FICTION

Listen Boss, Now Listen!

Bill Kehoe, the expert power-shovel operator, dumps a scoopful of love and crime into Boss Doane's lap

NEILL C. WILSON April 15 1942
FICTION

Listen Boss, Now Listen!

Bill Kehoe, the expert power-shovel operator, dumps a scoopful of love and crime into Boss Doane's lap

NEILL C. WILSON April 15 1942

Listen Boss, Now Listen !

Bill Kehoe, the expert power-shovel operator, dumps a scoopful of love and crime into Boss Doane's lap

NEILL C. WILSON

FICTION

HELLO!-Doane Excavating Company? Big Tom Doane? Kehoe talking. William Kehoe, the expert power-shovel operator. I am

telephoning from the jug. The station house, where six cops lugged me, and four of these do not feel so good. I am in the telephone booth in the policesergeant’s office. It is a teeny little booth and I am holding hands.

No, no, Big Doane, not the sergeant’s hands. What I am trying to tell you is how things come to be in this fix that they are in. I have had a lovely time fighting a large number of people, a large number of large people, and now I want to explain.

Are you going to listen, Big Doane, or do I waste my nickel? All right, Mr. Doane, now listen.

It is four days ago that I first meet this trouble. I am digging the southwest corner of the excavation for the Colonial Trust building. I am on the seat of old Number One where you hire me to be, and she is a great powrer shovel, boss. She is a real power shovel, only it takes a good man to run her. I am without a thought in the world except how to get this hole dug so Big Doane can make a lot of money, and I have just said to myself, “It is about time for lunch,” when I first see her slide through the fence.

Yes, boss, trouble! Height about five foot three. Weight about one hundred and six in her stocking feet. How do I know about her stocking feet? I shall tell you in a minute how I know about her stocking feet. She has dark hair. Long-lashed eyes. Uppity nose. A coat that tosses when she walks. Oh, and trim high-heeled shoes, open in spots. How do I know about the shoes? I shall tell you in a minute about the shoes!

Well, boss, up there she is. A brand-new girl from your main office that’s come down here to see us on the excavating job. I know she is from the main office because she carries blueprints. What’s more, Mr. Doane, I know right away she is a Doane. She is as much like you, Big Doane, as a little finger is like a whole fist, except that there is a difference. There is a very great whale of a difference. Because this one is a good-looker. Prettier than a bunch of overtime. Prettier than the winning ticket on the Sweeps.

But her eyes are straight along the path. She is headed for your field shack. Here, twelve feet down in the hole and fifteen feet out from the bank, are I and old Number One. We are getting ready to dump two and a half yards of dirt into a truck. And this Little Doane stops right in front of us up there with a rock in her tread.

Yes, a pebble in her shoe. Haven’t I just been telling you she wears open shoes? But she does not give me and my power shovel a glance. Not a flicker. She just tucks one knee up under her like a figure 4 and takes her shoe off. This is how I come to know about her stocking foot, boss. It is a cute little stocking foot and it is on the end of the slickest crane . . .

All right, all right. Of course I don’t sit down here rubbering at this girl who is teetering up there on one foot. Of course I don’t. Slim Cavanaugh’s truck is ready for its load. I trip the back door of my bucket and I drop a couple of tons. Whoom! Sure, it makes a noise. Sure, it sounds like the collapse of the south side El. What does she think we are ladling—mayonnaise? But the crash makes her drop her shoe, and the little shoe starts coasting.

Over the edge it comes. Cavanaugh takes his truck away, and I swing the boom back for another scoop, and here is that slipper down in front of me. So lonesome!

Well, I am a Kehoe, boss. I have manners. This little lady has slung her track, and I have manners. I ease my bucket under the shoe and I hoist. I clank the back of the bucket open and there spills the featherweight load right at her foot.

