Lenix Ballister —Detective
In Which a Gang of Circus Thieves are Caught
Archie P. McKishnie
Who Wrote “Willow, the Wisp," "Link Gaffum," “The Portals of Hostibilla," etc.
JANE-ANN, the while she spread the breakfast table, was keeping watch from the corner of her eye on the partner of her joys and sorrows. In her glance was something of the apprehension of a mother who sees and realizes that her little boy is growing up and away from her. Certain it was, during the past three days, Lenix had changed, whether for the better or worse there was no immediate way of defining. Jane-Ann felt that it must be for the better, as that no ’count nigger couldn't be possibly worser than he had been.
At least half a dozen times a day had she inquired if he were “feelin’ pert,” to which inquiries he had always given a preoccupied affirmative and lapsed immediately into his former state of trancelike impenetrability.
“Dey’s sure somefin’ on dat nigger’s min’,” soliloquized Jane-Ann, beneath her breath. “Free mornin’s now he do’n’ swear when de fire fail ter light, as he coamb his ha’r like a youn’ feller goin’ cou’tin’ befor’ he sets down ter his meals. An’ he don’ play wif dat pup, Orinoco, none ’tall. But mos’ ob all what make me worry is dat queer look on his face. He’s sure up in de clouds, an ef he don’ come down right soon Ise goin’ ter bust his balloon wif’ a green barrel stave; I sure is.”
Lenix, having adjusted his crinkly fringe of curls to his liking, moved slowly and with a dignified step to the table where he stood for a moment gazing from the window before seating himself. Then, as though impelled by the power of his wife’s fixed stare, he raised his eyes.
“Was yo’ all speakin’, Jane-Ann?” he inquired gently.
“Kase ef yo’ was, I didn’t hyar what yo’ all said.”
Jane-Ann by deft manipulation of heels
and toes, swivelled so as to face him. “I aint said nuthin’ in words; not yit. But Len, Ise suttingly lookin’ a question, I sure is lookin’ one, right now!”
CHE waited for Len’s eyes to twitch and ^ other evidences of discomfort to show themselves. But none were forthcoming. Len simply reached out a long arm, speared a slice of ham with his fork, and fell to.
“I aint no min’-reader, Jane-Ann. Say what yer gotter say an’ get it ober. I gotter big day’s work ahead o’ me at de mill.”
“All right den, I’ll speak words. Tell me, what all is dat lil’ book yo’ *>t>t in yore ves’ pocket?”
Len looked up in surprise. “How come yo’ knowed I had dat book, Jane-Ann?”
“Kase it drop outin’ yore pocket when I hang up yore ves’ las’ night. Don’ yo’ accuse me ob snoopin’ in yore old belongings er I’ll knock yore head offin’ yo’.”
“Nobody’s accusin’ nobody.” Len’s voice was suave, even. “Queer dough, how dat book drap out, that away, when I have her pin to my ves’ linin’ wrif big safety-pin. I s’pose she drap wdde open too, and what is writ in her spill out on de floor?”
Jane-Ann who had settled heavily in a wicker chair, grasped the arms spasmodically and half rose.
Len was quick to read the signs. Experience had taught him just how far he might go with Jane-Ann, and now, as her eyes rolled about, he held up a pacifying hand.
“Sho\ Honey, don’ get all worked up over nuffin’. I’ll tole yo’ what dat book am, Jane-Ann. It am a bank book.
“Why, a bank book is a lil* book dey gibs yo’ at de bank when yo’ make a
de-posit. Yo’ gives de bank six dollars an’ dey gives yo’ dat book as a re-ceipt;
“Hole on, Len. Yo’ mean ter tell me, -, yo’ all made a de-posit in dat bank?”
“Why yes. Yo’ see, Jane-Ann, I done get hold ob six dollars jest like fin’in it.
I might hab spent dat money mighty easy an’ yo’d nebber knowed I had it. But I put it in de bank an’ when I have put ’nuff more long wif it Ise goin’ ter get yo’ a sorrel drivin’ mare, and yo’ kin go drivin’ ebery day after washin’.”
Jane-Ann was smiling now. “Well, I do declar’ ter goodness, Len, yo’ do some of the extraordinariest things,” she said admiringly. Then a cloud flitted across her ample face and hid the smile. “Len, how’s dat bank to know which is yore money when comes yo’ all wants it? How dey goin’ ter tell yore six dollars from any udder six dollars?”
“Sho, Jane-Ann, dat’s easy. I done mark my bills wif red cross on king’s head; dat’s how I kin tell ’em.”
“Yo’ sure yo’ did dat, now?”
“Sure, I done get red ink at de mill office an’ mark each one ob dem dollar bills. When I go ter de bank ter draw, I say, ‘Jes’ please gib me de six bills wif red across on de king’s head.’ An’ de tiller he pass ’em out wif, ‘Certainly, Masr Ballister, here yore money.’ ”
“Who dat man yo’ call Tiller, Len?” “Why he’s de man dat keep watch on de money till, I reckon.”
“Well, yo’ keep watch on him, dat’s all. Yo’ can’t tell who’s crooked nowadays, an’ Ise not goin’ ter be cheated outin dat sorrel drivin’ mare. Len, maybe I kin all slide a dollar er two, now an den, in dat bank to help dat mare get here sooner?” “Jes as yo’ like ’bout dat.” Len pushed back his chair from the table and reached for his hat. There was a certain dignity
in his manner which the watching JaneAnn could not help but admire.
