The Night of the Human Trigger - Recap

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Jim and Artie ride into the small town of Sentinel. No one strides the streets; no one haunts the saloons or hotels. Jim comments how peaceful the town is; Artie replies that it’s too peaceful. A flier drifts by and Jim reads the notice:

Taxpayers of the Republic!
Gather Your Possessions
Leave Sentinel by 5 June
Before the sun is at its summit.
For Sentinel will then be torn asunder!”

Jim and Artie dismount. Everyone has left the town. Artie notes that if they had any sense they’d follow. For today is the fifth of June and the sun is almost at its summit. The agents hear piano music and follow it into a saloon. Inside a man plays piano while a bartender waits for customers. Artie comments that business is slow and asks why the bartender is still here. The bartender does not believe the earthquake will strike – it’s already a little past noon, according to the clock on the wall. He thinks the other quakes were coincidence or lies.

Suddenly the world shakes. The bartender considers briefly and then seizes a bottle and flees through the back door. The ceiling crumbles and a beam falls. Jim and Artie hunker down until the quake dies down, then rise. The drunken piano player also rises and then comments that it’s an odd time of year for a dust storm. Jim and Artie leave to check on their horses and find their train.

Professor Orkney Cadwallader examines a map. He declares the latest earthquake a howling success and claims nature could not have produced one better. His quake ripped the land from one end to the other. He tells henchmen Sam and Harry to stick with him and he’ll give them earth beyond their wildest dreams. Then an instrument chirps; a seismograph that has recorded the approach of Jim West and Artemus Gordon in the Wanderer. Sam and Harry ask what they should do and Orkney tells them it has all been arranged...

Aboard the train Jim and Artie note there was plenty of excitement but now it’s over. Artie suggests someone has declared war on the United States, but the United States cannot declare war in turn because (Jim reminds his partner) an army can only fight what it can see. The agents must find the problem before the army can solve it.

Jim checks a map, noting that the destroyed towns– Twin River and Crown Point and now Sentinel – all lie along a particular line. Artie notes that the first town destroyed, Fool’s Junction, received no warning and nearly three hundred people died there. It lies well off the line. But the other towns all lie in eastern Wyoming. Whoever is distributing the circulars must be close to the targets, and so is probably in eastern Wyoming. The telegraph chatters out notice that Ellenville has received an earthquake threat. Ellenville lies on the line Jim noted earlier.

The agents visit Ellenville, discovering the sheriff among those fleeing. Jim reminds the Sheriff that folks depend on him. The sheriff shows Jim a circular; it’s the same warning other towns received. He claims he’ll face up to anything he can see coming, then asks if the agents have ever seen an earthquake coming. When Jim cannot answer him he leaves.

Jim enters the Ellenville hotel. Inside he asks the clerk for a bath; the clerk tells him to help himself. He asks the clerk for a room and the clerk tells him to take his pick. Then the clerk closes his carpet bag and joins the exodus.

Jim climbs the stairs and enters a second floor room, quickly surveying it and the attached bath for intruders. When he returns to the outer room, a young woman stands near the door! He asks her whether the room is hers and she pulls a derringer. Lightning quick, Jim seizes and squeezes her hand, forcing her to yield the firearm, then repeats his question. This time she confirms the room is hers. Gently, Jim kisses her hand. She asks his name and he supplies it; she introduces herself as Faith Cadwallader and asks whether he is married. On hearing a “no” she seems to smile very slightly and then asks Jim why he’s in the room. He replies that he came to take a bath, and then returns the same question back to her. She also planned to take a bath. Jim asks why she isn’t afraid of trhe earthquake and she explains that there are two hours left before it strikes. Then she asks for her derringer back and Jim graciously returns it – only to have her point it at him again!

Faith orders Jim to take a seat. Regret in her voice, she explains that she likes him, but that orders are orders. She says she’d hate to have the wrong man killed, and Jim has the sickest feeling she’s not joking. She assures him her Papa didn’t raise her to joke about chores. Jim says he thought they were becoming friends and starts to rise; Faith replies by shooting a nearby spittoon, and Jim sits back down. She explains that her Papa forbade her to kill Jim, as it wouldn’t be ladylike. Jim wonders why her father wants him killed, and she reveals that he has learned of Jim’s exploits and considers him very dangerous.

