will see you safely out of the gate."

Jim bowed again and followed the gorilla-like Jonah out. The ride back to the train gave him time to think. There was a lot on his mind.

Jim arrived back at the train after a quick stop for supplies and started making dinner. Where the nightmare failed, this time, to penetrate Artie's drug induced sleep.... the smell of burning and humiliated food got through. After 11 odd hours of dreamless sleep Artie felt himself slowly drift back to the surface of consciousness before finally waking to find Jim setting a tray down on a table next to his bed and seating himself opposite. Focusing his eyes took a moment. His head felt as though it'd been stuffed with cotton, but he admitted, fuzzy-headedness was preferable to the last four days.

"The Sleeping Beauty awakes." Announced Jim.

"So long as you don't try to play Prince Charming, I'll ignore that." Rasped Artie groggily. Then spying the tray next to bed he felt his stomach cramp with hunger that'd been ignored during his sleepless days. "Dinner?" He asked suspiciously.

Jim smiled and nodded cheerfully. "Made it myself." He said as he reached for the cover. "Beef Burgundy!" He drew off the cover with a flourish. "I followed your recipe to...the...letter."

Artie squinted as he tried to decipher which burnt offering was a vegetable, and which had been part of a steer, and giving up he simply speared some of the mass on the plate, and put it in his mouth. Wincing, he chewed faster, and reached for his glass of water. "Remind me to brush up on my handwriting."

But taste aside; Artie was too famished to be picky so he ate. After he finished he looked up at his smiling friend.

"Okay Jim boy...give me the short version. Do I trade in the train for a rocking chair and a drool cup? What did the doctor tell you?" Artie felt, for all of the world, like a man on the gallows...without even a decent last meal to see him off he mused with an inner chuckle.

"Oh...the doctor is going with lack of sleep and the fight. What he told me about the place at the end of town was far more helpful." Jim grinned. "Interested?"

Artie sat up straight. "Try me!"

Jim's telling of the day's events ended with Artie in his night robe in the main car, and a knock at the door.

The lateness of the hour put Jim on guard but not for long. Prudence Knight stepped back as the door opened and looked around uncertainly. Jim had to coax her gently inside. Holding her gloved hand James had to keep her from turning and bolting when she saw Artie standing to greet her.

Artie could not recall a more frightened looking young woman. She visibly shook when Jim shut the door. Almost as though she was a hunted animal seeing its last avenue of escape barred. Artie kept his voice level and gentle. "Miss Knight, I presume?"

She nodded mutedly and looked at Jim who guided her to a chair. "Miss Prudence Knight...may I introduce my friend Artemus Gordon."

Artie bowed slightly. "Delighted to meet you."

Prudence looked at Artie with questioning eyes. "I came to ask you about Becky. Mr. West says you saw Becky. Did you? Is she well?"

Artie's brow furrowed. "Becky?"

"The girl in the blue dress." continued Miss Knight. "Becky Martin and her six year old sister and her baby brother came to the home three months ago after their parents died of Cholera while traveling west. The blue dress was one of mine we tried to cut down to fit her. Her brother was adopted by the DeWynters last week.

Artie was feeling a little light headed. "And what happened to Becky?"

Prudence lowered her head. "I was hoping you knew. I don't really. She was told by her mama to keep the family together and was upset when she learned that her brother was being adopted. The day before her brother was taken to the DeWynters, she disappeared. Mr. & Mrs. Petigrew said she had been adopted out as well. I was hoping you knew where. I'm so worried."

Jim caught her attention. "If she has a new home why are you worried? That's a good thing isn't it?"

A tear fell and Pru's voice became soft. "I know the babies get good homes. Rich homes. But I don't like the looks of some of the folks who adopt the older children. Some of them are fine. But most of them scare me. Saloon owners. Local madams. Ranchers and mining foremen.

Artemus Gordon felt his meal turn to lead in his belly. He found his voice harsher then he meant to. "Why do you work for them if you don't like what they do?"