Sure, she almost jumps out of her skin. Sure, she must think that the two and a half yard bucket was coming straight at her. But she needn’t be afraid of old Number One with Red Kehoe at the levers, and she is pleased to get the shoe. She stabs it with the roll of blueprints, she sticks her foot into it, and she looks at me for the first time where I am down here on my iron seat. This is when I learn that her eyes are smoky-blue, boss. She still is scared, she is pink in the cheeks, but she laughs and blows a kiss. Then skips for your field shanty a hundred feet farther along the path.

THAT’S all there is to this part of it, Big Doane.

It is not till a minute and a quarter later that I see Little Doane again. Right at noon, not a second before, I set old Number One’s bucket down on the ground, and I wash my face in the pail of water I

keep in my cab, and I am off my shovel and up the plank stairs.

I am into the field shanty. You are not there. A stranger is there. He is looking over Jim Eaton’s time sheets and asking questions about the pay roll.

Jim snaps to me, “No pay till Saturday, Kehoe. You know that.” He goes back to showing his time sheets to this stranger, and listen, boss—I don’t like this stranger. His eyes don’t make enough room for his nose and he wears trick clothes. I think, “This is most likely a good enough union agent who is watching out for us working people, against chisellers like Doane we sure need it, but this dude’s face is too hard for his hat, and his hands are too soft for his face.”

But I am not in there to inspect this business agent. I am in there on account of Little Doane and this kiss she blew, and she is sliding out the door. I chase after her and catch up with that swinging coat. I wonder, “Will it be all right to tuck my hand under the elbow of that coat?” But I get the feeling that it will not be all right—not yet. So I only say, “Hiya, Babe!”

She stops and turns. I take my cap off. She looks me over and this is the time I feel the whole socko of those smoky-blue eyes. Some wallop, Doane. Some wallop. I think she does not place me, because my face is washed. She beats me up awhile with those eyes.

“I am the gentleman, Babe,” I help out, “you blew the kisses to.”

“Oh,” she remembers. “The man on the shovel.”

“Kehoe’s the name,” I tell her. “William Kehoe. Friends call me Red.”

“How do you do, Mister Kehoe,” she says.

“Fine, Babe,” I say.

“Doane is the name. Katherine Doane. People that don’t know me very well call me Miss Doane, Mister Kehoe.”

See? I knew she was a Doane. “Big Doane’s granddaughter?”

“Niece.”

“Big Doane shows style in nieces. How’s about we go over to Hurley’s and have ourselves some lunch?”

Well, she is a Doane all right, boss. Soon as we

sit down sice by side in a booth, the fighting begins.

“How’s for pig knuckles and kraut, Little Doane?” I ask her.

“I’ll take pear and cottage-cheese salad, Mister Kehoe,” she decides.

“That is no meal,” I argue, “for a girl with a million-dollar shape like yours. You need to keep up your health and strength if you’re to go out with a Kehoe. How’s for Swiss steak with gravy and long-branch potatoes?”

“I still prefer pear and cottage cheese, Mister Kehoe,” she replied. “Tell me, what do you call it when your shovel pushes into the bank?”

“We call that crowding the bucket, Little Doane.”

“Then kindly to remember, Mister Kehoe, you may be a bucket, but I am not a bank.”

After a bit more scrapping, boss, I look across the room to see what her eyes have happened on, and there, on a stool at the lunch counter, is the back of a trick suit. There is the soft pearl-grey hat and backs of the ears of the knife-faced dude who was looking over Jim Eaton’s time sheets.

I remember I do not like this dude. I do not like him any better when I see that Kitty is looking at him. I don’t know that she has ever seen him before, but I am not pleased. “I feel a quarrel coming on with that party,” I tell her, “though quarrelling with anybody, especially over a girl, is not my way.”

“He’s dressy, isn’t he?” she says, admiringly. I do not know if she says this because she means it, or because it is that she desires I shall go ahead and quarrel. Haven’t I been telling you, Big Doane, she is five foot three inches of trouble?

“I don’t like his rig,” I say, still surprised at myself ; for up to this minute I have wanted to be warm friends with everyone.

