What It Takes Is Strategy
FRANK MANN HARRIS
NOW, OF COURSE, Clam is by no means his real name. His mother, who was always a romanticsort of a dame with a yen for poetry and such, goes into a huddle with herself to pick out a flossy tag for him and gets him christened Shelley Keats, no less; so the kids at school, after experimenting round with Hardshell and Skeets and the like, finally label him Clam— short for Clamshell.
This naturally burns up his adoring mother with the result that the name sticks tighter than ever, although it is as much as any kid's life is worth to cut loose with it within earshot of the Hendricks house.
• Or perhaps I should say the Hendricks mansion, as that is what it is called in the Weekly Record whenever the editor is writing about any of the doings there, which is most of the time. For old man Hendricks is a very large shot, being about the only man in town, outside of Simple Jimmy the local half-wit, who doesn't have to work for a living. He is one of those philanthropists whose good deeds mostly take the form of lending dough on easy terms to hard-up farmers; and as old man Hendricks is a keen judge of farm land and has, when it comes to protecting his investments, easily half as much tenderness as a concrete mixer, it stands to reason that the family stands extremely high in the community.
SO YOU CAN easily see that it is very tough turkey indeed for folks of such high degree to have their only child mixing with and being called vulgar nicknames by common trash like us; and finally his proud parents ship him off to a refined and costly boarding school where he will
be surrounded with associates more befitting his position in life.
After he gets pushed through this boarding school Clam goes to college, and we yokels only have the odd peek at him when he would blow into town and act very much in the manner of the young duke visiting his estates. And as he and his mother spend most of their summers either giving F'urope a treat or decorating some seashore, about all we really know about him for several years is what we learn from an occasional note in the Weekly Record to the effect that “Mrs. S. Mortimer Hendricks and her son, Shelley" are at this or that high-class resort.
I tell you all this so you will understand that Clam, although strictly speaking, a native son, is nevertheless pretty much of a stranger to us; so when he comes back last spring and announces his intention of settling down permanently in our midst, we have no real idea whether he is going to be an asset to the place or just another pain in the neck, with most of the betting on the latter.
HOWEVER, he starts off pretty good and commences to push money around in a loose and public-spirited manner which must unquestionably cause deep pain to his father if he ever gets to know about it. But it is kind of
doubtful if he ever does, as old S. M. passed on to his reward a couple of years back, and Charlie Gilligan’s tale about hearing loud noises like somebody turning over in. his grave at the cemetery is probably imaginary, though you never can tell.
Charlie springs this tale right after the news comes out that Clam is going to build public tennis courts for the town at his own expense. And this is merely a starter for his good deeds, as he buys new uniforms for the baseball team, wipes off a deficit that the lacrosse boys have been nursing since before the Armistice and starts them off with a fresh outfit. So, altogether, Clam makes a favorable impression on the folks the first few weeks after his return.
And in a personal way he is not so awfully hard to take either. A little better than medium height and built fairly husky, he is not such a bad-looking sort of an egg, even though there are those who are willing to take oath that the cunning wave in his fair hair is an added starter since boyhood days and never got there without outside help. He wears his clothes, of which he has a great quantity and variety, very well, and the fact that they always appear just a trifle too well creased may be only by contrast with our thrifty local custom of having most of our pressing done under the mattress.
He only winces slightly and in a well-bred manner when anybody is crude or forgetful enough to address him as Clam; and, adding it all up, I guess the worst you could say against him is that he is habitually too darned polite.
FOR A WHILE Clam scatters his favors, not bunching his hits with any particular girl but giving them all a whirl. But by the time summer is about over, it can be seen with the nude eye that he has gone completely overboard for little Nona McMorrow. And for this you can’t blame him much at that, as about the only guys for miles around, outside of myself, who haven't fallen hard for Nona are those that have never seen her; and the only reason I remain immune is that I am already the personal property of her sister, Katie.
Clam certainly gives Nona a grand rush in spite of plenty of competition, but whether or not he is making any progress
is more than I can say, as Nona is the kind that likes to keep about eleven of them on the guessing seat at all times. 1 try to kid her about him one evening when she comes out on the verandah where Katie ant: l are sitting. Clam is outside honking on the horn of lus modest sixteen-cylinder runabout most impatiently, so naturally Nona is taking plenty of time and letting him honk.
“Well, kid," I says to her, "it looks like before long I will be having to take olT my hat and make a low bow before I can address you.”
"Raving as usual,” Nona comes back. “What might you mean, if anything?”
“Why,” I says, "seeing that Clam I should say Mr.
I Iendricks owns about ninety per cent of the miljs, I guess a humble assistant superintendent would have to act very polite to the boss’s wife.”
“Him !” she says, and wrinkles up her nose and looks as if she would like to give the old raspberry.
