A tale of a triumph in hockey and the love of a valiant lady
OLD MRS. QUINN answered the big hockey player’s ring, and informed him that a gentleman awaited him in his rooms.
“Steve—Sigurd—Stefanson thanked her amiably enough as he shook the snow off his coat; but he was still so incensed that he found it difficult to be civil to the poker-faced visitor whom he found upstairs, idly swinging a black velours hat on his index finger. Said Steve sarcastically: “They told me a gentleman was waiting for me, Tony.”
“Mistake, Steve,” smiled the other stonily. Might as well humor the blonde giant, considering the reason of his visit. What was biting the big boob anyway? H’m —must have been that dame, Laura Turner, he had seen leaving the rink with “Devil” Kerrigan, of the American Eagles. Tony Costello knew that Steve was badly bitten there. In fact, Tony made a point of knowing a good deal about professional hockey players. It was part of his stock-in-trade.
“What’s the lay now, Tony? You trying to fix the series?” enquired Steve.
The gambler looked at him in mock deprecation and said, “You don’t suppose we’d stoop to such low down . ”
“You don’t have to stoop. No snake can get much lower than its belly.”
Tony apparently considered it appropriate to change the subject. “Save your bouquets for your own grand retirement. You’re about through, Stevey boy, and you know it. Just got a year’s contract last time, didn’t you? And you’ve been wearing the bench smooth all winter subbing for Granger. In fact, if he hadn’t got that skate in the ankle tonight, you’d probably never have played again. Well, you happen to be in luck, because Granger’s accident gives you a chance to pick up a little extra cash. Just at the end of your career too—very convenient.”
“Yes—play-off share, about fifteen hundred,” mumbled Steve, absently brooding on Laura.
“Don’t be crazy all your life. Fifteen hundred dollars!” sneered Tony. “I’m talking real money. It’s almost a sure thing that the Hawks and the Eagles are going through to the play-offs. And the dopesters have got it that the Eagles can’t win. So, for that reason, we’re getting odds of three to one on them. And a little careless play on the Hawks’ left defense is worth ten thousand to that player,” concluded Tony abruptly, eyeing Steve through narrowed lids.
Steve considered throwing him downstairs, decided that he wasn’t worth the effort and replied: “Nothing doing.”
“They weren’t far wrong when they called you the Dumb Swede, were they, Steve?” pursued Tony. “What will you do next year? Sell insurance . . . cars? Y-e-es,” he drawled sagely, “I know. Half the also-rans in the showrooms are ex-hockey stars. Well, I’m offering you more than three years’ salary. And who’ll be any the wiser? You’ve been going down hill, so the fans and directors will think it’s natural enough.”
Steve got up, yawned, and commenced to take off his coat. And Tony was needlessly alarmed. Steve merely remarked, “I’m going to bed, Tony. Good night!”
“Well, of all the ruddy fools! Anyhow, you know where to find me, in case you change your mind.”
'Y\7’HEN Tony had left, Steve sat down to consider * ’ his words. In his innocent blue eyes, eloquent of ancient Norse ancestry, was a sad boyish smile as he remembered the scribes’ verdict: “Steve’s through. Pro hockey burns ’em out young.” Of course, he wasn’t as fiery as this new crop of school kids whose salaries were mooted in five figures instead of the paltry four of the old guard. And his tired body had reason to know that twelve years of it is no rejuvenating process. No, Tony wasn’t far wrong. And he was of a different breed to these school kids—of the breed of Bad Joe Hill, Durocher Maloney—all gone and forgotten now—the breed of hard-spending, tough-playing ice warriors, as prodigal as these youngsters were shrewd. Why, it was rumored that young Granger was going to marry the daughter of a millionaire broker! And the same kid had made a small fortune out of the Coliseum buffet and peanut concessions which he had demanded as part of his contract! The boyish smile changed to mild bewilderment. H’m . . it was beyond Steve.
