SEBEN COME 'LEBEN
ARCHIE P. McKISHNIE
Wherein Len Ballister pricks his bare toes on a horseshoe and, as you know, anything’s liable to happen after that.
LENNOX BALLISTER, hands deep in his overalls' pockets, wended his way slowly up the path leading from the Chatville stave mill to his cabin. It was pay-night and it was Len’s usual custom on such nights to linger along the way and, by the process of touch, count the money beneath his fingers—money he had earned during the week by the sweat of his brow. From the time he opened the pay-envelope until he reached the waiting Janeann he was a capitalist. After that he vas merely a dependent on his wife’s bounty.
The only time Len was allowed to handle the money was during these pay-night walks, from mill to home, and usually he made the most of the opportunity.
“Fou’teen, fifteen, sixteen,” his lips murmured, “an’ a ‘V’; dat makes twenty-one good dollars under ol’ man Lef’. Now le’s see what ol’ man Right has ter tally. Two quarters an’ a half, dats seventy-five—free big nickles what I wishes was quarters —an’—”
Len paused suddenly in his calculating, as he rounded a bend in the path. A portly negro, with signs of prosperity in his bearing, had risen from a tenantless ant-hill and was standing directly in his path.
Len recognized him as Colonel Gabriel Smith, Bridgetown’s wealthiest colored citizen.
“Good evenin’, Constable.”
Smith advanced with outstretched hand.
Len, ungluing his fingers from his week’s salary, took the hand and by a masterly manoeuvre managed to throw back his coat, so as to display his metal badge of office.
“Fine ebenin’, Colonel Smiff,” he returned affably. “Don’t see yo’ down dis way ver’ of’en.”
Smith drew in his breath until his cheeks expanded like toy balloons. He glared about him suspiciously, then laid a hand on Len’s arm and spoke with an air of mystery.
“Yo’ heered, o’ cou’se, dat my cellar was broke inter a week ago an’ a dozen cases ob prime Scotch liquor stole. Yo’ heered dat, Constable Ballister?”
“Why seems ter me I did hear sumfin ter dat effec’,” Len answered.
“An’ yo’ heered too, dat Abe White, yo’r Chatville pool room proprietor, was cotched redhanded wif one ob dem cases? Did yo’ hear dat, might I en-quire an’ ask?”
“Shore heered dat, too.”
“Well den, mebbe yo’ kin answer me dis; if dem ossifers what arrested White was able ter nab one case ob dat stuff wif him, why couldn’t ’em nab de udder ’leben at same time?”
T EN shook his head. “Why, Colonel, if yo’ was satisfied ter employ dem sort ob ossifers, ’stead ob a good, detective, what mo’ could yo’ expec’?” he asked. “If yo’ had corned ter me, now, I’d been right glad ter have handled yo’r case—”
“I has come now,” cried Smith. “An’ I wants yo’ ter handle ’leben cases fer me 'stead ob jes’ one. In odder words, I want yo’ ter go on a detection-hunt fer my liquor. I’s willin’ ter compensation
Smith drew nearer and spoke in a confidential whisper “I’s wantin’ dat liquor, an’ wantin’ it bad. It’s good stuff; can’t get no more ob its kin’ nohow. Abe White was fined, an’ his accomplish, Homer Hudson, done paid dat same. I’s satisfied wif what dey gor. I don’t fink dey stole my liquor, un’erstan’. Dey only buyed it frum de fellers what did. Get me?”
“Well, Constable, I’ll gib yo’ a hunderd dollars in cash money if yo’ll locationize dem cases fer me.”
He stood back, waiting for L'en to speak.
“An’ what makes yo’ fink I kin locationize dat liquor?” Len asked. “Mebbe yo’ surmises I had a han’ in dat—” “Tut, tut,” broke in the Colonel. “I’s satisfied yo’ am hones’fro an’fro.”
“Shore am,” Len admitted.
“An’ I’m tol’ also yo’s de keenes’ an’ celebrationes’ sleuth in de province.”
“Reckon yo’ been tol’ right, Colonel. I Tested two ob de mos’ desprite bank-robbers on dis continental, singlehanded, an’ I’s also ’rested udder well-knowed crimsters af’er de police had give ’em up.”
“I’ve heared ob yo’re exploits, Constable, an’ I’s proud ter shake yo’r han’ ag’in.”
“Dat’s all right,” Len said, “but how ’bout dem ’leben cases? Yo’ un’erstan’ ob cou’se, dat fer me, a ossifer ob de law, ter accep’ yo’r proposition is equivalent to, an’ de same as, prosecutin’ my noble callin’, as upholder ob jestice, an’ acceptin’ a bribe.”
“Hoi’ on a minute er two,” cried Smith. “Now yo’ lis’en ter me. Yo’ claims ter know de law. Now den, lemme ast yo; as a private individual, has I de right ter keep liquor in my cellar?”
