The Night of the Code Stealers
A Wild Wild West story
The shooting star that streamed across the night sky jolted Artemus Gordon into realizing that he was lying flat on the cold ground, staring up at nothing. Alarmed, he tried to sit up, but failed miserably, as sudden pain throbbed through his head. He heard someone groan, and belatedly realized that the sound had come from himself. What happened? he wondered.
And where is Jim?
With a gasp, he tried to sit up again. His head swam sickeningly, and he closed his eyes, but managed to remain upright. It took him a minute to realize how.
Someone was holding him up.
"Artie!" he finally heard. "Artie, look at me."
Opening his eyes, Artie was relieved to see James West crouching before him, holding him up by the lapels of his jacket. "Hey, Jim," he said, weakly.
"Are you all right?" Jim asked. He quickly looked him over for wounds, not seeing anything in the dark besides a bruise on the left side of his friend's forehead.
"I've been better," Artie admitted, closing his eyes against another wave of dizziness.
"Did you get the code?" Jim asked.
Jim frowned. "Let's get you inside," he said, carefully pulling him to his feet.
Once standing, Artie didn't know up from down. "Ohhh…not one of your best ideas, Jim…" His knees buckled, and he felt Jim drag him over to the steps leading into the train. A minute later, he felt Jim gently lay him on the couch.
Artie groaned, one hand covering his eyes.
Jim went to fetch a towel and a bowl of water, quickly bringing them back and pulling a chair over to the couch. "Who did this to you? I looked for you all over Lewisburg for hours. How did you manage to make it back in this condition?"
"I don't know," Artie answered. He drew in a sharp breath when the wet towel was suddenly pressed to his head.
"Sorry," Jim said. Now that there was light, he could see the extent of his friend's injury: a bleeding cut on the left side of his forehead, in the middle of a large, purple lump. He knew what that meant. "You were pistol-whipped."
"I figured," Artie mumbled. "Oh, does it hurt."
"I'm sure." Jim rewet the towel and folded it longways, before laying it over Artie's forehead. "Just keep still."
"Believe me, I have no intention of moving."
"Good," Jim said. He reached over and unlaced the ribbon-tie under his friend's collar, before undoing the top button of Artie's shirt, in an attempt to make him comfortable. He was itching to know exactly what had happened to the other agent, but the way that Artie was breathing showed that he was in a lot of pain. "Artie, how many fingers do you see?" he asked, holding up two.
It took a few seconds for Artie to peek out from under his hand. "Are you really gonna make me count?" he asked.
Jim dropped a finger, to make it easier. "Yes."
Artie sighed, keeping his eyes hooded with his hand. He appeared to concentrate for a minute. "One."
Jim rolled his eyes. "I didn't tell you to figure out how many, I asked how many you could see."
Artie covered his eyes again. "Three…and a half."
Jim dropped his hand. "Thought so. It's safe to say that you have a concussion."
Artie sighed. "I didn't think that was ever in doubt."
Jim made a rueful face, not that his friend could see it with his hand still over his eyes. "What's the last thing you remember, Artie?"
The other agent was quiet for a minute. "I remember we left the train together…went to town…we're in Kentucky?"
"At least I remember that...but then there's nothing until I woke up with horses kicking the inside of my head."
"The horses," Jim suddenly realized. "They're still outside. Think about it if you can, Artie. I'll be right back."
What seemed like only a second passed, before Jim spoke again. "I'm back…you awake?"
Artie was startled. "I'mawake," he slurred.
Jim sat in the chair beside the couch. "Did you remember anything else?"
Artie sighed. "No. If I do, you'll be the first to know."
Jim echoed the sigh. "It's late…do you want me to help you to your room, or would you rather stay on the couch?"
"I think it'd be wiser to stay put, Jim."
Jim was surprised to get that answer. Artie's headache must truly be spectacular to make him choose the couch over his bed. He stood and fetched a blanket, before pulling his friend's boots off and covering him with it. He then lowered the lights and sat back in his chair, kicking off his own boots as he settled in.
Artie knew that he'd never be able to stop his friend from watching over him all night. "Thanks, Jim," he said, in appreciation.
"Anytime, pal," Jim replied. "Though you won't be thanking me in a couple of hours when I wake you up, to ensure that you haven't slipped into a coma."
At those words, Artie threw an arm over his eyes with with a groan.