Gil Tucker, ex-jockey, shows the bush country how to fly fish, and Bee-Lines' boss uncovers a mystery
Into Bee-Lines Limited head office in Winnipeg, where FRAN GORDON is front office girl, comes GIL TUCKER, Air Force reject because of color blindness, looking for a pilot’s job. She arranges to have him meet the owner-partners, TOD BINGHAM and DAVE BURKE, later learns through them that Tucker has come from Washington with inside information regarding a U.S.-Canada joint defense plan for the Arctic that will involve big bush flying contracts.
On the strength of this information, Tucker and his colored-boy henchman, SWIPE JOHNSON, are taken on by Bee-Lines, slated to leave the following morning for Flin Flon to work on a fish-haul. Having dinner together that night at the Stratosphere Club, run by a friend of Bee-Lines, NICK PAPPAS, Fran tells Tucker about her fiance, BRANT INNES, former Bee-Lines pilot now overseas, also tells him a good deal about company flying operations. She mentions a rival company, Sky Trails, and trouble that has developed between the outfits since wealthy PAUL JENNER came from South America to head Sky Trails.
While talking, Fran sees Jenner enter the restaurant and come toward them. Although she knows he will bear watching, she fails to note anything sinister in what seems like a casual encounter.
Paul Jenner shows much interest in Bee-Lines’ new pilot, invites Tucker to join his party, which he does after seeing Fran to a cab. Later, Nick Pappas calls Fran at her apartment, reports Tucker doped, babbling about hush-hush contracts. Wondering how much Jenner has learned she phones the airport, finds that FRANK LORD, Jenner’s partner, is leaving for Ottaiva on the same plane as Dave Burke, obviously having been informed by Jenner of the big defense show in the offing.
Next day Tucker flies north. Bing and Fran discuss things. In Ottawa, Burke is after aerialphotography contracts. Jenner having already done some government photography in the Arctic, they realize that he may grab the inside track on the new photography contracts, also the survey and freighting work to follow. Jenner’s Arctic flying always has been somewhat of a mystery. They code a wire to Dave Burke in Ottawa, suggesting that he check there on Jenner’s earlier contracts.
(Third of Six Parts)
EXCEPT for the fact that he had arrived safely at Milady Lake, which was our landing spot at Flin Flon, we had no news of Gil Tucker for days. With train service three times a week out of the northern mine town, routine flight and traffic reports came through in the regular mail. For rush messages there was telegraph, or our own radio schedules.
The first batch of reports to land in showed that the little guy was moving fish. It was Jerry Lucas called my attention to the figures, coming wonderingly out from the main office with a sheaf of papers in his hand. On his swarthy face under the brush of stiff black hair was that frown all flying company office managers seem to wear perpetually.
"Something strange about this,” he opened up. "Unless Tomkin is off on his figures, QT’s showing a profit on fish-haul.”
Flash strolled over, grinning. "Only way that kite could do that would be to stay grounded and have the stuff hauled in by hand toboggan. Must be long-haul stuff.”
“No.” Jerry looked stubborn. "Short-haul pickup trips from all the little lakes that were such a headache to Tomkin. The very lakes where all the complaints were coming from. There’s something exceedingly uncanny about this.”
Exceedingly uncanny was right. I skipped through a few of the air-freight forms and checked the poundage.
“Tucker’s overloading,” I pointed out. “He’ll get away with that for about one week, then we’ll have the Department on us with both feet.” I turned to Flash. "What’s QT’s maximum on skis, allowing for emergency kit left grounded on those short hauls?”
“Seven hundred pounds,” Flash obliged. "And she’s got to have good runway and be what Tucker would call right up on the bit to do that.”
"And the rate in from that sprinkling of little lakes?”
"Five cents. Not enough. Unless Pete Hayter had straight flying, no trouble, and all the luck in the world, he was dropping behind every day.”
I had a hunch. "Pete Hayter weighed a hundred and eighty pounds. Say Tucker’s a hundred and twenty. Sixty pounds a trip at five cents a pound is $3.00. Five trips a day at $3.00 velvet a trip is $15.00; $15.00 a day, say twenty flying days a month, looks to me like three hundred nice dollars. And it’s clear, no strings, being simply a bonus for little Mr. Tucker — or the company rather — for his being runtish. Less pilot, more fish. What this company needs is more pint-sized pilots.”
