The Wild Wild West
The Night of the Lazarus
Notes: The characters are not mine and the story is! This is an idea I've had for a long time now, and it's intended to branch into another story at its conclusion. I involve characters from several episodes, mainly The Poisonous Posey, The Big Blast, and The Sudden Plague. I honestly find Coley Rodman, from the latter episode, to be one of the most fascinating antagonists the show ever had (aside from Dr. Loveless, of course). He's an outlaw, and not a very nice fellow, and yet he refused to go along with the mad scientist's plans to eradicate the populations of entire cities and towns, despite the looting possibilities dead towns would present. I honestly believe he still has good in him.
Somewhere in the Western United States, circa 1874
In later years, Arte was never sure how it had happened. For that matter, he wasn't sure how it was happening at the very time it was happening.
It all started normal enough, with a message coming through on the telegraph one fine Spring day. Arte jotted it down while Jim thoughtfully wandered about the train car, gazing into the distance at nothing in particular.
It was usually Arte who transcribed their messages, if he was around. Jim was comfortable with it, but Arte was much more so. To Arte, technology was an exciting thing, as second nature to him as acting. Jim found it useful and sometimes intriguing, but he was not thoroughly fascinated by it as Arte was.
There were not many things that thoroughly fascinated Jim, and even less of those that he would display a visible interest in. He kept most of that locked inside.
Arte was one of the few people who knew a lot about what Jim was like beyond the deadpan mask. After working together for so many years, he had come to know Jim's thoughts and moods, even to be able to exchange information via silent glances and covert signals. And likewise for Jim, in many ways Arte was an open book.
They had started out working mainly as comrades, being more formal and distant with each other. But over time their relationship had developed into a deep and lasting friendship. Arte could not be closer to a biological brother than he was to Jim. Jim felt likewise.
At last the communication ended. Arte set down the pen, and Jim came back to attention so easily that it was obvious he had been alert as always, despite indications to the contrary.
"What's the news?" he asked.
Arte looked at the message he had scratched out. "It says we're to investigate some strange reports out near Justice, Nevada," he said.
Jim paused, not pleased. It was not one of his favorite places, mainly due to the unpleasant run-ins they'd had with the sheriff there. "What kind of strange reports?" he asked.
"It doesn't say much," Arte said, shaking his head. "Just that some nut has been setting off fires in town and the surrounding area."
"As long as Justice isn't having Law and Order Week, we should be fine," Jim grunted.
"And as long as we don't get caught in one of those fires," Arte was quick to add.
"True," Jim said with a vague nod.
The sheriff of Justice was surprised to see Jim and Arte, but having become aware of their identities as Secret Service agents following Lucrece Posey's arrest several years back, their second meeting was nowhere as awkward as their first.
"Well, it's good to see the U.S. government is right on top of things," he greeted as they arrived in town. He held out a hand to shake. "A fine thing, sending the both of you."
Jim shook his hand. "Sheriff."
Arte observed. "Since we've had prior experience here in Justice, and know the area, Colonel Richmond thought it would make the most sense to send us," he stated. "Hello, Sheriff!" He shook the man's hand once it was free. "What seems to be the problem?"
"Aside from half the town being burned down?" Sheriff Cord frowned. "There's been something odd and almost unholy going on just outside of town. Funny lights at night, weird noises . . ." He sighed. "And nobody can figure out what the devil is going on."
"Have you tried to investigate?" Jim queried.
"Well, of course I have!" Sheriff Cord grumped. "I know my way around this badge of honor I wear. The problem is, I can't ever find the source of the lights or the sounds! They just up and cut out before I ever have a chance to get to them."
"That is strange," Arte mused. "Almost as though someone knows you're looking."
"And I'm sure as anything that they do," Sheriff Cord said. "This whole thing is probably a plot to scare people away so they won't want to settle here."
"Do you know of anyone who'd want to do that?" Jim asked.
"Not off-hand, no. Justice is a perfect place to live!" Sheriff Cord's eyes narrowed. "The only kind who wouldn't wanna settle here are the varmints and scum we wanna keep out anyway."
"Alright," Arte said. "Well, we'll look around the area and stay alert for anything out of the ordinary. Does it happen every night?"
"Nope. Come to think of it . . ." Sheriff Cord paused. "It only really happens during a lightning storm."
"But your area doesn't get many of those," Jim protested.
