The Night of the Drugged Mind
He didn't remember getting out of the carriage although the next thing he was aware of was that he was stumbling through the streets. What was he searching for? He didn't know. Where was he going? He didn't know. He was half-aware of whispers around him, something about his name and being dead drunk. It was getting harder to stay on his feet, someone jostled him and he spun into another person. He looked up, dazed by the spin, into emerald-green eyes and a gasped name "Jim!" and then the world blacked out.
She caught him as he fell, cradling his head on her shoulder. "Is this man bothering you Miss Talbot?" A burly man approached her.
"No," she forced a bright smile to numb lips, "Just a little too much to drink. If someone could order me a carriage and help me get this gentleman inside?"
The man nodded sourly and bumbled off. Glancing around quickly to make sure that no-one was watching, she surreptitiously laid a gloved hand against his neck. Two men returned and helped her get an unconscious West into the carriage. She gave instructions to the driver and when they were moving she gently stroked the hair away from his forehead.
Orrin was stepping off the footplate when the carriage arrived at the siding, "Miss Talbot!" he exclaimed, "I'm afraid that Mr West and Mr Gordon are-" he stopped when he saw the unconscious figure.
"Mr Orrin, can you help me get Mr West into bed, and then I must go and find Mr Gordon."
"We'll get him into bed, Miss Eleanor, if you go and notify Mr Gordon."
"Any idea where he might be?"
"He was supposed to be at Colonel Richmond's house."
"I'll try there first. Thanks Mr Orrin."
"My pleasure, Miss Eleanor." Orrin smiled tautly and then him and the fireman were half-lifting, half-walking West into the varnish car of The Wanderer. She nodded to the driver and they moved off.
Artemus Gordon smiled at the two lovely ladies standing opposite him, Oh Jim, you'll kick yourself for missing this! He thought to himself. Then he saw the young woman enter the room and he was almost lost for words, she had auburn, almost copper hair and emerald green eyes. He watched as her eyes searched the room for someone, he was about to walk across to her and offer his assistance when her eyes found someone. Moving purposefully through the throng she approached Colonel Richmond, he turned to her and they spoke quietly for a moment or two and suddenly Artemus was filled with a sense of foreboding.
"Jim," he whispered as Richmond turned towards him.
"What's happened?" he asked quietly.
"Miss Talbot found Mr West wandering in the city," Richmond explained, "he appears to have been drugged."
"Where is he?" Artemus demanded.
"Miss Talbot took him back to The Wanderer."
"I have a carriage waiting outside," the woman interrupted.
"Fine. I'll head back to the train sir," Artemus said quickly.
"Take Miss Talbot with you, Mr Gordon," Richmond said quietly.
For a moment she could have laughed out loud at the outrage and scepticism in Gordon's eyes and then grudgingly he nodded. Moving as delicately as a cat he began to walk towards the door, Eleanor following him outside. He didn't say a word during the short, five minute journey. On one hand she was disappointed but on the other it meant that her cover was intact – in short he saw her as a light-headed bonbon.
They arrived at the train and Artemus was out of the carriage and striding towards the locomotive without a backward glance. Eleanor paid the driver and had to suppress a smile as he leant back and murmured softly, "Will you be all right, Miss?"
"I'll be fine, Ernest," she replied, "he won't hurt me, he just thinks I'm an airhead."
Orrin met him as he entered the carriage, "We've put Mr West to bed sir, but he's become very restless."
Artemus nodded grimly and walked through to their sleeping quarters, Eleanor stepped into the carriage and Orrin smiled, "Glad to see you back, Miss Eleanor."
"How's Mr West?" she asked softly.
"Not too good I'm afraid," Orrin frowned.
She nodded and removing her hat and gloves she followed Artemus. He was sitting holding his friend's hand, a stricken expression on his face, "What the hell's the matter with him?" he growled as she entered.
"A severe reaction to whatever drug or drugs he was given." Eleanor replied, "look." She turned West's arm over and Artemus could see the evidence of at least four needle marks. "You stay with him I'll get some cloths and cool water."
When she returned, Artemus had stripped his friend down to his underpants. He took the bowl and cloths from her with a terse nod and then turned away. She rolled her eyes and walked through to the galley to make some coffee.
Carefully, almost tenderly, Artemus began to wipe his friend's face and neck, talking to him all the while, hoping that some of the things he was saying were penetrating his consciousness. Jim writhed on the bunk, obviously lost in some fevered maze.
"Have you eaten?" she asked gently when she returned.
Gordon shook his head, his eyes fixed on his friend's twisting body. West moaned his friend's name, first in shock, then denial and finally Eleanor saw the tears sliding down his cheeks, "My fault," he muttered, "I didn't know – I didn't mean to – Artemus!"
