Disclaimer: The WENN characters (under any names) belong to Rupert Holmes and Howard Meltzer Productions. The WENN name belongs to some people with the initials AMC who make the Three Stooges look brilliant. Any original characters and the concept belong to me.
Italics denotes thoughts.
Betty Roberts clacked away at her typewriter. She finished Hilary's script for "Valiant Journey" - heaven help her if she was ever late with that one! - and began "Rance Shiloh, US Marshal" for Hilary's ex-husband Jeffrey. She let up for a moment, trying to think of a new plotline for the western program. The one she ran now had Rance battling a no-good gambler for the affections of Miss Lillybelle, but the sponsor, Acton Anthracite Coal, was calling for a return to emphasizing violence and asked her to tone down the mush. She also needed to work on "The Masked Man" for Scott, Maple, and Eugenia. The Masked Man was torn between sweet Miss Susannah, the schoolteacher, and Angela the saloon hostess.
"Betty, I'm leaving now," said an all-too familiar voice. Betty looked up at the door and saw Victor, his briefcase in one hand and his hat in the other, ready to head out the door. "I'll be back in a few days."
Betty nodded. "I know. I'm in charge until you get back. Our date for this evening is off, or will have to wait until next week when you get back. I should keep Hilary and Jeff off each other's throats and make sure Scott doesn't con any sponsors."
Victor sadly agreed. "I really do want to go out with you, but...well, the call was rather sudden. I promised the General that I would attend this meeting. It's of the utmost importance to national security." He looked at his watch. "I have to go now. I'll see you later." He exited quickly and Betty sighed.
This isn't how it's supposed to be! Betty thought to herself in frustration. Noble, good, kind Victor was supposed to be by her side, not running off to Washington at every chance. He was supposed to be the one who was loyal and faithful. Now, she was beginning to re-think their relationship. Betty was tired of waiting for him to put her in front of meetings in Washington and WENN's woes. She still loved him, but she was beginning to wonder if he loved his abstract ideals more.
"Bettybettybetty!" exclaimed an enthusiastic voice from the hallway. Betty sighed again. She knew what Scott was going to ask her. He barreled into the writer's room and leaned happily over her desk. "There's a great flick playing at the Rialto. 'Honky Tonk', you know, the new western with Clark Gable and Lana Turner? Wanna go see it tonight? We could go to Bella's afterwards, or Figaro's Pizza down the street if you're not up for anything fancy. I could use some good Italian food."
She shook her head. "Sorry, Scott, but I'm swamped with scripts tonight."
His hope never wavered. "How about tomorrow afternoon during the Penn State game?"
"Nope. I promised Gertie that I'd look at another script that she wrote for the television contest they've been announcing. She's begged me to read it for days." The part about Gertie and her script was true enough, but she hadn't begged, she'd just asked a few times.
She could see that Scott was hurt, but he kept smiling. "Well, can I at least have my script for 'The Masked Man'? I want to see if I'm going to be saving Miss Susannah's school or Angela's saloon today." She handed him what he asked for, and he flipped through it. When he finished, he looked back at her. "How about the day after tomorrow?"
Betty shook her head again and he left, clearly frustrated and annoyed by her behavior. Well, what was she supposed to do? He was a con-artist and a liar. His whopper about Victor's "letter of recommendation" hurt her. He embezzled money from WENN and technically stole Victor's job. However, he did save her life, and she his. They'd gone out on dates in the past. He was charming and funny and helpful at the station.
She closed her eyes, trying to block out her own problems and envision that day's episode of "Rance Shiloh, US Marshal", and how she would conclude last week's cliffhanger, but her own problems kept intruding...
The Town of Wenn, Kansas, 1859
The Valiant Journey Saloon was crowded with the usual gamblers, prospectors, outlaws, ranchers, and farmers. Mabel, the red-headed hostess, kept busy serving drinks and prying wandering paws off of her skimpy dancing frocks. Foley, the timid little bartender, slid drinks to rowdy customers and ducked when a bottle of alcohol or an unwary patron was thrown against the mirror behind him. Mayor Jeff Marlowe came here on occasion, but only on less crowded days. He knew what his wife Hilary would do to him if she ever found out that he was within a five-mile radius of saloon dancers! Jessamina, the plump, good-natured pianist, kept the crowd hopping and happy with her lively tunes.
