Artemus Gordon groaned as he leaned his head against the rock. Not exactly what he would have chosen to rest against, but at that moment he had no other options available. How long had he been walking? He couldn't remember and didn't care to either. His side was screaming out in agony, but he dared not look at it. He didn't want to know how bad he was injured.
"Where's Jim?" he suddenly thought, greatly disliking his situation. The last time he remembered seeing Jim was when they had split up right after leaving their train, the Wanderer. That was two days ago and James West wasn't going to start missing him for another two days. This meant two more days of walking.
His horse had reared just as the first shot had rung out, and it was probably what had saved his life. The second shot, however, had caught him in the side. Artie had dove for cover, drawing his gun as he did so, but the sharpshooter was gone and so was his horse.
"I guess he accomplished his purpose," Artie mumbled as he desperately tried to stay awake.
The sharpshooter had left Artemus in the middle of the desert, miles from anywhere and obviously wounded. Apparently, he hadn't expected Artie to make it.
He had somehow managed to keep his canteen with him, although, how he had accomplished that, Artie was still wondering.
He would have given anything at that moment to see his partner come riding over the hill, but he knew he wouldn't see him for a while, if ever. Sighing deeply, he wished their last parting had been a happy one. But it hadn't. The two had quarreled about which way to go, and in the end they had angrily split up, Jim going the way he wanted and Artie going the other.
"I was right in the end," Artie smiled.
But what good was it to prove it to himself? Jim was miles away and probably would never see him again in the land of the living. Again Artemus sighed. He was never going to be able to set their last argument right. Thinking about it, he laughed slightly then groaned as the movement sent stabs of pain up his side.
He had called Jim, "Mr. Know-It-All who was going to end up losing his chance to catch the bad guy." It is funny how in the heat of an argument the stupidest things can be said that will make the other person mad. Artie wasn't sure why Jim had been infuriated when he had called him that, but he had, and he had shot back an equally offensive retort of his own. Artie couldn't remember what it was now, but it had seemed terrible at the time.
Dragging himself to his feet, he ignored the pain that radiated through his whole body, and started on. The sun beat down relentlessly making his suffering all the more great. How much longer could he go on? He dared not wonder. He would make it, and he would be just fine. A wave of dizziness hit him and he fell to his knees.
"Just fine indeed," he spat, waiting for the dizziness to pass.
He was losing blood faster than he cared to know, and his water supply was about gone. He had tried to save it but his wound had made him uncommonly thirsty and he drank. Now the canteen didn't have enough water for a fly, but he had kept it all the same. If he found water, he planned to have something to carry it in.
With the dizziness past, and the land back to where it was supposed to be, Artie started on but this time at a much slower pace.
"You need a place to stop for the night," he chided himself, hoping the sound of his own voice would brighten his surroundings. He wasn't surprised when it didn't.
Their mission had been a typical one: stop some power-hungry nut from ruling the world. As usual, the secret service had sent their two top agents to deal with this catastrophe. "The Doctor," as he had felt so inclined to call himself, had been planning to take over the world by taking over every mine you could think of. As impossible as that sounds, the Doctor had developed some crazy machine to do just that, and it was up to Jim and Artemus to stop him before he succeeded.
"I wish people could just live happily together," Artie sighed, "Why do some people always think themselves better than others?"
The Doctor had hidden himself away in his palace where his machine was kept. Jim and Artie had been able to break in and destroy the machine, but it was the Doctor that the government wanted; and he had gotten away. The agents knew that he couldn't have gone far, and that he would definitely make for one of the two towns near his palace. The problem was, which one?
Artie had presumed he'd make for the smaller of the two, for he assumed that the Doctor would think that would be the last place anyone would look for him. Jim had thought differently; he figured the Doctor would go to the bigger town with less chance of being noticed.
Their argument had been long and harsh. "Why is Jim so mule-headed stubborn?"
Artie's knees buckled and he landed on his wounded side. He stifled a cry of pain and wiped his sweating brow.
"Not so good off now, are you, Artie?"
No longer able to ignore his wound, he crawled to a bolder that was offering some shade from the sun. Tearing open his shirt, he peered at the wound. He had plugged the hole with his handkerchief, but it was doing little to stop the blood that oozed from it. Depression washed over him as he realized he had nothing better to wrap it with.
