Automobiles Have Come to Stay
A story of the Old Montreal and the New, and the nemesis that riches brought to Jerry Flynn
I DROPPED into the Press office the other day at the usual time to pick up my mail and see what the Desk had to say, if anything. The inevitable bunch of youngsters sat around, waiting for the book to be made up, smoking and gossiping. This was the day after the story broke about Pete Paquette, the longshoreman who had had a fortune dropped on him overnight, just because he fished old man Overton out of the St, Lawrence five years before, and it was no trick at all to guess what they were talking about. Overton was a man alone, without relatives, a bachelor and a millionaire. Outside a couple of casual charity bequests and small annuities for one or two old servants, Pete Paquette, who had been born in Sorel, lived on the docks for all his thirty-odd years, and could hardly sign his own name, was the sole heir. I’ve always said that it pays a man to learn to swim.
Brick Terrett hailed me as I went by on my way to the letter boxes.
“Hey, Mac!” he shouted, “how’d you like to be this Paquette guy?”
“I’d rather be me,” I told him.
That got a laugh, but I meant it.
I was thinking about what happened to Smiling Jerry Flynn after Dion O’Regan made a rich man of him. When you’ve slept on straw all your life, beds of roses are more likely to be uncomfortable than not.
THIS Smiling Jerry Flynn was a cab driver, and a darn good one. His father had been a cabman before him, and Jerry came by his love for horses and for Montreal by right of heritage. The old man had been dead for years before the paths of Dion O’Regan and Jerry Flynn converged, but my cub days were filled with yarns about old Peter Flynn and his ways. In the Montreal of Queen Victoria’s time, Pete Flynn was a landmark, and afterward for a while he remained a legend. You never hear of him now.
It is given to the Irish that they, above all the other peoples of the earth, possess the quality of affection for the places of their nativity. This is why a Cork man will fight a man from Kerry at the drop of a hat, any time, any place; and also why the Cork man and the Kerry man will instantly join belligerent forces against the upstart alien not of Irish origin. When austere circumstances compel them to emigration, they suffer intensely, but, as the years pass, they transfer the fierce affection of their earlier days, at least in some degree, to the lands and the communities of their adoption. Peter Flynn left The Curragh in his youth. He brought with him to Canada an inborn love of horses and his native genius for loyalty to his own places.
Jerry Flynn was born in Montreal. His mother’s life was forfeit for his existence, and thereafter the old man raised the boy alone, with the help of kindly Irish neighbors in Point St. Charles. Such times as the kid was not at school, he was around cab ranks absorbing the smell of horses and patent leather and strong tobacco, together with a weird jumble of information, scandal, local geography and profanity. His father, a man of serious mind, did what could be done to mold the younger Flynn after his own fashion, and succeeded at least partially. Sober of habit and faithful to his simple ideals he instructed his son in the things which he knew best and liked best. Chief among these were horses and Montreal.
Young Jerry could harness a horse before he could count twelve times twelve in his multiplication table. He could curry a sleek hide before he could tie his own necktie; and he knew Montreal backward by the time he was able to bound Canada without error. When opportunity offered, old Peter Flynn would mount the youngster on the buffalo robe-covered box beside him and drive around the town. “John Jacob Astor did business in that house, me lad, long before New York ever heard of him. Yes, indeed.” “And here was where Peter McGill lived an’ died, him that gave the money to build the fine big college up ahead.” And so on. Horses and Montreal. Montreal and horses. Days of it, years of it, winter and summer, until he was saturated with love for them both. This was Peter Flynn’s estate, and what he could do he did to ensure its succession in direct line to his only heir.
On his seventeenth birthday Jerry Flynn received from his father a complete turn-out, horse, cab, blankets, harness and everything down to a can of metal polish and a handful of rags, that he might never neglect to keep his equipment shining. A slovenly cabman was a disgrace to a noble profession in the eyes of that stalwart citizen, Peter Flynn.