“Yo’ suttinly has,” Len declared.
“An’ as my property, de law has a right ter help me pertec’ it. Dat right?”
“Dat’s right, too.”
“An’ if so I have it stole, dat same law has a right'ter help me recover it, ain’t it?”
“Dat seems only fair, yes.”
“Well den, what yo’ mean by talkin’ ’bout bribe an’ prostitutin’ yo’r high callin’? De point am dis. I had good liquor stole an’ I’s willin’ ter pay de man what recovers it one hunderd an’ ast no questions. Does yo’ take on de contrac’ er does I have ter gib it inter de han’s ob ossifer DeZeel?”
“I’ll ac’ fer yo’, Colonel,” Len said hastily. “If I can’t find dat Scotch, ain’t no use ob nobody else tryin’.”
“An’ yo’ll deliber it ter my house?”
TEN shook his head. “Nuffin’ doin’. I takes no chances on bein’ ’rested as a rum-runner. I’ll do my bes’ ter spot dem ’leben cases an’ lead yo’ to ’em. But yo’ gotter tote ’em hum yo’r ownse’f. Dat unsatisfactory ter yo’?”
“Dat’ll do me,” Smith agreed.
“All right. Dat’s settled, all but de retainin’ fee.”
“De retainin’ fee, money yo’ now pays me ter retain me on de case.”
“Oh!” Smith dived into a pocket and drew forth a huge roll. “How much, Constable?”
“Reckon I cayn’t cep’ less den free dollars retainer. Neber hab yit.”
Quickly Smith peeled a two and one dollar bill from the roll and put them in Len’s outstretched hand.
“When yo’ start in workin’, Constable?” he asked eagerly.
“Frum dis momen’ on I’s got my nose ter
erf fer dat booze, Colonel.”
“Good! Don’ fergit when yo’ show it ter me yo’ gits a hundred iron men, cash down.” “I won’t ferget.”
Again they shook hands and took their separate ways.
“Lan’ sakes,” Len mused as he proceeded up the path towards his cabin, “dat’s free dollars quick earned. Dat money goes inter my watch-case right now, befo’ Janeann lamps it. Eber see sech a fool nigger as dat Colonel? Might as well look fer a fountain in hell as fer dat liquor anywhere on dis green erf. One man, mebbe two, knows whar dem cases am ter be foun’—an’ dey’s shorely not tellin’, no sah.”
Janeann met him at the gate.
“Whar’s dat salary-money, man?” she accosted him.
“Right hyar, Janeann. Got it all ready ter turn ober ter yo’all.”
Len placed bills and silver in the outstretched hand his wife.
Janeann counted it. “Dere’s two bits missin’. Tum dat money ober here.”
“I sorter aimed on goin’ ter picture-show, Janeann.
“Gimme dat quarter, Len!” his wife sternly demanded.
“I needs ebery cent I kin git. Telegram done kim frum hum terday sayin’ sister Lucy was mighty sick. I gotter start fer develan’ dis very night.”
“Lor’ sakes! Janeann, am dat so?”
LEN followed his wife up the path to the house. As ' he filled the tin wash-basin with soft water from the rain-barrel and lathered his hands and face, before his tightly closed eyes swam a long vista of possibilities —brown meadows beneath strained sunshine; leafy woods, and silent pathways leading away to dreamy, lipping streams; limpid lakes and leafy groves filled with songbirds. Anything was possible. Janeann was going away. There was just one troublesome uncertainty and Len proceeded to put it into the discard by inquiring of his wife, as he combed his hair before the cracked mirror:
“How long yo’ll be stayin’, Janeann? Hope not long.” Janeann placed a platter of ham and eggs on the table and turned a keen glance on her better half. Len’s face was solemn and sorrowful. She saw his chin quiver as he seated himself at the table. It wouldn’t have surprised her to see a tear trickle down his cheek. She felt ashamed of her suspicions.
She came around behind his chair and gave him a big hug. “Don’ yo’ worry, hon,” she spoke gently.
“I’ll be cornin’ back jes as soon as Lucy is out ob danger.”
“I’ll be powerful lonesome wifout yo’, Janeann.”
“Sho’, Len, yo’ll be all right. I baked up a lot ob pies an’ cakes fer yo’, an’ yo’ll hab Orinocco fer company.”
The hound, at sound of his name, scrambled out from behind the wood-box.
His brown eyes looked from woman to man, understanding^. His red tongue licked Janeann’s hand.
“Dat dawg knows I’s goin’ ’way, Len,” Janeann cried chokingly.
“Shore,” Len nodded, and to himself added, “an’ if he knows jes’ when yo’s cornin’ back here again, I shore wisht he’d tell me.” Janeann caught the movement of Len’s lips.
“What’s dat?” she asked sharply.
“I says dat if so yo’ ain’t soon cornin’ back I wish yo’d vffite ter me, Janeann.”
“Humph!” Janeann seated herself and reached for the coffee pot.