"Jim, my boy, now would be a great time for you to make one of those last minute rescues," he sighed.
Agonizingly, he went through his pockets until his hand found what he was seeking. Taking his pocketknife, he cut the bottom half of his shirt away. "Already ruined anyway," he mumbled. Then from that, he made a makeshift bandage. With it in place, he got to his feet and started staggering across the desert.
He was two days from the Wanderer, and only five miles from the town, but he didn't think he'd have any friends in that town so it was the train he headed for. The thought of his own bed on his own train was slightly heartening, and his step quickened by a bit.
He was tired. Exhausted. His body refused to take another step. Yet he remained upright, walking, stumbling and crawling back to his home. The bullet in his side tore at his insides, and with each agonizing step, it got worse. He was faint with fatigue and loss of blood. His mouth was dry and he desperately wanted something to sooth the pain. The never-ending pain.
"When was the last time I felt like this?" He couldn't remember. Gritting his teeth, he took one more step forward, then another and another.
"At this rate I should reach the train by Christmas," he muttered. It was in the middle of March.
There really was no hope in his situation. His mind went over him being two days away from anywhere, and Jim not missing him for two more days. He really had no hope of rescue. Not from Jim anyway. He was losing blood like a dog loses rewards, and he needed a doctor. By forcing himself to walk he was only further ensuring his death, but yet he couldn't sit still and watch his end come. At least this way he was doing something.
It was like living out a scary dime novel, only he couldn't flip to the end to see what was going to happen. He didn't know if he was going to live or die, but at the moment things were looking pretty bleak and his chances were slim to none.
The sudden sound of a whinny from a horse caught his attention and he turned with anticipation. His first hope was that Jim had defied all odds and had come to rescue him. But on further inspection, he saw that the horse had no rider, and it happened to be his.
Licking his lips, he gave a sharp whistle. The horse's ears pricked and it ran toward him. He whistled again until at last it reached him. The whole exertion had cost him a great amount of energy and he lagged against his horse. The horse had come right up and had not shied at the smell of blood, for it was a smell that it was well accustomed to.
Forcing one foot into a stirrup, Artemus slowly pulled himself up. Grimacing at the pain, he slid his other foot over the saddle and into the other stirrup. The world took a spin and he almost ended up in the sand, but he clutched the saddle-horn and was able to steady himself.
"Nice and easy now," he gasped as he started his horse into motion.
How he intended to stay on the horse was another matter that he would solve when needed. For now, they moved slowly across the dry land with the sun beating down on their backs, and the hot wind tearing at their faces. Artie didn't even see where they went. He left it up to the horse to find its own trail and get them home.
He felt sick. The bullet was lodged somewhere in his side made him feel nauseous. Reaching for his canteen, he drank the last swallow he had, and decided that there had been more than enough for a fly. He almost let it drop to the ground when he was done, but catching himself in time, he hooked it back over the saddle horn.
His side was giving him a bad time, and with each jolt and sway of the horse he slipped deeper into unconsciousness. His hand gripped the saddle horn so tightly that his knuckles had gone white. He didn't know how long or far they had traveled, and the only reason he knew when the sun finally went down, was because it had suddenly gotten cold.
He was shaking all over and that just made things worse. Painfully, he fell from the saddle and lay on the ground for some time.
"Jim, if you ever find me I promise to never argue with you again," he mumbled as he slowly sat up and grabbed the reins.
A coyote howled from somewhere, and Artemus shivered at the hollow sound. He looked to see if his rifle was still in its scabbard and was relieved when he saw it still intact. He wasn't on his feet for long. A sudden wave of dizziness sent him to his knees, and it wasn't long after that that he passed out.
The light from the blaring sun scorched his face and cracked his dry lips. With a groan, Artie blinked into the sun. Slowly looking around, he spotted his horse some feet way, grazing on the leaves of a desert bush. He tried to sit up, but that sent his head for a whirl, so he lay back down.
"Oh," he groaned, "I…got to get up…or I'll never…" he swallowed his last thought. Forcing himself to rise he stumbled to his horse, who patiently waited while he mounted.
It was a good horse, a very well-trained horse. Jim had taken the time and had trained Artie's horse for him. He hadn't really done it out of generosity. No, there had been a time or two when Jim's horse was unavailable and since Jim would borrow Artie's for a little while. It was then he did the training. He couldn't stand having a horse that didn't come to his whistle or that didn't stand still. How he had managed it, Artie was still wondering.