Jerry, then, at seventeen with a light brown bowler hat cocked over his left eye, took a place beside his father on the Windsor Hotel rank, a much coveted location. The old hostelry, then less than half its present bulk, was the heart of the town’s social life, and the two Flynn’s, father and son, were familiar and appreciated figures, whose services were constantly in demand by the best people. If you really belonged in those days, there were only two hotels, the Windsor and the Corona, in which could in which you could afford to be recognized. There was no Ritz-Carlton, and, of course, no Mount Royal. The St. Andrews Ball was the crowning function of the social year, always attended by the Governor-General. The St. James Club, four blocks east from the Windsor on Dorchester Street, was the exclusive haunt of pioneer millionaires.
A few blocks west on the same thoroughfare lived Lord Strathcona, recently Sir Donald Smith, with Sir Thomas Shaughnessy as his next door neighbor.
Montreal is a metropolis now, surrounding its splendid mountain with suburban streets like stretched tentacles, some of them beautiful, some of them merely commonplace, many of them drab. Then, it was a smaller, cosier town, without automobiles, huge and crowded department stores, motion picture “palaces” or “Tourists’ Rests.” I liked it better that way. I guess I’m old-fashioned.
This was the upbringing and the background of Smiling Jerry Flynn. You have to understand it properly if you would appreciate the thing that his friendship with the Great Dion O’Regan did to him.
'"THIS Dion O’Regan was the son of a widower, too.
His father kept a saloon in Point St. Charles, and held the reputation of an honest God-fearing man who permitted no trouble in his place and attended church regularly. The son that he sired turned out to be one of the Red Irish. Freckled he was, with a pink and white complexion which tanned to the color of old brick under the sun, and his eyes held dancing red devils in their remotest depths. At manhood and in the first flush of his fame, this fine fellow stood over six feet in his prospector’s thick socks. He was a man born for success, a flame of a man, a rover and a spendthrift, but shrewd, too, and lucky.
It was I who introduced Jerry Flynn to Dion O’Regan, and that came about in this fashion.
One June evening, in 1908, Dick Murray, the night city editor, called me over and gave me an overnight assignment to interview Dion O’Regan at the Windsor the next morning.
“Try and have a good talk with him,” he said. “I’d like to know what makes that guy’s wheels go round.”
“The Great O’Regan?” I said. I had heard of him.
“The Boy Millionaire himself. Go to it, and good luck.”
I was tickled. It was a good assignment and it might turn out to be a knock-out. No matter how long a man has been in this crazy game, or how many stories that looked like world beaters have fluffed on him, he always has a feeling deep down in his heart that the next one is going to be the perfect newspaper yarn he’s been looking for all these years; and certainly, at the moment Dion O’Regan was the most picturesque figure in Canada.
He was a product of the Cobalt silver boom. The tale of his lucky strike with the Great O’Regan mine was over two years old then, but it wasn’t his luck so much as the way he had handled it that had attracted attention to his spectacular career. Plenty of strong young chaps had gone into the north country since the first silver discovery, and prospected what looked like rich bonanzas, only to wake up in a Toronto hotel a month or so later with their claims signed away and nothing to show for them but a two dollar bill and a mean headache. O’Regan had been the exception. In 1908, he was not yet twenty-two years old, but the Toronto papers had him rated as a millionaire. They had fancy names for him. “The Great O’Regan,” “Young King Midas,” the “Get-Rich-QuickO’Regan,” ‘‘The Kid Millionaire”—that sort of thing. In those days a million dollars was a heap of money.
Of him it was said that more than any other fortunate prospector he had been able to stand success. His associates were men older and wiser than he, and of proved integrity. His mine was a real producer, and he had retained a majority interest in its securities. He was an investor in Toronto real estate and he had won at that game, too. Smart financial writers envied him his luck, but, at the same time, they were compelled to admit that the kid was clever.
I never had much head for business—few newspaper reporters have, or they wouldn’t be newspaper reporters —and what attracted me to the man was the other side of him, the romantic side. There had been lively tales for a year of his youthful flamboyance, his love of display, the gay clothes he affected, the expense-noobject parties he gave at the King Edward, his extravagant generosity to his friends, his luxurious private car. These things appealed to me. I was young myself once. The smart kids know me these days as an old pokeabout, a slow-coach; but I’ve had my dreams. Yes, indeed. Dreams are about the least costly amusement I know; and the most futile.
