KELSEY SKATES AGAIN
BE THE outlook ever so gloomy, the world always looks a little better when one has had a good night’s sleep. Mr. Kelsey had lost his job, he was low in funds, he was a stranger in a strange land. And his only salvation lay in a bed of pain in the Prairie Dog hospital. But after breakfast that morning Kelsey set forth with clenched fists and determined jaw.
He headed for the hospital—a converted dwelling house on the edge of the town—and arrived just in time to meet the doctor going out.
“How is Miller this morning, doc?” asked Kelsey anxiously.
The physician regarded Kelsey sourly. He was a hockey fan, and he had viewed with dismay the prospect of seeing Bud Miller leave Prairie Dog. He had no use for professional hockey anyway. He had still less use for hockey scouts. And besides, he had battled with his wife at the breakfast table that morning because the furnace had gone out. And he didn’t like to be called “doc.”
“He’ll live,” grunted the doctor. “He’ll live to break his neck in another hockey game.”
“Fine! Fine!” beamed Kelsey. He was beginning to see daylight now. Ben Harron would forgive all when Bud Miller was safely delivered to the Chiefs. “Can I see him?”
“For a minute. But don’t get any ideas about taking him out of here on tonight’s train,” grumbled the doctor. “He’s got to have forty-eight hours rest.”
Kelsey groaned. “Doc, couldn’t you possibly—”
“No!” growled the man of medicine, and trudged off down the steps.
Kelsey peeked into Bud Miller’s room. The big centre had his head wrapped up in half a mile of bandages, but there didn’t seem to be much wrong with him. He managed a grin.
“Nice going,” reproved Kelsey. “Offer you a contract and you try to commit suicide.”
“I’m hard to kill. Did you fix it up with Uncle Gideon yet, Mr. Kelsey?”
“Not yet. I wanted to know if I was buying a hockey player or a corpse.”
“Listen, Mr. Kelsey, I’ll be out of here in a couple of days.”
“Couldn’t manage it by tonight, could you?”
Bud shook his head.
“Doc says I’ve got to stay quiet until he lets me up.” “Sorry, Mr. Kelsey,” said the nurse, at the door. “Can’t let you stay any longer.”
Kelsey went hot-footing it down to Gideon McCrabb’s store. Prairie Dog’s most prominent penny-pincher squinted at him sourly.
“Always said that boy would get hurt one of these
In which the indomitable Kelsey stick-handles himself out of a Prairie Dog jail to fame on a Prairie Dog rink
days. Here I got to tend store all alone,” said McCrabb in a querulous voice.
“Changed your mind about letting him sign?”
“You changed your mind about payin’ me five hundred dollars?”
Kelsey realized that Banker Harbottle hadn’t put the squeeze on McCrabb yet. He pretended deep thought. “Five hundred is a lot of money.”
“Big hockey clubs make lots of money,” snapped the merchant. “Tell you what I’ll do, Mr. Kelsey. Give me five hundred right now and you can sign the boy. Come back in an hour and it’ll cost you six hundred.”
“Robber!” yelped Kelsey. “I won’t pay it.”
Mr. McCrabb smiled a tight, grim smile.
“There’s them that will,” he said.
There was only one meaning to that. Blackjack Snaith ! “Ah!” said Kelsey, making a heroic effort to keep his temper. “I see you’re a businessman, Mr. McCrabb.”
“I aim to be. A man must look after hisself in this world. Ain’t nobody else going to do it for him.”
“You’re quite right. Just hold everything. Mr. McCrabb. Naturally I can’t write you a cheque for five hundred dollars offhand. But you’ll hear from me in ten minutes.” Mr. McCrabb looked at his watch. “Ten minutes she is,” he replied briskly. “I’ll be right here waitin’.”
Kelsey hustled out. He slid down the store steps and galloped across the snow-covered road in a beeline for Mike Harbottle’s bank. At the door of the bank he glanced back. And what he saw made him gasp v/ith apprehension.
The angular, lanky figure of Mr. Blackjack Snaith was bearing down the street from the hotel. Mr. Snaith’s derby hat was pulled firmly down to his ears, his collar was turned up, the skirts of his overcoat flapped about his legs. Kelsey ducked into the bank and .peeked out through the glass doorway. Mr. Snaith was heading straight for the McCrabb store.
Kelsey licked his dry lips. He saw Snaith turn when he reached the store steps, saw him ascend, open the door and disappear within.
“Holy cats!” breathed Kelsey, and plunged toward Mike Harbottle’s private office.
At first Mr. Harbottle, behind his glass-topped desk, could make nothing of Kelsey’s spluttering.
