The Night of the Special Delivery

 

By Rocker H

 

The night had been a quiet one, a well deserved respite for the two weary Secret Service agents. Artemus Gordon and James West relaxed in the finely appointed car of their private train, The Wanderer. The older of the two men raised a finely cut crystal goblet in salute to his friend and partner. “Congratulations, James, my boy; we wrapped up the case and lived to fight another day. Well done!”

 

The younger gentleman raised his glass in return. “Another day.” He slowly sipped his wine then added, “Artie, have you ever noticed that we seem to get all the ‘do or die’ cases?”

 

Puzzled, Artie replied, “What do you mean, Jim?”

 

Getting up from the settee, the athletically built man stretched his legs and walked across to the table to pour another glass of wine. “I mean, doesn’t it seem odd to you that with all the other agents in the Secret Service’s employ, we are the one’s that have to put our lives on the line every time we leave this train.”

 

“Tsk, Tsk. Would you like some cheese with that whine, Jim? Besides, they do their jobs, and we do ours.” Artie added with a yawn, “It has been a hard few weeks and you are just plain worn out; we both are.”

 

“I guess,” Jim answered, stifling a yawn of his own.

 

“Besides, just take a look around. Do any of those others agents have such lush accommodations?” Artie opened his arms in a dramatic flourish encompassing the parlor car.

 

“Hobbs and Whyman have the sister car to this one back east,” West added dryly.

 

“Really? No!” Artie was taken aback by this news and looked devastated.

 

“Yeah, it’s true. I thought you knew; sorry to burst your bubble.” Jim felt a tiny thrill of satisfaction at knowing something Artie did not. “But, I get your point. Just once, though, I would love to get one of those mind-numbing, petty and ridiculous cases that every other agent rails against.”

 

“Careful what you wish for, James. Hobbs and Whyman? Hmph.” Clapping his partner on the shoulder, Artie suggested that Jim call it a night, “Go on, I’ll take care of things in here.”

 

“That’s the best idea I’ve heard all day. See you in the morning, Artie.” Jim headed down the hall to his sleeping compartment and shut the door.

 

Artie tidied up the varnish car, mumbling to himself as he locked the various locks and armed the numerous security devices. “Why does Hobbs get a train? He and Whyman are in the East, for pity’s sake. They can’t swing a cat without hitting a hotel. Great jumping balls of….” The familiar tapping of the telegraph broke into his rant. “Saint Elmo’s fire!” Artie uttered as he cracked his shin against the desk in the dark, “Not again! We’ve been on assignment for four weeks running.” Opening the telegraph key disguised as a leather-clad set of books, Artie dutifully signaled back his acknowledgement. As the message was received, he spoke it aloud, as was his custom. 

 

                                    Well done West and Gordon.

                  Convicted counterfeiters cooling heels in federal prison. 

                   Report to Saint Louis immediately for next assignment. 

                          Top Secret. More to follow. Ulysses S. Grant

 

“Saint Louis,” Mr. Gordon grumbled. “As if we have a choice.” Artie sent back the acknowledgement and stomped back to his compartment for the night.

 

From within his room, Jim called out, “Was that the telegraph I heard along with something that sounded suspiciously like a whine? I have some cheese left, my friend.”

 

“Very funny,” replied a disgruntled Artemus Gordon. “I’ll fill you in come morning. It can wait.” 

 

The night of well-earned sleep ended too quickly for the two men. Just before dawn, the insistent tinkling of bells attached to the pigeon roost awakened them. “Jim!” Artie called out. “It’s your turn to tend the birds; I took the message last night.” Not waiting for a reply, he buried his head under the pillow and tried to go back to sleep.

 

Jim’s muffled curse fell on deaf ears. But soon, West was out of bed and headed to the parlor car. The pigeon coop was located in a secret compartment behind the fireplace. James spoke calmly to the agitated birds, “Morning, Henry, Henrietta, and who do we have here?” Reaching into the coop he extracted one plump pigeon with a small capsule banded to her leg. “Arabella, what do you have for us today?” Jim carefully removed the capsule and twisted it open. The text was coded and it took a minute to decipher, but Jim soon had it translated; Report to Captain Raleigh in Saint Louis as soon as possible. Pick up special item for immediate delivery to owner in Denver. Running his hand through his tousled hair, Jim paused for a moment, puzzled. Heading towards his partner’s room he shouted, “Hey Artie! You know anything about this?”
 

This time Artie flung a well-chosen word and followed it with a well-aimed boot. “I don’t know anything about anything. I just want a few quiet and uninterrupted hours in the arms of Hypnos, (God of Sleep). Is that too much to ask?”

 

With a grin, Jim replied, “Apparently President Grant thinks it is. Our feathered friend Arabella brought us a new assignment.”

 

Rolling slowly to an upright position, Artie reached for his maroon dressing gown. Then, assuming the character and accent of an irate French chef, promised to serve sautéed pigeon under glass at the earliest opportunity. Reverting just as quickly back to Artemus Gordon, cranky Secret Service agent, he continued, “What fire needs these particular firemen now?”

 

“I don’t know, exactly; it was kind of a strange message. Very vague, even for Washington. Anyway, we have to report to a Captain Raleigh in Saint Louis.”

 

“I wondered what that wire I got last night meant. Anything else?”
 

“Just that we are to pick up a special package from him and deliver it to its owner in Denver,” scowling Jim handed the message back to Artie.

 

“I don’t get it. We are kind of pricey to use as a delivery service. There are other ways to send things cross-country. Look out, James, it seems like your wish for something boring and mundane might be coming home to roost, just like our friend Arabella.” He flipped the message back to his partner. “As long as I am up, I’ll fix breakfast. Tell me again why we had to let Tennyson go? He could brew a cup of tea to die for.”

 

As the morning progressed, the train rumbled through the quiet Missouri countryside on its way to the Saint Louis rendezvous. By the time the Wanderer arrived at the railroad siding in the Gateway City, the two agents were completely mystified by the nature of their new assignment. Since Arabella’s arrival in the early morning hours, they had received two more telegraph messages relaying the importance of the mission, but nothing explaining it. As soon as the train slowed to a stop, Jim and Artemus leapt out. Hiring a carriage, they headed straight to the territorial headquarters of the Treasury Department. “Do you have any idea what this item could be?” Artie mused.

 

“If I did, I’d have this whole business sorted out by now. I am totally in the dark on this one, friend. What could possibly be so important that they would want us to hand deliver it?” Then reining the horses in, he stopped in front of a two-story stone office building. “I guess we’ll find out when we find Captain Raleigh.”

 

West and Gordon were met by an efficient and beautiful receptionist and escorted to the outer office of Captain Raleigh. “Please have a seat, gentlemen; the Captain has been expecting you. He’ll be here presently. May I get you anything while you wait?”

 

Seeing his chance, Jim turned on the ever-present West charm, “A cup of sand would quench a dying man’s thirst if presented by you dear.”

 

Artie rolled his eyes, but did not dare critique his partner’s practiced approach. “A cup of sand for my partner and a glass of water for me, thank you very much.”

 

“Mr. West, I have been warned about you,” She said, shutting Jim down cold. 

 

“On the other hand, Mr. Gordon, I find you absolutely charming,” cooed the receptionist.

 

“Well, um, um ,then…” Artie stammered. “Perhaps we could take some supper later on this evening, if you don’t have other plans. I know of this exquisite little place not too far from here. You, me, no one else around to disturb us.” This last sentence was added for West’s benefit.