The ride now was much like his ride the previous day, only this time Artemus was out of his head. He mumbled about this and laughed about that and sang. He saw old faces, new faces, and faces he had known that were now dead. He saw days when he was acting on stage, and days where he was in a disguise, fooling some person to obtain information. He saw missions that he had been on, and parties that he had gone to. He saw President Grant and he saw Jim.
Jim, his partner. Suddenly snapped back to reality, he found that the sun was about to set and that he was lying face up on the ground. His horse was right next to him, noisily drinking from a hollow spot in some rocks where the rainwater had collected. Dragging himself over to the spot, he pushed the horse's head away and put his own in the crevice. There had been enough there to satisfy his thirst but not enough to fill his canteen.
His hand felt his wound and came away sticky with blood. Not giving it another thought, painstakingly he mounted his horse.
"Jim!" he called urgently. "Jim, why do you not come?" he was close to desperation. "Where are you?"
James West grumpily rode his horse down the streets of a town he had never heard of and hoped never to see again. He had gone and investigated the other town and had come against a dead end. Artie had been right, Dr. Thornton hadn't been there. He hated to admit it but Artie had been right.
He had taken a shortcut to the town, and hoped to reach there a day after Artemus would. He slowly dismounted in front of the rundown saloon and stretched, then quickly went inside and walked right up to the bar.
"Hey!" he banged on the bar to get the bartender's attention. "Remember me?"
"Yes, I remember you," the bartender spat. "You wrecked my place the other day and didn't pay for it."
"That's right," he nodded. "I'm looking for my friend who was here with me."
"I ain't seen him."
"I said, I ain't seen him and good riddance," the bartender started to walk away.
"No, wait a minute. You say you haven't seen him? But that can't be, he should have made it here yesterday."
"Well if he did, he didn't come in here, and I ain't sorry neither." Again, he started to leave.
"Have you seen Dr. Thornton?"
The bartender paused for a moment. "No," he lied.
Jim had lost his patience. Grabbing the bartender by the scruff of his shirt, he yanked him up to the bar.
"Where's Dr. Thornton?!"
"He's upstairs in the back room!" The bartender mumbled, wide-eyed.
Jim released him and charged up the stairs two at a time. He dashed down the hall but got cocky as he neared the last door. Drawing his gun, he slowly made for the door.
"One, two, three!" he mentally counted just before throwing the door wide open.
Taking in the room at a glance, there were two men standing on either side of Dr. Thornton, who was sitting in a chair. Both henchmen drew their guns, and James shot them, the first one through the head and the second through the heart. He then pointed his gun right at Dr. Thornton's head, who was pale-faced and wide-eyed.
"Mr. West…Please don't shoot!" he stuttered.
"Where's Artie?" Jim asked, taking a step closer.
"I…I don't know…"
Jim struck him from the chair. "Where's Artie?" he almost yelled.
"You'll never see him alive!" the Doctor snapped back, suddenly getting some bravado back.
Grabbing the Doctor's shirtfront, he pulled him to his feet. The Doctor made a wild attempt for an escape, but ended up in a headlock.
"Where's Artie?" Jim yelled, squeezing as tight as he could without killing the man.
"He's… dead… Trenton was sent to kill him," the Doctor gasped.
"What?" Jim instantly released his hold.
The Doctor fell to the ground rubbing his neck. Smiling mischievously from the floor he taunted, "He's deader than a doornail. Trenton made sure of that."
James glared at him. "Where?" he snapped.
"About five miles out of town," Dr. Thornton gloated.
Wrenching the Doctor to his feet, Jim pulled him down the hall. When they reached the stairs, he gave the Doctor a nice shove down. All heads turned and watched the spectacle until Jim appeared. Then they all quickly went back to their card games. Grabbing the Doctor by the collar, Jim dragged him out of the saloon and to the sheriff's office.
Upon entering, he didn't stop but took the Doctor straight to the back and locked him in a cell.
"You'd better pray Artie isn't dead, because if he is I'll come back and kill you." With that, he turned and left the flabbergasted Dr. Thornton behind bars.
The sheriff witnessed the whole scene without saying a word. He waited until Jim left the prisoner's cell and came to talk with him.
"I want to leave him here, and I'd like to know he's going to be here when I get back."