“Gawd only knows what’ll happen here wifout my guidin’ han’ on de reins,” she sighed. “But yo’ bes’ remember dis. If yo’ tries cuttin’ up any didoes when I’s away—yo’ll anâWer fer ’em ter me when I gits back.” “Ain’t goin’ ter cut nuffln’ ’cep’ staves at de mill, Janeann,” Len promised. “Me’n Orinocco’ll sit here at hum nights an’ long fer yo’r return.”
“Well, see dat yo’ do. Now den, Len, hustle fro wif yo’r supper an’ yo’ kin wash de dishes while I dresses fer my journey.”
^’EXT morning Len promptly sent word to the stave ^ mill that owing to the sudden death of a relative he would be unable to report for work for a couple of days or m,ore and, with his long-eared dog at heel, sought out the old, shady by-paths of pleasure.
Noon found him reclining at full length beneath the shade of a low-whispering beech on the edge of Ringold’s hardwoods. It was too hot to fish; just right to loaf. With shoes resting on the top of a stump and bare toes wriggling in time to the softly whistled tune, “Caveman Blues,” he revelled in his new freedom and hoped Janeann’s visit to Cleveland, Ohio, would be of a protracted nature.
When the mid-day shadows shortened, he gradually drew in his feet from the sunlight by the simple process of raising his knees; when he could raise them no higher he rolled further under the tree. This movement brought him within reach of the lunch he had prepared before leaving home that morning.
Len proceeded to eat the lunch, allowing Orinocco to devour the crusts.
“I tell yo’, purp, dis am de life man was supposed ter lead, an’ which all men might now be leadin’ if ol’ mother Eve hadn’ gummed up de works. Yëssah! An’ eber since dat hour wummin has been makin’ dis ol’ work one ob sweat an’ melancholy by her eternal buttin’-in. Wummin ain’t got no sense an’ neber will hab none. Only by sech lil’ ac’s ob Providence, sech as done happen to draw Janeann off frum hum las’ night, does hard-workin’ man get a brief glimpse ob his jes’ heritage.”.
Orinocco whined. His master, engrossed with his own epigrams, had absent-mindedly eaten the last sandwich, crust and all.
Lunch over, Len slept for two hours. The glare of sunlight in his face stirred him awake. He gazed over his shoulder. If he wanted shade he must move further back in the bush, and there were mosquitoes there. The lonely road looked hot and dusty. Len remembered a spot half a mile away where a crystal spring gurgled from a mossy bank. He was thirsty. Well, they would hie there.
One hundred yards down the road Len paused to light his pipe. As his long black fingers fumbled in vest-pocket in search of a match, they came in sudden contact with a small square of cardboard hidden there.
He pulled it out and carefully examined it.
“Look yo’, dawg,” he addressed the interested Orinocco. “Dat’s a chanst on Jim Timbers’ automobile dat was raffled off at Bridgetown dis mawnin’. I’d clear fergot all ’bout dat raffle. Dat ticket cos’ me jes’ what dat figger on de card specifies, seben cents. Hain’t no measly seben cent ticket goin’ ter draw down dat cyar, no sah! Might as well tear dis cyard up.”
JUST at this juncture Len’s squirming toes came in J contact with something which felt clammy and cold; something viciously sharp pricked his horny heel. He leaped straight upward and out like a browsing rabbit that has unexpectedly been struck by a waiting rattler.
“Lor’ gawd! I could a swored I been bit by a mogassin snake. Dat’s what readin’ dat Everglade stuff do ter one. I read sich no more. No sah.”
Gingerly he retraced his steps and peered down into the dust. A glittering bit of metal caught his eye. He reached down and picked up a horseshoe.
“01’ Dame Luck,” he chuckled, “yo’s shore good ter me. Dis mean I meet up wif prosperity dis day, shore. Cayn’t oust ol’ Luck once her fasten herself to yo’, nohow. Her jes’ naturally pile her benefits at yo’r feets. Hot dog! I bets I reaps laurels a-plenty 'long dis broad highway.”
Len gave his find a closer scrutiny.
“Seben nails in dat shoe,” he murmured, “an’ all of ’em crooked de same way, too. Dat signifies I’s ter concentration on num’er seben. Le’s see.”
Suddenly his eyes flashed to the bit of cardboard he still held in his hand.
“Well, I’ll be eberlastin’ shot up, if dat ol’ raffle ticket don’ look like a million dollars right now. Num’er seben, spread yo’r wings an’ cackle. Here’s whar I plays a hunch.
“Come on, dawg,” he cried to Orinocco. “Us am goin’ •straight ter Bridgetown an’ gadder in de fruits ob our goodly luck.”
Len swung about on the road but Orinocco with a whine of protest hung back. Len glared at him.
“Now den, yo’ pa’sel ob sin an’ grime, what’s troublin’ yo’? Don’ yo’ know when yo’re well offly? Come ’long. What’s fi’ miles hike fro de heat when us kin ride hum in our owm cyar?”