 

“I would love to, Mr. Gordon; we’ll talk later. Here is Captain Raleigh,” blushed the receptionist. “Captain Raleigh, Mr. West and Mr. Gordon.”

 

“Ahh, Jim, Artemus, good to see you again. You probably don’t remember me, but we met about a year ago in Washington. I was an aide to President Grant at the time.”

 

“Of course,” Jim nodded. “It was at a benefit dinner wasn’t it?”

 

Captain Raleigh was surprised at the agents’ recall. “I can see why the President selected you all for this assignment.”

 

“Just what is the assignment? We have been told everything but what we are to deliver,” Jim was getting a little peeved at the turn this meeting was taking. “Let’s quit dancing around here and get down to business.”

 

Artie knew his partner well enough to surmise what was bothering him, and he smiled. “James is quite correct. Just what is it that we are delivering?”

 

“Fair enough, gentlemen. Here’s the story,” Raleigh continued. “Senator Joshua Livingston from Kentucky has been temporarily relocated to Denver, as you know. Because of his involvement in the Senate corruption scandal and the subsequent round up of guilty parties, President Grant thought it best that he stay out of the way until the trials have been concluded. Well, they have dragged on longer than anticipated and to make matters worse, the Senator’s wife has taken ill. With Mrs. Livingston in the hospital, that leaves no one to ride herd, I mean care for, their fourteen year old son, Zack.”

 

In unison the two agents shouted, “President Grant wants us to babysit?”

 

Raleigh cringed at this outburst, “Yeah, no, well, not exactly. President Grant, your boss, wants you to deliver his dear friend’s son to him in Denver. He wouldn’t think of asking anyone else to perform this task. Those were his exact words gentlemen.”

“He wants us to babysit a fourteen year old kid?” repeated an incredulous James West.

 

Artie continued, “Across some of the roughest miles this country can dish out…”

“With every kind of vice and danger that you can imagine,” Jim picked up.

 

“And plenty that you can’t!” finished Artemus a little out of breath.

 

“With all due respect, sir,” Jim tried to argue, “Isn’t this a little out of our line? We are used to handling criminal masterminds, not teenaged boys.”

 

“That is exactly why President Grant insisted you were the right men for the job,” Raleigh continued. “There is nothing closer to a seasoned criminal mastermind than a teenaged boy that has been left to his own devices for the better part of a year. End of discussion, men. You report to the President and this is his assignment. Let’s have you meet the boy, now shall we?” With that, Captain Raleigh practically bolted from the room, leaving Jim and Artie alone to discuss the assignment so hurriedly dumped in their laps.

 

Artie glared at his partner, “Not one word from you, James. This is all your doing. You just had to wish for something different. Well, my boy, you’ve—we’ve got it now!”

 

“This is not exactly what I had in mind,” Jim grumbled in self defense. I was thinking more along the lines of beautiful women counterfeiters and something that involved hours of surveillance with said beautiful women. Not once did babysitting fourteen-year-old boys ever enter into it.”

 

“Next time I suggest you be a bit more specific. A fourteen-year-old criminal mastermind? I am getting too old for this line of work, James my boy. Maybe I’ll ask for a transfer to someplace peaceful and quiet, say like Yuma Territorial Prison.” It was Artie’s turn to pout.

 

Presently the door to Captain Raleigh’s office banged open. A shuffling, miserable specimen of a boy was virtually shoved into the outer office. Zack was a big boy for his age, and even at fourteen, had at least three inches over James West. The brown eyed, shaggy haired boy stopped in front of the two agents and rudely sized them up. “This is the famous James West and Artemus Gordon? They don’t look like so much to me. Just a couple of citified dudes to my eye. The short one there is downright pretty.”

 

Stepping forward, ‘the short one’ screwed a grin on his face and extended his hand. Their hands met in a death grip hand shake that Zack pulled out of first.

 

Artie bowed politely, and with a menacing grin of his own, added, “That’s Mr. West and Mr. Gordon to you Mr. Livingston.”

 

It seemed clear to everyone that Zack Livingston, scourge of Lexington, Kentucky, had finally met his match. Clear to everyone, that is, except Zack.

 

“Now, Zack,” the captain directed, “go along and collect your belongings. We’ll be along directly.” Still nursing a sore hand, Zack did what he was told without argument.

 

In an instant Jim was in the captain’s face. “You can’t be serious! Grant wants us to spend two weeks in a confined space with him?”

 

“What my overly demonstrative partner means,” Artie said quietly as he discreetly pried Jim off the captain’s lapels, “is a boy such as that needs more care and fatherly attention than we can legally supply. We aren’t fathers and have had little or no training in that blessed profession.”

 

“But you have had plenty of training, at the tax payers’ expense, in what the boy really needs---protection.”

 

“For him or from him?” Jim asked innocently.

 

“Humor aside, gentlemen,” Captain Raleigh said glaring at West, “it is your job to see that Zack Livingston is delivered safely to his father. Yes, he may be a handful, but underneath it all, he is just a scared kid. His father was shipped to hundreds of miles away after receiving death threats and now his mother is seriously ill with tuberculosis. How would you feel in his shoes, West? Gordon?”

 

The two agents hung their heads sheepishly, as the captain continued. “Senator Livingston has confided in the President that he has received several messages threatening the boy’s life as well. Now are you beginning to see the importance of this ‘babysitting mission” as you call it?”

 

“Yes sir,” Jim replied. “We had no idea that he had been threatened as well. Of course we’ll escort the boy to his father.”
 

“All in a day’s work, Captain Raleigh,” Artemus said. “Can you tell us who brought him this far? Maybe we could gather some information from them?”

 

“Agents Hobbs and Whyman picked him up in Lexington a few days ago and brought him straight here without any mishaps. They have since been called away on another assignment. The only thing odd in their report was a vague reference to keeping the guns and incendiary devices under lock and key.”

 

Artie winced and let out a wistful sigh. “They have incendiary devices too? I bet they don’t even know who invented half those things they have laying around their fancy little train.” Jim gave Artemus a nudge to bring him back to the situation at hand. “Oh, sorry, I’m back now,” he added blushing.

 

“Well, dear little Zack will never be reunited with his Pa if we stay around here, so let’s get this show on the road, partner. This next week should prove to be a real eye-opening experience,” Jim announced. The men turned to leave.

 

“Jim, Artemus, remember that beyond anything else Zack is a scared boy. Don’t come down too hard on him.”

 

“Yes sir,” the men answered. “Tell President Grant and Senator Livingston that we will deliver the boy safe and sound,” finished Artemus. Then turning to Jim, “Do you have any idea what to do with a boy of that age for seven long days or more?”

 

“Relax, Artie,” Jim said with a wink. “How hard can it be? We were fourteen once.”

 

“Right you are, James, my boy, and that is what shakes me to my core.”

 

**********

 

The carriage ride back to the train yard was every bit as pleasant as the two agents had imagined. Zack spent the entire trip gazing morosely out the window or staring blankly at the back of his hands.

 

“So Zack,” Artemus began brightly, “what exactly do you like to do when you are home in Lexington? Hunt? Fish?” A sigh was what he received in answer. Never one to say die, Artie continued, “Do you have a special girl? I bet you have several, a good looking young man like yourself.”

 

Zack shifted his gaze from his hands back to the window. “I don’t hunt. Father would never let me have a gun. Said I wasn’t responsible enough. Fishing is boring and girls are stupid. Does that answer those questions for you, Mr. Gordon?”