Jerry Lucas blinked a bit with those soft brown
eyes of his, but he got it. Flash went through some of the flimsies, did a bit of quick figuring, squinted at the ceiling and announced: “Fifty pounds of pilot off every trip last year on freight haul, three hundred flying days, ten trips a day over the territory, fifty extra pounds a trip, at easily a five-cent rate average, would pile us into a very respectable figure.”
"Yes,” I cut in, "but that fifty pounds wouldn’t allow us to carry any more passengers, unless we cut ’em up and shoved them in sacks, and we can’t keep the little guy on fish-hauls all his life. At the rate he’s going the north country would run out of fish for one thing.”
It was all pretty screwy, but there it was. With that fifty or sixty pounds advantage, little Mr. T. was making a fish-haul pay where none had paid before. I remembered what he’d said about figuring something out.
But that was just the start. A week later one of Gil Tucker’s reports showed: "Back-haul revenue — $10.00.” The same for the day following; and the next.
Flash exploded: "Back-haul! What the devil can he be back-hauling to those isolated fish camps?”
There it was again. Anywhere from eight to twelve dollars a day extra revenue. And when Nibs Tomkin’s base report arrived it showed that the asset existed in cold cash.
It was uoo small a series of items in the pattern of Bee-Lines’ widespread daily operations for anyone to worry about, except Jerry Lucas. It was Nibs himself, wheeling south with a charter load of young Flin Flon miners out for a yipee time in the city before they joined the Cameron Highlanders, who gave us the story.
Nibs was feeling pretty good about it all. He parked himself on the office counter and swung his moccasined feet straight out and back down to get the flying kinks out of them, as he unloaded it.
It wasn’t often there was a mystery in the accounting department, and Jerry Lucas was right on the job to hear it solved. So was Flash Hollick, who knew every sky run in the north country, mileage, passenger rates, and could tell offhand just what it would cost to deliver a box of prunes or a dozen roses anywhere south of the Arctic Circle.
NIBS’ old prewar grin was back where it belonged.
“This Tucker’s a kick,” he admitted. “He’s really making hay up there.”
“Ón back-haul,” Flash cut in. “But what the devil’s he hauling?”
“Groceries,” Nibs reported. “Plain old groceries. Takes their orders one trip; a couple of days later when he’s into that lake again, he delivers them. Buys ’em from the grocery wholesale at Flin Flon, sticks his profit on ’em, air-express rate on top of that.”
“Didn’t these fishing boys eat before Gil Tucker came to us?” I asked.
“Roughage. Fish, moose or caribou and beans — the usual. Gil educated ’em. Now it’s fresh eggs, fresh fruit, vegetables, ice cream — anything they could dream of wanting Tucker gets ’em. They’re knocking off good dough fishing this year, no other way to spend it. Suppose he hits ten camps on his fish pickup trips today. Twenty men to a camp totals two hundred men. Supposing each spends four bits on his order — $100.00. Say the stuff costs $60.00 or even $75.00 — there’s still a nice thing for the company in haulage, and a cut for Swipe. Nobody but Tucker would have thought of it.”
“Why a cut for Swipe?” Flash wanted to know. “He handles the stuff at the Flin Flon plant,” Nibs grinned. “Takes the grocery lists, wheels them four miles into town with the company truck to do his shopping, has the orders sorted all ready to stick in old QT as soon as he knows what lake Tucker’s headed for. I okay the routing so that most of my pickups are on lakes where Gil’s customers have been looked after for a few days. Swipe works that all out too.”
“When Dave Burke hears that Mr. Bantam Tucker’s in the grocery business on the side — whew!” I reminded. “The little Big B.’s funny that way.”
Nibs waved it off. “Tucker’s not making a dime for himself. Goodwill stuff. He gives ’em service and do they like it! By breakup he’s going to have those fishermen so solidly behind him he can talk any kind of a contract show he likes to them on the summer fishing operations.” Flash was still blinking. Whatever Tucker had done or was going to do, there was one angle of supreme interest to Flash.
“How about .the opposition?” he asked. “Sky Trails still got Gagnon hoisting out of there?” Nibs grinned. “Since a week after Tucker came to Milady, Sky Trails haven’t moved enough fish to supply their base crew with a Friday dinner. Gagnon’s been mostly on fur haul, the odd charter. Tucker can think up more schemes to give service in five minutes than Gagnon could in a season. I don’t mind admitting I’ve felt a bit showed up myself.”