“Such good-looking pleats to his coat,” she sighs. “Such two-tone shoes.”

I am a Kehoe, boss. The way I look on young women, I mean good-looking young women, I figure they should have strong arms around them for protection. “Look here,” I warn her, because I never before have felt so much like protecting someone, “that kind of dude is no good for little business girls. Don’t let me catch you and him swapping winks.”

She murmurs, “Dear me, we are bossy on first acquaintance, aren’t we, Mister Kehoe?”

“If you do,” I make plain, because with each tick of the clock I feel more like guarding this young woman, “if you do, Kitty Doane, I will feed him feet first through a concrete mixer. I will feed him straight in by his two-tone feet. And I will pull your sassy little nose out so far that you will think it is on a spring.”

WHAT DO you know, boss? Right here this niece of yours, this girl I am trying to shelter, she flashes this party a great sunny smile and two winks. They hit the long mirror that is on the wall in front of him. Knife-face, as soon as he realizes who the smile and winks are for, he spins around on his roller circle and pretty near breaks in two at his nipped-in middle, he is so busy bowing. He is very pleased to receive the smile and winks.

“Chuck it !” I bark to her, and I grab her arm. “I was just telling you—”

“Goodness, Mister Kehoe, how you snatch at folks. What do you call it when your bucket draws itself back?”

“That is called racking.”

“Well then, Mister Kehoe”—she pries my fingers loose—“rack !” And she up and wriggles into her coat. “Good-by, Mister Kehoe.” Next thing, she is gone. Knife-face is down off his stool and he is gone, too. I stop to pay Kitty’s and my check, but somebody beats me to the cashier who is very slow to pick up his change. Finally I am out the door. Your niece, Big Doane, is a quarter block up the street, with Knife-face trying to catch up with her, though maybe he does not do this. I lose them in the crowd.

I go back to my shovel.

All afternoon I am back on my shovel. I am working old Number One against the west bank.

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This is not the afternoon we throw a track. I been telling you for weeks, boss, we need new track pins, but this is not the afternoon. And this is not the day I nearly wipe off the roof of Slim Cavanaugh’s truck cab, either. That is two days later, and the way of it is, I see Knife-face again.

No, you’re wrong, boss. Wrong as always. It beats me, Big Tom Doane, the gumbo you carry in that clamshell of yours and call it brains. I am not taking my mind off shovel business. You can’t say, and Jim’s records can’t say, that old Number One and me don’t move our cubic yards. But we can bite, hoist, swing and dump plenty of muck, and make plenty of jar and clank, and still be in love with Kitty, can’t we? Because I am sure by now that it is love. And I find time, while I wait for those sprung-belly trucks of yours to come down for their loads, to look around some at the scenery, don’t I? Each time I and the boom of old Number One swing through our one hundred and eighty degree arc, I get a good chance to run an eye along the rim of the cut.

That is how. for three days, 1 watch and I do not once see Little Doane. And I do not care for the lunch that is in my pail, though before this it has always tasted very good. And I mislay my overalls and where have I left them, by gosh, but in the fuel tank. Which for me is peculiar, because I never before have been the least bit absent-minded. And my nerves are stretched so tight that I am sure I hum all over like a harp. And I ache and I feel low and sad and for two cents I would knock Slim Cavanaugh’s chin, or any other truck skinner’s chin, or even your chin, Mr. Doane, clear up through the top of your hat. That is why I know that it is love.

I keep wondering, “When is that beef-faced uncle of Kitty’s going to telephone to the main office and have her fetch more blueprints?” But I do not once see Little Kitty Doane climb through the fence and come along with blueprints under her arm and gravel in her shoes. And the only chance I get to telephone to her is at noons when I am off the shovel, and then she is out to lunch. And I find out how much worse is love than catching a hand in the rotating gears. Love is worse than catching your whole seat in the boom hoist. Love is terrible.