“Now wait a minute—just calm down. Don’t be so excited, Mr. Kelsey. Let me get this straight. You say McCrabb still wants five hundred bucks.’’
“Wants it? He demands it! And the price goes up another hundred if I don’t come through inside ten minutes. And that fellow Snaith—lie’s another scout, scouting for the Panthers—he’s just gone into McCrabb’s store now. For the love of mud, Mr. Harbottle, if you can do something. do it now.”
Mike Harbottle’s fat round face became red with indignation.
“He’s bluffing. He can’t hold you up for five hundred dollars.”
“He can’t, hey? But he did.”
“But I told him this morning that I wouldn’t renew his note unless he let Bud go ahead and sign a contract. He was bluffing you.”
“Then call him up and call his bluff,” panted Kelsey. “That crook Snaith will probably say yes to everything he asks. Why—why Snaith will probably give him a rubber cheque; anything to get the contract.” Kelsey looked disgusted with himself. “Rubber cheque, by George! That’s exactly what he’ll do. Why didn’t I think of that myself?”
“I’ll tell Mr. McCrabb where he gets off.” growled Harbottle. “The cheapskate. Standing in the way of a boy’s future. I ’ll tell him. by gosh !”
l ie reached for the telephone.
Gideon McCrabb didn't answer the phone right away. Kelsey paced the office nervously, and nibbled his fingernails. Mike Harbottle drummed on the desk. Finally he said :
“That you. McCrabb? Harbottle speaking. Listen. McCrabb, you haven’t got a very good memory, have you?
. . . Why? . . . Did you forget that little chat I had with you this morning about your note? ... So what? Whadda ya mean, so what? . . . You’re gonna pay off the note! . . . Say, what is this? You couldn’t pay it an hour ago . . . Oh, you’ve got money now ...”
Kelsey jumped. He bleated with anguish.
"It’s Snaith ! He’s gone and sold out to Snaith !”
Mike Harbottle. listening, seemed disconcerted. “Well, if you’ve got money now and you intend to pay off the note
—Where did you get the money? . . . None of my business ! Now wait a minute. McCrabb. Wait a minute! You can’t talk to me that way ... I am, huh? . . . Well, the same to you . . . Come over here and say that to my face, McCrabb . . .Just you come across the street . . . hey? ...”
The phone clicked in Harbottle’s ear. He looked up, pink with wrath. “The miserable skunk ! He says he’s got five hundred dollars. Told me to go climb a tree.”
“I'm sunk,” groaned Kelsey. He flopped into a chair and looked helplessly at the banker. And just then, from beyond the glass partition he heard the voice of Ab Hodge, proprietor of the Great Western Hotel, raised in grief and agitation.
“Counterfeit?" bawled Mr. Hodge. “It can’t be. Are you sure?”
Kelsey heard the teller answer, “I’m sorry, Ab, but it looks to me as if you got stuck with a bad one. Where did you get it?”
“That bird from the city. Fellow that claims to be a big shot from one of the hockey teams. I thought there was a funny look in his eye when he handed me that ten-spot. Paid his bill with it last night. Hold everything, Joe. I'm gonna get the police.”
The outer door banged loudly behind Ab Hodge. Kelsey sat paralyzed. He blinked. He swallowed hard. He was aware that Mike Harbottle was staring at him with an expression that compounded horror and suspicion.
“Joe!” called out Harbottle softly. “What’s this all about?”
The teller appeared in the doorway, holding something that was supposed to be a ten-dollar bill.
“Bad.” he said, with a severe glance at Skates Kelsey.
Harbottle took the bill, felt it, held it up to the light, sniffed at it. “Well. Mr. Kelsey.” he said briskly, “I’m afraid this will have to be explained. If you passed this on Ab Hodge—”
“The skunk !” choked Kelsey, getting his breath at last. “The miserable, lowdown rat! Snaith gave me that bill.”
“Ah, but can you prove it? Can you prove it was that particular bill. It’s a phony, Mr. Kelsey. Of course it’s probably an innocent mistake, but unless you can prove this was the bill Snaith gave you. I’m afraid you’re stuck.
Ab Hodge is sorta bad-tempered when lie’s roused. Give him ten bucks—ten real dollars—and buy back this bad bill.”
Kelsey groaned. “But listen, Mike, it's this way. I happen to be a little short. Bv the time I pay my hotel bill—”
The outer door crashed open. Ab Hodge hadn’t been long finding the town cop.
"Come on, chief!” he bawled.
HARBOTTLE opened his office door. Skates Kelsey had a glimpse of blue uniform. A very large, very fat policeman was right at Hodge’s heels.