 

Stifling a laugh, Artemus nodded ‘yes’.

 

Jim, on the other had had enough of the boy’s rude behavior. “Zack, I know you don’t want to be here with us. I know you are worried about more things than most grown men have to worry about in a lifetime. But if we don’t agree to at least try to get along, these next few days are going to be hell for all of us, you included.” There was no way to know if this message found its target. There was no change of expression, no grunt of acknowledgement, so he dropped it. Denver suddenly seemed a whole lot farther away.

 

***********

 

Jim agreed to give up his sleeping quarters for the duration of the trip. He moved his gear to the stable car, and readied the compartment for its new occupant. Artie was a bit dismayed at this sudden wave of generosity. “You don’t have to do this, Jim. The boy is young; he can sleep anywhere.”

 

“I know, but if it helps him to feel more at home having his own place, then it is a small enough price to pay. Besides, it means I have an escape too. In case I feel the need to bestow some fatherly advice on his head.”

 

“Now, James. You know what? Now don’t hit me for saying this, but I do see more than a little of you in that boy.”

 

“My ma would have whipped me into tomorrow if I’d behaved like he did,” Jim argued.

 

“And I bet you still have some marks to prove it, don’t you?”

 

“I sure do,” Jim grinned. “But I learned.”

 

“And Zack will too. It’s really not fair to judge him yet. I wouldn’t want to be in his place. Would you? Farmed out to a couple of confirmed bachelors on a cross-country trip to the other side of everything you know?”

 

“Don’t you ever tire of being right?”

 

James, it’s a curse I’ve learned to live with. Shhh, here he comes.”

 

Jim showed the boy to his quarters. “Zack, this is where you’ll be bunking. I’m just moving some of my belongings out to the rear car. Make yourself at home.”

 

“Why?” Zack asked flatly.

 

“Why what?” Jim responded in a similar tone.

 

“Why are you doing this?” Zack gestured to the ever growing pile of Jim’s belongings in the corridor. “You don’t even like me.”

 

“We don’t even know you might be a more accurate description of the situation,” Artemus replied.

 

“He,” glaring at Jim, “about broke my hand at the Captain’s office.”

 

“And you didn’t ask for that?” Jim countered.

 

Sensing a small storm brewing, Artie stepped in to change the subject, “Zack, when you get settled, head back down the hall to the galley. I’ll fix you something to eat.”

”Don’t bother. I have a basket of sandwiches Whyman and

Hobbs fixed for me. They were really nice and great cooks as well. Doubt you’d measure up.”

 

Now it was Jim’s turn to step in, “Umm, Zack? Help me carry my stuff to the back would you?”

”No, I’m tired. Move your own stuff; I didn’t ask you for any favors.” He kicked the remaining clothes and baggage out into the hall, then shut the door. The two agents stood stock still with their mouths hanging open.

 

“Can you tell me what just happened here?” Jim exclaimed.

 

“Hurricane Zack has struck from the looks of things. Tomorrow. We’ll have a fresh start tomorrow and things will look much brighter.”

 

“It has been a very long day,” Jim agreed. “See you in the morning.”

 

The night passed quietly and a bright new day did dawn. Jim and Artie were up at first light, as was their norm. Breakfast came and went without the first sign of their teenaged guest.

 

“Growing boys do need their sleep.” Jim said.

 

“But it is well after nine o’clock. We’ll be pulling into Kansas City in no time and he sure can’t stay on the train alone.”

 

Deep in conversation of the day’s activities, Jim and Artie didn’t notice their house guest’s arrival. “Do you two always talk so loud? How’s a man supposed to get any sleep around here?”

 

“Good morning, sunshine!” Artie grinned. “We were just talking about you.”

 

“So I heard,” Zack growled. He plopped himself down at the table and helped himself to the eggs in front of him. “Ugh! They are cold.”

 

“They weren’t two hours ago. We eat breakfast at seven on this train. Hope you can make it next time,” Artie offered brightly.

 

“But I was asleep then and I am hungry now,” Zack whined.

 

“Lunch is only a few short hours away. Until then, Mr. West and I have some business that needs our attention in Kansas City, which awaits right outside the window.”

 

“Doesn’t look like much of a city to me. What am I supposed to do while you all are working?”

 

With carefully chosen words, Jim made his suggestion. “You can have your pick of spending the morning with Mr. Gordon or me.”

 

“I choose to stay right here on the train.”

 

“No, try again,” Jim encouraged. “A trip to the courthouse with Mr. Gordon, or to the bank with me.”

 

“I said I choose to stay here. I really don’t think you can make me do otherwise.”

 

A slight gasp from Artemus was the only warning Zack received. In a flash, Jim was across the room wearing a face he usually reserved for the most hardened of criminals. “Now Zack,” Artie continued. “You were about to tell us your choice of activity for the day.”

 

Trying in vain to get his voice under control, the teen stammered, “To…to…to…to the bank, with Mr. West.”

 

“OK then,” Jim said sweetly. “Get dressed and be back here in ten minutes.”

 

They were ready and out of the door in half the time. “Have fun. boys!” Artie yelled in a shrill falsetto as they made their way across the train yard.

 

“What is the matter with him, Mr. West?”

 

“With who?”

 

“Mr. Gordon, who do you think? He is kind of a strange one.”

 

“Really? I hadn’t noticed.”

 

“Come on, you know what I mean. You and him are nothing alike. He seems so...well you know. A really odd duck. Not tough like you. I sure wouldn’t have to count on him in a tight corner is all I am saying.”

Jim stopped short and whirled around to face the boy. “Just so you know, there is no better man to have in your corner than Artemus Gordon. I have never had a partner that I could trust more. You think I’m tough? Artemus Gordon has a kind of strength you couldn’t even begin to understand. I don’t know how he does it time after time. I would have been dead long ago if it weren’t for that ‘odd duck’ as you call him.” There was no room for discussion in his voice.

“Geez, you sure do get mad quicker than just about any one I know,” Zack said trying to breathe normally. I didn’t mean anything by it. I just never met anyone quite like him before.”

 

“That, young man, is a safe bet. Now, let’s get you a haircut before the bank opens. We can at least make you look respectable.”

 

“Yes sir.” Zack was silently impressed by West’s loyalty and devotion to his partner, and thought, “Maybe this trip might turn out to be ok after all.”

Neither West nor the boy noticed the small, wiry cowhand sitting on the bench just outside the barber shop. He had followed them from the train yard and watched, with interest, their every move. A heavy set man joined the lean cowhand on the bench. Leaning his head towards the doorway, the cowboy spoke, “They’re in there. It’s West alright, no question about that. He has the boy with him too. You want me to take care of them now?”

 

“No, L.T.,” replied the heavier man under his breath, “There are too many people around. Just stick with them; you’ll know when to make your move. Just don’t lose them again.”

 

“No sir, Mr. Jackson. There will be no foul-ups this time. West won’t know what hit him, and the boy is too scrawny to put up much of a squawk.”

 

With that, the man called Jackson stood up and melted into the crowd.

 

Directly, Jim and Zachary came out of the barber shop freshly shaved and shorn. “Now you almost look like you should be traveling with us,” teased Jim.

 

“But my hair! They cut it so short. That man was a butcher, not a barber.”

 

“Relax, kid; I could have had Artie cut it for you.”

 

“Is there anything that man can’t do?”

 

“Now you are catching on,” Jim said smacking the back of Zack’s head playfully. “There is the renaissance man himself! Artie, over here.”