He made his way downstairs and begged of Mrs. Quinn: “Mother, can I have a glass of milk?” So that they were gossiping in the kitchen, Steve sitting on the end of the table and the old lady knitting in a rocking chair when Mary came in.
Mary Quinn’s grey eyes shone like pearls as she exclaimed: “Oh, it was so good to see you in action again tonight, Steve. And it’s all bunk what the papers have been saying about your being through. You were just good enough to stop the Eagles from tying it up, in spite of the fact that they sent their whole team up the ice in the last five minutes.”
“Thanks, Mary,” grinned Steve through a mouthful of sponge cake. “Kind of good to get into it again. Granger’s out for the rest of the season . .”
“So you’ll be playing in the finals!” Mary interrupted with exulting enthusiasm.
“Uh-huh, agreed Steve soberly. He had begun to brood on Laura and “Devil” Kerrigan again.
Mary, knowing him like a book, divined that something was wrong.
“Mother,” she manoeuvred, “you should have been in bed an hour ago. Remember what the doctor said.” “But you know I can’t sleep till you’re in, my dear,” defended the old lady as she gathered up her knitting.
When she was gone, Mary turned to Steve and demanded, “Now, Steve, what’s the matter?”
“Eh?” He turned a pair of astonished light-blue eyes on her and ruminated vaguely on how different she was from Laura—Mary with her hair like weaving flame, her keen oval face glowing from the frost; and, in striking contrast, her cool grey eyes. Yes, loveliness of an entirely different sort to Laura’s suave, Gallic beauty.
Mary persisted. “Oh, I know something’s bothering you, Laura?” she hazarded.
Steve nodded his head.
If Mary winced she hid it, giving vent only to a little frown as she queried: “Kerrigan?”
“Nothing I can do then, I suppose.”
“ ’Fraid not, little sister.” And to Steve that’s all she was—an adoring little sister who looked after him when he was sick or hurt, and in whom he had confided to some extent in his ingenuous way.
But to Mary the mildly affectionate term had become as bitter as hemlock. Sick to death of it, she was stung to quick speech. “You great big mooning idiot, you ! Can’t you see she’s been gold-digging on you for three years? And you excusing her, saying you couldn’t support her on your salary. Why, any reasonable girl would have married you on less than that. I—I could even have saved money for you.”
“Holdon—hold on now ...”
“I won’t!” Mary’s eyes gleamed like burnished silver. “You hear what I’ve got to say. Then go and sleep on it. When she came back from New York there was no “Devil” Kerrigan to cabaret her and buy her Marchioness lingerie—give her promenade seats for all the games. And you were soft enough to fall for it. There’s talk of Kerrigan being traded to the Hawks here next year. Can’t you see her game? She thinks you’re through. So she’s lining up Kerrigan again for next season.” Mary had given vent to her irritation far more than she had intended. Her outburst had left her nearly speechless, so that she could only stutter, “G-Good night, Steve,” and leave him to turn out the light.
QTEVE was furious. What right had she to criticize ^ Laura? The poor girl couldn’t be expected to live on his three thousand five hundred! Why, golly! she was only earning thirty dollars a week and it didn’t pay half her bills as it was. Several times he had made it up for her. And why shouldn’t Kerrigan see her occasionally? Old friend, wasn’t he? But all Steve’s indignant defense of her could not calm his uneasy feeling on that point.
And while he turned restlessly about in bed, the “poor girl” was being driven uptown from the station in Tony Costello’s car, after seeing Kerrigan off for Ottawa. Tony had not forgotten her rendezvous with the American and after his fruitless offer to Steve he was trying other tactics. He had driven like mad to thé station, run into the concourse like a late comer seeing a friend away, and knocked Laura’s vanity bag out of her hand so deftly that it had all the appearance of an innocent accident. After apologizing profusely enough to gain a smile of forgiveness he enquired guilelessly: “Er—Miss Turner? Friend of Steve Stefanson’s, aren’t you?”
