The Wild Wild West
The Night of the Moving Wound
Notes: The characters from the show are not mine. Any other characters, and the story, are mine! This is a sequel or follow-up to The Night of the Headless Woman from season 3. Being a bit of a Richard Anderson fangirl, I was somewhat heartbroken by him being the episode's Big Bad! And such an especially rotten Big Bad, allowing his daughter to be kidnapped. I could hardly equate it with how he seemed to be such a loving father in earlier scenes. I started to ponder on other possible explanations, such as him either being a double agent or having a double. Then I noticed something strange. I noticed how the wound on his head appears to travel from one side to the other, depending on the scene. Of course in reality it's a costuming mistake, but oh, how well it supports my theory of a double! And thus, this happened.
It was unlike Jim West to feel as though something was amiss and unsolved once a case had concluded. Usually he was in full agreement about the closing and filing away of his and Arte's mysteries. He did not like to dwell on them, but to move ahead into the future. There were always other, current matters that needed his attention.
And yet here he was, lying awake and staring at the darkened ceiling of the train's sleeping quarters as the boll weevil case turned over in his mind once again. He had tried and tried to sleep for he did not know how long. At last he had surrendered, turning his willpower over to that of his thoughts. There had to be some reason why they were still bothering him.
All of the loose ends had been tied up. The criminals still alive had been arrested. The United States government had confiscated all of their research and their hybrid boll weevils. James Jeffers' body, charred almost beyond recognition in the warehouse's inferno, was in the morgue. His daughter Betsy, heartbroken and crushed over both her father's death and his leading of the plan to destroy the world's crops, was staying with an aunt in town.
Maybe it was Betsy that bothered him. Although he had not even been the one to deliver the ghastly news. Arte had been responsible for that harsh blow.
Maybe it was Jeffers' involvement and his duplicity that was keeping him awake. The thing was, Jeffers was certainly not the only man who had pretended to be an ally while actually being a nemesis. And he was not the only one who had left stunned and aching family behind.
However, he was the only one Jim could think of who had been willing to have his own daughter kidnapped to further the plot. That sickened him, and he had the feeling Arte felt even more strongly about it than he.
Jim had been the one there at the time the men had broken into the house. He had tried and failed to prevent the abduction. And Jeffers had been hurt in the fracas. Jim remembered that nasty wound on the left side of his head. It took a particularly dedicated and thorough mastermind, to allow oneself to be hurt just to throw suspicion away from them.
Jeffers had seemed so sincere in his worry when Jim had returned again later that night and found him with a bandage wrapped around his forehead. He should have been resting, the staff said, but instead he was up and around, worrying and pouring himself drinks and wanting to be out there looking for Betsy. Jim had been completely fooled.
The wrap-around bandage had been gone when Jeffers had revealed his true colors at the warehouse. He had thrown it away as he had thrown away all morality, leaving only a small bandage directly over the wound on the right side of his head. . . .
Wait a minute. The right side of his head?
Jim sat up straight in astonishment. That was it. That was what had been bothering him! Arte had not seen Jeffers earlier, but Jim had. He had been right there after Betsy's kidnapping. He had seen that Jeffers had been wounded on the left side of his head! And it had not been a clever make-up job. Both Jim and members of the household staff had testified to that. One of the maids had dressed the wound. It had been real.
He tossed aside the covers and stood, trying not to wake Arte as he dressed and hastened back to the main car. What could this mean? In the warehouse there had been no wound on the left side of Jeffers' head. What if under the bandage on the right side, there was also nothing? What if he had not been hurt at all?
But at home he had been hurt. He could not have healed that fast.
Was it possible, at all conceivable, that either the man at home or the man in the warehouse had not been James Jeffers?
And if that were true, who was the other man?
And where was James Jeffers?
Arte was bewildered when he awakened at a more reasonable hour only to find the cars empty. When he questioned the engineer, he learned only that Jim had left in the middle of the night and promised to be back. And with no idea of where Jim was, Arte could only wait.
He ate breakfast. He walked the floor. He played a bit of pool. He fed the pigeons. He sat at the telegraph table tapping his fingers with impatience on the wood.
It was ages before the door opened and Jim stepped inside, somehow looking both exhausted and wide awake. Arte sprang up and walked over to greet him with an illusion of bluster. "Well, if it isn't James T. West, returning at last to his humble abode after a night on the town when he should have been recovering his strength!" His nonchalant tone faded. "Jim, where on Earth have you been?"
"Hi, Arte." Jim plopped his hat on the nearest end table and waved an envelope in the air. "I was at the morgue, taking pictures."
"You were where?" Arte followed Jim to the telegraph table as the younger man sank into the nearest chair. Arte took up the one he had been occupying, watching while Jim opened the envelope. "I realize you have some strange and unusual habits, James, but I've never known you to enjoy traipsing about the morgue, capturing likenesses of the dead!"
"In this case, Arte, I made an exception." Jim handed Arte a photograph. "What do you see?"
Arte frowned as he accepted it. "I see a dead man's face. Jim, isn't this James Jeffers? Or rather, what's left of him?"
"That's what I thought. Look closer, Arte. See the right side of his forehead? That's where he had the bandage from the attack back at the house."
"There's no wound there," Arte said in surprise. "He must have been faking it."
"Yeah. But here's the problem—he really was hurt during that attack. I was there. I saw it. And I saw that he was wounded on the left side of his head, not the right."