And, yesterday, I am still looking over the faces along the fence and who do I see? Knife-face. That is whenl almost wipe Slim Cavanaugh’s cab roof off, only he ought not to holler so. I clear Slim’s cab by half a finger or anyway by a good thick hair and what does he want, the whole Grand Canyon?

I admit it, I am staring at Knifeface. I am thinking, “What is he sticking around here again for? Is he checking up on union rules? Or is he maybe waiting to keep a date with Kitty? These business agents have too much free time,” I tell myself. “Tomorrow afternoon, soon as I am paid, I shall get me around to the

Diesel, Gas & Electric Shovel Operators’ headquarters. There I shall hoist, swing and dump this business agent. He made me pick a fight with my girl, and whether she goes for him or not, I do not think anything will make me feel so good as to lay my hands on him.”

And then, boss, this morning.

Don’t cut me off, operator. I’ll drop another nickel. I still have important things to tell the boss. Listen now, Mr. Doane. I know your lips are very sore, but listen.

THIS morning, about one hour ago, say at a quarter past eleven, I see Knife-face again, flashy clothes and all. He is leaning over the fence. He is kind of standing on his toes because of last night’s rain. He does not seem to care to get any mud on his two-tone shoes. And a few minutes later I do not see him any more, because old Number One and me have shifted along through the soft goo of the pit till we are almost under a corner of the red field shanty*.

I am down on the seat of my shovel where I’m paid to be. Every swing of the boom is half a circle and I am riding the hub of it. At the start of each whirl, I can see the outside of the field-office door where it faces down along the rim. At the other end of each whirl, I can see Jim Eaton’s bald head in there up through the shanty window. But mainly, I am watching my work, because I am always a very careful shovel operator, and also because this shanty of yours, boss, is halfway out into the air on props.

But on one spin, Big Doane, I see you come out of the shack and I know it is eleven-thirty. That is the time you always leave the field office on Saturdays to go to the bank.

A few swings later, I see a flashy suit up in there through that window. I see, up inside the red shanty, the back of the head that’s too thin between the ears. I do not now see Jim Eaton, he has moved from sight.

Next thing, maybe a quarter hour later, I see you again, boss, moving toward the shanty—coming along the path.

I think, “Oho, in ten minutes we

get paid.” But I don’t look at you for long, Big Doane, because you are no great treat to the eye, and anyways, I always watch my digging. I am working a twenty-two foot radius and I have to watch what I am doing. I do not wish to take the stilts out from under that shack. You ought to know better than set a field office out on an overhang like that. There are lots of things, • Tom Doane, I could tell you about running an excavating business . . . Oh, I am, am I? Fired, am I? That’s a good one. You know mighty well, Big Doane, there isn’t another shovel operator than can handle old Number One as I can handle her. But listen.

You come along the path this side of the fence and you push open the door to the shanty and in you go. I look in through the window on my next time round, and what do I see?

I see you in there, boss. You are backing off. Your three-day whiskers stick right out from your face, and your face is stiffer than set cement.

Next thing, I get a side view of Knife-face. He is pushing something into your belt buckle. I don’t see what it is, but I’m betting it is not less than a thirty-eight calibre. I just don’t picture you, Big Doane, lifting your hands and backing into a corner for less than a thirty-eight.

You slide from sight. Knife-face makes loops, I can see his arms going round. I think, “He is roping Big Doane up. He is tying up our boss. The lug in the fancy clothes has only been faking he’s a union agent. He has been casing this job. This is a stick-up. This is a pay-roll snatch !”

By this time I am reaching into my toolbox for a wrench or something to tap with. I am about to jump off my shovel and get up there into the shack. And I spy Her.

I spy Little Doane — Kitty. Squirming through the fence. Hiking along with a roll of blueprints. Making for the shanty.

And I think, “No!”

I holler, “Little Doane, stop !” But she does not stop. Maybe she doesn’t hear me. Maybe, even if she hears me, she does not mean to let on. Most likely she thinks it is just Red

Kehoe asking her out to lunch again.