With the rest of the boys I picked him up at the Windsor early next morning after he had breakfasted. He stood or paced up and down the rug in the sitting room of his suite, a tall striding figure, bronzed to Indian shade, wearing a gray flannel suit and a blue silk shirt with a soft turned down collar held by a gold pin fashioned as a miniature riding-crop. In his silk necktie, which exactly matched the shade of his shirt and had doubtless been made to order from the same material, a great black pearl was stuck. His shock of red gold curls fairly sparkled in the shafts of sunlight which filtered through the curtained windows.
The interview followed the usual routine of such ci oss-examinations The boys hurried through—they
were all evening paper men—but I had lots of time. Remembering my instructions, I watched the man, trying to discover what extraordinary human quality it was that he possessed which made him the individual he was.
I came at last to the conclusion that his strength lay in his tremendous capacity to superimpose himself—the Great O’Regan—upon the personalities of others. His
confidence in himself I could see was colossal, almost awe-inspiring. He commanded all situations. He was pleasant enough, filled with youth, grinning, jesting with his tormentors over the more intimate questions, not in the least pompous. Nor was he over-suave, oily. It was his gift to be amusing and companionable, friendly even, and utterly ruthless in the matter of getting his own way. I watched him direct that interview as he wished it to go, and I began vaguely to understand that not only would this mar never know when he was beaten, but that the idea of defeat was entirely foreign to his nature. I have never changed that first impression. Rather the later years have confirmed it in my mind.
The interview faded out in a mist of last minute questions and “much obligeds.” The afternoon crowd melted through the door and left the two of us alone. He looked at me quizzically and said:
“Well, what’s on your mind?”
I’ve interviewed a lot of people in my time and I can be pretty stubborn when I have to be. I know it’s bad manners, but they don’t hire newspaper reporters because they study their Book of Etiquette. So I stared back at him, and replied:
“A lot of things.”
“You didn’t have as much to say for yourself as the others, I notice. Now, why?”
“For one thing, I’m on a morning paper. MacLennan of the Press. I’m in no hurry. I’ve got all day. For another thing there’s one question that you have been asked a dozen times in the last fifteen minutes, and you haven’t answered it yet.”
“A man such as yourself doesn’t make overnight trips in a private car for the fun of it. Mr. O’Regan, why did you come to Montreal?”
He looked at me queerly for a full half minute, and I didn’t know what was coming next. A punch in the jaw, I thought, was not at all improbable; but he relaxed at last and said, simply: “Sit down.”
We sat in armchairs facing each other. He took up the conversation again.
“You said your name was MacLennan. Mic or Mac?” “Mac. I’m Scots.”
“Huh! I’d rather it was Mic; but no matter. How well do you know Montreal?”
“I was born here.”
“Nothing to do with it. So was I.”
“I know the old town fairly well. I ought to. I’ve lived here all my life.”
He paused again before he went on, talking very fast in clipped sentences. It was almost as though I were listening to a confession.
“Look here. I’ll tell you why I came here. I wouldn’t tell those other chaps. They wouldn’t believe me anyway. They’d laugh. I don’t enjoy being laughed at by anybody. I’ll tell you. I’m not afraid you’ll print it because you won’t. Your editors would think you’d faked it. Your readers would think the same. I’m going to tell you because I need somebody to give me a leg up. Maybe, you’re the lad.
“I was born right here. You know that. My father kept a saloon in the Point. You probably know that, too. My mother died when I was two years old, and as soon as I was old enough to go to school, my father sent me away. He was probably right about that. He didn’t want to have me hanging around the saloon. I’m not complaining.
“From the time I could toddle, almost until ~ ;day, I don’t suppose I’ve spent a month of my life in Montreal, although it’s my home town. In the holidays I’d visit with school chums or relatives. Sometimes my father would take a few days off and visit too. We’d talk a bit. Not much, for he was never a man for words, and he never talked about home. I got so I didn’t know whether I had a home or not. Ottawa, Quebec, Toronto, I came to know them all better than I did my home town. Actually I didn’t have a home town.