Sheriff Roberta Shiloh sat at the bar, nursing a root beer. The lovely native of Indiana was the law in the little town of Wenn, and most men knew better than to cross her. She appeared small and dainty, but the young woman had a keen temper and a mean set of six-shooters. The local marshal, Victor Crandall, left her in charge of keeping the town of Wenn free of trouble when government officials called him to Kansas City. Deputy Mackie Bloom was her only assistant. Mayor Marlowe was after her to hire more help, though. Tiny Wenn was starting to attract an interesting crowd.
She slugged the last of her root beer. Foley came up to her and opened his mouth to ask her if she wanted another one, but she declined. "Naw, I've already had three. I'm going to keep an eye on the crowd." She wandered over to one table where Deputy Bloom and several customers were playing cards with a man in a well-cut, well-made black-and-white suit. He wore a white western hat over his shining ebony-silver locks. His face was expressionless. He wasn't familiar to Roberta. She figured that he was some wandering gambler.
"Well, stranger," said Bob Medwick, a kindly farmer in a simple suit who was a solid believer in kin and country, "I commend you on your fine playing. I'm out. I need to go home to my wife, anyway. She probably has my comforting cup of chocolate boiling in the kitchen for me." He got up to leave, but before he did, he whispered to Roberta, "I'd keep an eye on the black-haired stranger, if I were you. He's cleared us out of everything we have, and then some. I don't think he's on the level, if you know what I mean."
Neither did Roberta. She thanked the farmer for his advice and watched the man carefully. One by one, the other men stood up, complimented the stranger's playing ability, and headed out the door, until only the stranger and Deputy Bloom remained. "Do you have any queens?" the stranger asked the small, balding deputy.
"Durned if I do," his partner replied. He handed him a card. The man grinned and placed his last card on the table.
"I'm out," he happily stated. "I win."
"Well, I'll be durned!" exclaimed the surprised deputy. "I've never seen a man who could win at Go Fish like you, Mr..."
"Please, no mister," the man insisted. "The only folks who call me mister are lawyers and Abraham Lincoln."
Roberta sat down beside the man. "You've met Governor Lincoln?"
"I've heard of him," the man replied. He put his hand out. "I'm Scott Manley. If I were a betting man, I'd say that you're Sheriff Roberta Shiloh. Which I will say because, as you can see, I am a betting man."
Roberta frowned. This wasn't the first time that she ran across charming gamblers like Scott Manley. They were all the same. They'd stay in town for a few days to play Go Fish and bring a saloon chanteuse or two to their room in the Home Sweet Home Hotel, then they'd catch the next train to a larger, more exciting city. She warily shook his hand. It was warm and surprisingly rough. She'd expected the soft hands of a man who handled cards, not the rough ones of a cowboy or ranch hand. "Well, sir, if you've had such a hard time with lawyers in the past, why do you want to become a deputy? You'll be defending law too."
"I don't want to be one," Scott coolly told her. "Never had much time for guns. I bought a second-hand one to defend myself when I traveled around the world, but I lost it, along with my ship, in a fierce storm in the Pacific. Ever try to eat a barnacle?"
Roberta shook her head. "No."
She was growing annoyed. "I promise not to. Well, Sir Manley, you've lived a very interesting life, but we're looking for someone with a little more interest in law-enforcement, and our town..."
"But you can't fire me, Sheriff," Scott interjected.
"I'm your new boss."
Mayor Jeffrey Marlowe, his wife Hilary, and their maid Cecelia were, at that moment, looking at several signed documents that the new marshal, Scott Manley, brought with him to verify his position. They sat in the study of Lord and Lady Mayor's fine brick mansion, Bedside Manor. "Well," the Lord Mayor finally sighed, "they look real to me."
Cecelia, the bubbly blonde maid, peeked over Mayor Marlowe's shoulder. "According to this, he's an expert on Massachusetts salt mines, worked in the oil refineries in Pennsylvania, fought in Texas with the likes of Davy Crockett..."
