Hi all! Just a side note- I've updated my profile page, so if you ever want to venture there, you will get an interesting story of who I am through the eyes of the characters I write. Thanks!

The Night Dr. Loveless Became a Thespian

Disclaimer: I don't own Loveless, Jim, or Artie, but they are so much fun to work with. This story was an experiment, so if parts of it are confusing or choppy then please let me know. Also, to understand this story, one needs a basic working knowledge of Shakespeare; specifically Hamlet.

"Another small man sighed near Globe, Maryland," read an exasperated Artemus Gordon as the train idled quietly waiting for water.

"Where is Globe?" asked James West, as he balanced his ever-sturdy house of cards. "About 25 miles away from Washington, DC," replied Artie.

Jim sighed. "That falls just inside the radius of the section we are supposed to clear before Friday night. According to our map, we've hit every almost every town in south-west Maryland."

Artie scowled. "We shouldn't be hitting this town anyway; it has no railroad and is nothing more than a ghost town."

"How did you know that?"

"I looked up the town when we first started plotting our course. I originally didn't put it on the map."

Jim grinned. "Well, I guess we have to check it out anyway. Another telegraph tip to lead us to another dead end."

Artie sighed. "We should have never put up those reward posters for Loveless' capture. Ever since then, we have been investigating every carnival and gypsy camp from here to California. He's never anywhere we look!"

Jim nodded, only half listening to Artie's rants as usual. His full attention seemed to be on his house of cards. Artie growled good naturedly and stepped forward, as if to prove his point. Jim quickly held up a hand to stop Artie and said, "Monotony comes with any business. However, we have two days before President Grant attends the theatre with the Grecian Ambassadors. We've been ordered to check any town for signs of hostility, including ghost towns where little men roam. Besides," said Jim as he suddenly picked up his house of cards and threw it, fully glued together, at Artie, "things are not always what they seem."

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Jim eyed the deserted street before him. A half-day ride had brought them from the railroad to Globe, and Jim was starting to wonder whether it had been right to take the time to check out an empty town such as this. Sights like this were common in the west, but here, at the nation's heart, there were very few empty spaces, let alone empty towns. It made him uneasy, seeing the layout of an once-thriving valley village turned into a gutted carcass.

"According to the atlas," Artie began, "this town was created by an Earl F. Simmons. He named the town Globe in honor of the Shakespearian theatre. Earl loved the theatre intensely, and his passion was sharing it with others. He built this town to have a huge theatre at its center, where the community could come together."

"Some community. What happened to everyone?" Jim replied.

"Well, according to the book Earl went a little mad, and everyone eventually just left town. He died alone in the theatre, surrounded by the ghosts of his dream."

Jim grinned good naturedly at Artie's theatrics, and was about to reply when the two of them turned a corner. There, rising like a mountain amongst the small buildings, was a huge theatre.

"Whoa," Jim breathed. Artie was speechless.

The building had to at least be four stories tall. It was built in a circle and built almost entirely out of stone. The exterior was carved into intricate scroll work, and oil troughs encircling each story hinted at what a bright place this theatre could become at night.

Artie was practically drooling. "Oh, Jim. I've never seen anything like it! Let's go in!"

Jim cast a dubious look at Artie. "What for?" But Artie was already tying Mesa to a hitching rack. Jim sighed and followed his partner, amused at his reaction to the deserted theatre. He was also good-naturedly wary; there was nothing more dangerous to an ex-actor than stepping into a theatre.

Inside, the theatre was surprisingly clean, and no less majestic. A marble lobby reflected the sunlight, while a staircase with copper-gilded eagles flanking the railings opened into the mezzanine of the theatre. Jim followed Artie into the main seating area. The seats were covered in a dusty but once luxurious red plush, and the sanded stage reflected the sunlight from cracks in the ceiling like water on a still pond. With an exuberant whoop, Artie leapt easily on stage.

"Oh, Jim, I only dreamed of playing in places like these," Artie exclaimed. Jim rolled his eyes and took a dusty seat halfway down the aisle. Artie grinned happily and he stretched his arms wide, as if he was embracing a long lost love. Jim sighed and let his partner have his fun. Artie found an outlet for his acting in disguises, but even that outlet had its limits; a real actor needed an audience from time to time. And, just for a few minutes, Jim was willing to meet that need.

Artie lowered his hands and took a deep breath. His countenance had changed immensely; he was now protruding anguish, to such an extent that even Jim felt it. Looking up towards Jim, Artie cried out, "Oh, I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space were it not that I have bad dreams."

"Which dreams are indeed ambition; for the very substance of the ambitious is merely the shadow of the dream," boomed a strange voice, and suddenly out from the curtains stepped a man dressed in the very garb of a character from Hamlet. Artie jumped nearly to the ceiling with surprise, and with a popping and a sputtering the flames of the stage lights came on. An entire cast, dressed in Shakespearian garb, was illuminated from the shadows by the bright garish light. Jim jumped to his feet, only to stop stock-still when he saw the small little man in a directors costume come forward. "Indeed, all the world is a stage!" exclaimed Loveless happily as he looked at the two agents. "And I have picked the very best of plays for us to perform... Hamlet!"

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Jim and Artie sat on the floor of the box office of the theatre, guns trained on their backs, trying not to look interested as Loveless stood in front of them. "In a way, this is all your fault Mr. Gordon," Loveless began. "You see, you always manage to trick me when you come and free Mr. West. You always are confusing me with those clever disguises... you see, I am man enough to admit my follies now. I thought to myself, "how can that man keep fooling me when I should be expecting him?" So, I began to attend the theatre. And how I loved it! I have seen everything from variety shows in showboats and black-box theatres to operas in the grandest of opera houses. But my favorite play by far has been Hamlet. Oh, the tragedy. Oh the wonderful philosophy of it all; it gives me goose bumps!"