“Come in and let’s talk this over, Ab,” said the banker. “Mr. Kelsey is right here—”
“There he is!” barked Hodge. He pointed an accusing finger at Skates Kelsey. “There’s the criminal, chief. Pinch him !”
“Now wait a minute!” yelped Kelsey.
“Hold on, boys!” urged Harbottle. “This can be fixed up.”
But it wasn’t often that Chief Bertram Bunting nad a chance to make an arrest. And never in the history of Prairie Dog had there been a crime of this size. “Passing counterfeit money, hey!” he growled. “That’s serious. Mighty serious.” He reached over and took the suspect ten-spot from Harbottle’s fingers. "This it? No good, Mr. Harbottle?”
“Oh, it’s a bad bill,” admitted Harbottle. “But if we can sit down and talk it over—
“You the guy who gave Ab the bill?” said Chief Bunting, turning to Kelsey.
“But I didn’t know it was bad!” Kelsey protested. “That’s what they all say.” declared Chief Bunting. He took Kelsey firmly by the arm. “You'd better come along with me, sir. You layin’ a charge against him. Ab?”
“You bet I’m laying a charge.” roared Ab Hodge. “Nobody passes phony dough on me and getsaway with it.” “But listen, fellows,” objected Mike Harbottle, “you can’t do this to Mr. Kelsey. He’s connected with one of the big hockey clubs. This won’t do Prairie Dog any good.” “He ain’t connected with no hockey club.” insisted Ab Hodge. “He’s a bluff and a fake. And he passes phony money.”
“What?” yelled Harbottle. “Not connected with a hockeyclub! Is this true. Mr. Kelsey? Aren’t you scouting for the Chiefs?”
“No. He was fired!” Hodge declared.
Kelsey mopped his forehead. “If you'll let me use your telephone. I’ll put in a call for Mr. Harron of the Chiefs, and you can talk to him yourself.”
“Not with my money you won’t.” Hodge howled. “I want ten honest dollars before you start wasting money on phone calls.”
Skates Kelsey sweated a little more and started counting out money.
“—and don’t forget to add on six dollars and a half for your hotel bill. Room and meals cost money, mister.” What with one thing and another. Skates Kelsey didn’t have sixteen dollars and a half. He had twelve dollars and thirty cents. Mr. Hodge shrieked like a steam whistle and grabbed the money.
“Not only gives me bad money, but he can’t even pay his hotel bill ! Throw him in jail, chief!”
“Charges of fraud and passing counterfeit currency,” grunted Chief Bunting. “You’ll get penitentiary for this, mister. Come along.”
Mr. Blackjack Snaith heard the whole tale from excited loungers in the rotunda of the Great Western.
“Tut-tut!” clucked Mr. Snaith reprovingly. “Passing counterfeit money, hah! Shameful. Shameful!” But Mr. Snaith had to hide a smile with the palm of his hand. He had been rather expecting something like this. But after all, if Kelsey went around with bad money in his jxjcketbook there was bound to be trouble sooner or later. Mr. Snaith was glad he had suggested to Ab Hodge the previous night that Kelsey was the sort of hotel guest who shouldn’t be allowed to run up a large bill.
Mr. Snaith was feeling very happy when he left the hotel. Very happy indeed. So full of goodwill that he headed straight for the hospital to visit the sick.
TT WAS the first time Skates Kelsey had ever been in -*• jail, and he didn’t like it. To begin with Prairie Dog didn’t boast a very good jail. It consisted of a couple of iron cages in the basement of the fire hall.
Heaved into this village bastille, Kelsey spent the first ten minutes rattling the bars and roaring loud and long. After a while, discovering that it wasn’t doing him any good because there was nobody around to listen, he sat down on his cot and settled down to do some serious thinking. And the more he thought the more he began to realize that this was the blackest moment of his life.
He was wrong about that. There were a couple of blacker moments to come.
The first was at noon when Chief Bunting unlocked the outer door and edged into the jail with a tin platter of stew, a slice of bread and a cup of coffee.
“Here’s your lunch, mister,” growled the officer.
“Nothin’ fancy, but we only serve turkey on Tuesdays.” “Listen, chief.” said Kelsey, in a hoarse, earnest voice. “I want you to do something for me. I’m as innocent as a babe. There isn’t a jury in the world could convict me. I want out on bail.”
"Where you going to raise bail?”
"I want you to send a wire, collect, to Ecn Harron of the Chiefs. Tell him what lias happened. Ben won't see me stuck. He’ll tell you I'm his right-hand man. He’ll tell you—”
“He told us already.” sniffed Chief Bunting, and fished a crumpled sheet of paper from his pocket. “Mike Harbottle wired him, just to make sure. And here’s the answer.”