The door opens and two men pitch a semi-conscious Artie inside, then struggle to enter simultaneously through a doorway that barely accommodates one of them. Faith introduces her brothers Hercules and Thaddeus. Then she turns to her brothers and chides them for getting the wrong man, pointing to Jim and explaining that he is their target. Returning her attention to Jim, she explains that her father considers his sons extraordinarily dumb and forbids them even to speak during the execution of a chore for fear it will befuddle them. Turning back to them, she tells them she will take a bath and that she wants the room empty when she has finished. She also points out Jim a second time, and explains that Papa wants him killed. They cock their pistols and she stops them, reminding them that Papa told them not to kill in front of a lady! Her goodbye to Jim laments his death because there are so few men left in Wyoming.

Hercules and Thaddeus escort Jim from the room but get stuck in the doorway again struggling to leave at the same time. That distracts them enough for Jim to make a bid for freedom, but Jim’s punches have little effect. They grab Jim and hurl him across the room and into the bath; Artemus suffers a similar fate when he struggles to his feet and attempts a weak punch. The brothers follow the agents into the bath, where Jim temporarily blinds Thaddeus with hot water. Both agents land punches without much effect. Watching from her bath, Faith realizes her father was right – Jim is dangerous. Artie bursts through the window and yells to Jim, who follows him outside. They race across the balcony and leap the railing to the roof. At the window, Thaddeus and Hercules both attempt to squeeze into the window to shoot their fleeing prey, but interfere with each other so much that neither gets a shot off. Jim and Artie leap to the ground, and then race away.

Sometime later, Jim and Artie have concealed themselves behind some scrub. From this vantage they watch the trail as Faith, Hercules and Thaddeus ride by. Faith forbids Hercules from killing a rabbit their passage flushed; Artie describes her as a lady with two elephants and proposes that the agents use their guns, just to cage them a little. Jim vetoes this. He says that someone can predict earthquakes and that this person wants them dead. He knows the person is Faith’s father but does not know the rest of the story, and won’t until they find the man. After the Cadwalladers round a bend Jim and Artie untie their horses and follow them.

In his laboratory lair, Professor Cadwallader reads through a magnifying glass. One of his men comes down the stairs with a pie plate, trips, and spills the dirt it contains all over the floor; the professor upbraids the man and comments about the poor help one finds, punctuating his commentary by tossing the dirt in his henchman’s face! Calling the man Sydney, Cadwallader promises to take Chickasaw away from him; when the man says his name is Sam and not Sydney, Cadwallader responds by asking what county he’d promised, and the man says Little Butte. Then Cadwallader asks if Sam wants that taken way, and Sam allows that he wouldn’t like that much, so Cadwallader tells him to be careful if he wants to avoid losing Little Butte. The professor launches into a muttered tirade comparing his help to the students who used to chatter away and then act surprised when they failed his class.

Jim and Artie continue to follow along the trial, through low brush and high rocks, finally losing the brothers near a rocky defile.

Faith enters her father’s lab with Hercules and Thaddeus in tow. Their father greets his children, calling Hercules by Thaddeus’ name and vice versa. Fortunately, their own names seem to be something the professor’s dim-witted children have mastered. He tells them he expected them the previous day; they apologize but say they couldn’t help it because the land is full of holes. Orkney seizes on this, asking if his earthquakes caused the holes. The boys guess so, but too quickly for their father who suggests they not come to hasty conclusions but instead mull the facts before answering.

Next he asks Faith how much dynamite remains. She tells her father she has it all and he realizes they did not blow up the Wanderer and asks why. She explains that they could not find it. He asks how they did kill Jim West and learns to his dismay that the agent still lives. He sends his sons back out to finish their chore. They ask about the “other snoop” and after a short conversation decide to kill both.

After they leave Orkney bemoans his sons, wondering if their poor mother (he pauses to bless her memory) was too indulgent with them. Faith sympathizes, commenting that Orkney has always struggled against the tide, but her father corrects her: he has turned the tide, exploiting nature for his own use. Now he expects his reward. But he remains disappointed with his sons’ intellectual shortcomings.

The boys return – they have realized they don’t know where to go. Sighing, Orkney notes that he expects nothing from them but does expect better from Faith. She protests that she’s only human but her father corrects her. He claims a superhuman nature and reminds his daughter of their consanguinity. Then the seismometer chirps and the professor examines the machine’s sensitive readout with his glass, finally concluding that two horses and their riders have approached within eight hundred yards. The boys lost the agents but their father has just found them, and cautions them not to lose the men again. He triggers a pair of popup targets which the boys expertly shoot, then tells them they’re getting slow and sends them out. After they leave this time Faith says they were as fast as she has ever seen them. Orkney agrees but says he told them they were slowing down so they would strive to improve.