"Really?" interrupted Artie casually. "I thought Macbeth would be more to your liking."

Loveless paled. "Shush, Mr. Gordon. Don't even mention that name in a theatre! It's bad luck! Besides," he said, his sinister grin returning, "I have seen many Hamlets in my time, but no actor is equal to you in the role, Mr. Gordon. I humbly ask that you practice with my company for the night, and that tomorrow you once again reprise your role."

"Well, I hate to refuse a request from a fan, but Jim and I are very busy at the moment," Artie coolly replied.

Loveless nodded. "Well, if that be the case," he stated as he raised his gun up to Jim's temple.

"Like I said," Artie hastily amended, "I hate to refuse a request from a fan."

Loveless smiled and lowered his weapon. "I am so glad you decided to reconsider. Voltaire, take Mr. Gordon to the cast. Tell them to start rehearsals right away; they've not a moment to waste. They only have a night to get ready!"

Voltaire, Loveless' dim-witted giant, not-too-gently prodded Artie up and led him out of the room. Just before they left, however, Artemus turned and made eye contact with Jim. "Though this be madness, yet there be method to it," he cautioned. Jim nodded, and Artie was carried out the door.

"Isn't he marvelous!" cried Loveless. "I'm so looking forward to seeing the play tomorrow!"

Jim frowned and glared at Loveless. "Okay, Loveless, drop the act. There has to be something more to this sudden interest of yours."

Loveless grinned madly. "Well, Mr. West, I just can't keep a secret from you can I?"

Loveless began to waddle about the room, and Jim felt a monologue coming. He braced himself for it. "Two nights from this night, our esteemed President Grant will be attending the theatre with the Grecian Ambassadors. As a token of his good will, the theatre company is putting on Antigone. Near the end of the play, Grant has authorized a dance sequence to be put in that blends western culture with eastern... an idea that I find relatively stupid but Grant is hoping to influence the Ambassadors. During this dance sequence, a person will be lifted by rope up to Grant's box level. The person is to swing across stage. I will have it so that that person will shoot Grant."

Jim shook his head in wonder. "You're mad if you think Artie will do that. He wouldn't do it even if you threaten to kill me; we've both offered our lives for the President. Besides, Grant would recognize us in an instant."

Loveless chuckled. "So nice to converse with you, Mr. West. But, as usual, I have streamlined my plan so that there are no holes to be found. President Grant will not recognize you at all, for in Greek theatre everyone wears masks. And as for who will be the sharpshooter... I have chosen you, not Mr. Gordon."

"Me?! Loveless, what makes you think I'd ever concede to your plan. If Artie would sacrifice my life for Grant's, what makes you think I'd be any different?!"

Loveless pulled a vial filled with something green and ugly out of his sleeve. "This!" he stated proudly. "What you are looking at is a control serum... one drop makes anyone do anything I tell them."

Jim grinned triumphantly. "People have tried serums on me before, and they have not worked. What makes you think this one will?"

"True, true," Loveless replied, "Your mind is extraordinarily balanced. This solution would never work on you while your mind was in its normal, wonderfully organized state. But suppose some traumatic event happened... an event where your mind became disorganized... even for just a second... and I give you the serum... but unfortunately, I cannot have you figure out all the details of my plan at once." With a wave of Loveless' hand as a signal, the second of his gunmen hit Jim in the back of his head with the pistol. "Good night, sweet prince," Loveless giggled. "See you tomorrow for the debut of your partner's final performance."

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Artie had expected the cast to be a bunch of hired goons who knew nothing about acting. But, low and behold, the little genius had actually managed to gather a real acting troupe who specialized in Shakespeare. Artie chastised himself for being so judgmental; after all, Loveless had style. He also seemed to work outside the boundaries of normal time; it would have taken a well ordered manager at least a year to organize such a troupe, where Loveless had about three months since the last time Jim and Artie paid him a visit.

The troupe was surprisingly small; only about ten people in all, though non-principal characters could play several parts. And, the troupe had two women with them, not holding to the traditional setup of using young boys for the roles of the women. One woman, the Queen presumably, was old and held a dignity of one who has been an actress for a long time. She happily bossed about the younger members of the troupe during the short ten minute breaks the actors were allowed that long and grueling evening. The other woman was much younger and held an ethereal child-like beauty.

"Behold, the fair Ophelia," Artie stated as she walked near him during one break. "What is one so beautiful in death doing here? Get thee to a nunnery, I say!" A few of the other actors snickered at this statement, but Ophelia just turned her head sadly and uttered not a word.

"That is Grace Morgan," the man playing Horatio responded. "She is the troupe-master's daughter."

At around four in the morning, the troupe-master, an old grizzled bear of a man playing Polonius, revolted against Loveless' guards. "If you don't let us get a little rest," he scowled, "we won't be any good as players tomorrow. This new man, this Gordon, knows Hamlet inside and out. We'll be ready for tomorrow." This confident statement had no effect on the alert guards, whose shifts were relieved every two hours. But the old man's face meant business, and the guards could see the defiance in his eyes. They also realized that they were outnumbered five to one. So, one of them raced off to consult Loveless. While the troupe awaited his return, Artie seized the opportunity to go over some lines with Grace.

"Are you honest?" he began. "for the power of beauty will soon transform honesty from what it is to a bawd than the force of honesty can translate beauty into his likeness."

Grace shook her head in sorrowful amusement. "Think you so ill of me," she began, "but they say the owl was a baker's daughter. Shall we speak plainly and walk about, so the remaining watchman cannot hear our discourse?"