“Why, yes.” Laura’s sudden manifest pleasure could be accounted for by the fact that she had just recognized Tony as the gambler who was reputedly so rich. And money was Laura’s lodestar.
“Thought I wasn’t mistaken. Steve’s also a very good friend of mine. Now the least I can do is to drive you uptown after being so clumsy.”
“That will be nice. I was just going to call a taxi,” said Laura, crumpling a street-car ticket in her hand and dropping it surreptitiously behind her.
“Just been talking to Steve, as a matter of fact,” began Tony when they drove away from the curb. “He was telling me that he just refused an offer from a group of gamblers—ten thousand dollars, I think he said—to cook the finals so that the Eagles win.”
Laura almost sneered: “The big fool !” Aloud she said: “Is that so?” at loss for a moment as to how to handle this shrewd man adroitly enough for her own ends.
“Yes. Pretty stiff temptation when you consider that his prospects aren’t so good. If I’d been in his shoes I’m afraid I wouldn’t have had the stamina to refuse under the circumstances. Pretty staunch fellow, Steve.”
While he talked, Laura was instinctively aware, as Tony had hoped she would be that he had made the offer. So Steve’s refusal had led to this cleverly arranged encounter. She wondered what there might be in it for her besides the ten thousand to pry loose from Steve. With a sly sidelong glance she asked: “Did you make that offer, Mr. Costello?”
“Not so dumb, are you?” grinned Tony. “And if he changes his mind you could confidently expect a cheque for a thousand in your mail next morning.”
. “Then you can drop me at the first drug store where there’s a pay phone.”
“O.K.” and “Good luck,” as they drew up to one.
'Y\7’AKED out of a half sleep, it took Mary some ’ ^ moments to realize that the phone was ringing; so that when ultimately she stood before it, she was astonished, even irritated, at the impatience of the voice. And a frown drove the languor of drowsiness from her pretty face as she went up to knock on Steve’s door.
“Eh . . . uh . . . what’s that?” came'the muffled tones from within. Then, “Awright.”
In her room again, Mary heard his slippered feet trailing past; heard him ascend the stairs again later; and then after some minutes heard him padding down again. Silence, pierced by the shrill tremor of the doorbell.
Mary didn’t have to guess at the identity of the midnight visitor. She had heard Laura’s voice over the phone too often for that. Now what on earth . . . No! decided Mary, she would not eavesdrop. Determinedly she pulled the eiderdown over her head, and as quickly pulled it off again. Throwing a negligee about her shoulders, she crept guiltily to the top of the stairs to listen.
Standing in the hall, with her arms thrown about Steve’s neck, Laura was declaiming wildly against “Devil” Kerrigan with excellent mock distress. “I—I shouldn’t have gone out with him, Stevey . . . stayed with my great big boy. He insulted me . . . oh! . .
“He did, did he? Wait till the play-offs. I’ve always played a clean game, but I’ll split his head open for that.”
“Oh, no!” There was real concern for Kerrigan in her tone. But Steve was too artless to see it. “Er. . .you’ll get into trouble, darling. You mustn’t do it. Promise me . . . please!”
“All right, honey. But he’ll know he’s not been picking violets. Look, sweetheart, this just proves what I’ve been saying all along—that you and me were meant for each other. When’re we going to get married?”
Mary caught her breath, then vibrated angrily as Laura murmured: “Oh, Stevey, dear, if only your prospects were better—or you had, say, ten thousand or so put away, we could live on that for a year or so till you found something better.” Neither Mary nor Steve could see the cunning behind Laura’s downcast eyes.
“Huh !” exclaimed Steve “A guy offered me that much tonight to crook the series.”
“But you wouldn’t do that, Stevey, dear,” beseeched Laura cleverly.
“Oh, no,” half-heartedly, as he feasted on Laura’s beauty.