Jerry Lucas shook his head at such unorthodox activity and pushed off, probably trying to figure how he’d handle it in his books. Flash left to check on whether Nibs’ bevy of brawn boys had got squared away with everything they wanted in the Marlincroft. Nibs hopped down from the high counter and came to perch on the corner of my desk.
“He’s a right one, this Tucker,” he said quietly. “Tried to make the Air Force. Another one of your bubble-blind babies.” He left the subject quickly. “How’s Brant? — What’s he been doing? Still combat? What’s the latest score?”
“He may be coming back,” I almost said, but swallowed the words. I couldn’t tell him here all the dreams, and plans, and hopes of the last two weeks. But I was glad Nibs had come. There was so much that was new to tell him. About the big plan for the north country, big contracts, new twin-engined aircraft, all of which would mean
bigger things for Nibs too -— things that would make him feel better to be doing. I was bursting with it all, but there was still an hour to go on the job.
“Any plans, Nibs? For tonight?”
He sighed. “Sure, Fran. If you don’t mind — looking after me.”
“No drinks,” I decreed. “When you hear all I’ve got to tell you, you won’t need them. It’s big, Nibs! — Get dressed. Tails. Pick me up at the apartment and we’ll have dinner somewhere. Somewhere nice.” He groaned. “With just a few cocktails, then,” I allowed. “I’ve simply got to celebrate.”
Jaunty was calling. A message through from Red Lake that the Kenora ship was safely in and bedded down. I batted it off, speared it on the message file, and all the time I felt Nibs Tomkin’s eyes on me.
“Darn decent of you to be like this, Fran,” he said. “After the last time, I wondered — ”
“So did I,” I admitted. “But I decided it wasn’t as bad as the time before. As long as you show improvement, I guess I can stand it.”
He reached over and touched with one finger the ring on my left hand —Brant’s ring. “You’re an understanding sort of person,” he said. “I think you’re pretty swell,
I didn’t look up. “When do you -head back, Nibs? Morning?”
He stood, and stretched. “If I have my way, I’m not going back.
Bing can put me on the main line through to God’s Lake. I don’t
mind flying but I don’t want to have to think about base detail — savvy?”
“Tucker can run that base better than I can,” he insisted.
I dodged that one; but anyway it made me feel good. It looked as if, so far as Bee-Lines was concerned, little Mr. Tucker belonged.
IT LOOKED more than ever like it next morning, after Dave Burke had landed in from the east on the night plane.
He’d gone straight from the airport to Bing’s room at the hotel. Before we’d left the office the night before, Bing had scheduled Nibs Tomkin out for Flin Flon, to leave town on the eight o’clock morning car trip to Jaunty. When Dave Burke phoned an early-morning order to hold Nibs in town I knew something was in the wind.
When the little Big B. stalked through the swinging door by my desk an hour later and nodded with that merest suspicion of a twinkle in his eye, I knew.
Nibs was on the job, fit, and rested. We’d had a grand time the night before, and no drinks. Nibs hadn’t needed drinks. The lift he got from what I told him about the big show was enough. For the first time in months I’d seen him excited about something.
We’d both been confident. When Dave Burke stayed away from Bee-Lines offices for two weeks, with two trips to Washington from Ottawa included in that time, we knew he wasn’t peddling peanuts. There’d been a late wire saying he was coming through, and to anyone knowing Dave Burke the very tone of that wire had meant big things under way.
There was an air of bustle around the office, of bustle with a purpose; a feeling that remained when the two Big B.’s and Nibs Tomkin were in session beyond the green door.
It was lucky I was busy. By the time we got first routing report of ships leaving bases out in the territory, with Flash filing his later routings in reply, the clock had skipped an hour.
When I got Dave Burke’s two quick buzzer touches, I did some buzzing myself—two longs for the Collins kid. If there was a session going on in there I meant to be free for it.
It was all over. The boys were on their feet, but the chairs they had been using were all facing the same way. Toward the big wall map. Dave Burke was stuffing papers back in his little lock brief case.