"Excuse me, but could you kindly remove yourself from my husband's person before some unfortunate mishap occurs?" snapped Hilary Marlowe, Jeff Marlowe's somewhat-lawfully-wedded spouse. Cecelia moved her slender limbs from the narrow shoulders of the mayor.
She took the letter and papers from her husband. "It has Victor's signature and everything. 'I know you'll give him the same warm reception that you gave me when I was appointed Marshall of the territory.' He seems to have Marshal Crandall's blessing."
A ruckus in the town square attracted the attention of all three citizens. Jeff rushed downstairs, followed by the two women. "That sounded like an explosion!"
Cecelia pointed to several people standing in the town square, three of whom wore masks. "I think someone just tried to rob the bank!"
Sheriff Roberta and Deputy Bloom just happened to be across the way from the Sentry Savings Bank when they heard the explosion. The sheriff immediately drew her gun and raced through the frightened throng on Main Street (the only street in town). Deputy Bloom followed her, though he was as white as a sheet. He hung back when she tried to enter the building. "I don't think this is such a great idea, Sheriff. After all, I value my life, and I..."
"Don't even give me the wife and kids bit," grumbled Roberta, "you've been a bachelor for years." She grabbed his arm and ducked into the bank (or what remained of it). Lester, the middle-aged bank teller, had his hands up while three men with bandanas over their faces held rifles on him and were carrying big sacks of money and gold. Roberta angrily pointed her gun at the one closest to her. "Ok, buster, you're under arrest for grand larceny, disturbing the peace, unlicensed destruction of a building, and parking your horses in a no-horses zone."
He shoved the rife in her face and took the gun. "Whadda ya gonna do 'bout it, baby cakes?" The other two men grabbed hold of the frightened deputy.
The snap of a whip startled Roberta. The whip carried the rifle out of the bank robber's hands and into the hands of a man dressed entirely in black, from hat to boots. A black mask mostly covered his face. Roberta had the strange feeling that she'd seen him somewhere before. There was something familiar about his deep brown eyes. Another flick from his whip sent the thug sprawling. "You forgot a few misdemeanors, Sheriff Shiloh. Add 'resisting arrest' and 'assaulting an officer' to the list." The incensed robber rushed past Roberta to assault the unknown threat, but the man merely flicked his whip around him. Mackie and Lester got the gun from the other men. The stranger handed Roberta the money. "Tie them up and I'll go call the marshal. Do it quickly, before they get away!"
Roberta, Mackie and Lester were so intent on binding their three captives that no one saw the unknown masked man escape out the remainder of a window. Roberta was the first one to notice his disappearance. "Who was that masked fellow? He looked so familiar..."
"Yeah," added Mackie, "kinda like a blind date I once had."
Roberta sighed. "I didn't even get to thank him!"
Mackie was leading the three men away as Scott Manley came into the room, along with the Mayor and his wife. Hilary inspected the destroyed vault. "They didn't steal much. Just a bag of gold and two bags of dollars. With all the noise they made, you'd think that they were going to make off with the whole vault." She shot her husband a look. "Although it's not as if this town has much money to begin with. Not like New York, where I was the star of Niblo's Garden, appearing in the greatest melodramas..."
"Enough, Hilary," her husband finally exclaimed. "I know you think that the world begins and ends in Union Square, but could you please put your feelings on hold for a second or two?"
Roberta turned angrily on Scott. "Where did you go?" she snapped. "We could have used you! I would have assumed that Victor told you that this was part of your job."
"Sorry I'm late," he explained, putting his arms around Roberta's shoulders, "but I was sidelined by Winslow Broome of Broome Brothers' Tack Store and Stables." He nodded in the direction of Main Street. "He just bought the Moore General Store and wants the town's support in the greatest entrepreneurial idea ever in the history of this great country! It could bring in amazing revenue for our town. We'll call it the department store. Isn't that great? I should have started calling places department stores years ago..."