Orinocco wagged his tail, but still stubbornly refused to budge.
“Yo’ pore, demeaned brute, fer two cents I’d beat yo’ so hard yo’r ha’r would wanter grow de udder way. Now, if so yo’ isn’t mighty keerful, yo’s goin’ ter meet up wif grievous bodily harm. Dat’s a hint fer yo’, Orinocco. Take it or leabe it. Suit yo’r ownse’f.”
The hound wriggled forward abjectly and licked his master’s hand.
“Pore lil’ dawg,” Len’s black fingers scratched a drooping ear. “Now yo’ be a nice purp an’ don’ hang back like a root-pullin’ mongrel. Yo’ come ’long wif daddy, an’ wear di’mon’s, Orinocco. Us mus’nt block Luck, purp, an’ dat lady am jes naturally smilin’ us sunshine an’ happiness dis bery minute. Fust us fin’ a hossshoe, den us fin’ seben nails in dat same. Dat means num’er seben ticket win dat benzine wagon, an’ us ride hum ternight on de high tide ob prosperity. Come erlong.” Orinocco whined his willingness. The tongue that caressed his master’s hand felt hot and dry. Len frowned.
“Dat lil’ dawg am so thirsty he could spit cotton,” he soliloquized. “He naturally longs ter go on ter dat spring. I’s mighty dry my ownse’f. Still, I ain’t jes’ certain but us might offend lady Luck by steppin’ beyond dat spot whar lied dat hoss-shoe.” Another pleading whine from Orinocco settled the question.
“All right, dawg. De spring it is. Only lis’en here. If so yo’ hab ter hoof dat fi’ miles hum instead ob ridin*“ in stateliness in a autobile, don’ blame nobody but yo’r own miseratin’ se’f. Come ’long, baby calf an’ get yo’r drink.”
Spring which Len and the thirsty Orinocco were wending their hot and dusty way, was known to but few. Len had discovered it one afternoon during one of his periodical back-to-nature pilgrimages snugly hidden beneath the roots of a tree, in a thick beech grove. During an afternoon’s siesta he had heard the sound of tinkling water and had investigated to find a bubbling underground brook, perfectly canopied with trailing vines and moss. Beneath the eager growth was a basin of cold, clear water some six feet in diameter and of a depth of three feet or more.
Len had shown his find to but one person, his friend, Abe White, on condition that he tell nobody else about it.
Now, as he approached the spot, he became conscious of a disturbed condition of the grass and foliage surrounding the hidden reservoir.
“It’s jes’ likely dat ol’ man Ross has diskivered dat spring an’ turned his cattle in hyar,” he grumbled. “Come ’long, purp, an’ us’ll soon see.”
Len bent and removed the viny covering from the spring.
“By gollies, everyfing’s all hunky, Orinocco. Bend down an’ lap yo’r fill ob de pures’ water Gawd eber sent ter man’ an’ dawg.”
Orinocco needed no second invitation.
“Hyar, crowd ober an’ gibe yo’r daddy a chanst ter get a sup.”
Len pushed Orinocco aside and lowered his face to the water. Then he sat quickly up, and stared.
DEEP down on the bottom of the glass-clear pool lay several square, wooden cases. Len counted them. There were eleven of them. He forgot that he was thirsty, forgot everything save the fact that old Dame Luck had led him straight to where Colonel Smith’s stolen Scotch was hidden.
His trembling hand sought the horse-shoe which hung over his trouser’s band.
“Good lil’ lucky curve ob metal,” he whispered, “mebbe I ain't glad my toes seeked yo’ out dis day. Hot dam!”
He seized the still-drinking Orinocco and drew him back and away from the spring.
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“Come ’long, purp. No tellin’ but Abe White’s settin’ pat somewhere’s dost, holdin’ a gun on me’n yo’. Here’s whar us get outer dis spot right speedy. Come ’long. Us’ll go see Colonel Smiff an’ earn a hundred iron men. Hustle, Orinocco, shuffle dem pads ob yourn. Götter get a move on us.”
Once more on the dusty road Len’s long legs stretched themselves like the wings of a homing eagle. Old Lady Luck was calling him, and he was striking on all six in obedience to that call.
“I’ll say so, an’ tell the work a man! Dis am our lucky day, Orinocco.”
The dog chased a chipmunk beneath the fence and rolled over on the grass.
“Lor’! Dat purp shore sez yes ter dat,” chuckled Len. “Reckon Abe White’ll wish he’d hid dat booze sumwhars else. Kase he ain’t a-goin’ ter fin’—”
Len checked his pace so suddenly his bare feet ploughed twin swaths in the dust and his eyes rolled from side to side as though seeking cover.
A heavy-set negro, driving a white horse attached to a buckboard, had just rounded a curve in the road and was approaching Len amid a cloud of dust.