From the window she watched him walk, slowly and with head erect, down the path to the street, along the street and around the corner, and the smile on her face broadened.
“Well I do declare, but money sure make a difference in people,” she murmured.
Scarcely had he rounded the corner out of sight of Jane-Ann’s watching eyes than Len’s thoughts began to stray to pleasanter things. Almost had there been ructions at the 'breakfast table of his domicile, but, thanks to his diplomacy, he had weathered the gale without shipping a single sea.
And he had impressed Jane-Ann, too, and had carried the thing off with such dignity that she had forgotten to ask him just where he had located that six dollars he had lately banked.
He chuckled, and his feet fell into their old scuffleshuffle—1'se goin’,
I don’t care, 1’se goin’, don’ know where stride.
“What all would I tell dat Jane-Ann ef she ask me whar I got dat six dollars?” he ruminated. “Wouldn’t do ter tell her dat Homer pay it fer ’nitiation fee an’ den got scared ob ’nitiation. No sah, dat woman is too feeble minded ter understan’ how dat come.”
The chuckle deepened into a laugh. “Lor, lor, I bet Homer’s runnin’ yet.”
“Hey, you !”
Len brought his chin up off his chest so suddenly that his felt hat jerked off and rolled on the road. Before him stood a big man with red face and shrewd grey eyes. He wore a derby hat well back on his head and had his thumbs locked in the arm-holes of his vest. He was chewing an unlighted cigar. Len wondered who he was; he had never seen him before, to his knowledge.
“Your name Ballister? ’ The big man scratched a match and kept an eye on Len as he lit his cigar.
“Yes, sah, dal’s me. Lenix Ballister; yes, sah.”
Len scraped his hat to him with his foot, picked it up and whacked it on his sleeve.
The stranger nodded. “Thought so. Well, my name’s Carson. I’m a detective, sent over to investigate this bank robbery ■which took place last night. Hear about it?”
“No, sah, I aint heared ’bout no bank robbery.” Len’s apprehension at meeting a real live detective was swallowed up in greater fear. What if it had been the Manhatten Bank which had been robbed? The very thought numbed him. The fingers tapping the little book in his vest pocket shook as with ague. Of what use was a book showing a deposit, if the deposit had been stolen! The sweat sprang out on his brow; he wiped it off with his sleeve and dumblv waited for enlightenment. It carne with lightning suddenness.
“Well the Manhattan bank was broken into last night, the safe blowed and sixteen thousand dollars stolen.”
‘;i®S8|sr T EN swallowed hard.
His throat was so dry he could feel his Adam’s apple scrape as it rose and fell. His heart beat so loud it drowned the tick of his watch.
He became aware of the big man’s fingers gripping his shoulders and the big man’s red face close to his own.
“Say, what do you know about it all, uncle?” The man’s tones were stern. “Do you happen to know who did it?” “Me?” Lenix shook himself free and stood up straight. “Does Mr. Manhatten ’spec dat I done rob his bank?” he asked wonderingly. “Ease ef he does,” he added, “he’s wrong. Nebber robbed no bank in my whole life an’ aint wantin’ ter rob none; no, sah.”
The detective was grinning broadly now. “That’s all right, uncle,” he laughed. “Have a cigar!” He produced a sizable weed from a vest pocket and Lenix took it gravely, smelled it gravely, and gravely transported it to his own.
“I mus’ be gettin’ on down ter mill,” he said. “It’s nigh seben o’clock an’ I’m stave-cutter down dar.”
“Well now,” spoke up the detective, “you don’t have to go down there this morning. I fixed that all right with Holdaway. Told him I wanted to use you for a while and he said he’d put somebody at your job, and pay you just the same. So as long as you’re with me. you’ll be drawing double wages, you see?”
“Yes, sah. Den I s’pose Ise ’rested?” “Certainly not. Why should I arrest you? What I want you to do is to come along with me and help me find a certain other colored man of this section. Your town police seem to think he’s mixed up in this robbery. They’re plumb wrong, but that don’t matter. We’ll interview this chap, anyhow. Happen to know a feller named Homer Hudson?”
“Yes, sch, I sure does know Homer—” “Crooked isn’t he?”
They had been walking side byside for some little distance, while they ta'ked, and now they had reached the edge of the town. Far down in the river valley, Homer’s cabin lifted its dun-colorej face from among the trees. Len pointed to it. “Dat’s his place, down dar,” he said.
’ The detective paused and his eyes followed Len’s “They say he’s a bad nigger,” he fix wned. “Maybe you best go down alone, and bring him here. You mustn’t tell ,.:m about me, understand? Just you bring him here, and see that he isn’t armed.”
“Yes, sah.” Len moved away down the valley, then hesitated.
“Yo’ll ’scuse me, Mr. Detective, ef I seem unmannerful,” he said apologetically, “but might I ast who ’twas as recommended me ter yo’ all? The reason Ise astin,” he went on, noticing the other’s surprise at the question, “is jest this hyar. I might jus’ go down dar an’ warn dat fool nigger, Homer, ter get out an’ away, an’ yo’ all be none de wiser. Course I won’t do dat, but it mus’ ob been sumbody as knowed my impeachable honesty as recommended my services, an’ ef it aint astin’ too much-”
“Why sure, I’ll tell you who recommended you to me, uncle. It was Judge McDool.” The detective’s tones were hearty and friendly. “The judge says you may be depended upon. That’s why I looked you up and made a deputy of you.”