Prudence winced at the criticism and grew red in the face as tears fell freely. "I'm their ward. Not an employee. I've never been paid. I was one of the first children sent to their home. I was just nine. That was ten years ago. Dr. Petigrew took a..." she swallowed hard and looked down into her lap her hands shaking. "Liking to me. Dr. Petigrew likes a lot of little girls."

Artie wished he could pull back his comment. He stared at the top of Prudence's head and felt sick for her.

Jim knelt down next to the chair and took Prudence's hands in his and let her cry. He didn't make any other move. No wonder she was so frightened. Jim couldn't imagine the fear this young lady had had to know. He felt a hate for the Petigrews root itself in his soul.

Prudence wouldn't allow Jim to escort her back. She insisted that she had a secret way in and out that the Petigrew's knew nothing about and had used it many times. After she composed herself she left. West locked the door behind her and looked at Artie as he lowered himself heavily, into the chair Prudence had vacated.

When he finally spoke his voice was thick in his throat. Like he spoke around a lump that threatened to choke him. "Jim...they're selling those kids...aren't they?"

Jim walked over to the wet bar and fixed Artie's next dose of powders. He also fixed himself a whiskey. He didn't dare turn his angry face to look at Artie until he could compose himself. He said with his back turned. "Slavery. Disguised as adoption."

Tight lipped and silent Jim handed Artie his drink and downed his. Artie made a face as he watched the powders swirl on the surface of the water.

"Drink up Artie...we have the local law to visit in the morning. You want to look your best."

"Where's your proof boys?" Sheriff Parker cleared his throat and pushed his chair back to lean against the wall. "Ya see the Petigrews have been here, well on ten years and ain't caused a lick of trouble. They operate a legal home and file legal papers of adoption with Judge Dorman. Now unless I hear otherwise and have proof in front of me I won't accuse them of anything." He lowered his hat over his eyes. "I suggest you go see the Judge if you want to know more."

Jim and Artie were cut off early in their explanations to Judge Dorman.

The judge was a large balding man with close set, small eyes, who frowned and launched to the defense of the Petigrews.

"Gentlemen. The Petigrews have checked the backgrounds of all their adoptive parents as well as they are expected to by law. They depend on the honesty of those seeking children and have presented the proper paperwork to prove they can support the poor unfortunates. If you have proof against any of these adoptive parents then present it. I will tell you that unfounded accusations against the Petigrews will sound a sour note with some very powerful people who have adopted from them. So unless you have solid evidence I do not want to here that you have harassed these upstanding citizens. Good Day."

Standing outside of the Judge's offices Artie looked at Jim. "I'm thinking that that last part was a threat. Right?"

Jim nodded grimly. "Yup."

On their way back to the train they stopped by Dr.Crenshaw's to tell them what they'd learned. The old man sighed. "I was afraid it was something like that. But it is honestly worse then I thought." He felt old and useless. How could this go on for so long with no one to stop it? Why hadn't he? "You hardly ever see the children. If..years later, you see a boy in a mining crew that looks familiar you shake it off. Or if you see a girl in a saloon, or inside a brothel window you hope it isn't someone you saw playing behind that fence." He lifted his eyes and continued. "I will tell you one thing. Judge Dorman owns two saloons. One in town, and one in Tollstown. If he's getting some of his saloon girls from the Petigrews then you can bet they know you're asking around. They are going to wonder where you got your information."

Dread gripped Jim West and he cursed himself for every kind of fool there was.

"Prudence." he groaned between clenched teeth.

In the evening the man who arrived at the Petigrew Orphan's Home cut an interesting figure.

A Gambler. No doubting it. Richly dressed. Vulgarly excessive. A maroon jacket over black trousers and snakeskin books. His vest was Black shot through with silver thread and heavy gold watch chain. The pearl handled pistols were well oiled and worn and sat low on his hips in a broken in holster. They spoke of riches won in more then card games. They spoke of riches kept in lead and blood. A neatly waxed mustache curled up and would have caught the idea if the scar that drew the corner of his left eye down didn't distract the observer.

"Mr...uh...Holloway, I believe?" Asked the fat man in the conservative brown suit.