Artie nodded and followed the woman, his curiosity piqued in spite of his poor record with femme fatals. But this woman seemed to be different; she was suffering genuine remorse. Artie reminded himself that this was Loveless he was up against, and then he asked Grace, "So, how did you get caught in this mess?"

Grace looked back at Artemus, her big blue eyes filled with sorrow. "This acting troupe is the only family I've ever known," she began. "My father has run it for as long as I can remember. Well, when we met this man, Loveless, he promised us the performance of our lives. Naturally, living from hand to mouth, we accepted his generous offer. We came here to rehearse. At first, we were uneasy, seeing this was an abandoned town. But Loveless treated us so well we accepted his terms... and at first they were not bad."

"What kind of things did he ask you?" queried Artie as he stepped over a resting actor.

"Well, mostly, he wanted to be educated in Greek theatre," Grace replied. "Strange, we thought, that he would ask us with us just specializing in Shakespeare... but my father had performed in Greek theatre before. Mainly, though, we just did a lot of plays before a very small audience. Loveless, his lady, and a few idiots who can barely understand American English. He always paid us well, though, and we have not lacked food or anything while we are here. But an actor needs an audience, as you well know, Mr. Gordon, and we were starting to get spooked. Tomorrow night is our last performance, and then we are on our way to better and grander things. I was so exited to be leaving, for Loveless gave me the chills. But I did not know how high the price would really be."

"Pray, go on," Artie replied, his glance resting on the guard at the door.

"I went to visit my father a fortnight ago- we didn't share the same quarters. None of us did, which we thought odd. As I was in the hall, I heard him talking to Loveless. I slipped behind a curtain, and heard... well... I heard that Loveless had talked my father into poisoning you with Laertes' sword. Loveless didn't say your name, he just said, "the actor who will be playing Hamlet." I was perplexed; I didn't know we'd be playing Hamlet. But it seemed as if this had all been arranged, only that Hamlet would die in real life the same time as he would have died in the play."

Artie stopped his pacing and turned to face Grace. "You mean that I..." he began.

"Are about to shuffle off your mortal coil."

Artie gulped as the guard who had left stepped back into the room. "We don't have much time," he commented. "Will your father really put poison on the sword? What is his motivation?"

Grace sighed. "Me. Two weeks ago, I spoke to my father about what I had seen. He said that Loveless had promised him a considerable sum of money if he killed you in the performance. That money would enable me to go to acting college. Loveless had convinced my father that you were guilty of many crimes; my father is easy to convince when you have been nothing but kind to him. He is a poor judge of character."

Artie nodded grimly. The two guards and old Polonious were about to finish their conversation. "Why incriminate your father by warning me?" Artie asked, curious.

The girl shrugged. "Mr. Gordon, I do not know you very well, but you are a human being regardless of what you have done in the past. I have no idea what is truth and what is untruth (though I have a suspicion), but I will not have my father soil his hands in blood. That would doom us. I could never look at him the same way again, and he'd never be able to look in a mirror. So, I decided to warn you, but I have no idea of what you can do."

Artie nodded. The troupe, dismissed until the performance, was moving in exhausted giddiness towards the doors. Artie and Grace fell in behind. "You are a wise woman; Jim and I are government agents. If you can, try and find James West," Artie instructed. "See if you can get any information from him. There is more here than meets the eye."

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As the daughter of the troupe-master, Grace was allowed much more freedom to move about the old theatre than her colleagues. Also, her quiet manner and gentle nature usually made her semi-invisible, and this worked greatly into her favor. Loveless' ego was so inflated anyway that it would be possible for Chauvinist himself to infiltrate Loveless' scheme if he were careful.

But sneaking into the bowels of the theatre where Loveless kept his prisoners was no easy task. Loveless had few guards, but the theatre itself was twisted like a maze in order to allow room for every theatrical department. Musical instruments cluttered over costumes and props, and avoiding all these obstacles took the talents of an acrobat. Slowly, Grace wove her way through the disused parts of the theatre.

James West was held in a small greenroom; a place where understudies stayed rather than actors. His door was locked, however there was a small window built into the door. "Mr. West?" she whispered, peering in.

She perceived the body of a young man lying on the floor. Though it was dim, she could tell he was unconscious. He tossed about fitfully, calling out phrases here and there. She risked her capture and called out louder, but he still didn't wake. Just as she was about to leave, however, his rants began to make sense.

"Artie!" he cried. Grace leaned back to the door. The man was calling for Mr. Gordon! "Artie, get the president! Grant, watch out! Nooo! Loveless, Loveless you fool! You've killed the president!"

Killed the president! Grace paled even more. So that was Loveless' evil plan. Well, it wouldn't work, not if Grace had anything to say about it. Quietly, she left the unconscious man and raced back in the light of dawn to her quarters. She would have to prepare herself for yet another acting role...

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It was mid-morning when a knock at the door woke Artie from a sound sleep (he always slept well under pressure). Voltaire, who had been personally keeping guard over his room, admitted Grace. Grace gave him a charming smile and said with a wink, "My Lord Hamlet is troubled."

"Yea, verily," he replied.

She smiled. "I have come to practice our Shakespeare lines under the watchful eye of Voltaire, our esteemed patron's man servant. As such, let us converse in old dialogue."

Artemus grinned. It would be easy to talk about Jim even with Voltaire in the room, if they sounded like they were rehearsing lines from the play. And Voltaire, who barely knew how to read, would never know the difference. Artie liked this girl! He pulled up a chair for her and then bade her to sit down. "What news have you brought of Horatio?" he asked.

Grace sighed. "He is unwell, my lord. Behold, Queen Mab of the Fairies has induced an enchanted sleep."

Artie nodded gravely. That meant Jim was drugged, or the like. "Did Horatio respond to your voice, that is fair as the summer breeze?"