“What yo’ mean, deputy?”
“Why, you’re a detective, too. so long as you’re working with me. That’s what I mean.”
"An kin I ’rest anybody?”
“Well, not exactly that. But it’ll come to that if you help me out, maybe. Now get along and bring up that fightin’ darkey.”
“Ise goin’; yes, sah.” Len moved off down the valley. The detective sat down under a tree, locked his hands over his knees and gave himself up to reflection.
Having reached the grove in which stood Homer’s home, Len recon-
noitered carefully by getting down on all fours and peering through the treetrunks. Satisfied that there were no spying personages on the premises he crept up the door and knocked softly.
Homer’s voice, high pitched and anything but friendly, sounded from within. “Who dar?” he asked.
“Homer.” Len's voice was a mere whisper, “Homer, fer de love-o-Gawd get yore hat and drif outin’ this town quick. It’s Len speakin’. Dey’re on yore track, an yo’ gotter be mighty speedy.”
“Who yo’ mean, Len? Who dat’s on my track? What fer?”
“De police, Homer. Dey tink yo’ blow down de Manhatten Bank an’ steal de money. I lef’ my work to come an' warn yo’ all.”
The door opened a mere crack, and Homer, dressed in cotton pyjamas, his face yellow grey with fear, glued an eye to the opening.
“Len, what dat yo’ tellin’ me? I didn’t blow down no bank ner steal nobody’s hat, I tells yo’.”
“Homer, listen. Dat Manhatten bank has been robbed, an’ dey tinks it was yo’ did de robbin’. I aint sayin’ yo all did, ner I aint sayin’ yo all didn’t. What I’m sayin' is dis hyar. Take de money an’ get out afore de police come.”
“I aint got no money ’cept my own, a'n’ I aint gettin’ out fer no police.” Homer’s voice had grown dogged, sullen. “Why fo’ should I get when I aint done nuffin’ ter get fer?”
“Homer,” Len drew a little closer to the door and fumbled in his pocket. “Homer, Ise goin’ ter let yo’ hab my rabbit-foot cha m. Now, yo’ take it an’ sneak away somewhar till dey has a chance ter fin’ de real robbers. Dat’s de lef’ hin’ foot ob a graveyard rabbit, an’ it’ll keep yo’ all from harm till I come an’ fotch yo. Ef yo’ don’ go right away dey’ll come an’ rest yo' an’ lock yo’ up an’ maybe hang yo.”
Homer shivered. “Whar’ll I go, Len?” he whispered.
Lenix considered. “Well now, Homer, I reckon best place ter go now would be ober ter Bridgetown. It’s only seben miles away an’ dere’s a circus dere ter day. Yo’ all go now, an’ along ’bout noon 111 manage ter get ober dere an’ see yo’ an’ let you’ know how t’ings goin’—dat is ef I kin scrape up ’nuff money ter see de sideshow.”
“Len, yo’ come an’ I’ll get de tickets. Ise got ’nuff money fer bofe. Don’ yo’ leabe me dere worryin’, Len. Say yo’ll
Len considered. “Well, Homer,” he said, at length. ‘I’ll do it fer yo’, but 1 wouldn’t fer anybody else. Yo’ be in Park’s Libery stable ’bout ’leven an’ I’li be dar wif news.”
Len started to back-creep towards the road.
“Len, whar yo’ all goin’ now ?” Homer’s voice was husky with fear.
“Hush,” Len put his fingers to his lips and glanced over his shoulder.
“Dar’s a detective feller waitin’ fer me on de hill,
Homer, He sent me down har to fotch yo’. Jedge McDool done tell him I kin be trusted. So he sent me. Ise goin’ back now and tell him yo’ aint home, but dat I’ll watch fer yo’ ter come and let him know. I’se sure doin’ a lot fer yo’, Homer.”
“I’ll gib yo’ a good time ober ter de circus, Len. You’ll come sure?”
“Jes as sure as yo’re a scared nigger, Homer. Now den, frow on yore clothes, and hike it. Ise goin’ back ter make a gran’ stan’ play ter dat detective feller.”
“TTE aint dar, sah.”
1 The detective looked up, threw his cigar butt at a sparrow on the road, yawned, then slowly stood up.
“Well, it took you some time to find that out, uncle,” he said. ‘Where do you suppose he is?”
“Why, I reckon he aint fur aroun’. Mos’ like he’s gone fishin’ down ribber. He’ll be home ter night and I’ll fotch him down town ter see yo’ if yo’ like.”
The detective considered. “All right, if he happens to show up bring him down to the Wilson House. It don’t much matter because he isn’t mixed up in this robbery and I know it No nigger’s ever pulled this stunt off, I can tell you. It was a bunch of old hands at the work, and I guess I know who it was.
“Yes, sah. An’ did yo’ happen ter be in dat bank yorese’f dis morn in’, sah?” “Why of course I was. Why do you ask?”
“Yo’ all didn’t happen ter see six one dollar bills lyin’ ’roun’ wif a red cross on de king’s head, I s’pose, sah?”
“No, I didn’t, uncle. There was no money lying around.”