“Oh, but I wish you did have a few thousand for us to lean on. Then I’d marry you as soon as the play-offs were over.” She kissed him passionately before adding: “I love you so, Stevey darling.” Tony Costello . . . one thousand dollars! Perhaps more, if she could separate it from Steve.
Silence—save for some kissing which was agonizing to Mary.
At length, very haltingly, Steve said something about a few hundred dollars that might be converted into a few thousand by a benevolent broker friend of his who had promised to put him in on the ground floor of a stock that was bound to go bullish in the near future. The broker would let him have a large block on a very slim margin. Thus with the proceeds and his play-off share they could be fairly secure.
Laura seemed radiant with hope, although to herself she was smiling superciliously. She had a suspicion that the broker’s name was Costello.
And she wasn’t far wrong. After she left, Steve stood at the foot of the stairs debating madly with himself, biting his thumbnail. Once he made a step toward the phone—and shamefacedly retreated from it. After desperate deliberation, though, he snatched the receiver. He had to call several night clubs before he asked: “That you, Tony? Uh-huh Steve. Listen, I’ll talk turkey to you about that now. Uh-huh. Changed my mind. But look, I’m taking no chances. I want that cash in bills—no cheques—and I want it before the play-offs, understand?
Five thousand now and the balance afterward? Say! Nothing doing! How do I know there’s going to be any balance? No, siree! . . . Well, that’s more like it. When do I get the eight thousand? .
All right, see you in the morning—and no monkey business about the other two, see? ... All right, s’long.”
Mary, raging tearfully behind her bedroom door, heard him come up with heavy tread, heard his big powerful hand rasp as with resin on the top newel post, knew her own hand to be woefully impotent as it rested on the doorknob; so she crept beneath the covers to weep through the dawn and vow that she would not see the play-offs.
IN GOTHAM the Americans won two games, but at home the Hawks tied it up with two wins, leaving a sudden-death game to decide the championship. So that the cynic in the street was sneering; “The old game of tiddlumbuck. Stretch it out to the full fivq games. The dear public’s got lots of money.”
Whereas Tony was saying very pointedly to Steve in the latter’s rooms; “You had all kinds of chances to let them through on your side of the defense tonight. They were playing through you for the weak sister. And if they’d won, the series would have been over. Are you crazy—or double-crossing? It doesn’t matter which, however, because you’re going for one sweet ride if they don’t win the next game. Do you get me?” With words which pierced Steve’s dulled senses like the steely glint in Tony’s eyes. “We don’t let anyone toss away a fortune for us and live in peace afterward. It’s rather R.I.P., if your Latin’s not too rusty, Steve. See what I mean?” ominously.
Steve nodded dumbly.
“Good,” concluded Tony in a dangerously soft voice.
He left Steve to brood in a stupor, induced by the withering struggles of the past two weeks. Battered and bruised almost beyond human endurance, his mental processes had been stifled to such an extent in the game just concluded that he was merely obeying his instincts to play straight hockey—no room for cunning counter-contrivance in that brain. Golly! At thirty he could have stood twice as much without being more than normally tired.
He shook his head in bewilderment like a flogged St. Bernard, slumped on the bed exhausted in spirit as well as in body; and fitfully, as a man on the rack, slept the night through fully dressed.
Nor was a day’s respite of much use to him. On the Thursday night he was drawn and pale as he laced on his skates in the fetid dressing room. And for once in his life the manly stench of virile bodies, the acrid odor of liniment, and stale, sweaty, war-worn togs nauseated him. So that as soon as he had dressed, he went out through the crowd of gossiping players, the self-important-looking directors who filled the room with cigar smoke, and out into the corridor where he stood yawning nervously, stretching his arms and wondering at the queer hollow feeling in the pit of his stomach. Why, he was like a high-school kid in his first league fixture!
“All out,” sounded the curt voice of Hyslop, the manager. And Steve clumped down the corridor to the gate that led into the brilliant glare of the arena.