"Talk to him," Eleanor ordered, "It's a delirium caused by whatever drugs he was given."
Artemus reached forward and gripped his friend's shoulder, "Jim!" he spoke urgently, "It's all right. I'm here. It's a dream."
West's eyes snapped open and he stared up into his friend's, "Artie," he whispered, "What-"
Artemus gripped his friend's hand tightly, "You're all right, Jim. It was just a nightmare."
"Actually, drug-induced psychosis would be more accurate," a gentle voice said softly, Jim looked up muzzily into a half-familiar face, "Good evening, Mr West."
He managed a lopsided smile and then he felt a cool hand beneath his neck and a glass was held to his lips, "It's just water," she said softly. "Try and sleep if you can." He closed his eyes but Eleanor noticed that his grip on Artie's hand didn't diminish.
Artemus nodded at her gratefully as she handed him a cup of coffee, "Stay with him," she ordered, "Remind him that he's safe."
Artemus regarded her quizzically, "I don't understand."
"Some of the side-effects of these drugs are that they cause delusions. That's one of the reasons they're sometimes used for brainwashing and it would have probably given them a peverse pleasure in tormenting Mr West."
Artemus cursed softly under his breath and to his surprise Eleanor laughed, "You two have been a thorn in the sides of many people, what better revenge could there be than to drive someone like Mr West to madness?"
She bent over West's still form and touched his forehead, the sea-green eyes opened and he looked up at her dazedly, she laid her hand on the crown of his head and with her other hand took out a silver dollar, holding it up in front of West's eyes she spoke slowly and clearly, "Jim, just watch the silver dollar, see how it sparkles. Just watch the coin. You've been hurt and you're confused but you're safe and among friends." His sea-green eyes were fixed on the coin, she swallowed and continued, "I'm going to send you to sleep now, and you won't have any bad dreams. When I touch your forehead your eyes will close and you'll drift into a wonderful sleep."
Moving her thumb, she gently touched his forehead and watched as West's eyes closed. Artemus looked up at her, "What did you do?"
"I just put him into a hypnotic trance," Eleanor responded as she slipped the coin back into her reticule. "It's all right, he'll sleep now and the worst of the drugs should have worn off by the morning. The drugs he was given made it easier to put him into trance and more amenable to suggestion."
Artemus swore violently, "I take it that whatever drugs they used on Jim were intended to make it easier to 'hypnotize' him?"
"Brainwash would be a more accurate description," Eleanor ran a hand across her face, "I only have the vaguest idea of what they intended but I know it involved breaking him."
"And me?" Artemus asked, suddenly feeling out of his depth.
"By association," she smiled tautly, "you have one advantage that Mr West does not. Many of your adversaries see Jim as the dangerous one and you as an appendage to him."
"What about you?" Artemus asked softly.
"I wouldn't cross you for worlds," she replied quietly, "My father always said 'Beware the anger of a patient man.' But it would have destroyed you in the end had they broken him – you would have planned, schemed and brought the perpetrators down but destroyed your own life and career in the process."
"I'm beginning to think that there's more to you than meets the eye, Miss Talbot." Artemus responded just as quietly.
"Ah," she grinned, "my greatest failing. Uncle James always said that I talked too much."
West shifted position on the bed and settled down again, Artemus looked across at her, "Well?"
For a moment she considered playing dumb again but decided that it wouldn't work with this man. Sighing she reached into her reticule and took out her warrant card, silently handing it across to Artemus. He looked at it and the disbelief on his face was paramount followed by an expression of chagrin as he remembered how he'd treated her at Colonel Richmond's, "You're Secret Service."
"Attached to Pinkerton's," she replied, replacing her credentials. "Are you upset about earlier this evening?"
He nodded and she laughed, "You were supposed to treat me like a light-headed bonbon. In fact had I been able to leave Mr West in your care and exit stage left I would have done so."
"Why didn't you?"
"Because it occurred to me that you might need some help." She paused, "and that you'd like some answers."
Artemus frowned, "Answers would be useful."
"I was involved in the operation at the basic level as a maid in the house where the brainwashing took place. I didn't see them bring Mr West in otherwise I would have alerted the other agents. I did however get the other agents to get him out, unfortunately he panicked and escaped from them."
"A side effect of the drugs?"
"I think so, yes." Eleanor replied, "I think it also causes delirium and confusion, but I'm a minority in that camp."
Artemus smiled, the movement relieving some of the tension around his eyes and mouth, "Do you think they broke him?"