“Dat’s Homer Hudson. I don’ crave ter meet up wif dat prize-fightin’ nigger dis day, nohow. Dis dus’ beneath my feets am li’ble ter turn wet, red an’ sticky if Homer gets his han’s onter me.”
THERE being no alternative, Len stepped aside and wa_red his hand in friendly greeting as Ho.ner drove up and pulled the white horse to a standstill.
“Mawin’ brudder Hudson,” he accosted genially.
Homer wrapped the lines about the whip and climbed out of the rig.
“Yo’ heared what I called yo’ I hope?” Homer’s voice was freighted with deadly menace. “I done applied de name Reformer at y o’.”
“Heared yo’ fust off,” Len’s face was still smiling and urbane. “Might I so ast, Homer, why yo’ applicates dat stigma ter me?”
“I applicates dat name, kase dat’s what yo’ am,” Homer snarled.
“Yo’ reformed on Abe White fer whisky-runnin’, an’ I had ter pay his fine.”
“Dat ain’t anyways so,” Len denied. “It wasn’t me reformed on Abe White a-tall.”
“Who den was it?”
“Dat, my jurisdictionary ob constable won’t allow ob my statin’,” Len said. “De fac’ stan’s dat Abe took a chanst dat no sane man would have took, an’ ’gainst de advice ob his bes’ frien’, an’ got pinched fer so doin’. Now he’s wailin’ ter high heaben dat he was double-crisscrossed. ’ ’
“He wasn’ takin’ no advice frum no stool-sparrer like yo’,” Hudson growled.
“So it seems, Homer. Neverthelessly, if Abe had lis’ened ter me .he wouldn’ hab got caught, an’ yo’—his accessory in crime—wouldn’ have had to cough up two hundred dollars an’ costs.”
Homer doubled up his ham-like fists. “Lis’en, man,” he snarled, “am yo’ accusin’ me ob bein’ in dat whiskyrunnin’ deal ’long ob Abe, or is you’?”
“I ain’ accusin’, Homer. I’s statin’. If so yo’ wasn’ in de deal, fer why should yo’ be so eager ter pay Abe’s fine? By dat one ac’ yo’ makes yo’ guilt apparent an’ stan’ incrimmated un’er section fou’-twenty-one ob de criminal code, which states ad verbatim: ‘If so any pusson er pussons, male er female, aid, cohortion, or in any way assist, shield, or in any manner show favor ter de criminal law-breaker, dat pusson or dose pussons stan’ in de sight ob de law, guilty wif him.’ So dar yo’ is, Homer. Dat dozen cases ob Scotch done cos’ yo’ an’ Abe a hull heap ob money an’ worry.” “I tells yo’ now an’ final,” Homer thundered, “I don’ know nuffin’ ’bout no dozen cases ob Scotch.”
“Den no matter who gets dat liquor, yo’ ain’t carin’?” Len asked.
“Me?” Homer glared down at the questioner. “Nigger, do life hol’ sech a gloomy outlook fer yo’ dat yo’ should cou’t deaf in dis way?” he asked murderously. “Incinerate jes’ once mo’ dat I was part owner ob dat booze, an’ yo’r black soul takes flight sudden. I means dat.”
“Wasn’ sinuatin’ nuffin’,” Len hastened to say, “nuffin’ ’tall, Homer. As frien’ ter frien’, I is simply askin’ a civil question, dat’s all. Yo’ denies all ownership ob dat liquor, den?”
“I shore does.”
“Well an’ good. How ’bout Abe? S’pose he’ll deny de same?”
“Yo’ll have ter ast Abe dat yo’r ownse’f. He’s ober ter Bridgetown, tendin’ de •automobile raffle. I’m on my way dar mow.”
Homer climbed back in the buckboard.
LEN’S fingers slipped into his vest J pocket to fumble a bit of pasteboard bearing the: figure 7.
“Mind if I go ’long wif yo’, Homer?” Homer slid over on the seat. “Jump in. What yo’ goin’ ter do with dat dawg?” he enquired.
“Orinocco? Him kin trail erlong, I reckon.”
“Yo’ holdin’ a ticket in dis raffle?” Homer asked as he stirred the old horse into activity by prodding its gaunt flank with his toe.
“Jes’ a ver’ small one, Homer, jes’ a ver’ small one.”
Len stretched back luxuriously against the seat and relaxed. “Cos’ me axec’ly seben cents.”
Homer guffawed. “Lor’ Harry! yo’ ain’ spectin’ ter draw down a good automobile on a seben cent ticket, shorely?”
“Ain’ ’spectin’ nuffin ’tall,” Len answered. “Life shore teaches me day by day in ebery way dat if I don’ expec’ I don’ get disappointed.”
“My ticket cos’ me fou’teen good dollars,” Homer said. “Dat shore orter draw heavier den a seben cent one, huh?” “Orter, mebbe, but dere’s no tellin’, Homer.”