Kelsey grabbed the telegram, smoothed it out, read it in horror:
Skates Kelsey Not Connected With This Organization.
“But holy cats, man, he can’t do this to me!” shrieked
Kelsey, dancing with indignation. “Did Harbottle tell him I was in jail? Ben Harron wouldn’t play a dirty trick like that on a pal.”
“Mr. Harbottle just wired and asked him if you worked for him. Nothin’ was said about you being in jail, because Harbottle figured you mightn’t want the news to get around. And that’s the answer.”
Kelsey was wild. And beginning to get really scared. He whipped envelope and pencil out of his pocket, scribbled feverishly:
Ben Harron c-o Chiefs A Joke is a Joke Ben But I am in Jail All Snaith’s Fault Stop I am Innocent Ben Stop Please Call Chief of Police Here And Arrange Bail Stop Will Explain All Stop Do Not Let Me Down Ben Stop Please Ben For the Sake of Our Long Friendship Stop Skates.
“Send that collect!” he ordered.
Chief Bunting scratched his head and looked doubtful.
“I’ll do my best, mister.” he said, and shambled out.
The chief’s best wasn’t good enough. He came back when Kelsey was finishing the stew.
“Telegraph office won’t take this wire unless it’s paid in advance,” he informed the prisoner.
“All right,” he said. “I’m licked. Goon down to the hotel and ask Mr. Snaith to come around and see me. I never expected to see the day when I’d be asking favors of that bird, but he’s holding all the aces this time.” “Mr. Snaith has been around already,” said Chief Bunting.
“He was? Why didn’t you send him in? Why didn’t you tell him to come and see me? Why didn’t you—”
“He had quite a talk with Ab Hodge and Mr. Harbottle. He looked at that ten-dollar bill you said you got from him. He says he never bet no ten with you. He says he don’t know you from Adam !”
It was like being smacked with a sandbag. This last rascality was too much. Kelsey was stunned. He couldn’t manage a word. He just gurgled. And he was still gurgling helplessly when Chief Bunting shuffled out and the door clanged shut with a dismal clang.
The day wore on. By seven o’clock Kelsey was a mental wreck. He had called Blackjack Snaith every name he could think of and had invented seventeen new ones. He had written half a dozen telegrams to Ben Harron, each more insulting than the one before, and had torn them all up. He had walked the thousand miles from Prairie Dog to Harron’s office just pacing his cell. He hadn’t been able to eat his supper, which consisted of bread and butter and jam, with a nice mug of cold water.
But in the meantime things were happening.
Chief Bunting trudged in a little after seven with two visitors—Ab Hodge and Mike Harbottle.
“I’m mighty sorry about this. Mr. Kelsey,” began Harbottle. “I’ve been trying to help you.”
“Listen,” said Kelsey hoarsely, “just let me out of here for ten minutes, that’s all. Just let me out of here long enough to get my hands on that rat Snaith. Then, after I choke him to death, you can heave me back in this cell for as long as you like.”
“You’re a little too late to get hold of Snaith,” said Ab Hodge. “He checked out twenty minutes ago. He’s gone. On the train.”
“The lug!” groaned Kelsey bitterly. “I’ll catch up with him if it takes me twenty years. There’ll come a day.”
“The tough part of it is that he took Bud Miller with him,” remarked Harbottle.
“What? He took Miller—but he couldn’t. The kid is in hospital.”
“Doctor let him out. Snaith said he’d take him to the city and have a specialist look at him. He was feeling a good deal better this afternoon, so when he heard you weren’t a scout for the Chiefs after all, and Gideon McCrabb gave him signed permission to turn pro—”
“He didn’t sign with Snaith!” gabbled Kelsey incredulously.
Harbottle shrugged. “He’s on the train with him now anyhow, headin’ East.”
Kelsey buried his face in his hands.
“All right, gentlemen. That’s the pay-off. That’s about al! I can take right now. Go away.”
Harbottle cleared his throat.
“Makes it tough for us, losing Bud just when we’ve got to replay that game with the Mustangs.”
“That’s your headache,” said Kelsey. “If you think you’ve got tough luck, how about the spot I’m in?”
“Ilodge and I were thinking about that. Guess you’ve still got a little hockey left in you, Mr. Kelsey,” suggested Ab Hodge. “Even yet I guess you’d make a lot of these young squirts sit up and take notice. We were figuring if we had you on our team tonight, playin’ defense for instance—”
“Wait a minute! Wait a minute! You mean you’re asking me to play hockey again, me that’s been out of the game for ages—to play hockey for you! Play hockey for a town that’s had me tossed into jail and treated like a crook. Why, of all the gall!”