“Had a bit of success in the east, Miss Gordon,” he announced. He lit a cigar by way of relaxation and drummed his small hand on the desk top. “Got an aerial photography contract from the government that’s going to be a pretty nice thing for us. But that’s not what I want to discuss.”
Already I had sensed a lack of the enthusiasm I had expected to find in the inner office. If the photography contract was merely a side issue, what could be coming? I waited. He puffed slowly at his long cigar, rolled it in his finger tips and squinted at it thoughtfully.
“You saw the wire Mr. Bingham sent
suggesting a check on Sky Trails photography contract of last year?”
I nodded. “I coded it for Mr. Bingham.”
“Any particular reason you coded it?”
I glanced at Bing. He had his back to us, staring out through the blind slats as usual. Nibs was watching me. It was all a bit over my head.
“Why,” I said, “Mr. Bingham said to code it.”
Dave Burke eyed me a long moment. “Mr. Bingham says he coded the wire because he had a feeling you thought we should play safe with Jenner of Sky Trails. Somehow you conveyed that idea to him.” Again he
looked at his cigar, then back at me. “You know anything about Jenner beyond the fact that we suspect he used pretty sleazy tactics recently to get information from one of our men?”
I shook my head. “Nothing I can be definite about. There’s been a lot of funny little things happen since he took over Sky Trails.”
Dave Burke grunted. “With big things in the flying game breaking north, there’s liable to be some pretty hot competition. We can’t be too careful about information that may give the opposition a chance to beat us to a big deal. This is your warning. I’m taking steps to warn all the personnel.”
He seemed to be through, so I took a liberty. Bee-Lines landing that photography contract had brought Brant to my mind, and throughout me a glad glow.
“Congratulations, Mr. Burke, on landing the photography contract,” I said, and meant it. “I think that’s what made me feel leery of Mr. Jenner — the fact that he had completed one government photography contract that we didn’t even know about. The same channels might have helped Sky Trails to swing another. I’m glad they didn’t.”
There was a moment’s silence. Bing had his back to the window now, gazing at the ceiling in that way he had when wondering deeply. Nibs avoided looking at me. Apparently I had, as Gil Tucker would say, put the finger on something.
“This is under the hat,” Dave Burke said at last. “It looks now as if Paul Jenner had something pretty definite in mind when he came up here from the States. All the aerial photography he did in the north was done strictly on Sky Trails’ own. Paul Jenner didn’t have any government contract. At least not from our government.”
I felt suddenly weak. My knees were numb.
“Then you think he may have had the inside track on some big defense plan from Washington? Before he ever came up here?”
If Paul Jenner had known of the plan — if that was why he had come, had bought into Sky Trails — what chance had* Bee-Lines? And if Bee-Lines was out in the cold — what about Brant?
Dave Burke was grim. He bit down hard on his cigar. “That,” he said shortly, “is something we’re likely to soon find out.”
IT WASN’T long before we did find out, and the information came straight from Paul Jenner himself. He broached the subject to Dave Burke at what the boys call the “Breakup Bender,” officially known as a banquet and dance, the same being the semi-annual binge when crews from the sticks, base-agents, subagents, greaseballs and head-office executives have their gettogether. On these occasions not only Bee-Lines, but all four bush flying outfits, merged — or blended — into one big yipee throng to celebrate the beginning of three weeks, cessation of work and intercompany hostilities.
Breakup Bender, aside from the fun of it, was a good arrangement. It was one of the two times a year when flying outfits buried the tomahawk and reverted to the old days when, with flying new in the north, they had been obliged to stick together on routes, rates and general planning, to make a go of things at all.
Nobody liked to miss it. Nibs Tomkin, Gil Tucker, and the rest of the boys from Milady base at Flin Flon had arrived only that afternoon. With not enough water free of ice for a take-off with floats up north, and no ice or snow left in our part of the country for a landing with skis, they had worked out a little scheme that allowed the crew to fly south rather than having to spend a day and a night on the train.
They had changed the big Longman twelveplace job from winter skis to floats, towed it out across lake-edge open water to the ice island remaining in the centre of Milady Lake, and there switched the big ship from floats to wheels. They had taken off from the honeycombed ice with wheels, flown 400-odd miles over open rivers and lakes that offered no landing whatever in case of a failure, and had let down on an airport
runway like civilized people, in rare shape already and all set for the big show at the Marlincroft that night.