"He didst indeed call out, but it was out of the anguish of his soul. His conscience hath smote him, for the king is worthy and to kill him wouldst harm our relationship with England as well, for young Laertes is even now signing a truce overseas."

Artie kept his mask on admirably. Now, it all fit together! Loveless planned to kill the president in order to stop the treaty from being signed. And where was he going to kill the president... at the theatre when he attended the Grecian play! No wonder Loveless had asked for training on Greek theatre.

So now Artemus knew where and when Loveless was planning to attack, but he still didn't quite know how. In fact, there were still a lot of ends that didn't tie up, including how Hamlet fit into this whole charade.

"Leave all as well now; the ninth hour arrives. Oh, that it were the eleventh hour, when I could sluff off this mortal coil and sleep no more... has Polonious betrayed me? Is there nothing that can be done to forgive me in his soul's eyes?"

Grace blinked at that one, which was a little harder to decode. "No," she began hesitantly, "you shall not die! Oh, my Hamlet, if there were a way to keep men from angels, wouldst you not tell me?" In other words, 'what's your idea?''

Artie looked pensive and tragic, which was quite easy at the moment. "If thou wouldst get thee to a church, thee wouldst be able to speak with Friar Lawrence. Pray for my soul, and obtain me the sleeping death that Juliet took in heart to save her honor. Assuredly, there is an alchemist somewhere who can make such a drought? Empoison the sword tip with thus like the fangs of the cobra, and when I have fallen I will deceive even death itself, only to rise once more and hold you into my arms."

Grace nodded that she had understood, but her expression changed. She glowered at Artie. "My arms will be no haven for you when you return from beyond," she stated. Artie looked up in surprise and caught a twinkle of fun in her eyes.

"Get thee to a nunnery!" he shouted. Grace raised her head up high and walked out, clearly looking affronted. And Voltaire, who had watched the whole time with intense interest, gave them a standing ovation.

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Once, when Grace had played Juliet, Cohen, the prop master (who was also the company's doctor), had designed a sleeping potion for her that made her look dead but was only supposed to put her to sleep for fifteen minutes. The potion didn't work right; it had put her to sleep for almost a day, but it had been a good shot at making the play closer to real life. In fact, Cohen's potion became so popular that many of the actors used it to aide in their sleep the day before first performance. Luckily Eddie, who played Laertes, still had some in his quarters. Grace grabbed the bottle and headed to the prop room.

All the swords that the group used were in a bin near the stage door. Eddie's sword had a small E carved on the pommel, for the sword was not the troupe's property but was Eddies from the war days. Grace bit her tongue in thought. If she were to poison the sword now, it would do no good, for her father would put his poison over it. Grace groaned, and looked over the hall. There was a bundle of backdrops in the corner wall. Sighing, she crawled under the backdrops so that she was hidden from view. She was bone tired, but she pinched herself to stay awake. She had to keep watch so she knew when her father would lay his trap.

Minutes passed, then hours. Finally, around mid-afternoon, Grace's father showed up. He was sweating and breathing hard, and he looked as if he were going to have a panic attack. Grace felt her heart twist and she wanted to run out to him, but she knew she could not. Then, her father started to moan.

"This man has done so much to Loveless," her father growled. "He has killed Loveless' parents in a duel, stolen his horses, and burned his home... yet I alone cannot be a judge. No. I made a deal, for which I have been paid, and the deal was done. I must go through with it, or I alone will be a thief. What can I do?" With that, he mechanically began to smear a brown liquid on Eddie's sword. The job was done in a few moments, but it left him shaking like a leaf. "Heavens preserve us," he stated, and then he ran away in a mix of horror and determination.

Grace poked her head out of the backdrops. She felt relieved knowing her father was remorseful, but her heart ached in a way she had never known. He had still gone through with it, regardless of what he thought. "One day I'll tell father what I did," she thought as she carefully cleaned Eddie's sword. "On the day when he wishes he had never done this... I will tell him who saved his honor." Making sure that every bit of the brown liquid was off, Grace covered the sword in her own potion, which was a less-conspicuous silvery-white in color. Then, placing the sword back, she left to get a few hours of much-needed sleep before she would be called to perform the performance of her life.

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Jim woke up, feeling the heavy feeling in his limbs that he always felt after being drugged. His head felt fuzzy, and he only remembered parts of the monologue Loveless had delivered to him. So, Loveless was going to kill the president. Well, what else was new? Loveless had been thirsty for power ever since the day he set foot out of his cradle. Yet, Jim was puzzled by the whole affair. It wasn't unusual for Loveless to set up elaborate schemes, but this scheme in particular was confusing because so far, as Jim knew, Shakespearian theatre and Grecian theatre had absolutely nothing in common. Before Jim could ponder too long on how these things were connected, he heard the scratching of a lock in his door.

"Greeting, Mr. West," said a smiling Antoinette. "I've brought you your supper and your dress suit." She set the tray down on a crate near the door and proudly held up a black dress suit, which looked much like what Jim and Artie wore when they were out for a night in the town in Washington. "I made it myself," she smiled shyly. "I hope it fits. But I am bade to tell you to hurry, for your partner's play starts in forty-five minutes. You slept much longer than we thought you would. You must have never been poisoned with 'The Loveless Special' before."

Jim growled as Antoinette left the room. Forty-five minutes?! Irritated, he grabbed his dress suit. He left the food untouched. If he was to have any chance of breaking him and Artie out of here, he would have to play Loveless' game.