Len sighed. “I was jest wonderin’, dat’s all. Enyt’ing else I kin do, sah?” The detective reached into a spacious
pocket and carefully extracted something wrapped in tissue paper. He unrolled the paper and held up an incandescent light bulb to view. “Look, uncle,” he invited, “see that thumb-print on this glass? It’s a perfect impression. Notice that straight line running across the skin-veins? That was made by a scar. The man who turned this light on had a scar on his right thumb, and he was one of the men who blew the Manhatten Bank’s safe and got away with the swag. Yes," he laughed, “there is something else you can do, if you’re lucky enough. You can find the man who made that thumb-print, bring him to me and get a reward of five hundred dollars.”
Len scratched his head reflectively. “Dat five hun’red dollars would buy me some sorrel drivin’ mare,” he said pensively.
“Sure, and a bran new buggy and a harness with silver mountings, uncle. Why not hunt up a bloodhound and go hunting for the robber?”
“Ise got a tolerably fin’ bloodhoun’ purp now, sah.”
“You don’t say. What’s his name?” “Orinoco’s his name, an’ he’s a mighty good tracker. Man I got him from uster use him fer trackin’" down robbers. I sell dat Orinoco ter yo’ if yo’ all wanter make sure ob yore man, kase he aint no use ter me. Ise busy at de mill all de time.” “You’ll sell him?”
“Yes, sah. Kase he aint no use ter me. Ise busy at de mill all de time.”
“What do you want for him, uncle?” “Six dollars. He’s mighty well bred, dat Orinoco.”
“Well,” considered the detective, as he turned to go, “tell you what I’ll do. You bring that Homer nigger to me to night, and I’ll think over about buying the dog in the meantime and let you know.’”
“Yes, sah, I’ll sure hab dat Homer with me ter night, but I reckon it’ll take me Tjout all day ter roun’ dat nigger up.”
“That’s all right; you won’t be expected at the mill to-day, and I told Holdaway I might want to use you tomorrow, too.”
“Yes, sah. My old dad he uster say, ‘Don’ lay off to-morrie ef yo’ kin lay off ter day.' ’Dat’s me too. Ise layin’ off work ter day and Ise layin’ off work to-morrie, likely.” The detective grinned. “What your dad possibly meant was the good old copy-book motto, ‘Don’t put off till to-morrow what you can do to-day.’ See that you follow it. Get that Homer nigger to me to-night and you won’t have to lay off work to-morrow, savey?”
“Yes, sah, I’ll hab dat Homer befo’ yo’ by
LENIX straightened his tie, and felt absently in his pocket. Then suddenly a look of consternation crossed his face. His hands were now groping feverishly in his pockets, the eyes fastened on the detective were sad to the verge of tears.
“I do declare,” he asserted to the other’s glance of interrogation “I shore hab los’ it. I shore hab.”
“Dat two dollar bill what I mean ter hire a hoss wif ter cotch up Homer; I
Lenix choked and winked and groaned and scratched frantically in one pocket after the other.
“Humph, well now, that’s too bad.” The detective’s eyes narrowed as he watched Len’s frantic motions, and he raised a big hand to hide a grin, as he asked.
“Can’t you get along without it, uncle?”
“Get along wifout two dollars?” There was reproach in the tone, reproach and wonder. Surely no one, let alone a professional man-taker such as this man before him was, would ever think it possible for him to overtake a runaway nigger with five hours start, without money in his pocket.
“You said you thought he was fishing down the river, you remember?”
“Yes, sah, so I did, but I’ve changed my min’. Dat nigger’s trabellin’ an’ trabellin’ light and speedy, right now. How come I know? Well, I’ll tole yo’ how I knows. Yestiddy mornin’, in’ police cou’t, old Jedge McDool he done read dat Homer a lecture. Homer was up on a charge ob jugglin’ race-hoss pool, an’ de jedge he let him off on suspenders sentence. He say, ‘Homer, yo’ all’s mos’ too smart a coon fer dis town; if I was yo’ I’d beat it outin’ hyar quick.’ Dat Homer’s mos’ likely took de Jedge’s advice. He done start early dis mornin’ an’ ef yo’ wants him back Ise gotter foller gallopin’, dat’s all.”
“Good.” The detective took some bills from his vest pocket and stripped one off the roll. “Here’s a five spot, Uncle,” he said gravely, “advanced against wages as my deputy. Bring that nigger to me to-night and maybe I’ll give you another. Bring in the
bankrobbers and we’ll give you the five hundred reward and a box of Junebug cigars. I’ve got to get back now and do some real work on this case.”
“Yes, sah, thank yo’, sah.” Len Docketed the five spot and smiled blandly, as the other turned to go. He wanted to ask the detective to loan him a revolver and pair of handcuffs, but wisdom forbade crowding his luck too far.
IT was late afternoon, Lenix Ballister and Homer Hudson, their coats across their knees, hats pushed well back from perspiring and dust-streaked foreheads, sat on an upturned dry-goods box and munched peanuts in time to the music of the Pingtoll circus band. It had been a gloriously wonderful day for both of them, a day replete with rainbow colors, sounds, dust, lemonade, sideshows and many other wonders such as only a circus can furnish. True to his promise Lenix had sought out and found Homer in Park’s livery stable at the appointed hour, and together they had hied forth to enjoy as only negroes can enjoy the good time Homer’s prodigality was to furnish. If Homer felt any trepidation at what lay behind in Chatville, or if Lenix felt any qualms in having effectively double-crossed the big sleuth who had so generously grub-staked him, neither of their faces showed it as they made for the circus ground in which the white tents lifted like great swans’ wings to beckon them on
And now at the close of the afternoon, they sat tired and satisfied and full,
dreamily listening to the rag-time music and the hoarse voice of the “spieler” enticing the fickle crowd to draw near and behold one of the stupendous wonders of the colossal and marvelously freakequipped side-shows, that wonder in this particular case being no less than a two headed boy who sang with one mouth the while he asked questions of bystanders with the other.
