Two Hundred Dollars Reward
ARCHIE P. McKISHNIE
CHATVILLE EAST’S champion boxer, Mr. Homer Hudson, and Constable Len Ballister, sat side by side on a grassy bank beneath a spreading willow.
Homer’s white derby, crown up, yawned mendicantly at the summer sky. Its owner, his lips moving inaudibly, fingered a pair of bone dice as ruefully he watched his lank companion stow away several crisp dollar notes which had recently reposed in a pocket of his own checked suit.
“I’ll repeat what I was s a y i n ’ ,
Homer, when yo’ brought dem ivories fo’th an’ dared me ter shoot a dollar,” Len broke the strained silence to say. “I reiterations de warnin’ I partly voiced to yo’, which is yo’ bes’ call dis fight wif de Yaller Tiger off fer good.”
“An’ fer why,”
Mr. Martin Cupidore was an exceedingly clever colored gentleman but he courted Fate once too often when he tried his skill on our old friend Fen Ballister. Chatsville East is still talking about what happened to the invaders who came from the big city in search of the local champion s boxing crown.
Homer asked witheringly, “should I be constrainded ter allow a 3hort-changin’ artist like yo’all tell me what ter do? Ans’er up dat!”
“I ain’t no short-changin’ artist,
Homer,” Len said unheatedly. “I a straight-shooter an’ a frien’ ter man.
Time out ob number I’ve kept yo’ out of jail, an’ yo’ knows it. Now I’s tryin’ ter keep yo’ out de pore house.”
“Is dat so!” Homer sneered. “So much yo’ showed, jes’ now, de way yo’ made dem sebens roll dere eyes at de sky. Shure yo’s got my interes’ at heart, an’ now yo’ wants de principal too.”
“Homer,” Len laid a lean hand on the other’s checked knee, “I ain’t ter deny dat a frien’ I’s able ter tech am nearer an’ dearer ter me den one dats not in a financiary position ter lis’n ter my plea. It am only fair ter say I’d ruver have yo’r money within easy reachin’ distance den see it go ter dem Detroit fight sharks dat are plannin’ ter hab dis Yaller Tiger hang the K.O. sign on yo’ fer fair. But, Homer, it ain’t no feelin’ ob pussonal selfishness dat prompts me ter advise yo’ ter call dat fight off. Dis bunch ob Detroit Niggers are hangin’ a wagonload ob money on de Tiger ter win. Does yo’ know dat?”
“Sure I knows dat,” Homer fumed. “But dat don’ cut no froz’ misture wif me. Nosah! Ain’t I been trainin’ fer eight weeks, steady? Ain’t I in de pink ob condition? What chance dat Yaller Tiger got agin’ me?”
Len surveyed his friend sorrowfully.
“Homer,” he asked gently, “yo’ ob cou’se knows who dis Yaller Tiger am?”
“Eh?” Homer’s bullet head came up with a jerk. “What yo’ means, does I know who he am?”
“Yo’ ain’t jes’ only acceptin’ de word ob dese promoters dat he’s jes’ a unknown, is yo’?” Len asked. “Natu’ally yo’d fin’ out all about dis hayr opponent, wo’ldn’ yo, Homer?”
Homer shifted uneasily. “I been too busy wif my trainin’ ter fin’ out anyfing,” he said. “I ain’t had no time fer sech foolishness. An’ anyways, I ain’t carin’. I knows I kin whip dis Yaller Tiger an’ dat’s sufficient fer me.” “Who toi’ yo’?” Len asked.
“Dat’s my business,” snapped Homer.
“Has yo’ signed a contrac’?”
“Shore I’s signed a contrac’, an’ it’s a right good contrae’ too. It’s ter be a no limit bout, winner take all.”
Len was silent for a time. Then he asked suddenly:
“Den dere ain’t no way fer yo’ ter crawl out, eben so yo’ wished, Homer?”
Homer’s face grew ugly again. “Now see hayr,” he grated, “I ain’t wantin’ter do no crawl, see? Dis am easy money fer me. Git dat in yo’re wooden pate, Niggerman. I kin lick dat Tiger quicker’n a spark kin light dry powder. I’s hangin’ up every cent I got on my chance, an’ if so yo’ hadn’ come bellyachin’ ter me dis day like yo’ do, I aimed ter gib yo’ a thousan’ ter spread among de Detroit fans, but now I gets somebuddyelse,sumbuddy what beliebes I kin fight a li’l.”