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Grace stepped out of her dressing room and smiled. She had always loved the plain white flowing dress and golden belt that Ophelia wore; it was cool and it seemed to shimmer in the gaslights. "Tonight you are a star of the heavens," she whispered to herself. It was what her father had always told her when she was young, before she went on stage. He had said, "Little star, guide the audience to the play." She had smiled then and clapped her hands in excitement; she was never afraid to go on. Now, though, she experienced the deep pit of fear which had as of yet been unknown to her. What if the potion didn't work? Would her father be blamed for the misdeed? Would she have the courage to stand and say, "It was my fault?" Was Loveless really going to let the rest of the troupe leave? Grace wished now that she had never even seen the little man, for all their newfound wealth. All the money in the world was not worth the weight of fear that dragged down her heart. But Grace was an actress of the first water, and even though she was quaking with fear, she headed for the stage head high and hands steady.

Artemus walked over to Grace as she entered the greenroom. "Angels and ministers of grace defend us," he said smoothly. "I do believe I am mad with your beauty." Grace smiled, but dared not take the time to answer Artie's gentle joking. "Listen," she whispered. "Once you are "dead," my father will dump your body into the forest. The original idea is that you would be found many days later by an innocent man many miles away from any known town. My father doesn't know this, but your death would be viewed as unrelated to the president's. I don't know where your partner fits in to all this, but our troupe will be long gone by the time you wake up. You should wake up in a few hours; ride to Washington DC and stop the assassination if you can."

"Do you know how it is to happen?" asked Artie.

"No," Grace replied. "All I know is that your partner knows more on that end."

"Yes," said Artie with a growl. "And we have been kept apart so that we could not put together our sides of the puzzle. Well, if we play our cards right, I suppose we'll find out what Loveless has in store."

"Speak of the devil," whispered Grace.

Artie turned and saw Loveless waddling towards them. He was dressed in a suave black suit that made him look more like a dressed-up doll than a real human. He walked up to Artemus and gave a satisfied chuckle. Grace silently stalked away.

"Well, Mr. Gordon, you really do look the part," Loveless grinned. "I'm so looking forward to this. But lets lay down some ground rules, shall we? My dear Antoinette is in my private box, along with Mr. West and one of my many hired guns. She will be monitoring your every word; she has a script with her. If you vary from the lines even a few words, or take any unnatural action, I will be forced to gravely injure Mr. West. I will not tolerate improvisation in my productions; after all, you are a seasoned actor. Besides, I don't want you to have the opportunity to give Jim any ideas about escaping; save it for after the play. Are we clear, Mr. Gordon?"

Artemus smiled gallantly. "As crystal," he replied.

Loveless laughed. "Well, I must run. Five minutes to curtain! I am so looking forward to this; I haven't been able to sleep for weeks. Well, break a leg Mr. Gordon, and remember "the play's the thing." Your partner's life depends on that."

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Jim was not a fan of Shakespeare. Of course, Jim had gone to the theatre many times before, and had enjoyed it, but those were plays that were in modern English. Shakespeare was so hard to understand, and it was even dryer to read. Jim had seen Artie do Hamlet many times, but each time he was watching the audience for a gunman or fighting at a masquerade ball. He never really paid attention to anything Artie said. Of course, Jim knew the basic outline of Hamlet. Hamlet is really depressed, talks a lot about nothing, and in the end everyone dies.

Jim was led up to the box by Voltaire and was seated next to Antoinette. Voltaire sat on his other side and a hired gun stood behind Jim with a gun pointed to his head. Loveless entered the box right as the lights were dimming and sat next to Antoinette, giving Jim a polite bow. Jim set his jaw and returned the compliment. Then, the curtain rose, and the play began.

At first, Jim was trying to think of ways to escape. But, with Voltaire on his left and a gunman to his back (and Antoinette just out of his reach), there was no possible way at this time for him to escape. After a few minutes of contemplation, he gave up, realizing that if they were to escape during the play, Artie would have to arrange it. So, Jim turned his full attention on to the play, searching for Artemus in the sea of unfamiliar characters. The first scene ran by smoothly, with the appearance of the ghost of the dead king. "Perhaps this will be an interesting few hours after all," Jim thought.

The black-cloaked Artie appeared in the second scene, but his first line was an aside to the audience. "A little more than kin, and less than kind," he stated. Jim almost jumped in his seat. Artie's voice was so hollow, so filled with despair that it made him cold just to hear it. Truly, Jim had forgotten what a great actor his friend was. In spite of himself, Jim began to pay attention to the play, and in no time he was sucked into the mystery of how the king was killed. The minutes passed delightfully, and Jim found himself enjoying the play. Grace was beautiful onstage, her white garments billowing in the occasional breeze from the gaslights. She and Artie played off each other wonderfully; Jim wondered if Grace had truly formed an attachment with Artie by the way her voice melted when she spoke of love and the girlish dreams that accompanied it.

Every once in a while, Jim scanned the theatre for the means of an exit. None presented themselves, and Jim was stuck watching the play and hoping for a chance that the gunman would slip up. But the gunman could care less about anything except money, and Jim's dreams of having him distracted by the play were dashed. Besides, Jim was sitting next to Voltaire, who could crush him into powder at the slightest movement.

As the play progressed, Jim remembered more snatches of his conversation with Loveless. Suddenly, around act five, Jim remembered that Loveless wanted to unbalance his mind in order to control him. This realization slipped through the clearing haze in his brain, and for the second time he wondered what on earth he had been drugged with. Even his thoughts, which was so usually sharp and focused, seemed to scatter about his head. Jim looked once more to the stage and perceived that the play was nearing its end. It was after Ophelia's funeral, and the entire court was gathered back in the castle. During a few moments of dialogue, Loveless smiled at Jim from his position besides Antoinette and held up an empty vial with traces of a viscous green substance. Jim's heart started. "So that's what Loveless put in me that is making it so hard to think," Jim realized. "Well, I'm not going to follow his order to kill the president; I don't care how traumatic of an event befalls me." With that thought, Jim uneasily turned back to watch the play.