“I quit school when I was eighteen. Fed up. There was a lot of talk about silver up north and some of the bigger chaps. I knew were going to look into that during the summer. I went along. I never saw my father again. I was a hundred miles in the bush when he died, and he had been buried for two weeks before I even knew he was gone. There was no sense in my coming back then. I left everything to the lawyers.
“Now this is what I’m getting at. All my life I’ve been listening to other people rave about their home towns. At school, kids from Kingston used to beat up kids from Smiths Falls because one or the other claimed his home town was best. In camp it was the same thing. The sweetest knockdown and drag out fight you ever saw any place, started at Larder Lake because some chap from Toronto said that the stores on Yonge Street were better than the ones on St. Catherine Street.
“It all sounded crazy to me. Kid stuff, or the sort of thing you’d find in the woods where it’s lonesome as Billy-be-damned and a man’s mental balance is easily upset; but listen to this.
“Night before last, in Toronto, I was throwing a little party after the theatre. Now here was a crowd of level-headed business men, understand, rich men, some of them, successful men. As sane a crowd as you could find anywhere on earth; and I’m darned if the same debate didn’t start all over again.
“It was a Toronto-Montreal argument, and it got pretty hot. There’d been a few drinks, of course. Weight of numbers was on the Toronto side, and in the middle of it the chief advocate of the Montreal group turned to me and said, ‘Why don’t you horn into this; you’re a Montrealer, aren’t you?’
“Well, it never struck me just that way. I mean, I suppose I am a Montrealer, but what of it? I didn’t get the idea, see, so I looked at him, sort of surprised, and said:
“ ‘Oh, I guess so.’ Like that. The Toronto crowd roared and the other chap, madder than ever, gave me the sort of an eye you’d reserve for a particularly objectionable species of skunk. He said:
“‘You guess so! You guess so! Why you cold-blooded hop toad, I don’t believe you know what a home town means.’
“I’m not used to having people talk to me that way, and I was just going to knock him loose from his bridgework, when it came to me that the nut was right. I didn’t know what a home town means. That is, not the way those chaps meant it. I was born here, yes; but I didn’t have any feeling for the place. Why. I know more about Toronto or Ottawa than I do about Montreal, although both my father and my mother are lying behind the mountain.
“Now you know why I came here. I’ve been missing something all my life, and I aim to find out what it is that I’ve been missing. That’s the whole story, and if you laugh I’ll break your neck first and drop you out of that window afterward.” I stared at him for a full minute before I said:
“I’m not going to laugh.”
As a matter of fact, I never felt less like laughing in my life. While he had been talking I’d been following him closely word by word, wondering at first what it was all about, and then after I began to get it, wondering what I could do to help this lonely man, so sure of himself in everything else and yet just a bewildered homesick kid who had never had a home. It stopped me; and when I remembered what manner of man he had proved himself to be in business affairs I think I was a bit scared. I stood up. I think better on my feet.
He said, “Well, you newspaper guys know everything. How about it?”
“Wait a minute. I’m thinking.”
The Great O’Regan’s suite was on the third floor on the east side of the hotel, facing across Dominion Square. I walked to the windows and looked out into the sunshine for no particular reason except that I wanted to be in motion while I mulled the thing over in my mind. My eyes wandered across the grass and the trees. People were passing on the sidewalks below, and up and down the steps of the old Y.M.C.A. building opposite, where the Sun Life Offices are now. I brought my gaze back across the Square and my eyes focussed suddenly on the row of patent leather and nickel trimmed hacks ranged against the curb on the other side of the street, with their black and bay and gray horses white netted against the pestiferous flies. Immediately below me Smiling Jerry Flynn, his brown bowler jauntily cocked over his left eye, was energetically polishing the shining metal of his already immaculate lamps.
I let a hoot out of me and jumped away from the window into the room.
“Stay where you are,” I yelled; “I’ll be right back.”
I didn’t even stop for my hat.