LEN’S face was a study. He sat staring at Homer and J gradually his left eyelid began to flutter. He smiled. The smile grew into a chuckle, the chuckle deepened to a laugh so gurgling, so essenced with sheer unalloyed joy that Homer’s own set mouth began to twitch and his gold tooth gleamed in a smile he was powerless to keep from showing.
Homer rose slowly to his feet. One of his beefy arms descended, his sinewy fingers gripped Len’s thin shoulders. Len was suddenly propelled upward. He turned a complete somersault and was caught by Homer as he descended.
“Yo’ darn ol’ croker!” Homer was laughing too, now. “I orter knowed yo’d try ter get a fall outer me, Len. I shoul’d been on de lookout fer it. An’ all de time yo’ was gettin’ my nanny an’ makin’ me madder an’ madder. I’ll bet yo’ was laughin’ up yo’r sleebe ter fink how much money yo’all was goin’ ter make bettin’ on me!”
He gave Len a shake that sent him sprawling on the sward.
“Oh, lordy, lordy!” panted Len, sitting up and wiping the tears from his eyes. “Pore ol’ Homer!” He went off into another paroxysm of mirth.
“Now, den,” he spoke sharply, “I reckon ennuf ob dat
is quite plenty. Keep up dat mirf an’ yo’ goes so high next frow yo’ don’t ebber ’light. Get me?”
“But, Homer,’’ Len gasped, “yo’ fall fer a joke so easy. Sho’lly yo' knows dat I’s backin’ yo’ wif ebery cent I own ter win Why, Homer, I sol’ my Ford so’s I could get a li’l extrie money ter bet on yo ’all.” Homer smiled. He sat down again and placed the white derby atop his shaven head.
“Jes’ de same,” he said, “I reckon I get sumbuddy else ter handle dat thousan’ fer me. I rather have yo’ do it, Len, but Bill Barton, him’s willi’ ter accept a bery small commission.”
“Shorely,” Len said, “Bill wouldn’ be astin’ no commission fer doin’ a frien’ sech a small favor as dat, Homer. Why, Homer, I would be willin’ ter get dat money up on yo’ among dem Detroit fans—fer nuffin’ ’tall.”
“All right den.”
From a huge black wallet Homer took a thin sheaf of bills.
“Here’s de thousan’,” he said. “Yo’ go down among dem Tiger fans an’ manage ter get dat thousan’ night-capped, see?”
“Shore do.” Len took the money and slipped it nonchalantly into a trouser pocket. Homer stood watching him.
“Nigger,” he said, ‘ go now. Get dat long-green placed. Jes’ so long as yo’ carrys my money on yo’r pusson I don’ know whether I got a thousan’ er I hasn’t. Wammoose. Git!”
Len swung on his heel. “I’s on my way, Homer.”
ONCE out of range of Homer’s following gaze, Len’s footsteps began to lag. Before him stretched goldeD fields and sloping green-grassed valleys. A swimming ether of robin-egg blue reached upward to a ragged bank of cloud.
“Look jes’ like de ribber bank,” Len soliloquized, his faraway gaze on the fleecy forest of mist, “where me an’ Orinocco sojourns ter ketch cat-fish. Gollies!”
Into his troubled spirit had—for the moment—entered a shaft from the quiver of memories he always carried— arrows of sunlit gardens along life’s uncertain byways; glimpses caught and held—memories to be taken out and relived when times of dire stress and uncertainty assailed him, as now.
And then Len was back in the present with one torturing thought alive within him. To-morrow night Homer was to fight the Yellow Tiger in the Bridgetown skating rink and was backing himself with almost every cent he owned to win. And the Yellow Tiger was none other than the Michigan State champion, the invincible Sam Longwell. So much Len had learned. It was a raw, a dirty deal which the Detroit bunch were putting over. Homer stood absolutely no chance of winning from this human fighting machine, who had youth and a score of hard won victories to his credit and was gradually proving himself worthy of being given a chance at the heavyweight champion of the world.
Len’s long fingers caressed the bills in his pocket. “Goodbye, ol’ money,” he sighed. “Here’s where yo’ flies away, an’ I gotter let yo have yo’r wings. Dat’s too bad!”