“Okay, then,” I say. “Okay, Little Doane, if you don’t want to listen. But you don’t march in on an automatic pistol.” Old Number One’s boom sure quivers, I swing and stop it up so hard. I reach for a lever and up the bucket goes. A flick of my hand and over Kitty’s head the big can sails. I throw forward, let go both pedals, and here is that scoop down smack between her and the shanty door.

I guess you hear it too, boss. I guess you hear it plenty inside the shack. But it’s a curtain, and a real solid steel one, for Kitty. I feel pretty smart.

Then the ground beneath her shoes begins to give.

I SHOULD have thought of it, boss.

That bank is twelve foot high, and crumbly from rain. I should have realized what the jar will do. She shrieks. She is going down. Not fast. But she is up to her ankles. She is up to her knees. She is going down. She is going to land at the bottom under many tons of earth.

She is screaming now, boss. She is travelling faster. And old Number One is out-screeching both of us. Am I busy! Boss, that is a real shovel. It takes aman to run her, but she is a real shovel. Do I bounce my levers! And does that old mud scoop come through ! Now we get our boom and dipper where we want them. We get our bucket-teeth under Little Doane as she rides down her dirt pile. We tilt Little Kitty Doane over on her back, hoist her up, and swing. We look for a good safe place to put her, well back from the edge, and that is where we ease her down. We open the door at the back of the bucket. She jackknifes out and lands on the bottom of her little pink jeans on a pillow of earth.

That is how we handle her, boss. Real nice and gentle. Prettiest job of load-spotting me and old Number One ever did do—emergency job, at that. ,

We know she is all in one piece, because she takes her legs down out of the air, and folds them under her, and she gets up. And is she mad! Oh, is she mad! She is past speaking, which is something for a Doane. She is blazing. She scrambles up and bats her hat back into place and glares down to where I am—sitting so pleased, boss, on Number One’s iron seat—and she turns and scoots for the shanty. Like she wants to get inside before seventy tons of power shovel take the darnfool notion to follow her.

I am thinking, “She’s sore. Once again, she’s sore. Red Kehoe, it’s your desire to be her protector that has once more got you into a fix. You aim to do the right thing but you always do it in the wrong way. Now Little Doane is sore at you for keeps.” But I am not through yet with my shovel. I still have several mighty important things to do. These things I attend to, and when I finish, Big Doane, I have shoved old Number One’s boom and dipper tight up

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under that field office of yours. I set my levers. I shut off my engine. Fast as can be, I am down off the shovel and up the plank stairs.

I dive into the shack. I bust in on a mixed-up sight.

Here you are, Big Doane, sitting in a corner. Tape across your moùth. Jim Eaton is tied and pasted up in another corner. Here is Kitty, one stocking down, muddy all over, trying to take off your ropes.

This is where I help again, boss. This is where I once more aim to do the right thing. I lay hold of that gummed tape on your lips and I give it a rip and, honest, I don’t mean it the way it feels. Am I to blame, boss, if you shave only Sundays and Wednesdays and this is Saturday? Sure, it hurts when I yank. Sure, you got a howl coming. But this job of face lifting I do on you, it is meant kindly. It does not give you the call, soon as you climb to your feet, to holler, “You did that just for fun, you dirty bucketracker!” Or to put five knuckles together and whiz them at my eye.

I whack the wall. I admit it. When that whizzer lands, I smack the wall. And I jounce back off that wall. I wrap up a five-ply answer and I aim it for your chin. Do you know why I don’t mail this special delivery package for your chin, Big Doane? It is because Little Doane is hanging onto my arm.

She says, “Don’t, Red.” This is the first time she calls me Red. “He is old and weak.”

I say, “He may be almost forty, but he is not weak.”