A strained silence fell between the two. It endured until they reached the wooden bridge leading into Bridgetown. Here, Homer brought the wheezing livery horse to a stop.
“Clim’ out,” he ordered.
“Who, me?” Len looked his surprise. “Fer why, Homer?”
“I knows why. Clim’ out, I tells yo’.” Len climbed out. It was, had Homer known it, exactly what he desired to do. Colonel Smith’s imposing home reared its white gables from a grove of maples close beside the bridge. Len wanted a word or two with the colonel.
“I’s goin’ on ter de Globe hotel,” Homer stated. “I ain’t holdin’ no pussonal grudge agin’ yo’ Len, but Abe White finks yo’ steered de revinoo ossifers onter him, an’ dere’s a reason I don’ want him ter fink me’n’ yo’ am too brudderly. Git me?”
“Shore. Dat’s all hunky, Homer.” Len waved a long arm in friendly farewell. “Much ’blinged fer de lif’. Won’t need no ride back. I’ll be dribin’ my own cyar.”
LEN found Colonel Smith standing » beside his rose-embowered gate. He was tearing a number of pasteboard tickets into shreds and flinging them to the four winds of heaven when Len came up.
“Mawnin’ Constable,” he greeted. “I was jes’ cursin’ my folly in takin’ chances on dat Timbers’ autobil’ raffle. Beats all how onlucky some gamblers are, an’ how powerful lucky udders. De ticket dat win dat cyar was jes’ a measly num’er seben.”
Len’s eyes popped and his Adam’s apple did a toboggan slide up and down his long neck.
“Num’er which ” he gasped.
“Num’er seben,” repeated the Colonel. “I jes’ come frum de Globe hotel. Nobody seems ter know who held dat num’er.” Len swallowed hard.
“I reckon I’s de lucky holder ob dat num’er, Colonel,” he said. “I sorter looked ter win dat cyar. Now den, a word er two wif yo’ an’ I goes ober dar an’ claims my property.”
Len leaned over and whispered a few words in the Colonel’s ear. The big negro’s face, as he listened, cracked in a happy smile. He seized Len’s hands and drew him into the garden, up the walk and into the house. Through a wide hall and sumptuous drawing-room they passed
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and on to a door leading into the cellar.
For nearly an hour the two remained in the cool, darkness of the basement, talking in subdued tones to the merry clink of glasses. When, at length, they ascended to the summer light, Len’s long legs weaved slightly as he walked.
“Mum’s de high-sign, Colonel,” he said as they parted.
“No fear ob me talkin’ too much. Ter me, good liquor is de same as salt ter fresh fish, only serbes ter keep what I knows ter myse’f. I done tol’ yo_’ where dem leben cases ob Scotch are hid. All right. Yo’ be ready at twelbe o’clock ternight an’ I’ll come here an’ guide yo’ straight ter dat spring.”
“I’ll be ready,” the Colonel promised,
“An’ I’ll hab de hunderd--”
“Colonel,” Len turned on the path and impressively held up a hand. “It’s de fust principal ob dat law, I has de honah ob Serbin’, ter return stole property ter de rightful owners. As_ fur as dat hunderd am concerned, dat ain’t hoverin’ me none a-tall. Only, Colonel, I sure kin put dat money ter good use.”
Colonel Smith watched the angular form of Lennox pass down the path to the road and turn up the street toward the Globe hotel. Then he doubled up in wicked mirth.
“De pore fish,” he chuckled, “de pore, trustin’ fool. Dis is whar I puts de double cross sign on dat near-constable an’ shows dem Chatville coons dat most de brains ob dis county Resides right here in Bridgetown. Ternight, ’long ’bout half pas’ nine, I goes ’cross ter dat Thimble Spring, loads up my liquor in my cyar, an’ brings it back ter my cellar. Den Ballister kin whistle fer his hunderd. I’s shore goin’ ter prove ter dat nigger dat he ain’t nowise as sha’p as he finks he is.”
FIGURATIVELY hugging himself in unholy glee, the Colonel made his way back to the house.
Len’s long legs, despite their tendency to buckle under him occasionally, led him straightway to the Globe hotel. Many of the disappointed ticket-holders had gone their several ways; there were, however, a goodly number still hanging about to get a glimpse of the winner. At the hotel portals Len met Homer Hudson and Abe White face to face. They passed him by without so much as a word.
Len’s long arm reached out and his hand gripped White’s sleeve. “Jes’ a minute, Abe.”
White wheeled. “I don’ want no doin’s with yo’, nohow,” he growled.
Len drew him a little aside, out of hearing of the curious onlookers.
“Mebbe I wants a lil’ say-so wif yo’, dough, Abe. I un’erstan’ yo’ been sayin’ I acted as stool-pigeon for de revinoo ossifers when dey jugged yo’ fer totin’ booze. Am I ter deduce frum dat yo’ consider our life-long frien’ship at an end?” .