Jim and Artie dismount and tie their horses. The rough trail has taken a toll; men and horses need water. Artie offers to find it, commenting that he never realized how much he likes water. No sooner has he left then Hercules and Thaddeus appear flanking Jim! They taunt the agent. He has no hot water for tricks and no window through which to escape. Each man dares Jim to shoot him, saying that if he tries the other will get him. Then in a moment of clarity they realize they shouldn’t be enjoying themselves since they have specific orders. Jim explodes in a lighting move, shooting one brother with his standard sidearm and the other with his sleeve derringer. Artie appears from down the trail – and so do six of Orkney’s men! With six guns covering them and none of these men as gullible as the Cadwallader brothers, Jim and Artie have little choice but surrender.

In his laboratory Orkney peers through a microscope when his men appear and explain that Hercules and Thaddeus will not return. He asks if the fight was fair and Jim tells the professor that the brothers drew on him. Orkney is surprised the agent outdrew both his sons. Jim suggests the wind favored him but neither man really believes this. Faith goes to bury her brothers – they weren’t much but they were blood.

Artie addresses Orkney as an earthquake artist, a complement the professor graciously accepts. Then he demands the agents’ weapons. The agents hand over their regulation side arms, but the professor knows about Jim’s sleeve gun and that Artie has a second weapon in a shoulder holster. He has studied the Secret Service.

The agents killed his sons, and while they may not have been much they surely deserve some revenge. Orkney has his men secure the agents by tying their hands above their heads, suspending their feet above the floor. Then he ties vials to their feet, explaining that these contain glyceryl trinitrate, a powerful explosive. He warns Jim and Artie to remain still lest their motion explode the vials. Orkney considers this a good method for interrogating suspects. He even offered it to the Boston police, who thought he was mad.

Orkney calls himself a prophet without honor during his Boston years, but claims this has changed. He asks Mr. ...North? (Jim corrects him) to look around him and describe what he sees. Jim says he sees a geologist’s lab. Then Artie accuses the professor of depraved indifference towards the citizens of Wyoming, a charge the professor disputes by showing Artie fliers he distributed to each town before its earthquake. He claims his first ultimatum went to the governor, asking him to evacuate Wyoming. He further claims that if the governor had done this there would have been no loss of property. Artie wonders what the difference is between losing property to an earthquake or abandoning it to Orkney, who Artie says “wants it all.” Orkney admits this is true, and adds that he’s going to get it all – from all of them. Sensing the story Jim prompts him with a simple, “them?”

Luke Sorrel, the professor explains, was the first – a cattle baron who lived at Crow’s Foot County, the first county Orkney conquered. Orkney explains that he wasn’t unhappy at Harvard, where he held the chair of geology and boasted an impressive array of degrees – B.A.; M.A.; Ph.D.; LL.D. And with colleagues as impecunious as he, his economic pain was bearable, although he cautions the agents that unless society raises the salary of teachers soon there will be trouble.

Orkney continues his tale: Sorrel offered him a fortune to come to Wyoming and employ his geologic skills to locate the best grazing land for beef. Orkney agreed and after some work found that land, whereupon Sorrel failed to honor the agreement. Orkney received a pittance compared to the promises and to the degree his work enriched Sorrel. He found he had to beg for employment just to feed his family. Bitterly, he recounts how Luke Sorrel, Adam Bogatas and Clay Crawford passed him around like a fiddler’s filly. When he finally asked for a little land they put a price on it that he couldn’t meet. So he took his land, and theirs, with his earthquakes.

Orkney asks the agents if they understand what a fault is and Artie snidely replies that it is a bad serve in tennis. Orkney threatens to tickle him – with the bottle of explosive tied to his feet, a serious threat. Artie offers a better reply: a fault is a geologic irregularity beneath the earth’s surface. Orkney expands on this, noting that a fault is a fracture beneath the crust of the earth, susceptible to pressure, as Orkney discovered when he put dynamite over what he believed was an underground river. What he discovered was not water, but a weapon. Artie shoots back that it’s a weapon to slaughter innocent people and Orkney reminds the agent about the fliers. But Ford’s Junction received no warning and three hundred people died there. Orkney admits that was a mistake that occurred while he was polishing his skills. Artie angrily comments that the “mistake” wiped out a whole village and Orkney shoots back that one village was wiped out so that a thousand more could be born and abide in dignity! Orkney says there is enough gold and silver in Wyoming to feed every man, woman and child, and to create a community in which the arts and sciences will flourish, enough so that even the lowliest man can carry his head in dignity, and all without taxes.