“I know, Red,” she pleads. “But I’ll like you better, at least I’ll hate you less, if you won’t hit Uncle Tom. Your poor lips, Uncle Tom!” she goes on, turning to you, boss, and she dabbles her hanky at the cooler and washes your mouth off and—and kisses it. And all the time, Big Doane, you are yammering at me, “Pull my face apart, will you, you clayball!” And I am letting you say what you please because you are Kitty’s uncle. I am taking the ropes off Jim. As soon as Jim is loose he peels his own lips free, and he falls over the telephone, yipping into it, “Robbers! Thieves!”

IISTEN, Big Doane. Listen, now.

I still have some things you should hear. As soon as the shack fills up with cops you point at me and you bull-roar, “Pinch him first! He’s in cahoots with the rat! Slung his bucket across the door so’s nobody could come in while the crook was going out the window !”

You say that, Doane, but I am not angry. You are worked up and I am patient. Even when two policemen grab me, I am patient. But you remember what Jim Eaton pipes up? He yips, “She’s in this too!” and points to Kitty. “I don’t care whose niece she is, she’s friends with the feller that robbed us. I see her smile at him in Hurley’s restaurant, and walk off with him, too. Nothing gets away from old Jim Eaton !”

That’s how come this latest jam I am into, Doane. Soon as a cop touches Kitty, I sling him and my two cops into a pile, and maybe two or three more officers who are here,

and for the next little while we have a lovely time. A lovely time. It’s good I braced the floor of that shack with Number One’s boom and bucket. I tell you, Big Doane, you shouldn’t let a field office stick out so far over a hole—But listen, I’m not sore at you now, not even if the cops finally lay me quiet with their sticks. I feel grand. I have woolly spring lambs leaping between my ears, or is it larks yodelling, and it’s wonderful.

See, Doane? Her being mad at me in the restaurant was all for show.

But that is not the only reason I feel fine. There is another reason. Because when I come to, here at the police station, where is my head? In Kitty Doane’s lap ! I tell you, where I got whacked, it hurts delicious.

Kitty says, “Don’t you mistake this for sympathy, Red Kehoe. I am here with you because the police wagon brought us both here. The police haven’t yet got the hang of things, and I haven’t either. They can’t find any track of the pay-roll thief, and they’ve taken Jim Eaton’s word till they can figure it out.” “That’s great,” I say. “When we get married, do you think Uncle Tom will give us a share in the firm?” “I never, never heard of a man like you,” she goes on, “with such a peculiar and highly-developed protective instinct. It’s an ailment, Red. But I really don’t think you had anything to do with the robbery. Any kind of a murder—that I could believe. But not a robbery.”

“Your Uncle Tom,” I tell her, “he’d believe anything. I don’t think there is a very bright chance for a partnership. Not yet.”

“Let’s call up Uncle Tom,” she says, “and ask how things look.” “About the partnership?”

“About his money. The pay roll.” “Oh, that! Fine! Tell him right away. It’s in the bank.”

“Why, no, Red, the robber snatched it. That’s why we’re here. You heard Uncle Tom say the robber went out the window!”

“Just the same, the roll is safe in the bank. There is more than one bank, I hope! Come on, Little Doane, we’ll call him.”

“Red, it’s a terrible squeeze for two people in this tiny telephone booth, and one of them as big and strong as you. What do you mean Uncle Tom’s money is in the bank?” That is why we are telephoning to you now, Mr. Doane. There are still several things you ought to listen to. One is, that pay is snug in the mudbank under your feet, you blessing! What do you think Number One and me are doing when we see Knife-face come out the window and hang by his fingers over the goo? Why, we swing our boom and come up under his nifty waving shoes and we eat him off that windowsill like a grape. We shove him, bucket and all, tight up under your shanty. Your floor makes a lid. Oh, you hear something hollering small and far-away-like, do you? Well, I have been telling you you should listen, boss. That’s him !

And the other thing you should hear, Mr. Doane, is Little Doane & Kehoe consolidating interests. Are you still on the line, Big Doane—I mean Uncle Tom? Ready, now: listen !