"Yes Suh." Spoke the card shark. His voice was low and echoed deep in his broad chest.

The man in brown slicked back oily gray hair and extended his hand. "I'm Dr. Elijah Petigrew. How can I help you this evening?"

Mr. Holloway looked down at the greased hand with a sneering distain and turned away looking at the paintings in the doctor's offices instead.

"I was informed by the former owner of the Lowery Lady Inn that you had some girls here that needed a good home." Holloway's smile looked more like an angry grimace but he chuckled and looked back to see the doctor lower his hand and nodded with a grin. "I'm the new owner....and I'm expanding the business. I pay in gold coin... I hate paper."

Petigrew's shrewd, watery blue eyes twinkled behind thick glasses. "'ve come to the right place my friend. Would you like to see our foundlings?"

Holloway nodded. Petigrew led him through the door guarded by the two big thugs and down a drafty dark and gray passage. Paint peeled and it was lined in dirt and crumbling plaster. As they approached three doors at the end of the hall, the sound of children carried back to Artie/Holloway.

Crying...sobbing...whispering...screaming..shushing little voices. No laughter. The realization that children really did occupy this tomb of a place was almost a shock to him. But not nearly the shock he had when Petigrew opened the lock to the girl's dormer. The smell hit him first. Unwashed. Chamber pots overflowed and overturned. Rheumy red eyes and shaved heads. A nagging cough rattled in the chest of a girl about four as she huddled under a blanket next to the door. Girls in various stages of undress scampered for cover with squeals of distress. Where this room may have held 10 girls comfortably about 25 were packed in and beds consisted mostly of broken frames and dirty pads on the floors if the child was lucky. Artie almost lost his composure. He fought desperately to maintain his disguise. And his success in maintaining his card shark leer was the most stunning hurt of all. He could feel the children's fear of him. Terror peaked sweat rose toward him and hopeless eyes screamed at him angrily. He felt his bile rise.

"Well this is just fine.." he drawled. "Fine indeed..a few here look about right. Too many little ones though. But some real nice fillies too." Artie felt sick as he discussed the children in front of them. "Isn't got no use for the little ones, or the bald ones."

Elijah Petigrew nodded...his lips a thin line. "Yes...we had some come in with lice last week. Had to take measures." He perked up though. "But don't be shy about the young ones. They need homes too and some folks prefer them." He chuckled and a couple of children couldn't hold back the tears and shook helplessly as tears ran down their faces.

"Where do you find your harem Doc?" he asked, finding the words hard to form.

"We started with war orphans...Indian war survivors...wagon trains. Sometimes we have widows or dirt farmers with too many mouths to feed." He proudly told the tale. "Except for food...and they don't eat much...there's almost no overhead. All profit. But our biggest money comes from the babies. Currently we haven't any in the nursery, but a two of our 'graduates' in Denver are almost ready to deliver and those babies are spoken for."

As Petigrew boasted Artie/Holloway saw a pile of green move slightly at the far end of the room. He sauntered toward it casually. Sneering at the children who stood in his way until they fell back out of his path. At the end he looked down. Artie's heart clenched. Prudence lay on her side and looked up at him and whimpered. Her right eye was red and her lip split and her dress was torn and she held it up in front of her and shook.

Artie looked back at Petigrew and smiled wide. "What about this one? She's got her eye blackened but I like the hair and she looks older. But not too old."

Petigrew frowned. "Yes...Prudence...yes she's just become available for 'adoption' as of today. Pity too. We had so many nice times together."

"Mind if I take a closer look at her and the others...alone...for a moment?" Asked Holloway/Artie hoping he was affecting a convincing lustful leer, he wasn't too sure with the feelings he fought.

The fat man chuckled. "I'll give you 15 minutes. Don't hurt them...if you break, you buy." And he left.

As soon as the door shut Artie dropped down next to Prudence. She flinched and started sobbing. Artie ached to reach out and take her into his arms and run from this take them all now. "Shhhhhh.'s me...Artemus Gordon...remember?"