 

“Mr. West, can’t we get lunch now?”

”I was just thinking the same thing, Zack. And, if I know Artemus, he will have already selected the best dining establishment in town.”

 

Looking hopefully at the saloon across the street Zack questioned, “What about there? I bet that is a great place.”

 

“Not for what we are looking for at the moment,” Jim laughed. “Shhh, come on.”

 

Sneaking up behind an unheeding Mr. Gordon, they caught him by surprise. “Blast it Jim! How can we be expected to teach this boy civilized behavior if you pull that kind of nonsense?”

 

“Oh, we were just having a little fun, Mr. Gordon. Besides, no one said anything about teaching me anything. Aren’t you just supposed to deliver me to my Pa?”

 

“He’s got you there Artie,” Jim teased.

 

“Well, if you two children are finished playing, we can get some lunch. I happen to know the best place in town, and if you behave, they might just let the likes of you in.”

”What did I tell you, Zack?” Jim asked with a sly wink.

 

After lunch, Zack once again tagged along behind Jim like a puppy. They finished their various tasks and were headed back to the train station when a young woman plowed right into Mr. West. Pointing to the alley behind her, she pleaded, “Get him! He stole my purse. I must have it back! Please sir!”

 

Without hesitation, James West barreled down the alley in hot pursuit. It was a dead end and it was a set up. Jim knew he had been suckered in an instant. “RUN, ZACK!” he bellowed just as the first of three men landed a blow to his head. With a body block, Jim took the first man down. He then was able to center his attention on the other two thugs. It was over before it really started, and a dusty but otherwise unhurt Jim West emerged from the alley. 

 

Turning the corner he encountered a concerned Artemus and Zack. “Well, Jim, I turn my back on you and your little playmates for five minutes… Won’t you ever learn to play nicely with the other boys?”

 

“I always have run with a rough crowd. Zack, you ok?”

 

“Yeah,” but the boy was obviously shaken by the incident. The two agents put the boy safely between them and made their way back to the train yard.

 

Later that night after dinner Zack asked, “Mr. West, did you really take care of all three of those men by yourself?”

 

“Really, boy, there were only three after all,” replied Artemus, but with an obvious glow of pride in his partner’s abilities. “Now you need to get off to bed and remember what time we eat breakfast around here.”

 

Once Zack was down for the night, the two men went over the days events. “Jim, do you think it was the boy those men were after, or you?” Artie asked handing his partner a glass of wine. “Will this do? Or would you like something stronger?”

 

“Something stronger might settle the dust a bit quicker. I don’t know, really; they never went after him. I didn’t recognize any of my sparring partners, who ever they might have been waiting for,” Jim added rubbing his scraped knuckles.


”They didn’t have a chance to grab him, and I doubt they wanted to cause a scene. That boy can move! He about knocked me down when I came around the corner of the building.”

 

“I should have known better. I let that damsel in distress act draw me right down that alley like an idiot. I jumped in with both feet and never once thought about Zack’s safety.”

 

“Quit beating yourself up, Jim. The important thing is the boy is fine and so are you. Now at least we know that the threats are real. How do you want to handle things from here?”

 

“I think I‘ll go back into town tomorrow and take a look around. You take the train and start down the line for Denver. I’ll catch up with you tomorrow night or the day after that,” West directed.

 

“You know Zack is going to be quite disappointed in having to stay with me. I do believe you have a new president of your fan club, James my boy.”

 

“It’s nothing like that. I bet you’ll be surprised at how quickly he takes to you as well,” Jim blushed.

 

Zack was disappointed when Jim readied to leave the train early next morning. “Can’t I come with you please?” he pleaded. “I can help you find them. I saw them too!”

”All the more reason for you to stay on the train, Zack. This is not a game; they meant business. I can’t do my job if I have to worry about you. You and Mr. Gordon will get along great. If you are a good boy, he might even show you the new gadgets he’s been working on.”

 

“Quit treating me like a kid,” Zack demanded.

 

“Look, I am sorry. But the best place for you is right here on the train. That’s the end of it.” Jim apologized.

 

After a few hours alone, Artie had run out of ideas to keep the young man entertained. One could only play so many games of chess and checkers before the novelty wore off. Losing countless games had taken its toll on the fourteen-year-old and he was getting testy. “Don’t you ever get tired of winning all the time,” he complained. “Couldn’t you even pretend to make a bad move?”

 

It hadn’t occurred to Artie that the boy was taking the beating so personally. As a boy, Artemus would spend hours playing with his grandfather and learned as much by losing as winning. “Zack, I am so sorry. Would you really want me to play poorly just so you could win?”

 

“Yes!” came the boy’s surprise reply. “We’ve been playing for hours and I haven’t won once! Oh, just forget it!”

 

“Let’s find something else to amuse ourselves shall we then?” diverted Artemus. As a last resort, Gordon took Zack on a complete tour of The Wanderer. Together they explored nooks and crannies that even Artie had forgotten. With Artemus as guide and narrator, the two spent the entire day lost in tales of intrigue, espionage and high adventure. Each gadget and invention would launch Artemus into another hair-raising story of close escapes and near misses. Artie never enjoyed a better audience and Zack was caught up in a world he never knew existed.

 

Later that night, as Zack readied for bed, he asked quietly, “Mr. Gordon? Mr. West told me you saved his life more times that he could count. I wasn’t so sure if I believed him then, but I think do now.”

 

“He told you that? It’s true, but it works both ways. Jim is my partner and that is what partners do, I guess. You have to be able to count on them to swim the river with, if you get my meaning,” Artie said thoughtfully.

 

“Well, I had a great time with you today, once we put that blasted chess board away. Thanks.”
 
”You know what, boy? So did I. Good night. Maybe we can go riding tomorrow after I take care of a few things around here. Would you like that?”

 

“Yes sir. That would be great. See you in the morning.”

 

By three o’clock the next afternoon, the chores tying Artie and Zack to the train were finished. “You ready for that ride now, Zachary?”

 

“I was ready a long time ago. I didn’t think Secret Service agents had homework to do too.”

“You don’t know the half of it. Paperwork will be the end of me yet. Jim hates sitting still long enough to do it, so it all falls to me.”

”Sounds like me and my schoolwork. I rather be doing just about anything else”

 

“I told Mr. West that you two were alike,” proclaimed Artemus. “Now you go saddle the two mares. I’ll be right there.”

 

As Zack saddled the horses, Artie received an urgent telegraph from his partner.

 

                             Plot confirmed. Danger real.

                        Don’t take any unnecessary chances.

                            Stop train and wait for me

 

“Zack,” Artie called back to the stable car. “We are stopping to wait for Mr. West, but I’m not sure that we ought to take that ride just now.”

 

“But Mr. Gordon, I’ve been waiting all day. You promised,” the boy whined.

 

“I know but…” Gordon looked for a way out of this situation that wouldn’t unnecessarily alarm the boy.

 

“I know, but… That’s what grown ups always say when they want to weasel out of a promise!” Zack protested.

 

“It has nothing to do with not wanting to take you out,” Artemus tried a different approach.

 

“Forget it! I’ll just go myself!” With that the boy released the lever and the door swung down. Then just as quickly he was out the door.

 

“Boys!” Artie cried. “How do they ever survive to adulthood?” He finished saddling his horse, and noting the position of the sun, threw in some extra blankets and food, in case they were forced to stay out overnight. Before long he was in pursuit of the young adventurer.