Jim asks whether it concerns Orkney that he resorted to thievery and murder to achieve these goals and Orkney says it does not, no more so than Jim’s death would concern him. Jim reveals then what he may have known all along – the vials are a bluff, If they exploded, it would destroy the lab. He and Artie shake their feet and the vials don’t explode. Orkney tells them he hates clever men. Faith overhears this from the entrance and tells her father she hates HIM! This revelation does not bother the mad geologist, who simply suggests Faith’s hatred is a healthy symptom that will permit her to transfer he affections to a suitable young man. He notes that earlier she was Antigone, burying her brothers, and now she is Electra – the whole gamut of Greek drama. She accuses her father of callousness and he simply tells her to run along because he is busy. She asks if he’s too busy to attend his sons’ funeral; he dismisses the request by explaining that would not bring them back. But, he promises to be at Jim and Artie’s funerals. He tells Faith that when Wyoming becomes its own country there will be a big inaugural ball and she should work on her guest list. On her way out, he asks her to send in Sam and Harry.

Orkney tells Jim there is time for another question or two, and Jim asks the biggest: whether Orkney really thinks he can get away with this. The government will send in troops. Orkney claims he has earthquakes enough to take care of any number of armies. Using a model, he explains how a small amount of dynamite at a weak spot puts pressure on the fault line, causing a shift, felt as an earthquake.

Sometime later Jim and Artie are in a mine car. Faith is disappointed they have to die, and Jim agrees that they shouldn’t have to! She devises what seems to her a clever idea: if Jim gives up his “old” Secret Service her Papa wouldn’t kill him! She could tell her father to establish his own secret service and Jim could be in charge. Jim cites the flaw in this plan: he doesn’t agree with what he father wants to do, and in fact has come to stop him. Archly, she tells Jim he has certainly failed at that. He replies that hope springs eternal; she implores him to be sensible but he rejects her. As she turns to go she comments that her Papa must stop killing all the men in Wyoming.

Orkney appears, and says goodbye to “Mr. Sawtooth”, again confusing Jim’s name. He corrects the error a second later as he anticipates the upcoming destruction of the town of Sawtooth. That town’s courthouse contains the only claims for land that exist for this part of Wyoming. Its destruction will cast all ownership in doubt! Orkney nods and the mine car begins to roll towards the mine entrance. Inside, another car rolls along the track, pauses, and tips its load of rocks into the maw of a rock crusher! That’s the fate Orkney plans for the two Secret Service Agents!!

As their mine car enters the tunnel, Jim and Artie begin to rock it back and forth. Other cars dump their loads into the crusher – the mechanism will have no trouble mashing Jim and Artie if they cannot free themselves! Rocking the car faster and faster, the agents finally make it tip off the track with seconds to spare. Working back to back, they struggle free.

They return to the lab and there examine the model of Sawtooth and the fault line Orkney intends to exploit. Artie wonders whether the model is accurate; Jim reasons that the professor is a thorough man and the model is likely as accurate as he could manage. Artie agrees and determines from the model where Orkney must be. Jim sends Artie to Sawtooth to evacuate the town, while he goes to find and stop Orkney.

Artie visits the Sawtooth Courthouse. Inside he meets Aunt Martha, whose first question asks, “Boy, or girl?” Artie is confused before he realizes Aunt Martha thinks he’s there to register a birth. A man sitting at a clerk’s desk warns Artie that he can’t fool Aunt Martha; she’s sharp. Artie manages to explain that he’s there to warn them and Aunt Martha understands – he’s not a father, he’s just scared. He says he has every reason to be – not for himself but for the good people of Sawtooth.

Aunt Martha dismisses the warnings and rumors as hearsay. Artie explains that he is a Secret Service agent, but she does not believe it. Porter, the clerk, pipes up saying that Aunt Martha is a hard one to fool. Artie retorts that she’s a hard head who will get everyone killed! She remains unmoved, telling Artie that by the time he was born she’s had six children, buried two, and killed twelve Indians. Artie clearly has his work cut out for him.