Prudence's sobs stopped suddenly and she blinked like she thought maybe she was dreaming. She reached out desperately. Artie held up his hand. "We're coming for you tonight Prudence. But we need to know where the secret way in is."

She told him about the loose panel in the wall of the nursery, and he stood to leave. She looked at him terror climbing into her eyes. He hurried to calm her. "Tonight...Jim and I will be here tonight...I us please."

He turned to go when he felt a tug on his coat. A small girl with matted blond hair stared up at him with large blue eyes and smiled. Artie felt a wave of recognition and he questioned his sanity until he remembered Pru having told them about a younger sister of Becky's. Still Artie touched her head, as though afraid she too would vanish.

"Becky says you was here to take us away. That's right huh?"

Artie looked around. "Becky?" Then he looked at the child. "What's your name?"

"Sally Jane Martin" she said proudly.

"Well, Sally Jane Martin, I am but not until it gets real dark. So until I come back it's our secret...okay? That's important."

She nodded solemnly.

Back at the train Artie removed the odious guise of Mr. Holloway and told James about the conditions he saw at the home. "I can only imagine the boys fare about the same." He concluded.

Jim's jaw was close to breaking under the pressure he was building on it. What was happening to Prudence and the children there was beyond his scope.

Judge Dorman had been right about the Petigrew's connections. James West's telegraphs had been replied too curtly at all levels of government. Without proof no one would step in. And the only real proof was the children. They were going to get

"I'm ready Jim." said Artie holstering his gun. "I feel like Moses entering Egypt."

"How about something more recent," quipped Jim. "Harriet Tubman?"

"Sounds better." agreed Artie. "Nice Lady."

They left under cover of darkness.

Squeezing through the loose panel had been more difficult then anticipated. An escape route for a child made a hard entrance for an adult. Inside the empty dank nursery they stood and allowed their eyes to readjust. Jim heard the gun cock just behind his ear and froze. Jonah lifted Jim's gun out of its holster. Light flared forward from the lantern held by Astrid Petigrew. Her husband smiled at her side.

"Well, Well, Well," said Astrid gliding toward them for a better look. "Elijah dear, it seems we have caught sneak thieves entering this home of innocent children."

"We must protect them my Love." He cooed. Bowing to Artie with a laugh. "Mr. Holloway."

"It must be Mr. Gordon." whispered Mrs. Petigrew with a sly grin. "Mr. West's unstable friend. Chasing his ghosts into our business."

Artie froze. "Ghosts?"

"Don't play coy with me, Mr. Gordon." hissed Mrs. Petigrew. Mr. West told us about you visit from Becky. I don't know who told you about that...but it was a clever way to trip up simple-minded little Pru."

"It was a waste really." said the doctor wetting his lips. "Becky was such a pretty little thing. But when I caught her sneaking out with her brother and sister...I'm afraid I let my temper get the better of me."

Artie couldn't hear much after that. Time seemed to slow. He could hear the blood coarse through the veins in his head. He could hear his heart beat painfully. He had no idea what was happening to him. He was rightfully upset by what he had learned of this place. Of the horrible inhumanity visited on these children. That must be stopped. But it was more. He could see the child in Blue in his mind. Trusting him...smiling at him...expecting something from him. He felt blind grief for a child he never knew and only knew that he had to somehow finish what Becky Martin, in all her fragile, shattered, innocence, had been unable to do.

As Jonah reached toward Artie's holster, Artie brought his hands together and up, swiftly, under the man's chin. As Jonah's head snapped back James turned and took a shoulder roll in front of the other two thugs coming up on one knee. He punched one in the gut and swung his leg out behind him to trip the other. He launched up and brought his fist straight into the nose of the one who stood doubled after the gut punch and watched as he flew across the floor into a rickety crib, which broke under him.

Artie in the meanwhile was pummeling Jonah like a man possessed. Artie was usually stylish in his approach. Using guile instead of brawn. But not now. Now his approach was raw, brutal, fueled by pain. It was, out of character, but effective.