"I think they tried," Eleanor replied, "but I don't think they succeeded. Not this time."
Suddenly Artemus reached across and hugged her, "Thank you," he said thickly, "thank you for knowing what to do. Knowing where to bring him."
Eleanor smiled and then said, "Do you want some supper – I can stretch to an omelette I think."
Artemus eyed his friend now sleeping beneath the blankets, "How long do you think Jim will sleep?"
"Probably the rest of the night," Eleanor admitted.
"Then I'll make supper – and it won't be an omelette." Artemus promised.
She sat back in her chair, "That was delicious, Mr Gordon," she said, "I'd never have believed it if someone had told me that you were such an excellent cook."
"Mon plaisir, Miss Talbot," he smiled. "Coffee?"
"No thank you," she winced and instantly he was concerned, "Are you all right?"
Eleanor scowled, "I will be. I just need to get my boot off."
She eased herself down on the sofa and then carefully lifting her skirt, she began unzipping the boot and he stared fascinated as a metal calliper emerged. "What the-"
"I had polio as a child," she said, "I gained some muscle function back but my left leg is considerably weaker than my right. Hence the calliper."
"But you don't look disabled-" Artemus began and then swore, "Sorry, that was crass."
"Yes," she replied not looking at him as she undid the brace. When her leg was free she lifted it to place it on her opposite knee and began massaging the calf.
"Does it hurt?" Artemus asked as he watched her face whiten.
"Sometimes," she admitted, "The muscles stiffen up during the day."
"Are you sure I can't help?" he asked.
She shook her head and continued to massage the muscles, gradually her face began to relax and some of the colour began to creep back into her cheeks. "You do this every night?" he demanded.
"When I'm at home I have the luxury of being able to use a copper footwarmer on the affected muscle," she replied, finally looking up into his face. "It's not so easy on the road so to speak."
"Do you want to rest here for the night?" Artemus asked quickly. "Rather than having to put your calliper back on." He smiled, "you can have my room."
She moved so that she could put the calliper back onto her leg but Artemus's hand on her arm stopped her, "You don't need to do that."
She looked up at him surprised and then suddenly he'd scooped her up in his arms, she just managed to grap her calliper with her free hand and then he was carrying her down the corridor to his room. He set her gently down on the bed and asked quietly, "You can undress yourself?"
Pink and speechless she nodded dumbly and was rewarded with an illuminating smile. She looked around the Spartan carriage, despite the luxury, it obviously belonged to a man. She gently removed her other boot and was about to unlace her dress when there was a soft tapping at the door, "Come in!" she called.
Artemus appeared at the door holding something in his arms, she stared at it for a moment and then realised they were pyjamas. "Yours?" she queried.
He nodded and she flushed again, laughing he bent forward to place a gentle kiss on her forehead, "Get some rest," he advised, "I'll sit with Jim."
Shrugging off her dress she slid into the pyjamas, they were far too big for her and she ended up folding the sleeves back, but she was grateful for their softness. Climbing into bed she snuggled down beneath the covers and was almost instantly asleep.
Artemus opened the door ten minutes later to find her fast asleep beneath the covers, her copper hair bright against the white pillow. He closed the door quietly.
She woke haziliy, at first she didn't recognise her surroundings and then she remembered where she was and sat up slowly. Thankful that she'd grabbed her brace she threw the covers back and then sat up. The train was quiet and pushing up her pajama trousers she strapped her brace on her left leg. Then allowing the trousers to cover it she stood up. She swayed slightly and then regained her balance.
Quietly she pushed open the door of West's room, he was awake and blinking up at the ceiling, she stole a quick look at Gordon and saw that he was fast asleep in the easy chair. She pushed open the door and crept across to his bed, "Good morning," she whispered softly.
"Morning?" he turned over and looked her up and down, "What happened?"
She pulled the other chair across and sat down, "I was rather hoping you could tell me."
He scowled and sat up, "I don't remember very much of it, I was grabbed off the street. Knocked unconscious and when I woke up I was being injected with something-" he shuddered, "Gods the hallucinations!" She laid her hand on his arm, "it's all right. It was the drugs, not you."
He looked her up and down, "Whose pyjamas?"
"Your partner's I think," Eleanor replied softly, "Want a cup of tea?"
West nodded, she smiled and then slipped into the galley. She returned carrying two mugs of tea to find him sitting up in bed watching his partner with interest, "How is he?" he whispered as he took his mug.
"I'd imagine that he probably spent much of last night watching you," Eleanor replied, "so he's probably exhausted."
"While I'm grateful for your assistance I still don't know who you are," West remarked, his sea-green eyes watching her over the rim of his mug.