“I’d be willing to forget about that ten-dollar bill,” suggested Ab Hodge softly.
“Oho! And if I tell you to go jump in the lake?”
“Well, in that case I’m afraid I’d just have to let the law take its course. Tell you what I’ll do, Mr. Kelsey. You play tonight and if we win the game I’ll withdraw the charge. That’s to make sure you’ll play your best. I can’t do fairer than that.”
“But I can’t play! I’m out of shape. It’s crazy. It’s insane. I hung up my skates years ago.”
“I’m sorry,” grunted Hodge. “I’d like to see us win that game. If you don’t want to take a chance, there’s nothin’ more I can do.”
“It’s your only out, Kelsey,” said Mike Harbottle. “Sure as guns, if Magistrate Dobbs sees that phony ten he’ll put you away for five years. You haven’t a leg to stand on. Just an hour of hockey, for a man who knows the game like you do. You’d better grab it.”
“It’s a holdup,” groaned Kelsey. “A lowdown, unprincipled holdup. But I’ll do it. I’ll do it if it kills me.” “But mind,” cautioned Ab Hodge, “you can’t just go out there and go through the motions. You gotta win.” “That’s the devil of it,” said Skates Kelsey, bitterly.
NEVER had a man crawled into a hockey uniform with less enthusiasm. It was an old uniform and the sweater was too tight for him, but Kelsey managed it somehow, with groans and curses. And when he sat on the dressing-room bench and leaned over to lace up his skates, every joint creaked like a haunted house.
The Prairie Dog players dressed in silence, whispered
among themselves, gaped at him in awe and reverence. For this was the once-great Skates Kelsey, star of a bygone day, in their dressing room, getting ready to take the ice again. For Prairie Dog! Why, the Mustangs were as good as whipped already. With that famous veteran Skates Kelsey on defense for Prairie Dog, the game was in the bag.
Mr. Kelsey didn’t think so.
He had no desire to return to Chief Bunting’s uncomfortable jail. Still less did he want to be dragged before Magistrate Dobbs next morning. The Prairie Dog team was going to win this game if Skates Kelsey skated himself right into the ice trying. But he doubted if he would last that long.
“Why, I’d fall flat on my face and curl up in a heap if I had to run two blocks for a street car,” he told himself dismally.
“Attaboy !” beamed Mike Harbottle, slapping him on the back. “You’ll show these kids a few tricks they never knew before, old-timer.”
Kelsey grunted. He straightened up and found himself a
stick, flexed it on the floor, then trudged stiffly out. Some of his team mates were already warming up. At the gate Kelsey hesitated like a timid kid on a diving board. Then, old knees wobbling in ill-fitting pads, he took a deep breath and stepped onto the ice.
Prairie Dog’s rink was packed for the second night in a row. A wild cheer went up from the native sons when Kelsey’s sturdy figure heaved into view.
He felt very miserable. But after a few minutes the strangeness wore off. He hadn’t forgotten how to skate, how to hold a hockey stick. He picked up the puck and blazed a shot at the goalie. It had plenty of the old zing, greatly to Kelsey’s surprise, and zipped into the net. He tried a little stick-handling and found he could carry the puck around with some—not all. but some—of his old-time wizardry.
Kelsey’s spirits rose. After all, these youngsters weren’t stars. Just run-of-themill barnyard puckchasers. He had forgotten more about hockey than any of them would ever learn. He loosened up as he got the feel of the ice under his skates, carried the puck around the net, sidestepped a team mate, faked a shot and flipped the disc smartly into the cage on the short side.
“Life in the old dog yet!” chuckled Kelsey.
But whenever he thought of Bud Miller, heading East with that scoundrel Blackjack Snaith, his spirits went away down to zero again. Harron would never take him back on the Chiefs’ payroll after that. Broke, jobless, disgraced and a stranger in a strange town, the only feeble ray of sunlight on Kelsey’s horizon was that if he had a lot of luck he might be able to stay out of jail.
The bottle-nosed features of the great Kelsey were set in an expression of grim desperation as he squared away at right defense when the teams faced off at half-past eight.
The Mustangs, facing a Prairie Dog team minus Bud Miller, hit a fast lick right from the gong. Some quick skirmishing in mid-ice and down they came. Their leftwinger shifted around his check, picked up a pass and cut in sharply.