'T'HERE is no continuity about this newspaper game. You meet a man one morning for the first time, whose personality or affairs for some reason arrest your interest. Ten years later you run across him again, five thousand miles from the scene of your first encounter, and he turns out to be bald-headed, married, encumbered with a large family, and utterly commonplace. The concern of the newspaper reporter is with the business of the immediate moment, and unless he is occupied with a trial, a political campaign, or something of similarly serial nature, he is compelled to leap daily from one man’s affairs to another’s, putting out of his mind with each new story the quality of that which preceded it.
So it comes that of the history of the odd friendship between the hackman, Jerry Flynn, and the millionaire, Dion O’Regan, I have no consecutive knowledge. It chanced that from time to time, after I had introduced them, I ran across one or the other, and picked up a certain impression or the outline of some incident or other concerning them. Strung together as a child strings beads, these fragmentary circumstances round out the tale, but they were widely separated incidents and not until last year was the story made complete. I write judgment on no man. Those things I know of, I offer here, and the reader must draw for himself what conclusions he may.
Ten days after I had been instrumental in bringing them together, I was called by telephone to the Great O’Regan’s suite in the Windsor. I had seen nothing of either man in the meanwhile, having been busy with my own affairs, and wishing to avoid even the appearance of mere idle curiosity, although I had plenty of that, too, inside me. In the dignified journalistic custom of those days the strange nostalgia of Dion O’Regan was none of the public’s affair, and beyond the bare fact of his continued presence in town, he had been out of the papers. He was, in fact, no story.
Crossing Dominion Square on my way to the hotel I encountered Jerry Flynn, with his brown derby over one eye as usual. He was busily engaged in a matter concerning his cushions and a whisk broom. I said:
“How goes it?”
“Why, fine, Mr. MacLennan, fine. And I thank you f’r th’ service you did me the other day. He is a grand man, this Mr. O’Regan, even if he is a fool with his money.”
“I take it you’ve been showing him the town?”
“I have that. Indeed, I have. I’ve taken the town apart for him and turned the town inside out for him, and showed him what there is in it, and what there was in it in the old days. Grand times we’ve been having. I never had a fare like him, Mr. MacLennan, and I doubt it’ll be a long time before I have a fare like him again.”
“Enjoyed himself, did he?”
“Well, now, for the first couple of days you couldn’t properly tell whether he was enjoying himself or not. He’d just sit there and listen to me gabbin’ an’ never a word out of him; but when I’d stop talkin’ he’d tell me to go on, and so, of course, I’d go on. After a while he took to askin’ me questions. There was places he made me take him back to time an’ time again. Especially in the P’int, which you can understand, him havin’ been born there, the same as myself. And I don’t mind tellin’ you that last night when he told me he was through with me f’r the time being, he was good enough to say that he had been more than pleased with what I had done for him. Not that it wasn’t a pleasure, him being so interested an’ all.”
“Through, is he?” I caught at that. It was news. “Did he pay you off?”
Jerry Flynn grinned widely.
“Indeed he did. He paid me one hundred dollars f’r th’ few days I’ve been driving him. He wanted to give me a thousand.”
I whistled. In those days a thousand dollars was a lot of money.
“Why didn’t you take it?”
Jerry Flynn stopped brushing and looked at me.
“Now, Mr. MacLennan, what would I be doing, taking a thousand dollars from the poor man f’r such a job?”
“He isn’t a poor man. He’s rich. He can stand it.”
“Wasn’t I telling you that he’s a fool with his money? No, sir, I’ve got my good name to think of, an’ if it should ever get around that Jerry Flynn had taken a thousand dollars from a man just for a few days driving around, I’d never be able to look th’ boys in th’ face again. They’d think I’d robbed him, and so I would have, too. No, sir. He paid me one hundred dollars, and I told him that was all I’d take, because it was all the job was worth; and so it is, and fine generous pay, too.”
I left him on this word, and sought out O’Regan who welcomed me heartily. “You got what you were after?”