"Eleanor Talbot," Artemus yawned, "Good morning, Jim. How are you feeling?"
"Like something large and heavy ran over me," West scowled, "My own fault, I let my guard down."
"Well, intelligence thinks that it was probably just an opportunist who grabbed you," Artemus replied, "and that they didn't know what they were doing."
"I vaguely remember someone helping me out of the cell," a wry smile touched West's mouth, "I thought he was one of the guards and I hit him."
"You were full of whatever psychotropic drugs they'd pumped into you," Artemus responded, a genuine smile lighting his face, "I couldn't believe that you were found walking the streets."
A wry smile curved West's mouth, he had vague memories of stumbling through brightly lit streets searching for something and then suddenly falling into the arms of a young woman. He looked up at Eleanor sipping her tea, "It was you!" he said suddenly, "you brought me back here!"
"Um," she shrugged non-committedly. "I just knew you by sight, Mr West, I do work for Colonel Richmond, and after all everyone knows the Wanderer."
Artemus eyed her thoughtfully and then shrugged, "So, shall I make breakfast?"
"Would you mind sending a message to Colonel Richmond?" Eleanor asked, "I'll need a change of clothes and while your pyjamas are very comfortable I don't think it would be proper for me to return home in them."
Artemus nodded and then they were alone, "I owe you my thanks," West said quietly, taking her hand.
"Then I accept your thanks, Mr West," Eleanor smiled, "And now I must be returning home."
"After breakfast of course," West admonished, "I am sure that your relations would consider it poor hospitality if we were to allow you to leave without feeding you."
She lowered her eyes and bit her lip to stop herself from telling him that some mornings breakfast was a mouthful of jerky and a swallow of water. Artemus knocked on the door to tell them that breakfast was ready and he'd sent a message to Colonel Richmond.
"I'd better let you get dressed," she smiled and stood up.
"Thanks," West smiled, he still felt groggy but he was sure that after a cup of hot coffee he'd be feeling more like his normal self.
She smiled down at him and then she'd padded out of the door. She was looking at her dress and wondering whether to put it back on when there was a soft knock at the door, "Come in!" she called softly.
Artemus stepped into the room, "I brought you my dressing gown, thought you might like to wear it for breakfast. I've sent a message to your Uncle."
"You haven't told Mr West?" she asked quickly.
"No," Artemus shook his head, "That's your decision and if you don't want me to tell him I'll honour that choice."
"No, I won't tell him," Eleanor managed a taut smile, "technically I should not have told you, but you're a smart man Mr Gordon. You're perhaps a shade more astute than your partner when it comes to things like this."
"I think that you misjudge my colleague, Eleanor," Artemus said, his dark eyes serious.
"Perhaps," Eleanor shook her head, "Perhaps not. From what I know and have seen of him, he doesn't like his ladies to have much in the way of brains. He prefers the light headed bonbons."
"You may have to revise your opinion one day," Artemus replied.
"Perhaps." Eleanor managed a wry smile, "Thanks for the loan of the dressing gown."
"My pleasure," Artemus bowed.
Jim watched her as she ate, despite the fact that she was wearing a borrowed dressing gown and pyjamas she acted with poise and elegance that made him wish for a moment that he was sitting at a grand dinner with her next to him. She caught him looking at her from under his eyelashes once or twice and had to suppress a smile.
"So, you work for Colonel Richmond?" Jim said as he buttered a slice of toast.
"Yes," Eleanor replied, "very mundane work really. Filing mostly and filling out invitations – and the ubiquitious shorthand."
West smiled, and wondered again who the lovely lady was sitting opposite him. She ate quietly her mind elsewhere. Truthfully she was wondering when her clothes would arrive. She was also thinking of her uncle's next assignment for her and hoped that she wouldn't have to play a maid again. Talk about a stereotype! She was still lost in her thoughts when she realised that West had been speaking to her again.
"I'm sorry, Mr West," she smiled, "I was miles away."
"I was asking if you enjoyed it," he said a soft smile curving the strong lips.
"Oh," she paused, "some of it is very interesting, but it helps if you are working in an office you like."
West smiled and sipped his coffee, "But you must find life in the capital quite invigorating."
"It has its moments," Eleanor replied guardedly, "and it's great to be at the centre of things but on occasion I could wish for a quiet life."
"Is it so overwhelming?" West inquired.
"Only when you get you or your partner get yourself injured," Eleanor responded, taking another sip of her tea.
"How so?" West regarded her curiously.