The front office, already mobbed with out-of-town crews, was the first place the Milady mob had hit, checking with me on whether I’d managed to arrange the dates they’d given orders about earlier by radio.
Being a sort of livery horse around the place, I’d been disposed of myself without even being consulted in the matter. Gil Tucker and Nibs seemed to have had one idea about it, something settled at last by the toss of a coin, little Mr. Tucker trotting me to the dinner-dance affair, and Nibs standing by to wheel me home.
It was good somehow to see the little guy. It was good to see that already he was one of the boys, sure of himself, yet not too sure. Later, when there was a lull in the office, he had brought to me one thing he wasn’t sure about — the shiniestblack, grinningest darky boy I’d ever seen.
“Miss Gordon, this is Swipe Johnson,” he announced. “Swipe already knows a good lot about you.”
“That’s right, ma’am.” Bright green ski cap came off a Persian-lambcovered skull as Swipe Johnson bowed and grinned. “Mistah Tuckah told me about you. Yes’m.”
“Swipe’s decided to go back to the boardinghouse we had near the airport,” little Mr. T. said. “It’ll be quiet there where he can study.” He handed me a slip of paper. “That’s the address and phone number if he’s needed for anything.” “Yes’m.” Again the agreeing head jerk and grin.
“About tonight — ” Gil Tucker hesitated. “Swipe don’t go for the dress-up stuff, but he’d like to be there and I’d like him to be. He’d like in the checkroom. Think you could fix it with the hotel people?”
“Yes’m?” Swipe was eager.
“You’re as good as in, Swipe,” I told him. “What size uniform do you wear when you’re
not packing around that nice outsize parka?” He laughed — mouth, eyes, and ears. “Any old size does me, ma’am.”
I phoned the head bellhop, fixed it, and sent Swipe to see him. I turned to find Gil Tucker stalling there.
“Thanks,” he said. “He’s done plenty for me in our own game around the tracks. I don’t like to be in a spot where I can’t do the same for him.” He added: “I was kind of worried.” “You needn’t have been,” I told him. “We’ve got darky boys in our Canadian Air Force who are doing one swell job. That’s good enough for anyone in this outfit. You can take my word for that.”
“Reckon I’d just about take your word for anything,” he said quietly.
I managed to get busy right then, but he didn’t leave. In the first lull he leaned across my desk.
“Brought you a little souvenir from north. I’d like to bring it over when I call for you tonight.” I laughed. “If it’s a pair of beaded moose hide slippers,” I told him, “it’ll make seventeen pairs I have to date. The girl I live with says they smell like a wet Airedale.”
Little Mr. Tucker chuckled. “I’m glad I thought of caribou,” he passed it off. “See you then.”
I WAS dressing when he came that night, and Flo let him in. I called an introduction from the bedroom and carried on. A minute later I heard an exclamation and the siren-voiced wail of surprised delight that Flo Fenton reserves for champagne, orchids, or someone with a new convertible.
“I’ll ask her,” I heard her say, and her heels clacked along the waxed hall headed my way.
“For you, Fran,” she blurted in a whisper, and flicked something from behind her. “He got cold feet. Thought he’d better ask me first. He wondered if you’d like it.”
I felt myself reeling. A blue fox, a monster of a blue fox, and not a hair of its smoky blue beauty that didn’t match!
All I could do was shake my head as Flo stood staring.
“What are you going to do?” she whispered.
“Give it back to him,” I told her. “And I’d sooner take a beating.”
Flo held the pelt against her face, snuggled her nose in it and sirened softly. “Fran, it’s a perfect one. Couldn’t you keep it, dear? After all he probably got it for a string of beads or — ”
I shook my head, took a deep breath, and went out to meet little Mr. Tucker.
He was all expectant grin, his curly hair brushed to the last strand, not a kink or wrinkle in his dinner clothes. He looked even smaller, but he wasn’t, for when I stood beside him my own eyes were, as always, on a direct level with those enquiring green ones.
Before I had a chance to speak he closed his eyes and nodded slowly twice.
“I get it. Wrong again,” he said simply. He reached out and took the gorgeous, feather-light bundle from me. “Right?”
“Right,” I told him.