They had seen the whole show, seen it twice in fact. They had laughed at the clowns, prodded the bears, joked at the long-necked giraffe. They had drunk gallons of red lemonade, eaten pecks of peanuts and all at the lavish hand of Homer who believed that Lenix had indeed proved a friend in need to him. So well indeed had he lived up to his promise to finance the day’s enjoyment that the five spot given him by the detective still lay, snug and intact, in Len’s right hand trousers pocket, the sole and only disturbing note of an otherwise perfect day.
“What use am money ’less it’s ter spen’?” ran his thoughts “But” as his eyes fell on Homer's round head hunched between his broad shoulders, “what de use of spendin’ my own money when Ise all bein’ financed by Homer?”
SUDDENLY Len took his eyes off Homer and sat up straight. Approaching them was a slender, middleaged man who wore a checked suit of violent pattern and tweed auto cap. He was counting over a roll of bank notes, as he walked, a smile of genuine satisfaction on his hatchet face. So preoccupied was he that he almost collided with the watch-
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Continued from page 46
ers on the box before becoming aware of their presence. Then he checked himself and with almost guilty haste crammed the money in his pocket.
“Len.” Homer twisted about on the box and spoke in Len’s car. “Len, Ise goin’ ter walk up and bust dat feller
“HoT on, Homer. Don’ yo' do no sech t’ing. Jest yo’ wait and see what he’s gotter say.”
“Ise goin’ ter rock him ter sleep. I is. He might as well tell us two dat he’s scared we take dat money away from
“None of dat rough stuff, Homer.” Len’s voice was full of apprehension. “We’ll bofe get ’rested, sure, ef yo’ start anyt’ing like dat.”
“All day yo’ been keepin’ me from havin’ a little fun, dat away," protested Homer. "Dat stake-driber, he orter had a licken’ an’ dat ticket-seller done insulted me right nasty, an’ yo’ wouldn’t let me tetch ever ob ’em. Whyfer yo’ won’t let me fight, Len?”
“Keep quiet, he’s cornin’ ober here.” Len peeled another peanut and smiled
affably as the slight man approached, hesitated, and finally drew close.
“Evenin’ gents,” he accosted.
"Ebenin’,” returned Lcnix. He squirmed off the box so as to get between the stranger and Homer, who was munching peanuts and growling the while he took in the measure of the new-comer.
“Boys,” the stranger looked fugitively about him, and lowered his voice, “boys, do you want to pick up a little easy money?’’
Len and Homer exchanged glances.
“Listen, I’ve just took sixty beans away from that tin-horn gang of gamblers what’s followin’ this circus, and I’ll put you boys wise to how you can do same thing, if you like.”
“How come yore all able ter beat dem sharks at dere own game?” growled Homer, incredulity and suspicion in his tone. When it came to games of chance and their operatives, Homer’s knowledge was unlimited and had been acquired at some cost. *
Len held up his hand. “Now, Homer, don’ yo’ be fresh wif dis gentleman,” he admonished. “Le’s get down ter cases. Whafs de game and how yo’ all play it, sah?” Len’s tones were liquid honey’. He passed a cigar over to the slim man, handed another to Homer, and became at once the trusting lamb. ‘Yo’ all make sixty dollars on dat game, howso?”
“Well, you see, I’m an old fortun’ wheel guy, meself.” The slim man bit off the end of his cigar, and chuckled. “I know a little trick that brings home the bacon, lads. Them fellers caught onter me and gave me the push-off ; otherwise I’d had all their change. I’m willin’ to put you boys on to the method of playin’, and you kin go down there and make a clean up, see?”
“But fer why should yo’ all favor us all this way?” growled Homer. “Us all bein’ strangers ter yo’?”
“Why, I aim to give you over part of this bunch of money I’ve won, to place fer me, see? I’ll be helpin’ myself by helpin’ you boys, savey?”
“Dat’s so,” Len nodded and felt lovingly of the five dollar note in his pocket. “Whar dem gamblers at, now?” he asked cautiously and eagerly.
“They’re down behind the grand stand. You boys follow me at a distance. Here,” he pulled out his roll, divided it, and shoved it into Len’s hand. “You play this for me, and I’ll tell you how to do it. You’ll find a big feller operatin’ a little metal roulette wheel. You go up and get interested and he’ll invite you to take a fiy. You do it. Bet a dollar er so on any number. He’s goin’ to let you win first turn. Then you bet again and he’ll trim you. Let it go, just keep on bettin’ till the arrow stops at number ten. Then boys, both of you, put every cent you’ve got, and mine too, on number twenty. She’ll swing to that number sure next whirl. Can't fail; I know the ropes. Aint it a gold mine though?”
T EN pursed up his lips in deep thought.
The difficulty was that he and Homer, on account of the day’s prodigalities, could not, at most, clean up more than a few dollars on the scheme. It takes capital to beget capital. Len groaned inwardly. Oh, if he only had that six dollars he had so foolishly banked only last Monday; if he only had five or ten dollars more which he might stake and multiply by sure winning. .