Artie was dueling some guy- Laertes, Jim thought- and the battle seemed unnaturally fierce even for a stage show. Then, before his eyes, Jim watched every character on that stage begin to fall over. All were poisoned by each other. Then, Jim's heart stopped. "Your mind is extraordinarily balanced," he remembered Loveless saying. "This solution would never work on you while your mind was in its normal, wonderfully organized state. But suppose some traumatic event happened... an event where your mind became disorganized..." Jim opened his eyes in terror. "Artie!" he wanted to call out, but as his attention turned back to the play, he saw that his partner was already sinking to the ground.

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Artemus looked up at Jim and cringed. He felt so bad, "dying" again. How many times would Jim and Artie "die," only to live again as their strange run of luck would have some poor doppelganger in their place? How many times would they be lucky enough to avoid death? How long until their luck ran out? Artie noticed the frightened look on his friends face. He felt hazy, his thoughts muzzy and flowing together. "My, this stuff works fast," he thought. Then, it was time for another line. Artie knew he couldn't make it to the end of the play; he barely had enough strength to offer this one line. But he took what he could get. "I am dead, Horatio," Artie called out, looking strait up unto the box at Jim. "Things standing thus unknown, shall live behind me! If though didst ever hold me in thy heart, absent thee from felicity awhile, and in this harsh world draw they breath in pain to tell my story." With that, Artie slipped into blackness.

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Jim watched as the play resolved itself; the rest of the court came in to greet poor Horatio who was rising from the bodies on the floor like a phoenix rises from ashes. Jim kept his eyes intently on Artie, who played dead very well. Too well. A choking, nervous fear rose up in Jim and he waited impatiently for the play to end. Finally, the curtain fell. After a few seconds, it rose again, and everyone else was up taking bows... except for Artie. Loveless, Antoinette, and Voltaire stood and gave standing ovations. "Come now, Mr. Gordon," called Loveless. "Don't be so modest. Take a bow!"

The cast began to applaud Artie, who hadn't yet moved from his position on the floor. After a few claps, they began to uneasily look at one another. Horatio bent over and put a few fingers to Artie's wrist. The theatre grew silent. "I can't find a pulse!" called the man.

"No!" yelled Grace, looking shocked and pale. "He's dead?!"

The troupe-master bustled through the crowd and placed a hand on Artie's chest. "No heartbeat," he said after a moment. "I believe this man is dead."

Jim leapt out of the box and grabbed a curtain pull. "Don't shoot," Loveless cried to the gunman. "He won't leave his friend." Jim maneuvered his body around the curtain and swung onto the stage as agile as a panther. He ran up to his friend, his heart pounding in his ears. The rest of the actors backed away.

"Artie!" whispered Jim intently. "Artie, you can't do this to me. Come on, give me a sign!" He knelt down and sat his friend up, but Artie lay limply across his arm. There was no color in his friend's face, and no taught-ness to his muscles. Artemus Gordon was... dead. "No!" cried Jim. He turned his face up to Loveless' box, his eyes red with rage. "I'll get you for this, Loveless, if it's the last thing I do!" he screamed.

Loveless gave a cold chuckle. "Of course you will," he said. "But Mr. West, have you not forgotten what now beats in your veins as well... 'The Loveless Special'?"

Jim could care less what he had in his body that very moment. All of his rationality went away, and he started for the box again. He was going to rip Loveless apart with his bare hands! And suddenly, a green mist floated before Jim's eyes. Suddenly, Jim remembered Loveless words. "But suppose some traumatic event happened... an event where your mind became disorganized... even for just a second... and I gave you the serum..." Jim felt his mind slipping under the powerful influence of the green serum. So that was the traumatic event. The death of his partner. As everything clicked into place, Jim's mind began to fade away. So much for the little genius slipping his mind. For some reason, that thought struck Jim as immensely funny, and he fell to the floor laughing. He was still chuckling when he finally passed out.

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Grace saw nothing of her father for a couple of hours. He had gone to "bury" Mr. Gordon, though Grace knew it would just take a couple of minutes to throw his body in a ditch somewhere. She was thankful that it had been a hot and dry summer; the creeks would be low and drowning would pose little threat. She just hoped that Mr. Gordon landed on something soft.

A few hours later, the acting troupe was set to go. Grace's father stood talking to Loveless for quite a while and finally broke off to take his place at the head of the troupe. Dawn was setting its blue fire into the sky when the troupe finally marched off. All day, they marched in silence, and around noon they broke early for camp. Grace's father left the circle of tents and headed into the forest. Grace, silent as a ghost, followed him.

Her father walked on and on; slowly, as if he were a hundred years old. Finally, he stopped by a small stream. Grace watched from the shadows as her father knelt down on a rock. "But o, what form of prayer can serve my turn? Forgive me my foul murder?" he cried in anguish. The loudness of his cry broke the constant silence like thunder, and it so surprised Grace that she almost fell out of her hiding place. "What have I done, oh what have I done? All for money's sake, yet I sent a man to his grave without giving him the chance to redeem himself! Oh, Grace, how can I ever face you again. With the knowledge of what I have done..." With that, the troupe-master lowered his head to his hands and howled in anguish and despair.

Grace softly stepped out of her hiding place and carefully slunk up to her father. Gently, she touched his arm with one pale hand. Her father looked up at her, surprise mixing with fury in his face then giving way to depthless sorrow. "Do you approve of all your father had done for your sake?" he queried.

"It is for my sake and my father's sake that I did what I did," Grace replied with a small smile.

"What?" asked the troupe-master.