He sighed. “It’s so — different here in town,” he explained. “On a trip away north I saw this in a trading post. Others I’d seen hadn’t interested me. But this one — I suddenly wanted it. For you. The idea seemed all right, up there. But you don’t have to explain anything.” He paused. “I was beginning to see it this afternoon.”
“I’m sorry — Gil,” I said.
He suddenly grinned: “You’ve got to admit it’s a dilly,” he argued boyishly. “It’s going to look swell on the hood of my new parka.”
For a minute I was sick at the very thought of it. Then I saw his eyes.
“You wouldn’t,” I told him.
“Just kidding,” he said. “It won’t go to waste.”
That remark might have meant anything. Coming from anyone but the little guy right then, I’d have avoided further discussion.
“I’m interested,” I said.
“We’ll auction it tonight — for the War Victims Fund,” he said, and tossed it carelessly on a chair.
“I think you’re a grand sport, Gil Tucker,” I told him, and meant it.
The fact of the little guy bringing it south for me was still staggering. Whoever bought it at the dance that night would pay a big price — for a big cause.
But I hoped I’d never have to meet some woman wearing it.
The dinner was a success — hadn’t ever missed being a success — for at least two reasons. The serious preparation most of the boys gave it, and the standing rule dating from away back — no speeches.
There were two toasts. The King, and Brant Innes. At least my thoughts at the moment would have made anyone think that. Actually the second toast was for all those boys of our four flying crews, now overseas and elsewhere with the Air Force. Nibs needed a spot of cheering up after that, but soon snapped back. He’d cheated a bit on his deal with Tucker, had come and sat with us. Anyway it didn’t matter. Within an hour after things got going there was no such thing as a regular partner, dinner or dance.
There was plenty of shop talk and Nibs pulled no punches in lauding Tucker’s work on fish-haul.
“He’s a right guy,” he said, beginning to weave just a little in his confidential leanings toward me. “He’s in, Fran. With both feet. Never wastes a minute. Tomorrow I start giving him instruction on the big twin Longman out at Stevenson. A month from now he’ll be a main liner. On freight anyhow.” Nibs looked around carefully and added sotto: “Bing’s grooming him for the big
photography job north and east of Reindeer.”
“You’re crazy,” I told him. “With his hours?”
“There’s no law against it, if the guy can fly,” he reminded. “Who else we got? Blake, Church, Hooker, Mennie, Underwood — all needed on passenger hauls. Bing and I’ll have to handle whatever breaks on this big new deal north for a start anyway. That makes Tucker the ‘Never Ever Land kid,’ that’s all.”
Continued on page 22
Continued from page 20
Gil Tucker grinned in turn. I was glad to see that they liked each other. 1 liked them both myself, very much just then. And it wasn’t the champagne either.
Gil Tucker turned from a gang discussion of the latest in military combat ships just then, and Nibs waved a hand at him, grinning, to change the subject. “I’ll let you in on something, Fran. He won you for a dinner partner with a twoheaded coin.”
IT WAS on after dinner that Paul Jenner approached Dave Burke. It came about naturally, or at least Jenner made it seem that way. The little Big B. was standing with his back to the long, linen-covered makeshift bar that with the musicblasting orchestra took up one end of the Marlincroft’s main ballroom. His barrel-like body was immaculate in tails, reddish brush mustache trimmed to bristling alertness, and the little Big B.’s grey eyes didn’t miss a thing that went on in the packed crowd milling by.
When I handed him the wire that the desk clerk had given me on my way back from the Bee-Lines suite upstairs, he set down his drink with a thump and ripped open the envelope.
Suddenly, without reading it, he shoved the message in the side pocket of his dress trousers. It looked a casual enough gesture. Then I turned and saw Paul Jenner standing beside him, and I wondered.
They shook hands as was customary on bender night, and Jenner introduced his partner. Chicago girl, one of a foursome up for a visit, grand-looking brunette with a gown that was enough to have held my attention if Paul Jenner hadn’t said casually:
“Been looking for you, Burke. Something big to discuss. Maybe we could find a corner somewhere — say upstairs? You haven’t been up to our layout for a drink yet. We could kill two birds.”
Dave Burke’s small hand groped on the table beside him and picked up his Scotch and water. “Think I’ll stick to my own brand if you don’t mind, Jenner,” he said drily. “I hear that stuff you serve can pack an unusual kind of a wallop.”