All at once he had a brilliant idea. He drew the stranger and Homer close to him, while he explained it. The stranger listened thoughtfully, nodding approval now
and again, Homer stood stolidly by, willing to trust everything to Len.
“Boy, you’re a genius,” chuckled the tweed-clad one, when Lenix had finished explaining his grand coup. “There’s no reason why us three shouldn’t get all of those Chatville’s darkies’ money. We’ll go over there to-night, as you suggest. We’ll buy this gambler’s roulette wheel, after we’ve cleaned him out.
“Now I’d best gum-shoe down there and sort of see if that tin-horn gang’s still there.” The stranger moved cautiously towards the grand-stand. “You boys stay where you are. I’ll be back in a minute and let you know how things look.”
LJE glided away, mingled with the
-Icrowd, twisted about a lemonade stand, slipped through a narrow opening in a fence and wedged in between a number of individuals whose attention was riveted on a metal roulette wheel. Bets were being laid. Exxcitement was high, though subdued.
A heavily-set man with a dirty silk handkerchief knotted about his neck was manipulating the wheel. The wheel turned, and turned again and again. Dollars were lost by the trusting and good-natured “try your-luckers.” Doubt gradually assailed the watchers. The crowd before the wheel melted to but a few. The operator wheezed the dust from his throat and wiped his face on a dangling end of the silk handkerchief.
“Now then, gents,” he commenced again, when his eye chancing to catch sight of the slim man standing before him, he checked himself and gravely returned the wink that gentleman favored him with. The slim man drew close.
“Set her for big game, Bill,” he muttered from the corner of his mouth. “Got a couple 0’ dark clouds with silver linings salted and ready to serve. When ye get ’em drained, I’ll stage a little by play, as their friend and backer, and rough it some. You’re supposed to take water and offer to let us all in on the game. Then I’U propose we all go down to Chatville East and work the niggers-”
“Hold on, there.” The big man shooK his head and closed his eyes In a grimace that tilted the big cigar in his teeth perilously close to his damp foretop. “Nut’in’ like that, savey?”
“But, Bill, it’s the pay night over there so this pair of easy ones tells me and them niggers will tumble over one another tryin’ to get first chance on our game. We’ll offer these two niggers even shares to round up the boys. It’s a pipe, I tell ye.”
“I don’t go over to Chatville," returned the other. “Not for even a sure clean up. I’m too superstitious to believe that luck ever repeats itself. We got away from that place some winners. We don’t go back, I guess not.1
“Well, we’ve got to go that way, anyhow, to get our train for Chicago, haven’t we? We might as well take these boobs' wages along, I tell you, Bill, jest give these coons the once over and chew on the plant a little before ye make up your mind. I’ll go shoo ’em along.” He drifted away and the man with the wheel sank heavily on a stool and brooded darkly.
HE was up again, smiling cheerfully, and inviting oncomers to try their luck and back their number, when Lenix and Homer approached cautiously and stood watching the metal arrow spin about the pins.
After some deliberation Len and Homer each selected a number, then as by after-
thought, Len transferred his money to Homer’s number, which was seven. They won. Again the Chatville sports played number seven and lost by a margin. They played again and once more won. After that they played cautiously, winning only occasionally. Finally the arrow stopped at number ten. Homed nudged Lenix. “Any limit, sah?” asked that gentleman sagely of the operator.
“Only the sky, my friend. Pile on.”
Len and Homer proceeded to pile on. They raked their pockets for every available nickle. At last all their money, along with thirty dollars belonging to the slim gentleman lay on the board. The arrow spun giddily, slowly, and finally stopped at a number. They had followed orders and banked on number twenty. The arrow stopped at number twenty-one.
Nonchalantly the stout man raked in the money. “Try her again, bovs: just a spark of life too much, that time. Should ( have stopped at twenty, never knowed her to slop over old twenty that way before. You sports had me scared to death, I’ll admit Try her again?”
TTOMER and Lenix stood gasping. It ^ had all happened so suddenly that it had fairly taken their breath away. A long drawn sigh from Homer brought Len back to the present He looked about him dazedly and discerned the figure of the slim man, who had explained the system and shown thirty dollars’ worth of confidence in it, approaching.
“We done lose all our money, an yourn too,” Len greeted him, as he came up.
“An’ don’_ yo’ be goin’ in ter make no fuss about it, er I’ll jes’ naturally paw yore inarrds out,” gurgled Homer, edging close.
But the slim man instead of resenting the threat and the fact that his money had been lost to him forever, did a most remarkable and unheard of thing. He walked up to the big man, as he leaned across the wheel, and deliberately slapped him hard on one side of the face and then the other.
“You crook!” he snarled, “You embezzler! I’ll teach you to short-change my friends. You got their money and mine, but you’re going to pay up for it, right now.”
The big man recoiled fearfully. He sputtered as though in terror. “You can’t blame me,” he whined. “I didn’t kick when you won sixty dollars from me, did I? Now go ’way and leave me alone.”
Lenix was, with direst difficulty, restraining Homer, who wished to walk in and as he put it, “Swing a few to that crook’s jaw.”
“Hush, Homer,” he admonished, “Keep quiet. Dat little feller knows what he’s doin’. He’s all workin’ in our interests.”