"Remember the sleeping potion that Cohen made?" Grace began. "The one where you were going to kill Cohen if I didn't wake up, because the illusion of death was so good? Well, I put that on Eddie's sword. I waited till you had put the poison on the sword, and then I cleaned it off and put on my own. Mr. Gordon is not dead, only sleeping."

Grace's father looked at her with wonder in his eyes. "You... my daughter... you have done this?"

Grace smiled. "I have done this."

"Then... I am not a murderer."

"Only one in mind."

Grace's father frowned. "That is just as bad," he replied. "But I shall be more able to resist money's evils now that I have fallen mightily for its sake."

"Where is the money, father?" Grace queried. "I think we should burn it."

The troupe-master laughed. "I tucked it into that Gordon fellow's costume. I just couldn't accept blood money."

Grace smiled. "I'm sure Mr. Gordon will be glad about that," she said.

"Loveless asked us to join his troop," said Grace's father. "I refused."

Grace's eyes widened in fear. "And so he just let us go on our way, without having any security at all that we wouldn't try and ruin his plan?"

Grace's father pulled his daughter into a hug. "Have no fear, little star," he whispered. "When I refused his offer, Loveless tried to get me to take it. But in the dawn's light he saw my eyes, and he said, "Ah! Now I understand. You have the same haunted look as I did on the day where I killed my first man. You are like me now... take your troupe and go. I have nothing to fear from you."

Grace shivered. "Did he mean it?" she asked.

"Dr. Loveless has many faults my dear, but he has a strange code of honor," the troupe-master began. "He will not go against his own code. But I do think I may see him every now and then," her father continued, almost in a whisper.

"Where?" Grace asked.

"When I look in the mirror," he replied.

The two of them sat watching the sun set. "Godspeed, Artemus," Grace wished on the first star.

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Artie felt the warm summer sun easing the aches gently out of his bruised and swollen body. He opened his eyes lazily. The caravan had dumped him in a small waterless ditch that had been filled with decaying leaves. "Yuck!" he exclaimed as he clawed his way out of the ditch. His whole body felt like it had been run over by a wagon. The ditch itself was over ten feet tall. "Jeeze, why don't you just drop me off the roof of the theatre next time," he muttered as he reached the top. "The fall would have been much shorter." Reaching the forest floor, Artie stood tall and gave each of his muscles a good stretch. Then, he glanced to the sky to see about what time it was.

The sun was low in the horizon.

Artie's heart felt like it was stopping. "Great balls of St. Elmo's fire!" he shouted. "I've slept too long!" Quickly, he began to race through the forest, hoping that his inherent luck would find him a road. "I could be thirty miles from Washington DC," he fretted as he ran. "If I read the sun right, it could be six to seven o'clock. It could take me hours to get there, and the play starts at eight!" Artie panted as he rounded a bend in the trees; he was winded already. Then, he stopped stock still. In front of him stood an old timer with a rifle and a haggard old horse.

"Howdy fella," the old timer greeted, moving his riffle into a firing position. "Names Bates. Jeremiah Bates. I suppose your gonna rob me?

Artie cocked his head to one side. "No," he said carefully. "What ever gave you that idea?"

The old timer pointed to Artie. "That odd getup. Some kind of bandit costume I'd reckon."

Artie realized he was still in his black Hamlet garb and cape. "No sir," Artie said with a laugh. "I'm just an actor. I'm heading to Washington... I need to be there quick. Do you know the road in? And what time is it?"

The man nodded. "Road's just beyond those two trees," he directed, pointing with the butt of his riffle. "But you got a long way of walkin ahead, and you looks like you're in a hurry. Time's bout six since the last time I checked."

"I am in a hurry," Artie replied. "Sir... would you do me the favor of letting me borrow your horse. I need to get to Washington DC as fast as possible. It's a matter of nation security." The old timer just blinked. Artie sighed. "I'll pay you for him," he said.

"Well, alright!" called the man. "Let's see here; this is my horse, old Thunderbolt. Fast as lightning he is; he'll get you where you need to go. I'll let you ride him for ten Yankee dollars."

"Ten dollars!" exclaimed Artie. "That's the sale price of an untamed horse!"

"That's pretty much what your gettin. Thunderbolt was a wild mustang. I tamed him a far ways back. He'll run so fast, even the Batten won't catch up with you!"

Artie nodded. "I'll send the money to your house," he agreed.

"Now hold on just a second!" the old timer howled, bringing his riffle up again. "You ain't takin him till I've got my money. Give it here!"

Artie cringed. He new for a fact that he had carried only a few dollars on him when he had gotten into costume. "Perhaps he'll take a smaller amount," Artie thought as he rummaged through his robe. Suddenly, he felt a great many bills in the folds of his cloak. "What the heck..." he thought as he pulled out a wad of twenties.

"Well, bless my soul! You're richer than the President himself!" the old-timer stated.

The President! "Here's twenty bucks," Artie threw the money at the old-timer and leapt up onto the horse's back. "I'll be back with your horse later. Keep the change!"

The old-timer grinned. "Keep him as long as you want," the old-timer laughed. "With this I could by me a whole lot gentler of a horse!"

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Jim sat backstage, dressed in a long white gown. A mask covered his face, the smooth bone-like material feeling cool and soothing. Jim had one idea in his mind. "Kill President Grant." It was odd, really. Time seemed to have stopped. Jim's mind worked extremely slow; he wondered how he had got there. But just as soon as the question surfaced in his brain, a green haze would mist before his eyes and he would be left with one thought and one thought only: "Kill President Grant." Once, he wondered where his partner was. But the green mist whisked that thought away and replaced it with the one command: Kill President Grant. "I have no past," thought Jim. "The one thing I exist for is to kill President Grant. But still, I feel something else. something that I am supposed to remember..."