“Yo suttingly kin so consider it, Abe answered emphatically. •
“Dat’s all I wanted ter know.”
Len pivoted as though to move away. “Hol’ up, Len.” Abe was looking a little worried. “What yo’ aimin’ ter do?” “Yo’ jes wait an’ see,” Len said quietly. “Mebbe yo’s goin’ ter learn what de frien’ship ob a ossifer ob de law is worf. Like as not, pervidin’ yo’s lucky ’null ter eher own sech ag’in, yo’ won’t be in sech a hurry ter destroy it.”
“Meanin’ which?” Abe’s grandiloquent air had completely vanished. His eyes as they sought Len’s held a hunted look.
“Nere’ll be no more gamblin’ at yo’r poolroom, Abe,” Len said. “An’ no more stayin’ open af’er ten m.p. An’ dere’ll be no more lots ob udder privileges yo’s been habin’, dat’s all.”
“But Len, shorely as fríen’ ter frien’—” “Scuse me, as ossifer ob de law ter law-breaker, yo’ means. I’ve had my say-so, Abe, an’ I’s froo. Watch yo’ step frum this time hence forthly. Dat’s my las’ word ob advice ter yo’.”
White looked about him wildly. “Len,” he cried desperately, “I reckon I made a mistake in sayin’ yo’ was a revinoo stool-pigeon. I’s right sorry fer dat. Cou’se I knows yo’ wouldn’ do a trick like dat.”
“Yes, I reckon yo’ made a mistake all right, Abe, an’ yYs goin’ ter fin’ it out.” Len was adamant.
Homer Hudson who had drawn close
,nd stood, pop-eyed, listening, here nterposed a word.
“Ain’t no sense in good frien’s quarreln’, Len. Yo’ an’ Abe shake han’s.”
Len turned on him.
“Is dat so? Seems ter me I saw yo’ jass me by, jes’ a moment ago, wif yo’r lead high like a hoss goin’ ter wah. >eems like yo’ puts ’bout de same iremium on my frien’ship as yo’r pard ibe do. All right, Homer. Jes’ please :er remember, when yo’s pullin’ yo’r nex’ ihickun-fight, dat a constable armed wif íe law am liable ter take a look in. íes’ keep dat in min’.”
“Lorgawd! Len, don’t yo’ talk dat vay.”
Homer’s eyes were rolling. Sweat beaded his brow. His manner was abject, cringing.
“Abe has ’pologized ter yo’, Len, an’ so does I. Let’s let bygones be bygones, an’ all be good frien’s ag’in.”
Len looked from Homer to Abe and from Abe back to Homer.
“I’s constrained ter consider on dat a spell,” he said loftily. “I ain’t sayin’, off han’, whever I’ll be a frien’ ter yo’ bofe ag’in, er jes’ merely de law. Dat’s goin’ ter take some finkin’ out. I tell yo’ what I’ll do. Ternight I’ll come ter yo’r poolroom, Abe, at ten sha’p. If yo’ hears my auto horn honk twice, yo’ll know if's de law. If yo’ hears it honk oust instead, yo’ll know I’s still a frien’. How’s dat?”
“Dat’ll do fine,” Abe cried, ecstatically, and Homer added fervently, “I’s hopin’ it’s jes’ one honk, Len.”
THE shadows of summer night cowled the open country when Len, seated in the car he had that day acquired through being the lucky holder of ticket number seven drove proudly out of Bridgetown. For him it had been a wonderful day and he begrudged not in the least having spent his last three dollars for pop and cheroots for the boys he was now leaving behind.
Their cheers came to his ears faintly as he rounded a curve in the road and stepped on the accelerator.
“Don’ yo’ be ’fraid, purp. Dat ain’t nuffin ter what yo’ll git af’er I’s played my trump ace wif a certain man what finks de only brains—’cep de ones in one side ob his head—am in de udder side ob it. Jes’ yo’ set tight an’ watch yo’r daddy prove different.”
Len swung down a cross-road.
“Now den, us’ll slow up an’ git prepared fer what, if I don’ miss my guess, is due ter happen mos’ any minute. Lor’! it’s goin’ ter happen sooner den I looked fer.”
Len’s eyes were on a big car rapidly approaching him from the direction of Ross’s woods.
He steered his car crosswise of the road and waited. The other car swayed onward. There was a wild honking, a screech of brakes and, through the dust, a profane voice wanting to know what the owner of the other car meant by blocking the road in that manner.
Len made no reply. He waited until the dust had settled, then, throwing back his coat so as to display his constable’s badge, he climbed in a dignified manner from his seat and approached the exasperated owner of the other auto.
Colonel Smith stared and he swallowed spasmodically, as under the glare of his spot-light, Len’s lank figure drew near to him.
“Lor’amighty!” he gurgled.