The Office of the Wenn Daily Bugle, a few weeks later
Roberta Shiloh lived a double life. When she wasn't chasing after outlaws and keeping Marshal Scott Manley's harebrained schemes from causing trouble, she, Deputy Bloom, and the two young interns that Marshal Manley hired to aid Roberta in both her professions were writing articles about goings-on in town. Marshal Manley leaned over her and watched her while she worked.
"Are you sure about this?" she tentatively asked him.
"Sure!" He grinned. "Having the territory-wide fair here will really put Wenn on the map! They usually hold it in Kansas City or one of those other big places."
"But we'll be short-handed this week," Roberta reminded him. "Victor Crandall called Mayor Jeffrey to Kansas City to help him with that secret government business he's been attending to there. I don't know how much longer I can handle Hilary as Mayoress absolute." The sheriff/editor made a face as she finished the typeset for the fair promotion. "She keeps after me about changing the play I wrote to perform at the fair. She says that the story of a young boy who travels out west looking for his aunt and uncle should have more grim melodrama and less Brothers' Grimm."
"It does sound like there should be a witch and a wizard in there, doesn't it?" Scott commented.
"The play is going to be held at the Green Room Restaurant, next to the Home Sweet Home Hotel. It took us a while to get the owners to agree to it," Roberta admitted. "Miss Gertrude, who runs the desk at the Home Sweet Home Hotel, had to ask CJ the telegrapher to wire the people in Boston who bought the hotel and eating establishment and get them to say yes."
"Who does own the Home Sweet Home Hotel and the Green Room Restaurant, anyway? Do you know much else about them besides the fact that they live in Boston?"
She shook her head. "Only that they have enough money to buy the rest of Wenn, all of Hilary Marlowe's fashionable wardrobe, and probably most of Kansas Territory as well."
Mayoress Hilary Marlowe herself fell dramatically into the office at that moment (ok, she fell as well as she could in a yellow muslin crinoline gown). "Oh, Sheriff Shiloh, Marshall Manley, it's horrible! It's truly awful! My poor Jeffrey, and dear Victor, too! They've been...." Her voice broke and she choked back sobs.
Scott Manley went to her side and Roberta abandoned her printing. "Hilary, what's wrong?"
"We just received word from Kansas City. Victor Crandall was killed in a riot during one of his and Jeff's debates. My Jeff sustained injuries but lived."
Roberta suddenly felt weak. Her knees went out from under her and she collapsed onto a chair. Scott left Hilary and immediately went to Roberta. "Hey there, Robbie, are you all right?"
He could see quite clearly that she was crying, but she gulped and whispered "I'm fine, Scott, Hilary." She escorted both of them to the door.
Town of Wenn, 1860
Marshal Scott Manley was determined to do the town of Wenn a service. Roberta was so despondent after Victor Crandall's death that he followed her to her room at the Home Sweet Home Hotel for several weeks. He gathered money from the Flowergrams Flower Shop and the Kansas City Stagecoach Service to create a memorial for the late Victor Crandall. Roberta didn't particularly approve of his scheme, he noted, but she didn't specifically disapprove, either. She often complained about having to get him out of jams, like the time his Aunt Agatha visited from back east. There was also the day he convinced her to start a news wire service that lasted for exactly ten hours because they could find no news to report, she wouldn't let him invent any, and his attempt to create his own almost cost both of them their jobs.
For now, he was going to take Roberta to see Mayor and Mrs. Marlowe's new magic act. They were so happy to have him back and re-married, but Scott could see the frequently haunted look in the Mayor's eyes. He saw similar looks on many of the soldiers he fought with in the Mexican-American War. They still argued frequently, but much of the bitterness that characterized their fights vanished with the wedding rings. Or maybe it died when Cecelia fled with a troop of actors heading east to Broadway.
"Scott!" Roberta exclaimed as she descended the staircase of the Home Sweet Home Hotel. He had to restrain his surprise. She never looked so beautiful. She turned so he could see all of her gorgeous white lace crinoline gown. A wide pale blue ribbon circled her waist as well as her flowered hat. A ruffled parasol shaded her head.
"Robbie, you look so gorgeous." He caught her hand and kissed it.