Kill President Grant

"I know it is important..."

Kill President Grant

"It's getting so hard to remember."

Kill President Grant

"So hard to think..."

Kill President Grant

"I'm so tired..."

Kill President Grant

"I'll just give in for a moment..."

Kill President Grant

"Kill President Grant."

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The mists rose off the fields as Artie galloped his mount through the moonlit night. "Thank heaven there is a full moon," Artie thought. "Without it, I would never be able to see the roadway." The old-timer hadn't been kidding when he said the old horse was fast. Its looks had been deceiving; as soon as Artie mounted it, it took off like the wind and kept a breakneck pace like it was a tiptoe through the tulips. The moonlight bounced off both rider and horse, and in the still of the night they looked like some vengeful wraith from the heart of every ghost story ever told. Finally, the lights of Washington came into sight, and so did people.

"What time is it?" Artie asked the first person he saw, after reining his horse in. The man gave him an odd look.

"It's nine-twenty," answered the man.

"Thanks!" Artie shouted, as he took off again. The man shook his head and went inside, eager to tell his wife that they had just been given an audience with Ichabod Crane.

By ten o'clock, Artie had successfully jumped over or maneuvered through the crowds, and his horse was beat. But there, smack dab in the middle of the city, was Ford's theatre. Quickly, Artie leapt off his steed and threw its reins around a hitching post. Then, taking out his wallet so that he could show his official identification, Artie charged into the theatre.

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"Walk across stage." Jim walked across the stage, the sound of many instruments playing not phasing him in the least. With deadly grace, he maneuvered his way through the dancers on the stage and stopped by the rope. "Grab the rope." Jim grabbed the rope and hoisted himself up into the air. "Swing to gain momentum." Jim, ever the agile gymnast, began to swing his rope back and forth. The grips on stage began to pull him into the air, and Jim prepared his gun for its final shot. He raised it to the president's box. Both the president and the Ambassador were in his sights. Grant noticed the gun, and he dove in front of a startled Greek Ambassador.

Then suddenly, a loud shout interrupted the proceedings of the play. The audience and actors alike watched as Hamlet, or someone very much like Hamlet, leapt out of the presidential box and tackled a grown man hanging from a rope in mid air. Needless to say, they did not stay on the rope anymore. Both of them came crashing down, and just by chance they landed on the trapdoor. Their momentum carried them right through it. The gun landed, harmless, on the floor.

There was mortified silence for a minute. Then, the Greek Ambassador stood. "I approve," he said. "This dance shows me much of American character. Here, a chorus man was about to shoot his fellow man, proving the aggressive nature of the Americans. But then came one dressed in black, the color of mourning. This shows that Americans are sad for their current plight. They wish more. So, the man of wishes tackled the man of human nature, and from this I see that Americans are willing to work to overcome their violent nature. I approve the peace treaty!"

A giant cheer went up from the audience, and from the actors on stage. Only one man wasn't cheering, and that was the man who had recognized Artie as Artie had gone flying by. "If they managed to survive that fall, then I'm going to kill those two," thought President Grant.

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Artie crept out of Grant's office, his ears still ringing from one of the president's famous tirades. Jim, being less injured from the fall (only a minor concussion) had gotten the tirade much earlier in the day and was now dutifully resting back at the train. Artie, however, who had broken his ankle in the fall, had had to wait till it was plastered and he was fit with crutches.

Even a broken ankle, for which he tried to look as pitiful as possible, had done nothing to sooth the president's rage. The words still rang in Artie's ears. "You are my best and my brightest, and you let Loveless get his hands on you again! If you have not learned how to defeat him yet, then this nation is in real trouble!" But Artie smiled gently as he remembered what Grant had said next. "Artemus," he said kindly, "That was my official reprimand. But now that I know the whole story, I just want to say that I have commanded thousands on fields of war, but never have I seen a soldier with such a unique brand of courage as you. You and Mr. West have saved my life once again and have furthered the nation itself. Therefore, I also give you and official commendation."

Artie had smiled and accepted his part of the commendation with pride. Grant had then ushered Artie out of his office, and a bemused Artemus Gordon hobbled away. This was the first time he had ever been recognized apart from Jim, and it meant a lot to him. Not always did everyone see the good he did.

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When an exhausted Artie finally made it back to the train, Jim was getting himself dressed for a night on the town. "I thought you were supposed to be resting," Artie observed in a weary voice.

Jim frowned. "I'm going out tonight to try and forget what I learned this afternoon. The report came back from Globe, Maryland. The field team was sent to clean up. The theatre burned down. Nothing is left but the stone framework, some warm embers, and tons of ash."

Artie nodded slowly. Loveless was gone without a trace; he and his gang. They were out there, somewhere, waiting for the chance to yet again destroy the only two who seemed to keep the fates in balance.

Jim straightened his tie and turned to grin at Artie. "Well, how do I look?" he queried.

Artie shrugged. "You'd look more debonair without the giant bruise on your head."

"This?" said Jim. "Why, I keep telling you Artemus, wounds are what draws the gentler sex." Jim dusted off his nice hat and walked to the door. "I'll be out late," he stated. "Don't wait up for me." Then, he stopped and grabbed a small box. "By the way, this came for you," Jim stated as he tossed to box towards Artie. Artie caught it, and Jim waved happily and jaunted off.

The box was small; palm sized, and covered in brown paper. Artie untied the parcel and discarded the paper, curious as to what was in the plain wooden box he now held. Carefully, he opened it.

The box was filled with flower petals, and a small card was inscribed with a simple verse, "Fare you well, my dove." Artie smiled and sat back, letting the petals spill about the floor. He wished his Ophelia well too.