“I’ll say I did, and I’m eternally in your debt for putting me in the way to find it. For the first time in my life I feel as though I really belong somewhere. You couldn’t understand what that means, unless you’d come to be a grown man without it.”
He handed me a sealed envelope. “There’s one thing more I want you to do for me,” he said. “See that Flynn gets this in the morning. I'm leaving for Toronto this evening. Have to; but I'll be back. This is my town, and I'm going to make it my town from now on, just_ as soon as I can fix things.”
“It’s none of my business,” I said, “but would you mind telling me what’s in this envelope?”
“As a matter of fact, it isn’t, but I don’t mind telling you. In that envelope is a cheque for one thousand dollars payable to the order of Jerry Flynn.”
. I shook my head. “I guessed as much; but it’s no use. Jerry won’t take it.” “He’s a stubborn idiot. I offered it to him in cash, but all he'd accept is a hundred.”
“Of course. He’s like that. He wouldn’t take your cheque, either, and he’d be sore at you for trying to force him to take it this way. Don’t you see that?”
“The man’s a fool. The money doesn’t mean anything to me.”
“It doesn’t to Jerry, either. You must know that by now. He’s making all the money he needs. The man’s contented. He’s happy, even. Why don’t you leave him alone?”
But he wouldn’t let it go. He took the envelope and tore it slowly into shreds without opening it; but he wouldn’t let the idea go.
“I’ll think of some way,” he said.
A month later a set of harness was delivered to Jerry Flynn’s address. The metal trimmings were solid silver and on every spot where there was room the monogram “J.F.” was engraved splendidly. Jerry hung it up in his room. Telling me of the gift, he said: “Wasn’t I remarking to you just the other day that the man’s a fool with his money? Now what would I be doing with a set of solid silver harness? Does he think I’m a duke, or what?”
DEING the man he was, Jerry Flynn joined an artillery unit in the autumn of 1914. He came back to Montreal sometime in 1919, bringing with him a limp, which was shrapnel, and a doubtful lung, which was gas.
Being the man he was, Dion O’Regan took his commission, helped to finance a battalion, proved himself magnificent in war and married a title in London amid much pomp, including an arch of swords. Thereafter he roamed Europe, poking profitable fingers into post-war industrial pies and acquiring as a result great wealth and an international reputation in matters of finance. It was the summer of 1924 before he was again visible on St. James Street, and now his vehicle was a shimmering nickel-hooded Rolls.
I saw the cabman occasionally. His manner was distinctly less joyous, and he seemed to have an air of preoccupied bewilderment, as of a man who was constantly revolving some problem in his mind. Business was not good. Taxi-cabs had outmoded the slower old style victorias, and about all that was left for the ancient Jehus who still clung obstinately to their ranks, were the trips up the Mountain, barred against motor traffic. Jerry Flynn was one of these. I had an uneasy feeling that things were not well with him. Daringly, on impulse, one afternoon I suggested something of the sort.
“What’s the use of worryin’?” he answered me. “It’s true that times are not what they were in the old days before the war; but nothing is. I’m managin’ to get along, but these tourists, now, they’re not interested in the town like they should be. Or maybe it is that they haven’t got the time to bother with it. Things are moving faster. These automobiles has got a lot to answer for.”
“You’re still a young man,” I told him, “Why don’t you go in for the taxi business?”
“No, sir!” Very promptly and emphatically. “I was born a horseman and a horseman I’ll die.”
But he didn’t. Dion O’Regan bore him down. The great man sent for me shortly after his return to Montreal, or rather, a secretarial person connected with a very important law firm which handled much of O’Regan’s business requested my presence. I waited in a solemn legalsmelling room and suddenly Dion O’Regan came through a door.
We shook hands. He was cordial enough, but his manner was commanding, more brusque than I remembered. The old blazing self-confidence was there, intensified. You could feel it, like a warm fire, radiating from the man. He wished to ask me of Jerry Flynn, and I told him what I knew and thought about the oldtimer, for I was genuinely fond of him, and wished him well.
O’Regan said: “I feared as much. He was not the man for war. But still driving a hack? Absurd! This is the automobile age—the aeroplane age, for that matter. Flynn must be made to see that. I’ll make him listen to reason.”