He was referring to Gil Tucker, I ! knew; and Jenner didn’t muff it. His bland face broke in an easy grin.
“That’s one unfortunate thing about a good host, Burke,” he observed. “He can’t just tell a guest when he thinks he might be overdoing it.” Then he made a surprising admission. “Perhaps sometimes a host might even be justified in letting someone make a hog of himself. I’d be glad to discuss that, too, when we get around to it.” That’s one thing about Dave Burke I like; it doesn’t take him all i day to decide something.
“What are you drinking, you ; people?” he asked. The Chicago gal I seemed to like our champagne.
I Jenner took a Scotch but didn't drink it. When the niceties had been observed, Dave Burke stiffened slightly. “This is one night of the year I don’t want to have to talk
shop,” he stated shortly. “I’ll be in my office at eleven in the morning.”
“Fair enough.” Paul Jenner shrugged. “It’s urgent, but no more urgent for me than for you. I’ll see you then.”
Everybody gave out with the usual farewells during which bit of nice skirmishing Dave Burke again neatly avoided accepting an invitation to the Sky Trails suite upstairs.
“Phone me at ten tomorrow, at home, will you, Miss Gordon?” he instructed when they were gone. “Better keep a couple of hours clear for me after eleven. Something tells me this is going to be an interesting session.”
So that was that. All I had to do was forget about such things and the rest of the evening I could call my own to enjoy myself like any of the other 500-odd people on the dance floor, or meandering up and down stairs in noisy groups.
The mellow' mood the boys were in had something to do with what came later. That was the auction of the blue fox for the War Victims Fund, a little affair that turned out to be near financial murder. It followed a lightning fast, high-kicking, legtwisting tap dance by a grinning Swipe Johnson — in a red bellhop’s uniform — that had everybody shouted dizzy anyway. Les Wooten, the hotel band leader, handled the auctioning job, “batting for the bombed people of London where the King lives,” as he put it proudly.
Bidding was more than brisk; it was crazy wild. If Paul Jenner had been wise he’d have had someone else do his bidding for him. When the Bee-Lines black gang saw the Chicago brunette eyeing that fox, and Jenner nodding boosts to Les Wooten like a man whose mind is made up, they didn’t need any coaching in wdiat to do. They bid.
With Paul Jenner, as usual, it looked like a case of putting on a show, partly public, partly Chicago brunette. It made me a bit ill. The Bee-Lines boys were out for blood. If the chief of the opposition wanted to look like the big potato in the heap, he’d pay for it.
I couldn’t stand to see the kill, to see Paul Jenner owner of wdiat after all was a very special blue fox to me. Gil Tucker was in the thick of it. I got Nibs to take me out.
We were in the Bee-Lines suite on the second floor, in an atmosphere cheery yet quiet compared with the madhouse downstairs, when we heard the crew on our trail. They emptied out of the elevators into the upper hall and kept coming. They were yelling one word, and the word sounded like “Fran.”
“Those devils have been in a scrap,” Nibs announced with regret in his voice — regret at having missed it. He dived outside to meet them and closed the door. Seconds later he was back in with them all at his heels.
They hadn’t been in any scrap. But they had the blue fox; and big Pete Gunning, chief of maintenance, tossed it to me from halfway across the room.
“She’s yours, Fran,” he shouted, grinning, and was backed by a sea of grins. “From the boys in the sticks.
Appreciation for everything you’ve done for ’em this past year — shopping, personal letters you’ve written, messages, and, well — it’s yours.”
Gil Tucker wasn’t with them. I had no way of knowing how much they knew about that fox. But now there was nothing I could do about it. I couldn’t put it up for re-auction, not after what they’d done. I took it, and didn’t even get a chance to say thanks. With them, that was that.
For me it was different. Somewhere back of me, I was sure, whether they realized it or not, it all tied in with Gil Tucker, his grandfather, Plymouth, the baffling pages of pink
and blue and green bubbles. — And i Brant.
Oh, Brant!—London, where people ! need so many things that our money can buy them. London with its ruins and its blazing fires and you above it careening blindly in a hell of black night. The boys know how I feel. It’s something they can’t mention, so they do this for me — really in admiration of you.
In bed at last, I fell asleep wondering when he would be back, wondering about the big doings north that might bring him back. Wondering about Paul Jenner and what it could be that was so urgent for the morning. To Be Continued