Robbie blushed becomingly, but then whispered in his ear "Don't overdo it, Marshal Manley. This is just business. I have two six-shooters and three knives concealed in my outfit."
Scott moved his hands from her waist. "I can imagine. You could probably hide several steamships in that dress."
Miss Gertrude interrupted them. "Are you two going to watch the program, or should I just get you a room?"
Robbie glared, but Scott shook his head. "Uh, no, Miss Gertrude, we're fine." The two walked arm and arm into the ballroom. Scott pointed out the big shots he invited to the show. Deputy Bloom and Mabel would join them in the ballroom. Jessamina and Foley were already preparing their music.
"Isn't that Kurt Holstrom, the famous Kentucky toymaker and printer?" Roberta asked, indicating one fellow dressed in an expensive brown silk suit and hat.
"Yeah," Scott said. "He came about those messages we've received over the telegraph wire."
"The strange ones meant for Captain Amazon Andy's Toy Emporium?"
Robbie nodded as the lights went down and the show went on. It began with a minstrel program by the Mongram Piano Troupe, then went on to the main attraction - Mayor and Mrs. Marlowe's amazing act.
"Now, darling," Jeff finished as he removed the blindfold from his wife, "can you tell us about this object?"
"Why, yes, love," Hilary explained, "the object is an Amazon Andy de-coding book, the kind sold by Captain Amazon Andy's Toy Emporium for a penny."
Robbie clapped, delighted. She never saw such powers before. Mr. Holstrom looked interested as well. The Marlowes and Jessamina took a bow and Robbie moved to ask Scott about something and was surprised to see that he was gone. Now, where did he run off to? She sighed. Scott Manley just did not take his job seriously. He always seemed to have some crazy scheme and to vanish the moment it went wrong, only to reappear again after the problem was solved.
Roberta walked around the decorated ballroom. It was the fanciest room in town that wasn't in Bedside Manor. She and Deputy Bloom were supposed to be keeping an eye on the guests, but Deputy Bloom looked more interested in Mabel. The two were laughing over something or other near the large picture window.
"Oh, Sheriff Shiloh!" Roberta turned and found her hand being kissed by Kurt Holstrom. "It's very nice to meet you, Sheriff. You're the woman who's done such a wonderful job keeping Wenn trouble-free."
"Thank you," Roberta said absently, "but Marshal Manley and Deputy Bloom deserve some of the credit." They aren't the only ones, Roberta reminded herself. The mysterious "masked man" who saved the Sentry Savings Bank was the talk of the Kansas Territory and idol of many a woman. He'd appeared many times since then, once to help Roberta stop a group of elderly performers from being swindled by a traveling earphone salesman, but mostly to aid her in handling a recent rash of thefts from area stores and banks. The robberies were said to be the work of The Professor's Gang, but no one would reveal who this "Professor" was or what he wanted with a small town like Wenn.
"Yes," said Mr. Holstrom, "speaking of Marshal Manley, there's something I wanted to ask both of you."
"We're still trying to figure out who robbed the Toy Emporium, sir," Roberta admitted. She removed a small book from her purse. "And that's not all we're trying to figure out."
"Sheriff Shiloh," Lady Hilary Marlowe interrupted, "we're having a reception for our guests in the ballroom. Jeffrey and I planned to read the new Captain Amazon book you just wrote after the guests have eaten their fill of that overcooked rubber Miss Gertrude calls dinner."
Roberta went on. "Recently, there have been several strange messages inserted in the end of some of the books. It's only happened a few times, and I didn't put them there." She gulped. "Marshal Manley took a look at them." She showed him what Scott showed her earlier that day. "They say that members of The Professor's Gang is going to destroy the largest wheat farm in Kansas Territory in exactly one hour and civilian casualties are acceptable if necessary."
"I doubt that message is from Captain Amazon," Hilary Marlowe agreed. "But why attack farms? Why not try for the armories or government buildings?"
"All three of the farms that burned were major suppliers of food for the Union army," Roberta explained. "If an army doesn't have some kind of food, there's no army."