“Attaboy, Steve. You show ’em, big boy,” screamed individuals above the thundering roar of fifteen thousand voices. “Lotta steam left yet, Stevey. You’ll pull ’em through.” Steve smiled sardonically into his teeth as he glided nonchalantly down toward the nets to pair up with his running mate, while the forwards practised combination on them. Suddenly, he caught sight of Laura in a seat at the rail, and three seats beyond her, Mary. Tickets that he’d given them. He skated over to Laura.
She looked at him as though she would say more than she dare. “Do your stuff, Steve,” was all she said, though, beyond some inconsequential chatter. But she meant much that Steve failed to perceive.
He skated down the boards in response to Mary’s beckoning finger. “Golly, you look like a million dollars tonight, Mary!”
“Do I?” with eyes that shone with pleasure despite the expression of feigned astonishment at Steve’s compliment. As quickly, however, her face became grave; she reached out her hand to touch his arm timidly. “You will win tonight, Steve?” she reiterated, pleadingly.
“Try our darndest, Mary,” lied Steve.
“Please!” Mary tried to infuse him with moral courage from the direct stare of her keen grey eyes. But the referee’s whistle broke the spell. Steve skated out to centre ice with the teams to listen indifferently to the hoary peroration. There was something disturbing in Mary’s words. What did she know? All through the playing of the “King” and “The Star Spangled Banner” Steve frowned, puzzling. But again the referee’s whistle interrupted as the puck was cast between the sticks of the two centres, poised like panthers.
THROUGH the Canadian’s feet slid the puck. The Eagle skirted him like a flash and bore down on Steve. The American wings streaked along the boards flanking him, alert for a pass. But they were too diligently covered by the Canadians. So the Eagle centre, on nearing the defense, faked a pass and swerved to round Steve on the outside. Steve almost ran on his toes to reach him, but seemed to stumble halfway where he crashed to the ice. Kind of clever, he congratulated himself as he lay prone; and his selfestimation was confirmed by a mammoth groan from the crowd which almost drowned out the delirious shrieks of a small band of supporters from Gotham. Steve looked up to see the red lamp flash. And though he was still proud of his subterfuge, he was somewhat troubled at the frown in his defense mate’s face as the latter helped him to his feet, gruffly consoling him.
Somewhere up in the amphitheatre a figure in a black velours hat grinned like a satyr.
Steve went back to the net and rubbed his skates against the iron post. “Too sharp,” he lied to the blank-faced goalkeeper.
Some flip debutante in a box shrilled: “How much were you paid for that, Stefanson?” Steve’s face was a study.
But from behind the wire barricades, the millionaires—those hard-bitten fans who stand twelve hours for the fifty-cent tickets and go without lunch for the rest of the week—those bitter critics shouted: “ ’S all right, Steve. We’re wit yuh. Yuh won’t let th’ ole gang down.”
Steve went back to his place utterly ashamed. Thenceforth the words rang in his ears like an appeal for mercy: “Yuh won’t let th’ ole gang down.” For these were the lads who had seldom panned him—been patient, even sympathetic, as he had slowed up in the past year. And he had deliberately betrayed them.
During two periods of the tightest hockey that any final had ever produced, he was utterly miserable. Despite which, he still managed to stall convincingly. Although after that goal it was hardly necessary—he felt too exhausted to be much of a menace to the Americans. But the Canadian forwards, back-checking like fiends, managed to offset his mediocrity to a great extent.
The millionaires maintained a sullen silence, leaving the debutante to voice their thoughts for them. “You’re through, Stefanson!” Hyslop, the manager, knew it too; yet he was almost afraid to let a green recruit replace him. Steve knew it, and smiled to think that his stalling had a fairly genuine aspect by now. His smile faded with the opening of the third period, however.