"I know. Leastwise, it's not supposed to." Sheriff Cord frowned. "Lately, it's been happening more than it ever did before."
"Bizarre weather patterns," Arte said. "This wasn't mentioned in the official report."
"Well . . . I kept it out," Sheriff Cord admitted. "I didn't want it to look like I was plum crazy to a good man like President Grant. But everyone here can testify to the lightning storms!"
"How often does it seem to happen?" Jim wanted to know.
"Oh . . . once a week, at least," Sheriff Cord said. "It's been that way for the last month and half or so."
"Six or seven times?" Arte gasped.
"That sounds about right," Sheriff Cord nodded.
"And how often have things been burning down?" Arte persisted.
The sheriff gazed off into the distance as he considered the question. "Well . . . there was Bessie Smith's home last Thursday, and the tailor's shop before that, and . . ." He counted on his fingers. "All in all, it's been going on once a week too."
"I see," Arte murmured.
Jim glanced at him, then back to Sheriff Cord. "We'd like to ride out to the desert and have a look around, if you don't mind," he said.
"Mind? That's what you're out here for, to look around and figure out what's gone wrong," Sheriff Cord said. "I'll ride out with you and show you a spot where it sounds like some of these noises could be coming from. I'll just go pick up my horse and we'll be all set."
"Fine, fine," Arte nodded.
They walked out of the jail and let the sheriff go on ahead of them to the horses. Jim turned to face his longtime partner and friend. "Well, Arte?" he asked, keeping his voice low. "Do you have any idea what could be going on here?"
"Not yet," Arte said. "But it seems strange that everything happens together, including the fires."
"It could be lightning striking the buildings," Jim mused, "but it's unlikely it would keep happening every time."
"Exactly," Arte said.
"So, do you think someone could be controlling the lightning?" Jim wondered.
"It sounds insane, I know," Arte sighed. "But we've been seeing so many odd things. Would that really be any worse?"
"Actually, it's probably mild compared to most of what we've seen," Jim remarked.
"I know what you mean." As they reached the hitching post, Arte stopped walking and placed his hands on his hips. "Is there anything we haven't seen?"
"Who can say, Arte?" Jim shrugged. He climbed onto his waiting gelding. "They're coming up with new things all the time."
Sheriff Cord, already mounted, steered his horse to face them. "What are you two standin' around jawin' for?" he frowned. "We have to get going."
"We're coming now, Sheriff," Jim said.
Arte watched the two of them start down the street as he untied his horse from the post. He couldn't say why, but there was a very ill feeling building in his stomach. He had felt it before, usually when they were on a case that turned out to be particularly dangerous or deadly.
This outlandish scenario could certainly fit the bill. He hated to think what might be in store for them this time.
Quickly mounting as well, he hurried after Jim.
Even the saloon in Justice, Nevada could be rambunctious.
The man in the corner booth glowered as a wild drunk practically flew past, after being belted by another wild drunk. He pulled his dark hat farther down, shadowing his face.
He had not wanted to come to Justice. But he had been weak and ill and badly in need of supplies, and with Justice being the only nearby town, he had been forced to stop.
He had been on the run for several years now, after escaping custody of the guards at a prison transport. Some of his gang had escaped with him, but they had scattered in various directions on their leader's orders. He had believed they would have a better chance remaining alive and free if they separated. So far, for him at least, that had been true.
Since that time he had pulled jobs now and then, but generally only when he had to. He had money stashed away in several places, just for times such as this, and preferred to rely on it when he could. Some of it he had been able to locate and recover. Other locations had been as yet out of his reach. And someone else had found one of his deposits; it had been empty when he had arrived.
It could have been taken by almost anyone, from a down-on-his-luck slob to one of his own gang members. He was annoyed and even angry at the thought, but he wasn't about to go tracking down every one of his old allies to find out which one it might have been. He wanted to find out someday, but that was not the most important thing in his life right now.
"What's going on here?! Stop! Stop it!"
He glanced up as the horrified bartender ran out to stop the two drunks. Yes, that was probably the most action a crummy place like Justice had seen in some time. Of course it had to happen while he was there. If that high-handed sheriff got called in, he was liable to drag everyone in there down to the station, whether they had participated in the roughhousing or not.
He finished his drink in one gulp and got up, quietly walking around the side of the table closest to the wall. Continuing on that path, he stuck next to the back wall as he made his way to the nearest door.
"Hey! Leavin' al . . . already?"