 

For the first several miles, Zack enjoyed his illicit freedom. It was a feeling he’d never experienced -- galloping across open plains with the wind in his face and no one around for miles. Then just as quickly, this excitement turned to fear as he realized he had no idea where he was or how to get back to the train. Trying to slow the unfamiliar horse down to a trot, Zachary yanked too hard on the reins and she stopped short. The sudden stop of forward motion threw the teen over the mare’s head. Landing flat on his back knocked the wind out of him and he struggled to recover.

 

Artie was terrified when the riderless horse trotted past him on her way back to the train. “Zack! Where are you boy?” he called at the top of his voice trying to be heard over the rising winds.  

 

The sun was just starting to dip below the horizon when Artemus came across the terrified teen. “Can you see now why that might have been a bad idea?” asked Artie after giving the boy a quick once over for injuries. “You were very lucky. I trust you won’t be pulling a ridiculous stunt like that again—EVER!” Artie’s calm and casual exterior masked a fear he couldn’t even put into words. “It’s too late to head back to the train tonight. I hope you don’t mind camping.” With a much practiced skill, Artie surveyed the landscape for a likely campsite. Amid a semicircle of large boulders they set up a camp complete with a roaring fire in no time. “Here Zack, you take these blankets and get some shut eye. We’ll head back at first light.”

 

“What about you, Mr. Gordon?” asked the still shaken boy. “Won’t you need a blanket?”

 

“Don’t worry, I’m fine. It’s not too cold and I’ll stay next to the fire. This saddle makes a perfect pillow. Go on to sleep. You’ve had a very busy day.”

 

**********

 

It was late into the night when Jim returned home to the Wanderer. He immediately sensed something was not right. The signal lights on the outside of the train were not lit as they would be if Artie were aboard. In fact, there were no lamps lit at all. Drawing his revolver, Jim entered the car ready for anything. He was however, not ready for nothing. There were no signs of a forced entry, no sign of a struggle, but most importantly there were no signs of his friend or the boy. Checking the train closely for any clue, he discovered his telegraph message scribbled in Artie’s familiar chicken scratch. Remembering the time the message was sent gave Jim a basic time frame. Continuing his search, he combed the galley and sleeping compartments for any sign of foul play. There were none. A faint noise outside the train captured his attention. Pulling the curtain aside he peered into the inky darkness. A continuation of the sound drew him cautiously outside. Recognizing the lathered and lame horse, Jim approached. “Shh, girl, it’s OK. Let’s get you stabled and cleaned up.” He led the grateful animal into her stall on the train. After some grain and water, she settled down and allowed Jim to check her over. There was no sign of foul play there either. But James did notice it was Artie’s spare saddle on the animal and not the specially designed one that held his array of special gadgets.

 

The return of the mare meant the boy was on foot and maybe injured with the gunmen closing in. There was nothing to be done at this point in time, however. Tracking the missing in the dark would serve no purpose, West chided himself, “Artie was more than capable of taking care of himself and the boy.”

 

Jim poured a cup of coffee and tried to settle down for what was to be a very long night. True to character, his tightly wound nerves would not allow him to sit still and he sought out the engineer of the Wanderer, Orrin Cobb. Maybe he could shed some light on the matter. Making his way to the engineer’s quarters, Jim called out, “Orrin? You awake?”

 

A few grumbles later, Orrin responded, “What is it, Mr. West? Kind of late for a social call, don’t you think?”

 

“When did you last see Artemus?”

 

“They ain’t back? They left late this afternoon. Probably around four o’clock would be my guess.”

 

“Alone?”
 

“Yeah, let me think. Mr. Gordon and the boy spent most of the day on the train. They seemed to be getting on fine. Artemus had a lot of work to do it seemed and the boy just sort of followed him around. But something must have happened to upset the apple cart in the late afternoon because the boy came flying out of the stable on that little mare of Mr. Gordon’s, the one with the white snip. He had her running like her tail was on fire. Anyway, a few minutes later Mr. Gordon took out after him. That’s the last I saw of them. Is there something wrong?” A look of concern crossed the man’s face. He had been the Wanderer’s engineer for several years and had developed a genuine fondness for James and Artemus.

 

“Maybe,” Jim sighed. “The mare Zack was riding came back all lathered and lame. Zack and Artie have not returned at all.”

”Oh,” Orrin said quietly. “Well, we all know what kind of hours you boys keep; perhaps he’ll return yet.”

 

“Perhaps, but I have a feeling that something has gone wrong.”

 

Orrin shrugged helplessly. “Is there anything you’d like for me to do?”

 

“Just keep your ear to the track, so to speak. Let me know the second you hear or see anything out of the ordinary. You know the signal.”

 

“Yes sir,” Orrin responded with a renewed sense of urgency.

 

Once again Jim made his way to the parlor car and poured himself a cup of coffee, and once again he found himself unable to shake the feeling that Artie and Zack were in terrible danger.

 

**********

 

Sleep didn’t find Artemus Gordon that night either. Every sound magnified in the still night air. Dawn could not come soon enough—or so he thought. The first warming rays of sun brought disaster in to the makeshift camp. Shots rang out from the rocks and the campers found themselves flanked.

 

A thin raspy voice demanded Artemus to give the boy up. “It’s either him or you, Gordon.”

 

Zack bolted from his bedroll at the first shot. “Stop, Zack,” hissed Gordon.

 

“Mr. Gordon, what’s happening?”

 

“Let me explain things to the boy,” called another voice from somewhere higher in the rocks. “You see, sonny. Your daddy went and made a whole lot of people mad. He gave their names to the police and now those people are in jail. My boss thinks you can help even that score.”

 

“I don’t know what he is talking about, Mr. Gordon. I want to go back to the train.”

 

“I know you do, Zack, but it is important that you stay down and listen very carefully to what I say. With a little luck, we might get out of this mess. Now, do you think you could get to my horse if I could create a diversion?”

 

“Yeah, I guess so,” Zachary said slowly. “What about you?” Zack’s eyes locked on Artie’s and he didn’t like what he saw. But at that instant he knew, without a doubt, that West’s assessment of Gordon was one hundred and ten percent correct. “Whatever you say, Mr. Gordon. Just tell me when.” 

 

“Believe me, you’ll know. Just be ready.” Artie slyly reached into his saddle bag and withdrew a small white ball. Turning quickly he lobbed it in the direction of the voices. “Go, Zack!” he shouted. A small but deafening explosion followed by a cloud of smoke gave Zack the cover he needed. “Hope you can ride bareback, boy!” Artie gave the mare a slap on the rump and she took off at a full gallop with the boy clutching her mane for dear life.

 

Several shots rang out. Most missed their mark and sailed harmlessly over the boy’s head, but one well aimed shot was true and dropped Artie where he stood. Zack heard Artie’s cry, but was helpless to turn back.

 

Artie felt the white hot lightning bolt tear through his side. But, only when he saw that Zack had made good his escape did he give into the searing pain. Grabbing his side, he was unconscious before he hit the ground. After a short wait, the concealed gunmen made their way to the campsite. Artie had begun to come around, but kept his eyes closed to deceive them. A swift kick to his bleeding side told him they had arrived.

 

“Hey, LT, look we got here. We got ourselves a dead federal agent,” crowed the voice that Artie recognized as belonging to the man that told Zack about his father turning state’s evidence.