The Americans had been playing grim defensive hockey, holding desperately to their one goal lead, when Steve’s partner was penalized for tripping. Then it was that the Americans sent up two forwards in search of a second goal to make their lead doubly secure. A Canadian wing had fallen back to pair with Steve when the American forwards broke away cleanly, converging on the defense with a dangerous short passing bout.
TN ITS state of coma Steve’s brain
would not function for Tony at all. Instead it was driven automatically by twelve years of canny hockey. He made as though to spread the defense and cope with the threat, so that the American centre disregarded his wings to knife through the opening. But Steve had outguessed him. Back at him like a rocket he body-checked the puck carrier savagely and whipped the puck out to one of his own wings, who were clear away before the Eagles had time to recover themselves In the mêlée around the American goal a Canadian flipped the puck into the net to tie the game. Steve’s jaw dropped.
Instantaneously, the great auditorium went mad. Programmes, hats, canes soared toward the girders. And the millionaires showered confetti over all and sundry—confetti made from thousands of newspapers torn to shreds.
But among the raving throng a man in a black velours hat sat silent, while his lips set in a vicious thin line.
Although they were screaming the name of the forward who had scored the goal, Steve knew only too well that his own skill had been largely responsible for it. And he marvelled vaguely at himself at one moment to let down, and in the next to bring off some brilliant coup; vacillating in a sea of contrary impulses— Tony, Laura, the millionaires, Mary. Oh, his brain was wretchedly weary. And his body? Golly! He could sleep on the ice.
And when his team-mate, soon after, had chased a lone American into a corner, Steve found himself again mechanically impelled to action, taking the pass-out and careening down the ice on a crusade of his own. Another American forward, attempting to poke-check him, was too late. But when he reached the defense, Kerrigan and his partner made no mistake. They sandwiched the tired figure unmercifully; and Kerrigan, spinning round with the impact, slashed Steve across the thighs, thereby requiting old spites.
Steve saw red, staggered to his feet, and was on the “Devil” with arms lashing out murderously. Kerrigan lost no time in retaliation; so the referee banished both to the penalty box, where they continued the feud verbally.
“Lissen, you back number,” threatened Kerrigan, “nex’ time you come through, you’re goin’ to get a nice li’l tap on the head, see? Steal my women, heh?”
“Say!” snarled Steve, “Cut it. She’s a sight too good for you. And I’ll do any head-splitting that’s to be done. Still got to settle with you for insulting her . .
“Who? Me?” laughed Kerrigan, unwholesomely. “Insult her! ... it can’t be done. She’s too tough,” he sneered. “I know that baby.”
Infuriated, Steve was at him again and the timekeepers had to intervene, relegating them to opposite corners of the box. Steve rested his tired head on his arms and brooded stupidly on the encounter. He’d show this lousy New Yorker. Talk like that about Laura . . .
Say !... An astounding idea besieged him . . .
W/HEN he stepped on to the ice again, * * his mind was made up, though whether his body would respond was an entirely different question. The short respite had merely emphasized his futile physical state. His thighs, from Kerrigan’s stick, were numb, and the jolt he had received had left every nerve in his body devastatingly raw.
Hyslop, noting the sluggish figure, was desperate, and warned the recruit for play. But before he could recall Steve, an amazing incident occurred. Steve again took the puck at his net and started lumberingly toward the other end. The Eagle forwards, sensing his condition, didn’t bother to poke-check. They essayed to body-check him into submission. To their great surprise they were spun off the great awkwardly swaying figure, inexorable as a juggernaut—and twice as senseless. On to the defense be lurched, and, unable to draw on his subtleties any more, he ploughed straight in. Perceiving the dumb fury in Steve’s eyes, they were ready for him with drastic measures, though hardly prepared for the grinding impact that Steve’s nerve-taut body delivered. They quavered, partly staggered, but not long enough to give him much headway. And to make sure of him, Kerrigan’s team-mate hooked his stick about the tired legs.