“Why sure,” I tell her. “What is the matter with our Mr. Hendricks? Isn't he handsome and ”
"Certainly he is,” Nona says. “Real handsome. So is the statue on top of the Soldiers' Memorial in the town-hall square.”
And with that she breezes off LO wher* Clam's honker is giving a lifelike imitation of a whole iv.nvard full of geese greeting a strange collie dog.
“What is wrong with her?” I say to Katie when she is gone. “Isn't a mere half a million bucks or so enough for her, or does she want—”
KATIE PROMPTLY goes on fire.
“Do you think that any of the McMorrow family are gold-diggers?" she says.
"Don’t shoot, baby, I apologize,” I plead. “I only just thought ”
“Then you shouldn't do your thinking out loud,” Katie snaps.
And it takes me a good ten minutes to make the peace; but after we are finally settled away in a comfortable clinch, Katie brings up the subject herscl “Nona likes him well enough, I think,” she says. “That is, she does and she doesn't. Just the same, Larry, it wouldn’t do any harm if you were a little more careful the way you talk to him.”
“What’s the matter with how I talk to him?” I ask her. "Well, just because you sat behind him in the second book doesn’t mean that he enjoys hearing you call him that horrid name, Clam.”
“To blazes with him.”
“That’s all very fine,” Katie says. “But I heard that old Mr. Gregson at the mills is thinking of retiring and starting a chicken farm, and it wouldn’t be too bad if you could step up when he goes.”
THP3 WEEKS slide by, as seems to be their custom, and before it seems as if we have had a good look at summer, here it is the middle of November. One afternoon Clam sends for me to come into the front office at the mills.
“What are the prospects of the hockey team this coming winter?” he asks me.
“I hadn’t thought much about them,” I tell him. “A couple of the boys have committed matrimony and I don’t know if they’ll be allowed to play; and some of us old-timers are beginning to creak at the hinges. But I guess we will be in there dishing it out and getting it back pretty much as usual.”
“How did you do last year?” he enquires.
“Why,” I says, “we win the league trophy from Mackville by a score of three ribs, one collar-bone and a concussion, to one broken leg and a dislocated shoulder.”
“You must play a queer Krand of hockey hereabouts,” Clam says.
"No,” I reply. “Just regular packing house rules.”
“I hear,” he says, “that Barry Kirk is boasting that Mackville will have such a team that the trophy is as good as won already.”
I do not have to ask where he gets this information because Barry Kirk, who is just as big a guy in Mackville as
Clam is here, has been nuts about little Nona McMorrow for a couple of years.
“Barry Kirk is one smart egg and generally gets whatever he goes after," I says.
“We must positively have a team that will beat them,” he insists but gave no hint where to get it.
“That is easy said," I reply, “but maybe not so soft to do. How about you? Do you play?”
“I played at prep school, of course,” Clam says, "and I fancy I could have caught a place on the Varsity team at ' least there were those who thought 1 could if I had wished to turn out regularly. But I don’t think I would care to play here.”
“That is too bad,” 1 tell him. “If what 1 hear is true, Barry Kirk is bringing in a couple of lx>ys from outside, and they are liable to he goixl because Barry Kirk don't fool. So it looks like we are sunk."
"We must have that championship,” Clam says.
"I low are you going to got it?” I ask.
“Money will buy anything," he answers.
“I wouldn’t go quite that far,” I says, “but it will certainly go a long way in making a hockey team."
"Go ahead then and do it," Clam says. “It is your job.” “I will need a couple of days off," l tell him.
“Take a week if you want to," he says. “And draw what money you need from the cashier.”
The next morning I beat it for Toronto, where hockey players of all varieties, mostly hungry, are thicker than traffic. After trying a couple of the regular hangouts I catch up with the two I have got my mind on. Shorty Balderson had been a star in fast company till he got the elbow trouble from bending his so often, and Harry Winniger had been all set for a brilliant career in the big time but ate himself hog-fat and never made the grade.
“How are you two hitched up for the season?” I ask them. "I’m expecting a wire from Lester Patrick any minute,” Shorty replies.
“There's a difference of a thousand bucks between what the Bruins are offering me and what I am willing to take,” Winniger says, “but it's only a question of time before they will see reason.”
“In that case,” I says, "you wouldn’t be interested in playing a little hockey up in the sticks at about fifty a week each."
“What is the name of the burg and how soon do I report?” Shorty replies.
“What time does the train leave,” Winniger chimes in, “or do you want we should walk there?”
SO THE following week there are two new names on the payroll at the mills. They are new names to Winniger and Balderson, too, because up in our league we are strong for ethical principles or whatever it is. \Y hat I mean, it is all right to work in the occasional ringer, especially if you don't get caught, but considered bad taste to play them under their real tags, particularly if they are well-known ones. I forget exactly what duties are assigned to the pair, but I think Shorty is appointed night watchman on the dayshift and Winniger is made window monitor. Something light and non-confining anyway.