 

The man with the thin voice replied, “That’s as may be, but we don’t have that whelp of a kid. Mr. Jackson is going to skin us for letting him skedaddle. You sure he’s dead?”

 

Playing dead seemed like the best way for Artie to stay alive, so he let himself go limp. LT flipped him over with another swift kick, sending rivers of pain coursing through his body. Regardless of the anguish, Artemus could not cry out or fight back. The flow of blood was considerable and stained the earth where Gordon lay. “Look at him; he’s bleeding like a stuck pig. I think he’s done; if he ain’t he sure enough will be soon.”

 

“Well it’s a sure thing that he won’t be causing us any more trouble. Let’s get after the kid. He’s who we’re getting paid to bring back anyway,” LT directed.

 

 Once Artemus was sure the campsite was deserted, he slowly opened his eyes to face the light of morning. The day was shaping up to be a hot one. Although unsure of the exact amount of time he had been unconscious, Artie could feel the effects of the prairie sun on his unprotected face. He had to get in out of the sun, or he would not stand the ghost of chance. His first effort to move brought a pain so excruciating that he blacked out again. When he came to, his face was burned and his lips cracked. “I have to get water,” he said with determination. Slowly raising himself to his elbow and denying the gut-wrenching pain that accompanied the move, he reached for the canteen hanging from his saddle horn. “It’s hot but it’s wet,” he said to himself. Looking around for shelter, Artemus decided that his best chance lay in the cover of the large boulders about twenty yards south. “It may as well be twenty miles,” he thought as he inched his way across the hard dry ground.” His side started to bleed anew and he left a distinct trail as he dragged himself to cover.

 

**********

 

It was just past first light when Jim received the prearranged signal from Orrin. The inside carriage lights flared then dimmed three times in rapid succession signifying the approach of three riders. “Good man,” Jim said to himself. “Just who do we have?” Looking out the window Jim was relieved to see Artie’s horse galloping at top speed towards the train, but even in the gray light Jim could tell the rider was not Artemus. Not far behind the first horse were two others in apparent pursuit, and gaining.

 

“Mr. West! Mr. West, help me!” a very frightened Zachary called out. Before he could even approach the train, Jim was out dragging him off the horse. 

 

“You are safe, boy! Get inside the train now and stay there until I come get you,” Jim ordered. The boy was too worn out and scared to do anything but nod. “Remember, no matter what happens out here, you stay put. Go!”

 

The boy escaped to the safety of the train just as the two gunmen reined up. “What do you want,” West demanded, firing a warning shot from his rifle.

 

“We are in no mood to play games, Mr. West. Give us the boy and we will go about our business.”

”I can’t do that, gentlemen,” West responded calmly. “Suppose you just ride on out of here.”

 

“Don’t make us take care of you the way we did your partner. He found out the hard way that we don’t take no for an answer.”

 

“Did he? Seems to me the boy got away.”

 

“The boy did that time, West, but your partner did not,” LT bragged.

 

The other man spoke up, “If you hand that Livingston brat over to us now, you might just find Mr. Gordon’s body before the wolves get him.”

 

Jim didn’t know whether to believe the men or not, but in the end it did not matter. His sworn duty was to defend the boy. “You aren’t getting him,” James said finally.

 

“Then you will die too.” LT drew his revolver and fired a shot, just missing Jim. The athletic agent dropped and rolled, firing a shot that knocked the wiry man from his saddle.

 

As the other man drew down, he too fell from the saddle. Jim looked sharply around in time to see a faint wisp of smoke from the cab of the engine. “Thanks, Orrin, I owe you,” he called.

 

The gunmen were not seriously injured and with a degree of reluctance admitted their part in the kidnapping scheme. The scheme had roots that could be traced back to Washington and before long Jim had the names of all those involved.

 

“Orrin, would you please escort these gentlemen to the jail cell. Then telegraph Washington that they are captured. I’ll send a full report later. I’ll go check on the boy.” Wandering through the train, he had a hard time finding Zack. The frightened boy had holed up in the galley and was sobbing uncontrollably. Wanting to save Zack any embarrassment, Jim knocked softly. “Zack, it’s all over. The men who were chasing you are locked up. You can come out when you are ready.”

 

A few minutes later, the galley door opened to reveal a badly shaken fourteen-year-old. He face was streaked with tears and his was crying like his heart had broken. “Mr. West, Mr. Gordon is dead and it’s all my fault,” he blurted. “They killed him because he wouldn’t turn me over to them. He died because of me!”

 

Jim grabbed the boy by the arms and tried to calm him. “Zack, stop. Get a hold of yourself and just tell me what happened. It is not your fault; no one will blame you for anything. Just tell me where I can find Mr. Gordon. Where is Artie?”

 

The boy continued crying, “He’s dead. Don’t you get it? I saw him get shot. He died putting me on his horse. He died saving me. How you can say that is not my fault?”

 

“Zack, now listen,” Jim was starting to get frantic. “We are going to get our horses and you are going to take me back where you were attacked. You can do that, can’t you, boy?” Wiping his runny nose on his sleeve, Zachary numbly followed Jim to the stable car. “Looks like we are fresh out of spare horses, you’ll have ride with me.” James swung up on his black stallion and pulled Zachary up behind. “Hold on tight. Now, which way are we headed?”

 

The duo picked their way through the open plains. It was slow going because Zack had not really paid attention to his surroundings on either of his mad rides through the area. Finally he spotted the circle of boulders jutting up from the flat lands, just about a mile east of their location. “There, Mr. West. That’s it—over by those boulders. Mr. Gordon chose that place because it would be shelter if a storm blew through or something.”

 

“Hang on, Zack!” Jim yelled. He spurred the stallion to a gallop, covering the distance in just a few minutes. He silently prayed that he was not too late for his friend. Although a few hours old, the blood in the dirt left a tell-tale sign that someone was seriously injured. With trained eyes he followed its trail to a small cave tucked in among the boulders. “Artemus? Artie, answer me please,” Jim called. Getting down off the horse, Jim and Zack searched the area for signs of life.

 

“Look, Mr. West. I found this canteen. He had water, so that’s good, right?”

 

Distractedly James grunted an answer as he continued his desperate search for his friend and partner. Finding an opening in the rocks they entered an underground cave. The small entrance to the cave belied its true size. The floor sloped away to reveal one main cavern and several smaller off shoots. It was fairly clear by the smell that many animals had called this cave home, but the coolness of the interior was a welcome relief from the heat outside. Silently, West and Zack split up to search. “I don’t understand it,” Jim said to himself. “The trail led right to here then disappeared. He has to be in here somewhere.” A worst case scenario played through Jim’s mind and he willed it away. Sadly he continued his search. 

 

Zack had better luck, “Mr. West! Here he is. I found him!” James was by Zack’s side in a blink. “Is he…..”

 

Jim knelt beside the injured Artemus and felt his wrist for a pulse. It was thready, but there. “He’s alive! But not for long if we don’t get him some help.” The wound in Gordon’s side was showing signs of infection, although the bleeding had stopped. West took his handkerchief and cleaned around it the best he could. As there was no exit wound he had to assume the bullet was buried deep in his partner’s side.

 

Now Jim was in a quandary. Artemus clearly could not survive a trip on horseback, even if they had enough mounts to go around. It would take hours to walk back to the train for help.

 

Artemus began to stir. “Is that you, James?”
 

“Artie, don’t move; you’ll start bleeding again,” Jim said softly. “Don’t worry, everything will be ok.” 

 

“What about Zack? Did he make it back?” Artie’s voice was barely audible to Jim.