He broke off in his meditations suddenly, and straightened up. A tall, immaculately-dressed negro was approaching him up the road. Len’s left eyelid flickered, true sign that he was undergoing some mental strain. He didn’t like the man who was coming nearer: instinctively and with reason he mistrusted him. He, the affable Martin Cupidore, who occupied an elaborately furnished office in the Smithson Block and whose business was to tell fortunes—free-—had altogether too much polish, too much self-assurance, for a mere stranger.
Mr. Cupidore came forward, jauntily swinging a cane with a silver handle. His teeth gleamed in a smile as he accosted the worried Len.
“Mornin’,” Len returned without any apparent warmth. He had a shrewd suspicion that this gentleman was largely responsible for the staging of the uneven battle between his friend Homer and the Yellow Tiger.
Naturally, then, even the diplomatic Lennox could find no smile or cheerful greeting for the dapper Cupidore. He moved aside and made to pass him, but Mr. Cupidore stood straight in his path.
“Jes’ a moment, Constable,” he smiled. “I been aimin’ to have some converse wif yo’all fer some days. Dere’s a question or two I’d like ter ast yo,’ if so it’s agreeable.”
“Go ahead.” Len planted the heels of his number nines together and looked the other straight in the eye. “I’s quite dissatisfied ter habe yo’ ast all de questions yo’ so please, Misto Cuspidore.”
“Cwpidore,” the other corrected.
“ ’Scuse me,” Len murmured. He drew out his charred pipe and searched a vest pocket for a match.
“Shall we, den,” beamed Mr. Cupidore, “seat our two selbes beneath de shade of yon leafy maple, while us converses, Constable? Might as well take it easy, I s’pose.”
“Shure,” Len agreed. “Nuffin’ like takin’ fings if so dey is easy—”
“I beg yo’r pardon?” Mr. Cupidore looked hard at the guileless face of the speaker.
“I say nuffin’ like takin’ fings easy,” Len hastened to amend, as they eased themselves to the velvety sward beneath the tree.
“Now den, Misto Ballister—’scuse me fer not usin yo’r official title, käse I aims ter talk ter yo’ as one private citizen ter anudder—Misto Ballister, may I make bol’ ter enquire if yo’ are aware to de knowledge dat one Homer Hudson, who I un’erstan’ is de champion pugilist ob dis country, am signed ter box a Detroit fighter knowed in spo’tin’ circles as de Yaller Tiger, tomorrie night? Is yo’, my fríen’, cognizant ob dat fact?”
“So I un’erstan’,” Len replied. He was wondering what the astute Cupidor had up his sleeve. Naturally, the man knew that he and Homer were friends, and so knowing, must realize that he must be aware of the proposed bout.
“Dat Yankee Nigger is goin’ ter be easy pickin’ fer Homer,” he hazarded. “1’s bettin’ big money de fight won’t las’ three roun’s.”
“You’s which?” Mr. Cupidore sat up with alacrity. He hitched himself a foot or two closer to big possibilities.
“I says,” Len repeated, “de fight won’t go more’n three roun’s, if so it goes dat many. Dat Yaller Tiger fighter don’t know what he’s scratchin’ his claws against.”
“Den yo’s bettin’ dis pug Hudson ’ll put de Tiger away inside free roun’s?” Cupidore asked eagerly.
“Not so’s ter say dat,” Len replied cannily, “I ain’t sech a optimistic speculator on pugilistics ter so wager. What I remarks is, my money speaks out loud dat dis fight won’t las’ free roun’s.”
Mister Cupidore beamed on him.
“May I ast on what, den, you am placin’ yo’r deductions, Misto Ballister?”
“I’s placin’ my duckats on de hunch,
Misto Cupidore, dat de bout won’t exceed nine minutes, countin’ breathin’ speels.
Dat’s what,” Len answered,
TNTO the nimble brain of the cunning
Cupidore flashed a brilliant idea. He would tip the Tiger off to spar for time. It had been decided among the Detroit fans to have the Tiger put the quietus on the unsuspecting Homer in the third round. This could happen quite as well in the fourth, or fifth.
“And how loud does dat money yo’s speairin’ ob talk? Mr. Cupidore enquired, his eyes on Len’s inscrutable face. “Am it jes’ only a few clamourers—er a mob?"
“I reckon dere’s ’bout a thousan’ in dat crowd ob dollars an’ dey are all eager ter be covered, käse de sun hurts dere eyes,” Len informed him.
“Man,” cried the delighted Cupidore, “I’s got a umbrella fer each of dem right in my pocket! Call fo’th
dem shoutin’ Iron Men an’ I covers dem right now.”