Skipping lightly over the next two months, I will merely say that with the help of our two recruits we manage to cooper together quite a hockey team, and when the end of the regular schedule comes in February we have only lost one game. But so, unfortunately, have our hated rivals in Mackville, because Barry' Kirk, who never did have any sort of conscience, has gone and imported no less than three fast and experienced men, and they trim us fairly easy in their rink, while it is only by some miraculous goal-tending and some even better goal-umpiring that we manage to beat them at home.
Of course there has to be a play-off, and when we toss for where the game will be played I get lucky and call the coin the way she falls. That gives us the game on our ice; and if our little rink had been eight times as big it would still be too small for the crowd that wants to see the game, because any time we play Mackville one entire town moves over to the other in mass formation.
We are pretty busy at the mills as old Gregson has resigned, and although his successor has not yet been appointed, quite a lot of extra work falls on me. 1 his is the reason why, on the day of the game, I have not had time to keep an eye on the team. However, all season Balderson and Winniger have been behaving fine, eating and drinking in, reason, and no trouble in any way. So you can probably imagine my feelings when I go to round them up early in the evening and find them both in Shorty’s room, laid out as stiff as two pokers. I find out later that Morrie Klein, a sure-thing gambler from Mackville, has sifted into town early that evening, corailed my two noble imports, and then proceeded to get them pie-eyed.
I go to work on them all I know how, trying to get them straightened up; but after laboring hard for half an hour Winniger is still nine miles deep in Slumberland with a foolish grin on his map, and Shorty has just come to long
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enough to say, “Tell Conny Smythe I won’t take a cent less than ten grand and a fiveyear contract,” and then sank back into his dreams. They would make good ballast for a balloon, but outside of that I cannot think of any possible use they will be to anybody for about twelve hours.
I leave them and go on up the street conversing with myself; and who do I run into but little Nona with Clam close beside her.
“All ready for the fray?” Clam asks brightly; while little Nona says, “Whatever is the matter, Larry?” because she can read my face better than he can. So I tell them.
“How utterly provoking,” Clam says. “What are you going to do?”
“What can I do,” I reply, “except take the swell walloping that is coming to us and trv-and like it.”
“But we can’t have that,” Clam says. “Why, I have just made a fairly large wager with Barry Kirk on the result.”
“You can kiss that dough a fond farewell then,” I tell him.
“But it isn't only the money,” Clam says. “It means more than that. You see Kirk has been crowing rather offensively, and I
just couldn’t stand it to have his team beat us.”
“In that case," I says, “the best thing you can do is to put on a uniform and get in the game yourself.”
“Oh, I couldn’t possibly,” he replies. “I haven’t played for years.”
“You’ve worked out with the team,” I says, “and you’re fast enough and in good condition; but it’s up to you.”
“I couldn’t,” he repeats.
“Why couldn’t you?” little Nona busts in. “Are you going to let that Barry Kirk get away with a thing like this and take it lying down? You make me sick, Shelley Hendricks.”
So the upshot is that' Clam, reluctantly and after much argument, agrees to come out and do or die for dear old Milltown. But that does not cheer me up much, because while in practice Clam has looked speedy enough and can handle a stick as if he knows
what it is all about, he has not shown any liking for mucking in where the going is tough. And hockey players who get hot and bothered when their hair gets mussed do not get very far in the kind of shinny we play up in the Big River Valley.
For the refereeing of our ordinary league affairs we generally depend on neighborhood talent; but when it comes to a crucial battle like this we always send down for old Link Marshall. Link has given up refereeing the last few years, but he will always come out for us as he thinks that modem hockey has got sort of pansified and he enjoys the kind of stuff we dish out. When he skates out on the ice he comes over and shakes hands and we talk about that and this.
“Who is the lad with the fair hair, Larry?” he asks me, indicating Clam. “I don’t seem to remember him.”
“That,” I says, “although you might not think it, is Santa Claus. He is going to build us a brand new rink next wán ter.”
Old Link does not need to be kicked by any horse to see a point.
“Is that a fact,” he says, looking at Clam with curiosity. “You don’t tell me so. Well, it would be an awful pity if he was to get mussed up or anything so as to lose his liking for the game, now wouldn’t it?”
With that he skates to centre ice, calls us together and gives us his customary warning about trying to play clean and gentlemanly even if it kills us, flings down the puck and the game is on.