Maybe Skates Kelsey wasn’t as quick as he used to be. Maybe his timing wasn’t what it had been. But Prairie Dog couldn’t find any fault with the lusty body check he dished out just then. In the old days Kelsey didn’t have to grunt when he stepped into an oncoming forward; now he could be heard back in the fourth row. But the forward bounced just the same—bounced as if he had whanged full tilt into a brick wall, did a tailspin and pancaked flat on the ice.
“That will hold you for a while, me bucko!” panted Kelsey grimly as he collared the puck and banged it over to a forward in the clear.
The Prairie Dog players, greatly heartened by this display of defensive prowess, got down to business and waded into the Mustangs. They went at the job with such enthusiasm that they were rewarded by a goal in the first five minutes. Most of that time they were on the attack, so Kelsey didn’t have much to do.
But the Mustangs struck back. Kelsey had his hands full for a while. Cannily, he didn’t skate any more than he had to, but the Mustangs were fast, and they buzzed around the net like hornets. One of them caught Kelsey offstride and dumped him into the boards. At the tenminute mark he was beginning to puff.
Mike Harbottle gave him a rest then. But with Bud Miller gone from the forward line and with a tissue-paper defense, the Prairie Dog team sagged miserably. The Mustangs tied up the score. Kelsey went back in again. He was beginning to feel an ache in the small of his back. His skates seemed to weigh a lot more than they did at the start of the game.
The Mustangs kept right on coming. They ganged in. Kelsey gave one of them the old heave-ho, missed another and went sprawling at the blue line. And as he got painfully to his feet the puck came skimming out of a scramble behind the net.
It clicked right on the blade of Kelsey’s stick. The stage was set for a clean breakaway. Only a defenseman stood between him and the Mustang goalie.
With none of his team mates up for a pass, Kelsey had to carry it. He lunged across the blue line and struck out in a beeline for the Mustang cage.
Kelsey didn’t realize he had that burst of the old speed in him. He was almost up to the enemy blue line before a flying Mustang overhauled him, shouldering him, trying to ride him off balance and steal the puck. Kelsey stick-handled and hung on. Better men than this prairie kid had tried it. He pivoted neatly, sidestepped the defense man and rolled right in on the cage. The goalie wavered and came out. Kelsey let fly with everything he had.
Socko ! The puck zipped anlde-high into the twine.
Kelsey could hardly believe it. He skidded past the net. tripped over the corner post and wound up against the boards on the bosom of his pants. But the crowd was screaming with joy, and the puck was in the net.
Puffing like Old Ninety-Seven on the upgrade. Kelsey got proudly to his feet. That goal looked bigger than anything he had ever scored in the big-time. But as he skated back to position he realized that the rush had taken a lot out of him. Sweat dripped off the end of his nose. His legs felt weary. And he felt as if his tongue was hanging out.
Play got under way again. Down came the Mustangs. One of them let drive from outside, and Kelsey stepped smartly in the way of the blazing drive. It smacked into his ribs like a cannon ball. Another forward tore in after the puck, hounded Kelsey into a corner, bounced him up against the fence. Kelsey bounced him right back. It was rugged going. Kelsey got the puck cleared out to one of his own men, but he was wobbly as he weaved back to position. And he wasn’t panting anymore. He was gasping.
Harbottle was merciful and beckoned him off.
“You’re doing swell. Boy, that was a sweet goal ! Takes an old-timer like you to show ’em up !” he chortled.
“Thanks—puff—nothing to it—puffpuff !” gurgled Kelsey. He felt as if his ribs had been pounded with a baseball bat. And he was wheezing like a leaky accordion.
And just then the Mustangs streaked in, batted the puck around, went piling up in the Prairie Dog cage. And came out of it with a goal.
“Gosh, Kelsey, you’d better go back in there. That defense don’t look like nothing when you’re not out there,” said Harbottle.
Wearily, Kelsey crawled off the bench and limped back to work.
IN THE dressing room after the first period was over Kelsey realized that you can’t turn back the clock. He felt about a hundred years old. His lungs were dry, his bones ached, his knees were like rusty hinges, his feet were like lead weights. Every time he straightened up he thought his backbone was buckling. He faced the prospect of another twenty minutes of this torment with a shudder. And as for a third period, it simply didn’t bear thinking about.
Mike Harbottle told him he was doing swell. The players told him he was doing
swell. The goalie came over and said: “Gosh. Mr. Kelsey, it’s a cinch tending goal with you out there in front of me. I ve never had protection like that since I started playing hockey.”
And this was all very fine. Kelsey knew he had managed to bluff it out so far. But it wouldn’t be long now. Youth and speed would tell. Those kids could skate all night. The slowest of them would be able to skate all around the ancient war horse and ride him dizzy before this game was over.