 

“Shh. Just keep quiet. Things are going to be fine. Zack is here with me and the men that did this to you are locked up at the train.”

 

“I’m here, Mr. Gordon,” Zack spoke up. “Just do what Mr. West says.”

 

“We do have one small problem, Artie. We have to figure a way to get you out of here,” confided James.

 

“Help me up, I can make it,” Artie said with little conviction.

”Don’t even try, Artemus. I would hate to have to break in a new partner after Zack and I went to so much trouble to find you. We’ll think of something.”

 

“I could go back for help, Mr. West,” offered Zachary.

 

“No, it wouldn’t be safe; there might be others out there still looking for you.”

 

“Jim, you two go on back. I’ll be ok here until you can return. Just leave me some water. I lost my canteen somewhere.” The effort of talking was taking its toll and he sagged back against Jim. “Go, Jim. You don’t have a choice.”

 

Jim knew he could not send the boy alone or even leave him at the cave. It was the annoying predicament that he and his partner had faced countless times, but it was never as hard as now. Artie could easily die in this cave before he could return with help. His friend’s warm brown eyes were glassy with fever and he was weak from having lost so much blood. But, Artie was right. He didn’t have a choice now. His choice was made when he joined the Secret Service. With a light touch on Artie’s arm, he said, “Come on, Zack! The sooner we leave, the sooner we can get him some help. Artemus, don’t you dare go away.” What Jim’s face said was ‘Artemus, don’t you dare die.”

 

After making Artie as comfortable as possible, Jim and Zack started the long trek back to the train. “Do you think he’ll be ok, Mr. West? I could have stayed with him. I owe him my life.”

 

“I know, Zack, and I really appreciate your offer---so does Mr. Gordon. But Artie was right in sending you back with me. He knew he was in no shape to protect you should something happen in the cave. Mr. Gordon takes his job very seriously.”

 

Zack interrupted, “He’s not the only one. I saw how you looked at him as we were leaving. He’s worth a whole lot more than me. He can do anything. All I do is mess things up,” he said with a sigh.

 

“Just forget it, Zack; your day will come. Besides, don’t give up on Mr. Gordon just yet.”

 

The two riders traveled the rest of their journey in silence. Each one caught up in a whirlwind of thought. Empty miles of open prairie seemed to stretch on forever without bringing them closer to their destination. Finally Zack broke the silence, “I can see the train!”

 

A short blast from the whistle indicated that the engineer had seen them as well. Jumping down from the cab, Orrin ran to meet them. “Where’s Mr. Gordon? Did you find him?”

 

“We found him, but he’s been shot and we couldn’t move him. He’s in bad shape, Orrin. I’ve got to get some help out to him before….”

 

“I understand, sir. What can I do?”

 

“Ummm Mr. West? I don’t know if this would work, but maybe we could make some kind of stretcher. Oh, what’s it called….” Zack tried to come up with the name.

 

A travois?” Orrin Cobb offered.

 

“Yeah that’s it. I’ve seen pictures of them in books. Would that work?”

 

“Good thinking, Zack. That is exactly what we need,” West said excitedly.

 

“Artie’s gonna be mighty proud of you boy. Orrin and I will cut some branches for poles and you go inside for some blankets. Grab the medical kit out of Artie’s room too.”

 

Inside of an hour they were ready to make the return trip to the cave. The travois was secured to Gordon’s horse. Although she shied from the contraption at the start, she soon got used to it dragging behind her. The ride back was no shorter than before and each rider feared what they might find once they reached the cave. “Now Zack, we are going to have to get him out of there very carefully. Are you up to it? It’s not going to be easy on any of us, especially Mr. Gordon.”

 

“Yes sir,” the boy nodded soberly. “Just tell me what I have to do. I won’t hurt him, I promise.”

 

Despite the rescuers best intentions, the move outside sent Artemus back to a state of unconsciousness. Though unintentional, it was for the best because it enabled Jim and Zack to maneuver him out of the cave and onto to the travois with a minimum of pain. 

 

“Zack,” West instructed, “You stay back here and make sure you tell me when he wakes up. I’ll ride lead and guide the horse. We are going to get through this, boy, you’ll see.”

 

“Yes sir.”

 

Jim led the horses along the now familiar route back to the train. Zack took his job very seriously and alerted Jim whenever Artie showed signs of coming around. There were several false starts before he finally opened his eyes.

 

“Zack?” Artemus asked weakly. “Could I get some water please?”

 

“Yes sir, Mr. Gordon. Mr. West, he’s awake now. For real.”

 

Jim dismounted and rushed to his partner’s side. “Hey, how are you doing?”

 

“Mr. West!” Zack groaned. “What kind of a stupid question is that? Here, Mr. Gordon, take a real slow swallow.”

 

“He’s got a point there Jim,” replied Artie with a faint grin. “I have been better.”

 

“Great, now I have two smart alecks in my life,” Jim said in mock disgust. “Do you want me to stop for awhile? This has to be pretty tough on you.”

 

“No, I really just want to get back to the train. It’s not too much farther is it?”

 

“Probably about another 45 minutes, Mr. Gordon,” volunteered Zachary.

 

“Let’s keep going then. I’ll be fine. Just give me a little more water before we get started. This sun can really take it out of you if you aren’t careful.”

 

Artie’s brave act may have fooled Zack, but not James. “Let’s stop anyway and rest the horses awhile. They need a blow. Zack, could you water the horses while I sit here with Mr. Gordon?” Once he was out of earshot, Jim continued, “Now tell me the truth. How bad are you hurting?”

 

“The slug is still in my side; I can feel it. And it hurts just about as bad as you might imagine. But there is no point in carrying on about it, is there? There’s nothing you can do out here and the boy feels bad enough for all of us. You can read it in his eyes. So let’s just get back to the train. The show must go on.”

 

Jim stood up and looked down at his feverish friend, “You are one of a kind, you know that?”

 

“Like my great aunt Maude used to say, ‘Artemus, you are one of a kind because the mold was cracked to begin with’.”

 

“Zack, mount up; let’s get our patient home.” Jim called out.

 

As the trio approached the train, they were surprised to see several strange horses tethered near by. “What’s going on now?” Jim moaned. “Stay here while I check things out.” He rode up wearily and dismounted. Pulling his revolver one more time Jim cautiously entered the car. A middle-aged gentleman was sitting on the settee. “Can I help you?” Jim asked.

 

“Probably not, but I believe I can be of service to you. My name is Doctor Rayburn, I believe your friend is in need of medical care?”

 

Confused, but elated at this sudden turn in luck, Jim stammered, “Yes, he does Doctor. But… how?”

 

“Never mind explanations now, just get your friend in here. I’ve got everything ready. From what Mr. Cobb has told me there is no time to lose.”

 

Jim ran back outside, “Orrin, would you help me get Artie inside please. Zack start unhitching that travois. Can you believe it? There’s a doctor aboard the train. Orrin---do we have you to thank for this change of luck?”

 

“Well… I figured you might need some help with Mr. Gordon being hurt and all. Not that I don’t think you can take care of yourself and all; heaven knows you can do that just about better than anybody I know. But for all the things you are, Mr. West, you aren’t a doctor. So with the wounded prisoners on board and a very seriously wounded Mr. Gordon being brought in, I sent ahead to the next town for a doctor.”

 

“Did you hear that, Artie? Thanks to our newest partner here, the doctor is waiting for you. Orrin, remind me to give you a big raise when this is all over.”