His huge bulk fairly shook as he leaned across the steering wheel and spoke in tones he attempted to make light and friendly.
“Why Constable Ballister, am it yo’?”
LEN placed one number nine on the hub of a front wheel. His eyes squinted up to fasten on the working face of the colonel.
“What yo’r name?” he demanded. Colonel Smith attempted a laugh. It was a failure.
“Why what all dis?” he stammered. “What joke yo’ tryin’ on me, anyways?” Len fished a notebook and pencil from a pocket.
“I’s ’bliged ter take yo’r name an’ num’er, Misto. I’s a ossifer an’ I’s goin’ to search dis cyar fer illicit contrabanded licker.”
“Yo’r goin' ter which?” asked Smith. Len stepped to the back seat and drew
off a waterproof covering. His hand felt in the bottom of the car.
“I’ll have ter take yo’ an’ yo’r load ter headquarters,” he told Smith.
“But Constable Ballister—Ien!”wailed the Colonel, “yo’ mus’ know me, yo’r frien’ Colonel Smiff, I jes’ thinked I’d go get de stuff an’ sen’ yo’ de hundred—” “Why, so it am Colonel Smiff,” Len exclaimed. “Now isn’t dat a queer coincidental.”
“Lis’en here,” Smith cried desperately, “yo’s cunnin’, Ballister, dere’s no use denyin’ dat. Yo’s sha’p. I owns up. I sure was tryin’ ter do yo’ aut o’ dat hunderd I promised.”
_ “’Scuse me,” Len interrupted, “but ain’t yo’ got de figure wrong, Colonel? Seems ter me it was two hunderd—” “Good Lor’!” muttered the scared Smith, “dat nigger’ll own Chatville an’ Bridgetown an’ all de lan’ between ’em, some day. All right,” he agreed, “we’ll say two hundred den. I’ll sen’ yo’ a cheque termorrie.”
Len shook his head. “Reckon I’ll take yo’ in, Colonel,” he declared. “Fust off,
I don’ like de way yo’ acts an’ secón’ off I don’ like de way yo’ talks. Turn roun’ an’ drive slow in front ob me. An’ remember, if yo’s inclined ter spurt, I’s got a gun an’ a bloodhoun’ back hyar.” Smith fairly groaned. “Wait a minute, Constable,” he begged. “I was only jes’ foolin’ ’bout dat cheque—”
“Dat’s what I sorter figured,” said Len dryly.
“I means, I got de two hunderd here fer yo’, cash money. Reach an’ grab it.” Len reached out and grabbed. He made sure the four bills were fifties.
“Now den,” sighed the relieved Smith, “please ter wif draw yo’r obstruction frum de road.”
“Jes’ a minute.”
Len who had taken a few steps toward his own car came back again. “If my memory serve me right, Colonel, yo’ tol’ me dis mawnin’ dat if so yo’ got dat liquor back, yo’ intended ter gib me one case as a bonus fer my good detectin’.”
“I neber said no sech fing,” Smith began, but Len held up his hand.
“Fink ag’in, Colonel, an’ fink hard.” Smith glowered and fumed. Len lit his pipe and waited.
“Please ter be as expeditionary as possible,” he remarked. “I’s sorter expectin’ ossifer DeZeel an’ a couple ob revinoo men ’long here soon. Do you not recomember anyfing ’bout dat bonus, Colonel?”
The Colonel threw out his hands. “Lor’gawd! Ob all de hol’-ups,” he murmured helplessly. “Take de case, an’ fer heaven’s sake be quick ’bout it.”
TWENTY minutes later Len drove past the Chatville stave mill, up the curving road to his cabin. He did not stop there. Down the road toward Abe White’s pool room he dashed, and braked outside the door just as Greater Chatville city clock was booming ten.
Through the window Len could see negroes, shirtless and collarless, busy about the tables. Beside the counter stood Homer Hudson and Abe White. Their faces were worried and apprehensive. He saw them glance at the clock above their heads as the bell boomed out the hour.
Len patted Orinocco’s head.
“Dis am whar I frows fear inter de hearts ob dem villains, purp,” he chuckled.
His hand fell on the horn. Two wild, nerve-splitting notes rent the night stillness; and then, almost before the echoes had died, the lights went out. Negroes, pulling on their coats as they ran, dived from the pool-emporium and promptly vanished.
Len sat back in his seat and waited.
By and by Abe White’s spare figure blocked against the moonlight.
Len waited until he was almost beside the car, then the honker bawled forth again, one long, hilarious note.
“Len,” Abe’s voice came pleadingly from the darkness, “dat fust two honks mean yo’ come as de law. But how ’bout dat las’ one? Yo’ done tell us dat one honk mean yo’ come as a frien’.”
Len climbed out of the car.
“Had ter use de fust two honks ter get dat pool room clear fer action, Abe. Ternight us cements a broken frien’ship. Here, nigger, come ’long an’ help me in wif dis case ob cement.”