NOW I AM NOT going to try and describe that game because even yet it seems like a nightmare. Our battles witli Mackville are never big scoring affairs, as everybody on both teams generally has two or three grudges to work out of his system and the puck is merely a necessary nuisance most of the time. But I will bet that Benny Shanks, our suffering goal-tender, never knew there was so much rubber in the world as is hurled at him that night, and he has to be both very good and very lucky to keep the score down to the one that beats him in the second period. And as Cameron, their goalie, has fanned on one that I drift at him
with nothing on it but a prayer, we go into the final twenty minutes all tied up.
But we are in far worse shape than they are, as we are short of substitutes and I have been working the regulars till their tongues are Hanging out. Clam has been on three or four times, but outside of some fancy skating has been no great help. Whenever he gets the puck, he either cuts loose with a shot from away outside the defense or else passes it like it was hot.
So we battle away in the last period, and I can feel in my bones that it is only a matter of time. I am so weary myself that 1 cannot get out of a walk, and the rest of the boys are as bad or worse. I know that sooner or later Benny Shanks’s luck is going to get moldy, and it will be all over.
I have lost track of how long we have been playing when Sid Kent, one of our forwards, drops flat from sheer tiredness, and I signal for Clam to replace him. Right after he comes on there is a scramble for the puck down in a far corner with three or four, Clam among them, in a huddle together. An idea comes to me that maybe I can do some good, so I skate down and jam into the middle of them. I have hardly got there when there is a loud yelp of pain and then, to the surprise of everybody or pretty nearly in that packed rink, there is Clam, with a couple of us trying to hold him back, trying to get at Ken Peters, a Mackville defense man, and threatening to knock his head off.
I f Clam learned the language he was using at prep school or college, my ideas of higher education must have been all wrong. "Let me at the big so-and-so,” he says, “and I will knock his something-or-other block off.”
“What is the matter?” I ask him.
“Why, that big ape went and sunk a buttend two feet into my stomach,” Clam hollers. “And I will get him for it if it is the last thing I ever do alive.”
I try to cool him out a bit, and suggest that he go back on the bench.
"Me go on the bench?” he hollers. “You’re crazy. I’m out here to stay till this game is over, and I’d like to see anybodytry and stop me.”
And for the next few minutes the other five of us just sort of stand around in a daze and watch Clam proceed to tear in and battle the entire Mackville team. That butt-end in the stomach must have stirred up some sleeping element in Clam’s blood, because he hangs on to that ouck just like his old man used to cling to a dollar, and whenever a Mackville man comes near enough Clam slams him so hard that the kids up on the rafters can feel the jar of it. Finally, after bouncing every man on their team except the goal-tender at least once, Clam sails down the centre, splits the defense like it is cedar kindling, and bums one into the net that left a trail of smoke
just as the final gong rings. And that mob swarms out on the ice and carries Clam off in triumph and pretty near in pieces.
AN HOUR LATER I am sitting in the Z McMorrow living room with Katie applying hot-water cloths and the like when the front door opens and in bounces Clam with Nona on his arm. He has a lump on the side of his jaw and appears to be a different man altogether. His manner is changed, his eye has a new sparkle in it, and his voice seems to have lost a lot of culture.
"Hot dog," he yells, throwing his hat on the floor and kicking it. “What a game! What a game !”
"It was all of that,” I reply. “You cerj tainlv played a swell game yourself, ! Shelley.”
“Shelley, nothing!” he says. “Call me Clam. Call me anything you want to except Shelley. I never did like the name from a kid, and now I’m through with it. It won’t be long till you will have to call me brotherin-law.”
I look from him to little Nona and she is smiling and blushing.
“Sure thing,” Clam says. “We fixed it up on the way here. That's the way to do things—smart and snappy. And by the way, Larry, I forgot to tell you. You’re the new superintendent at the mills. Did y-ou see the way I bounced that big tramp of a Peters off the fence? I bet I taught him not to be so free with that stick of his the next time."
As I am walking home a little later, aching in every muscle but happy all over, I stop in at the Queen’s Hotel, where Link Marshall is sitting in the lobby waiting for the bus to take him up to catch the midnight flyer back to the city.
“How do you feel, Larry,” he szrys.
“I feel jake,” I reply.
“That was a nice game,” he says.
"Sure was,” I answer. “Nice and refined.”
“Maybe it’s none of my business,” Link says, “but just out of curiosity I would like to know what was your idea in going down and busting into that jam in the last period and socking that fair-haired guy of yours in the stomach?”
“What?” I says.
“Y'ou heard what I said,” Link says. “What was the big idea?”
“Did you see me?” I says.
“Sure I saw you,” Link replies. “I was going to put you off only I wasn’t just sure what the book says about a player sloughing one of his own side; and anyways you were having it tough enough just then. So come clean and tell me why you did it.”
“Link,” I says, "I hope you will keep quiet about it because I wouldn’t like it to get out. Folks might misunderstand. But what you saw me do was what it takes to win tough games. That butt-end in the stomach was strategy. Just pure strategy.”