Steve thudded to the ice and lay motionless, dazedly realizing that he had failed to break the tie; and when the offender had been penalized, he rose unsteadily to his feet to skate back amid the uncanny hush which succeeded the jeers cf the American defense player. Then a crescendo of wild cheering broke loose as the sensation of Steve’s pluck came home to them. Steve scarcely heard it. Hyslop did, however, and he placed a restraining hand upon the recruit, pushing him back into his seat.
A man in the crowd pulled a black velours hat down fiercely over his eyes.
In the subsequent face-off, the Eagle centre again tricked the Canadian and shot the puck the full length of the ice to kill time amid a roar of booing and catcalls, which were stilled in tense awe as Steve again took the disc. And as he lurched drunkenly down the ice, the decision reached in the penalty box seeped through his half-paralyzed senses—to win this game, that was his Calvary; to keep faith with the millionaires and with his team; to teach that lousy New Yorker a lesson for insulting Laura; and to banish forever the fear and suspicion that lurked in Mary’s eyes, thus requiting the affront to her comradeship. Tony? There was cause for abject fear there! But he had a plan . . .
Not without reason, Steve knew it was his last hockey game—his last bid for a goal perhaps. And the thought of Laura and Kerrigan, the cruel drubbing received at the hands of. the latter tonight, gave a desperate strength to his legs. Like an old Viking he swept through the forwards; like a raging berserk, he bore down relentlessly on Kerrigan and a wing who bad fallen back. Again they set to sandwich him, but with jaws clenched he came at them like an avalanche, trickled the puck through Kerrigan’s feet ánd braced himself. The shock drove the wind out of him. But he split the defense wide open, and was following with half-seeing eyes, the course of the slow-moving puck, when Kerrigan slashed with all his might to cut his feet from under him just as the goalkeeper rushed out to clear. Steve went down with a half groan, but his dulled eyes were still on that hazy black disc; and as the goalkeeper swung, Steve, still prone, reached till his arm must leave its socket, beat him to it and poked the puck over the line.
SWALLOWING hard, his team-mates, pulled him to his feet, and Hyslop shoved the recruit out roughly with a hand that trembled, while with the other he signalled for tight defensive hockey. And when Steve sank on to the bench, the grizzled manager pulled a blanket over him and sat with his arm about the big shuddering figure.
At the final bell, Steve skated slowly over to Laura.
“Listen, honey,” he smiled wearily, “how about you and me eloping tonight— take the midnight train—I’ve got enough dough now, you know. Let’s go south for a month or so,” he implored anxiously, recalling his plan to pay Tony in his own coin for trying to make a traitor out of him—pay him by disappearing with Laura with the help of the gambler’s own money—out of reach of his vindictiveness.
“Yes, you’d better get out of town,” cut in Laura acidly, “but without me. Are you crazy? I wouldn’t be in your shoes for a million when Tony gets hold of you.” With that she swung away, leaving him stupefied.
Mary, on the other hand, having run toward Steve to congratulate him when he crossed the ice, stood horror-stricken at what she had overheard. “Steve!” she whispered fearfully, “what is it?” “Nothing,” queerly.
“Don’t lie, now. Oh!” as she remembered the telephone conversation she had overheard. And it dawned on her awestricken mind that' he had vindicated himself at the risk of —oh, anything! “Steve,” she commanded, “go and get dressed. I’ll have a taxi waiting for you.” He nodded gratefully, and all the way to the dressing room he marvelled that her lovely face could grow so pale—for him?
In the cab he told her the story which she had largely surmised. “But,” she offered her solution, “give Costello back his money.”
Steve laughed ironically. “It isn’t the money he’s paid me, Mary. It’s the enormous amount he’s lost in bets.” “Then . . . then . . . I guess you’d better go away, Steve,” forlornly. “I’ll go to the station with you and see you off.” Mary had a dim fear that he might be waylaid. Though what she could do to protect him she hadn’t the faintest idea.