He started as another, more cheery drunk suddenly got in his path. "What's it to you?" he frowned.
The sloshed man shrugged, swaying back and forth as he smiled at the stranger. "Nothin'. I just thought you'd want to stay and join in the fun. The sheriff's taking those two Secret Service agents to see the rocks outside of town. He won't be back for hours!"
The wanted man stiffened. "What Secret Service agents?"
"Oh . . . I dunno their names. They were here before, once. They're gonna look into the weird fires we've been having around here."
"Do you know if they're looking for anyone?"
"Nope, don't think so." The drunk wavered. "So? How 'bout it?"
"No." The outlaw tried to slip around him.
"Hey, don't I know you?" The barfly pointed a shaking finger. "You look kind of familiar."
"You must be mistaken," was the curt reply. "I've never seen you before."
"The sheriff's office!" the drunk burst out. "That's where I've seen you, on a poster in the sheriff's office. You've got the name of some kinda bean or horse or somethin'."
"What?!" The criminal stared. "You're mistaken. You've had too much to drink."
He cast a tense glance around the bar. No one was looking their way; they were too occupied watching the bartender try to control the hyperactive drunks.
The feel of a finger poking him in the chest made him look back with a snap. "Pinto!" the drunk slurred. "Little Pinto. That's your name."
The sober man pushed him back with a gloved hand. "Little Pinto is dead." As the staggering fellow collapsed into a chair like a sack of potatoes, the outlaw briskly walked past and towards the door at last.
"You look just like him, if you're not him!" the drunk hollered at his back. "Little Pinto! One of that Posey lady's crooks. He was killed right here in town, you know. The whole gang was, 'cept Posey herself and one guy. You've gotta be Little Pinto, come back from the dead!"
Several people were turning to look now, but the man still had his hat pulled low as he hurried past. And, knowing very well that Little Pinto was indeed dead, they paid little heed to him. The man at the table was so drunk he wouldn't recognize his own mother.
The outlaw could hear the patrons talking and scoffing behind him. Notwithstanding their disbelief, he dove around the side of the building and into the alley. He needed to get out of here.
It was not the first time he had been mistaken for a man who had easily passed as his double while alive. And after the people talked among themselves for a while, someone would hit on the realization of who the stranger actually was. Then he would be in trouble.
Being on the run was not much of a life. But if he were caught, he knew he was likely to die. And he preferred his current predicament to that fate.
"It's true that Little Pinto is dead," he muttered under his breath. "But Coley Rodman is alive and well. And he intends to stay that way."
It was nearly dark by the time Coley rode his horse out of town. And much to his displeasure, the sheriff's deputy had been unknowingly blocking the way Coley had wanted to go. Not wanting to ride past him, Coley had determined instead that his chances were better among the hills and rocks. He knew the approximate spot where the strange activity had been taking place. That was where the sheriff and those agents would be. And he knew how to stay far away from it and out of their view. The cover of night would be an asset to him right now.
Nevertheless, even as he kept to his side of the desert and wove in and out from between the rocks, he could make out the figures moving in the starless night. One of them, probably the sheriff, was in the lead. He pointed ahead to the same rock mountains that Coley had determined were the probable source of all the oddities. Dismounting, one of the other figures moved ahead for a better look.
Suddenly the night sky was ablaze with color and sound. The ground rumbled and shook as the tremendous explosion rocked the area. Frightened, Coley's horse reared and whinnied, waving its front legs in the air. Coley gritted his teeth and pulled on the reins, stunned but not about to let his surprise affect his actions.
"Whoa!" he ordered. "Settle down!"
But the horse would have none of it. And as it danced and pranced, an agonized, disbelieving voice cut through the night.
The third figure dismounted, running ahead to the inferno. The sheriff was right on his heels, yelling that there was nothing to be done, for him to come away before he was killed too.
Coley stared, still gripping his horse's reins. That voice was familiar. He knew it all too well, despite not having heard it in a while. And Jim. . . . Putting those two things together, and the knowledge that the men were Secret Service agents, Coley could come up with only one answer.
"Jim West?" he breathed. "He was caught in that explosion?"
It was Artemus Gordon trying to all but dive into the flames. And it was Sheriff Cord tackling him from behind and dragging him to the sand and dirt, to keep him from making such a futile, foolish effort.
They were the only two people present, aside from Coley.
Jim West was nowhere to be found.