"Brilliant deduction, Sheriff Shiloh," snapped Holstrom as he grabbed Hilary's arm. "It's a shame you, Marshal Manley, and Mrs. Marlowe won't live to reveal your findings to the government, though." He held a gun to the frightened mayor's wife. "You so much as touch your own weapons, Shiloh, and I'll shoot her faster than Manley can fleece a rube at Go Fish. I know you have half the US Armory in that hoop skirt."
The door flew open at that moment, and a whip flicked across Holstrom's shoulder. It didn't hurt him, but it did distract him long enough for Hilary to lunge for the gun and Roberta to pull her own six shooters from under the folds of her skirts. Hilary grinned at the sight of the mysterious "Masked Man", flanked by her husband, who toted a gun. "You see," Jeff explained, "we have one of these, two, and ours isn't hidden under layers of petticoats."
"Nice job, Mayor," the Masked Man said. He flicked the whip again. "You're surrounded, Holstrom. Deputy Bloom and Mabel are calling the local police force and the marshal. They should be on their way."
"So," snarled Holstrom, "you're the masked troublemaker who's been annoying my organization."
Roberta stepped back. "Your organization?"
"He's a member of The Professor's Gang, Sheriff," the Masked Man told her. "A band of ruthless criminals who'll stop at nothing to sabotage the Union."
"And we'll succeed, too," Holstrom added. He pulled away from Hilary, who fell into her husband's safe arms, and attacked the Masked Man. Roberta aimed her guns at Holstrom, but they were moving too quickly. She gasped when she saw Holstrom slide a knife out of his sleeve and slash the Masked Man's elbow. The Masked Man rolled out from under him, but the knife still connected with part of his arm. He winced and Roberta hurried to his side.
"Don't bother with me," he puffed. "The police will be here any minute. You and the Marlowes subdue Holstrom. I'll go get Marshal Manley."
She took his hand before he could escape. "You have to tell me who you are! I don't know where to find you in case we ever need your help again."
"I'm just a nobody," the stranger grunted. "I always know where to find you, Sheriff, and when to come. You can count on me." The arrival of the law took Roberta away from the unknown person, and when she turned to talk to him again, he was gone.
Roberta sighed as she climbed the stairs of the Home Sweet Home Hotel to her room. It was a very, very long night. The government questioned all of them and took Holstrom into custody for additional question involving The Professor's Gang. Scott Manley never appeared. He said that he was called to Abalene to look at a new kind of piano that would play the music by itself and he got hurt in a little brawl during a Go Fish match that the loser claimed was fixed.
There was a light on in her room. That's strange, Roberta thought. I could have sworn I blew out my lamp before I went downstairs. She cautiously entered her boudoir. Everything looked the same - the neatly made bed, the shiny vanity table, the flickering light in the glass lamp. Everything but ex-marshal Victor Crandall standing in the middle of her room.
"Victor!" she exclaimed. "What..."
Victor put his hand over her mouth. "Roberta, please quiet yourself! I can't allow anyone to know I'm here. I shouldn't be here, but I had to speak to you again."
"But, why?" Roberta gasped. "What's going on? You're supposed to be dead!"
Victor shook his head. "I was merely knocked unconscious during the riot," he explained. "When I came to, the Union government decided that I'd be the perfect man to spy on Jefferson Davis and the Confederacy."
"Victor," Roberta wailed, "I don't understand any of this. What are you doing that you can tell me without getting us both arrested for high treason?"
"Roberta," he said, "I'm supposed to be an embittered journalist who has let his sympathies be known to the correct people in Richmond. This way, my real life and name remain untarnished." He placed his hands on her shoulders. "You must not tell anyone. National security depends on your secrecy."
Roberta nodded. "I promise. I haven't the slightest idea of what's going on, but I promise." She frowned. "What about Scott Manley? He's taken your death so hard."
Victor seemed puzzled. "Who is Scott Manley?"
"Scott Manley is the man you sent here to replace you as marshal," Roberta said, "right?"
"I don't know anyone by that name," Victor said.
The sound of Scott's voice startled both of them. He grabbed Roberta and kissed her as passionately as he could. She watched him escape out her window. When Scott Manley found her, she had fainted dead away on the braided wool rugs in her room.
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