Steve seized her hands gratefully. “Will you? Golly! That’ll help.” And he bent his head impulsively to kiss the small hands he held.
And just as impulsively Mary pulled the big tired head down against her breast and cried: “Oh, Steve, Steve!” in tones that made him sit up and peer at her.
But the answer was postponed by forces beyond Mary’s control. They were in a dark street when another machine, seemingly speeding up to pass them, cut across their fenders; so that their driver, cursing volubly, was forced to the curb amid a screaming of brakes and a crash as of shattered wheel spokes.
Two figures sprang from the other machine and wrenched open Steve’s door. “Come awn out of it, Stefanson,” grated one, as he reached for Steve’s arm. “You gotta apologize to Tony. Fact, y’re going fer one sweet ride jus’ like he told yuh.” The thug, as big as Steve and ten times more alive, had little trouble in dragging the big hockey player out.
The other one slammed the door and ordered the driver: “Now, bo, you just beat it wid de jane and fergit what yuh seen. On yer way.”
“But my spokes are bust,” argued the driver.
“On yer way anyhow,” ordered the other. The driver moved on uncertainly a few paces. “You, too,” added the thug to Mary, who had leapt from the cab. But Mary didn’t see eye to eye with Tony’s avengers. She began to pummel Steve’s captor ineffectually, albeit her screams were another thing. The ruffian struck her across the mouth to quiet her, which brought a feeble struggle from Steve, who in turn was silenced by a savage blow to the jaw. Mary came back at him again, but this time was struck aside by the second thug while his mate dragged Steve’s inert figure toward the door of their running motor. By the time he had disposed of Mary, however, he turned at a shout from his fellow to see their car tearing away in second to the sound of ripping calico . . .
rT"'HE morning papers carried in flaring headlines:
GIRL AND TAXI DRIVER SAVE HOCKEY PLAYER
“Steve” Stefanson, hero of last night’s hockey game, was assaulted by thugs in Princess Street on his way home from the match . . . Miss Mary Quinn his companion, as a result of defending him, is in St. Michael’s Hospital with bruised face and fractured ribs . . .
Joe Leduc, their taxi driver, took a heady part in the rescue. While Miss Quinn hindered the thugs, he drove off in their car (his own having suffered a smashed wheel) and brought the police to the scene. But the assailants, apparently anticipating police interference from Leduc’s smart manoeuvre, had abandoned Stefanson and disappeared.
Questioned as to his version, Leduc replied: “I was in the millionaires section at the Coliseum last night. And do you think I was going to let those guys get away with beating Steve up after the way he came through in the game? But, say, you got to hand it to that girl the way she piled into those birds. She sure gave me one sweet chance to swipe their bus ...”
No motive has yet been discovered for the attack, but . . .
No motive ever was. The affair was quickly hushed up. The directors saw to that when they wormed the truth out of Steve. And after severe admonishment, they discussed with him the post of assistant to Hyslop for the ensuing year.
Shortly after the meeting, a director showed Steve an item in a New York paper which read in part:
. . . was found murdered in the Neptune Hotel near the docks. In his pocket was a ticket for South America. The wise ones aver that Tony lost a fortune in the recent hockey play-offs, and has never paid up. The police are searching for creditors on the assumption that they can throw some light on the situation . . .
Steve shoved the paper in his pocket and excitedly called for a cab to drive him to the hospital, where he discovered the answer to the question that had puzzled him in the taxi that night. He almost wept when he saw the bruises on Mary’s lovely face. He knelt down beside her, asking breathlessly: “What—what did you do it for, Mary?”
Mary decided that if he was going to be a dumb Swede all his life, it was time she inspired him with some intelligence. “Do you suppose it was because I hated you, Steve, you dear idiot?”
A startling revelation descended on Steve. He took an extremely deep breath, exclaimed: “Golly!” and bent over to kiss her till she called for mercy for the bruises.