Jim had fought his way with the second thug to the end of the nursery near the man lying in the broken crib. He spun on his heel and kicked him in the chest. When the man toppled James landed next to him bringing his elbow into the man's head stilling him. He looked up to see Artie land a final blow on Jonah's chin and watched the giant topple. Artie collapsed heaving raggedly on the fallen man. As he sat back up he saw Dr. Petigrew point point a gun at him. Perilously close. His eyes gleamed maliciously. He would not negotiate, or boast, or dally further. The gun cocked and Artie heard Jim call his name just before it fired.

Artie grabbed his chest and closed his eyes. He felt around, briefly, for the site of impact that had to be there at so close a range. He opened his eyes to see and hear two more shots...all fired wildly over Artie's head before a final shot caused the Doctor to crumble to the floor dead. Mrs. Petigrew screamed. But not at the sight of her husband falling...she stared behind Artie. He turned.

Behind Artie stood a small girl in a muddy blue dress. She smiled at Artie.

Artie fear for his sanity peaked for only a moment. It was interrupted by Mrs. Petigrew's screams. "YOU'RE DEAD....GO AWAY...GO AWAY....YOU'RE DEAD!!!"

Then Artie looked at Jim who still held the gun he used to shoot Dr. Petigrew. But Jim wasn't looking at him...he was looking at the girl as well. They all saw her...Just as Dr. Petigrew saw her and shot at her wildly instead of Artie.

The child smiled at both Jim and Artie before vanishing like tobacco smoke swirling into nothing.

At the jail Mrs. Petigrew refused to tell anyone where Becky could be found.

By morning Jim had almost given up questioning her. He looked up and noticed for the first time that Artie wasn't there. Somehow Jim knew he hadn't gone back to the Wanderer. He went to Orphan's home in search of Artie.

In the cool, gray dawn James West, found his friend seated on the ground beside a partially dug hole in the spot he swore he'd seen Becky standing just a few days before, sobbing uncontrollably. Inside the hole Jim could see a small muddied hand and a swatch of blue fabric...he turned away. He didn't want to see more.

Jim didn't trust himself to speak. His throat burned and his eyes blurred. He reached down and helped his friend stand.

He helped him walk back to town.

Artie and Jim, in almost silent agreement never spoke of what they saw that night.

By the end of the week Judge Dorman, several miners, ranchers and saloon owners occupied jail cells in three towns with more arrests pending. And all those arrested were being very cooperative. Desperate not to go to the gallows for any part in a child's murder.

The children were being liberated from mines, ranches and brothels and homes opened up to take them in after the news spread about the horrors they had endured.

Jim was delighted to hear that Prudence would be staying with Dr. Crenshaw. Jim had taken a liking to the kind country doc and knew Pru would be safe with him.

The day before Becky's funeral the DeWynters came to collect Sally Jane to come live with her brother as their daughter. The DeWynter's like most of the couple's, who had adopted babies, had been horrified to learn about the reality of the home. They had simply been desperate to love a child when nature had failed to provide one.

After the funeral Jim and Artie left Golden. Artie tried, briefly, to show Jim the proper way to make Beef Burgundy, but decided that Jim cooked badly on purpose so no one who knew him would ever be foolish enough to volunteer him for the task.

That night Artie slept without the help of the powders. He dreamed.

Becky danced toward him in a swirl of pink Artie recognized as the dress he purchased for her burial. Her face had roses, her clean hair floated behind her, and she laughed and danced down a flower-covered hillside. On the hill's horizon Artie could make out the figure of a man and woman. Becky's parents. And he knew it was more then a dream.

It was goodbye.

Becky leapt into Artie's arms and he could feel the weight of her. She was solid in his arms. She wrapped tiny arms around his neck and kissed his cheek softly. He looked into blue eyes, no longer strange and sad, but now blue as the ocean and full of love.

She pulled back from his hug and ran to the couple on the hill. The three of them waved and Artie waved back.

"Goodbye Becky." Artie murmured in his sleep a tear rolling onto his pillow gently.

As he slept peacefully...the train rode off into the night.