However, when the second period got going, Kelsey surprised himself. He played that defense spot on a dime.
The Mustangs didn’t realize he was just out there on his nerve. The body checks he had handed out in the first period made them respect him. and when they came in on his side they tried to steer clear of him. Kelsey managed to stall through the first five minutes pretty well by using his wits and his hockey experience instead of his legs. Then he got a two-minute rest on the bench, and Prairie Dog managed to hold off the Mustang attack.
But the Mustangs were still ganging when Harbottle sent him out there again. And this time Kelsey had to work. He flattened one of the attackers. He saved a sure goal when he dived headlong into the crease and scooped a loose puck away from the line.
He got into a bumping bee with the biggest Mustang and got spilled into a corner. He came out of it groggy, stumbled out to his position, and somebody laid a pass right on the end of his stick. Kelsey had to take it away.
Two Mustangs nailed him at centre ice and pushed him around with plenty of elbow and butt-end, took the puck away from him. Kelsey had to race to cover his position as the Mustangs wheeled back. The effort left him gasping. He tried to body one of a pair of forwards that came streaking in. but he missed his man by a city block and went flat on his back.
He came up winded, blundered laboriously into a corner after the puck-carrier. But the fellow was too quick and smart for him, left Kelsey flat-footed and swooped into the clear, banged the puck hard at the goal. A team mate slipped in for the rebound, batted it into the net.
This gave the Mustangs a goal lead. And by this time they knew Kelsey wasn’t as tough as they had feared. They came roaring in again. A Prairie Dog forward clipped one of them and drew a penalty. The defense burden was doubled.
The next two minutes saw Mustang uniforms all over the defense area. Kelsey and his defense mate, a slow-footed redhead by the name of McCarthy, were busier than a couple of jack rabbits under shell fire. The Mustangs socked home another goal. By the time the penalty was over, Kelsey was staggering. His tongue was hanging out. His legs were caving in. He wished he was dead.
The rest of the period was a nightmare.
Not just a plain, ordinary nightmare that ends when you wake up. But a supernightmare that goes on and on. Kelsey played in a fog. Every time he saw a Mustang uniform he swung at it.
Most times he missed. And when he did, the ice came up and hit him. Or the boards hit him. Or a Mustang hit him. The gong that ended the period was the sweetest sound Kelsey had heard since Harron gave him his last raise in pay.
He limped, stumbled and staggered to the dressing room, fell onto the rubbing table. The Prairie Dog trainer, looking sympathetic but dubious, went to work with the liniment.
Kelsey wanted to yell every time the trainer’s hands kneaded his aching muscles. He felt as if he had run ten miles in a pair of iron hoof s and had wound up by falling down an elevator shaft. He heard Harbottle's gloomy voice:
“Kinda tough going, I guess. You’re not in shape.”
“I’ll be—all right,” gasped Kelsey. He wondered if the Chiefs would claim his body and look after the funeral. After all, lie had served the club for a good many years. Ben Harron wouldn’t just leave him to be buried in Prairie Dog.
“Turn over,” grunted the trainer, and went to work on Kelsey’s back. Kelsey groaned.
“Guess maybe you’d better sit it out this period,” said Harbottle gloomily when they trooped back for the final period. “These birds are just too good for us tonight. No use killing yourself. Gosh, if we only had Bud back—”
“I'll sit out nothing,” muttered Kelsey stubbornly, wincing with every step. “Man alive, we’re two goals behind! I go back to jail if we lose.”
“We’re not going to win,” growled Harbottle. “Not unless their goalie breaks a leg or something. Sure you’re feeling all right?”
“I’m feeling swell,” lied Kelsey, who had never felt worse in his life.
It wasn’t so bad for the first two or three minutes. The Prairie Dog team got an attack of sorts organized and kept the play up in enemy territory. But finally two Mustangs broke away. Down they came, flying.
Kelsey braced himself grimly. The Mustangs bore down, cut in. One of them took the pass just outside the blue line. Kelsey tried to nail him. But too late. Away too late. The puck-carrier went around him as if he had been a lamp post. And Kelsey went sprawling.
The goalie saved that one. But the Mustangs were ganging again. Kelsey saw the puck hit the boards, bounce clear into a corner. He tottered toward it. A Mustang hit him hard and drove him smack-bang into the boards and the back I screen. Kelsey went down in a heap.
He just wanted to lie there. He tried to get up, got over on his hands and knees, floundering. He managed to grab hold of the rail, hauled himself up, groggy. He stumbled out into the blur of flickering uniforms.