"Well when you get shot and have to be hospitalised it involves someone transcribing a report for the file," she paused, "then we have to arrange hospital care, sometimes arranging for a surgeon if necessary which also generates bills which are then sent to Colonel Richmond's office and aftercare and of course seeing that The Wanderer also gets water and coal and of course, all the bills come to Richmond's office which have to be copied and duplicated and forwarded to accounts. We keep a copy in file and then of course there are your telegraphed reports which also have to be filed. Sometimes I think all you agents just exist to drown us in paperwork." She looked up smiling.
"All fun in the life of a Secret Service Agent," he responded, "surely we're not all like that."
"No," She shook her head, "it's just that it takes a lot of work to keep you guys moving and sometimes I don't think any of you appreciate us."
West set his coffee cup down, "Perhaps we do not appreciate you as much as we should. It is very easy when you're out in the field to forget there are people making sure that the wheels are turning back home."
"I know, Mr West," Eleanor looked up at him, her green eyes bright with laughter, "and I was only teasing. Truthfully when we hear that any of you have been injured, after work you find most of us in the nearest church praying for your recovery and safe return." She set her cup down, "and most of us light candles."
West looked at her as she bent her head to her breakfast, Smart, sassy and funny he thought, and a beauty to boot. There was a soft knocking on the door and Artemus got up to answer it. When he returned he was carrying a small case, "Clothes," he explained, "shall I put them in the room?"
"That would be wonderful, Mr Gordon."
"Artemus," he corrected gently. "I gave you my room last night, I think that entitles us to be on first name terms."
"If you're going to address my partner by my first name then I think you can start calling me 'Jim' instead of 'Mr West'," Jim said slowly. "You called me 'Jim' last night."
Eleanor looked up and he saw that her eyes were clear, "All right, Jim. Then you ought to address me as Eleanor."
"It would be a pleasure, Eleanor."
Laying her knife and fork on the plate she moved the chair back and carefully stood up. Jim stood up too and then he noticed her lips tightening and saw that the knuckles of the hand gripping the table were white. Her eyes narrowed and a forced smile pasted itself on her lips that didn't quite reach her eyes.
Then abruptly it cleared and she smiled back at him, "If you'll excuse me, I'll just go and get dressed, Jim. Be back in a moment."
Artemus began clearing the plates away and she felt him walking behind her and for a moment she was grateful because he was hiding her slight limp from West's gaze. "Do you need help at all, Eleanor?" he murmured quietly.
"I'll call if I need a hand," Eleanor replied, "Thanks, Artemus."
"A pleasure Eleanor." He replied and then the door swung shut.
She sat on the bunk and slipped her brace off, then she eased herself into her dress. Then she slipped on her stockings, following it with her calliper. She slipped her boots on and standing up, smoothed down the front of her dress. She opened the door a fraction and saw Artemus waiting for her in the corridor, "I thought I would wait and see if you needed help." He said quietly.
"Would you do me up?" she asked.
She felt his fingers fastening the buttons and he said gently, "What do you do on assignment?"
"I usually wear shirt and trousers," Eleanor replied, "Shirts are much easier."
She felt Artemus's hands on her shoulders and he said gently, "Turn around."
Slowly she turned around, "Ready?" he asked.
"Ready," she grinned, "It's been a pleasure, Mr Gordon."
He bent to kiss her forehead, "No, Miss Talbot, it's been an honour." Flushing with pleasure she lowered her eyes, he chuckled softly and bent to pick up her case. West was sitting at the table and he rose to his feet again as she entered the varnish car.
"So we're saying goodbye to you, Miss Talbot," he said, the pale blue of the dress making her look cool and unruffled.
"I'm afraid so, Mr West," she smiled, "May I say that it's been a pleasure to make the acquaintance of you and Mr Gordon and one I shall remember always."
"And becoming the envy of all the girls in the office," Artemus remarked, a sly smile playing about his lips.
For a moment, the mask of the proper Victorian lady slipped, she turned to grin at Artemus and said, "I can dine out on this for a least a month!" Then it was back in place and Artemus was bowing over her hand and then escorting her out of the door.
When he returned Jim surveyed him quietly, "Does Lily have a rival?"
"No," Artemus assured him, "Miss Talbot is a bird of quite a different feather." He turned away wishing that he could tell Jim exactly who this woman was but as he did so, the telegraph started chattering and he walked across to it.
He sat down at the desk and pulled a piece of paper towards him. He looked up at Jim, "Did you get that?"
"Most of it," Jim replied, "Well, back to the grindstone. Looks like we're on our way to a small town called Sweetwater."
Artemus nodded and began tapping out a response. Within half an hour the Wanderer was pulling away from the station and the two men were sitting across from one another, heads together as they planned out their strategy.