 

The long hot ride back to the train had taken its toll on Artemus. He was weak from blood loss and dehydration. The process of removing the bullet took much longer than anyone aboard the Wanderer could have hoped for. Zack took the ordeal much harder than Jim expected. So, despite his own fears and worries, Jim had to do what he could to comfort and assure Zack that things would be alright. Finally the door of the parlor car swung open and the doctor emerged.

 

“Mr. West. I have done what I could. The slug is out and I repaired as much of the damage as possible. The rest is up to him.”

 

Zack spoke up quietly, “Do you think he will be ok, doctor?”

 

“Son, as long as gets plenty of rest and no infection creeps back in, he has a good chance.” Then, turning to Jim, “It was a close one, you know. A few times it could have gone either way. He must have something pretty special to live for to fight like he did.’

 

“Thanks just don’t seem adequate doctor,” Jim said with an unfamiliar catch in his throat. “Can I see him now?”

 

“He won’t be awake for a while yet, but sure.”

 

Jim entered the room where his friend lay recovering. Sitting by his side, Jim let his guard down for just a minute. “That was a close one, friend. Too close.” He placed his hand on Artie’s for a moment and let the day’s adrenaline rush drain from him. Before long, Jim was asleep. He awoke a short while later to see Artie watching him. “Hey friend, welcome back. You gave us all quite a scare.”

 

“It was a rough trip, I’ll not deny you that. How about you and the boy? You ok?” Artemus said quietly.

 

“Yeah, we’re fine. Zack really came through. It was his idea to rig that travois, you know.” Jim looked at his friend and smiled. “Remember you said he reminded you of me? I think he tore a page right out of the Artemus Gordon Emergency Handbook for that idea.”

 

“He’s been forced to grow up awful fast since we left Saint Louis,” Artemus mused. “Was that really just a few days ago?”

 

“Yeah, amazing isn’t it?”

 

“Jim, go ask Zack to come in here for a minute will you?”

 

“Are you up to it? You don’t need to push yourself. The doc says you should stay quiet.”

 

“I know, but it’s important. And I promise it will just take a minute.”

 

Jim left the room and searched for Zack. He found the boy sitting quietly in the stable car with the horses. The car had been cleaned, the stalls mucked, and all gear sparkled in the waning sunlight. Jim was impressed. “Zack, you did all this? It looks good as new. You didn’t have to.”

 

“I know,” replied the boy. His eyes were red and swollen and he tried to pass it off as a reaction to the dirt and dust in the air. “I guess I must be allergic to these horses or something. I better get out of here while I can still see.”

 

“Thanks, Zack. Mr. Gordon wants to see you. Get cleaned up and go on in.”

 

“Are you sure? I thought he’d never want to see me again after all the trouble I caused.”

 

“I’ll let you two settle that score. Go on now.”

 

A few minutes later, Zack presented himself to Artemus. He really didn’t know what to expect and was very nervous. Artie immediately put him at ease. Patting the bed beside him he signaled the boy to sit next to him. “Zack, I hear from Mr. West that I have you to thank for my rescue.”

 

Zachary looked at Artie in surprise, “What do you mean, sir? I didn’t do nuthin’. Nuthin’ good anyway. It’s cause of me that you got shot.”

 

“Stop right there, young man. It was nothing like that. I was shot carrying out my duty to President Grant. It’s the risk Jim and I take every time we leave this very fancy train,” Artie cut in.

 

“But if I hadn’t run away….”

 

“Then it could have happened somewhere else. We were assigned to protect you and deliver you to your father. You had nothing to do with what happened. Do you believe me?”

 

“Well yeah, but…”

 

“But nothing, boy. End of discussion. I called you in here to thank you for your quick thinking and bravery. A travois? Where did you come up with that one?”

 

“It just came to me, sort of. I remembered seeing pictures of them in a book I read, I think.”

 

“Well I am glad you read that particular book, my friend. I bet you don’t know many other fourteen-year-old boys that can claim saving the life of a Secret Service agent on their list of accomplishments, do you? Thanks just doesn’t seem to be enough.”

 

“Fifteen, sir. I just remembered today’s date. It’s my birthday.”

 

Jim appeared at the door, “Party’s over, gentlemen. We all could use a good night’s rest.”

 

“But Jim,” Artemus protested. “The party hasn’t even started. Today is Zack’s birthday.”

 

“Tomorrow we’ll do something about that, but for now, it’s lights out. Come on, birthday boy,” Jim directed.

 

“You’ll get no argument from me, sir. Good night, everyone.”

 

Jim checked his friend over and settled down for the night in a chair next to the bed. “You don’t have to sleep in here; you have a perfectly good bedroll in the stable car,” Artie joked.

 

“The doctor said someone should stay with you in case your fever spiked during the night, I volunteered for first shift. You doing ok? Can I get you some water?”

 

“No, Jim. I’m fine, really.”

 

“You’d say that if you had both feet in the grave, wouldn’t you?”

 

“Probably. But I am rather worn out, so douse those lamps if you don’t mind, friend. See you in the morning.”

”Yep, ‘night Artemus.”

 

The night passed quietly. Come morning, the doctor returned to check on his patient. “Given the state I found you in yesterday, I must say that either I am an amazing doctor or you are an amazing man. There is no sign of fever and the infection seems to be responding to the medication as well. I see no reason for you gentlemen to postpone your trip to Denver any longer. Mind you, Mr. Gordon, you are not to get out of bed for any reason. Is that understood? You have a doctor check you out the moment you arrive in Denver. Mr. Livingston, can you be my assistant for the rest of the trip? I leave Mr. Gordon in your capable hands.”

 

“Yes, doctor,” the boy blushed.

 

“Now, about that birthday present we owe you, Zack,” Artie spoke up. “Just wait for Jim to return from seeing the doctor out. He’ll have to get it for you.”
 

“A present for me? Really.”

 

“There you are, James my boy. Why don’t you get that little gift we talked about for Master Livingston here.”

 

“You want me to bring it to him?” Jim questioned.

 

“I see your point, better take him to it. Zack, follow Jim.”

 

Jim escorted the boy to the stable car. Standing in a stall was the little brown mare that Zack had taken his freedom run on a few days ago. She was freshly groomed and was sporting a beautiful black saddle with silver inlays. “She’s all yours, Zack. Happy Birthday, boy.”

 

It was the first time Jim ever saw the boy speechless. He grabbed Jim in a bear hug and ran to Artie’s compartment. “Thank you so much, Mr. Gordon; she is beautiful. I’ll take really good care of her, I promise.”

 

“We know you will, Zack. Happy birthday.” Artie beamed.

 

The remaining trip to Denver was a quiet and uneventful, not that any one was complaining. By the time they rolled into the train yard, the trio had formed a true bond of friendship. So it was with a little regret that they handed the special delivery over to his father. Mounted on his new horse, Zack turned to say good bye. “Mr. Gordon, Mr. West? I’ll never forget you. And like you told me a few days ago, Mr. Gordon, thanks just doesn’t seem to be enough.”

 

The two agents waved farewell to Zack and his father then turned to look at each other. “That trip didn’t really go according to plan, did it Artie?” surmised Jim.

 

“No, but when do they ever, James, my boy. When do they ever? I really don’t think this job would be half as much fun without the bumps along the way, though. So, let’s raise a glass to another job well done.”

 

Jim toasted his friend and added, “And living to fight another day.”

 

*****End*****

 

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