And then there was a wild roar from the crowd. It swelled to a great shriek of joy. A big figure flashed in front of Kelsey, snapped up the puck off a Mustang stick not two feet from the goal mouth, wheeled away. He leaped over an outflung stick and then went high-tailing off down the ice. Big, tousle-headed, rangy, eating up space, skates flashing, a picture of youth and power. And the crowd was going crazy.
Bud Miller was back !
Away he went. Mustangs, caught far inside the Prairie Dog blue line, were streaming down the ice in wild and helpless pursuit. But Bud Miller was back on the goal-hunt. He went swooping in on the Mustang cage. A shift, a fake shot, and then he zipped across the front of the crease and back-handed the puck high into the rigging.
The rink seemed to explode. And Skates Kelsey, mouth open, gasping with exhaustion, brandished his stick in the air. He tried to get out a cheer. It was a mere croak. He took a faltering step toward the bench. And fell down. McCarthy came over and helped him up on his skates again, hauled the sagging veteran over to the bench.
“You won’t be needing me any more tonight, Harbottle!” puffed Kelsey. “Everything—puff—is under control!”
THEY didn’t need him any more that night either. Bud Miller was back. And raring to go. He sewed up the game three minutes later with a blinding pass to one of his wings, right on the crease, with the goalie out of the cage. And won it with a solo rush straight down through centre a little later. A rush that slashed through the Mustang defense and finished with a bullet shot that had the goalie handcuffed. At the halfway mark it was a Bud Miller play, a setup that gave his left wing a cinch goal, that put the game in tlae bag. Bud Miller was a one-man riot. He gave the Mustangs a hockey lesson. Prairie Dog won by two goals.
Skates Kelsey, watching all this, didn’t know if it was true or not. It seemed like some sort of miracle. Or a dream. He tlought he might be just a little delirious. But the roars of the crowd were real enough and so was Bud Miller’s handshake when the big kid clumped into the dressing room after the game was over.
“But where the dickens did you come from?” demanded Kelsey, who was getting seme of his breath back. “I thought you were half-dead. I thought you signed with Blackjack Snaith.”
Bud Miller grinned. “I didn’t sign anything. 'Uncle Gideon did, though. He signed permission for me to turn pro.” “With the Panthers?”
“He forgot to make that clear,” chuckled Bud. “But of course when Snaith told me you were in jail for passing bad money, and that you weren’t with the Chiefs anyhow, I figured I might as well go along with him.”
“What made you change your mind? How did you get back? I don’t get it, son.” “Well, it was after Snaith got taken off the train about thirty miles down the line—”
“Got taken off the train? How come?” “Well, when he was pinched.”
“Pinched !” yelled Kelsey.
“You see, when he bought the railway tickets here he was in a hurry, and he paid for ’em with a bad ten-dollar bill. And when the station agent found out, he wired the police to grab Snaith.”
"Well, mow me down!” marvelled Kelsey.
“So then I got figuring that if Snaith was a crook, maybe you weren’t as bad
as he made you out to be. So I caught the next train back.”
“The son-of-a-gun!” yelled Mike Harbottle. “I know where Snaith got that ten. At the bank this afternoon when we asked him to come in and look at it. He knew it was our evidence against you, and he must have switched it for a good ten so you wouldn’t be in too much trouble, Skates. And then, by golly, went and crossed himself up and passed it on the station agent!”
“Bud said he was in a hurry when he bought the tickets,” chuckled Kelsey.
“Well, he’s in jail now anyway,” said Bud.
“After I get around to it,” said Kelsey, “I’ll see if maybe something can be done to get the lug turned loose. I guess I have a little influence around this town by now. In two or three days, maybe. I don’t bear any grudges. Now look here, Bud, I’ll be honest with you.” Kelsey shifted on the bench and uttered a loud groan as all his ribs protested at once. “It's true I got fired from the Chiefs. But if I show up at the office with a real smart rookie forward there’s a chance that Ben Harron might figure I’m a good man to have around. I got a contract here—ouch !”
Because when Kelsey reached inside his coat pocket all the muscles of his back tied up in knots. He knew he was going to be practically paralyzed by morning. It would be weeks before he would feel normal again. But it didn’t seem to matter.
“I got a contract here,” he grunted, groping for the paper. “So if you’d like to—”
“Gimme your fountain pen,” said Bud Miller. “I wouldn’t sign for Blackjack Snaith, but I’ll sign for a hockey player like you, Mr. Kelsey.”
“Son,” replied Kelsey solemnly, “that’s a compliment ! I appreciate it. Darned if it ain’t the best compliment I ever got.”