Arte stared at the picture again. "Jim, what are you saying?"
"There's two men involved here, Arte—two men who look almost exactly alike. There has to be." Jim set the envelope aside and crossed his arms on the table. "But who was killed? And where's the other one?" He frowned. "It's just possible we were dealing with a fake in the warehouse. Maybe Jeffers was never responsible for anything illegal at all."
Arte placed the photograph on top of the envelope. "We'll have to find whoever it is," he declared. "If there's any chance that James Jeffers really isn't our criminal mastermind, then the real mastermind might have killed him before taking his place."
"And even if he's dead, Betsy deserves to know the truth," Jim said. "She shouldn't have to go through life believing her father was a murderer if he wasn't."
Arte nodded. "And if he's possibly still alive, he might not be for very long if we don't find him." He got up, overwhelmed by the enormity of the case now pressing upon them. "We'll have to retrace all of our steps."
"We should start at the Jeffers' house," Jim said, standing as well.
"And maybe we should have a talk with Betsy's aunt," Arte mused. "When I brought Betsy to her, she couldn't believe the news about her brother. Not that it would be likely she could, right at first, but maybe it's more than a loving sister's blind loyalty."
Jim nodded. "And she might be able to tell us interesting things such as whether he had mood swings now and then, as if he were two different people."
"Betsy might know something of that, too," Arte said. He frowned. "I hate to have to give her any hope about her father, though, when it might only be false. For all we know, both men were corrupt."
"Well, we don't have to say anything about why we're asking," Jim said. "We shouldn't anyway, until we're sure. We might put Jeffers in more danger by asking the wrong questions, if he is alive and innocent."
Arte shook his head. "And here I thought this was such an open-and-shut case."
"So did I, Arte," Jim said. "So did I."
The man staggered through the streets of San Francisco, wounded and dazed and dizzy. He could barely remember a thing about what he was doing there. And how he had gotten there was a complete blank—just as much of one as his identity.
He stumbled into the road without looking, very nearly colliding with a carriage. The driver yelled, angry, as he struggled to steer his horses away. What he said scarcely registered. The injured man backed up, allowing them to pass before continuing across the street.
He groaned, holding a hand to his head. There was some kind of bandage there; he had felt it every time his hand strayed. It was most painful on the left side, which pulsed and throbbed and felt like it was bleeding.
It was hard to think of anything other than the pain. His body moved slowly, tortured, almost mechanically. A woman stared at him, concerned, and tried to speak to him. He could only gaze back, not comprehending, not able to translate the sounds coming out of her mouth into intelligible words.
Eventually he turned, making his way into a nearby alley. This was better; he could use the wall for support and not worry about being in anyone's path. He had to get away. Somehow he had to get away.
He was trying to go somewhere, he understood that much. But what somewhere? Why? Was he trying to find someone? Was he worried about someone, even? Somehow that sounded right. But who? Why was he worried? How would he even get there when he did not know who the person was? Who he was? And when his head was threatening to pound him right out of awareness?
His equilibrium was lost. With a weak gasp and a moan he collapsed to the ground and lay still.
A cat, having observed the entire spectacle, meowed and leaped down from a nearby windowsill when it became apparent that the man was not getting up. It advanced cautiously; it knew how tricky and surprising humans could be. But this one did not so much as move, not even when the cat drew right up alongside and stared down at him.
It meowed again, pawing at the limp hand. When there was still no response it came closer still, sniffing all over as it investigated. It recognized the scent of blood. The human was hurt. With a low merow it sat down and curled up, offering the man its warmth.
When the humans came after a while, the cat tensed. It did not like what it sensed from them. A low growl rumbled in its throat.
They did not even notice. "Here he is," said the first. "Stupid fool, thinking he could get away in his condition."
"He's still alive, isn't he?" The second was unsure.
The first bent down, seeking a pulse. The cat yowled and stood, batting his hand with all claws bared. The man jerked back with a harsh swear and a cry. "What's the deal with this cat?" he yelled.
The second looked worried now. "It looks like it's taken a shine to Mr. Jeffers."
The first shook his hand, trying to rid himself of the sting. "So what? We're bigger than it. If it tries to keep us from taking him, just kick it or shoot it or something." He glanced at his confederate. "And Jeffers is alive, sure. He just passed out from that knock he took. You know how woozy he was off and on last night after it happened."
"You're sure those Secret Service agents think he's dead?"
"Of course they do! There's no reason for them not to. They have who they think was the real mastermind behind the plot. They don't know that Jeffers' unfortunate double was just a figurehead. Or that the real Jeffers and his daughter are still important to us." The first grabbed hold of the unconscious man's upper arms and started to drag him off the ground.
The cat was on him before his partner could even answer. It spat and snarled and dug in its claws. The thug yelled, dropping Jeffers to tug desperately on the animal's torso. "Come on, for crying out loud! Get it off!"
The second man snapped to, hurrying forward to help. Together they managed to pry the miniature tiger away, depositing it unceremoniously on the ground in the alley.
The first man went back for Jeffers in the next moment. "Quick, get him up," he ordered. His ally obeyed, but they were not out of the alley when the cat ran after them again. They soon dashed out the other end of the alley in a panic, dragging their prisoner. One of the men was now missing a very large piece of pant leg. The cat tossed it aside and gave chase, but the thugs were soon in a stage and gone.
The horses' hooves echoed loudly up and down the San Francisco streets.