Without a moment’s hesitation Len produced Homer’s roll and spread the bills on the grass before them. Just as promptly Mr. Cupidore dived into an inside pocket and produced a like amount.
“An’ now, who’s goin’ ter be stake hol’er?” he wanted to know.
Len glanced down the road. His ears had been arrested by the wheezy pant of a clogged auto-engine. From a bank of dust shot a battered Ford. Len hailed the driver, “Hey, Mr. Smithson, hoi’ up a minute!”
“Yo’ knows dis gent, I recko’,” Len addressed Mr. Cupidore, as a small man stepped from the car and approached the side of the road. “Yo’ rents yo’r office frum him.”
On Mr. Cupidore’s face was annoyance and vexation. Mr. Smithson was the last man he desired to see that morning. However, he managed to smile genially and extend his hand to the new arrival. Mr. Smithson did not seem to bask to any degree in the warmth of the greeting. His eyes bored into Mr. Cupidore hard and enquir.ngly.
But Mr. Cupidore was equal to the dilemma. He laughed cheerfully and shook his landlord’s limp hand. “Jes’ on my way ter fin’ yo’, Misto Smithson,” he exclaimed. “Wanter pay up my rent an’ one month in ad-v anee.”
Smithson made no comment as his tenant passed him three twenty-dollar bills. He wrote a receipt for the money on the leaf of a memoranda book, passed it to Mr. Cupidore, and with a nod turned back toward his car.
“Jes’ a moment ob time,” Len spoke. “Me and Misto Cuspidore—”
“Cupidore,” corrected the man beside him.
“Me’en Misto Cupidore, here, desires dat yo’ act as stake-hol’erfera li’l wager us am makin’, Misto Smithson.”
“Wager!” Smithson’s dead eyes took on a spark of animation.
“Jes’ so,” put in Cupidore. “Dere’s ter be a li’l boxin’ bout ’tween yo’r local fighter Hudson an’ a gent named de Yaller Tiger, frum Detroit, tomorrie night. Misto Ballister am bettin’ dat de bout won’t go three roun’s, an’ I’s coverin’ his money.”
Mr. Smithson made-no comment. He picked up the two thousand and tucked it away in an already bulging pocket book.
“Us might as well hab dat wager writ in writin’,” Len suggested. “Misto Smithson please ter write dese words down in yo’r note book.”
Mr. Smithson nodded and licked the point of his pencil. Len dictated:
“This am to certify dat Lennox Ballister bets dat de fight, scheduled to take place between Homer Hudson and De Yaller Tiger on Friday night, August the 6th, won’t las’ three rounds, an’ dat Misto Cupidore bets de same amount wif Lennox Ballister dat said fight will go more den three rounds.”
“Now, den,” as Mr. Smithson finished writing, “me’n Misto Cupidore’ll sign dat same agreement, an’ yo’all ’ll write yo’r name as witness, Misto Smithson.”
Cupidore, who had witnessed the drawing of the agreement with a sarcastic and amused smile on his face, signed the paper with a flourish. Lennox methodically drew what he supposed to be his signature and Mr. Smithson signed as witness.
Then Mr. Smithson, still dumb, climbed into his battered car and drove away. Lennox and Cupidore stood watching him.
“I say,” spoke Mr. Cupidore suddenly, “Dat Smithson ain’t likely ter tip de police ter de fight, am he? Yo’ trusts him, don’t yo’, Ballister?”
“Sure does,” Len answered with a fervency that brought a flash of suspicion to the eyes watching him. “Dat Misto Smithson would no more fink ob betrayin’ a trest sech as us have reposed in him dan yo’, yo’se’f, would. Nosah!”
Len’s left eyelid was twitching.
“He is feelin’ de gaff ob departed money right now,” was Mr. Cupidore’s mental comment. “Oh Lord, how easy he was!”
'T'HE night of the prize fight dawned dark and rainy. Along the deserted streets of Bridgetown, Chatville East’s sister village, the lights blinked dimly through the incessant downpour. At nine o’clock the .windows of the old skating rink, carefully blinded from within, gazed like black, vacant orbs into the massed blackness of night and storm. Inside, however, was warmth, light, and expectancy strung to breaking pitch.
The preliminary bouts were over. The big event of the evening was about to be staged.
Abe White, proprietor of Chatville’s billiard emporium stood in the roped arena and parted the clouds of tobacco smoke with a lean hand as he made the following announcement.