“I’m wantin’ ter do a little work in my own interests,” fumed Homer. But Lenix gripped his arm and held up a finger for silence. The slim gent was making a proposition to the big man.
“If you’ll do as we want you to,” he was saying, “we’ll overlook your crooked work. We know of a place where there’s a bunch of sports who’ll play the pegs loose on that crooked wheel o’ yours. We’ll lead you to ’em, but you’ve got to let us in on the winnings, see?”
“I’d rather not go,” grumbled the big man. “How do I know what you fellows will pull off? No, I won’t go.”
Homer broke from Len’s restraining hands, and made a rush at him. The big man side stepped adroitly, overturning the wheel as he did so.
“Why—why—“he spluttered, dodging
Homer’s vicious swing, “I will go. Yep, I’ll go, seein’s I’ve got to.”
Homer subsided. “Yo’ jes’ best,” he grated.
'T'HE slim man had picked up the wheel, and now stood thinking. Ignoring the crestfallen owner of the wheel, he beckoned Len and Homer a little apart. Followed a whispered consultation, with much nodding and chuckle from Homer end Len. Then the little man approached the gambler and gave him his orders.
“These two boys will leave now and go to Chatville. They’ll slip around among the lads and whisper the tidings and suggest that they bring along their change. We’re to meet them down at this gent’s place,” nodding towards Homer, “at nine o’clock to-night. He’s described the spot to me, and I’m goin’ to take you and your wheel there. If you try any funny work
with us-” He paused with a deep
intake of breath and glanced at Homer.
“We all ’all jes naturally razor yo’ inter shoe-strings, mista man,” finished that gentleman.
“And you’re to divide the winnin’s four ways, remember,” prompted the slim man. “Each'of us take equal parts.”
“I’m willin’,” sullenly answered the other. “But say how are we goin’ to make our get away from that crowd after we fleeced em? They’ll be jest mad enough to chaw our liver out.”
“We got that all thought out, too,” nodded the slim man. “Just as we make our last haul, this gent,” designating Len, “is going to come in on the hop step and jump and whisper that the police are on their way to round up the gang. I reckon if you never saw real live darkies run afore, you’ll get a chance to see ’em then.” “Well,” the big man frowned and pondered. “It sounds all right. You kin count on me in to do my part.”
The slim man turned to Len and Homer. “It's a chance in a life-time for us to make a killin'.” he exulted. Homer must have taken the words literally judging from the look he threw the still cringing Bill. “But,” went on their friend, “we mustn’t do anything rash. We agree on a meeting place after the crowd disperses, and then we'll share up. Now you boys get your nag hitched and drive along over to Chatville. Soon as you’re there get busy roundin’ up them niggers.”
He waited until the hurrying forms of the trusting pair were slipped through the sheltering fence, then he turned to the big man.
“Bill, it’s a cinch,” he laughed. “We’il get their money and make the fast train to Chicago.”
“Just the same I’m not favorin’ sneaking back to a lion’s den after we’ve got the cub,” growled Bill. “And say—“he added with an oath—“you might have pulled your little by-play off without bein’ so realistic. You fair knocked my teeth out when you hit me that slap.”
Down in front of Bate’s livery stable as they hitched a rangy bay horse to a buckboard, Len turned suddenly to Homer.
“Homer, dat big man wif de wheel an’ dat slim un what got us all ter bet—am partners.”
“How so?” Homer’s jaw set and his eyes rolled.
“Käse I done watch ’em close, an’ I know. Saw ’em pass signs. Darsent tell yo’ all down dar, fear yo’d tear inter 'em —here, Homer, whar yo’ goin’—”
Homer was half way across the yard. “Lse goin’ back an’ finish up on dem sharks.”
“Homer, hol’ on.” Len sprang forward to intercept the now thoroughly infuriated Hudson. “Homer, lis’en; how much they win from yo’?”
“Seben dollars. Here, leggo me, Len, lse on my way ter commit crime, I is.”
But Len hung on. “No, Yo’se cornin’ on wif me, an’ help even up on dem gamblers, dat’s w'hat. Us is goin’ ter get our money back, Homer.”
“How so. Enyhow yo’ didn’t lose
“I lose five dollars really an’ thirty more unreally. In all I lose thirty-five.”
“Well, yo’ mought as well kiss it good by.”
“Homer, dere’s whar youse plum wrong. Whyfer yo’ s’pose lse foolin’ dem gamblers inter Chatville? It’s ’cause lse a deputy detective an’ in wif de police. Also käse dem gamblers got my money an’ I wants it back. Come long Homer, an’ I’ll ’splain as we dribe along.”
TT was a quarter to ten, in the beautiful T Thames valley adjacent to Chatville East—and all was well. A big harvest moon swung above the river transforming its muddy face to silver, and clutched at the lifting tree-tops along the banks with fingers of silver.
Inside the spacious cottage of Homer Hudson, grouped about a small table, were most of the old and tried colored sports of Chatville playing what Len had crossed his heart and swore was a good thing. Lenix had done his part manfully and well. First of all he had harnessed Homer by getting his promise on fear of being death-chased by a “hant,” not to stir from his cottage. Len’s part was to round up the gang. To each of the sports there assembled he had given his sacred word that they would not lose—could not lose. But further than this mysterious assurance, he had not committed himself. “What I knows, I knows,” he had told all doubters. “An’ I aint spillin’ it, not yit. Yo' go down ter Homer’s place, an’ yo’ won’t miss nuffin’ tall.”