“He’s as independent as ever,” I warned him, remembering the episode of the thousand dollar cheque.
“Ridiculous,” said the Great O’Regan. “I’ll think of some way.”
OLD Montreal Tours, Limited, commenced operations on Victoria Day in ’twenty-five. The money which established this luxurious sight-seeing bus service was Dion O’Regan’s, and the president and managing director of the corporation was one Jeremiah Flynn.
It was, of course, O’Regan’s idea. He outlined it to me in an interview one day, the characteristic clipped sentences issuing staccato from his lips.
“Flynn,” he said, “has one outstanding talent. He knows Montreal. All of it. Old and new. And he can talk about it. We’re getting to be a tourist centre. The amount of money spent in Canada by tourists every summer is’ tremendous. It will be still greater in years to come. I am simply making it possible for Flynn to capitalize his talent for the town. We will have regular classes of announcers. It will be his job to tell them what he knows, make them feel the place, as he feels it. He can do it. I think he will never be wealthy, because he has no sense in business matters. But at least this thing will put him in comfortable circumstances and make it unnecessary for him to sit on the box of an out-of-date hack in all sorts of weather. That’s all there is to it.’’ I congratulated Jerry, who looked oddly out of place in his new broad-beamed mahogany chair, behind the wide expanse of a glass-topped mahogany desk. He smiled, and was embarrassed.
“Mr. O’Regan is a great man,” he said. “You will remember that I told you that much many years ago, when I first met him. I suppose it’s right, too, what he says. Few folks care to drive behind horses any more. ’Tis all automobiles these days and a man’s a fool to go against the times.”
He paused, and then made a remark at which I laughed heartily.
“There’s one thing,” he said. “In this job I’ve got, I don’t have to run one of the darn things.”
Experts in such matters, acting under O’Regan’s orders, attended to the details of organization, whipped Jerry’s simple patter about the town in shape for him, arranged to hire a squad of presentable young chaps—many of them college students whom he instructed religiously in the history of the city, aided by large scale plans and a huge relief map of the Island which hung on the walls of his office. The thing was skilfully done, and on the night of the twenty-third of May, Dion O’Regan gave a dinner at which he made a speech praising Jerry Flynn for his love of his native town, scolding him for his simplicity of mind, and announcing to the world that he, Dion O’Regan, was a good friend of Jerry Flynn, and would continue to be so for all time, by reason of the long-abiding affection which existed between them. As a token of which he gave the ex-cabman a platinum-cased, diamond-encrusted watch, with chain and knife to match, and suitably inscribed. What may be the amount of a king’s ransom in actual cash, I do not know, but the bauble must have cost at least that.
THEREAFTER I saw Jerry Flynn infrequently. He was no longer in my daily orbit and I had no especial reason to look him up. The usual town gossip reached me concerning him. He was established in a bachelor suite in the newest and most expensive apartment mansion. He was seen around a lot with the young, high stepping sporting set. He was playing the market. His business, under the expert guidance of O’Regan’s picked men, was prospering. He had bought out two rival concerns and cornered the tourist sight-seeing market.
I saw him at Blue Bonnets one Saturday afternoon. He was in the paddock observing shrewdly the paces of the entries for the next race as they were walked around. He greeted me with a heartiness that was almost enthusiasm. He was looking well and I told him so. Prosperity shone from his smartly tailored clothes and sparkled from the little finger of his left hand. The diamond was so large that I couldn’t help glancing at it. He chuckled.
“I’m wearing diamonds, now, Mac,” he said; “thanks to O’Regan, and thanks to you who introduced me to him. Sure, business is good. The town’s full of suckers who fail for my line. Say, you’re a newspaper guy; who was that bozo who said there was one born every minute? He was wrong, kid, he was wrong. The percentage is higher than that. Away higher!”
He thrust his arm through mine as we walked toward the clubhouse. His manner was, I thought, a trifle too loud, too familiar, but that might have been because I could not help contrasting it with the simple code of the Jerry Flynn I had formerly known.