"What's he bein' locked up for?" the sheriff inquired. He knew Jim was a secret service man, but wasn't at all happy that the man he highly respected was being thrown in jail.
"For threatening the United States government," James said matter-of-factly.
The sheriff's jaw dropped. "I don't believe you," he stammered.
"I don't have time to argue with you. He'd just better be there when I get back."
The sheriff nodded his head slowly. "He'll be there."
And with that, Jim was out the door. Running across the street, he jumped on his horse and charged out of town in the direction Artemus would have come from. It was three o'clock in the afternoon when Jim left town and it was almost six when he came upon the spot where the fight had taken place. Dismounting, he searched all around, but found no body, only bloodstains.
Artemus was alive! Wounded, but alive or at least he had been a day earlier. Jim sighed a sigh of relief. The whole way out there he had been scared that he would find his partner's body, and he didn't know what he was going to do. But now new hope had started to form.
He left from there and followed his partner's tracks, across the desert. Jim was alarmed to see the amount of blood in the sand, and he had hurried his pace. He reached the rock where Artie had rested, Jim had to stop for the night.
He pushed himself on the next day, and about a half an hour into his ride, he found where Artie's horse had rejoined him. That gave him more hope to know that his friend was no longer walking. Hurrying on, he followed the wandering trail of the horse. Right about noon, he saw something that made his stomach turn. A group of turkey vultures were circling high around something dead. That something lay in the trail he was following, and he hurried his horse forward to see what it was.
He couldn't quite make it out until he was almost on top of it, for there was an even larger group of birds picking at their catch. Dismounting he shooed them away, and caught a glimpse of what looked like a large coyote. It had been shot several times, at close range. This meant whoever had shot it had waited for it to be almost on top of him before firing.
Running back to his horse, he left the birds to gorge themselves on the coyote; he had more important things to do.
Glancing at the sun, he figured how far he had come that day. He was a day away from the train, and he hoped only a few miles behind Artemus. Artie wasn't traveling very fast and it probably would take him another two days to reach the train from this point. However, if Jim could find him, there was a good chance they'd reach the train tomorrow, and Artie could get the help he badly needed.
The sun was blistering hot and Jim removed his coat. Wiping his face with his bandanna, he looked about him. The heat was wearing him down and his progress seemed to drag. But he pressed on; he was determined to find Artie that day. The sun was low in the west and on the verge of setting. James noticed it with frustration as he went on.
Topping a hill, he pulled out his glass and scanned the desert. A blob caught his eye and he focused in on it. It was a man lying next to his horse. There was only one person in James's mind who that would be and he charged down the hill.
Artie was mumbling about something when he got there, so he quickly dismounted and brought the injured man his canteen.
The feel of cold water running down his dry throat and over his face brought Artemus back to reality, and his eyes flickered open.
"James?" he mumbled thickly.
"Yeah, Artie, it's me."
"I knew you'd come." His eyes closed.
"Well I'm glad you knew I was coming. I had half a mind to leave you here. Just like you, lying down on the job. Leaving me to do all the dirty work," he teased as he assessed how bad off his partner really was.
Artie smiled. "Well you weren't expecting me to do it. Not after the hard time you gave me on our last mission."
Jim cringed as he felt his friend's head. Fever, of course. That bullet needed to come out and Artie was terribly dehydrated. Jim marked each thing off in his head as he went down the list.
"I think it's about time I got you home," Jim smiled. "Think you can ride on your own horse?"
"Try me," Artie mumbled.
"That's just what I intend to do."
He helped his friend to his feet, and together they made for Artie's horse. Once he was safely aboard, Jim mounted his own and led them home. He set a fast pace, and ignored the groans from behind. He had to get Artie home and the sooner the better.
They made three miles, before the sun finally dipped behind the horizon and was seen no more.
Jim quickly dismounted and went to stand next to Artie, "Look, Artie, I've got to get you home. Do you think you could make it if we push on through the night? There'll be a full moon tonight and it will give us more than enough light."
Artie groaned and slumped his head. "Whatever you say," he whispered.
He was pale, unusually pale, and he was shivering from head to toe. Walking back to his horse, Jim found his blanket and draped it over Artie's shoulders.
"We'll stop once we reach the train," he reassured his friend, who grumbled about something in return.
Onward they went, each step taking them closer to home.