So in the blind faith which children give a leader, the negroes had gone. And they had played their earnings, bet on all the divers’ numbers and had seen their money scraped from them by the hand of a big, square-jawed gambler. They became restless, as sheep will become restless at the grumble of a storm. “Whar’s Len?” more than one of the losers asked fearfully. “How come he aint here?” To which question the two white men smiled inwardly, and invited the boys to try their luck again.
Strange to say, Homer too had vanished. Eyes were rolling now, hands shook and dandled lower towards shoe-tops in which, as the crafty twain, waiting every minute now for Len to burst in with the news that the police were coming, well knew reposed the deadly razor, the fighting-tool of the negro. Sweat broke out on their foreheads. It would be bad for them if Len failed to perform his allotted task —very bad.
The wheel had grown silent. The big man pushed back his chair, mentally figuring the distance between himself and the open doorway, and the slim man had stepped unconcernedly back towards a glassless window, when feet were heard running without. Simultaneously the gamblers’ breath came freely once more.
The next moment Lenix burst into the room. “Do police,’ he panted. “Dere cornin’. Eberybody break fer cover.”
NO need for second invitation. Those Chatville negroes scattered, and melted away as though the earth swallow-
ed them up. Lenix stood just inside the door, Homer beside him. With a sigh of relief the man named Bill also stepped towards the door, the smaller man close at his heels. Then there was a rush and the two of them felt strong hands close over their wrists.
They were in the grip of two of Chatville’s big policemen. A third man, a big square shouldered man with a derby hat set well back on his head, was surveying them with a smile.
“Hello, Eddie. Howdie, Foxie. Quite a while since we met,” he accosted them. Then, as he lit a cigar; “It’s mighty good of you boys to come in this way, I’m
“Ah go to h-!” growled the big
man gingerly eyeing the bracelets which had been snapped upon his wrists.
The small man, the one designated as Foxie, flashed the detective a smile. “Eddie’s peevish,” he said. “He never was a good loser.”
“Well they can’t say that of you, Foxie,” grinned the detective. “Every time I’ve gathered you in—and that’s been some, you’ve gone home smiling. Now then, you fellers shell out what you took from the coons who were in on my deputy’s frame-up. He promised ’em they wouldn’t lose anything.”
He glanced about him, as if in search of somebody. Lenix was leaning over the little metal wheel of fortune, his eyes so wide that they looked like black coals on a snow bank. He was gazing intently down on a couple of one dollar bills, lying on the table, and trying his best to decipher the problem of how “‘them dollah bills come to hab cross in red ink on king’s head.”
THE detective stepped over to Len, and laid his hand gently on the negro’s shoulder. “Well deputy,” he grinned, “a great day’s work.”
Len staggered up and shuffled his feet. “Yes, sah, yes, sah. I figgers as it was best to in-fo’m on dem gamblers, yes, sah.” “Sure uncle. Great head work that, worked Mae a charm. But tell me, uncle,” his voice fell to a murmur, “how did you come to know that it was these two old timers we was after.”
"Ole timers?” Len scratched his head and looked blankly at his questioner.
“Yes. How did you come to get on to the fact that they were the fellers robbed the Manhatten Bank, last night?”
Len’s heart turned a somersault and almost choked him. He made as though to answer, and gurgled. His eyes fell on the little metal wheel. There, plain before his gaze, was the imprint left by a sweaty thumb, and across the skin veins ran a thin line left by a scar.
Slowly a great and wonderful comprehension came to Lenix. Slowly his eyes left the thumb-print to again seek out the dollar bills bearing the red cross on their heads.
“How come I know dem fellers was de bank-robbers?” he managed to say, at last. “Dis af’ernoon, I win dat two dollars. Dat’s my money marked with red cross an’ deposited in Manhatten bank las’ Monday. Dat’s one way I knows. Odder way is dis hyar.” Len pointed to the thumb-print on the metal wheel. The detective whistled. “And when did you first notice that thumb-print, uncle?” “Dis af’ernoon.” Len shuffled and nodded gravely. “Dat’s why I all plan to brung dem bank-robbers in ter yo’ all,
The detective turned and paced up and down the room. Homer stood the picture of amazement, eyeing the hand-cuffed
aen jubilantly. The officers spoke to the detective. “We’ll get along, Joe.”
“Just a minute, Uncle,” he called. “Come here.”
Len shuffled forward, his feet beating Ise coinin’ don’ know where, Ise cornin’, I don’ care on the sand covered floor.
The detective turned to the constables. “I want you officers to know that this gent —tapping Len on the shoulder—“that this gent rounded up this pair, and put them right in our hands. I want you to see that he gets that reward, and I’m going to see to it too.”
The officers each reached out and shook
Len’s hand. It was all still dazedly wonderful to him. He hung his head modestly and changed feet constantly. “Thank yo’, sah,” he said to each of the officers' words of congratulation.
“What you going to do with that reward?” asked the detective, as they turned to leave.
“Why, I reckon 111 buy a sorrel drivin’ mare wif dat,” returned Len, “an’ if dere’s anything lef’ I aim ter buy Homer a hoss-shoe tie. pin with a karbunkle sot in it.”
Back in the darkness Homer’s black face spread wide in a smile. “Lor’ sakes, but dat Len gotter great head on his shoulders,” he muttered.