Men bring cases of dynamite out of the mine entrance. Jim fires flaming arrows at them; these stick in the framework surround the entrance, alarming the henchmen. The believe Indians are attacking and try to put out the fire on the wooden frame. Then an arrow hits the dynamite and the men have had enough. They flee. Orkney calls after them, telling them the attackers aren’t Indians – he has already promised the Indians six counties! But to no avail; the men are gone. Finally Orkney simply pulls the fire arrow from the dynamite box and tosses it aside. Jim appears, holding a gun on the erratic genius. Behind Jim, Faith creeps closer.

Exasperated, Orkney realizes he should have killed Jim himself. He complains about having no organization, no reliable chain of command, everything resting on his shoulders, as Faith sneaks closer. Orkney says Jim has worn him out and slumps slightly. Jim is unmoved, and demands the location of the detonator. Orkney pauses as Faith rushes Jim from behind and tries to brain him, but the wily agent senses her, whirls, and wrestles the rock from her. He shoves her over by her father, who approves of her attempts, calling her his true child. She apologizes to Jim, but blood is thicker than water, as Orkney delights in pointing out. Then Orkney operates a catch on the wooden mine frame and a giant jaw trap closes around Jim, pinning him! Maliciously, Orkney asks Jim if he really wants to know where the detonator is...

Orkney and Faith secure Jim atop crates of dynamite. A clever arrangement of contacts and a pendulum rests on the agent’s chest. Wires lead from it to the detonator. Jim has his answer – HE is the trigger. Orkney hands Faith the pamphlets for Clark City, the site of the next manufactured catastrophe, and sends her off to distribute them. Before she leaves she folds a crude pillow under Jim’s head; her father chides her for wasting time. She replies that she does not want to die an old maid. Before she leaves she asks her father what happens if Jim never twitches, and Orkney is proud to see her thinking. He replies that the wires lead to another fuse that will explode the bomb at high noon!

Shortly after Faith departs a strange man appears. Dressed in a pith helmet, mustaches and sideburns, glassed and a tweed coat, it’s Artie in disguise! He calls Orkney, who goes to see him, and explains that he has read all of Orkney’s papers on compressive longitudinal waves, and also has studied his lectures on secondary transverse waves. He knows Orkney’s theories well. Extending a hand, Artie introduces himself as Dr. Ninekindovz of the University of Vienna.

Jim, trying to work without extra movement, worries the stake holding his right arm, trying to free the limb. The pendulum sways...

Artie feigns absent-mindedness to distract Orkney, who tells the disguised agent he’s flattered, but begs for another time. Artie “remembers” then that he wanted to discuss earthquakes.

Jim works the stake free. He has his right arm back.

Artie rambles, explaining how he became convinced that a man of Orkney’s skill could apply his theories to manufacture earthquakes! Orkney suggests that this would make him a miracle man.

Jim disconnects the wires from the system of pendulums and contacts.

Orkney asks his visitor if he wants to know a secret, and then admits that he CAN in fact create earthquakes. For scientific purposes only, of course. That’s all Artie wanted to know – he strips his disguise and Orkney realizes he’s been had and cries that he’s a man alone in the midst of a palace revolt. Jim tells the professor that he should have remained at Harvard. Orkney suddenly yells, distracting the agents long enough to reach the bare wires Jim disconnected from the pendulum trigger.

Faith returns. She tells her father that she burnt his circulars, and that he must stop ruining peoples’ lives – and her life. She wants her chance for happiness. Angry, Orkney replies that when he connects the wires she’ll be united forever with that... Puritan... she has fallen for! He touches the wires and a massive explosion blasts the ground nearby, sending shudders through the ground. Artie picks himself up and calls Jim over to a nearby bluff from which they can look down on Sawtooth. Orkney is already there, and does not believe what he sees, for Sawtooth still stands!

Sometime later the professor scribbles equations on the wall. He doesn’t understand why Sawtooth remains standing. Artie suggests an error and Orkney says that if Artie is correct, the entire theory needs rethinking. Artie suggests that he’ll have plenty of time and offers him a piece of chalk – the perspective shifts, revealing the bars of the cell that will hold the mad scientist for a long time. He asks Artie for another piece of chalk and the agent obliges before departing.

Jim emerges from the Sawtooth Courthouse. Faith is there and she wants to go with Jim, but he is not interested, suggesting instead that he father needs her. A train whistles and Artie reminds Jim they must leave. Jim kisses Faith, says goodbye and walks away. She calls after him – she hates him and the whole secret service! She turns and enters the courthouse. Minutes later, the Wanderer pulls away.