He offered me a cigar from a gold case in which flashed a magnificent diamond, lighted one himself, and went on:
“I was thinking about you the other day. Something came up that reminded me of the first time I met O’Regan. Remember? The big boob offered me a cheque for a grand for taking him around town and showing him the sights. He was a sap in those days, Mac. But I was a bigger one. Gosh! D’y’ remember? I turned him down cold. Holy smoke! What a sucker I must have been !”
I got away as soon as I could, feeling uncomfortable somewhere inside me without quite knowing why.
A week later a vague rumor reached me about a nasty scene in an uptown club of no particular standing. The story was that somebody had called Dion O’Regan a four fiusher and Jerry Flynn had promptly knocked the upstart cold.
It was sometime during the following winter that I next encountered Flynn. He was standing on Dominion Square feeding sugar to a horse harnessed to one of those little red sleighs which are characteristic of Montreal when the snow is on the gfjund.
“Remember him?” he said, nodding toward the animal nuzzling his fur-clad arm. “That’s old Sligo. I used to own him, but when I quit, I sold him to Bill here. Going West? I’ll take you out.” We settled in the soft cushions of a very modern limousine driven by a smart youngster in a blue semi-uniform, and he surprised me by saying suddenly:
“Say, d’ you know what I’m goin’ to do Sunday? I’m going to take Bill’s cab an’ drive that old Sligo horse of mine up to the top of the mountain an’ back. Just for fun. Want to come along?”
I told him, quite honestly, that there was nothing I would like better, and we made the date. It wasn’t kept. It never will be kept.
The next day was Friday, and aiound midnight a friendly detective for whom I do an occasional favor telephoned me. Said he:
“If you want to see some fun, be up at Le Chat Noir in fifteen minutes.”
“A raid?” I asked.
“Use your nut to think with,” he told me. So I knew that it was a raid.
This place, Le Chat Noir, was discreetly tucked away in the middle of a not too remote uptown block. It was a night club and it was said that upon an upper floor, behind locked doors, you might, if properly introduced, gamble freely with dice, at roulette, or through that fullblooded game of chance which is called faro; and even in broad-minded Montreal, that is not legal.
As I entered Le Chat Noir that evening, I was greeted, but not welcomed, by the proprietor, a little swarthy man in too tight evening clothes. This man was gravely agitated. Sweat glistened on his dark forehead and he rubbed his hands one against the other as though he would grind the skin from his palms. From these signs I took it that my friends from Police Headquarters had beaten me to the rendezvous, and was disappointed.
But the little man, whom I knew as Sebastian and by no other name, screamed hysterically when he saw me, and running forward on tiptoes laid his moist palms against my chest and pushed against me. At the top of his shrill silly voice he screamed:
“Damn reporter! Go away. I do not want you. Go away, damn reporter !” So I knew this was no ordinary raid.
Then I saw in an anteroom beside the front door a group of people who were bending over something which lay on a couch. And, in the centre of this group there was a woman, who was pawing at the thing which lay on the couch and moaning over and over again.
“I didn’t do it. The old fool’s foot slipped. He was drunk. I didn’t do it. The old fool’s foot slipped. He was drunk.”
A man with a grave face came from the anteroom dusting his hands with a white linen handkerchief. This man I knew. He was a physician. He said to me, professionally casual:
“He’s dead. Died instantly. Broke his neck. Say, keep my name out of it, like a good fellow, won’t you?”
I said: “Who is it?”
“Jerry Flynn. He fell down the stairs.” I shouldered the pushing, screaming Sebastian aside and made my way to the couch. It was Jerry Flynn. The woman —I knew her too—rose as I shoved into the room and grasped her right hand in both mine, squeezing hard.
She shrieked. “Oh! You hurt me.”
“I meant to,” I said, and dragged from her clutching greedy fingers the watch which the Great O’Regan had given to Smiling Jerry Flynn on the magnificent occasion which marked the inauguration of Old Montreal Tours, Limited.
It was then that the raiding squad arrived. But I went at once to a telephone booth to inform my office of the thing that had happened.