“Gents, de main bout ob dis bill am about ter be pulled off. I requestions dat yo’ fans keep cool an’ don’ allow yo’r feelin’s utterance, kase yo’ boys all knows us am indulgin’ in a game de law am right liable ter stop sudden if so dat law gets wise. Consequence, let us hab de same orderly conduct as us had in de preliminaries. Dis am ter be a no limit bout between our own local champion, Misto Homer Hudson, an’ a unknowed frum Detroit, called de Yaller Tiger, Marqus at Queenbury rules ter endoure. I particularly requests dat no cheerin’ be done as de principals appear.”
Mr. White bowed and moved aside as the Detroit pugilist stepped into the ring. A w hisper of admiration surged through the closely packed spectators, as he threw off his yellow bathrobe, disclosing a beautifully moulded body whose muscles rippled at his every movement.
“Gents, de Yaller Tiger,” the referee announced. “No cheerin’, please,” as the murmur among the audience grew to greater strength.
“An’ gents, I reckon yo’ all knows dis boy, Homer Hudson,” Mr. White cried, as Homer, scowling darkly, appeared in the ring. Homer was dressed in a fleecy bathrobe that any motion picture actor might have envied. A certain lady whose heart he held had made it for him and sprinkled it with drops of white carnation perfume, the fragrance of which grew above the pungent odor of tobacco and drifted to the souls of the eager fans.
Mr. Cupidore and the Tiger’s followers were closely bunched close to the ring.
Mr. Cupidore leaned forward and whispered in the time-keeper’s ear, “Dat Homer smells sweet now, but in about fifteen minutes lie’s goin’ ter smell like Continued on page 5$
embalmin’ fluid. Yo’ watch dat Tiger claw him ter strips.”
The gong sounded.
THE fighters advanced to the centre of the ring and shook hands. Two minutes followed with scarcely an exchange of blows. Then, just as the timekeeper was leaning forward to ring the bell to announce the end of the round, the Tiger slapped Homer playfully on the point of the jaw, and the local champion went to the mat.
It was astounding. Perhaps, of all present, Homer himself was most astounded. He had seen that playful slap coming and had as playfully accepted it. “Never again,” he told himself, as his seconds administered restoratives.
Seated complacently in his corner the Tiger was reading a note from Cupidore.
“Don’t play so d--rough. Remember
your instructions. Count four."
The Detroit boxer looked down at the Detroit fans, smiled and nodded.
The gong sounded. This round Homer was watchful. He sparred carefully and towards the end of the round managed to get in a haymaker that made the cocky Tiger gasp for breath.
The fans were settling down in their seats. It was going to be a great fight. Everything was fine.
And then, just as the gong announced the end of the second round, the door of the rink burst open. Through the haze of smoke glimmered police uniforms. A heavy voice boomed,
“The place is pinched. No use of anybody trying a get-away. The windows are guarded.”
A deep and awful stillness followed. Then a hoarse murmur grew up through-
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out the assembly, a long hopeless wail that shimmered to silence as profound as a sigh.
Officer Dezeel’s deep voice was heard again. “All you local Niggers can go home. We want only the chaps who planned this affair. Now, one at a time, and go slow so I can see your faces.”
One by one, prayerfully and thankfully, the local fans glided past the officers.
One tried to pass with averted face. Dezeel’s long arm shot out and held him.
“I guess you’d better stay,” he said grimly.
Cupidore lifted a passion-distorted face.
“It was Ballister double-crossed us,” he gnashed. “He’ll get his for this!”
“You’re wrong,” the officer replied. “It was you and your bunch who tried to do for Ballister. The man who tipped you off is named Smithson.”
DOWN in Smithson’s dingy little office, Constable Len Ballister sat on a stool smoking his black pipe and watching Smithson laboriously counting a huge pile of bank notes.
“Jes’ put dat money back in de safe an’ I’ll collect tomorrie,” Len said.
Smithson nodded and locked the two thousand in the safe.
“An’ remember ter keep out a couple ob hundered fer yoself.”
Smithson stared. “What you mean?” he asked. “I didn’ make no bet.”
“No,” Len said. “Yo’ didn’, an’ it’s jes’ as well yo’ didn’. I’s payin’ yo’ dat two hundered as a reward fer services rendered de law. As a constable I’s got to up-hold de law. Yo’ helped me do my dooty by reformin’ on dese prize fighters. De law am grateful. Brudder, pocket yo’r re-ward.”